by Laura Gabel-Hartman
“Mimi,” Vienna said. “Cats.”
It looked like Lynnie’s granddaughter was waiting for her to save the day—to save the world, even. Vienna, 7, crouched to the street, her arms draped over her knees. The bird’s beak was shark’s-tooth white. Lynnie exchanged a look with Suzanne, who leaned against a tree. They were about a mile from the house now, and after this walk, they had plans to go to Jacksonville Beach. Suzanne was already wearing what Lynnie thought of as her beach robe, a flowing cotton vest with oversized pockets perfect for shells. Oh, Suzanne, her beach robe was not attractive, but it was her, and interestingly Lynnie never gave Suzanne advice on clothes or hair, as she had with her ex-husband Sean. She and Suzanne had their different styles. They were comfortable together after nine years and yet in other ways formal with each other, respectful. Lynnie wouldn’t say for instance that Suzanne should burn her ridiculous robe.
“Nature will have to decide whether it lives or—” Suzanne trailed off.
“Don’t say it,” Lynnie said. “We’ll take it home. We’ll put it in a shoebox.”
After seven years of Vienna, Suzanne still hadn’t learned to censor. Last time they’d kept their granddaughter, Suzanne had told them about a tennis friend, Carla Mitchum, who died at the public court in Boone Park. Carla had needed to rest on the bench a couple of times, and the others had said, “Carla, you don’t look so good.” But Carla wanted to win the game, and then she was dead. For weeks Vienna asked Lynnie: What did Ms. Mitchum look like when she looked so bad? Why did she die like that?
Lynnie’s daughter Kaitlyn only asked them to watch Vienna when she was desperate, and Lynnie might not be allowed to babysit again if that conversation was repeated.
“We’ll build a birdhouse out of cardboard,” Suzanne rallied. “We’ll cut out parts with an Exacto knife. We’ll use your favorite, the glue gun.”
Vienna looked happy, showing her bright white baby teeth, top and bottom. She’d never had a cavity.
When Lynnie scooped up the bird with two large loquat leaves, it worked its wings up and down and then craned its neck and squawked, flashing a red diamond of throat.
“I’ll tell Granny about this bird,” Lynnie said. This would be perfect news. She had cordoned off so many subjects from her mother. They used to talk about the environment, but now that topic agitated her mother too much. Mom wanted to be buried or disposed of in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Luckily, in a recent moment of clarity, she’d made directives for her funeral arrangements. Her young woman doctor said she didn’t expect her to last much longer. She’d had a third stroke. They’d hired a caregiver for nighttime, while Lynnie and Kaitlyn covered daytime, though sometimes they’d run out for a bit when Mom dozed off. She slept as much as a cat, hardly ate, and eventually, they all knew, she wouldn’t wake up. She’d had hallucinations about Lynnie’s dad, who died years earlier, when Lynnie was 12. She asked Dad what route to take. She tried to remember the word “cantilevered.” She said that having children was painful, and she didn’t mean childbirth. Lynnie was hurt when she first heard this, though she understood what her mother meant. Once upon a time Kaitlyn had had those baby teeth like Vienna’s. Lynnie had a more complicated feeling about pictures of Kaitlyn little now. She had the feeling of time passing, Kaitlyn no longer hers anymore, little Kaitlyn so innocent and big Kaitlyn hard to love sometimes. The doctor said to keep talking because hearing was the last sense to go. This bird would be a perfect topic.
“If you get buried in a wicker casket, what if one day you need to be exhumed?” Suzanne asked her. She must have had Mom’s directives on her mind, too.
“She’s not a murder victim.” Lynnie made a face at Suzanne over Vienna’s head.
“I don’t know why I said that,” Suzanne said.
The bird looked up at them.
“He likes me,” Vienna said.
“I think she does.” Lynnie winked at Suzanne. They were trying to break Vienna of calling everything in nature a “he.”
“When I look at the wing bones, I think of model airplanes.” Suzanne pointed to the bits of skeleton visible through the blue-gray baby down that was crosshatched with the newer flight feathers.
Lynnie stumbled, and the bird flapped its wings.
“Come on, little birdie,” she cooed in the same voice she used for lifting a sleeping Vienna out of the car and into bed. “It’ll be okay.” Partway back toward home, the bird retracted its neck, folded its wings, and closed its tiny dark eyes. Lynnie was aware she was making a memory. She might even have left the bird on the ground if not for an experience with Vienna. Now Vienna reached for the bird.
