The beach curved gently. To his left a spit rode down into the waves; to his right the gentle curve continued on, cradling the bay. At his feet was the highest of high tides mark, rarely disturbed by the lapping waves. The wide band of pebbles egg sized. Robin eggs, chicken eggs, and lower down ostrich eggs strewn all over the beach; not stopping where they met the sea, but continuing on past the lowest of low tides to the depths and on until the mainland. The loose soft sand and the dark heavy sand, all ridged with timeless ripples, hardly showed itself. Was barely there; only a background to these rocks.
"It's not what I expected. It's all rocks, and the ones by the water are covered in barnacles," said Kliu.
"Let's make the best of it. The beach is ours for the rest of the summer." Curls of dried seaweed crunched under his father's bare feet. "If it bothers you, just wear your old runners in the water."
"But dad, a beach is for bare feet. You run through the sand into the sea and fall and roll in the waves. Here I'll have to try not to slip on the rocks until it's safe to swim without shredding my knees."
"It won't be that bad. There's sure to be a clear spot somewhere. I'm going to explore the coastline for a bit. You coming?"
"I don't feel like it."
"Suit yourself. If you change your mind come along and join me."
His father sat, dusted off the bottoms of his feet, and slipped his runners on. With a backward wave he strode off over the cobbled spit, down into the next strip of sheltered bay, and out of sight.
Kliu sat heavily, and wished he hadn't. The rocks weren't as smoothed by ancient tumbling as he had expected. He looked out. Golden sands, clear blue water, a touch of surf. Was that too much to ask? The grey sea stared back. And the rocks. He was stuck on this island with his dad for a month. There probably wasn't anyone else here but a few old pensioners. Luckily there weren't any cabins for miles either way.
He looked out at the slate grey-green water coming in, slowly, steadily, trickling over the rocks, filling the little spaces between them. A cloud covered the sun. He shivered. The water darkened. He looked around; he was utterly alone. Maybe he should have gone with his dad.
He stood up and turned his back to the sea. Dry grasses and weeds straggled down to the beach from a semi-clearing where the cabin stood. Red cedar and Douglas fir crowded close around. Scrubby bushes of huckleberry and Oregon grape encroached. It wasn't much of a cabin either. No electricity, no running water. A wide covered porch with rough-hewn railings faced the sea. It was almost nice, but . . . He leaned against the railing for a moment as he reached the top of the stairs, pressing his cheek against the rough wood. The two windows looked back at him silently. He crossed the porch and pushed open the door.
Inside there was one large all-purpose room and two small low ones on either side, like squat wings. These had built in bunk beds and not much else. The main room had a big rock fireplace in the centre. By one wall there was a small black wood stove for cooking, but on it there was a double burner with a propane tank to use instead. A long worn wooden table under one of the front windows was the counter. Beneath it was a pail and wash tub, beside it shelves for food and utensils. In the back corner was a propane fridge, and beside it a number of five gallon water containers. A dusty overstuffed couch and armchair, hand-woven throws covering age and wear, took up the rest of the back of the cabin. Under the other front window, looking out to sea, was a sturdy wood table and four unmatched chairs.
Kliu threw himself onto the couch and stared out the back window. There was not much to see. Green boughs of Douglas fir swayed gently. Life was certainly different now. It had been for a whole year. He was not going to think about it now. Not ever. He wouldn't look out either window. Not at the trees. Not at the ocean. He went over to the fireplace, searched in the wood-box for small kindling, and built a fire in the grate. No paper, just fine, dry kindling. It was a challenge. He needed a challenge. He needed something, anything to occupy his mind. When would dad be back? Okay, now one match. Just one match. He reached for the box of matches, took one, replaced the box, and then scraped the match across the rough flagstones.
The match flared, its sulphur smell tingling his nostrils. He touched it to the cedar and flames licked, ran up, took hold. It was burning too quickly. He needed more wood. He rummaged through the box. The wood was too big. He found the smallest pieces he could, but the kindling was gone. Only a small, smoking, charred pile remained. Desperately he placed the wood over it and blew. Embers glowed and smoke furled. A lone flame lifted, flicked weakly at the split cedar, and sank back into the embers. Kliu blew again, harder, and ashes spurted back into his face. Coughing, he sat back on his haunches, then curled himself into a tight ball, head to his knees, arms twined tightly around his legs, tears streaming down his cheeks.
The next morning was bright and inviting. Sky stretched out to sea, clear and light. Sunlight glinted on the upper branches of trees. Kliu faced the morning with the resolution to find something fun to do. Anything would be better than yesterday. He sipped his orange juice and looked over to his dad. "Want to come out on the rocks with me?"
His dad set his coffee down. "I'd love to Kliu, but if I don't get started on this report now, I'll never make deadline."
"It's not fair that you have to work on our holiday."
"I know, but a working holiday is better than no holiday, besides, I can join you after lunch. It'll be too hot to work then so we can have the afternoons together."
"Well, I'm going to look for sand. Do you think I'll find any?"
"I must have walked two miles up the beach yesterday, and I didn't find too much of it." His dad laughed. "I saw a cabin on a rocky bluff jutting out to sea. That's where I turned around. It looked desolate but rather intriguing with twisted arbutus trees clinging to the cliffs around it. This place may not be what you expected, but I think it's pretty spectacular in its own way."
"Yeah, I guess." Kliu sounded unconvinced.
Kliu finished up his orange juice, rinsed off his dishes, and then slipped out the door before his father could think of any chores for him to do.
The path to the beach was rough, overgrown with weeds and knobby tufts of grass. Kliu kicked at them on his way down. As he left the shadow of the trees, the morning sun caught him up in its warmth. He looked east, toward the rocky spit, and the low brightness dazzled him. The air was fresh, softly slipping from the ocean with a hint of salt and seaweed. He took a deep breath and couldn't help but feel good.
He ran through the high band of detritus, crunching it under his feet, sending small sticks of driftwood spinning. Then he hit the larger rocks, the ostrich eggs that stretched endlessly. He ran down to where they met the sea and watched the ebb lick back away, slowly returning a little more to the land. He looked out to sea and watched the small dot of a fish boat as it bobbled further, further, until he couldn't tell if it was still the boat he saw or just the flash of a cresting wave. A gull dipped and soared, crying its lonely wail, the voice of the sea. Kliu shook himself. No remembering. Not now, not today, not ever. He bent over and picked up a big smooth rock, and hucked it as far as he could. It sank with a splash, ripples circling outward, slightly distorted by the returning drops. Kliu shrugged his shoulders and shook his arms, loosening up. Then he chose rocks, weighing them for hardball weight, loosely elliptical hardball shaped. He started throwing, lightly first, then with more strength, more power, further out. Pitcher to catcher, catcher to second base, second to first, first to third, third to home. The ball is hit. A high fly ball to centre field, centre to home. He's out at the plate!
"It's not going to work, you know. The sea'll just bring them back."
Kliu turned suddenly at the voice. An old wrinkled man, sea weathered, stoop shouldered so as he was barely taller than Kliu himself, stood behind him on the rocks, smiling.
"I know ‘cause I tried it once myself, many years ago. Besides, there's too many. It'd take a month of Sundays to get rid of this lot."
"I was just playing baseball. Sort of." It sounded dumb.
"Come to think of it, I used to do that too. There's usually a good piece of driftwood around for a bat." The old man looked around as if searching for a likely piece. "I used to follow baseball a good bit. My team was the Giants, ‘course they were in New York in those days. Now they're out somewhere in California, I believe."
"That's it. It's just not the same. So you staying at this cabin up here?" He yanked his head back in the direction of the cabin.
"Yeah, with my dad. For a month."
"No brothers or sisters?" Kliu looked away from the old man's knowing eyes. "You must be a mite lonely. I should send my girl Nancy over."
Kliu looked a bit startled.
"My grand daughter." The old man continued. "You look to be about her age. A little older maybe."
"I'm okay." Kliu managed. "I don't need anyone. My dad's going to spend his afternoons with me."
"Don't worry," said the old man. "She won't bring her dolls or drag you off to play house. She plays baseball, and climbs trees, and gets up to all kinds of things."
Kliu didn't say anything.
"Oh well, I guess I'll be getting on." The old man started to head up the beach. "By the way my name is Dave, Dave Peters. I'll see you around. If you're ever up our way, pop in and visit. We live in the cabin on the bluff, just up the way a bit. You can't miss it." With a laugh and a salute he was off.
"Bye." Kliu called after him, suddenly. "My name's Kliu. See ya."
