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The cold evening wind toyed idly with the hair around her youthful face and blew a restless look into the already uncannily aged, wizened eyes. Her expression was unsettling- a look into her cool, grey stare could take you back a million years into the desolate past, though she had only truly been on this earth for fourteen. She crouched low on a rock where she had been roving around for well past two hours. When she had first climbed onto the rock, she had reached it easily without getting wet, but she was now surrounded on all sides by water due to the dramatically changing tides. The waves beat rhythmically against the rock around her and sprayed her face, making her cheeks and ears numb with cold. Her worn jeans were soaked with salt water and her sneakers squished with each step she took. She paid no attention to these inane trifles, however, for her mind was focused on the tiny wonders of the miniature world in front of her. Her gaze was rested contentedly upon a small tide pool filled with hermit crabs and sea anemones.
She had read in books that sea anemones stung, and had been ruminating on whether or not she should validate this now. In the end, her curiosity got the best of her, as it often did, and she gently stroked the strikingly green flesh of the anemone. She was so startled by the sea anemone’s quick reaction as it shrunk away that she hadn’t realized whether or not she had felt pain.
She shifted her weight and turned out to face the horizon. In front of her was the ocean, stretching so, imperceptibly far. But in the grand scheme of things, her world was smaller than a particle of dust compared to all the galaxies that must exist far beyond her scope of comprehension. These were the things she thought about for another hour.
The sky was lowering over her head and the tide reached far over the shore behind her. She felt an overwhelming feeling of contentedness as she took in everything around her- the salty, aromatic air, the warm feeling of blood rushing to her freezing cheeks, the sound of the wind whooshing past her ears and the constant drumming of the waves against the rocks. The mesmerizing sight of vast ocean and sky ahead of her took her breath away. She was suddenly overpowered by a great wave of emotion. Not at all unlike the tangible waves surrounding her, it beat against every edge of her body as she felt how much she truly loved this place and time. She looked out across the ocean again as if seeing it in a completely different light. She would not always be here-at this age, in this place, in this time- perhaps someday she would find herself far from here and think back longingly to this moment. Her gaze was torn from the horizon as she heard a familiar, feeble voice carried to her by a strong gust of wind, whimpering to her over the waves.
“Claire, what are you looking at? I want to see it.”
She dutifully rose from her perch and climbed sure-footedly across the rock and waded in to the boy. He had the same windswept features as his sister, but his brow was set higher at the top, giving him a softer expression than that of the girl carrying him through the water. This softness gave him a weak appearance when paired with the unfocused look it his glazed, brown eyes.
“What are you looking at, Claire?” he repeated, to her irritation.
Unwilling to share her inner thoughts and observations with her young companion, she ignored his inquiry. “Be careful not to slip, Elliot, everything’s wet,” she said as she set him down gently on the rock.
“Mom says its time you come home, dinner’s almost ready. She sent Mark to get you but I said I would come, I wondered what you were doing.” He said as he peered around the rock, trying to follow her gaze.
“Nothing interesting, come on, let’s go home or we’ll be trapped here all night until the tides shift.” She took one last look at the ocean, one last breath of the briny air, then turned away and led Elliot home for dinner.
“Have fun at school buddy, you’ll be fine,” said Mark to Elliot, trying his best to sound convincing as he shoved his younger brother unceremoniously out the door.
Claire watched him leave from the dining room table. She knew he was not at all deceived by their countless attempts to assure him that school was fun and that he had nothing to worry about. He knew that Claire and Mark had been lying through their teeth; he knew they were worried. His neon orange hearing aid caught her eye as the door shut behind him.
“Mom, will it get worse… his hearing?”
Victoria Reid was tired. She was wearied with worry. The lines on her face told a story of hardship and lost faith. But her eyes glimmered, a faint light shined through, fought for a place at the surface- love. Love for her children, to whom she could not tell a lie. “There’s never any telling for sure. But yes, I think that’s part of his condition.” She wanted to say something else, something to console her daughter. “We’ll get through it as a family.”
“Yeah,” Claire replied coldly. Her expression hardened as her heart softened and panged for Elliot’s doomed fate- a life without sound, without song, without a comforting voice. What an awful thing to hang over a little boy’s mind. God, or Whoever or Whatever was out there, certainly was not a reasonable person.
“Well, you all should get off to school as well. I’ll see you this evening.”
At the end of the driveway, Mark and Claire went their separate ways- Mark towards the high school and Claire to the middle school. The thought of another week of school made her heart skip restlessly. Just like her father, she had an unappeasable desire to learn whatever she could. However, just as he had been, she was unable to learn in such an orthodox way as a classroom.
Claire had lost her father just a few years earlier, when she was nine. He had been a marine biologist, and a good one too. His research ship was lost at sea during a trip to follow female sea turtles to their nesting grounds off the Panhandle of Florida. Before his disappearance, he had succeeded greatly in instilling upon Claire the same hopeless devotion to everything ocean. The worst part of the loss was the uncertainty of his bodiless grave. He could be anywhere, and there was nothing to be done to extinguish the microscopic flame of hope that burned deep within each remaining member of the Reid family- hope that he had survived… somehow…
All day, Claire worried about Elliot’s first day at school. She wished she could be there with him, holding his hand all day, and she knew her mother and older brother felt the same. She met Mark half way down the road as they both practically hurtled down the driveway.
“How was it?” It was hard to tell whose mouth the words had been uttered from as they were both thinking the same thing.
