This is for you - Moses, 20th July, 1985
This is for you
Moses – 20th July, 1985
When Moses was seven years old, he went to the sea with his Grandpa and Grandma. Moses sat in the back of the old, blue Beetle and his grandparents sat in the front, his Grandpa driving.
The car was hot and the road around the Maine coast was bumpy, making Moses feel a little excited but mainly sick. His grandparents talked loudly over the whirr of the engine and occasionally, his grandma turned round to look at him and ask if he was feeling well. Each time, Moses tried to smile at her, but when he moved his mouth upwards, it made him feel sicker. So instead, he turned his mouth downwards and pressed his eyebrows down too because that way he felt better.
Moses didn’t speak to his Grandma, but then he didn’t speak to anyone. He’d been alive seven years, two months and six hours and he’d never spoken out loud to anyone in the world.
When his grandparents had taken him in, it had, for a while, breathed new life through the door of their sad, little house on the corner of Fairfax Street. The small space he occupied in his crib brought the hopeful, sweet simplicity of baby’s breath and his Grandma in particular was convinced he would fill the vacuum of what they had lost. Nearly seven years later, that morning on the way to the beach, she’d thought to herself, “It’s kinda funny and kinda sad what you allow yourself to think before you really know something”.
Moses knew his Grandma thought he was ugly. He’d heard her tell Grandpa the day before when they were sitting in the yard. “Poor little guy”, she’d said. “He’s nasty to look at, but still he’s ours, I guess, and I do love him.” Grandpa hadn’t replied and had continued swatting the flies that buzzed round the jug of lemonade on the table.
Because Moses didn’t speak, it seemed to him that his grandparents believed he didn’t hear and understand. But he did. After she’d spoken, he ran indoors and upstairs to look at himself in the long mirror on the wall in his grandparents’ bedroom. Out of the window, he could hear his grandparents laughing.
When he looked in the mirror, he saw how big and pale he was. His hair was red, tangled wool and his face was the colour of the pancake batter his Grandma made on Sundays. His eyes were grey and deep set in his face and his skin often felt shiny and tight, like he was going to burst out of it. He had the thought he often had that it was hard for people to truly see his face because it was so fat his nose, mouth and cheeks blurred altogether. If he put his hand over one side of his face to cover it and then swapped his hand over to cover the other side, neither side was the same. His Grandma said he didn’t smile, but when he wasn’t feeling sick, he did.
In the car it was getting hotter so his Grandpa wound down his window and Moses could feel the rushing air on his face. Outside, the sky looked very blue, the sun very big. The car slowly tracked the curve of a bend and when they were round the other side of it, Moses saw the sea for the first time. He thought it was beautiful.
To make sure he was ready for the visit to the sea, Grandma had shown Moses a picture book. She’d sat next to him and turned the pages, talking all the time and reading the words out loud. They saw the waves and the beach, the shells and the fish. They saw the boats, the sandcastles and the spades. The colours of the pictures were blue and golden. As Grandma was talking, he listened and traced his finger around the shapes of the pictures. The things he was thinking were, Grandma doesn’t know I can read already and who is it that makes the sea the sea?
One of the pictures showed two children playing with their mommy and daddy on the sand. It struck Moses, as it had at other times that he didn’t have a daddy and he didn’t know why. He didn’t have a mommy either, but he knew he had had one at one point in his life at least. His mommy, Grandma and Grandpa’s little girl. Della as they called her when they talked about her in whispers. Or the name he knew she was given at birth, the name he loved more than anything - Delarosa.
Moses was sure his Grandma loved him, but sometimes she got sad. He wasn’t so sure about Grandpa and what he thought about him. He’d walked past the picture of Delarosa on the drawers in the kitchen so many times, wondering if he looked too much like her, and whether this fact made Grandpa sad too. One time, he’d heard his Grandma having one of her conversations on the phone with her friend, Nancy. Moses listened carefully as always to what she said to other people. What she did say was Delarosa had wanted to get rid of him, but that in the end, she’d loved him too much and she just couldn’t do it. He’d sat on the chair in the den, taking in the words, feeling happy his mom hadn’t got rid of him and not understanding what this actually meant at all.