Dave Peters nodded in acknowledgement and walked off at a steady pace up over the rise, then down and out of view around the curve of the next bay.
Kliu stood watching him. It had been good talking to the friendly old guy. He felt the loneliness creeping back, its tendrils trying to catch at memories tightly held. Trying to open, to set free. No! Kliu picked up a rock and flung it far out, followed it with another. He got the rhythm going again. Carefully choosing, weighing, throwing. Fly ball to centre, fly ball to left, fly ball to right, high fly to short.
That evening Kliu and his dad played cards until late, by the light of the hurricane lamp. They joked and talked about school, and friends, and nothings. They discussed what they could do once his dad's report was finished.
"We could rent a boat and go out fishing, maybe cruise around and visit some of the other islands." His dad picked up a card, organised his hand, and then discarded.
"We would have to rent a captain too." Kliu picked a card from the top of the deck and discarded. "Rummy! I beat you again. That's the third time in a row. I am the champion!"
"That's only because you stacked the deck. You are just like your brother Gero . . . " His dad suddenly bit his words off. Kliu's face went pale. With a big sweep of his arm he knocked all he cards flying.
"Don't, dad, don't!"
"Come on Kliu, it's been a year. You have to face it. It hurts for me too, but we can't shut them out and act like they never existed. Your mom would want you to remember the good times. So would Gero and Lita. They are still part of you."
"Stop it dad! There's just me and you now. That's all it ever will be. They'll never be here again. I won't think about them." Kliu threw himself onto the couch, crying.
"Kliu, you have to feel the pain so you can deal with it. You have to go on with your life." His father sat on the floor beside the couch and put his arm around Kliu. He rested his head on Kliu's shoulder. They stayed like that until Kliu's shuddering body settled into rhythmic breathing. Then Kliu's dad got up, rubbed his stiff arm, and took a blanket from the armchair, gently placing it over Kliu's sleeping form. He went over to the table and got down on his hands and knees to pick up the strewn cards. He placed the cards on the table and, lantern casting deep shadows on his strained face, leaned over to extinguish the flame.
Time fell out of proportion the way it seems to with island life. The sun and moon dictated rather than the hands of a clock. When Kliu was hungry he ate; tired he slept. He wandered alone, in and out of sheltered bays. He threw rocks, paddled in the shallows, and clambered over the rocky outcroppings that divided and defined the numerous coves. When the sun was high and hot his dad would find him resting on some boulder, gazing out absently to sea. They would go up into the woods and follow barely existent trails and speculate on the animals that used them. Squirrels chirped noisily in the treetops and scurried along branches. Occasionally, if they had been particularly quiet, they would spot a deer, head erect, ears pricked, standing in the filtering shafts of sunlight, poised for flight.
They would snack on berries, eat sandwiches his dad had packed, and then make their way back down to the sea to scramble over the rocks and splash into the water. In the evenings they would light a fire down on the beach and roast hot dogs and marshmallows, and bake potatoes in the glowing coals. As darkness descended, they would gaze up at the stars and try to decipher them, wishing they knew more about the night sky.
This was a way of life new to Kliu, without the schedules of school and sports and friends. Especially this last year. He had scheduled every second of his time. The mornings were difficult, long and alone, but as the days progressed he was finding more of interest. Little things would catch his mind. He would notice something, wonder, investigate, and discover. For a short time he would escape the emptiness that overpowered him, but it would return, billowing, enveloping him. And then he would begin to throw, find a pattern, set a pace, gain control.
In the mornings when he reached the beach, he would look to the east, over past the spit, and then strike out in the opposite direction. In the last few days he had met no other person on the little coves that scattered the shoreline. But he thought of the cabin on the bluff with its twisting arbutus trees, high up in the crags, peering down through the russet branches. He had never seen it but it was vividly alive in his mind.
One morning he reached the rocky outcropping on the point of the bay that he and his father had decided should be his outer limit, about two and a half miles from his cabin. The tide was in and at this part of the island the rocks fell away deeply into the sea. Kliu looked at the rock face and it looked back, tempting him, showing him ledges and cracks that lead him upward. It was a sure way over. His runners gripped at the rock, his hands dug into cracks. He scrabbled up assuredly, goat-like. He stood at the top, face into a soft wind, feet firm on the mossy granite. The sea was teal, tipped with white. Distant fishing boats churned the waters, their dull drone lifted to him on the wind. Gulls circled and swooped, changing places in the sea and air. He looked back the way he had come, the pebbled crescent stretching outwards, the tangle of forest pushing down on it. He turned to see the newly discovered stretch of beach.
A deep curving horseshoe of a bay was before him. The water was still and bottle green. A jetty shot out from a neat wooden staircase that ran up the hillside, to a tidy bungalow painted green and white. A green fence and small lawn held back the trees. Immediately below Kliu, on a tiny strip of gravelled shore, was a boy about Kliu's size looking up at him.
Kliu stood in startled surprise for a full minute, staring at the boy and the orderly property behind him. It was so incongruent to what Kliu had just experienced; to what he had expected to experience upon cresting the rocks. He took to steps to the side, towards the sheltering trees that stretched their branches out to him. It was the boy who spoke first.
"Where did you come from? How did you get up there?"
"There's a way up," said Kliu. "I'm staying at a cabin over that way." He gestured back in the direction he had come.
"Are you alone, or is someone else down on the beach on the other side?" asked the boy.
"It's just me," said Kliu, inching closer to the trees.
"How old are you?" the boy asked.
"Wow, I'm almost twelve but I'm not allowed to leave this bay." The boy looked at Kliu speculatively. "Does anyone live at the cabin with you?"
Kliu was tempted to say that he lived alone. "My dad does, but he works a lot."
"Is it far to your cabin?"
"And you can go anywhere you want? By yourself?" The boy looked eager but at the same time apprehensive.
"Yeah." Well I guess I could, Kliu thought.
A woman pushed open one of the windows along the side of the house, looked around, and called out, "Simon, where are you? Come in for lunch."
"I gotta get going," Simon said quickly. "Could you come back tomorrow?"
"Maybe." Kliu didn't want to commit himself. "I might be busy."
"I hope you can," said Simon as he ran off. "See ya!"
Kliu stood looking as Simon ran in for lunch. He went up the stairway, holding the railing all the way, then stopped on his porch to take off his shoes before he entered the house. The green door closed. Kliu gazed on for a few moments longer and then he turned abruptly and crouched by the cliff edge to discover the best way down.
He turned and lowered his feet to a small ledge, then clinging to the rock face, he let his right leg down searching for a crack to jam his toes into. He reached down for a jagged spot in the rock with his right hand, at the same time lowering his left foot to a protrusion where the cliff angled out away from the perpendicular. It was a bit tougher going than the way up, feeling his way down. His runner skidded once, scraping his knee, but came up against a solid projection and he made it down safely. The sun was high and hot. Dad would be coming soon with lunch. He turned and jogged along the wet shingle.
A flock of seagulls rose as one when Kliu neared his beach the next morning. Kliu watched, fascinated that each bird seemed to be flying independently, as if taking flight had been its own idea and not a group effort. But they flew en mass, their highly choreographed flow and ebb swooping down to a farther stretch of beach. Their cries passing from one to the next, an undulating wail that formed a background to Kliu's world.
The tide was working its way up the long slow stretch of scattered rocks. Kliu headed out among them, occasionally turning one over to watch the tiny crabs scurry around to find new cover. He scooped a few in his hands and let them tickle his palms. Their backs were all different, grey, white, pink, with their own patterns in brown or black, like the tracery brush-strokes on the curving sides of a pottery bowl. Low bowls and deep plates lining shelves. Shelf upon shelf, bisqued, kiln fired, raku with the smell of burning leaves. The wheel turning under hands pulling life from a lump of clay. And on three stools, three hunched forms, three pairs of eyes watching the magic.
Tears filling his vision, Kliu placed the crabs back on the sand and sat, arms tightly around his knees, willing away the resurgent memories, fixing his gaze on a rock. There is no pottery here, just rock formed by fire in the centre of the earth. Just rock, cast up by mountains, left by ice, and rolled for centuries by the waters of this silent shore.
Kliu picked up a rock and threw it hard, high, straight up hurtling into the hazy blue. It landed with a crack, and ricocheted two, three times till it came splashing in the edging tide. Kliu ran forward, picked it up again, and hurled it deep into the swelling jade. The splash flew back and settled; little ripples shooting outwards, quickly swallowed by the flow of the waves. Kliu chose another rock and set his sights. Not far enough. Again. He stood as the tide swirled around his feet, reaching in and throwing, a wet spray following the arc of his arm.