Claire was relieved just to see that Elliot had been physically unscathed. As he told them enthusiastically of his various observations of school life, she found herself feeling a heartrending gratefulness for his innocent ignorance. Tucked into his tales were signs that, to her, made it obvious that the other kids had not welcomed his differences, but these had gone unnoticed by him. She subconsciously thanked the heavens, or whatever they were, for keeping Elliot unaware of society’s reaction to his unfortunate disparity.
Resisting the urge to smother Eliot in a heartfelt embrace, she quickly told her mother she was leaving and dashed out the door. She had wasted time, the tide would be coming in soon and she would miss her chance to make observations of the treasure in the rocks she had found yesterday.
It was summer now. Claire had gotten a job as a technician in a lab that worked with squids and octopi. She spent every minute of her day in awe of the clever brain behind the expressionless, glassy eyes of the mysterious creatures.
At work, she mostly just cleaned the tanks, but sometimes some of the scientists, admiring her fervent curiosity and determinedness to succeed at every job appointed her, took her aside and showed her what they were working on. They were impressed with the way she listened so attentively and her constant fire of questioning reminded many of themselves at her age. She was truly charming, and she unconsciously worked her way into the hearts of many of the biologists around her.
When she came home in the evenings, she usually locked herself up in her father’s study and read his books along with the books the scientists at the lab sometimes lent to her.
This was exactly what she was doing just before dinner on an evening in July when she heard a frail tapping at the door.
“Elliot?” she said, as simultaneously, a small, curly haired head peeped through the large oak door. His glasses gleamed in the light of her father’s study lamp as he inched the door closed behind him and started towards her. She tried to give him subtle hints that he was not to disturb her- by averting her eyes and continuing to study her book.
“Claire?” he persisted.
“Hm?” she grunted, still not looking at him.
“Is this Dad’s room?”
She looked up. The tone of his voice had been casual; his face was full of sincere curiosity. This room was her favorite place in the world. It meant everything to her. Everything that her father was so passionate about, besides his family, originated here. This was the place where all his brilliant thoughts had been formed. She had sometimes thought whether maybe these thoughts were still here, and if she stayed in there for long enough whether they might drift into her own mind and become hers. All his years of dedication and love for science had their roots in this room. By being in it, she felt as if her father was right there with her, whispering in her ear, encouraging her to keep going, to finish what he’d started. She couldn’t believe that Elliot had never been aware of something that was so important to her. After all, it should be important to him too; it was his father as well.
“Yeah it is,” there was more to it. She had more to say. But the words loitered on the tip of her tongue, unwilling to take that one extra step into the open air, to travel to Elliot’s incompetent ears.
Finally catching the hint, Elliot stared into his sister’s eyes once more, hesitating. He couldn’t read minds; he was completely unaware that she wanted desperately to share with him the love she had for this room, and how she wished for him to respect their father as much as she did. Unable to mask the hurt he felt, he stepped carefully out of the room, making every effort he could not to make a noise that might further disturb Claire.
Six years later, Claire was on a plane heading home from college. She had done it- gotten into her father’s school, and she was doing her father’s unfinished work, just like she had promised herself so many years ago. But for once in her life, her thoughts had suddenly been torn harshly from her one-track mind, abruptly enveloped in a devastation that had been burning at the back of her head for years.
She could picture what must have happened- having woken up from a fevered sleep, he would wake up, disoriented at first. After a few minutes, panic would ignite in his unfocused eyes. So vulnerable, so full of unfairly dealt horror and dread. Screaming, nothing coming, no help in sight… or in earshot at least…
Silence. White silence. It couldn’t be black- black was the color of night, of warm coal, of her father’s office desk- too many good things were black. No, silence was white. Nothingness. Impossible to escape. Alone with your thoughts. No words of comfort attainable.
He was so young. So good, too. He didn’t deserve this. Now, she wished she had hugged him more. She wished she had stopped- just for a few minutes a day- stopped thinking about carrying out her father’s fragmented dreams and hugged him- Eliot- who was there, with her all along.
Regret at times like these was the worst feeling- worse than sadness or heartbreak or fear.
When she got to him, a delicate, unsettling tranquility had seemed to wash over him. An accepting serenity shown threw his meager countenance. Such is the lithe spirit of the young. Yet she could see in his eyes- now solely the most important tool bestowed upon him paired with touch- she could see them looking a little desperate, a little distressed, radiating his brain’s thoughts as it still searched frantically for what it had so recently lost.
He was older than when she had last seen him, but all the familiar features remained- his curly hair which hung like a well deserved halo around the smooth contours of his face, his mouth hanging perpetually wide open in childish wonder, and his raised eyebrows that complimented this expression of eternal curiosity. He held a pad of paper and a pen in his hands. As he started to write, a poignant realization swept over Claire and tears burned in her eyes as she read:
We’ll have to write now.
Now was the time. All those years of holding back such meaningful feelings were behind her and beyond her control. But this was now- no more regret. All the sudden, without thinking, she wrote what she had unconsciously wanted to say to him all along:
I love you more than words can explain- pen and paper or not. I always have, and I always will.
Tears came to both of their eyes as these words spoke a million unsaid ones. Now these concrete ways of communication were left unneeded for the time they spent together. The silence Eliot heard but could not share with others was awful, but was outnumbered a hundred to one by the feelings of love and hope that now filled his heart and mind.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
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