Light filters through the trees and onto the sand, onto us. Eve and Nia toss a beach ball between each other, trying to avoid the thick bar of seaweed that snakes between shore and water, while I sit on the sand. Faith and Toons are calf-deep in the sea. It’s Friday, but it could be any day, any year. We’re always here. Pinder Point isn’t much—the sand is more gray than dazzling white, the water gets choppy often, and outcroppings of rock appear and vanish with the tides, so jet skiers don’t come here to stunt. Then again, all we need is someplace to kick off our shoes, to wet our feet, maybe our hair. I recline on my elbows and let myself sink into the sand. “Heads up!” Eve hollers, and I duck as the ball just misses my head. I look past Nia at my brother, who’s trying to pick Faith up and toss her into the water. Her long, bare legs scissor the air as she squeals in unconvincing protest. I open my mouth to ask him why he’s all over her today.
“Ay! Beach closed.”
I turn to see a guy on the sand behind us, hands on his hips. He wears a T-shirt tucked into snug jeans and a baseball cap shields his face.
“Y’all deaf?” he shouts. “Beach closed!”
Toons lets go of Faith and steps forward until he’s face-to-face with the guy. Baseball Cap matches him—same height, same lean build, maybe even the same age—and blocks his way. “Who you think you is, bey?” My brother’s upward-tilted chin warns of trouble.
The guy doesn’t speak again, but I feel his body tense, as if his muscles lie under my own skin. Toons moves to the left; the guy mirrors him. Moves to the right; the same. Then Baseball Cap reaches down for a plastic bottle of water, his eyes hidden by the shadow of his brim. Tilts it up to his head, Adam’s apple lifting and falling five, six, seven times. A twist of his fingers and the bottle crests through the air, then lands softly on the sand.
Toons turns and walks toward where it lies. The rest of us are frozen in place, watching. He bends down, reaching to pick up the crumpled plastic, but when he straightens up, I see a glint of perfect pearly pink in his hand. His arm draws back, then forward. A conch shell, almost as big as my head, sails through the air. Our gaze arcs as we watch it soar above us, then start to descend, heading straight for Baseball Cap’s head. He ducks just in time, and the shell smacks into a tree trunk behind him and cracks in two.
Then we run.
My feet pummel the sand, glasses bounce on my face. My heart hurls itself against my chest as I run. The other four are almost at the guava trees, Faith in front, then Toons, with Eve close after, and KeeKee, who can outrun us all but isn’t, because I’m falling behind. I look back; he’s gaining on us, on me, the sharp huh huh of his pant so near I can almost feel his breath on my neck.
“Hurry up, girl!” KeeKee looks back, caught between moving ahead and staying behind, for me. She zigzags and I follow; my foot splats into an overripe guava and my flip-flop sole skids in the slick. I barely regain my balance in time to duck under a low branch in our way. Now he’s almost beside me—my legs are on fire and I can’t push any harder. KeeKee reaches back and her fingers graze mine. I hurl myself forward and as we lock hands, she yanks me between tree trunks and over old leaves. I can’t think, only push, as together, our legs fly. KeeKee pushes a branch aside too fast for me to avoid and it whacks me in the face. I feel an odd lightness as my glasses fly off, and the world blurs.
We spill into the yard and up ahead, the blue truck puffs exhaust as it idles under the hog plum tree. Faith and Eve are already in the back. Toons waves KeeKee and me in as we scramble up, just as the guy rounds the end of the path.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” Toons yells. The truck speeds away, like Pinder Street is longer than eight houses on each side of the narrow road. At the intersection, the truck veers right and we bump into each other. Then it accelerates again and the wind muffles all sound. The only things clear to me are the rise and fall of KeeKee’s breath as we lean into each other and the tickle of Toons’ leg as it grazes mine.
Eventually we drop to a steady cruise. Faith says, “That was close, boy.” She keeps doing something with her hair—fiddling, pushing it back—and turning her head toward Toons. Eve hums low. Her soprano notes vibrate my insides.
KeeKee leans closer and whispers, “What you think that was about? You heard anything about the beach?” Her forehead is furrowed with concern. I hesitate, wondering if there’s a way to braid the truth that will soothe her. But she’s already moved on to her next question. “Where are your glasses?”
“They got knocked off,” I say.
“Victim to the chase. We’ll go back.” The truck slows, then turns around in the middle of the street. My mother would not approve, not of a three-point turn on a curve, not of riding in the back of a truck, not of being in a car with Angel and her boyfriend, definitely not of the flutter in my chest and the dampness on my palms when I think about how close Toons is to me. Toons shifts slightly, and now his whole leg presses against mine. Then he leans forward, snatching whatever Faith has been fiddling with on her head, and bats her away as she tries to wrestle it from his grasp. I squint as he settles the thing on his face. Shades. My skin is cool, now, where we touched. KeeKee elbows me gently, then lifts her chin, eyes on Faith and her brother.
“Hey, Toons,” KeeKee calls. “How’s Paulette? Your girlfriend?”
I can’t make out their expressions, and before he can answer, we speed up again, and wind roars in our ears. We loop back onto Pinder Street and Faith raps her knuckles on the glass to the truck’s cab. Sammy stops the truck and Faith climbs down easy, her legs slim and muscled in shorts I’d never be allowed to wear. Eve jumps out after her and we glide to the end of the road.
Angel leans out of the passenger window as we pull into the yard. “Y’all come out. We got a run to make.”
“Drop me off by the mall.” Toons stretches out in the space vacated by Eve and Faith. KeeKee climbs out like a gecko, easy, sideways and lithe. Angel beckons KeeKee over to the passenger-side window. As KeeKee leans in, she raises a shoulder to rub her cheek and the motion makes me think of a heron preening itself, effortless and smooth.
“Davinia!” My mother’s voice rings out from across the yard.
“You in trou-uble,” Toons sings out low. KeeKee looks over at me. We don’t trade words—we don’t need to. Her eyes tell me everything I already know. She’s got me.
I climb out and scurry over to my side of the yard. My mother stands in the doorway, her arms folded. “Davinia?” she says again, her tone so tight a gymnast could do backflips along it. In the background, the kitchen radio is on, blaring out the news.
“Hi!” I step inside, trying on a smile that fits my mouth like last summer’s size. “You weren’t looking for me, were you?”
“Don’t you hi me. Whose truck did you get out of just now?”
“Um—KeeKee…” Even half blind, I can see my mother’s face shift into a full-on glower. “Her mummy’s friend.”
“Friend?” She spits the word out like the bitter scab on a fruit’s skin, then sighs, looking down at my feet. I imagine the grains of sand on my calves, a smear of squashed guava and shards of pine needle and tall grass telling tales of where I’ve been. She looks back up at my face, tilting her head to one side. “Where are your glasses?”
“Um… they dropped.”
“You better go pick them up, then. Do I look like I have money for a new pair?”
“I think I dropped them in the classroom.”
Mummy huffs in frustration. “School’s locked up for the weekend now. Better hope they’re still there come Monday.” She marches to the back of the house and the wooden floor shudders under her sure step. “You’ll have to make do. Hurry up, I want us in Rawson Square when the protest starts.”
I fumble around in the kitchen drawer for my old pair of glasses and cram them on. The glasses I lost aren’t even new, I’ve had them almost three years, so this pair is probably from when I was nine or ten. The arms strain against my face. The lenses are scratched, but the house clicks into some type of clear—square table stacked high with books, chairs tucked under the skirt of the yellow tablecloth, sink polished to its best shine in the light filtered through the thin floral curtains, a garden of tiny daisies strung against windows that let in a steady billow of breeze. The view is imperfect, though, the world slightly curved at the edge of my lenses, my eyes unused to the outdated prescription. On the fridge, the last issue of Pinder Street Press, my neighborhood newsletter, rustles, as if the baby-blue paper is alive, then falls back into place. I grab the tape recorder from its perch on the counter beside the radio and cram it into my purse. Mummy reappears, sliding her feet into her loafers. I push my school shoes back on. I feel her gaze on my back as I step outside again and imagine my missing glasses looking down at me from some secret high place, smug with freedom, just out of reach.
“Put some laundry on for me, babes,” Angel says from the truck’s passenger seat. “Dark load.” She lifts her eyebrows ever so slightly, perfect crescent moons.
“Whose?” I avoid looking at Sammy, his seat tilted back behind the steering wheel. He stares across the street, squinting into the bush, like he can see through the trees and to the beach. He scowls, as if trouble’s coming in on the tide.
“Iris. She need her delicates.” She blinks her lash extensions one time more than is necessary, though Sammy’s still looking away. He’s too dense to catch on to anything even if we laid out the whole box full of pads and tampons and condoms and lined up all the girls in the neighborhood to collect their stashes, even if we stapled every receipt together and smacked him across the face with it. “It’s urgent.”
“If it’s urgent, she could do it herself.”
“Hey. Don’t backtalk your mummy.” Sammy doesn’t bother to look at us as he inserts himself where he hasn’t been invited. He clamps a hand over Angel’s leg like she’s a Guinness in a bar short on beer. Love you, Angel mouths at me before I step away. I duck under the clothesline, heavy with stiff-dried clothes. The hem of a skirt grazes my elbow like an oversized moth and I swat it away. Sammy wouldn’t be rushing to Angel’s aid if he knew where a third of the laundry money goes. I slip around the back of our house and onto the path again. It still vibrates with the memory of our racing feet, the air thick with our fear.