"Did you ever stop to look at those rocks you keep tossing away?"
Kliu turned. It was Dave Peters. "Oh, hi."
"You know you might throw away the prize of the ocean, never to be found again for hundreds of years, and not even know it." Dave smiled.
"They're just rocks."
"Yup, they are that. But I'll tell you what." Dave settled himself down on a large boulder and beckoned to Kliu to come and sit beside him. "I used to be a fisherman when I was young. Fished these waters here, all through the islands and up the north coast. When I retired, what do you think I did? I got me a sailboat and I sailed around the world a couple of times. I went to all the pacific islands, all over South East Asia. I saw the most beautiful beaches in the world. Water so blue it hurt your eyes. Miles of golden sand, palm trees. I collected fantastic shells and beach pebbles that were like jewels. But do you know the most important thing that I discovered? Anywhere I went, no matter what part of the world I went to, there was always something special about it. Sometimes it was starin' right at you, sometimes you had to look for it. So I came back home and sure enough, it was special here too. My family was here, and this island. Of all the islands in the world, this is the one I like the best."
"I would like the golden sand and the palm trees, and scuba diving for shells and things." Kliu looked up at Dave. "That's where I always wish I was. And no rocks."
"Yep, those islands are beautiful, but I don't miss 'em. I'm sure glad I saw them, but this island has everything I need. I came back and I went out on the beach and what do you think I found that was special?" Dave looked out over the bay and stretched his arm with an encompassing sweep. "Rocks."
"You're kidding me." Kliu looked around. "There's nothing special about these rocks. There's just too many of them. This would be a great beach without all these rocks."
"Well you're right about one thing, there's a lot of ‘em, but that's how it has to be. Finding something special isn't easy, that's part of what makes it special. It's unique. You gotta have a lot of ordinary rocks for the special ones to be special. If they were all special, they would all be ordinary."
They both laughed.
Kliu picked up a rock. "They all look pretty much the same to me."
"That there is a piece of granite. There's lots of it all over the beach. But that's a very useful stone, a good, solid building stone. If you were building a rock wall that's just the type of stone you would be looking for." Dave leaned over and picked up another rock. "This here is sandstone. It's pretty common too. But in some parts of the island it's very special too. There are beaches of solid sandstone that have been carved and pitted by the elements. They are fascinating. My daughter is an artist and she paints them all the time. Sells lots."
"Are there any on our island?" asked Kliu.
"Around the other side, about ten miles to the east along the beach there is quite a good bay," said Dave. "Some of the other islands have more. My daughter takes the boat out and goes over to paint them."
"What's this white rock?" asked Kliu. "Is it special?"
"It is if that's what you're looking for," said Dave. "It's quartz. If you are collecting quartz, then you look for it in the size and shape you want, with the coloration that you want. When you find one that has all the qualities you are looking for, then that's a special one. I collected as many pure white ones as I could find about two inches across and I used them to trim my fireplace."
"What did you use for the main part of the fireplace?"
"I'll tell you about that when I find one." Dave looked around. Stood up, took a few steps along the beach, and leant over to pick up a rock. "This isn't the one, but it's kinda interesting. It's called dallasite and it's formed between pillows of lava." He passed it over to Kliu.
"Hey, it's pretty neat. I've never noticed it before." Kliu looked at the rock. Irregular greenish rectangles, interspersed with white quartz, danced in curving lines over the rock. At one end of the rock, the rectangles became larger and more dispersed, ending in solid quartz. At the other they petered out in thinning lines to a grey end.
"You have probably thrown a lot of it," laughed Dave. "It's pretty plentiful on this beach. The thing I like about it is that no two pieces are the same. I have a special piece that I found. It's my suiseki stone. That's a Japanese thing. It's a stone that you find, any kind of stone, that has a shape that's inspiring. It's a personal thing. It can remind you of something in nature or in your life. It has deep meaning for me and when I look at it, it brings me comfort and joy. All that from a rock. Surprising eh?"
"Is that what you meant when you said I could have thrown away the prize of the ocean?" asked Kliu.
"If it was the rock meant for you!" laughed Dave. "I've already got mine. Oh I keep looking. I have a little collection of rocks that fascinate me. Oh, here's the rock I wanted to show you. This is the type I made my fireplace of." Dave held up a nondescript charcoal black rock. It had some greyish splotches on it.
"That's nice," said Kliu, trying to be polite.
"It's not the best specimen, but it is decent for a fireplace. It takes a lot more time to find a good specimen. It could take years to find THE rock. Or you could find it right off the bat. This is a porphyry. When the rock is forming, the feldspar crystals form first. Then the magma heats up again, melting everything but the crystals. When the rock cools it forms clusters and the rest of the rock is this dark grey background rock. The clusters of crystals look like flowers, so this kind of porphyry is called a flowerstone. Most of them are like this one with pale, tiny, poorly shaped flowers and scattered crystals, but you can find real beauties."
"I'm sorry, but I can't seem to see the flowers," said Kliu. He was beginning to wonder if Dave had had a bit too much sun.
Dave went over to the water's edge and dipped the rock in. He held the dripping rock out to Kliu. "Take a look now. It's easier to see when it's wet."
Kliu took the rock and inspected it closely. The water had turned it a greenish black. Lath shaped white crystals grouped in clusters, some perfect flowers, others like complex Chinese characters. Individual slivers were scattered between them. They danced over the dark ground mass like stars in the night sky.
"Wow! I didn't believe you at first. Some of them really do look like tiny flowers. What a difference when it's wet. It just looked like an ordinary old rock before."
"Isn't It amazing what nature can come up with? " said Dave. "You know, the reason it's such a challenge to find these stones is that they're so nondescript when they are dry. This is one of the most common types of flowerstones. You can find ones that have longer, thinner crystal with flowers about two centimetres across. Or you can find ones where the feldspar is softer and has eroded. They look like the flowers are etched. You get the opposite too, the flowers stand out on an eroded ground mass, and the flowers can be two or three centimetres across."
"I'd like to see all the different kinds. Could I find them all on these beaches?"
"It takes a lot of looking, but I've found a few good specimens. Come over to my place some time and I'll show them to you. I've got one that I picked up in Japan. It's got a perfect flower that's about tree inches across. When the flowers get that big, they call them chrysanthemums."
"You sure know a lot about the rocks on this beach. What about this one?" said Kliu, leaning over and picking up a rock at random. "What kind of rock is this?"
Dave took the rock and studied it intently. "Kliu, this is one of the most plentiful and useful rocks on the beach. What you have here is a throwing rock." Dave threw the rock in a high arc, far out into the waves.
"Good throw," said Kliu.
"Used to have a very good arm in my day," said Dave as he chose another perfect throwing rock and sent it sailing out to sea. Kliu jumped down from the boulder and joined Dave at the shoreline, rocks in hand. With whoops of excitement they threw, comparing, competing, scattering rocks into the blue-green waters.
Kliu hesitated at the rock face. It was the third time that morning that he had faced the rugged granite with indecision. It was a few days since he had first seen Simon, and he just wasn't sure what he wanted to do about him. Simon had asked him to come again, but did he want to? Wasn't he fine on his own?
Since he had talked to Dave, he had started checking out the rocks on the beach. He had found some nice pieces of dallasite, and some pretty, water smoothed beach pebbles, but he hadn't yet found a flowerstone. Dave had just picked one up like nothing, but he couldn't find any. He would think he had found one, but it would just be a speckled rock. He had also discovered that the fireplace in the cabin was built of dallasite. This had inspired him to collect some dallasite for building something, while at the same time keeping his eyes on the lookout for a flowerstone. If he was busy looking for rocks, did he really need to bother with Simon? And yet, Simon had wanted him to come, so maybe he should.
He watched an ant effortlessly crawl up the rock face. A light wind, tinged with salt, brought the aching seagull cries that echoed on the rock, surrounding him. The ant disappeared into a crack. Kliu looked up; the granite pulled him forward. He started to climb, his fingers and toes sure of their route, the programmed memory of the first climb. Maybe Simon wouldn't even be around.
The bay was the same little pocket of orderliness that he had remembered. Sometimes it seemed as if he had dreamed it, but here it lay before him again, this time with a neat twenty-six foot cabin cruiser moored at the jetty. Simon and a man, probably his dad, were out by the boat, stowing some gear. He's going, thought Kliu, I should have come earlier. No, it's better this way. I don't need him.
