Geraldine heard her mother and father come up with another reason to sell the house. They watched Geraldine dabble at the edge of the surf, her mother straightening a kerchief and her dad in his pullover despite the sun pinching at them with rays like claws. It was time to go eat and Geraldine was still in her swimsuit. Their beach was small, the water level had risen in the past few years. Now there was only a strip of sand before the sod of their yard began. She didn’t care if the water came up to the back door, Geraldine told her parents she wouldn’t let them sell the house, not to bother calling that broker from the ads on the local news.
Geraldine had put up with changes and she didn’t like them. She didn’t like when she moved up to the new school and had to memorize a locker combination. She didn’t like her new polka-dot bra whose straps would never stay up. She hated how her mother’s body was getting smaller as hers grew, as if she was greedy, stealing the flesh that fell away from her mother. She hadn’t lived a long life and yet each year that passed forced a universe of change on her. Geraldine was tired of this seemingly unending process of metamorphosis.
When Geraldine was small, her mother would hold her over the surface, dunking her chicklet toes in the foam. The cold jolt of water would send her giggling into her mother’s arms, so smooth and glassine, like a waxed cherry. Now her mother was a grid of skin tags from arm to neck, her face pitted and sandpapery, like her father’s on Sunday mornings. Only when her mother submerged herself all the way under the salt water and stayed down, did her disease flake off. She seemed momentarily healed, as if the key to survival was almost drowning.
Her parents waited for her to get up but the liquid felt cool like her insides got when she let the tide splash between her legs. She didn’t want to leave the spot she made for herself, a hollowed-out divot just big enough for her to sit in. She wiped off the sand glomming onto thin hairs below her knees.
She watched her parents give up and get smaller as they headed towards the horizon of the house. They gave her a five-minute warning but Geraldine couldn’t see the temperature of their glares in the sun. If they were kidding or if they were lying about time like parents did.
Geraldine had to pee. Her mother used to tell her to go ahead and pee in the ocean.
No one cares, Geraldine. Just go in your suit.
But everyone’s gonna see it all turn yellow.
Honey, no one’s watching. I’m the only one here.
Geraldine insisted on being covered. In a satiny pink bathing suit, her mother looked like the smooth inside of a conch. Geraldine squatted and made herself into an easel. She told her mother to look away. And when she was in the middle of letting it all out, the stream unstoppable, her mother would look back at her and they’d lock eyes.
She saw her father waiting for her through the wide mouth of the kitchen window, cooling off under a ceiling fan. She picked up a shell and put it to her ear knowing that he would pick up the wall phone. He was mouthing something, popping off like bacon frying. She barked into the ear-like folds of the shell, I can’t hear you. He hung up the phone when her mother called out to her from the open door, that it was too late for the Club, she’d draw Geraldine an oatmeal bath and they’d make due with sandwiches.
You’re red as a lobster, her mom called out to her.
Lobsters are black before you boil them!
Geraldine sat holding in her pee. The sun flared and fell closer. Geraldine felt hungover from it, like the day after drinking the dregs of rum and pineapple on Christmas. She fell in and out of sleep on the sand, a second or two of grogginess alleviated by discomfort. Her body ached with burn and she considered letting the undertow take her out to cure her of her ills, but her mother’s voice would never escape her. She heard her saying that thing people said about what daughters become. She heard it in her head and removed the shell from her ear. Her mother’s voice used to be softer. She could harmonize it with the gulls once, until it deepened after a treatment. Her mother was better for a while, but her voice never returned.
Geraldine tried to make it back to the house but only got as far as the grass. It was an okay house on the beach and it would make everything easier to get rid of it. The money. It would change things. I’m never going to have this again, she heard herself say and she tried to say it how her mom would. Before.
She’d felt drops from her suit. She couldn’t tell if it was still wet from the ocean or if she let out the pee she’d been holding in. She turned and saw her father there big and still as a boulder wrapped in his sweater. Sirens sharpened the air, closing off her ears like how the sun flares so bright it goes from illuminating the world to bleaching it out to nothing.