She always thought of brown sugar when her feet sank just an inch or so into warm, slightly damp sand. This sand, this beach was no different. He had asked her to go for a walk and her parents had said okay so she was beside him, Panit, a coffee-skinned boy from Thailand, his silky hair touching his t-shirt collar and his hand holding hers like he was just about to lead her onto a dance floor.
He had approached her on the sidewalk outside their townhouse on Muurbloemweg, she and her family just back from church. Her Dad had smiled at Panit and nodded. She wanted to be on the beach, wanted to walk with him, but neither Panit or her father had given her time, and she was too shy, too unsure to ask for the time to change from her Sunday dress, her shiny black heels, and most importantly her nylons.
When she and Panit arrived at the edge of Scheveningen Beach, Panit had waited while she stepped out of her shoes. He offered to carry them for her, but she shook her head no and pinched them together in her left hand.
The beach was full of families, umbrellas, spread towels, lemon ice vendors, a patat frites cart, so the smell of deep-fried potatoes mixed with the North Atlantic salt and Nivea sun lotion. This was den Haag’s beach. The women wore very small bathing suits and some of the smaller children ran naked even on a Sunday afternoon, because for once the Dutch sun was beaming everywhere.
She wanted to be part of this, to be easy, to know how to be and what to say, to tilt her face up to catch the light, to say something witty or silly, to make Panit know how much she liked what was happening. The sand moved beneath her as she walked, but her nylons slid, her toes couldn’t grip.
“Would you like an ice?” Panit asked.
She said, “No, thank you,” because she didn’t want her hands to get sticky and then how would she hold his hand? And she didn’t want to eat awkwardly, a bit of ice sliding down her dress.
They walked some more, her feet and legs working hard to make an easy stride, but the nylons were both a slick barrier and a fine mesh allowing the finest grains to enter and scrape the same spot as she stepped.
Panit stopped. He pulled a little on her hand and pointed at her feet.
“Can you remove those?”
She knew he meant her nylons. Her face bloomed red and she looked far down the beach, not seeing anything. For a second she imagined going onto the shallow dunes and pulling the stockings off her legs. She imagined the warm beach air and the sand finally soft and pliable, her toes as individuals rather than clumps. She was acutely aware also that she was fourteen and her nylons were attached to garters and what was she to do with those? Where would she put them once they were off? Would Panit offer, just as he had offered so politely to carry her shoes? She was rigid and frozen and afraid and stupid.
Panit’s eyes were kind and full of fun. She had nothing to measure up to them.
“Oh, no. No, thank you,” she said, knowing it was all the wrong answer, that yes and discovery were what the beach in Holland was asking of her.
Panit held her hand back along the strand, the same towels, the same smell of beer and lemon ice and oceans and oceans of summer day. When they reached the sidewalk, she put her shoes back on. Nothing had changed except that the sand inside her nylons was now also inside her shoes scraping at her skin, and she knew she had not been equal to the waves skidding onto the beach, the naked children shouting in the sun, the boy who had offered his dark brown eyes.
They walked back along the sidewalk, their hands hanging by their sides.
Panit said, “Thank you for walking with me.”
She wanted to say, “Can we try it again? I’ll change,” meaning her clothes. But she stood there inside her dress, her manners, her shyness with her nylons stuck to her thighs.
Maureen Buchanan Jones is the Program Director of Amherst Writers & Artists and leads creative writing workshops in Amherst, Massachusetts under her business, Writing Full Tilt. Her poetry has appeared in Woman in Natural Resources, 13th Moon, Peregrine, North Dakota Quarterly, Letters from Daughters to Fathers, WriterAdvice, Equinox, Calyx and Chrysalis. Her book of poems, blessed are the menial chores, is available on her website: www.writingfulltilt.com. Maureen’s novel, Maud & Addie, will be published by Regal House Publishing. She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature.