The first shouts come from her little sister.
“Leah, Leah, Leah.”
She hears her sister but convinces herself another Leah is being called. Her other self born into a doting, affectionate, family. That Leah is being called back to the shore. They’re worried she’s too far out. Knees deep, they say to her. Knees deep.
This Leah, the one her sister is calling for, she keeps walking. Not into the water but away from her family, towards the hazy boardwalk she’s stared at for six days. She didn’t ask her parents to take her. She hoped, prayed really, that staring at it for six straight days would convince them to ask her why she was staring at it. If they asked, she would say because she wanted to walk its wide planks and watch the fishermen dangle their long poles over the railings. If they cared enough to ask in the first place, maybe they’d take her. Take her and her little sister. All four of them, like a string of paper cutouts attached at the hands, walking together, splashing their feet in the ocean’s ripples.
They’d buy cotton candy, something this Leah never had. They’d put quarters in the viewfinders since Leah never looked through one using quarters before. And they’d line up on one of those weathered wooden benches, covered in dried seagull droppings, and have a family picture taken by a kind passerby.
Each day was the same. Breakfast, reading, and violin practice in the morning. Then lunch and the four block walk to the beach where Leah’s mother and father sat under a large rainbow colored umbrella, reading fat books. Her parents went for swims but never invited her. They took turns walking in the direction of the boardwalk but never invited her. And this despite Leah’s determined, physical inferences. She sat with legs crossed while her sister dug in the wet sand. For six days, at all times, facing the boardwalk.
Her parents grow embarrassed. They shield their eyes to scan the beach and see others pointing in their direction. The current of fear spreads. A child is missing. Someone’s child is missing. White sunlight washes over the tiny bodies, scattering in all directions. One of those spindly bodies, probably Leah. The one missing from known whereabouts, probably Leah.
Leah can hear the panicked chorus grow but is unable to distinguish the sources. If her sister is shouting, the strange voices swallow her squeaks. If her mother and father are calling, she would not know. She’s never heard them call. Not even to come inside for dinner because Leah always came in as expected. As understood.
“Leah. Leah. Leah,” the frantic sea of voices moans.
Perhaps her other self is in trouble, Leah thinks. A rip tide is carrying that Leah out into the swirling royal waters and that Leah’s parents crumble to their knees. Then, in desperation, that Leah’s father dives into the churning surf, but he too gets caught in the dragging currents. Bystanders are forced to hold the crazed mother back while tan men in red shorts run past, whistles blowing. The little sister stands frozen, her shovel dropping from her hand. Sirens and more sirens from all directions. What a scene Leah thinks her other self is causing. A headline in tomorrow’s papers for sure.
About the author:
Daniel Thompson is an urban planner living in Richmond, VA, with his wife and daughter. His recent work can be found in Bartleby Snopes and Literary Orphans and forthcoming in Jersey Devil Press and Eunoia Review.