tea afternoon. is what I call it. come to anyway. we’ve been here for a week. tomorrow we leave to return. home. back to a tick-tock I could just as well leave alone. done fine without us for this long.
at home there’s no tea in the afternoon.
just night. before exhausted from a day bed. we talk about our grueling over dinner with eyes half open and never think for a moment we could do anything but drone on. work tomorrow. and tomorrow. then the weekend. a recovery that never lives up to expectations. we never recover. not really. so tired, the both of us. before this real break.
“I don’t know why I like this.”
“Hot tea on a hot day. I mean, the sun must be keeping this the same temperature.”
we’re at the beach, have been, for the week. and I read somewhere about the hot tea on a hot day and convinced her. we don’t have a cooler. we have a thermos.
lightest touch. swear I can see the words we exchange in the last week. like fine bone china feels. conversations in a full voice as delicate as a whisper. little cartoon bubbles in our heads, like I can reach up and pick her words out of the air. words. about life back home. about love we still feel for each another. about dreams we had and have. about sand. surf. sun. simplest dinners. and for the last 3 days about a paper-thin boy running back and forth in front of us on the beach.
we met his parents the first day they were here.
we’ve seen them every day since. they wave. we wave. they rented the house next door and seem as swell and calm as we do. a man named Carl and his lady, Maddie. the boy is always running. tanned so deep you can hardly tell he’s theirs.
“What’s his name?”
“Oh, that’s our Bailey.”
Bailey has only made fleeting eye contact with us. he doesn’t seem shy, just not interested in the adults in the world.
he loves our dog and for that we love him in return. Barney, our 6-year-old Black Lab, chases him on the beach. chases birds with him. Bailey and Barney. they’re in their own kind of love. we fretted a little when Bailey threw himself down in the sand at Barney’s feet, then launched up around him. hugging and pulling the Lab into the sand. he loved it. they both did.
he runs and runs. Barney sits and waits half the time.
if Bailey is still at all it’s because he’s hunting.
Barney creeps up behind him. curious. concerned. and curious again. quieter than I knew our old boy could get. Bailey’s trying to catch a seagull we think. the chase is usually enough, the running screaming at them. but sometimes he wants to get close and who can blame a 4-year-old for that?
we listen to Bailey’s pheet, pheet, pheet. quiet on the beach sipping tea we hear the waves and just that, the boy running hard. he makes it so we can hear the sand.
he talked to us once, the 2nd day. When he saw we were holding hands. he asked Jan,
“Are you scared?”
and she told him that she wasn’t. just happy. she kissed my hand and I worried again. about Carl and Maddie. about the site of us this far south. this isn’t back home. Bailey, in his young way, recognized love. he wasn’t scared either.
afternoon tea. our backs settling into canvas chairs then sand. the tea doesn’t cool us off like I was lead to believe. but we’re used to it now. it makes our temples moist and slightly salty.
Jan puts her cup down and picks up her camera.
Bailey quietly stalks a seagull. Barney creeps behind. we’re enthralled by these 3 wild animals. Bailey, tanned dark brown, has chalky bare feet from days in the heat. Jan and I can hardly stand it for a few seconds, but the boy doesn’t notice at all.
Carl told us it’s their sixth trip down this summer.
so Bailey has had all summer steaming sand stomping to make callouses of his feet. little boy hoofs, most likely. he’ll get that gull someday cause he’s as quiet as a lizard. I see him try again and this looks like it might be it. he contracts himself to the ground, his little energy moves to center. i can see it. I whisper,
She whispers back “I got him Olivia. I got him.”
the gull squawks just out of his reach.
one feather floats down and settles in the sand. Bailey snatches it up and dives backwards into the sand. he makes a show of being mad, but he’s all giggles. Barney swoops in and licks his face. this is a game they all play. he’s quick to jump up and is back storming down the beach and more gulls. he and Barney disappear out of our sight.
“Did you get him Jan?”
she thumbs through the photos. and smiles. “I got him.”
Jan puts down the camera, arches her back, extends her hands and points her toes. the water sounds now, without Bailey’s stomping, like muted applause. just over the dune our little roamer roars, chasing more gulls. Barney trots back by our side. quiet. almost instantly, asleep.
“No thanks baby.”
“Shades passing us. Want to go back inside in the air?”
“In a little while.”
“Home tomorrow then?”
“We don’t have to.”
Jan leans over her chair and kisses my salt-moist temple.
her lips are poised and quiet, like she’s drawing all my thoughts out and into her mouth where she rolls them into a tiny little pill she can swallow. she rolls my thoughts like that, then like there’s a string attached to close my eyes. the string between her teeth, her head pulls back slowly. she breathes out of her nose into my forehead. she pulls all my worries out of there.
“No, we don’t have to leave.”
“Do you want to?”
“I never want to leave.”
the quiet is broken by Bailey. and a chorus of gulls leaving the beach. they howl into the sky to flee his stomp-screaming. Barney looks up at him and barks once before settling back to sleep.