August 14, 2020

The Way to the Beach

posted on: Wednesday March 17, 2010

Dara Plath ’13 / Portfolio Staff

The way to the beach was lined with thorny bushes of red and pink roses. I used to bring Talon through this path every afternoon, right after we had our lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts kept on. She once tried to pick one of the roses and cut her hand pretty badly; she cried for an hour, though not from the pain but because she didn’t understand why something so beautiful could be so dangerous.I was 15 that summer and working as Talon’s babysitter. She was the daughter of an eminent writer and New York City socialite. Mr. Deluca (as he was known to me) was a rather quiet man who spent most of his time in his study, trying to come up with the next great American novel. His clothes were always wrinkled and his cheeks seemed to sag lower than usual, giving him the appearance of a sad puppy dog. He was considerably older than his wife, who insisted I call her Valorie. She was beautiful, the kind of beautiful that stops men dead in the street and renders envious stares from passing women. However, she also donned a sense of superiority, which I saw most plainly in her appraisal of my clothing, regrettably handed down to me from an older cousin. Since Valorie was gone most of the day, either off at the spa or shopping with her friends and Mr. Deluca was rarely seen except to grab a cup of coffee, I was assigned to watch Talon.On hot summer days, we would walk along the beach, our feet kicking up the water playfully as we pretended to be mermaids just granted a pair of legs. We’d walk all the way down to Mrs. Peterson’s house, the old woman my mother would sit and read with on Sunday afternoons. She always had a pitcher of ice cold lemonade waiting for us on her back porch and we would rest on the steps and sip the sweet liquid until our tongues were frozen, then suck on the lemons until our teeth hurt. Sometimes Mrs. Peterson would sit in her rocking chair and tell us stories about her wayward youth (though looking back, I think she may have romanticized most of it). I would watch Talon as she listened to these stories, noticing how her face slowly came to life, as if someone were lifting a veil slowly away.One day, I decided to take Talon home with me. Valorie had gone into the city for the day and wasn’t expected back until later that night. Mr. Deluca had suddenly overcome his writer’s block and had barely left his study in two days. On the way to my house, we pretended we were spies, hiding behind trees and giving secret hand signals to each other whenever a car passed by. I had braided Talon’s hair the night before. That day it was a mess of curls, sprawling around her face like the golden mane of a lion. Crouching behind a tree and glancing furtively about her for the invisible enemy, she almost seemed to fit the part.My mother was home (as it was a Saturday) while my father was out fishing with my uncle. My mother sat at the kitchen table finishing a crossword puzzle, a small fan placed aptly on the counter so a slight breeze caused the hair near her temples to float about. I think she was surprised to see us, though she got up and gave both Talon and I a kiss on the cheek and told us to take a seat while she brewed a pot of iced tea. I couldn’t help but notice how my mother stood at the stove, staring at Talon as she pondered over the crossword puzzle. In a way, my mother was afraid of her. Already, you could see that Talon had inherited her mother’s beauty. Her hazel eyes contained tiny flecks of gold and she had cheekbones which now seemed a little odd on a child her age. They would eventually give her a striking appearance. She was also very quiet, but in her bouts of silence, she seemed to be constantly thinking. Though of what, I could not tell.The weather became cooler as the summer began to draw to an end and most days we would stay inside (on the condition that we did not bother Mr. Deluca). It was on one of these particular days, as Talon and I sat on the floor of her room reading a book that we heard a door slam and quick footsteps heading down the stairs. We ran to the front porch in time to see Valorie, her long hair tied back with a scarf, pushing a large suitcase into her car while Mr. Deluca stood next to her, his sad puppy dog face seeming even more defeated than usual. I grabbed Talon’s hand to bring her inside but she wouldn’t move; she only stared at the scene unfolding before her as if transfixed by some spell. Before she left, Valorie glanced one last time at her daughter, then stepped into the car and drove away. Mr. Deluca remained standing in the driveway gazing at the now invisible car, then retreated back into the house and into his study, not one word muttered to either of us. Talon sat down on the porch steps and was quiet for a long time, her small hands folding and unfolding themselves in her lap. She eventually got up and brushed the dirt from the porch off her shorts. Grabbing my hand, we started walking towards the water, recognizing the path to take: because the way to beach was always lined with thorny bushes of red and pink roses.

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