For my friend Bailey Pittenger’s birthday I am sharing one of the flash stories I’ve written based on our blended childhood memories. “We Were Visiting a Beach” is based on a photo of young Bailey and her cousins at a beach standing around an animal washed up on the beach. I wrote myself into a fictional narrative of the photo, then out of it. This is one story in a series of flash fiction stories in which I’ve made myself adhere to approximately 500 words—no more no less; The photos in this story are of my nieces.
We Were Visiting a Beach
I could have told my mom I was going on vacation with a traveling circus full of one-eyed monkeys and she still would have let me go. That was her way: allured by excitement but too afraid to confirm it. So I was on this trip for us. Not with monkeys, but with my new friend Bailey—my weird and weirdly-named friend Bailey—with her new bangs and her new headbands and her family. We were visiting a beach.
I remember wondering how plants grew in the middle of so much sand, and how absurd it would be if someone had them planted there. I remember standing at the edge of the world. That’s what it felt like to stand on a beach—to stand at the edge of the world. When I got home I would tell my mom that I stood at the edge of the world for us, and that I wasn’t afraid. My family didn’t do fear trips. Fear trips cost money.
On our first day, when Ms. Ann, Bailey’s mom, let us loose, I couldn’t catch my breath— the sky was too incessant.
What are these?
Oh, those are seashells.
Bailey never made me feel bad for not knowing anything. I never knew anything in real life, only in books. I knelt to let the tide wash the sand out of the old bodies of my new friends. I already knew which corner of my favorite wooden play box I would put them in when I got home. They were hard yet smooth, beautiful yet diverse.
Where do they come from?
Underwater animals used to live in them. Sometimes they get eaten by fish and stuff.
So something used to live in there?
…Then this is a grave.
Bailey knew I was right.
If you want to bury some, we can have a funeral.
We examined the beach, remembering them.
Some were still hinged to their halves, or pierced with predator holes. Some were spotted or had tiger stripes fading into fur-like ridges so the things seemed more monster than mollusk. My mom would love these.
We squeezed sand between our toes and pulled our feet above the water to see what they caught. I thought I was going to find something extraordinary. Something would wash up from the deep just for me—something no one else had ever seen—and I would be praised for my discovery and heralded as a young great beach explorer. We would have to build a great ship, and Bailey would be the captain of course.
Bailey’s cousin called her away to poke at a dead thing. I remember not knowing whether the snout was the tail, or if the hair were armor. And I remember being asked to pose with it, but wanting to respect it’s passing.
I breathed a quick prayer into my hand where the coral-colored bones of my old monsters lay and stepped just left of the photo. My family didn’t do memories either.
Happy Birthday Bailz.