We are postcard people: the sun shines like a celestial diamond, so bright the exposure bleaches the entire image. One day we will send this postcard to Mom’s ex-husband who she still is friends with, miraculously.
I dig my body into the sand pretending I’m a crab. It’s a warm blanket over me. It’s golden and smells like triumph. I asked my mom, “Mom let’s go to the beach and hide like hermit crabs,” a couple hours ago in her office. She skimmed her fingers through the top of her hair. She sighed. “I have to finish writing this paper,” she said and got up to close the door on me. She reappeared in different rooms, pacing, her hands entwined behind her back and her head down. Soft shuffle of her socks on the hardwood, and then the jingle of keys. “Let’s go to the beach,” she announced. Triumph.
I splash into the water. Then I circle back and reach for her. She’s frowning at me like she doesn’t trust me, her pale white legs propped up and she’s leaning on them, the towel underneath her baby blue. I touch her and her skin is rough, grainy. I try to grab her arm and it crumbles into sand.
My mother slumps into a pile of sand on the towel. So does everyone else on the shore, and the salty breeze shifts them away, recycled into natural things once more.
“Don’t swim into the deep water or the sharks will get you,” she had said in the beginning when I pulled off my shirt so I was only wearing my trunks. My hair is the same color as the sand. Bleached blonde. Maybe I am just a sandcastle again. Maybe I was imagining us ever really being there in the flesh. We are creatures of the earth. We fall back into it when we get too far from it.
One night my mom had a date. She dressed all in white like she was getting married. Lacy white dress with long sleeves and a skirt that cut just above her knees. She looked unrecognizable. “Make up,” she explained when I pointed to her face. The babysitter told me the story of the nativity scene; it was around Christmastime. I listened and looked at her picture books. The angels were dressed like my mother. They fly down from heaven.
Many times in our life together Mom tried to leave. She started the car and left me in the house at midnight only to come back hours later with apology ice cream and a Nirvana record. Other times she announced she was going on a long solo trip out East somewhere. She made plans, calculated hotel costs, and traced routes through major highways until these scraps of paper were left unfinished in a drawer. She once told me my dad was an angel. We listened to Nirvana in the living room, silently, heads bent, as if we were praying.
At my mom’s wedding she was literally dressed like a bride, and by then I knew much more about angels. They always wanted to fly up to the heavens and you had to either watch them go or you could tie them down like balloons. When my mom was saying her vows I wondered what would happen if you grabbed on an angel while it was flying back up. Earth would pull you down, I decided. Earth always pulls you away from the angels. That’s what gravity is.
Later I learned my mom was a professor of theology. At first I heard “sea-ology.” I simply thought she studied the sea. Saltwater realms.
She told me about salt pillars while driving to the school. When Lot’s wife looked back, my mom explained, she was turned to salt and you can see her in the Dead Sea. I got chills thinking about that saline graveyard. The hot white shoreline, the water evaporated into dry air above.
When I woke up from my nap on the beach Mom was nowhere in sight. Her towel and things were gone, there were hundreds of footprints in the sand. I waited. I found peace. After this meditation she was back, and she held out her hand with an unreadable face and I took it and I didn’t even wonder where she’d been. We drove home. We got Wendy’s on the way and I was allowed a medium vanilla cone.
She published her research paper in that same month and several journals rejected it. Years later I read it. It was about the maternal roles in the Bible, heavily centered on Lot’s wife. She made a rather striking metaphor about the mother being trapped, solidified in salt, caught making her escape. Wearing a crystal wedding gown.
Satori McCormick (she/her) is a seventeen- year-old high school senior from Denver, Colorado. Her work has been previously recognized by the Adroit Prizes, 805 Lit + Art, The Center for Fiction, and more. She was born in Minneapolis and is a tribal member of Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians.