Such a Perfect Day
Johnny filled his yellow bucket with clams and snail and razor shells. Justin and I gave him the best ones we found until he told us to add those to our own collections. He knew what he was looking for.
You couldn't step without landing on a shell. Periwinkles--tiny black snails--attached themselves to every rock and clam shell. Tangles of muscles, seaweed and pebbles were strewn along the shore.
"I bet if you dug here, you'd find a clam," Justin told the boys. "I just saw it spit."
Sure enough, tiny fountains of salt water were spraying out from the sand all around us. We dug but never found the clams. We probably didn't go far enough.
Richie, meanwhile, wandered the shore slowly. He wore a blue spiderman tanktop, an unbuttoned Red Sox jersey, a blue beaded necklace and blue jewelled ring--treasures from the pirate booty. He looked a little bit like a white rapper.
He shed his jersey, pointed to his arms and said, "Look. Look at these. Muscle man."
He stared at the sand as he walked. Occasionally, he'd jump, land in a kickbocking stance and say, "Hero saves the day."
I think that if Richie wrote this account, he'd tell a different story all together. One of villains and pirates and him saving the day.
Against a grassy spot on the beach, a fish as big as Richie lay, its face peaceful and eyes alive-looking, but half of its body carved out--it looked like by a butcher's knife.
"I think a shark ate it but a whale saved its life," Richie said.
Only Richie could come to the conclusion that this washed up fish was still alive. He crouched down beside it for a long time, like a psychic trying to grasp the story of a poor soul's fate.
"So it's alive?" I finally asked.
"No," he said. "It's dead. It's just dead."
I guess if you look at something long enough, you finally see it for what it is.
J.J., riding in the backpack, moved his lips open and closed, like a fishy, and I handed him shells to play with. Or he might have been saying, "Bye bye" or hello. It could have meant anything, really, except milk or mommy which are both "Muh."
We shed our shoes and our feet sunk into the muddy sand. The boys waded out into the water and picked up handfuls of wet sand. Soon the boys were running on the beach, throwing sand like snowballs. I turned away and watched some seagulls fishing in the shallow water.
Just as I was thinking how much seagulls sound like crying children, I realized I was hearing crying children: mine. The mudslinging had ended badly, as it always does. Johnny and Richie were covered with wet sand, which by the time we got to the car, had dried. We just brushed it off and changed their clothes.
Johnny came away with an overflowing bucket of shells, and a few new pets, he realized as he was washing them off in the sink. He filled a tupperware container with water and table salt. When we left Boston, he left them in Nana's care, suggesting that she consult a pet store worker about what they should eat.
Papa soaked the shells in bleach for Johnny and we carried them home to Kansas City for the "shells we found on a perfect day" exhibit at the museum.
Richie left the beach with nothing, except, of course, his own bulging muscles and fearless heroism. Which is just how he likes it. It's hard to hold seashells when your hands are full of adventure stories.
J.J. finally got out of the backpack and sat on the sand with Justin. I thought he'd eat the shells around him, crunching them between his teeth like popcorn. Instead, he just waved to them. Our little animal lover.
It was a perfect day. Perfect in different ways for each of us. For Justin and I, it was perfect because we were all together, something that rarely happens for an entire day in Kansas City, where work and errands always scatter us like periwinkles over the sand.
But for one day, we were like the muscles, tied together loosely by seaweed. Just waiting for the next high tide to carry us away.