“Make a cup with your hands. Now be still.” Lynnie held the bird out to her granddaughter, whose tummy protruded between skinny khakis and a scrunched tube top with stars on it. Worse, Vienna was in the habit of drawing on herself and had scribbled a flower around her belly button with a Sharpie. Swimming would take care of that, Lynnie hoped. But the tube top! A grandmother shouldn’t comment, though maybe she’d offer to take Vienna shopping.
Soon Vienna wasn’t keeping her hands horizontal and was taking long strides, jarring the bird. “Me King Kong,” she said.
“Let me carry it while we walk,” Lynnie said.
“Jesus, Lynnie,” Suzanne said, five paces ahead of them. “Let the kid hold the bird.”
Lynnie ignored Suzanne. “Whew,” Vienna said, ready to relinquish it, and Lynnie liked having the weight of it back in her hands.
By the time they were home, Vienna had collected more than enough nest material—leaves and green pine needle brooms chewed off the trees by squirrels.
“Get the stool and empty one of the shoeboxes from my closet,” Lynnie told Vienna. She knew she shouldn’t touch the bird, but it looked so soft, and while Vienna was upstairs and Suzanne was rounding up her Exacto knife and glue gun, Lynnie couldn’t resist stroking the back of its neck.
“Aren’t you not supposed to touch it?” Suzanne asked.
Lynnie startled. “You’re right,” she said. Suzanne spread her supplies on a sheet of waxed paper on the kitchen table. The down had looked so soft that Lynnie hadn’t been able to help herself, but Suzanne was right that she shouldn’t have. She heard an avalanche of shoeboxes tumble from her closet.
“You okay?” Lynnie called.
“Yes,” Vienna yelled back.
There was so much pressure around keeping a grandchild. Less pressure in that the child could go back to the parents, Kaitlyn and her husband Arthur, but more in that if anything happened to this child, Lynnie would be accountable, not only to herself but to her daughter as well. Her disaster fantasies included broken arms from climbing trees, bites from dogs, and falls down escalators. Kaitlyn would never speak to her again if anything happened to Vienna. And Lynnie would be accountable to Arthur. To Arthur’s parents. She watched Vienna more carefully than she had her own daughter. She wondered not for the first time why Kaitlyn had picked the name Vienna, which made her think of sausages.
Now she heard Vienna’s uneven gallop down the stairs.
It seemed like the Exacto knife and glue gun had energized Suzanne. “Let’s get this bird into this box,” she said.
Together they three curved the needles around the corners of the box and layered a bed of leaves to make a nest. The bird relaxed in the box. Suzanne searched the Internet and found B.E.A.K.S., Bird Emergency Aid and Kare Sanctuary, an outfit on Big Talbot Island that could nurture the bird until it was old enough to be returned to the wild. Lynnie and Suzanne didn’t have any of the suggested food items handy—dog or cat food, baby food, or oatmeal—so they crushed the Organic Honey O’s they kept in the pantry for Vienna and mixed them with water. Vienna and Lynnie took turns feeding it with a dropper from an old infant medicine bottle. When it was Vienna’s turn, not much food made it inside the beak, and Lynnie was concerned that the Honey O’s would turn into a paste on the baby’s neck, just as they did under Kaitlyn and Arthur’s kitchen table.
“Can we build the birdhouse, Suzanne?” Vienna asked once Lynnie had reclaimed the dropper. Vienna flicked a construction paper owl she’d cut out the last time they’d kept her.
“I’d like us to build a remote control airplane, too,” Suzanne said. Lynnie knew that model airplanes still hung from Suzanne’s childhood ceiling, and even as a teenager Suzanne had launched endless flying machines made of balsa sticks.
“Sure,” Vienna said. It still sounded like “Sho,” and yet she’d recently graduated to big-girl scissors and held a pair the safe way in one hand.
“We need to get moving if we’re going to fit in B.E.A.K.S. and the beach before Mommy wants you back,” Lynnie said. “So go get your suit on.” Vienna scooted on the floor on her butt toward the stairs, the scissors still held safely.
“Since when did you get so interested in animals?” Suzanne asked Lynnie.
“I think Vienna inspired me.”
Suzanne’s forehead crinkled. “That’s kinda sweet.”
Lynnie flipped the ties of Suzanne’s beach robe. “Thanks,” she said.
Then Vienna came downstairs and had clearly cut her bangs, which were now jagged and too short to lie flat. Oh my God, Kaitlyn would not be happy. There would be no covering that up.
“Did you cut your hair?” Lynnie asked.
