Somewhere Beyond the Sea
by Bill Prindle
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
When eleven-year old Michael Walker and his father are temporarily shipwrecked on a remote Maine island, Michael meets and falls in love with twelve-year old islander Bess. After sailing home, Michael discovers that nothing on the island was what it seemed, including his beloved Bess.
“Follow me,” she said. Taking a deep breath, she dove down toward a bed of seaweed swaying in the current.
I caught up to her, the cold water closing around me the deeper I went. She parted some kelp to reveal a fish resting in its brown and green tangles. Closer to the bottom she parted waving strands of seaweed to reveal a family of crabs, who flared their claws at her. She picked up a medium-sized one and swam toward me, holding the crab out in front of her. I pushed off the bottom and shot to the surface, whipping my head around to see where she was.
Bess’s head broke the surface and then her hand, still holding the crab, its claws deployed for battle. Bess was laughing so hard she gulped some water. “You’re a fast swimmer when you need to be,” she said and let the crab drift back to its home.
She dove again and came up with a dark stone with a white ring of quartz circling it. “Rocks with a ring around them are lucky. The smooth ones are the luckiest.” She dove again. I swam to shallower water, pulled myself along the bottom, and collected a handful of candidates.
When I came up for air, Bess was walking knee-deep in the water, shielding her eyes as she searched the bottom.
“How about these?” I asked.
I placed the stones onto her long, water-wrinkled fingers. None of them was lucky enough, she said, and tossed them back.
She told me to keep looking, which I did with no success.The cold water was getting to me, so I walked up the beach to the driftwood log and sat on the sun-warmed pebbles. I thought about putting on my clothes but didn’t. Instead I rested my arms across my thighs.
I watched her body arch and dive and followed her progress underwater. She broke the surface, water slicking down her hair and streaming down her neck and shoulders. I caught her light blue eyes looking at me and held up my empty hands. “I’m not lucky.”
When she walked out of the waters towards me, I didn’t mean to stare, but I’d never seen a girl naked, so I looked. Her body was tanned and lean, with long arms and legs and squared shoulders like her father, her short water-darkened hair slicked back.
She had the beginning of a girl’s figure, with soft curves for breasts, slim waist, a hint of widening hips, and a tuft of hair. She moved with a deliberate, boyish stride and seemed completely unselfconscious.
She sat close to me and shook her head, spraying me with water. She laughed and did it again, leaning against me, and I gave her a shove that sent her on her side. She righted herself, moved over so our shoulders were touching, stretched out her legs, and picked up a handful of pebbles. We didn’t say anything for a while and let the sun warm us.
She began tossing the pebbles one by one into the water, each pebble making a soft “plop” as it hit. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” she asked.
I had to think about that. I was a well-behaved kid. If an adult told me to do something, I did it and said, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am.” I was going to tell her about the time I’d stolen one of those little metal pencil sharpeners from a kid in my class. I’d felt so guilty I put it back in his desk the next day. But then the memory of the boom hitting Dad rushed back, and I repeated what I’d told her the previous evening.
“He shouldn’t have had the damned mainsail up,” she said. “That’s the captain’s fault, not the mate’s.”
I wasn’t convinced but felt better to hear her say it. I was definitely surprised to hear her swear.
I asked if she’d ever done anything bad.
“When Alvie died, Mama said God called him home. I said Alvie already had a home with us, and I hated God for taking him. Mama scolded me when I said it, but it didn’t change how I felt.”
She sounded unrepentant. I didn’t know anyone who’d died and couldn’t imagine what it must be like to lose someone you loved.
She continued tossing pebbles, as if marking time.
To change the subject, I asked her how she got the scar on her lip. She turned her body and knelt next to me, her knees pressed against my thighs.
“Zeus kicked me,” she said. “I was seven and didn’t know any better and came up behind him. Broke my nose too. Feel this.”
She took my right hand and ran my forefinger back and forth along the bridge of her nose. “Feel that?” she asked.