Kliu sat on a rocky point, wind rippling his hair, eyes staring out to sea where the boat would soon be. He heard the engine start up and watched the boat exit the bay and stream out to sea, the furrowed wake spreading out behind.
He turned. There out on the jetty was Simon, waving both hands in the air. Kliu lifted a hand in response. Simon ran across the jetty around the curving shoreline to stop at the foot of the cliff. He looked up at Kliu, now standing like a sentinel in his rocky perch.
"I thought you were never going to come."
"I thought you had left in the boat," Kliu answered.
"No, my dad left for work. He works on the mainland and just comes on the weekend until he gets his holidays. We spend our summers here," Simon said. "Can you get down? I can't get up."
Kliu looked over the cliff edge. There was a sheer fifteen-foot drop. "Not from here, maybe there's a way through the woods. Did you try the woods?"
"Nope, but I'm not really supposed to go in the woods. At least not too far," Simon added.
"Well I can," said Kliu. He headed through the trees, which straggled out onto the rocky headland. Soon he was amongst tall sturdy cedars and hemlocks. The lower branches had died back, but the deep shade had not allowed much undergrowth. The ground was springy and soft under his feet, the woods roomy and cave-like. Kliu found the going easy, skirting the few brittle lower branches. The woods smelt warm, musty, and comforting. The ground fell away sharply to his left. Kliu scrambled down the hillside, skidding from root to trunk, and emerged into the full sun of the quiet bay. Simon had watched Kliu's progress from the shoreline and was there to meet him.
"Welcome to Emerald Bay, the jewel of the Georgia Straight."
"Oh, that's just what my mom always says when we have visitors. What do you think of it?" asked Simon.
"Well it's a lot different from the rest of the island. It's like it's dug right out of the rock. Can you dive here?" Kliu looked at the solid, sloping sweeps of rock that disappeared into the waves for almost the full curve of the bay. The tide was high. The water dark and clear.
"It's pretty deep even when the tide is out. It doesn't change much. I've never really tried diving, but I can cannon ball. Just around here is the best place. The rock is really steep and there aren't a lot of big rocks around under the water. Do you swim a lot?" Simon looked over to the water's edge. "We could swim if you want to."
"There really aren't any good places to swim on the other beaches. This is the best place I've seen. Can we?"
"Just a minute, I'll go tell my mom you're here. I'll ask her." Simon ran across the smooth pillowing rock and up the green staircase to his house. Kliu walked towards the water, sat, and pulled off his runners. He dipped his feet in. The sun felt warm on his face, and the water icy fresh. He leaned back against the rock to soak in the sun. Simon was back in ten minutes with two brightly patterned towels. He had changed into swimming shorts.
"Do you need a swim suit?"
"No, that's okay," said Kliu. "I can swim in these. They'll dry."
"By the way," said Simon. "My mom asked me what your name is. I just realised I don't know it."
"It's my own name. No one else has it. My . . . " Kliu stopped suddenly. He looked down at his feet, out to sea, not at Simon.
"What were you going to say?" asked Simon.
"Never mind," said Kliu. "It's not important. Let's swim."
Kliu did a running jump into the water, sending up a billowing spray. "Woa! It's freezing! It feels great. Come in."
Simon tiptoed to the edge. He dipped his toe in tentatively. "I don't know if I'm ready."
Kliu lay on his back and kicked, water flying.
"Yikes! That's it. I'm gonna get you!" Simon jumped in shrieking. "That feels good!"
Splashing and laughing, the two boys were in and out of the water. They would pull themselves out onto the rock and then stand, rivulets running down their legs, and then spring out clasping both knees to plough into the water. Time and thought were gone. There was only the here and now, fun and laughter. Sun and water.
"Do you know that you are a very difficult person to find?"
Water droplets seemed to hang in the air for a moment as the voice brought all action to a stop. Simon and Kliu, treading water, turned to look up. On the wet rock above them stood a girl. She was smaller than both of them and skinny, with long brown hair straggling around her face.
Simon was the first to react. "Who are you? What are you talking about? I live here, where else would I be?"
"I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about him," she said, pointing at Kliu. "Actually I didn't even know that you existed. Well, I knew this place was here because I've lived here every summer for my whole life, but I never come here and I've never seen you before. Besides, my grandpa didn't tell me about you. Come to think of it, he probably never comes round this far. Too tough of a climb for him."
"You must be Nance," said Kliu.
"Do you know her Kliu?" Simon looked at him accusingly. "Who is she and what's she doing here?" He looked up at Nance, not giving Kliu a chance to answer. "This is private property you know."
"It's okay," said Kliu quickly. "I've never met her but I know her grandpa. He's a good friend of mine."
"Yeah, and he told me you were all alone all day so I came looking for you, now that I don't have to baby-sit anymore, but I guess I didn't need to bother because you have friendly her to keep you company, so I guess I'll just leave. I've got a lot of stuff I could be doing right now instead." Nance turned and started across the smooth slope of rock to the hillside.
"Hey, wait!" said Kliu. He didn't want her to go away mad, after all Dave was his friend and he didn't want to hurt his feelings by not giving his granddaughter a chance, even if she was a bit prickly. "Why don't you come swimming with us?"
She turned and looked at Simon. "Am I allowed to trespass?"
"If Kliu says you're okay, then I guess you are okay," said Simon. "I was just surprised to see you there. I couldn't figure out who you were or where you came from. We've lived here for two summers and no one has ever come here before, except, of course, families we have invited who have come by boat. Now, suddenly, two kids have come from the other side of the cliff. Wow!"
Nance pulled off her T-shirt and shorts. She was wearing a faded bathing suit underneath. She sat on the rock and stuck her feet in the water, splashing water up over her body with her hands. "Is he always like this?" she asked Kliu, as if she had known him all her life.
"Is she always like that?" Simon asked.
"How should I know? I barely know either of you," answered Kliu as he pulled himself out on the rock to rest.
Nance stood on the edge of the rock with her feet together, pulled her arms above her head, and sprang off the rock in one fluid movement, executing a perfect swan dive. Her feet entered the water crisply with barely a splash.
"Wow, can she dive!" said Simon.
"This is a great place for diving!" said Nance as she came up. "I usually have to ride my bike over to the dock. This has got to be the best place on the island!"
"I wish I could dive like that," said Simon. "I wish I could dive, period. I've just never had the guts. Can you dive, Kliu?"
"Sure," said Kliu. "But not like that." And, as a sort of demonstration, Kliu dove. His knees bent and his feet separated as he entered the water.
"It doesn't matter how you dive," said Nance. "It's just fun to dive. The best way to start is by sitting on the side. Just put your hands over your head, then bend over and let yourself fall in. Go ahead; try it Simon. That's all it takes. If you don't try, how can you learn?"
Simon pulled himself out of the water and sat on the edge. He stretched his arms upwards and then bent over and fell with a splash into the water. He came up sputtering, "Water went up my nose!"
"That's because you were looking up," said Nance. "You have to bend your head and push yourself out a bit rather than just fall in."
Kliu got out and lay on the rocks, half his mind enjoying the feel of the sun drying up his back, the lap of the waves on the rock, and the wheeling flight of the seagulls off the tip of the promontory, the other half taking in the diving lessons. The co-operative atmosphere soon broke up as Nance found it wasn't quite as easy to teach Simon to dive as she had anticipated, and Simon proved that it wasn't as easy to learn how to dive as Nance had said.
Kliu would feel his mind start to drift off and suddenly the squabbles would bring him back from the brink of sleep. It was so familiar. Any minute someone would pull the other's hair, then they would both come and jump on him and pour out their grievances.
It was comforting; it was like home. What was he thinking of? Suddenly Kliu was fully awake. He sat, huddled up, filled with a sense of loss. Where had he just gone? Where had his mind taken him? He looked over to see Nance and Simon coming towards him.
"He just doesn't try!" cried Nance in frustration. "It's like he doesn't really want to learn."
"She thinks it's so easy," said Simon as he flopped beside Kliu. "I could belly flop and hurt myself. She doesn't care; it's not her body. She has no patience. She can't teach."
"He thinks it's so hard," said Nance, sitting down on Kliu's other side. "If he just stopped psyching himself out by thinking so hard, he would be able to learn. It's easy; I learned when I was three."
"Well we can't all be child prodigies."
"It's not so hard to try something for a change."
"Will you two cut that out, you're driving me crazy," cried Kliu as he jumped up and ran to the water's edge. "Sometimes there are very good reasons for being alone, and right now you two are starting to give me a good one." Kliu dove into the water and started to swim, striking out to sea.
Nance and Simon leapt to their feet.