“No,” Vienna said.
“You did,” she said.
“Your mother is going to shoot me,” Lynnie said.
Suzanne drove. They’d stop at B.E.A.K.S. on the way to the beach. Otherwise, Suzanne had pointed out, even if they left the windows down, a living thing shouldn’t stay in the hot car that long. Plus, predators. Lynnie held the bird on her lap. Good thing they’d buffeted the box with pine needles and leaves because a stain already compromised one of its corners.
They crossed bridges over North Florida’s whitest dunes and bluest water. They passed produce stands and the beach that allowed trucks. Then rusted lawn art on prickly St. Augustine grass. They passed new construction, all peach stucco and Roman arches. And then every variety of beach house—most often with mailboxes in the shape of creatures native to Florida, manatees and dolphins and fish—beach houses on stilts, beach houses shaped like lighthouses, battered and faded wooden houses, and flat brick ranches. They turned at a plastic mailbox the shape of a pelican head and big enough to hold a shoebox, then followed a white crushed shell road. An emu watched them from behind a fence while turkeys milled around a pond. The B.E.A.K.S. building, made of cinder blocks and aqua corrugated fiberglass, put Lynnie in mind of a campground shower house.
Once out of the car, Suzanne held back the stiff plastic flap that operated as a door, and they three entered B.E.A.K.S. A girl in low-rise jeans plucked the bird from its makeshift nest. Her belly swung with her movements as she held the bird in one cupped hand and wrote in a notebook with the other.
“You’ve got yourself a blue jay.” She held the bird in her naked hand, her fingernails dirty. She didn’t react to mosquitoes landing on her.
“Does he have a broken wing?” Vienna asked.
“He’s puny, that’s all,” the girl said.
Cats milled around the table, the floor, and on top of the partition around the reception area. For some reason they didn’t go for the blue jay. Vienna rushed toward a cluster of cats, scattering them, and Suzanne lifted Vienna onto her shoulders. A peacock lorded over another wall of the partition. The girl said that their bird would grow up with a group and then be released with that group when it was ready.
“I thought once a human touched it, other birds would reject it.” Lynnie gave Suzanne a guilty glance. Suzanne, still holding one of Vienna’s legs, flopped her other arm toward Lynnie as if to say, don’t worry about it. I forgive you.
“That’s a myth. The mother would touch it,” the girl said.
On the way to the beach they stopped for boiled peanuts sold out of the bed of a pickup. The salesman ripped off paper towels for them because of the peanuts’ steaming liquid that squirted indiscriminately and sideways like a lemon squeezed into tea. They bought tomatoes and unripe peaches from him, too. Vienna said she’d never had a peach.
“How come you’ve never had a peach?” the man asked.
She shrugged. “I’m picky,” she said.
Back in the car, Lynnie spread paper towels on her lap.
“When will you ever let me try a peach?” Vienna said.
“Yeah, when can she try a peach?” Suzanne echoed, teasing Lynnie.
But Lynnie didn’t want her to try one too soon and then not like peaches. “I’m afraid they’re not ripe. Let me test one at home first, and then I can tell you when.”
People, umbrellas, and plastic toys cluttered the beach by the time they spread their towels a few feet from shore, within shouting distance from the lifeguard’s chair. Suzanne stretched out on her towel, while Lynnie took Vienna’s hand and pulled her toward the ocean. Vienna dug her heels in the sand, throwing all her weight away from the water, so Lynnie picked her up and carried her through the breakers. Lynnie jumped every time a wave came, keeping them from getting beaten up too much so that Vienna would want to be there. She plunged them out to the calm part, where Vienna finally relaxed in her arms and the longshore current pushed them north toward The Sea Turtle so gradually that they weren’t even aware of it.
“I can’t see what’s down there,” Vienna said.
“But it can see you. It will steer clear of you.”
“I don’t want fish to touch me.”
“The last thing fish want is to touch you,” Lynnie said, resolving to take Vienna to a beach with clear water one day. Maybe Sanibel, if Kaitlyn would let her take her overnight. Mom had taken Lynnie and her brother to Sanibel, where they’d get up early to look for shells and overnight the ocean would reconfigure the tidal pools, making dune-shaped sand impressions at the bottom of them. By afternoon, all the big whole shells had been picked up, and the sun was hot, the pools warm as urine. Lynnie’s first shell show entry had been called “My Sanibel Shells.”
