Sea Gulls and Other Strange Birds | Flash Fiction
The sun glinted off the ever-changing surface of the water causing Evie to squint as she watched a sailboat glide across the horizon. Her sunglasses, she realized, were lying forgotten on the sideboard in the dining room of the beach house. Pulling the brim of her straw hat lower over her face to shade her eyes, she crouched to pick up a stone. Amber, striped with black. The froth of a wave breaking swirled over her feet as she stood back up, and she almost lost her hat to the wind. She preferred these gusty mornings over the still ones though, a calm lake unsettled her. Running thumb and forefinger over the smooth stone, she decided to pocket it, turning toward the sound of voices in the distance. A group of teenagers dragged a raft across the sand, while a yellow Labrador darted around them barking.
The beach house stood to the left of a long line of summer rentals. Each of them leaned and rambled, all faded wooden stairways and decks hung with brightly colored towels and swimsuits. Soon families would be packing their things and heading back into the reality of September. Evie herself would return to school, no longer as a student, but as a teacher. The summer hung heavy with a humid reluctance to give way to fall, but Evie was not ready to leave.
The days she spent here with her mother and aunt every summer were usually filled with trips into town, afternoons lounging in the sun and evening barbecues with whoever was renting the neighboring houses. This August had passed in the same manner, but something was unaccountably different. Evie felt restless, suspended, exhausted by the subtle attempts of her aunt to set her up with some eligible man. Her mother, not so subtly, questioned her constantly about her romantic status.
Abruptly a sort of change had taken place within Evie, like a late summer bloom. Her mother couldn’t account for it but commented that she seemed happy. Her aunt noticed that she smiled a lot more often. They teased and asked questions, but Evie wouldn’t give them anything more than a wink or a laugh. One night, Evie returned to the beach house particularly late from a walk on the pier, and in the morning, her mother and her aunt told each other that something had changed. Since then, Evie no longer seemed happy and didn’t smile much at all.
Evie watched the teens, laughing and shouting while they clumsily boarded their raft amid the waves. A shadow rose up to cover her own, and she sensed the presence of someone behind her. She felt a light tapping on her shoulder and turned sideways to see Otto, the kid from the cottage three doors down from her own. He stood there waving his wand, his wizard cape flapping in the wind to reveal his fluorescent orange swim trunks. Goggles hung around his neck. A lone seagull fluttered to land a few feet away from him, squawking and stamping its feet.
“Did you know that seagulls can drink both freshwater and saltwater?” he asked, pointing his wand at the bird.
“I did not. That’s amazing.”
“Did you also know that James doesn’t like me talking to you?” James was Otto’s stepfather.
Evie laughed. “Yeah, I don’t think he likes me very much.”
“He says you’re a strange bird.”
Evie crouched down, gently settling into a cross-legged position facing the water. Otto did the same, picking up a stone and attempting to skip it over the surface of the lake.
Evie leaned over to nudge him with her shoulder. “Do you think I’m strange?” she asked him, crossing her eyes and sticking out her tongue.
Otto didn’t crack a smile. “Not really. I think you’re just sad.”
Evie let out a low whistle. Usually, she liked Otto’s frankness, but it could be disconcerting, especially when it was absolutely correct.
“Why are you sad, anyway?” Otto asked, looking at her while he placed his goggles over his eyes and adjusted the strap.
“I guess it’s because I love someone who can’t love me back.”
The pair sat contemplating the teens in the raft, one of whom was now standing up trying to keep her balance while the others rocked the sides. The seagull crept closer to Otto, who pointed his wand as if to curse it.
“Did you know,” he asked, “that seagulls mate for life?”
“Another fact that had eluded me. Not many creatures do that.”
“Not many humans anyway.”
Evie laughed, surprised again by Otto’s bluntness. This kid was smarter than most adults she knew.
“Did you know we’re leaving today?”
Evie sighed. “Yeah.”
From the direction of the cottages the sound of Otto’s name being called made them both turn their heads. His mother stood on the steps of their place, beckoning Otto with a wave to come back.
“Well,” he jumped up clutching his wand, “gotta go. Have a nice life!” He threw his cape over his shoulders and ran off.
Otto’s mother Amber descended the steps to the sand and held a slender arm out to him. In her loose white linen dress, she looked like a picture, timeless, long sandy brown hair spilling over her shoulders in waves. Evie closed her eyes to clear the image of Amber on the pier, pale freckled shoulders in the glow of the moon. Otto pointed his wand at his mother and called out some incantation as he sped past her up the stairs to James, who stood behind the sliding glass door. Amber remained where she was, facing Evie, and the sun emerged from behind a cloud to eclipse her for a moment. Blinded, Evie shifted to see her more clearly. She wanted to etch the sight into her mind, to burn it into her brain. Amber, on the beach, in the morning. Evie sat helpless on the sand, transfixed, stricken.
Sara Dobbie is a fiction writer from Southern Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in The Spadina Literary Review.