AT SEA • by Jeanne Holtzman

I drag myself across the boiling-hot parking lot, twenty feet behind my parents and little brother David, praying no one sees me. “We’re having a family day,” my mom said, so cheery and perky I wanted to puke. We trudge past the bathroom that stinks like the monkey house, and past the sign with the gigantic NO next to a list of all the fun things you’re not allowed to do, and try to step only on the tiny strips of sand between a million blankets. I’m stuck carrying a retarded bag of beach toys, and could care less if it happens to bang some sweaty little kid in the head.

Somehow we find a spot of empty sand, and my mom spreads out the army blanket and smears David with Coppertone. My Dad asks me to go down to the shore with them to make drip castles. I roll my eyes.

“You’re part of this family, Judy,” he says. “Don’t think you’re going to mope by yourself all day.”

I move my towel as far away as possible, rub on baby oil, and lie back trying to imagine I’m a surfer girl in California and Larry, the cutest boy in my homeroom, is my surfer boyfriend. Except the loudspeaker won’t shut up about lost kids, and the air stinks of beer, b.o., and dirty diapers. I’m on a crappy beach with my stupid family, and even in my dreams Larry doesn’t know I exist.

Eventually, I stand up and brush sand off my legs. Mom and Dad are playing dominoes with David. “I’m going for a walk,” I announce, adjusting my rhinestone sunglasses and the too-big top of my two-piece bathing suit.

“Stay away from the hoods and the tramps,” my mom says. She smoothes the little pleated skirt of her bathing suit over her lumpy thighs, and I glance down to be sure my legs don’t look like that. “Take David with you. And hold his hand.”

“But ma…”

My Dad gives me that look, and even though he’s not wearing a belt with his trunks, I shut up.

David grabs his pail and shovel and skips down to the shore. Everyone’s radio blares “Surf City,” but the only curls here are ankle high and three-quarters pee.

“Where are we going?” David asks in his squeaky, six-year-old voice.

“I’m looking for someone.”

He takes my hand.

“Only babies hold hands,” I say, dropping his. “Just look for shells or rocks or something and follow me.”

We walk toward section twelve, the forbidden hangout. The hoods with their slicked-back hair and cigarettes are way too old for me, but maybe Larry is hanging around. I slump my shoulders, hoping it hides how puny my bust is. David keeps running up to show me some stupid shell or slimy strand of seaweed.

Soon I see the tramps, lying on their stomachs with their bathing suit tops unhooked, showing the sides of their boobs. I try not to stare at a half-naked guy lying on top of a girl in a bikini, making out. I imagine it’s me and Larry.

David whines, “I’m tired.”

“Just keep walking.”

Up ahead, I think I see Larry splashing some guys from school.

“I’m tired.”

“Don’t be such a baby,” I say, and fluff my hair. I wish I had a piece of gum to snap.

David whimpers behind me. I ignore him; he’ll be fine. I keep walking.

It’s definitely Larry. He’s tripping toward me, throwing wet sand at his goofy friends. His curly brown hair is wild from the wind, and I can see his naked chest, covered with sparkly gray drips.

I hold my breath to make my bust look bigger, and imagine I’m so beautiful and sexy, Larry will stop in his tracks and say hello.

He runs right past me, so close I feel the sand bounce under his thumping feet.

I keep walking. I know I should get David back, so when I figure Larry is far away, I turn around. David is gone.

I scan the beach and the water, looking for his striped swimsuit and blond head, but he’s not anywhere. I hurry to where I last saw him, but he’s not there either.

I yell, “David, David!!” I run and yell and look everywhere. I’m about to tell a lifeguard he’s missing, but then I picture my parents hearing his name booming across the beach. Sweat drips down my chest and my sunglasses feel all crooked and I’m crying and stumbling down the shore.

I’m such a pathetic loser. All I care about is boys, and now I’ve lost my brother, and maybe he’s drowned or was kidnapped by a pervert and it’s all my fault and my parents will kill me because they like him better than me, even though I was born first, since he’s still all cute and sweet and lovable and I’m sullen and ugly and shallow. And irresponsible. I should just run away right now.

And then I see him. Sitting by the water, digging a hole.

“You were supposed to follow me, you little twerp!” I yell. I don’t know whether to hit him or to hug him.

“I told you I was tired, ” he says, standing up. “I wanted to go back. I could’ve gotten you in big trouble.”

“You wish,” I say.

“I know,” he says.

“You wish.”

“I know.”

We almost laugh.

I kneel down next to him. “Wanna piggyback?”

He climbs on my back and I stagger up the beach.

“Did you find who you were looking for?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “I did.”

Jeanne Holtzman is an aging hippie, writer and health care practitioner, not necessarily in that order. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Night Train, The Los Angeles Review, Every Day Fiction, Annalemma, elimae, Blip Magazine, JMWW and others. You may reach Jeanne at

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