Mom had taught them how to find sharks’ teeth, she’d taught them names of shells, and she’d taught them to swim. She’d pushed Lynnie to open her eyes in salt water, even though visibility was bad off the coast of Jacksonville. She’d taught Lynnie to swim freestyle through the opaque water and to have faith that sharks and rays would steer clear of her.
Once Vienna’s fingertips were shriveled and her nose runny, they came out of the water, and Lynnie gave her a lesson in how to find sharks’ teeth among the crushed shells. Unfortunately, she couldn’t think how to explain it beyond “look for a black triangle,” the white ones being more rare. Lynnie found several right away and then sat down beside Suzanne while Vienna kept sifting through the bits of shells. Soon Vienna squealed and brought over a longer tooth, possibly that of a lemon shark. Lemon, tiger, or sand, Lynnie couldn’t be sure.
“I followed Granny around for years before I found my first tooth,” Lynnie said. Her voice cracked, and Suzanne squeezed her hand. Maybe Lynnie would take Vienna over to see Mom today, and they could show off the tooth. Since her mother had been so confused lately, that might be more concrete than the blue jay. Vienna was good with Mom because Vienna wasn’t thinking about the past or the future, while Lynnie had trouble not thinking about what she’d lost and what she still had to lose. Mom’s eyes always followed Vienna’s light-up shoes.
Vienna poked her finger with the point of the tooth. Then she handed it to Lynnie for safekeeping and returned to the edge of the ocean, skittering away with the sandpipers when the water touched her toes. A healthy fear of the ocean was good, but this child hardly got wet.
“You can go deeper than that,” Lynnie called. Vienna had had swim lessons. She’d passed the high dive and deep end tests. Kaitlyn had said Vienna could make it one length of the Olympic-sized pool without taking a breath. Could tread water for thirty seconds. Had gone to one weekend of Mermaid Camp at Weeki Wachee. Most Florida kids learned to swim early and well and on teams, Vienna included. “The waves won’t get you even if you’re up to your knees.” She wanted to pass on a love for the ocean just as her mother had done for her, Mom in her floral bathing bra and matching shorts and a floppy hat tied under her chin, her mom who in 1975 had banned Lynnie from seeing Jaws after a family friend had seen it and vowed never to go into the ocean again. Enjoying the ocean was part of being human. They needed to keep it clean, was all. Mom had often talked about the island of plastic in the Pacific. She knew plastic was made from petroleum, that it cost energy to produce. Though it was a little too late, just this week Suzanne had bought Mom a stainless steel water bottle.
Lynnie bent over, scanning for teeth in the patches of coquinas and oyster shells, tacking not more than a few yards in either direction.
“What’s the point of finding sharks’ teeth, anyway?” Suzanne asked.
“It’s like meditation,” Lynnie said.
“But what’s the point?”
“That’s just it—there is no point.”
Suzanne picked up a piece of driftwood. “Now this might be useful.” She put it into her beach robe pocket. “This could be good for a project.”
Suzanne had outrivaled Lynnie in the project department. Lynnie’s father had been their project director. He had supported and inspired her with her dioramas of the major oceans and building a box for her shell collection and countless other handy, creative things. She always thought she’d be the one, but then Suzanne had burst in with her glue gun, which Vienna found much more alluring than Lynnie’s rocks and Popsicle sticks. Of course Lynnie was attracted to Suzanne for some of the qualities her dad had, and yet it was annoying to be eclipsed as the arts and crafts maker with the grandchild who was biologically hers.
Now Suzanne waded through a shallow pool while Lynnie looked for teeth and kept Vienna in sight.
“Look,” Suzanne said. She’d lifted a whelk from the pool, and now she held it out to show Lynnie, who was excited to see. It was rare to find whole shells here by the rough Atlantic. The animal was still inside, the operculum a gray-brown flap protecting it. This whelk was another thing she could tell Mom about when she visited later on. She’d be full of news today.
“Brains have opercula. I read once that Einstein’s was malformed,” Suzanne said.
Lynnie was looking at the lightning whelk, its stripes orange and brown—how did this soft body with primitive brain feel about being seized from its pool?—she was thinking when she heard a high-pitched animal yell. Vienna. She whipped around. What felt like seconds before, Vienna had been ankle deep, squatting with her hands patting the water, but now she was up to her mouth and flapping her arms.
“Blow bubbles,” Lynnie yelled, running now. A swell moved toward Vienna, and Lynnie saw her rise up with it, her head at its crest. When the wave crashed, she disappeared. Lynnie lunged toward the spot where Vienna had been. The ocean’s huge grid of crosscurrents could push you up the coast or out to sea, and underwater it could be hard to tell which way was up. It felt like every water molecule in the ocean was working against Lynnie as she made her way toward Vienna.
