Jack and Becky
I’m stretched out across the pile of tiny rocks. They look like polka dots on top of the sand. Some are smooth, some are beautiful and pink. Some are black and slick. These ones remind me of Mr. Tibon’s, the music teacher’s, mustache. The sun is shining strong, and I have to close one eye to watch it wander, slow and lazy, behind a puffed up cloud. I’m making snow angels in this pile, calling to Jack. He’s further down the beach. Tiny, but I can always spot him because his white hair. White-white. When it’s dry, it fluffs up around his head like cotton candy. Now that it is wet from the salty water, it runs along his little head, and he has to push it away to keep it from his eyes. He drops his blue shovel and castle-making pale and looks over. He smiles and runs to me. His diaper is sopping and sagging. It’s weighing him down, so I get up and take it off of him. He squeals like a pig and splashes his feet in the little waves that are coming and going. They run up to meet the sand, then quickly run back before we can catch them.
“Come on Jack,” I tell him, taking his wrinkly hand in mine. “Let’s get you a new diaper.”
“Becky! Becky! Becky!” he calls to me as we walk, hand in hand, up the beach to our towel.
I have heard Mommy telling Aunt Jane that Jack is not talking like he should. She asked Aunt Jane when they whispered in the kitchen, “What is wrong with him?” She sounded really worried, but also mad. Like she does when she comes home and the dishes are still dirty in the sink. “What is wrong with you?” she asks me. Sad and mad are all over her face.
But I know Jack is perfect. He hums as we strut across the sand, kicking dried up piles of seaweed. I look back and our tanned feet have left perfect marks on the beach behind us. Mine are bigger, but not by too much. I hum along with him and he giggles.
I’m holding onto Jack with one hand, and my other hand is holding his dripping diaper. It looks ready to explode. It’s not dirty or anything. I changed him right before we went out to the water, but it’s just full of the sea. Once we get back to our towel I take the plastic bag our snacks were in, I put the diaper in there, and tie it up really tight. We have no more diapers so Jack will just have to be naked. I look around for Dad, but I can’t see him.
I hold up one hand to my eyes and look around the beach. We aren’t far from the line of cars that run against the beach from the parking lot. I can see Dad’s truck, big and red. It makes noises and creaks like old floor boards when we drive it around. Dad plays the radio loud, and we sing. On days like today, when we left the house quickly, we didn’t have time to get Jack’s car seat, so he sits on my lap, and Dad buckles us up together, Jack on my lap as we drive down to the beach.
Dad is there, at his truck with the door open, but I wave to him and start to walk over with Jack padding the sand with his naked feet behind me.
When I get close enough, I hear him yell through the opened car door, “Just hold up Becky. I’ll come back down to the beach soon enough. Just give me another minute up here real quick.”
I stand still and Jack bumps into my back. He laughs and tries to walk past me to Dad, but I know to take his hand, to hold him back, to keep him away.
Dad is drinking.
I know Dad is drinking because today, before we ran for the beach, Mom was yelling at him and throwing things around the house. Me and Jack were trying to watch cartoons, and at first, I just got up and turned the volume louder, but then pretty soon the music from Tom and Jerry was playing at the same volume as those two yelling from the kitchen, and Jack started to cry so I took him outside.
We waited by the back door. I rolled his trucks along in the dirt to play with him, but I could still hear them throwing words around at each other. Finally Dad came storming outside. He walked quick past us. He needed to weave and take big steps over us, so he had to know we were there, but he went right to his truck. I saw him sitting in the driver seat. He was staring out the front window, twisting his hands on the steering wheel. I watched him with one eye, and with the other I helped Jack make roads with sticks and rocks and blades of grass, for his cars.
Inside, the house was quiet. The air got still, and except for the neighbor’s dog and Jack making motor noises, it was quiet with us on the stoop. Once, a big black storm came through. The air got heavy and then it whispered around us as we sat on the front porch. I was in Mom’s lap, and Jack was in Dad’s. The sky swirled with puffed up black clouds and felt like the air outside took one long, deep breath in and held it. Held it. Held it. And suddenly the clouds busted open with a boom and crack of lightning. Rain spilt everywhere. Jack was too little to be scared. He clapped his hands on Mom’s lap, but I knew enough to be afraid. It was like that now.
Dad leaned over to the passenger side, reached under the seat and pulled a bottle from it. He struck his head back and opened his throat up like in those animal books we can get from the library where I saw a snake open its mouth and bring a whole deer down its throat. That’s how Dad was with his bottles. His whole mouth opened, then his whole body, and he just took it all in, and it filled up his whole body. Then he punched the steering wheel, really quick and really hard a few times.
I made sure Jack had his back to Dad’s truck, but when he saw my face freeze up, he looked over his shoulder. I was quicker.
“Come on Jack,” I turned his chin back toward me. “Let’s go get some snacks inside.”
In the house, a few of the table chairs lay on their sides. Jack ran zig-zagging around them, but I lifted them up and set them straight. We pushed a chair toward the counter and both climbed on to check the highest cabinet for snacks. Inside we found a can of pork and beans, an opened sleeve of saltine crackers, a jar of peanut butter, and a bag full of those little Chinese food baggies of soy and duck sauces.
We climbed down from the chair and I made me and Jack a high stack of crackers smeared with peanut butter. I made sure to keep Jack close. I didn’t want him wandering around and stumbling into Mom. She could be crying somewhere, crumpled on the floor, and that was a real mess to stumble onto. When I was done, I wrapped the cracker sandwiches in paper towels and tied them tight inside a plastic bag. I pulled a blanket from a pile of laundry waiting to be washed next to the back door, and we left the house.
I was planning on taking Jack for a walk down the street. There was a nice patch of grass up the hill that was real soft and quiet, and me and Jack could lay there for hours and look up at the clouds, but when I got outside, Dad called us over to the truck.
“Don’t look at me like I’m a snake,” he told us. “I’m not going to bite you, but get into the truck and we can head on out to the beach for a little while. Give your mother a break.”
Jack ran past me before I could stop him. Dad seemed to be smiling now, and the beach sounded nice, so I grabbed my suit off of the clothes line and walked, carefully, to Dad and his red truck.
Now on the beach, instead of going to the truck to see Dad, I take Jack’s hand and we head toward the small white building that holds the snack stand and the bathrooms. We need to go before Dad drinks too much and can’t get us home. My plan is to wash the sand off of Jack and head back to the car. I’ll tell him, “Dad it’s time to go.” I practice this out loud to see if I sound brave enough. Jack is pointing at the seagulls that are flying close to the water. He loves birds. He runs ahead of me with his arms spread out like a flying gull. He swoops across the sand toward the bathrooms. He is laughing. He is free.
When we get to the bathrooms, I tell Jack to wait outside for me. I sit him on the bench and tell him, “Don’t you move, baby.” Usually I would take him in with me, but he looks so cute on the bench, and he is happy pointing to the birds by the sea. It will be quicker for me to wash off without him anyway.
I use the bathroom quick. Rinse my body off in the shower stall, get the sand out of all my parts, and spray down my hair. I use the toilet, and head back out to get Jack, but he isn’t on the bench. I walk around the building in a circle until I’m back at the bench. I call him, “Jack? Jaaaaaack?” But I’m not nervous. He’s playing a game with me. He loves hide and seek. I peek into the boy’s bathroom. “Jack Jack? Come out, come out!” But he doesn’t answer me. I go up to the girl at the snack stand. I can barely see over the counter, but I wave to get her attention. “Did you see a little naked boy with fluffy white hair?” She hasn’t. Maybe he made his way back to Dad, so I put a hand to my forehead and look down the beach toward the cars. I can see Dad and his truck. He’s standing behind the open door, leaning through the open window, facing out to the beach, but I don’t see Jack. I turn in circles, wondering where to look next. I’m getting jittery in my body. I start to shake my hands like I’m trying to dry them. I decide to walk back to our blanket. He is there, I’m sure he’s there. I’m walking quick back the way we came. It feels like it’s taking forever. Double the time, triple the time it took us to get to the bathrooms. I’m looking all up and down the beach as I walk. I scan back and forth from the beach to the parking lot, parking lot to the beach, and as I do it, I call Jack’s name. Then I yell Jack’s name, loud and serious. I can see Dad perk up when he hears me yelling for Jack. He steps from behind the door, and slams it. He points to me and yells, “Damn it, Becky, where is Jack?”
I’m getting hot, and I start to swat away the tears that are coming down my face. Now Dad is mad. Now he could get mean. My hands are balled into fists now, and I’m looking back and forth from Dad to the beach.
Out in the water I can see what looks like Jack. He is lying, like a belly flop, on top of the water. He is lying like he is pointing down into the water, pointing at the stones at the bottom. The sunshine sparkles off of his white, tiny head. The waves are moving him, slow and flowing. They are rolling his baby’s body on top of the sea. The seagulls are calling and circling around him in the blue sky. They are yelling at me to move, move, move Becky. Then I am, screaming to Jack and running to the sea.
Dad is still at the big red truck.
Stacey O’Connor holds an MFA from Fairfield University. She is currently working her way through her first novel. Find her online at imusuallywrite.blog or follow her writing adventures on Instagram @Wordsnwoofs.