She laid out on the beach, her towel underneath her, sunglasses on her eyes, music in her ears. She drowned out the sound of the ocean, which was the whole point in coming here, wasn’t it?
She closed her eyes. Someone kicked sand on her, making her grunt and sit up. A little boy ran from towel to towel, crying. “Mama!”
“Wait!” she called after him. He stopped, turned and came over.
“Do you know where she is?” he asked.
“Let’s go find her together,” she offered, holding out her hand and standing up. She brushed the sand from her legs when he took her hand.
They walked down the beach. She was happy to be helping him, though she didn’t know how to, exactly. She just kept asking him questions about what his mama looked like, what was she wearing, if she had an umbrella. He kept shaking his head, “I don’t remember.”
She reached the end of the beach and frowned. He tugged her hand, “Maybe back this way?” And she followed him, looking at the people on the towels for some sign of distress and recognition.
She walked past her own towel, resigned that this boy was really lost. She listened to the screams of the kids running into the froth of the ocean and back up the shore to their mud buckets and sand castles. She almost missed the shriek that came from the little boy’s mother, running down the beach with a police officer in tow.
“Where have you been, Johnny?” she asked.
“Looking for you, Mama,” the little boy replied.
His mother looks at her expectantly. She shrugged, and looked down at Johnny. He looked up at her and smiled. “I forgive you.”
She looked back at him, her eyes wide. “Forgive me?” she asked.
Johnny leaned in close. “For stealing the ocean,” he said very matter-of-factly. And suddenly, she realized the ocean had gone quiet as had the screams of kids. She looked back at the ocean behind her, and it was gone. Just a wet beach where the water had been, as far as the eye could see.
When she turned around again, Johnny, his mother and the police officer were gone. Throngs of crowds were racing to pack up their things and get off the beach, some even leaving everything behind. She spotted her towel and headed over to it when she heard the roar of the water coming back, ready to consume everything in its path.
Her brain told her to hurry, but her legs couldn’t make the slow trek through the sand any faster. She refused to look, thinking that this would be her end. There was a crash of waves, louder than she had heard before, but when she finally turned around to face death, he was gone. The ocean was lapping quietly at the edge of the beach again, and kids were playing in the mud.