But on this day everything ended up okay. Lynnie lifted Vienna from the mouth-deep water by her armpits, searching her face to see if she was all right. Her lips had blued, and she cried for a second and then recovered. She hadn’t been that deep because Lynnie could stand. Lynnie faced the shore, her feet contracting against broken shells, and she held onto Vienna, who wrapped her arms tightly around Lynnie’s neck. Lynnie jumped when another wave came, launching them over it back first, protecting Vienna, whose hair was still dry in a circle on top but wet and stringy around her face.
While carrying Vienna back to their towels, she felt sand between her skin and her granddaughter’s. She felt the weight of Vienna on her knees. She remembered one time her acupuncturist friend had said that pain in the knees meant fear. She expected someone to call out, for a sluggish lifeguard to apologize, but people only stared, including Suzanne. A woman and three teenaged boys with sun-bleached hair were stiff and silent.
As soon as Lynnie set her down between their towels and the ocean, Vienna started scraping out a moat with an oyster shell. That was a kid for you, moving along with the day even though there’d been a scare.
“Were you having trouble out there?” Lynnie asked.
“Just a little,” Vienna said.
Lynnie sat cross-legged, her knees pinched that way, her heartbeat still settling back down. Vienna had always been afraid of the ocean. Why’d you go out there? Why’d you go deeper? Why today? Now that the emergency was over, Lynnie was mostly afraid of what Kaitlyn would say.
Now Suzanne was helping Vienna build the sand castle in the middle of the moat. “My mom thought I was drowning once,” she said, smiling to herself and then shaking her head slowly. “I was pretending to be a manta ray and holding my breath underwater when she jumped in wearing all her clothes,” Suzanne said.
Lynnie brushed sand from her arms.
“Can you go get me that stick?” she asked Vienna, who ran unaware toward a piece of driftwood about ten yards up the beach.
“So what are you saying?” Lynnie asked. “That I imagined she was in trouble?”
“No. I was talking about my mom.” She kept refining the castle, hardening its edges, trying to give it a crenellated molding. “I’m glad Vienna’s okay.”
“What if something had happened to her?”
“Honey, nothing happened. She’s fine.”
The tide was coming in, and soon they would need to move back.
“I was so scared,” Lynnie said. “I could see she was in danger. Besides which, Kaitlyn would never forgive me. I’m considering asking Vienna to keep it a secret.”
On the other hand, if she told Vienna to lie and Kaitlyn found out, that could make things worse. She straightened her legs out in front of her and felt the opposite of limber.
“Here’s a question,” Suzanne said. “Would you want her to never go in the water?”
Lynnie watched Vienna run back toward them with her familiar lopsided gait, throwing one leg out to the side. From her prance, the sand was hot on her feet. “No,” she said. “I want her in the water.” The next wave filled the moat, making its edges undefined.
And then Vienna was back on Lynnie’s lap, holding the stick and a dirty Styrofoam cup, settling her legs on top of Lynnie’s. Lynnie put her arms like a seatbelt around Vienna. Only a ghost of the Sharpie flower remained around her belly button. She rubbed each of Vienna’s fingernails, their glitter nail polish half chipped off. Then Vienna turned sideways and balled up on Lynnie’s lap. She had circles under her eyes. Her skin, so smooth, had rarely been sunburned. In the front, her hair was less than an inch long in places, crosshatched with the longer hairs.
“I wish you’d taken my picture when I was holding that bird,” Vienna said.
“I guess you’ll have to keep the picture in your memory.” Lynnie gave Vienna another squeeze, and their breathing became syncopated until Lynnie heard thunder, which came like clockwork most summer afternoons. Soon back home hard, splattering drops of rain would knock rusty pine needles onto the sidewalk, and here at the beach, even with the dark clouds far off and the sky still blue, lifeguards would whistle everyone out of the water. She wouldn’t win whether she told Kaitlyn or not.
Kaitlyn’s car was in the driveway when they pulled in to Mom’s. Lynnie wasn’t ready to give Vienna back, but now Kaitlyn would want to take her home to simplify the logistics of the day. Oh well, that did make sense. They parked in the sandy driveway, untidy with oak leaves. Vienna brought the shark’s tooth, and Suzanne chose the best peaches and tomatoes for Mom.
