Sarah A. Chavez
Halfbreed Helene Goes to the Beach
Her people have a complicated relationship to large bodies of water.
It’s something the brownest shouldn’t have been forced to travel through
and something the whitest hadn’t seen until the mid-20th century.
It’s something the middle-class book a Best Western by for their children to visit
on slow summer weekends.
It’s something the working-class leave at 7 a.m. with two coolers of food that need
to last the day, cuz there’s only money enough to buy one soda per person
and since this will more than likely be the only day in six months or more
the adults get a “vacation,” they stay. The Whole. Day.
Her white mom and fair-skinned sister would burn being anywhere outdoors
all day. Helene has seen the blistering at the lake when the sun shifted through the shade
of the pines. H had forgotten all about that until she’s there almost by accident
at the beach 25 miles down I-5. She’s watching skinny-ribbed, shirtless children
get stopped by their red-haired, sun-bonneted mother, long legs sprouting
from the petals of a white bathing suit cover.
H came alone, almost as if the water were calling. She’d picked up a coffee
and four cookies from the vegan panadería, and then just kept driving.
She forgets how she’s supposed to feel once in the face of the water. Forgets
to think on anything other than the bipolar lapping of the tide. Aggressive
and loud, pounding the rock edges, then gently and quiet, licking folks’ toes.
You’re a fickle beast, H says out loud to the water, knowing anything she says will
be swallowed immediately. The water takes what’s their’s. That much is clear.
When Helene looks at the water, she realizes that it
is all water. Not as in separate from sand and rocks
and crabs, but all water is water.
Not this water is connected to other bodies of water,
but this water is that water, that water is this water.
The water in the Sound, the water in Bass Lake,
The water in the Ohio River, the water from her
bathroom faucet, spurting uncontrollably from a fire
hydrant. It is all water. And when she whispers
See you later, to the water at the beach, she means
that she will return to the beach, but also that she and
the water will revisit one another at the fountain
in the square, in the kitchen tap, in the sweat
that beads on her brow as she walks back to her car.
If all water is water, Helene thinks, what else
is whole and omnipotent? Is grass grass? Ants
ants? Is abuelita abuelita abuelita? Certainly
the sky is sky. That one is clear and has always
been clear. Clear as the crystalline of the clouds
which are clouds, everywhere clouds.