Photo by Pete Godfrey
It didn’t take much to seduce her. The pressing hot hand of the sun turned her bones to honey. A groggy haze swept over Dani, leaving her unable to move.
The swoosh of the waves mingled with squeals from children at the water’s edge. When she was a small girl, her dad always took her here. Just the two of them, following the shoreline’s curve to rawness, where the crowds fell away and soft sand gave way to rocks and broken shells, finding a quiet place to cast his line. That was before her mother ruined everything.
“Come on, already,” Glen repeated. “I can’t be late.”
She drew in a deep breath. Somehow the salt air smelled sweeter with her eyes closed. On every exhale she imagined her cells dissipating into the spray of sea mist until there was nothing left of her. No more worries, no more aggravation.
“Dani. Wake up.”
The heat of the sand penetrated the thin sheet, warming her back, sunshine, the source of her intoxication. Glen’s persistent nagging, the only clouds; and when he stood, he cast a long shadow over her.
She wondered why she didn’t drive herself.
“I’ll leave you here. I will.” He fumbled as he folded the lounge chair.
She tried to remember how much money she made in tips last night and whether it was all in her wallet, or if Glen had helped himself to gas money.
His hand slapped against his leg. “Jesus Christ! I think you like torturing me.”
She forced her face still, suppressing a grin. He could entertain her. It was the least he could do. Her one day off shouldn’t be more work, though it always was.
He pleaded, “If we’re late she’ll be angry.”
Dani half sat, propping her weight on her wobbling elbow. “Yes, then what?” She rubbed her puffy calf, which had thinned slightly, knowing that on Sunday, after another ten-hour shift, it would swell again. Glen never worried about that.
“She’ll keep Leo from me. You know she will.” Sweat beaded on his upper lip. Red, uneven patches marred his skin, which was otherwise streaked, zinc-oxide white. Couldn’t he follow through on something as simple as applying sunscreen?
Dani rolled her eyes. “He’s not your kid. Remy only wants your money.” It was the oldest trick and one her mother, Sandra, knew how to work. Had her dad lived, he could have told Glen all about how Sandra used him until she finally landed Dani’s drunken excuse for a biological father. And with that, Sandra’s first marriage dissolved as easily as one last walk into the sea. Sandra wasn’t worth staying for, but Dani wished she had been.
“She enjoys making a fool out of you.”
“Stop saying that.” He snapped a towel in the wind.
“Hey!” a woman shouted from the neighboring blanket. Shielding a little girl’s eyes with one hand and brushing sand off her face with the other, she yelled, “Do you mind?”
Glen dropped his head and shoved his sandy feet into his sneakers, where his manners began and ended.
“Sorry,” Dani called, raising her hand the way she did when she absentmindedly cut someone off without signaling.
He squinted. “You apologize to everyone for meaningless bullshit, but you have no problem slitting my jugular.”
Dani lifted her chin. “It’s true.” But she was still talking about Remy and the supposed son. Women lied all the time. Hadn’t Sandra said that her new husband was really Dani’s father? But he never acted like a dad. He didn’t take Dani fishing or help her hunt for seashells. A day at the beach involved parking himself next to the cooler and not moving until it was emptied. Then he would force her to carry the heavy bucket of shells to the car, only to heave her treasure onto the blacktop, grinding the pale pink and white shells with his heel.
Worthless trash, he would say. She never knew if he was talking about the shells or her. So, she stopped collecting shells and learned to hide the rare find—sea glass—in her shoe even if it hurt her foot to walk. And eventually she lost fascination and saw the pale, smooth glass for what it really was: the result of being beaten into submission by the cruelty of crushing waves.
“You’re such a bitch, you know that?”
Didn’t Glen like that treatment? It certainly worked for Remy, who had him scrambling to accommodate her schedule. And while secretly Dani liked to see Glen tortured, it came at her expense. Every Saturday featured cramming Leo into the day somehow. And while he was a cute little boy, why should she babysit while Remy went out on dates? Dates that Dani never got to go on.
“I don’t have time for this. Let’s go.” He grabbed his backpack and shoved in a towel, punching it down deep into the bag.
“I’d rather not.” She forced down the tremble building in her. “I want to stay.”
“I do plenty for you that I’d rather not, so let’s call it even.”
She almost asked him what he meant. She didn’t have a child from another man that she asked him to play with, to part-time parent. She wasn’t denying him a child of his own, professing she was too busy with the one she had. Leo and Remy had more say in her life than they ought to. At twenty-nine, Dani worried that being a waitress and a stepmother was all the future held.
She opened her mouth and closed it when the sun shone in his irises, turning them a dazzling, murderous blue.
“We’re leaving.” His whisper scraped like a dry sand rub.
Dani’s hand rested on the spot on her neck that pulsed. Fear, excitement—why did it feel the same?
“You all right?” The woman from the next blanket stood.
Glen whipped his head in the woman’s direction as she approached. “Butt out.”
The woman froze. Moving only her eyes, she looked to Dani and tilted her head.
“All right, Glen. Let’s go.” Dani pushed up to her feet. She looked at the woman and then dropped her gaze, but the woman remained. Keeping her head down, she gathered a corner of the sheet to brush the sand off her legs.
“Hey, lady, take a picture. It lasts longer.” Glen spit on the ground before grabbing Dani’s elbow. Yanking herself free, she slid her feet into her sandals.
Glen stepped back. “Well, excuse me for trying to help. I thought you needed me for balance.”
The woman’s stare blazed hotter than the sun, and Dani felt a rash flare across her collarbone.
Dani wagged her head at the woman. “Why are you still here?”
“I could say the same to you,” the woman said, tears filling her eyes. The little girl skipped over and tugged the woman’s arm.
“I want to swim, Mommy. Come in with me.” The woman gripped her daughter’s chin and kissed the girl. Salt rose in Dani’s throat, and she blinked hard when she remembered swimming with her dad. He taught her how to take long, overhead strokes and to lead with her thumb on the downstroke, brushing it against the length of her body. And there was the matter of learning to turn her head to inhale and blowing out bubbles in the water to exhale. The pacing was important, he told her, if she wanted to swim real distances. Eventually she learned to swim side by side with him, parallel to the shoreline.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?”
“Nothing, honey.” She cupped her daughter’s shoulder and walked away.
“Nosy freak,” Glen muttered.
The woman glanced over her shoulder and pursed her lips before guiding her daughter through the maze of blankets and umbrellas. Dani looked away when she couldn’t bear to see them disappear altogether. Instead, she busied herself by picking up the sheet and shaking it low to the ground, so no one ended up with a face full of sand.
“See, that’s what you attract, Dani. Every misfit.”
“And what does that make you?” Dani glowered. He had never hit her before, but the ticking in his jaw made her think he might. Sometimes she wished he would take a swing just so she could walk away with a clear conscience. She wasn’t a cheater or a liar like Sandra. She wasn’t a quitter like her dad.
“Me? I’m a knight in fucking armor.”
But not her knight. “Remy might beg to differ.”
Were she more like Remy, would Glen love her like he should? Like he did in the early days of dating when they stayed up many nights talking, exploring? He couldn’t get enough of her then, and it left her heady. But that buzz became a hangover the moment Remy re-entered his life with Leo.
He winced and pointed an index finger at her. “Don’t start.” But even she could see they were closer to the finish than the start. If Remy were to change her mind and open her bed to him, it would be Dani who would be left all alone.
The wind off the water picked up, tickling her flesh to goose bumps.
She folded the sheet as he gathered the rest of their belongings. And when everything was neatly tucked into her tote and his backpack, she froze at the sight of his tight jaw and clenched fist. He never held himself like that in Remy’s presence. Dani’s knees locked, her body unable to cooperate one second longer.
“Come on,” he sighed. When she didn’t move, he shook his head. “I’m so tired of you. I’m leaving. Do what you want.” Dani didn’t watch as he stomped away.
Unfolding the sheet, she sat and stared at the sun dancing on the water. The glare caused her to squint, but she refused to close her eyes. She looked to the right, as far as she could see, but even then, she couldn’t find where the coastline curved. Rising to her feet she glided down to the water’s edge, to where the mother and daughter played and laughed in the spray. Then she drew in a breath, turned, and headed out in search of the jagged beauty waiting for her.
Dinamarie Isola is actively engaged in exploring the craft of storytelling. Through poetry and prose, she strives to tear down the isolation that comes from silently bearing internal struggles. She received her BA in English/Writing and Communications from Fairfield University. In addition to her work as an investment advisor, Dinamarie has a blog, “RealSmartica,” to help others better understand personal finance. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Apricity Magazine, Avalon Literary Review, borrowed solace, Courtship of Winds, Evening Street Review, Five on the Fifth, Penumbra Literary and Art Journal, Potato Soup Journal, Nixes Mate Review, No Distance Between Us, and Tulsa Review.