Michaux Dempster earned both her MA in Writing and Rhetoric and MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she was awarded the first David Baldacci Fiction Fellowship. She received a VCU Humanities Travel Research Grant and was a finalist for the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Gulliver Travel Research Grant for her novel-in-progress, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Fairy Melusine. Michaux has published fiction and scholarly work in MillenniumThe Trust and Treachery Anthology, The International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and The Journal on Excellence in College Teaching. She has been a regular reviewer for Blackbird: VCU's Journal of Literature and the Arts, and teaches writing, research, oral communication, and literature at VCU. She also holds an M.Ed. in School Counseling from Auburn University.

Undertow

Michaux Dempster

Last summer I turned twelve, and Mom decided she was “tired of putting up with that sonofabitch,” my dad. We left Valdosta and moved north, closer to Atlanta. Mom got a job as a secretary for a big law firm, and started taking classes at night. She said it was so she could be something called a “pairalegal." When I asked Dad what that was, he said, “Kaykay, that ain’t nothing but bein’ some big-shot lawyer’s asswipe.” I didn’t tell Mom he said that. I think he was mad at her because she made him pay for it all, the classes and the new house, even though he had to stay in Valdosta and didn’t get to do anything different.

The week of the fourth of July Mom said I could go and stay with Dad, long as I called her a couple of times and didn’t “act like that trashy bitch he has with him.” She meant Flora, Dad’s new girlfriend. Flora had kids of her own, too—twin girls named Mandi and Crystal. They didn’t look like the teenagers on TV. Mandi and Crystal were always trying to squeeze themselves into clothes two sizes too small, and didn’t smile too much, unless they were laughing at me.

I was practicing a tap routine I made up on the kitchen floor of the condo. My tap shoes were at home, so I had to do it barefoot, which was harder. Then Mandi came up the stairs and said, “Girl, quit all that banging. Our favorite song’s on and you’re messing it up.” 

 

Dad looked over from where he and Flora sat in front of the TV and said, “Go on outside, Kaykay. Gotta be polite to your new friends.”

  

“But Dad, I didn’t—"

“Don’t make me tell you again.”

So I left him and Flora in front of the TV, eating Cheetos and hogging the remote, and went out on the deck to practice my singing. I liked the way my legs looked, all tan and hanging down through the railing of the deck, and I liked the way my voice sort of went together with the loudness of the waves. I can sing as good as some of those girls on American Idol.

A new car drove up to the condo next to ours. The car was a dark, sparkly green and had a sunroof, and I could hear music coming from inside. A lady with pale skin and bright red hair slid out of the passenger side, and when she saw the condo, she smiled and said, “For a hundred dollars a night, it’s perfect!” and grabbed a little suitcase on wheels and rolled it inside. The man had shimmery bangs that kind of dipped down over his eyes. He looked like an actor, I thought, or somebody rich. He started unloading the car, and the next time the lady came out, he smiled and said, “So what do you think?” and she said, “The bedrooms look fine. Let's go see what the upstairs is like.”

I heard them bringing all their stuff in, going up the flimsy spiral stairs. They opened their balcony door, first thing.

“This place is so seventies!” I heard the lady say. “One whole wall up here is mirrored! And look at the fuzzy orange chair!”

"Well, you know my parents. They go for price, not looks."

"It's hilarious . . ." 

When they came back outside again, I waved and said, “Hey, neighbors!” They looked up, surprised. “Hey!” the lady said. The man smiled again, and I smiled back. I hoped they’d be staying all week.

Dad and Flora were kissing. Flora opened her eyes when I came in, then closed them again. I wanted to pull her stringy blond hair right out of her head.  

“Dad, let's go play in the waves.”

“Honey, you know I want to,” Dad said. He didn’t even turn around. “You go on and maybe we’ll come out there in a little bit.”

I couldn’t stand the way Flora smiled at me over Dad’s shoulder, like she knew some secret and wasn’t going to tell me. And she had lipstick on her teeth. She patted Dad’s chest with her hand and said, “Chet, you a good daddy, that’s the truth.”

My suitcase was in the corner, right in the living room. I didn’t get my own room, like the twins—had to sleep on the pullout couch instead. I yanked out a bathing suit and hurried in the bathroom so I could change before Dad and Flora could get started again. I wished I could climb out the window. 

When Dad saw me in my suit, he said, “You ain’t going in that water by yourself, Kaykay. It’s getting dark.”

