Jun. 2nd, 2009

So the high school writing club I help facilitate is putting together an end-of-year chapbook and it was necessary that I submit something. I wrote the first half of this for a 5-minute writing exercise at our last meeting -- the prompt was to "think of a body of water." I originally had some weird stuff going on with different tenses and I couldn't tell if it was working or just confusing so I applied a last minute present-tense whitewash.

--

The boy skips stones on the beach and thinks about how big the ocean is, how uninterrupted.

“It just goes on and on and then eventually you get to Japan,” he explains, looking over at his sister, who is floating face-down in the nearby surf, her snorkel tube straight up like a flag. “And even then it just keeps going, they have different names for different parts but its actually all one big thing.”

His sister doesn’t hear him – from underneath the waves his voice sounds like distant traffic. She adjusts her goggles with one hand – she is counting the stones on the bottom of the ocean. The small black shapes on the white sand remind her of stars. She started counting yesterday but had to start again after deciding that shells were not technically stones; today was going much faster.

The boy is sitting further up the beach when she resurfaces with a triumphant splash. “Seventy-eight!” she announces, and he picks up a stick and marks it in the sand, next to the day’s total. “Seventy-eight for Seven B!” he repeats, confirming the result. It had been her idea to divide the beach into a grid but she had put him in charge of the actual record-keeping. They had drawn it all out last night on some graph paper they found at the cabin.

He frowns down at the list of numbers, still thinking of Japan, as his sister floats on to section Seven C. “I don’t think this is going to work,” he says, to no one in particular. He squints at the horizon, and tries to imagine an old Japanese fishermen, squinting back.

“I don’t think this is going to work,” he repeats, later, when she finally flops down next to him on the sand. They are up to six hundred and fifty-two. She rolls over onto one shoulder and gives him a stern look, her lips pursed and eyes set just so. He has never understood how she can look so serious and grown-up like that, all of a sudden; despite hours spent practicing in the bathroom mirror, he has yet to manage looking anything other than nine.

“Of course it’s going to work,” she says, unconcerned, and returns to her back in order to inspect the cloudless sky, “don’t be so impatient.”

The boy shrugs and pretends to double-check the column of figures – wondering to himself, as he often does, why he couldn’t have been the one born first.

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