I like watching the ocean. The fascinating thing about it is that it’s always changing. You never know what you’re going to get. Then one day you get a glimpse of its true nature and you begin to wonder. How is it possible that everything has been like this, right in front of you, all this time, and you never noticed? And that’s when you start to see things clearly.
The ocean is green this morning and a little choppy. The wind’s picking up. The birds are out; waders haggle over same old while seagulls circle above, talking amongst themselves about the stupid waders haggling over bullshit down below. The beach feels lonely today with only the waders poking about in the sand, looking for good stuff to eat. Still, it’s all good until it starts to rain; big fat drops plopping down onto the sand, dimpling the water, appear, startling the birds and making me shiver. It’s going to be one of those days. And it’s only early. Lilian will be cooking breakfast right about now so it’s time to start my climb up the dune.
It’s heavy going this morning so I play a little mind game. I imagine he’s already up there, standing on the path high above, watching me, scowling under his hat. He’s following my every step as I trudge along the sand without looking up. For a little while but eventually I will look. Despite the sweat freezing my spine. Despite my imagination venturing into unchartered territory in this game of What If I imagine I like to play. What if I were a dog? A big one, with enormous, razor-sharp teeth and the right sort of attitude? What would happen then? —Course, if I were a dog, he’d be a werewolf. Game over.
I feel him up there. Looking. But I won’t. Look. Not until I can’t stand it anymore, which always happens when I’m about half way up the hill. And I’m half way up the hill now. —Yep, he’s right there. Our eyes lock. But this time I win. He turns and disappears up the path. Round one goes to Sarah.
I think about him on the way home. About the game we play. I’ve not told anyone about it. He hasn’t either. I think we both feel that there is no need for anyone to know. Who would I tell, anyway? Lilian? She’d only worry. She might panic and tell somebody and then what? —Exactly. I don’t want to leave Sliver Moon Bay. It’s been good to us. We all feel it’s good here. Chris goes on about it all the time.
‘We’ve really become a family here,’ Chris says, with a look, a poignant one, at me, every time.
What am I meant to say to this? —Okay, I get it, Chris. You’re tired of my teenage ways. I should just be the daughter I used to be. Well, dude. Things don’t work like that anymore. On a day like this we’re as good as it’s ever going to get.
Twenty minutes later we’re all sitting down to breakfast. Chris’s feeding Starling her eggs while Lilian and I eat ours watching Starling eat hers. Starling’s doing a great job smearing bits of scrambled egg around the tray of her baby chair. It’s really cute but Lilian’s watching her with her usual expression. Worried slash thoughtful slash whatever’s in the mix, medically speaking, at the time. Today it looks like Valium. Lilian’s calm today so I’ll be babysitting. Again. Ah, well. At least it’s the weekend so I won’t be missing school. Lilian’s leaning a little too close to the baby chair. She might cop a handful of egg in her face but my money’s on Starling behaving herself today. Today Daddy’s with us. Starling likes to please Daddy so she won’t throw a handful of breakfast at Mummy.
Starling’s looking super cute this morning, smiling at Chris and me, and managing to ignore Lilian nodding in her face with that hangdog expression. I wouldn’t blame her if she did lose her temper but she won’t. She’s a good girl today, sitting in her baby chair, opening her gob for Chris nice and wide. She looks like a baby bird, snug as a bug in a rug in her nest. She is a baby bird, just born but already pretty clued in. She’s learned the value of pity and learned how to work it, with those bulging black eyes and that translucent skin stretched over her big round skull topped with a handful of cotton candy hair, to get what she wants. Yes, that’s our Starling, a bizarre super cute baby bird, the size of a walnut but with the cunning of an old crow.