Lynnie used her own key to get in. The house was dark, as usual, and smelled like Mom, who had heard about this movement in New York City where they tried to operate without electricity, using only natural light. She rarely even used A/C. Maybe Kaitlyn was more respectful of Mom’s ideals than Lynnie was. Maybe she didn’t mind visiting in the den in the dark. Lynnie made out the back of Kaitlyn’s head, her two braids, and Lynnie knew that her daughter had gone swimming in them and then let them air dry. Her braids had a certain texture after swimming, baby hairs puffing out from each braid. Maybe Kaitlyn had stopped by here after her swim. Maybe she showered at night these days. As a teenager she’d always showered in the mornings. But who knew? Lynnie didn’t know what was going on. When Kaitlyn pulled her head back from Mom’s face, Kaitlyn was crying, and Mom was dead.
“What—” Lynnie let go of Vienna’s hand and ran to her mother, whose lips were gray, her complexion blue. Kaitlyn let out a yelp and lay her head in Mom’s lap like a dog. Mom’s hair was wild, her eyes opened so wide that she looked as if she’d just recounted an illogical dream, maybe one of her dreams about Dad. Lynnie knelt by her mother’s side and took her hand. She slid Mom’s wedding ring around her finger so that the modest diamond would be on top. She wished they’d stopped by the house en route to B.E.A.K.S. or the beach, and she had a stab of jealousy that Kaitlyn had found her or even been with her.
“Have you been here long?” Lynnie asked Kaitlyn.
“Half an hour, maybe.”
“You were with her?”
She wished Mom hadn’t died alone, though knowing her mother, she’d wanted it that way. Lynnie wanted to tell her about the operculum and the blue jay. She wanted to thank her for accepting her in the end. To thank her for including Suzanne in family photos and for acknowledging Suzanne’s birthday with a card. She’d wanted a better good-bye.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“I was just about to call you,” Kaitlyn said.
“Mommy,” Vienna said.
“Granny died, sweetheart,” Kaitlyn said.
Suzanne offered to call someone.
“Just give us a minute,” Kaitlyn said.
Lynnie would call her brother. Over the next half hour she delegated some calls to Suzanne, but not that one. She stroked her mother’s hand, which was stiff and cool. It was a shock no matter how much you’d expected or prepared for it, even if it was due to natural causes, no matter how much she was “better off,” having a grand time traveling through a welcoming tunnel of light. Lynnie had never seen a dead body before. Mom hadn’t let them see Daddy. They were all quiet but for their whimpers and the empathetic sounds of the house, now and then a burst of small clear squares of ice tumbling into the icemaker.
“Mommy,” Vienna said. “I got lost in the ocean.”
“What?” Kaitlyn said absently.
“A wave got me,” she said.
Kaitlyn stood up, then wobbled a little. “Were you not watching her?”
“I turned around for one second, and she was in a wave.”
Kaitlyn’s face had been sad and whimpering, crying over Mom, but now her expression was scorching. “When you have my child at the beach, you don’t turn around for one second.”
“It could have happened to anybody,” Lynnie said. She started to say I really was watching her, but that wasn’t quite true. In fact she’d been distracted by the whelk. But her mother had just died. She didn’t want to spend energy defending herself when her mother had just died.
“I disagree,” Kaitlyn said. “It could not have happened to anybody.”
“It was one second,” Lynnie said. “Suzanne didn’t even think she was drowning.”
“She wasn’t drowning,” Suzanne said.
“I don’t know if I can feel safe leaving her with you again.”
Lynnie held up her hands and made them into earphones.
“But Mimi saved me,” Vienna said.
“I won’t make excuses,” Lynnie said. “All I know to say is sorry.” She wished her mother could jump in, could smooth it over and rescue her. Mom would have thought the whole conversation ridiculous. Almost everything about parenting from then to now had changed. Protecting children meant something different now. Back in the era of family trips to Sanibel, her mother had never watched them at the beach. She left watching them to the lifeguards, if that. She had been tanning or reading—sleeping, even. But she showed them things. She held out whelks. She showed them the operculum protecting the soft body like a trap door.
LAURA GABEL-HARTMAN‘s stories have been named Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train‘s Fiction Open and Finalist in CutBank‘s Montana Prize in Fiction. Her work has been published in Carve Magazine, Green Hills Literary Lantern, MAKE Magazine, North American Review, Red Cedar Review, Rio Grande Review, Southern Humanities Review, and appears in the current issue of CutBank. She earned her MFA in Fiction at Virginia Commonwealth University.