“But you just said I had to go outside!" 

Dad looked at Flora, and she frowned and shook her head. Then he frowned too. 

“Dammit, Kaykay, I came down here to relax!"

One thing I am good at is knowing when to stop talking. If you don't say much, people don't ask much. I waited until Dad and his skank started making out again, then went downstairs to sneak through their bedroom, trying not to look at Flora's stuff everywhere—giant bras and big lace panties, ugly nightgowns and rumpled sheets. Then I was out the downstairs door, careful to holding the screen to keep it from making noise when it shut. 

There were voices coming from the deck above me—the new man and lady. 

"Here's to a week of cheap housing, homemade fireworks, and rednecks on vacation," the lady said.

"Let's redneck it up!" the man answered, and their glasses clinked, an expensive sound. I wondered what they were drinking, and wished I could see.

“I want to go to that miniature golf place we saw on the way in,” the lady said. “Hidden Tidepool Mystery Golf.”

"They have go-carts there too," the man answered. "Are you up for those?"

"Yes, indeed! I will totally kick your ass in the go-carts!"

"Spoken like a true redneck. Well, let me see. If we're going to do the hick thing right, my preference would be the Show'n Tail," the man said. "I mean, if we're going to get down with the hicks, we should really get down, yes?"

The lady was laughing so much now she could hardly talk. "Oh, you are so bad! That is not the same thing at all!"

I listened to them laughing together, and thought about how much fun their week was going to be. Maybe I can find someone to have fun with on the beach, I said to myself, sliding through the gap between their car and ours. Dad's truck had big letters that said “Chet’s Auto Repair” on the back window, and Flora's was just an old Cutlass. Neither of them looked right next to the sparkly green car with the sunroof on it.

The beach was pretty empty—the yelling I'd heard was just a bunch of older boys, trying to surf. They kept complaining about how the waves weren’t big enough and their boards weren't stiff. They were right about the first part—the water was so flat, it seemed more like a lake than the Gulf of Mexico. “I’ve never seen it so flat before, and I been coming here every summer since I was a baby,” one of them said. Good for you, you dumb redneck, I thought, and turned right back around. 

The new man and lady were still out there when I came back over the dunes. I wondered if they were looking at me, and did a little dance move on my way back into the deck, just in case. I opened and closed the screen again, but stayed to listen to them. I liked the way they talked.

“That’s a cute little girl,” the lady said, low.

The man's voice was low, too. “Yeah, but she's doomed." 

“Landry, that is so mean! You shouldn’t judge people like that...”

“I’m right, though. Every cute little girl in this town is going be pregnant by the time she's sixteen, and by the time she's twenty-one she'll be stuck in a trailer, smoking and flabby and way past her prime.”

“I'm here, and I'm not like that.”

“Yeah, but you're slumming. That’s different.” 

I was careful not to make any noise when I went back inside, but it turned out I didn't need to bother—nobody even knew I'd been gone.

I was still sleeping on the pullout when Dad came up the next morning. “Hey there, lazy-butt!” he said, loud enough to wake me. "It's too early," I said, pulling the covers over my head. "The sun's not even up." 

Dad went to the window and whistled. “Babydoll, come see,” he said. “Come look-a-here!”

I crawled off the pullout, excited that Dad wanted me to see something, anything. 

"I hear you calling, cuddledog," Flora's flat twang always sounded loud, even coming up from downstairs. 

"He was talking to me," I said, too low for anyone to hear. I went and put my arm around Dad, and looked out the sliding door at the beach. The sky was full of the blackest clouds I'd ever seen, and the waves were halfway up the beach since yesterday.  It looked like the whole ocean just took up more room. The wind stretched out the palms on either side of us, tearing them into strings. “It's a hurricane!" I said, running from one window to the other. "A real hurricane on the beach!"

Flora was making a huge racket, hollering to Mandi and Crystal. "Get up, girls, there's a hurricane! We gotta watch the news!"

I hugged Dad tighter as they all came clomping up the metal staircase. Flora had on a tube top about the size of one of my headbands, and the twins were still in nothing but bras and panties. I turned on the TV, flipping around to find something about the storm. 

"Here's the storm on our Doppelganger Radar," the weather man was saying. "As you can see, Tropical Storm Bernice is currently just on the edge of Mojo City. It will travel out of southern Florida and over to the Mississippi and possibly the Louisiana coastlines, but look out, because this storm may be back. Because of this wide circular wind pattern here, we may see Bernice back in Mojo City later on this week."