"Where are you going?" called Simon.
"Come back," said Nance. "We'll stop. We'll get along."
"She's a good teacher; I'm a lousy student," called Simon.
"He's a great kid. I've got no patience," said Nance. "Come on. Let's have some fun."
Dimly Kliu could hear their calls as the water raced around his ears. His arms were starting to get tired. He wasn't a long distance swimmer, he only swam for fun. Where could he go anyway? He couldn't really run away from them, and besides, he wasn't mad at them really. He was mad at himself and his memory. He was mad at slipping, at the comfortable feeling he had felt. It wasn't their fault. He turned and started to swim back slowly, on his side, on his back. They were already jumping and laughing and splashing, putting it behind them. Forgotten.
Kliu and Nance scrambled up through the forest to the cliff top. Simon's mother had politely asked them to lunch, but Kliu said that his dad would be coming out to meet them, and Nance decided she should go to. Simon tried to coax them to stay, but his mother just said, "Oh well, some other time perhaps," leaving the distinct impression that if they never stayed to lunch she wouldn't mind at all. Simon had run with them to the edge of the forest, asking them to come the next day. Kliu said he would see what he could organise. Nance did not commit herself.
They were soon on the outcropping, the hard stone beneath their feet. Kliu looked back across the sheltered bay. Simon had gone in for lunch and the house lay before them, still and orderly, only the towels hanging over the railing to dry showed that it was actually inhabited.
"It looks like it's made out of Lego. Tons and tons of green and white Lego, and no-one remembered to buy any little Lego people," said Nance. "I've seen it sometimes from the water, from grandpa's boat, and it's never looked real."
As they watched, Simon's mother walked out onto the porch, felt the towels for dryness, and then folded them up and took them indoors with her.
"Why do people like that come here? I bet if she could she would have a dryer in there so nothing would ever have to hang on the porch."
"Who knows," said Kliu. "I sort of feel sorry for him. He's not allowed to do anything or go anywhere."
"Yeah," said Nance, turning away from the bay and studying the other edge of the cliff. "I guess you're right. Well we'll change that this summer. If he's got friends to do things with, she's got to let him explore a bit. Now where do you think is the best way down? Over by this ledge, I bet. Let's get going. I'm getting really hungry."
Nance let her feet over the edge, turned her back to the sea, and quickly and assuredly made her way down the craggy cliff-side. Kliu took a slightly different route, and with a big jump about five feet from the bottom, made it down at almost the same time. They raced across the shingle and through the shallows, cutting off the curving crescent of the little bay to get to the next point. The trees came right down to the sand here, cutting the next bay completely from view. They took a short-cut through the Douglas fir, and burst into the sunlight of a long curve of beach. They jogged on, higher up in the sand where the rocks were smaller, through the seaweed curls and shreds of bark. The lap of the sea and swish of the breeze in the branches set the beat for the pattern of their breathing.
On the way back, Kliu and Nance made plans to meet the next day and start collecting rocks for Kliu's project. They weren't sure if Simon would be able to join them, so they decided to spend a couple of hours rock collecting, and then head over to Simon's for a swim. When they met up with Kliu's dad, Nance ran on saying that she couldn't stay for lunch but she would be at the cabin at 9:00 in the morning.
Kliu and his dad watched her round the next point and then headed for the cool shade of the forest to share sandwiches and fruit.
"So you've got two new friends," said his dad. "That should make your days more interesting."
"Yeah but I don't know if Simon will be allowed to go rock collecting with us. He can't even go into the forest by his house. His mom is so strict. And she acts like she's friendly, but I don't think she was really all that happy for us to be there."
"She's probably not used to people dropping in."
Kliu and his dad wandered up their favourite trails, Kliu chattering all the while about the fun he'd had that morning. It was wonderful for his father to see his mind so occupied with his new friends, and his spirit so free.
The next morning, Kliu finished his breakfast quickly and then headed out the door to wait for Nance on the beach. She was sitting on the railing staring out to sea, a dented galvanised bucket in her hands. She turned as he came through the door.
"You sure get up late. I've been waiting here for ages. This is a great porch. The man who built this cabin split these logs by hand. He cut them down deeper in the forest and dragged them out with a horse. My grandpa helped him. It was about fifty years ago, but whenever I sit on this porch I feel like the wood is still a living part of the forest." Nance hopped down from the railing. "Do you have a pail?"
"Just a plastic bucket. But weren't we supposed to meet at nine?" Kliu looked around at the porch, catching images of sturdy trunks stretching upward into a shadowy green canopy, the warm smell of loamy soil, springy beneath his feet, the tingling in the pit of his stomach.
"I wanted to get away. All the little kids were jumping all over me asking for horsy rides and piggy-backs. I needed some quiet. Sometimes my little brothers and sisters can be too much. So I told them to play hide and seek and when everybody went to hide, I grabbed the bucket and ran."
"You're lucky," said Kliu quietly.
"Oh I play that trick on them all the time. I'm surprised it still works. They don't really mind either. They just jump on me even more when I get home and tell me how mean I am and then I tickle them and then everything is fine again."
"That's not what I meant," said Kliu. "I just, well, never mind. Let's go. Should I get my bucket too?"
"No, I think we might wreck a plastic bucket, and that wouldn't be too good because it probably doesn't even belong to you. We can share mine. It'll be really heavy anyway so we can carry it between us. So what kind of rocks do you want to collect? What are we going to make anyway? A stone wall, or a pathway to the beach, or a barbecue, or what?" Nance started down the stairs towards the beach. "It depends what you want to collect where we go to collect it."
"I want to make something with dallasite. I like it, and the fireplace is made of it, and it's quite easy to find," said Kliu thoughtfully. "But some of those things would take a ton of rock to make."
"Yeah. It would be great to build a rock wall and a cobblestone path down to the beach. It would be perfect for the cabin but there are only two of us. We'd die!" Nance turned to look back at the cabin. "We could make a little rock garden in front of the porch, but we would have to get plants and it would be hard to get water to water it."
"I was thinking of making a rock wood-box by the fireplace, but it's not my cabin so I don't know if the owner would like it," said Kliu. "I don't think a barbecue is such a great idea either because we can just go down to the beach and have a fire-pit."
"Well if we want dallasite, there's lots of it just around the bend, and that's not too far to carry it," said Nance. "We don't have to know exactly what we want to make yet, I guess. At home I made a rock wall on the beach that makes a swimming pool for the little kids, but I keep having to fix it because the tide always wrecks it. My mom likes it because it's easier to look after them all at the beach when they stay in one place. They even like to play in it when the tide's out and it's dry. They pretend it's a castle and stuff like that. But we don't care what kind of rock we use for it. We just use whatever's there."
"I just really wanted to collect rocks because some of them are so neat," said Kliu. "Your grandpa gave me the idea."
"He's good at that," said Nance. "He knows everything there is to know about this island. I've collected all kinds of rocks that he's shown me. You should see his flowerstones. The best one he got in Japan, but you can find great ones here. I have a really good one that I found. I wax it so the flowers show up really well all the time."
"That's what In really want to do. I want to find the best one I can, so I thought I would just collect other rocks and make something while I am looking," admitted Kliu. "That's why I don't really know what I want to make."
Nance set down her bucket. "This looks like a good spot. Let's just spread out from here, piling everything we find beside the bucket until we have searched the whole beach."
At first the two children worked close together remarking over and comparing every interesting rock that they found, but soon they were on their own, intent in their search, picking up, studying and casting away stones. Or storing a special one in their t-shirts, until they were bulging with rocks cracking against each other, and the trip would be made to dump a load beside the already full bucket.
As the morning wore on Kliu became more and more selective, he ranged out further and his trips back to the bucket became less. He kept hoping to spot a flowerstone, but not even a poor specimen came into his hand. There was a light salty breeze that eased the sun on his back. There was the clack of rock against rock as he discarded, and with each clack the seagulls lifted off from their watery resting places, shifted and furled into the sky, and came to rest again a little further along. Whenever Kliu looked up rocks danced before his eyes, shifted, flitted, swooped, and became seagulls against the brilliant sky. Kliu was no longer picking up stones. He was just searching, searching for a blotchy, greyish stone that didn't look like anything.
"I found one!"
Kliu looked up, dazed from stooping. Nance was waving her arms around and calling for him to come and see. He had been looking for one; why did she have to find one before him? Slowly he walked over the rocks to where Nance was. She held out the stone to him and he took it, and without looking at it hurled it far out into the waves.
"What did you do that for? I know it wasn't the greatest, but I thought you were trying to find one."
