But my palms sting, and there’s sand in my swimsuit bottom, my favourite purple-flowered swimsuit with a trillion tiny yellow buttercups, wet and heavy. She grabs hold of me, her bony-fingered claw, and her coral lipstick mouth moves in the garage. She says to my mother, this can’t all be sand. My mother looks at me, her expression withering – a word I read in a book. Aunt Vick grips my bottoms and kneads my sag. She has no children. She’s not blood, but still, we visit. Spider webs. Spider veins. All the aunts eat lady fingers in the living room, dry cakes, and tea. One cloudy lemonade-from-frozen on her black plastic tray for me. Dainty trembling teacups for the others. Very valuable, she says. They nod, but in the catch of her teeth and lower lip, I see she lies. Spider veins craze her saucers.
I’m supposed to curtsy, thank you, thank you, drink it, run along. Go down to the beach, be back soon, don’t track sand. Now she’s got me in her dark garage. My mother finally speaks: she says it’s sand, it’s sand. They empty me onto the concrete floor.
All grit. My mother leaves, but my aunt won’t let me go. Wet sand, tiny shells and pebbles. Too much lemonade, but I hold that in. Where the sun angles through the open door, her flaming orange hair blazes bright. Her husband who has no vocal cords comes in and holds his electric-razor thing to his throat to bring out robot words, a garbled lawn-mower laugh. He points at my pile. He’s not blood-related either. Before the drive, the aunts said not to be afraid of him, he has an illness. Never smoke, young lady, never touch a cigarette, but he didn’t scare me. It’s the flaring hair that haunts me still, my aunt’s fragile cups and knuckles, her steep flight of ancient oil-paint stairs. Taupe and sinister, uneven in the overgrowth. One thousand burnt-orange-coloured sunflowers up her hill – this is not Van Gogh’s wild yellows, but Monet’s dark idea of them. This is theft and chaos. The steep profusion rising from the Vetheuil Beach, split up the unkempt middle, separated. A Cusco speculum with metal rivets. This is twisted ankles. Knees. Scabs and scars. Treachery and broken steps. Wet, messy hair, a bathing suit hung on a nail to dry. Sneakers full of sand.
An American-Brit in Switzerland, Nancy Freund is always hard at work on a novel, but she also loves flash. She has published pieces at Jellyfish Review, Splonk, Hobart, Largehearted Boy, and journals in six countries outside the US. She has Creative Writing degrees from UCLA and Cambridge. She’s on twitter @nancyfreund
The Ekphrastic Review
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