The following is an excerpt from a short story that was published in Flowers & Serpents, Volume 2: The Gift Issue by New Niu Press.
Coming down into the hotel’s breakfast area, she found her boyfriend’s younger brother sitting at one of the long tables, rolling dice on the pressed, white tablecloth as stiff as his posture. Upon seeing her, he pushed his glasses up his nose by way of twisting his face into a contortion that involved his left eye and the corner of his mouth and only succeeded in his spectacles coming to rest askew.
“I’m an unaccompanied minor,” he informed her instead of a greeting.
She voiced her intentions of going to the beach and that technically, neither of them would be unaccompanied if he were to come along.
He blinked once and stared blankly back at her around the frame on his nose. Before she could regret the decision, she re-formed her statement as a question, which he processed and then answered with “I didn’t bring a jacket.”
She waited while he slipped back upstairs, looking over his pen and paper notations but failing to see the other world of dungeons and dragons into which they allowed him to escape. She was confident he’d be stealthy enough with the key card in order not to wake his parents, and he was back quickly in a hand-me-down windbreaker that hung on his lanky frame like a tent.
“Let’s go,” she commanded, and he fell into stride on her right, ambling with long limbs. She immediately led the way to the beach, deserted at this hour.
“It’s low tide,” she said as if it explained anything. The boy consulted his digital wristwatch and then recited the tidal range and exact time when the tide would be back in, information he surely had gathered posted in the common area of the hotel and then memorized. His capacity for complex math and remembering every number came with the inability of grasping simple metaphors or the emotions behind people’s facial expressions as a trade-off.
She slid out of her shoes and carried them in her left hand, walking barefoot on the wet sand.
The nine-year-old’s ineptitude for emotion was not unlike another member of the family who was still sleeping on his soft, pink belly in their shared room back at the hotel. But where she regarded the boy with a mixture of mild curiosity and ambiguous respect, in the case of her boyfriend Seymour the incompetence to process feelings annoyed her. Any attempt at communicating this to him was met with incomprehension, and without fail, the blame for the resulting misunderstanding was placed on her, both by herself and recently by him as well.
She dug her right hand into her pocket for her cigarettes and came upon the box instead.
She had suspected the presence of the box somewhere in his luggage and had lost sleep over the inevitability it suggested, the imminent proposal an invisible ribbon that had held her until dawn. Tired and red-eyed and feeling trapped, she had risen early and before him to a washed-out dawn which would have dimly lit the scene of a low tide sea for her had their hotel room not faced the back-country of this seaside resort. Her suspicion had been easy to confirm, for she had almost felt the box. It had rested right in the middle of her boyfriend’s suitcase, under the first layer of neatly folded shirts, a small cube with rounded edges tucked into the center of a wooly sweater he’d had the foresight to bring against these cold mornings.
She had not hesitated to take the box and open it on the spot, the strong hinges resisting her prying at first but then springing open.
It was not the actual presence of the box nor its contents which had surprised her, but Seymour’s choice. She would have expected him to pick a simple band of silver or quite possibly gold, a material familiar to him from his elder patients’ cavities, an engraving on the inside, or if his family would allow the extra expense, a miniscule and affordable diamond inset into the ring.
The pearl was grotesque, not its size but the thought of ever wearing such a thing on her finger. In the glimmer of the morning light coming in through the blinds, it had a dull sheen of pink and a parched quality that made it resemble a shriveled pepper corn, held by the surrounding metal in what she could only think of as a pucker.
She had slowly closed both hands around the box to avoid any sound escaping as she snapped it shut, then slid it into her pocket. She had not bothered repacking the suitcase with her boyfriend’s adroitness, just replaced the shirts and made sure nothing was sticking out before lowering the lid. Her own flight attendant overnight carry-on was always a mess of entanglement in which only she managed the extraction of a single item without having to unpack everything.
The boy stooped low to retrieve an umbrella’s stick from the mud. She dug her toes into the wet sand and turned her back to the beach. The umbrella had been trimmed of its spokes like a tree of its branches and now more closely resembled a walking stick, and the boy promptly put it to that use as they continued walking outward into the tide flats and away from the shoreline.
This short story was first published in December 2014 by New Niu Press in Flowers & Serpents, Volume 2: The Gift Issue. Anthology of 23 English short stories from writers in Barcelona.