I remember…I remembered the layers of blue laying right atop one another and seamlessly blending, highlighting each other. Lying back in the vast space of the ocean’s underwater belly, I could see bubbles. Bubbles meant air, but I was holding my breath. I reached my arms out to touch the tiny fish. They were the tiny sea fish that only a local would notice. I wondered if they were the ones breathing out the bubbles. If they weren’t breathing the bubbles, then who was? I swam further down into the darkness.
Our ocean was the large underbelly of our beloved land. It predicted storms for us and provided our seafood, but not for free. When the storms began, our ocean rose and consumed everything in it’s path. Plants that weren’t properly rooted into the earth, tiny stones, Barbie doll heads, hair ties and anything the rain could carry ended up washed right down to the beach. Our beloved ocean would eat, and eat everything the rain carried into it. Like tiny wet soldiers carrying a meal to their master, to our master.
Somewhere beneath the ocean, I imagined the mermaids breathing the bubbles, and taking our things to use. After all, if it wasn’t for the mermaids, why would the ocean eat so much. Some of the elderly on the island believed in a god who lived under the ocean and used storms to scare us. I didn’t believe them, because how could gods and mermaids live together. Maybe they were god’s mermaids. That had to be it, god’s mermaids.
My lungs burned as I swam and thought. Just a little longer, I held on to swim deeper and look for god’s mermaids. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I turned back and swam back to the surface as fast as possible. I swam passing through the layers of black that would become blue and blue that would become the clear colorless air. I exploded out into the surface gasping for air.
“Cessy! Cessy!” a loud high pitched voice squeaked out. I caught my breath and spotted Elle jumping near the shore. I swam back to where she stood waist deep in the water. She flung her large gangly arms around me knocking me backwards with only my ocean to catch me. Goodness! Imagine this long, tall girl wrapping her arms around me with my stubby little legs. An onlooker would have sworn she was trying to strangle me out here. Elle was always in a panic. “Cessy, I was so, so, so frightening, you were gone for so, so long”. I pursed my lips and rolled my eyes as she let go to look at me.
“You were frightened, not frightening” I informed her and began walking ahead to the shore line.
“Right! That’s what I said, frightening” she shouted louder than necessary and trailed behind me until we reached the shore. The shore line was so far up onto the sand that I was now sure of one thing.
“A storm is coming” I whispered. I patiently stood in the sand to catch the scent. Now that I was paying attention, I could smell the rain all the way from my nose, down to my little brown toes. My feet were deeply rooted into the sand that was already damper from the moist air. I inhaled the air, because nothing was more beautiful than the smell of rain. Not before it poured down, and became tainted with the ground, and stench of human bodies.
“We’re going to be adults soon” I told Elle sighing. “Everything is going to change and you will need to learn how to swim” I told her. She frowned back at me, but I tried to maintain my composure.
“Wow, I guess you’re right, Cessy. We’re almost 12 you know. Wow we’re going to get old” she said to me thoughtfully. I nodded.”12 is pretty old” she nodded her head with me. “The storm is coming soon” she said sniffing the air in the clumsy, graceless way her body always moved.
“Our papa says that by 12, I will start to grow again. I will probably be as tall as you” I told her. Elle was 2 years younger than me, but much taller. She wouldn’t stop growing and I couldn’t keep growing. I worried that she was stealing my height. I needed to grow big enough to work on Papa’s fishing boats or else, my mother would take me to work at her place. That was the last place I ever wanted to work. Our father says that what I lack in height, I make up for in personality and a loud voice. I didn’t believe him, I think he just wanted me to be quieter around the house.
” Don’t worry Cessy, I won’t let them send you. Papa can’t separate us. You know I read somewhere that if you stretch everyday you’ll grow more” she said.
” Yeah? Where did you read that?” I asked her.
“I don’t know but if it’s in a book then it has to be true right, so just stretch everyday” she said. I nodded my head. That made perfect sense, sometimes Elle was really sensible.
” And when you grow taller, it means I can kiss you more” Elle yelled out with a tinkling laughter to follow. She pursed her lips into the form of a kiss and ran after me. I laughed gasping for air as I ran. I ran and ran down the cobblestone path that lead to the back of our home. The stones pressed into my bare feet but I endured it laughing away the pain. Elle’s legs were much longer, so she was right on my tail. I leaned in and ran pumping my arms harder to escape her, but fate had already chosen the winner. Someone with my stumpy little body would never beat her long thin legs that covered three of my steps in one. She tagged my back just as we reached the high grass and we fell over into the safety of our beloved greenery. We collapsed breathing heavily and laughing. Just as we fell into the grass, glow bugs and other insects sped right out of the ground sensing the disturbance of their homes. We caught our breath quietly.
“The storm is coming” I turned my head onto the right side to look at her as I spoke. She nodded her head and stuck her round, little peanut butter colored nose into the air to find the scent.
“I’ll get the jar from the shed” she dashed off. I laid there listening to the cicadas screech and sing as I thought about the storm. We loved the evening storms, because they had a way of sweeping a thick coat of calamity across the island. The storm’s presence was always so heavy; The rain beat down on the earth as if the earth had done something wrong. It was so loud we often had to yell over it. It had this way of shutting down any other commotion going on and leaving an aftermath of wet silence.
Before the storms, we liked to catch the glow bugs inside our jar. Elle did it to save them, but I captured them because they were magical. Anything with a glowing bottom had to be magical. I heard Elle before I saw her. She was yelling something about her mother but I hadn’t listened. Normally, we didn’t talk much about our mothers.