"That's so cool!" I said, looking around. "Let's go for a walk on the beach and look at the waves. Can we, Dad?"

"Well, isn't that the shit!" Mandi said, sarcastic and grumpy. "Let's all act like we're eleven, and we've never seen a freakin' hurricane before."

"Oh, Daddy, let's run around and play outside in the rain!" Crystal said, putting her hands on her big hips and waving her butt around.

"Chet, make me some coffee," Flora said, sitting hard on the pullout and putting her big feet flat on my sheets. The twins joined her.

"Good thing we got company to help us pass the time, huh?" Dad said. I didn't answer. 

"Cheyeett," Mandi whined. Crystal joined in: "Cheeyeeeeeeet, make us some Pop-Tarts!"

Dad smacked me on the behind. "I gotta take a dump, Scuzzlebutt. You're in charge." 

I was in the kitchen making a big pot of Sanka when the phone rang. I looked at Flora, who stared at me. "I am a guest here.  I ain't expectin' no calls." The phone rang twice more before I heard Dad's voice from inside the bathroom.  "Kaykay, get the damn phone!"

It was Mom.

"Hey baby girl," she said. 

"I'm not a baby," I said, but she wasn't listening.

“I saw about that hurricane on the Weather Channel," she said. "You are not allowed to go out in that, you hear me?"

“It's only a tropical storm, Mom. It's clearing up fast.”

 

“I don't care which it is! If your daddy lets you play out in that weather, I’ll sue him for neglect, and you’ll never visit him and that tramp of his again, do you hear?”

Big deal, I thought, and kept my mouth shut—but by now Mom was on a roll. “You go get your dad and put him on the phone right this minute!”

I carried the phone to the bathroom, and knocked on the door.

“Dad, Mom’s on the phone,” I said. 

The door opened a tiny bit. "Give it here," he said, and I handed the phone through.

I headed outside into the rain, whispering "Dumb rednecks," as I passed Flora and the twins lounging on my pullout. I pushed open the door to the deck, scrunched myself into a chair under the overhang, and started to sing. 

           

 

 

The storm moved out that afternoon, just like the weather man said it would. The waves were as tall as I was, but Dad said I could get in the water as long as I had my boogie board and didn’t tell Mom. He wouldn’t come in with me, even though he and Flora weren't doing anything,  just sitting there under a big purple-and-red umbrella. "Go play with Mandi and Crystal," he'd say whenever I pestered him. But the twins were out looking for boys to flirt with, walking up and down the water line and squeaking like babies whenever the water touched their feet. Trash, I thought, and took my board in the water alone.

Now this was fun. The water was like a ride at the state fair, wrapping me up and throwing me towards the sky. I learned to push up from the bottom when a wave came, so that it would lift me up, up, up, and suck me down again till my feet hit the bottom. I even liked it when I missed, and the waves crashed on top of my head and made me stay under. I hollered "Whoo-hoo, this is a party!" and kept looking at the beach to see if anyone saw how it felt to be me. They were all minding their own business—lots of lumpy-looking, half-burnt people, all of them smoking, drinking beer, and laying like lizards on the sand. The red warning flag flew behind them, and I didn't even care. I let myself be carried out more and more, till I couldn't tell which of them were strangers and which were my people, until it had been a while since I could touch the bottom with my feet, and there weren't any more waves to catch on the board.   

The man from next door was in the water, swimming laps like he was in a pool. I made up some stuff to say: "Hey, neighbor, watcha doing all the way out here?" But I was too shy to say it out loud. I paddled out further to see if he'd notice. He didn't, so I got brave enough to say it again, and even holler, "Help, I'm stuck!" like in a movie. But by then he was swimming in the other direction. Maybe Dad's missed me by now, I thought, and looked back at the beach. 

That's when I realized how far the current had taken me. There was a whole new highrise where I thought Dad and Flora should be, and a crowd of people that somehow looked different than before—different groups, different umbrellas, different beach towels and coolers in different places on the sand. I kicked with my legs and paddled until my arms were ready to fall off, but the beach didn't get any closer, and I got really scared. A wave came up and slapped me in the face, and I got a mouthful of water and went under.

When I came up again the man from next door was still in the water, and I hollered "Hey, neighbor, help! Help, I'm stuck!" My arms were so tired. I took a deep breath and yelled again.     