"That's just it. I wanted to find one," said Kliu quietly. "Oh Nance, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I threw your rock away. I don't know . . . I mean, I don't usually . . . "
"Hey, no problem. It was just a rock. I just thought you might want to see it. I don't care. There's zillions of rocks here. You could find another one any old time. You know, you don't look so good. I think we've been doing this too long. After a while, when you've been looking at rocks for too long, your eyes go all zingy and don't work properly anymore, and then you can't tell what you're looking at. Let's go to Simon's and swim. I need a break. We can just leave all those rocks we collected and take them back to your place later. After all, what could happen to them?"
They made their way back up the beach and followed the high tide mark, sometimes cutting through the sparse trees that straggled down to a rocky point, sometimes leaping from boulder to boulder. Kliu was pensive and silent. Nance chattered aimlessly, seemingly oblivious to his mood.
After their swim, the three children lay on the smooth, warm rock. A light breeze slipped over them, accompanied by the soft lap of water on stone. The incessant cry of the gulls wheeling over distant fishboats drifted in, muted and soft. Nance suddenly sat up, shaking her wet hair.
"Hey guys, let's not go to sleep. We've got plans to make."
"Do you have to organise us all the time?" asked Kliu. "I was enjoying just doing nothing."
"Oh no, I forgot to put on my t-shirt," said Simon, grabbing his shirt and pulling it over his head. "My mom'll kill me if I get a burn."
"That sounds rather drastic," said Nance.
"You know what I mean," said Simon. "Anyway, what are we planning?"
"Rock collecting," said Nance. "Will your mom let you come with us?"
"I don't know'" said Simon. "When would it be? Where would we go? Why are we collecting rocks anyway? What are we going to do with them? . . ."
"Woah there!" cried Nance. "Too many questions."
"Hey Simon," said Kliu. "It was my idea to collect rocks. It's no big deal, but it should be fun and we wanted you to come with us." He then went on to explain his idea and what he and Nance had already done.
"That sounds cool but my mom never lets me go anywhere," said Simon.
"Yeah, but you never had anyone to do anything with before," said Nance. "You'll be with both of us the whole time. She's gotta let you."
"We're not going far," said Kliu. "It's pretty near my cabin, and my dad's there all morning, working. Tell her that."
"And tell her that we won't go in the water. The only place we'll go swimming is here we'll swim every day after we're tired of rock collecting," said Nance.
"Okay," said Simon. "I'll ask her tonight at supper."
"Come on," said Nance. "Ask her right now so we'll know before we leave, then we can come and get you in the morning."
"We'll come with you to ask her if you want," said Kliu.
"That's okay," said Simon, getting up. "I'll go ask her on my own."
"Remember to tell her that I'm an experienced babysitter," said Nance. "That might help."
"I do not need a babysitter," said Simon, as he stalked off along the rocks and up the staircase to his house.
"That was a bit mean," said Kliu, as he rolled back onto his tummy and settled down to rest until Simon got back.
"I didn't say it to tease him," said Nance. "I just think his mom should know that I am responsible. After all, she doesn't really know us. Do you think she'll let him?"
"I hope so," said Kliu.
"She'd better," said Nance, stretching out again on the warm rocks. They both lay there, the cool breeze easing the sun's rays on their backs.
When Simon returned, he told them his mom had said they had to wait and ask his dad that evening when he called. Kliu and Nance decided that they would come at ten the next morning, to see if he had permission to go with them. They put their shorts and t-shirts on overtop of their swimsuits, pulled on their runners, and headed back through the forest to the stony outcrop. Simon stood and watched until he saw them at the top of the cliff, then he waved as they lowered themselves down the other side and out of sight. He stayed, silently looking, for a few more minutes, then slowly turned and made his way back up to his house.
Kliu stood on the porch, leaning on the railing and staring out to sea, the early morning sunshine already hot on his face. He had woken up before seven, which was unusual for him, and had quietly dressed and eaten his cereal while his father still slept. He could hear his father getting up now.
"Dad," yelled Kliu, "I'm just going down to the beach to bring back some of the rocks we found yesterday."
His father stuck his head out the door. "Hi there. You're up early."
"Yeah, is it okay if I go get the rocks?"
"Looks like it's going to be hot today. Good thing to start early. Have fun."
"Thanks! See ya."
Kliu ran down the path to the beach and along to the stretch where they had been collecting the day before. He still had two hours before Nance was going to arrive, plenty of time to carry all the rocks back up to the cabin. The bucket was heaped, so he dumped some out till it was only three-quarters full, and heaved it up with both hands. It bumped awkwardly against his knees, making him walk bowlegged. He had only gone a few metres when he had to put it down. His hands showed red where the handle cut into them, and they hurt. He rubbed them against his legs to ease the pain, then pulled off his t-shirt and wrapped it around the handle. That was better.
Kliu covered the distance to his cabin in short spurts. He alternated carrying the bucket between his bowed knees, and to the left or right of them. He dumped the bucket out on the scrubby grass beside the stairs and then threw himself down beside the pile. Who knew rocks could be so heavy? Next time he would only fill the bucket half full. He forced himself to get up again and ran back down to the beach. He passed the pile of rocks they had collected twice before he found them. His next trip was easier, and after about an hour he was filling up the bucket for the last load. He ranged around finding a few more pieces of dallasite to get the bucket to the half way mark, always hoping to spot a flowerstone, but speckled stones turned out to be just speckled stones. He gave up quickly and carried his last load back up to the cabin. His back was aching and he was hot and thirsty.
Kliu ran into his cabin and took a deep drink of cold water. It tasted so good. Realising he was hungry, he made a huge peanut butter and jam sandwich and filled a bottle of water to take with him. He returned to the beach and sat on a boulder to wait for Nance. Life had really changed in the last few days. He had things to do and friends to do them with, and he was able to escape that engulfing sorrow that he had battled constantly when he was alone. But it was still there in the background, battering against him like the waves' incessant beating on the shore.
He couldn't sit still any longer. He got up and stretched, looking to the east, hoping for Nance's figure to appear from behind the spit. He picked up rocks and started throwing them as hard and far as he could, the cracking sound of rock against rock muting the haunting cry of the gull that circled constantly in his head. Come on Nance. Come early, please.
Kliu was rubbing his sore throwing arm when Nance finally appeared, hurrying across the rocks. He stood, waiting. She came up to him, calling, "Sorry I'm late!" as soon as she was within earshot.
"There was a minor crisis just when I was leaving. My sister Lilly scraped her knee and wouldn't stop crying until I put a Band-Aid on it. What a limpet!"
"She wouldn't let you go?"
"Not until the cookies came out of the oven," said Nance. "Is it ever hot. I am so thirsty."
Kliu tossed her his bottle of water.
"I should've thought of that," said Nance, draining the bottle.
"We can go back to the cabin and fill up two bottles before we go for Simon," said Kliu.
"Great," said Nance. "Grab a backpack for them."
"I think I'll have another sandwich too," said Kliu as they walked up the path to the cabin. "Want one?"
"No, I'm okay," said Nance. "I just ate a bunch of chocolate chip cookies. Hey, you've been busy," she said, looking at the pile of rocks by the stairs.
"That must have been a lot of work by yourself."
"Tell me another one, Kliu."
"Okay, it killed. I'm never doing that by myself again."
"You won't have to," said Nance, watching him make his sandwich. "That is the fattest sandwich I have ever seen. Where did you learn how to cut bread?"
"This is exactly how I like it, the fatter the better."
"And it's crooked on purpose too?"
"Yeah," said Kliu, smiling. "How I like it."
Nance filled two water bottles and threw them in a pack that Kliu found under a pile of his clothes in the corner. "Let's get moving. We'll be late for Simon."
Kliu grabbed the pack from her and they headed out the door. It was nine-thirty and they still had almost two miles of beach to cover to get to Simon's.
"I thought you guys were never going to get here," Simon called out to them as they broke through the Douglas firs and ran down to meet him on the smooth flowing rock of his beach. "You are so late."
"Sorry," said Nance, "but it's only just after ten. We ran most of the way."
"So can you come?" asked Kliu, throwing himself down on the ground.
"My dad said yes!"
"Yes!" shouted Kliu and Nance together.
"I just have to tell my mom we're going now," said Simon, running back to his house.
Nance joined Kliu on the rock. They sat and watched Simon climb the staircase to his house. Kliu opened the backpack and tossed Nance a bottle, taking the other one out for himself.