We ran to our heart’s content chasing them. I clasped my hands together with space in between to catch a bug, but stopped short, frowning when something tiny tickled my hand. I peeled open the palm of my hand just enough to peer inside. I screamed and spread my arms wide apart, because a bug was in there. I had caught a glow bug. Elle laughed and ran over. I frowned and dusted my hands off.
“You always do that Cessy, they’re not scary. They’re kinda cute actually” she said. Mostly, Elle caught all of the bugs. I liked chasing them, but the thought of touching them frightened me to the core.
“Glow bugs? Glow bugs?” she yelled out sticking her head into the grass. She yelled out to them as if they were going to look up and answer her. Of Course, they never did, but I listened just in case. “Look Cessy, look!” she held her arm out to me with a bug on it. I inched away from her.
“Elaine James! I am not touching that thing” I yelled out her full name like our father usually did when she was in trouble. She stopped and frowned.
” Elle, Elle, Elle!” she yelled out and shoved the bug towards me. I fell backwards avoiding her with a scream. She giggled, and held out her arm to let it fly away.
“How come they don’t scream when we catch them?” she had asked me. “Doesn’t everyone scream when they are captured?” she asked. I sighed and inhaled thinking about it. As I inhaled, I could smell the storm approaching faster and faster.
“I guess they don’t have voices” I said.
“Everyone has a voice, they definitely talk” she said.
I ignored her question, because I was really stumped on that one and didn’t want to admit it. For some reason Elle acted as if I knew everything. She even woke up all hours of the night to ask me silly questions like this.
“Why doesn’t a glow bug scream when it’s caught, especially if they talk”? She went and asked me the same question. I huffed and sucked my teeth.
“Not now Elle” I waved my arms. I smelled it again, it was stronger this time. The storm was coming. “We need to get to the shed, it’s coming” I said. When it came it would wipe away everything with it.
“Wait, we didn’t get the sand. The glow bugs need sand in there on the bottom, so it feels like a home. I don’t want them to know they have been captured. I’m afraid they will realize and scream” she pouted. I sighed, and thought about what a waste of time that sounded like. Elle was always busy trying to save things. She collected all bugs and always made a home for them when she did.
“Glow bugs don’t scream!” I yelled at her.
“You can’t hear them talking? If they can talk, they can scream. Listen Cessy, they’re whispering” she told me laughing. The sky got darker and darker. A gray sheet blanketed over the world threatening to pour down.
“Fine, but hurry Elle, the storm is coming” I told her. She ran off and I waited there inhaling the scent of the rain waiting to pour down. Little droplets had already begun, and I could smell the rain hitting the fruits and flowers already. I felt something shake in my hands. It was those darned bugs. One of them had hit himself against the jar, trying to escape. Poor dummy, I thought, watching him repeatedly bash himself against the jar trying to escape. I stared, and stared at them, then held the jar to my ear. What if Elle was right, and they really were whispering? What if I was missing out on something? What if Elle wasn’t crazy and she was just more attuned than all of us as a whole. I listened and listened. Just like always, the rain began to pour down. It poured down harder and harder as I waited for Elle. I waited and waited through the gusts of wind that attempted to push me down into the flooding waters. I waited through the waters that attempted to devour me. I squinted my eyes because the heavy rain clouded my vision and dragged the hair grease down into my eyes. Then, while I was listening for the glow bugs, I could swear I heard Elle screaming my name. I spun around, but no one was there. I was silly to think I had heard her, I realized. Even if Elle had screamed, the pounding rain was so loud, that I would never even hear her. It must have been the glow bugs, I put my ear back to the jar.
Soon, I felt strong large arms around me, our papa. He asked for Elle over and over again.
“She went to the ocean for sand” I yelled over the rain. His face dropped, his body weakened and for a heartbeat of a second I held his weight. “Go home now Cecile” he yelled and sprung back up, breaking out into a run towards the beach. I waited instead so that I could hear whatever crazy story Elle had to tell when she returned. She would be in so much trouble. The rain stopped quickly, and suddenly. The sky rose as if it had never rained at all, enlightening the island with that wet silence I loved so much. I dropped down into the dirt that had now become mud and opened the jar to set Elle’s glow bugs free.
“Find Elle” I whispered to them, but they never answered me. Elle’s mother, Frances, ran outside the house where I sat waiting for the glow bugs to return with news about Elle. She looked down at me and I couldn’t figure out why. I wondered what she must have been thinking to look at me in such a way, but I found out soon enough. A heavy hand struck down across my face before I could even register what had happened; I dropped down confused.
“It should have been you” was all she said before walking out to the beach leaving me behind with an empty jar in the mud.
“Glow bugs? Glow bugs?” I asked looking around in the grass for them as I tried not to cry. I held in the tears because I would be 12 soon, and 12 was pretty old.
That was the last afternoon I ever spent with Elle. Just like my Barbie doll heads that kept going missing, she had been swept away out of thin air. She was nowhere to be seen or heard. There were many different stories about what happened to her. I didn’t believe the stories, because Elle would have screamed. Right? If glow bugs scream, so could Elle. I like to think the ocean was hungry, and she’s down there with all of the mermaids and my lost Barbie doll heads. Maybe Elle was one of god’s mermaids all along, and that’s why she could hear the glow bugs screaming. As I thought about it, I could swear I heard her voice in the whistling wind. I really could swear I did, but every time I ran down to the sea to check for her, there was just the ocean and left over corrals from god’s mermaids.