Copyright 2011 by Shana Norris
Cover photograph: Copyright 2012 by Dejan Sarman | Dreamstime.com
Cover Design by Shana Norris
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the author.
For Michael, Nicholas, and Ashley, who were my first readers.
And for Heather, who loved this story first.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
-T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
When I closed my eyes, I dreamed of an ocean I could barely remember. The last time I saw the beach, I had just turned four. It was fall, only a few weeks after my birthday, and my mom drove all the way across Tennessee and North Carolina to the tiny island where my father lived.
It had been the big adventure of my life, the long car ride and the ferry trip across the water, but the only thing I could remember now was this giant, dark haired man framed by the sunlight. Mom’s voice still echoed in my head. “Mara, this is your daddy.”
I had vague memories of sitting on his shoulder as he walked down to the beach. When he dipped my toes in the Atlantic Ocean, whispering things I had long ago forgotten, Mom got angry. Angrier than I’d ever seen her before or since. We left that night and I never saw him—or the Carolina coast—again.
The bus I’d boarded at the tiny airport half an hour ago bumped down the road and sent me bouncing in my seat. It woke me from my half-sleeping state, pulling me from foggy dreams of waves crashing over my toes. Outside, all that sped by my window were dried pastures dotted with a few grazing cows and abandoned gas stations with windows like broken teeth.
Only an occasional car passed by in the other direction. Even the bus was empty, except for the driver up front, me in the back, and the thin, silent woman who had been staring at me from a few rows ahead ever since I’d boarded.
Another bump and I tried to hold onto the seat in front of me while gripping my bag. My camera, as usual, hung safely around my neck and tucked inside my jacket, so that was one less thing to worry about as I held on as if my life depended on it. Because, judging from the bus’s lack of shock support, it apparently did.
The woman didn’t seem to notice the bumps in the road as she bounced in her seat, her frizzy graying hair forming a messy halo around her head. She sat turned on the edge of the seat, her legs in the aisle and her back pressed against the seat back in front of her.
She didn’t even attempt to hide the fact that she was staring.
When I’d first noticed the woman, I had managed a smile even though my face felt as if it might crack at the effort. It had been a while since I’d smiled.
“Be polite, Mara,” my mom’s voice in my head had reprimanded me. Not the weak, croaking voice she’d had in the final days before the cancer finally took her, but the soft, sighing and sweet voice in which she used to tell me bedtime stories. So I’d smiled at the woman; it wasn’t her fault that I sat in this death contraption of a bus in a part of eastern North Carolina that seemed to be more trees and farms than anything else, on my way to meet the father I had not heard from in over twelve years.
The woman hadn’t smiled back. I’d thought then that maybe she was blind, but when my bag had slipped from the seat earlier, her gaze had followed as I leaned over to retrieve it.
So she could see. And apparently, the only thing that interested her at the moment was me.
She continued to inspect me even now with that panicked expression, her eyes wide and her hands clenched into tight fists on the lap of her faded red peacoat. It felt like she was accusing me of something, though I didn’t have the slightest idea what I could have done. She had already been seated on the bus when I boarded. Plenty of seats remained empty all around us, so I didn’t think that I had taken one that she wanted to save for someone else.