A journal of narrative writing.

Seth blinked and got up from the table. He stood behind his mother as she hunched over the sink.


No answer.

"Mum. I'm going to the beach."

She sighed and wiped her forehead with a soapy hand.

"Take Glen with you."

His turn for silence.

"Or take one of the girls."

His youngest sister got herself up off the kitchen floor and toddled toward him. His other sister stayed put at the table, her expression hidden behind a book.

"Get your shoes on, then," he said to his brother, who was already halfway down the steps. He could hear his sister crying his name all the way out to the street, but he kept on walking.

Glen was yards ahead, hopping on one leg, then the other, pulling on his shoes.

The milkman's boy, Dad used to call him, as skinny and dark as Seth was solid and fair. Keep still, you little heathen, Dad used to say, swallowing his laughter at Glen's antics. Maybe Glen would get hit by a car as he ran across Marine Avenue. Maybe then Mum would understand that man of the house or not, Seth was no good with children.

It was just past suppertime, fourteenth of August. Radios blared out of the nearby windows, crackling in the evening heat. The song was either the one about "Feed your head" or "Light my fire"; he didn't know or care which.

The hot streets were deserted. Families were still together at the table, and the older kids who would gather at the beach later in the evening were whispering to each other on their phones, or showering, or clustered in dangerous-looking groups at the gas station, jockeying for positions in one another's cars. Since Dad died they left Seth alone, just as the neighbors left Mum alone; staying indoors if any one of them sat out in the yard, pretending interest in canned corn to avoid meeting in line at the market.

Now twenty feet ahead, Glen yelled "Banzai" and tore across the street and through the viewpoint parking lot. He surfed down the trail towards the waterfront, his skidding feet tossing up a wake of dirt and gravel. Seth had heard people say this viewpoint would be waterfront soon enough, that it was built on landfill, cheap and unstable. Someone's brother had a backhoe and a sand pit, and his partner cheated at cards and got the mayor good in the last round in the back room of the Marine Hotel. It was one of Dad's standard stories, one of the many that ended with the inevitable question, 'Which would you rather be, boy? Cheater or cheated? Taker or taken?'

Questions without answers.

There were a few humps and cracks in the pavement already and potholes in the walkway. All of it meaningless as he looked out onto the glittering blue of the Pacific Ocean. If he stood at the water's edge and plugged his ears to shut out the sound of his brother shrieking, if he squinted his eyes to shut out peripheral vision and looked out over the water, it was easy to imagine that he, Seth, didn't exist. The roar in his ears was the rumble of water; the bellows of his breath was the movement of tides, back, forth, back forth, across the bed of unfeeling earth.

A small wet hand slapped the back of his neck.

"Hey!" Glen shouted in his thin voice, "Want to play pirates?" He had discarded his socks and shirt. . . no, that was his shirt tied like a bandana around his head- and his bare chest and shoulders trembled.

"Yeah, if you find a thousand pieces of beach glass for treasure."


Seth took off his dirty cap and gave it to his brother. "You got to fill this up ten times and not all brown glass either. There's got to be green and some blue."

"Okay!" Glen grabbed the cap from his hands.

Seth wandered along the shoreline, one eye on his brother, until he reached the bottom of the old trail that led straight through the brush to the far side of the viewpoint. The old trail was steep, but shaded by scrubby windswept alders and tangled blackberry canes that hung overhead in thorny clumps. He clambered a few feet up, slipped a bit on the loose soil and his butt hit dirt. When the dust settled he noticed a depression in the bank. Someone had drawn a face where a rock had dislodged and fallen away. He was tired and thirsty and stared at it for a good minute before he ducked under the curtain of brambles and, with a finger, traced the outline of the face in the dusty soil. He scooped out dirt where the eyes should have been, more where the nose should have been. When he brushed at the area of the mouth, a hard, bumpy ridge appeared. He drew back his hand and gazed at the skull that gazed back at him. He tore an armful of skinny branches off the alders and covered its face. Blackberry thorns caught his hair and the back of his shirt as he retreated and slid on his heels to the bottom of the trail.

He looked over his shoulder at Glen, who was running barefoot up and down the wet sand, flinging bits of glass into the air. He wouldn't have much time before his brother came after him again. Seth pumped his legs like pistons up the steep path to the spot he had marked, pushed the branches aside and again surveyed his treasure. The sun, setting fast, lit the spot like a lamp. In the exposed earth lay the fan-like structure of a skeletal hand.

The sound of manic feet approached. Glen was only thirty feet away, racing toward him with his big mouth open and a hat full of glass in his hands. Seth picked up a rock and threw it at his brother. It struck him hard on a bony shoulder and the cap went flying, scattering the stupid bits of glass. Glen didn't cry. He never did when he was hurt, only in the middle of the night when things startled him awake.

"Why'd you do that?"

He should have felt sorry, he knew that. But he wasn't. He wanted to be alone with the bones.

"Because I'm a pirate," he said.

They picked up Glen's socks at the bottom of the gravel path. He unrolled Glen's shirt from around his head and made him put it on to hide the welt on his shoulder. When they got home the girls were in the bathtub and their mother was in the living room, watching "Gunsmoke" with the sound turned down. There were still marks in the carpet where the chesterfield and long teak table had stood. Even turned down low, the sound of the Sheriff's voice echoed in the near empty room. Seth wondered whether she would change her mind about the armchair as well, then they would all have to sprawl on the floor to watch television. She glanced at their sand-spattered legs and back at the screen.