He made it look like nothing to swim out to me. “You okay?” he asked, right off. I nodded, slid the boogie-cord from my ankle, and let him tow me in. When we got to the beach I just had to lay on the sand and pant, I was so tired.

“Oh, my God, are y’all okay?” a woman’s voice said. I thought maybe it was Flora, or one of the twins, but instead it was the new lady, running up in a pink-flowered bikini that showed off her skin and hair.

“Everybody’s fine,” the man told her. We were both still breathing hard.

“Oh, thank goodness,” she said, and looked at me. “I told my husband no one should be out in that water, but I guess it’s a good thing he was. My name is Miriam, and this is Landry.”

“I’m Kaykay. My real name is Katherine Ann Farmer, but I like Kaykay better.”

“Me too,” said Miriam.

“Nice to meet you,” Landry said. He had such a nice smile. Both of them looked at me when they talked. 

They walked me back over to where Dad and Flora lay snoring in their beach chairs. They'd missed the whole thing.

“Don’t want to interrupt your Dad’s nap,” Landry said. I could tell he was trying not to laugh.

“Me neither,” I said. “Can I come sit with you and Miriam for a little bit? I know how to make a drip sand castle.”

They looked at each other, and Miriam shrugged. “It’s not like I’m ever going to catch up on all those damn New Yorkers anyway,” she said. “Oh, I’m sorry, honey,” she said to me. “I shouldn’t have cursed. I’m not used to being around kids.”

“I'm not a kid, I'm almost twelve,” I told her. 

The day before the Fourth, you could hear firecrackers going off all over the beach, even before it got dark. Flora’s sister and her boys were staying at the Sea ’N Suds, on the other side of the strip. Not on the water like us. They came and sat around all afternoon, drinking with Dad and Flora in their stupid chairs on the sand. The beach was getting crowded.

Mandi and Crystal kept lugging their big selves up to Dad and trying to get him to go with them in the water. First he would say, "In a minute," just like he'd done with me. But then I saw Flora say something to him, and he got up, real slow, and followed them into the waves. I heard the sound of the girls screaming in fun, and looked around for Landry and Miriam. I'd put on my new green two-piece that Mom bought me at the Wal-Mart, and was hoping to spend another day with them. I'd let myself imagine that Landry was really a movie director, or a talent scout, and that he'd hear me singing on our deck and put me on TV.

Landry was flying a neat new kite. It looked like it was made of lots of different colored boxes, purple, green and red, and all of them separated with little sticks. He said he got it on a business trip to Hong Kong, and he had to put it together himself.

“You want to fly it?” he asked. I nodded.

“She’s so tiny, that big kite might just pull her off of the ground,” said Miriam. “You keep one hand on it, Landry.”

I had to concentrate, bending my knees and leaning back against the wind. “I’ve never been to China before, but there’s a good Chinese buffet close to where me and my Mom live now. Did y’all go to a Chinese buffet while you were there?”

They gave each other a look and laughed. “Not exactly,” Miriam said. “Real Chinese food is different from the kind they have in the States.”

I wished I looked like Miriam. Looking around, I knew I looked about the same as everyone else—half-burnt, half-tan, streaky blonde-brown hair. It'll be different when I'm older, I thought. I'll dye my hair the same color as Miriam's, and wear lots of expensive sunscreen.

“What a great day for a kite, huh?” Landry said. He was right. The sun was out, and the wind was blowing hard. Lots of people were out on their balconies, both the ones we were in and the high-rise to the side of us, too. They all seemed to be looking and pointing out towards us.

“Hey, look at everybody watching me fly this kite!” I shouted. 

Landry looked up, then around at the water. “I don’t think that’s what it is.” He sounded real serious.

 

I turned around slow, careful of the kite end. Men were scooting around on the water in jet skis, like they were looking for something. “Do you think they’re watching those people on the jet skis?” Miriam asked.

A helicopter flew over us, so low we could feel the hot wind from its engine. Landry got up. “Maybe I’ll go see what’s what.” 

I held the kite end out to Miriam in a hurry. “Wait, I’ll come too."

“Honey, you better not,” Miriam said, and wrinkled her forehead. But she wasn’t my mom, so I just put the kite in her hands and went.

When we got closer I could see medics in uniforms on the ground, kneeling and doing things to someone on the sand. We couldn’t see the people they were working on at all, the crowd was so thick. It was weird, all those people in their bathing suits, and nobody saying anything.

“What happened?” Landry whispered to a lady close to us.