The water revived him, cold and refreshing even after almost an hour in his backpack. He lay back and looked up at the sky, vibrant blue and cloudless, hot and empty. No breeze drifted from the ocean. The water was almost motionless. It was as if time itself had stopped.
"Are you going to sleep?" asked Nance.
"I'm not going anywhere," muttered Kliu.
"Oh, you were sleeping," said Nance.
"My eyes were open the whole time," said Kliu, sitting up. "I was just staring at the sky and thinking."
"About what?" asked Nance.
"Things," said Kliu, not sure what he really had been thinking about.
"I'm thinking it's time to get going," said Nance, looking over toward Simon's house. "Here comes Simon at last. He must have been putting on five layers of sunscreen."
Simon had a white ball cap pulled down on his head, white t-shirt and shorts, and ankle socks and sturdy white runners. His arms and legs were still streaked with sunscreen that hadn't been fully rubbed in. He had a small yellow backpack on his back and looked a little flustered.
"Tennis anyone?" cried Nance as she and Kliu got up and ran over to join him.
"Come on," said Simon. "My mom made me. She said white is the coolest colour to wear on a hot day."
"Actually white isn't a colour," said Nance.
"Don't try to be smart," said Kliu. "Simon, you will be the coolest and the dirtiest one of us by the end of the day."
"Actually, we'll all be just as dirty, he will just look dirtier," said Nance, as they entered the forest. Kliu reached down and picked up a handful of needles and cones and threw it at her.
"Actually you'll be the dirtiest."
"Boy, did I miss you guys," said Simon with a big smile on his face.
"Yeah, just like Kliu missed me," said Nance, "because he can't throw."
She ran on ahead through the trees to the rocky outcrop, Kliu and Simon chasing after her. When Simon got to the outcrop, he stopped and stared all around, at his own sheltered cove, out to sea, at the new stretch of beach, and then down the cliff face he would have to descend.
"Oh, no," he said. "I can't climb down that. Isn't there a way through the trees?"
"It's not hard," said Nance. "Even Kliu can make it down without falling."
"Thanks Nance," said Kliu. "I think I'll just ignore that comment because I know it comes from jealousy. Simon, we don't know if there is a way through the trees and we don't care if there is a way through the trees because this is the way we go. It's really not as hard as it looks. Just don't look down and you'll be okay. I'll go down first and you can watch me do it."
"I'll stay up here and give you directions," said Nance, sitting down as Kliu turned and lowered himself down the rock face. "See that crack that Kliu shoved his foot into, that's the first thing you have to find, then grab hold of that pointy bit over there, then put your other foot on that sticky out part."
When Kliu got to the bottom he called out, "Okay Simon, It's your turn." Simon turned around and lowered himself slowly, searching with his right foot for the crack. He stuffed his foot in, grabbed at the jagged spot Nance pointed to with his right hand, took a deep breath, and let himself down to the little ledge. He was committed now, there was no turning back. His body clung to the rock, so close that he was almost a part of the cliff. Rough edges scored his arms and cheek. He let his right leg down again and slowly slithered from one foothold to another until finally he felt Kliu's hands reach up and guide him to the bottom.
"You can open your eyes now, you've made it," said Kliu. Nance was cheering from above.
"Let's not tell my mom about the cliff," said Simon as he leaned against the rock. "She would freak."
"It's perfectly safe," said Nance, quickly scrabbling down and landing beside Simon, "but we don't need to mention it. You did great. You didn't slip once or scratch yourself or anything."
Simon looked back up the cliff. It didn't look so bad anymore, now that he had climbed down. It wasn't really all that high, or steep. "Next time I'll do it with my eyes open," he said.
"Now let's get going," said Nance, "or it'll be lunch time before we even start to collect rocks."
They ran across the little crescent of beach and through the trees to the next bay. They slowed their pace, alternately jogging and walking along the rocky shore, scrabbling across the boulders that bound the various little bays they passed through. They talked all the time, telling Simon about the different rocks on the beach, occasionally stopping to pick up a sample to show him the kind that they were looking for. They didn't stop when they reached the cabin but kept going around the bend until they got to the stretch of beach where they had been collecting the day before. Kliu had made a detour by the cabin to pick up the bucket, but they had resisted all Simon's demands to stop and see it, telling him that they would go back there for lunch, so he would see it soon enough.
They were hot and tired, and their bottles of water were no longer as cool and refreshing as they had been, but they were determined to start collecting, so after a short rest they started searching and picking through the rocks, stuffing the ones they selected into their t-shirts. At first Simon called Kliu and Nance to see every rock he found and help him decide if it was a keeper or not. After a while both of them refused to come over, telling him that they trusted his judgment, and anyway it wasn't all that important what they thought. If Simon liked a rock that's all that really mattered. They no longer talked, or called to each other. Kliu was soon in that space where all thought was gone and only the routine of the task at hand existed. As the sun reached its zenith, the heat bore down on a quiet alleviated only by the occasional crack of rock on rock. The sea was still and silent; the gulls had gone.
When they got back to the cabin, Kliu's dad had lunch waiting for them. Grilled cheese sandwiches, carrot sticks, milk, and an apple for dessert, all spread out on a blanket on the porch. Kliu's dad had already eaten. He stayed and talked with them for a bit, then went off down the beach to meet Dave Peters, Nance's grandpa.
Kliu leaned back in the shade against the wall of the cabin. It was so good to be out of the sun. Nance was propped against one of the big support posts, and Simon was sitting cross-legged on the edge of the blanket. They were all so busy eating that talk was limited to, "Pass me another sandwich," and "This is so good." After they had finished eating, they all sprawled out limply, unwilling to move.
"I'm beat," said Kliu. "And we still have to walk Simon home."
"Yeah, but we can swim when we get there," said Nance.
"I'm too tired to even think, let alone swim," said Kliu.
"It's okay," said Simon hesitantly. "I can go by myself. You don't need to come." He got up and started down the stairs.
"Hey, get back here!" shouted Kliu and Nance in unison.
"Number one, it's only about three o-clock. We don't need to leave for another half hour. Number two, what makes you think we would let you go without us? And number three, well I forget what number three is, but I'm sure it's a good reason, so sit down and relax," said Nance.
"Number three is nobody can go anywhere until they help me clean all this up," said Kliu. "But not yet," he added hastily as Simon, who was sitting again, reached over and started stacking the plates. "Right now it's nap time, like in kindergarten."
"You're not going to sleep on me again, Kliu," said Nance.
"I wasn't sleeping that time," said Kliu, stretching out and putting his arm under his head, "but this time I am."
Nance got up and went into the
cabin. She came back with three cushions from the couch and stuffed one under
Kliu's head. He muttered a muffled thanks and snuggled into it.
"Want a cushion, Simon?" she asked, holding one out to him. She sat back down and stuffed her cushion between her back and the wall. Simon sat on his and gazed around at the cabin.
"I wish we lived in a place like this," he said, "instead of the perfect house on the perfect hill in the perfect bay."
"Your place is great," said Nance. "It's got the best swimming on the island and you can't beat that. Maybe you could paint your house rainbow colours and hang up wind chimes, and open all the doors and windows, and play music . . . "
"Yeah and have a parrot that doesn't live in a cage, who flies all over the house and perches on the furniture and talks like a sailor," said Simon. "And have a whole bunch of friends to stay all the time and they sleep in sleeping bags on the living room floor and under the kitchen table."
"Yeah, and have a dog and two cats, and a litter of kittens."
"And it's a really big dog like a great Dane and the parrot likes to ride on its back," said Simon. "And have a tent outside where we can sleep because the house is too crowded with all our friends and pets, and my mom is going crazy trying to clean up their mess."
"See, your place could be great," said Nance. "It's all in what you do with it. Hey listen to Kliu snore. He's sound asleep. Let's clean up all these dishes and let him sleep."
"Okay," said Simon, quietly starting to stack plates again.
It didn't take long for Nance and Simon to wash and dry the lunch dishes and put everything away. Nance went back on the porch and shook out the blanket before folding it and hanging it on the railing. Simon came out of the cabin with the water bottles that he had refilled.
"Time to wake up Kliu," said Nance, taking one of the bottles and squirting him with it.
"Hey!" yelled Kliu, jumping up and shaking the water from his hair. "What's the big deal?"
"Time to go," said Nance, running down the stairs.
Kliu grabbed a bottle from Simon's hands and ran down the stairs after Nance. It wasn't long before both bottles were empty and Kliu and Nance were soaked. They came back to the cabin laughing, refilled the bottles and threw them in Kliu's pack, to Simon's relief. He hadn't been a part of the water fight but when both kids came out of the cabin with full bottles he had started to get a bit worried.
