This had been their spot. Where they stood years – decades – ago holding hands. Where waves lapped onto shore and cold water shocked warm feet. Where they left unfinished sandcastles.
The young father inhaled the same scent of seaweed and algae he remembered from the times with his grandad. Careful not to spill what he cradled in his left hand, he looked down at his son and squeezed the boy’s hand just like his grandad twenty-two years earlier.
“Daddy, daddy,” his son shouted when the waves struck his bare feet, “Cold!” The boy laughed and hopped just as his father had.
“Do you want to go back?”
“No! Do it again, daddy. Make the waves come back.”
And the young father did. Again and again. Each time the waves rushed over the boy’s feet, he jumped and laughed as his father did when his own grandad held his hand on this very spot.
“Do you need some help?”
The young father turned toward the sound of his wife’s voice.
He shook his head from side to side. “We’re fine.” He watched his wife lean back on the beach towel laid atop the sand.
As the tide calmed and rolled, as white peaks morphed into foam and tall breakers turned into gentle laps, he twisted the lid with his right hand, opened the jar and poured some of the contents on the beach and some onto the coastline.
“What are you doing, daddy?”
“Adding sand to the beach.”
“Because he’s my grandad.”
For as long as I can remember my daddy told me – his little princess – stories of kings and queens, witches and goblins, warriors and slaves. He continued to tell stories when I was older, and we sat in crowded, open yards. And when I asked him, he told me a story of why he and mommy divorced:
My daddy had tracked a lady for days. From home to work, work to store, store to home. He huddled in his truck. Took photographs of her movements. Drew diagrams. Constructed renderings. Printed out notecards. Determined she lived alone.
Early on a Friday evening, he entered her house and waited.
“Do what I say, and it will be painless.” She complied out of fear while begging for relief. But Daddy told me there was no relief until, no longer able to breathe, she was his.
Then, he hauled her body to a church basement, photographed her in various positions; secreted her from the basement, and deposited her under a bridge – gently positioning her on her back.
The next evening after supper he returned under the bridge with one of my princess Halloween masks, placed it over her face, and photographed her.
I was allowed to visit him nine times after he told me that story. He told different stories as we sat in the open yard across from each other on unmovable metal stools attached to tables imbedded in cement and surrounded by men in uniforms carrying rifles.
Then I stopped visiting him.
My daddy had run out of stories.
Was I Not Curious Enough?
Was I not curious enough when I met your parents and noticed they did not touch each other?
Was I not curious enough when the inconsistencies started?
When the lies surfaced?
When your excuses overcame logic?
When our arguments began?
Was I not curious enough when I laid down my ultimatum?
When for over fifteen years, we moved from state to state, job to job?
When I continued to live as if nothing had happened?
Did I not ask the right questions?
When the paychecks became erratic, and your time at home grew longer.
Your work hours shorter.
When I visited you at your job and learned you had not worked there in over a month?
Did I believe because you were gentler than most – never raised your hand or voice – you would change?
Was I not curious enough when the police knocked on the door?
Did I not ask the right questions when I posted bail?
When you appeared in court?
Was I not curious enough during the next three years of calm that followed?
With steady paychecks? Promotions? Stability?
Was I not curious enough when the creditors called?
When there were no more job interviews?
No more jobs?
Did I accommodate?
Shrink myself into the marriage?
Was I …?
Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues, including Ellipsis, Better Than Starbucks, The Cabinet of Heed, Flash Frontier, Short Édition, Journal of Expressive Writing, The Selkie, The New Ulster, The Lampeter, and Adelaide. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.