Three years old she’s not your average toddler, but the doctor says there is nothing to worry about. She’ll grow just fine, he says, pats her baldy head like an indulgent grandad. He’s seen plenty of sickly little ones grow up big and strong, he tells Lilian, pats her as well, on the back of her hand, to reassure her. I don’t think he’s having much impact cause Lilian frets a lot, about the lack of visible improvement. Bemoans the lack of height, weight, hair, eyelashes. Wonders about the size of the skull. In a word she fusses, medicated or otherwise, and it’s a burden. It’s wearing us down though Chris bears with it most of the time. I refuse to listen. To me Starling is perfect. Always was and always will be. She’s my star in the sky, now and forever, a little starling knocking at my window. And I will always let her come in, for as long as I’ll live. I suspect that years from now I will wish Lilian could have seen it the same way, could have understood how it was going to pan out, from the day she gave birth to her—but it wasn’t meant to be, was it? I have a feeling I will wonder. For now it’s better to live in the present.
Starling’s chirping about something just now. To Lilian. So Chris takes this chance to serve me the usual. He’s going away for a few days to work on a fishing trawler so he has a lot to say to me.
‘Be careful at the beach with Starling, Sarah,’ he starts. ‘The surf’s going to be rough this week.’
‘I will be careful.’
‘It’s gonna be windy today. A lot more windy than usual.’
‘I know. You told me last night.’
‘Watch out for the tide.’
‘And don’t let her wander too close to the water. She’s not to go near it, you understand?’
‘I get it,’ I replied and I may have sighed. I don’t know. I don’t remember but it’s entirely possible cause sometimes I just couldn’t help myself even though I knew it was disrespectful and this sort of behaviour set Chris off but Chris has said the same thing to me over and over for the past three years, every time he’s left home to go fishing, and I always felt there was no need to repeat himself so often.
‘Am I boring you?’ he turned to me, pausing with Starling’s spoon in mid-air just in front of Starling’s wide open mouth.
Well, what am I to say to this? —Exactly. So I shook my head. Chris stared and Starling thrust her head forward and her chin collided with the spoon. The egg splattered on the table and speckled the front of her t-shirt, and Starling began to cry.
‘Hope you’re proud of yourself.’
Again, what am I to say to this? Just then Starling raised her hands towards him, wanting to be picked up. He pulled her from her baby chair and the two of them disappeared into the bathroom.
It was just me and Lilian. I could tell she’d rather have had this over and done with. She began cleaning up the mess.
‘Don’t worry about it, honey. He’s just nervous about leaving us.’
Well, duh. Course he is nervous. He always acts mean before he goes away. Big deal. We’ve had a long time to get used to it. I only wished Lilian would stop excusing his behaviour. Chris and I never really got on and probably never will, ever; there’s always been this tension and Lilian knew it but it wasn’t as if she was prepared to do anything about it so why even mention it? It’s not like I ever held a grudge; I always told her everything was cool whenever she tried to apologize for him, just to stop her embarrassing herself. And me. So now I said that everything was fine and Lilian gave me a hug and we went about our business; Lilian cleaning up the breakfast things and me waiting for Chris to go.
He took his time. He came out of the bathroom, all sulky looking, with a sulky looking Starling in his arms. What a pair.
‘Lilian. Where’s the pink dress? She wants it now.’
Ah, the pink dress. Starling’s favourite. Chris brought it for her from one of his fishing trips a while ago. It has tiny little fishes printed all over it and Starling fell in love with it the moment she laid eyes on it. And now she wants it. I hope Lilian knows where it is.
But she doesn’t. She looks up from the dishes, confused. ‘Did you look in the basket?’
Chris gave her a look so Lilian left the dishes and we both began looking for it.
Well, we couldn’t find it anywhere. Starling sulked a bit but I told her I’d take her to the beach if she wore her blue dress so she put it on and looked happy about it. I only had to put her favourite sandals on and she was good.
Finally, Chris leaves, after kissing Lilian once and Starling about a hundred times. At fourteen I’m not expected to kiss him so it is just a nod and a grimace for me accompanied by a take care and see you soon. And off he goes, with his overnight bag and his fishing gear.
And we can breathe. When the cat’s away…
‘Sarah-honey, I’m gonna have a lie down for a bit, okay?’ The bedroom door closed behind her and then it was just me and Starling. We’re going to the beach.
Sliver Moon Bay is now available for download HERE.