"Get your brother hosed off for heaven's sake," she said.

That night he lay in his bed with his curtains and window wide open. Mosquitoes came in and whined in his ear. He pulled the sheet over his head and tried to stay awake til midnight, when he would take a sack, a brush and a garden trowel to his buried treasure and excavate him. When he opened his eyes his room was lit by a grey-violet light. His clock said 5:37 and the night was gone. He sighed and rubbed his eyes, rolled out of bed and pulled on sweatshirt, shorts and socks. The dew soaked through his shoes as he walked across the lawn to the garden shed. Its door was off its hinges, lying loose against the jamb. He lifted it aside and leaned it up against one wall. It still reeked of boat gas inside despite the wide crack in the greasy window, where someone's fist had broken the glass. Scummy, oily water sat in the bottom of a forty five gallon drum in the middle of the floor, with Dad's work stool still beside it. Well-worn tools lay scattered in their usual positions. Dad had been right about one thing. It's easy to find what you need as long as nobody puts it away.

The neighborhood was an alien landscape as he jogged past the sleeping houses and down the hill to the beach. The boot brush bulged in the pocket of his shorts. The trowel was in the canvas bag slung over his shoulder. It slapped against his thigh with every step.

He recognized the Nellis kid's red Valiant parked at the lookout. Dad had worked for Mr. Nellis at the mill offices. Mum used to attend Mrs. Nellis's garden parties and come home with a pink face, carrying her shiny high heeled shoes in her hands. He hurried past it, his feet crunching over the rocks, and at his back he could hear the slurred curses of the car's inhabitants, disturbed from a sodden sleep.

The tide was way out, well past the sand bar, revealing the ribbons of kelp and bright green algae that swaddled the rough rocks of the ocean floor. The tide pools were alive out there; there was food there for the taking, morsels for his turtles and aquarium fish. A lump of guilt formed in his throat. He had forgotten them yesterday. After he dealt with the bones he would graze in the tide pools and bring them a bullhead. . .if the tides. . ..

His mind emptied as he approached the jumble of alder branches. He pulled them away carefully, leaf by leaf, his stomach tickling with anticipation. It was very dim under the overhang of thorns. The outlines of the skull were in deep shadow, and he blinked and squinted, debating where to begin. Soon he was on his knees, knocking clumps of earth away from the spiny rib cage that had once held liver, lungs and heart.

"What the hell?" a voice laughed behind him. He turned to see that shithead Sinclair Nellis and a scruffy hippie girl, staring at him. Sinclair had no brothers or sisters. He had everything else. When he'd finished high school in June his parents had bought him that car. Sinclair had grown his stringy hair over his ears and low on his forehead. He looked almost as dirty as the hippie girl and smelled like vegetable soup. He leaned over Seth's shoulder and took a step backwards.

Seth nearly snorted with contempt. The girl took Sinclair's hand and pulled him closer. Seth looked at Sinclair's stupid face and the dull face of the girl, then turned back to his treasure and resumed his work as they stumbled away, muttering in dazed voices.

The sun was hot on his back by the time he had loosened the arms and ribcage. He took out his penknife and sawed at the roots that snaked across the shoulder bones and twined in and out of the ribs. Two of the lower ribs were cracked and he pulled a long elastic out of his pocket and fastened the segments together. Then a large clod of earth fell away and the hip and leg bones jutted from the caved in bank. He had handled more than one dead animal. Dad had always let him keep the remains, showed him how to soak the skeletons and dry them in the sun. He had expected a ranker smell here, some insect life, tatters of flesh or skin, but there was nothing but bone, discoloured but otherwise clean under the dusting of soil.

He was parched and dizzy as he filled the canvas sack and hoisted its strap over his shoulder. It scraped and dug into his skin. He lengthened the strap and dragged it up the trail, across the hot pavement, onto the hot sidewalk, past the houses with sprinklers spitting carousels of water over thick green grass and tall staked gladiolas. He limped down his driveway into the shade of the carport and dropped the sack near the basement door then stood there for a moment, shaking and cotton-mouthed, before dragging the sack in. He ran water into the laundry sink, splashing his face, soaking his t-shirt. He put his mouth to the faucet, not minding its metallic tang, and swallowed a heavy mouthful of tepid water.

He unrolled a groundsheet and spread it out on the concrete floor, opened the canvas bag and set the bones in a careful pile at one corner. Above him, in the house, he could hear his mother's footsteps on the linoleum, the garbled sing-song of his sisters' voices, the slam of the screen door and the expected call, "Boys! Come in for lunch." A faint "coming!" answered from somewhere in the back yard and then his own voice croaked out of his throat, "Coming!"

The interior basement door opened. Mum stood at the top of the stairs, flicking on the electric light. She looked down at him and the collection of bones taking shape on the ground cloth. She rubbed her chin. The skull stared back at her.

"Wash your hands," she said.

His face was red with sun and black with dirt, his arms encrusted to the elbows. He stained an entire bath towel with mud. When he entered the kitchen the rest of them were already eating macaroni and tomato soup. Wedges of watermelon sat on a big plate in the centre of the table. He grabbed three and devoured them, drank the lukewarm soup and shoveled down a bowl of macaroni. Mum tapped his shoulder with a spoon and looked at him as if she needed an answer. His heart beat a little faster. Had she said something about the bones?

"I said we're going to the lake, are you coming?"

He shook his head, and headed back downstairs. Soon he heard the thunk of car doors and the ticking of the Rambler's engine as it backed out of the driveway and onto the street.