The Ocean in My Backyard

From the sandy shores of the children’s playground, you could look out at the blue water that gently rolled back and forth, smoothing pebbles within its foamy fingers. I visited the ocean every day, sitting with my pink polished toes on the edge of the water’s reach, giggling when the chill sent shivers up my legs and back. Our parents, mine and the parents of other children in the neighborhood, never felt the need to keep a closer eye on us, content to watch from the back porch or the kitchen window to make sure we weren’t in any trouble.

I visited the ocean in my backyard everyday until they closed it down.

I woke to sirens and flashing lights in my bedroom window, which stared out across the waters. I quickly jumped up and stood on tiptoe to look out and see what was wrong. Yellow tape tied up the trees that were scattered around the ocean’s bed, with dozens of people inside and out of the barrier, shouting at each other. My parents stood outside the tape, holding Mrs. Davis from down the street, who was limp in their arms.

Still dressed in my princess nightdress and not bothering to put my sneakers on, I threw open the screen door and tumbled down the hill to where my parents were standing. I gripped my mother’s skirt, out of breath and asking what was wrong. She turned her head to tell me to go back inside and not worry about it, when she looked down and noticed my bare feet.

“Elizabeth!” she cried, raising her voice in a manner that surprised and scared me. “Go inside and put your shoes on! Do not come out here barefoot anymore!”

I was confused. I had been walking by the ocean, barefoot, since I could walk. My parents taught me barefoot, they never cared to put shoes on me just to let me run around in our backyard. Besides being a silly idea to them—they knew how safe their backyard was—I would throw a fit whenever they tried to shove my small feet into their socially constructed imprisonments.

Still, as I stared up at my mother’s blotchy red face, her eyes bloodshot and watery, I ran back up to the house and pulled my sandals on, strapping my feet in before I went tumbling down the hill again.

“Mom,” I said, tugging her skirt again and waiting for her to praise my promptness before I asked again what was happening. She didn’t look at me, too preoccupied supporting the head of Mrs. Davis, who I could now hear wailing and sobbing. “Mom, what’s going on?”

“Go inside, Lizzie,” she answered without answer. “Go inside.”

A tall man approached us, holding up a sandwich bag with something glistening inside. “Ma’am,” he said, addressing Mrs. Davis. She paused in her sobbing as much as she could, straightening herself up slightly in order to speak to the man. “I believe this may have been what caused the distress which caused your boy to drown.” He handed her the bag, and she began sobbing once more, dropping it on the ground.

I peaked through my parents’ legs to see what it was. Translucent green, roughly triangular in shape and curving towards the sky very slightly. The points were sharpened, and one was coated in a dark, brownish red substance. A shark’s tooth, I thought, watching the man pick the bag up and give a mournful look at Mrs. Davis. My mother placed a hand on my head, telling me once more to go back inside.

I watched from the kitchen window, climbing up on a dining chair in order to see the mess of people wander around the area, talk to each other and Mrs. Davis, and then slowly leave. My parents went around the front of the house, leading Mrs. Davis down to her house, standing on her doorstep for a minute or two, and then coming back home.

“What happened?” I asked, standing in the doorway as they opened it. “Why were there so many people? What’s wrong with Mrs. Davis?”

My parents looked tired, their eyes red, my mom wiping tears from her cheeks. My father, after taking a slow breath and walking into the kitchen, spoke to me. “You can’t go into the water any more, Lizzie. No more playing in the water.” He held up his hand when I went to protest, and added, “Jason probably won’t be able to play with you anymore either.”

“Did a shark get him?” I asked in a hushed whisper.

“No, honey–” my mother started, but stopped, her voice cracking and catching in her throat. “We’ll tell you later, okay? How about some breakfast, dear…”

I visited the ocean every day before Jason Davis drowned, cutting his foot on a broken glass bottle and swallowing too much water in his panic.

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