“Two people got pulled out of the water,” she whispered, blowing smoke from her nostrils. “One of them is a little girl, and the other one is her dad, or granddad or something. Look, they’re turning the man over now.”

The medics were tipping the man to one side. “What are they doing?” I whispered.  

“They're trying to drain the water from his lungs,” Landry said, stretching his neck up to see further over people's heads.  

"Look there," the lady said, but there were too many backs in front of me to see, so I hunched down and looked through their legs. I saw part of a girl’s blue bathing suit, and a little tan arm laying flat on the sand. A medic was holding a clear bag of something where her head must have been, and another one was pumping her chest. It looked like it would have hurt, if she'd felt it. 

“Do something,” I said to Landry, and took hold of his arm. "Go help them make her breathe."

Landry turned to look at me, and I could have sworn he had tears in his eyes. He turned back to the lady. “Did you hear anything about the girl’s condition?” he asked.

“No,” she said, blowing smoke sideways and giving me a face full. “They been working on her like that ever since they fished her out.”  The lady’s face got all pinched and tight-looking. “Somebody said it was the granddaddy that swam out there first, trying to save two teenagers and their half-drunk father. Then the granddaughter went in after her granddaddy. Those teenagers and their dad ought to've known better. Some dummies, could hardly swim.”

"Bastards," I whispered. "Jerks."

“We really need to get you inside,” Landry said to me, and put his hand on my shoulder.  The lady didn't hear me and kept on talking. 

“Two chunky-looking teenage girls, look, there they are, with their no-good father, talking to those reporters,” she said.  I looked where she pointed: it was Dad, with a towel wrapped around him, and Crystal and Mandi sitting by him on a cooler in the sand. Somebody had a microphone in Mandi’s face, and she was talking. Dad wouldn’t look up. I wanted to go over and pull on him, to drag him away and leave Mandi and Crystal by themselves.

“If that child and her grandaddy die, it’ll be on their conscience,” the lady's voice kept saying, and the helicopter, the ambulance and everything around couldn't shut her up.

The sound got louder and now there were lights and medics and stretchers, coming through the people and making a lane between the lady and me and getting the man and the girl and taking them away. The crowd clapped for the rescue workers as they lifted the girl and carried her off the beach. I wanted to be her and I didn't know why.

Then people were yelling, like they were surprised or angry, and when I looked again I saw blood on my dad’s face--somebody had jumped him. Other people were trying to pull the man off, and now the whole crowd was watching my dad get the shit beat out of him.

 

I let go of Landry’s hand, but there was nowhere to run except back inside the condo.

That night we sat in the living room and watched the news. Dad had an ice-pack to his face, and I could see there was going to be a pretty good shiner there. The local news lady had on too much makeup.

“Although the red warning flag was flying, several people were caught in the treacherous currents produced by Tropical Storm Bernice, which has been making its way up and down the Gulf coast for the last three days. Two of them, a Mr. Harley Lucier from Louisiana, and his granddaughter, Miss Sherry Collins, drowned. Sources say Mr. Lucier swam out to help two teenagers and their father, who were caught in the dangerous riptide. The teen girls and their father were rescued by the Mojo City Coast Guard and were unharmed . . .”

Pictures of Mr. Lucier and Sherry, lying drowned on the beach, with rescue people trying to help. Pictures of Dad and Mandi and Crystal, sitting in the sand.

“Oh, Chet, it could have been you!” Flora said, and I thought she was going to cry. “Oh, honey, I’m so glad you and my baby girls are safe—"

She reached for Dad, whose face turned red. He pushed her away. “I think we oughta stay off the beach tomorrow.”

“But Chet, it’s the Fourth of July tomorrow,” Flora said. I could tell she thought he was being silly.

“Goddammit, Flora, if you and those girls don't stay off that beach, I’ll slap you so hard you'll get a speeding ticket in the next county!” Dad hollered, and damned if all three of them didn’t hotfoot it downstairs right quick. 

On the Fourth I sat out on the deck, eating Pop-Tarts and watching helicopters go up and down the beach. I’d never seen them fly so low before.  Miriam and Landry were having their breakfast, too: all kinds of fruit and muffins and things, and drinks in special glasses with dark-blue rims around the top.

“Do you think they’re looking for somebody else?” I asked them. 

“Maybe,” Landry said. “I sure hope there isn't anyone else to find."

A police truck came over the sand, with a big speaker coming out of the top. “Do not go into the water,” it said.  “Dangerous currents.  Do NOT go into the water.”