I didn’t feel anything and said so.
“What about this?” she said and pressed the tip of my finger against her lip. I could just barely feel the scar.
“Helen said no boy is going to want to kiss me ’cause of it, and I told her why would I want to kiss some damned boy anyway.”
Since I attended an all-boys school, my experience with girls had been limited to the dance lessons Mom had enrolled me in the previous spring. I’d liked a couple of the girls and wondered what it might be like to kiss them, but that was all. My friend Tony Davis bragged that he’d kissed a lot of girls, but I didn’t believe him.
Bess turned and leaned back against the log, our shoulders touching. “Johnny Wardwell wanted to be my boyfriend last year and chased me all over the playground. He said when he caught me he’d kiss me and that meant I was his girl friend,” she said. “He caught me and I punched him in the nose and knocked him flat.” Plop went another pebble. “Mama says I have to grow my hair out and start wearing dresses next year for school, and I sure as hell don’t want to.”
I told her everyone at my school had to wear a jacket and tie, and I didn’t mind. I ventured that she’d look as pretty in a dress as she did in dungarees, maybe better.
She seemed to consider this. Plunk went a pebble. “You think I’m pretty, even with this?” She faced me and touched the tip of her tongue to the scar. A strand of hair strayed across her eyes, and she flicked it away. Without thinking, I leaned closer and kissed her lightly on the lips.
She didn’t move, and her expression didn’t change. For an instant I thought she might sock me, but instead she said, “Could you feel it?”
I wasn’t sure.
“Try again,” she said.
We pressed our lips together a little harder and a little longer. I could taste the salt on her lips and feel the sun’s heat off her face. She placed her hand on my shoulder, and I felt her gently pulling me toward her. I think I may have done the same thing, but I don’t remember clearly. My heart had done something funny in my chest, and even though my eyes were closed I felt as though I were looking into a bright light.
After what seemed like a long moment, she drew back a bit, and I opened my eyes to see her lips in that half-smile of hers. She stretched out flat on her back and I did, too. We lay there quiet, sunning ourselves, eyes closed against the afternoon sun. The only sounds were the lapping wavelets of the incoming tide and a gull’s lonely cry. Our hands tangled when we adjusted our positions and our fingers arranged themselves in a tentative embrace.
“Do you ever go to Dark Haven?” I asked.
She’d never been. Stonington and Blue Hill were the towns she’d visited most often.
“Maybe you could visit sometime in August,” I said, “before we leave for Massachusetts.”
She didn’t reply.
I rolled onto my side so I could look at her. “Do you remember getting in bed with me last night?” I said.
“I did?” she said. “I used to do that with Alvie because he was always cold. Did it bother you?”
I said, “It surprised me.”
She lifted my hand, placed it on her chest, and laid her hand on top. I could feel the rise and fall of her breathing, the sun’s heat on her skin. As I lay there, I felt emotions beyond what my eleven-year-old heart could encompass or put a name to. I had changed — I was lighter, faultless, incandescent.
I felt the strange freedom of being naked out in the open and no longer caring; the tingle of my first kisses; a fledgling desire and attraction untouched by lust but just as strong; and the thrill of being alone with Bess. Time had slowed or I had transcended its gravitational pull. I’d left behind the boundaries of my familiar existence and was now part of Bess’s island life.
After a long while, she said we should get back, that she had a few chores to do. She asked me to brush the sand off her downy, tan skin from her shoulder blades and down her back and she did the same for me. We dressed, my warmed clothes stiff from the salt water.
As we walked over to Zeus, I saw a smooth, round white stone, about two inches wide, with a dark ring of granite encircling it.
“Bess!” I called out. “Look!” I handed it to her.
“Damn! I’ve never seen one like this,” she said. “Usually they’re dark with a white ring. You’ll have good luck for the rest of your life.”
I put it in my back pocket for safekeeping.
When she turned Zeus toward home, I asked if she had a name for the cove.
“Not yet,” she said.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Bill Prindle