"Hey, thanks for cleaning up, guys," said Kliu. "You should have woken me up."
"And miss hearing you snore?" asked Nance. "Forget it."
"It was music to work by," said Simon.
Kliu chased them both down the stairs and up the beach. It didn't seem to take as long to get to the cliff that cut off Simon's bay. This time Simon wasn't apprehensive about the climb, but accomplished it slowly and steadily with a lot of support from his two friends. They had a long swim in the late afternoon, then Kliu and Nance went on their way, promising to be back again by ten in the morning. As Kliu and Nance ran home along the beach, a breeze picked up and the waves started to sound on the shore. Gulls swooped and wheeled over the water and their cries lifted in the air, drifting on the breeze that followed the children home.
The days continued hot and sunny with a refreshing afternoon breeze. Kliu, Nance, and Simon followed the same routine; rock collecting in the morning, lunch in the shade on the cabin porch, and swimming in the afternoon at Simon's. They had amassed quite a pile of dallasite beside the cabin steps. They also had collected smaller piles of white quartz and flowerstones. At least, Nance and Simon had collected the flowerstones. Kliu hadn't found a single one. They were quite ordinary flowerstones, not like the special one that Kliu hoped to find, but still he felt frustrated with his inability to find even a poor quality stone. Nance kept telling him that his problem was that he was trying too hard, but he couldn't understand the logic of her statement. After all, if the stones were there, mixed up on the beach with all the others where even Simon could find them, he should be able to find them without trying at all. Trying should just make it easier.
Although they had been collecting their rocks for quite a few days, they were still no closer to deciding what to make with them. They had no cement to make a wall or a wood box, and a path down to the beach was too boring to even consider. Collecting was still fun in itself so the need for a project was not that pressing. They still got excited by rocks with interesting patterns or colours, and they were also easily side-tracked by tidal pools, or the tiny scurrying crabs they sometimes disturbed under the rocks. For Kliu the rocks became a passion. He couldn't imagine spending his time any other way. In the evenings he would read a rockhound book which he found in the living-room bookshelf. The next day he would explain the difference between igneous intrusive and extrusive rock to Nance and Simon, or inform them that the feldspar crystals in the flowerstone they had just found were called phenocrysts and when they came together in a flower formation it was called a glomercryst.
One afternoon the gentle breeze that would always come up to cool them off from the heat of the day, built rapidly into a blustery wind. The sky darkened as it filled with dark threatening clouds. The children had to cut their swim short. They dried off quickly and soon Kliu and Nance were waving goodbye to Simon from the outcrop, the wind whipping their hair about. They were both cold through when they reached Kliu's cabin. He ran in and grabbed each of them a sweatshirt.
"You can bring it back next time," he said, handing one to Nance.
She pulled it over her head. It was huge on her small frame, coming almost to her knees. "Thanks, it's perfect," she said, rolling up the dangling sleeves. "Don't expect me tomorrow if it's raining."
Nance strode off along the beach, turning to wave as she crested the rise. Kliu waved back. He didn't envy her the almost two mile walk to her house today. Some days he offered to accompany her because he had a longing to see her house, high on its cliff among the arbutus trees. But it was always too close to suppertime. He hoped the rain wouldn't start before she got home. He looked out to sea. The water was dark slate. The sky hung low over it. The wind swirled around him, fitting the sweatshirt against his side, his back, his chest. He turned and ran the distance from the beach to his cabin, his arms outstretched, his sweatshirt a filled sail pulling him to his home port.
Kliu awoke to the sound of rain, the unrelenting drizzle that had been sheeting down for three days now. He rolled over in his bed and looked at his small window. Through the wet pane he could see a gloom of drooping branches. The roof thrummed above him. There would be no friends, no rock collecting, no going outside again today. Getting up seemed pointless. He was about to pull his blankets back over his head when he remembered the book he had found the day the rain started. Finding that book had almost made being rained in worthwhile. He reached for it from the floor beside his bed and started reading.
The rain had held off that last evening. After Nance had left, the wind had become more fierce. Kliu and his father had spent the evening battling on the chessboard in front of the fireplace as draughts played throughout the cabin. The rain began during the night, and the wind eased.
Kliu spent a lonely, restless morning wandering around the cabin and gazing out the front window at a barely visible sea. He tried going out but it was cold and miserable; rain streamed through his hair and pelted his face, the rocks the sea and the sky were all the same shade of grey, wavering and melting together. He wiped the rain from his eyes, but before he could see clearly his lashes filled again. His loneliness deepened, and the wearing pain that he kept tightly suppressed billowed and surged. He turned and stumbled back to the cabin, in a haze of rain and tears. His father wrapped him in a rough, dry towel and made him a mug of hot chocolate.
"I think we'd better light the fire," he said. "It's as cold as November today. Get some dry things on and by the time you're dressed the fire will be going. I'll set some chairs up close to it and you can hang your wet clothes on them. You'd better stay inside until this rain stops."
Kliu was relieved that his dad thought he was only cold and wet. He didn't want to disturb him with his troubles. He didn't want to talk about it anyway. Ever. It was too hard. He had to be strong and stay in control. He couldn't remember. How was he going to manage stuck inside with nothing to do? He changed slowly and spent a lot of time arranging his clothes on the chairs in front of the fire. His dad was back at the computer, working on his report. Kliu picked up a rock from the mantle-piece, tossing it in the air and catching it as he paced a route from the fireplace, to the couch, to the table, to the kitchen and back. Over and over and over.
"Your pacing is driving me crazy," said his father. "Let's have lunch, and then please find something to do. This rain won't let up; it's here to stay."
"Sorry," said Kliu. "I didn't realise I was doing it."
His father gave him a long searching look. "You okay?"
"Just bored dad, honest. Let's eat. I'll be fine."
"You know that after lunch I have to keep working. My deadline is coming up and I'm way behind," said his dad as they set the table together. "I lost a lot of files when the other computer crashed. Let's have soup. Tomato or chicken gumbo?"
"Gumbo," said Kliu, getting the spoons, bowls, and crackers as his dad opened the can of soup and set about heating it on the small stove.
They ate slowly and quietly, both distracted by their thoughts. Kliu's dad got up to return to work saying, "At least read or something, Kliu."
"I've read that rockhound book so much I practically know it by heart, and those books I brought with me I can't get into. I don't know why I bought them. Just 'cause everyone else was reading them I guess. They are all the same and so boring."
"I noticed a box of books in the corner of my room," said his dad. "Go check them out, you never know, you could find something."
"Do it. I don't want any more pacing. It was driving me crazy."
Kliu wandered into the other room and gazed at the little window, not looking through it, but watching the rain run down the pane. He leaned against the sill and rested his cheek on the cold damp glass. Why did it have to rain? Why did he have to be alone? Why did life have to be so hard? Why . . . Stop. Look for the books. Anything but this.
He looked around the room and saw a battered cardboard box in one corner. It didn't look very promising. He dragged it to the light, at least what there was of it. The small window and bleak day didn't provide much. The books were old dusty hard covers. He picked up the first few. Hardy Boys mysteries. He leafed through one or two, read fifteen minutes of one that he opened to a random page, and put it down. If this was all that was in the box, he would die of boredom before the day was done. At the bottom of the box he found a dark green book, a little thicker and larger than the others. He looked at the spine. Swallows and Amazons, embossed in gold. Some nature book?
He opened it. Inside there was a map of a large lake with islands, rivers, forests around it, and a sailboat on the middle of the lake. One end of the lake was labelled Antarctic, the other Unexplored Arctic. There was a town called Rio and a river called Amazon. What was this? He turned a few pages to an illustration titled Wild Cat Island. There were two crossed flags in the upper right corner with Swallows and Amazons written underneath them. On the island were a campsite with tents, a landing place and a harbour. It wasn't a nature book. He started to read.
An hour later he realised there wasn't enough light in the little bedroom anymore. He shoved the box back into the corner of the room with his foot, and returned to the living room to sit in the armchair by the fire, without stopping his reading. He was on chapter four. John, Susan, Titty, and Roger had landed on the island and were exploring it looking for a good campsite and a safe harbour. Four kids on their own, sailing a lake and camping on an island! And using their imaginations to make it a better adventure. He wished he could be there with them. He put another log on the fire, hopped back into his chair, settled comfortably into a position where the light came over his shoulder and continued to read. He read until his father called him for supper, without having even noticed his father get up and prepare the meal.
© 2003 Copyright held by the author.