Lady Yellow Slippers, Part IV

Fleur stands in the surf and scans the beach.  She asks Marguerite, “Shouldn’t we try to get closer today?”

Marguerite replies, “A little closer, but not too close.”

“I think we should walk right up to her, and look her in the eyes.”

“I don’t think she’d recognize us.”

“How do you know?”

“Don’t get frustrated.  It takes time.”

“We have plenty of that.”

“I think that’s her, coming toward us.  See how her right foot turns out when she runs?  Mine used to do that too.”

“She’s not wearing the i-thing today.”

Without music to deaden the sound of the ocean and the gulls, Lise feels alert, alive, like she has tuned to the frequency of the beach.  She feels the sand grind beneath her running shoes.  When the wind picks up, she feels her shirt press into her chest and stomach.  Entirely alone, she would almost feel like an intruder – but there is a peace about the place this morning.  Everything is in a steady rhythm.

When Lise reaches the state park, she slows to a walk.  With her t-shirt, she wipes the sweat from her forehead and the bridge of her nose.  She tightens her pony tail.  Twenty feet ahead, a path leads through a line of tall grass.  Beyond the path, Lise spies a wooden ramp snaking to a square cabin with a rotting front porch.  She follows the ramp to the front door and jiggles the handle.  The door is locked, and the windows are covered with rusty screens.

Lise peers around the corner of the cabin, where she finds a second door smattered with dirt, sand and insect remains.  This door is locked.  A bandana is wound tightly around the rusted brass handle.  Lise fingers the bandana and thinks of the girl.

Lise returns to the water’s edge.  From the corner of her eye, she notices two birds standing in the surf.  They have pure white feathers and spindly legs, like herons.  One bird slides a leg toward the horizon.  When the light catches the leg, Lise sees it is pencil yellow.  The birds move like a chain gang, leaving no more than a few feet between them.  For a moment, Lise wonders whether an invisible rope, hidden beneath the foamy water, binds their ankles.  “Hello, beauties,” she whispers.  She tries to recall the names she’d learned earlier in the week –  Sanderling, Black Gullied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Least Tern, Red Knot – she was not sure.  She remembers only the nickname, Lady Yellow Slippers.

Watching these two birds bound to one another, Lise thought of her mother and grandmother.  She thought of the distance between them and how, despite the gap, they moved through their lives together.   Another wave washed on the shore, and Lise recalled a swim lesson from her girlhood.  She could not have been more than six years old.  Her instructor was teaching her to float on her back.  He held Lise’s small head in his hands, while Lise tried to kick her legs and stomach to the surface.  Finally, Lise let go.  She tipped her chin to the sky, tilted her head back, and felt her legs and stomach rise.  When she stood up, she looked across the pool at her mother, who was smiling and clapping.

You get what you need, Lise thought.

Marguerite turned her head to Fleur and said, “That’s it.  Let’s go.”

Fleur asked, “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

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