 

 

 

Dad and Flora put their plastic lawn chairs in the driveway and lay there all day long.  Flora’s sister and her boys didn’t come back by, and nobody asked why not. Mandi and Crystal watched the news, going in and out from the living room, looking at the beach like somebody had done them wrong. “We almost died out there, and nobody cares!” Crystal whined. 

With all the wind we'd had, there was a lot of sand blown into thin sheets underneath the deck. I went down and started to clean it. There was a little change mixed in: a quarter, a dime, and six pennies. I ran to show them to Dad, and then changed my mind.

Landry came outside, carrying his kite.  He held it up when he saw me, but then he noticed Dad and Flora laying out in the parking space. Dad’s bruises showed up pretty clear. I felt my own face get hot.

“We’re not going to the beach anymore this vacation,” I whispered. He nodded. 

“I been sweeping up all this sand,” I told him. “I found some money, look! Do you want me to do your side, too?”

Miriam came out then, all shiny with her bright hair and slick tortoiseshell sunglasses. She gave my Dad the same kind of look Landry had. 

 

“That’s alright, Kaykay,” Landry said. "We’ll see you later.”  I could tell he felt bad.  He picked up the kite and took it over the dunes with him and Miriam, both of them looking back at me once before they disappeared.

The phone rang inside. Dad rolled over on his chair. It rang again. “Kaykay, go get that,” Dad said.

It was Mom. “I just saw the news,” she said. “And your daddy is a damn fool. You put him on the phone, and while you're at it, you tell him this is the last vacation you ever spend with him again.”

I thought about all the things I could do right then: I could hide next door at Landry's until it was time to go home; I could steal some money from Dad’s wallet and use it to go play Hidden Tidepool Mystery Golf until it ran out; I could hotwire a car, drive to Hollywood and start my career in show business. But all I really wanted to do right then was go fly a kite.

I didn’t throw the phone down this time. Instead, I took the receiver, a cordless one, and zipped it up inside my suitcase in the corner of the living room. 

Dad and Flora were still laying out in the parking space, looking like two limp hotdogs.  When I walked past them, Dad raised his head. “Who was it?”

“Wrong number.” I headed towards the dunes.

“Kaykay, I told you, we’re not going on the beach anymore.”

I kept on walking. Dad’s chair creaked behind me. "Kaykay, get your butt back over here!" I made it to the dunes and broke into a run. My feet slid on the hot sand, but I kept going.

Landry and Miriam had their backs to me. The kite was tied to the back of Landry's chair, flying high by itself. 

“Girl, didn’t you hear me? You musta lost your mind!” Dad was huffing and puffing up the dunes, hollering louder than I’d ever heard him before. I skidded down to where Miriam and Landry were. They turned around when they heard the yelling, along with a lot of other people.

 

“I swear girl, I am gonna wear your ass out so bad—" Dad’s voice stopped when he saw everyone on the beach looking at him. Looking at his black eye, and remembering him from yesterday. 

 

I scrunched down in the sand next to where the kite was. “Landry, can I fly this thing one more time?”

Landry and Miriam looked at each other. “We don’t want to get you in trouble,” Landry said, his voice real low.

I turned to look at Dad one more time. He was panting, and as I watched he backed away a few steps, the eyes of all those people pushing him away.

“He's not going to follow me,” I said. “And I'm not coming back next summer, anyway."

Miriam gave Landry a look, and shook her head a tiny bit. He sighed and nodded. "Honey, you’re not going to understand this,” Landry was reeling in the kite and keeping his eyes on the water. “You have to go back in there.”

I felt a little dizzy. "Huh?" I said, even though that wasn't really a question. 

Miriam spoke. "Sweetie, that is your dad over there. You belong with him. Now you go on back inside with him and have a good summer, alright?"

On the walk back across that sand, I was sure I could feel every goddamn grain burning under my feet.

Next day we packed up Dad's truck and Flora's Cutlass. I only had the one suitcase, so I went out and picked up all the shredded firecrackers other people shot off the night before. I didn't speak to Landry while he rolled out his and Miriam's special suitcases and packed all their expensive beach stuff in his car with the sunroof.  "Sweetie, the cleaning lady's here!" Miriam's voice called from inside. "She's going to take a picture of us on the balcony, in front of the water!"

I went in the upstairs bathroom and practiced my tap routine in my head until I heard their car drive away.