634 words (2 minute read)

By the Time I Count to Three

The little boy spread his toes out into the sand. It made a crish-crunch sound, just wet enough to splay out underneath his feet, the grains pushing and struggling on each other like a hand being pulled away from another that it desperately wants to be holding. The lake in front of him was as big as it got.

His eyes went wading. Those eyes that were full grown the day he was born, he had to grow up around them, and they still had so much to see. He could hear his mother’s voice yelling the same thing she always did around this time of day. His pretend life at sea was over. His turn to set the table was beginning, but he didn’t move. He sat there, knees tucked in to his chest so that he could feel his heartbeat, and he fixated on a wind that he couldn’t see.

Wind is funny that way. Especially the wind that lives on the shore of childhood. We can’t see it. We can only see its effects. By the time we know it’s there, it’s already moved on to the next branch or blade of grass.

This thought swirled around inside his head and then vanished. He tugged at his shorts and ran his forearm across his nose as the smell of rain started to rise up, making everything just that much more electric. His full grown eyes darted from small tidal crests to the grit below him to the rocks hugging the hill that he wasn’t allowed to go beyond.

One time, when he was really little, he threw a rock at a girl named Rebecca and ended up sitting in a plastic green chair outside a big office that smelled like lemon and cinnamon. Mrs. Daly made him wait an hour before his mother could come for a big talk. It’s funny, but he doesn’t remember anything the adults said that day. He doesn’t even remember experiencing it. He was alone in the world then, his face flushed red, his legs feeling the distinct call to run out of there and away from everything as fast as they could.

All he remembers is his mother rubbing his back that night and the way she pinched the bridge of her nose. He wondered if she might pull it right off, but she never did.

He heard his mother’s voice again, but there was no hurry to it. He knew that if he waited too long to hundred-yard dash his way to chores, she’d start counting. One. Two. Three. But he still resisted the urge to leave his sea behind and head for home.

He did, however, stand up and survey all that belonged to him. The balmy blue sky, the hillside (even if he couldn’t go all the way up it), the whisper slap of waves hitting the dock, the fresh new boards, the sand, his feet, his body, his hands. He heaved every inch of air out of his lungs and turned around.

Taking a step into the grass, he lost his balance and scraped his leg hard up against a large piece of drift wood just lying there with nothing better to do. He fell down, grabbing his leg and watching the red dots form like the pattern of a dress he used to tug on. He winced, but he didn’t cry. He couldn’t.

He knew that if he cried, she still wouldn’t be coming to make it all better. Not anymore. She wouldn’t, and she never would again.

He listened, but he didn’t hear anything except the wind and the waves and the calm. He rolled back over, and he dug his toes back into the sand.