This story is one of the May Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
Ablaze was the word for her.
She told me she would meet me on the beach in mid February. It was twenty degrees, and I was wearing a sweater and a jacket and a coat, but her zipper was open to the wind, and everything pushed back against her. The stained paisley dress (Grandmother) hugged her tight against the wind, and in between the waves crashing, she laughed, oblivious to the cold.
I shivered as I met her. “You’re crazy, out here like that.”
She didn’t say anything, just got out the camera from the bag at her waist (Father) that she carried around everywhere and grinned at me just so I had to grin back. “You’re beautiful in focus,” she said into the camera, and took a photo.
I shook my head, and we walked to the water together. The sun was just balanced precariously on the horizon, like an egg sat on a spoon, ready to spill over, yellow. I stood just where the foam dissolved, letting it turn the toes of my boots dark. When I looked over, she was taking off her shoes and hitching up her dress and wading knee high into the water.
She looked at me and held out her arm. “Come in. It’s not as cold as it seems.”
I hesitated then took her hand and waded as far as my boots would let me, the water rocking lightly through rubber. We stood side by side, and I dug two slips of paper from my pocket, giving one to her. “What do you want to write?”
“Something someone will read. You?”
“Something funny, maybe. I don’t know.”
“You’ll think of something. You could draw a picture.”
I shrugged. “Nothing to draw except waves, really.”
“You could draw me.” She grinned and pulled her jacket (Mother) tighter around her, and I put my paper and my pencil against her shoulder, tracing an outline of her face.
“It won’t be very flattering, you know,” I said. “Whoever finds it won’t get a good first impression.”
She only looked at me as I scanned her face, a scar near the chin (Mother), freckles on the face (Father), and fox-red hair turned to snarls like chestnuts. A pencil wasn’t enough for her, but I didn’t tell her so, though maybe I should’ve. Her eyelashes were near- translucent .
When I finished, she gave me a secret smile and leaned her paper against my shoulder, writing a few words in pencil.
“What are you smiling at?” I asked. Her lips didn’t curve up, but still she smiled. “What did you write?”
She shook her head and folded the paper. “That’s not how the game works. If you listen well enough, the wind will come back and tell you what I wrote.” She drew an empty wine bottle (Mother) from her old bag and slipped the paper inside before I could make a grab for it. I put mine in after her, and she held the bottle up to the wind, laughing as the air whispered across the top, fluting.
“Do you think anyone will find it?” I asked.
“Maybe. One more thing,” she said, handing the bottle to me. Slowly, she eased a small, tarnished-on-the-outside ring (Mother) from her finger and dropped it into the bottle, where it settled among our papers. “There,” she said, fitting the cork onto the top. “I needed to get rid of that. It’s ready now.”