I scan the beach for some sign of Baseball Cap. I didn’t catch his face, coward-shaded under the brim. Beach closed. Like he owned the place.
There’s no one on the sand except me. No sign of Nia’s glasses, either. I step farther out onto the shore, though I won’t find them here. The sand is still indented from our footprints—Faith’s small and slim, Toons’ large and close, Eve’s wide ones trailing behind, Nia’s and mine overlapping with each other so sometimes it looks like two girls and sometimes a single being with oddly shaped hooves. Growing up underneath each other, you get to know footprints like shadows, like the shape of someone seen from behind, like a voice.
I walk along the beach until I’m in line with Eve’s daddy’s church. The roof to the low green building is crumbling slowly, but it still casts shade on the porch that wraps all the way around like a story so long it never really ends. I head toward the steps like I’m going in, then veer off and pull myself up into the guava tree on the south side, my toes gripping the bark. A long, smooth strip peels off under my feet and I kick it away. My fingers find holds, my arms pull me up into its canopy. There it is, right where I left it, wedged in the cleft where a branch separates into two directions; a freezer bag zipped tight, and a sun-bleached exercise book that used to be red, tucked safe inside. I open the bag, flip open the book, and find the pen holding my place, its clip tight around the form, folded in half. I lean my body against the tree’s trunk and let my legs dangle over either side of the branch. A heron passes overhead, its croaky call pulling my attention after it like an invisible trail over the sand, and then over the water. It lowers its legs as it nears an outcropping of rock that juts out of the sea, and I let out a long breath I didn’t know I was holding.
I unfold the pieces of paper. The letterhead blares at me: NewBeat Summer Arts Program Application. Out here, I’ve filled it all in. Kimberly Grace Hepburn. Age: 16. Current school: East Gardens High School. GPA: 2.8. I flip the page over to the side that says Art medium and sample of creative work. I’ve already written in poetry, but under that is nothing but a sandbank of space. If I want to go, I have to get out a net and catch the words, pin them down to the page. I return the pages to their hiding place and lower myself to the ground.
Beach closed. The shout echoes in my ears.
These are not the words I want.
I turn my music off as I pull up to my house. The driveway is empty—Daddy’s working late again. I’d give anything to be back on Pinder Street, in that truck, sitting across from Toons, our knees bumping, nothing more on my mind than the flush that comes from running and the feel of his skin against mine. I’d even be glad to stay out here behind the wheel till evening comes, until Daddy pulls up behind me. Let him be the one to go in first. Let him call out my mother’s name like a wish. Let him pray for an answer.
The car whirs oddly as it idles. I sigh and turn off the engine. It isn’t the only thing awry in my life. I walk up the driveway to the front door and slide my key into the lock, slow. Daddy’s been threatening to fix the front door, but I like the cheerful squeak it makes as I open it, an announcement other than my voice. A warning of someone trying to escape.
From somewhere in the house, I hear a sound. “Mummy?”
No answer. I lock the door behind me and venture deeper in. I check the cool, empty kitchen that smells of—nothing. Then I look in the sitting room, under the dining table, through my room, and the side room opposite, where Daddy sleeps. In the corridor, her portrait catches my eye, a head shot from her last year in dance school—wide eyes, long, elegant neck, a subtle smile. I carry on to the master bedroom, the last place she could be.
“Mummy?” Empty bed, sheets tossed back, closet open, shoes strewn, bureau drawers vomiting clothes onto the floor. “You there?”
The bathroom door is closed. I try the handle and the door swings open.
My mother is perched on the toilet, her panties around her knees, teal skirt pooled around her ankles. She glares up at me from an open book. “What? You can’t knock?”
I stare at the cover. Tropical Desserts of the Bahamas. “Sorry, I was just—”
“Pineapple cake or guava pie? How I supposed to decide when y’all keep interfering?”
“Only me and you home—”
“You wanna close the door and give me some privacy?”
What I want is to throw my arms around her, to hold her tight—this proper her, this rare quicksilver fish of a mother, before, in a turn, a twist, the light changes and she is gone. This is what mothers do, right? Pick out cake recipes? Even on the toilet, it’s kind of normal. She humphs, then turns the book upside down.
“It’s not a show, Faith.” She holds my gaze as she reaches for a shampoo bottle, then raises it in the air, launching it at me. I shut the door just in time.
“Sorry.” I press my back to the bathroom door, closing my eyes against the mess of the room. Behind my eyelids, I can see the cookbook, cracked open for good toilet reading. The title inverted as she reads, as if she moves through life on her head. The pie on the front cover set at an odd angle, half upright, half fallen down. No, I reassure myself. Everything’s fine. Everything is just as it should be.