Finally, the Beetle stopped and Grandpa parked awkwardly in the car park above the beach while Grandma gathered their things. They had a picnic basket, three deckchairs, a ball and a bucket and spade. Moses was wearing sandals and when they got out of the car, the ground felt gritty and dusty between his toes. Grandpa carried nearly everything, apart from one of the deckchairs and Grandma carried that, holding Moses’ hand with her spare one. Together, they carefully walked down the winding wooden path to the sand.
Although the sun was shining and the sky was blue, nothing else at the beach was like it was in the picture book. Everything was different. Everything was wrong. The sand was green and furry and when Moses took another step forward on to the beach, he almost slipped over in the slime that covered it. The sea was a long way away and it was very still and turquoise, like the ring he found in Grandma’s jewellery box that she said had been Delarosa’s. The sea looked like it was frozen and Moses couldn’t hear any of the sound of the waves. In the sky, there were the seagulls floating on the air currents and the main noise he could hear was their crying and wailing. To Moses, they sounded like babies who had lost their mommies and daddies and this thought made him sad.
They stood still for a few minutes and then put their things down on the green beach, because Grandpa said what else could they do? He also said he’d noticed a sign further up the sand and was going to see what it said. He walked slowly towards it while Grandma unfolded one of the deckchairs and lifted Moses up so he could sit on it. His weight made it sink down lower and he sat there, small and prone. Grandma stood by him, not talking and looking around like she’d lost something.
After a few minutes, when Grandpa came back, he spoke to Grandma. “It says it’s a bloom of algae that happened out at sea. It says it’s not dangerous, but it’s probably best not to go in the water right now.”
They left their things where they were and Grandma suggested they go nearer to the sea, so they could look at the little pools of water that had formed in the dips in the sand. They made their way down the beach and they looked in the first pools they came to. The water in them was thick green and there were lots of tiny fish, floating on their sides. They were layered on top of each other, their eyes wide open and staring. Their scales looked dirty and dull, not like the shining fish in the picture book. They weren’t swimming, but the breeze that had started to blow across the beach rocked the water and made the fish look like they were swaying forwards and backwards. “Look at the baby fish”, Grandma said. “They’ve all gone to sleep.” But this was something else that Moses knew that Grandma didn’t know he did. The fish weren’t sleeping.
Moses walked away from Grandma and Grandpa, a little closer to the sea and he noticed that the water had begun to swirl and dance. He saw the seagulls swooping down into it and coming up with fish in their mouths. He noticed a strange thing too – that is the fluffy baby seagulls that were on the shore were bigger than their parents that brought the fish to put in their mouths. For some reason, Delarosa came in to his mind.
Then, Moses noticed something else. Right where the green beach ended and the turquoise water began, a little girl was lying on the beach. He moved closer to her, while his grandparents shouted him back.
She looked like she was sleeping, but Moses didn’t believe this could be true as her pillow was made of long, sharp shells and she was snuggled into a quilt of seaweed. Moses wondered what she could be dreaming of. By her, there was a red spade and through the seaweed strands, he could see her knees were pink and grazed. Drops of water glistened on her cheeks and she had sand sparkling on her eyelashes. She looked beautiful and terrible.
Grandma and Grandpa rushed towards him, slipping and sliding in the slimy, green sand. Grandma got there first and when she reached him, she sounded out of breath. “Look at the little girl”, she said. “She’s gone to sleep on the beach.”
Moses stopped looking at the little girl and instead looked up at Grandma. He opened his mouth and for the first time, he heard his own voice as he spoke out loud. It was creaky and shaky, the voice of an old man. “Use the words that are the proper words”, he said. “Use the words that are the proper words. She’s not asleep. She can’t be asleep because we can’t ever wake her.”
Grandma opened her mouth wide and she almost shouted. She put her arms around Moses and hugged him tight. “My baby, my little sweetheart. You can speak. My God, you can speak”, she said and Moses heard crying in her voice too. He moved his head from her chest so he could see her face and he saw something else in the way she looked at him. It was the same look in her eyes that she’d had when she had opened up a bag of potatoes in their kitchen and discovered that it had maggots wriggling in it.
Other people were running across the beach now and like his grandparents, they were nearly falling over on the sand as they moved. Their faces were grey and worried and Grandma’s face changed again as she whispered to him, “My baby. Thank God it’s not you. I love you, I love you.”
Moses sat down the sand by Grandma’s feet, not far from where the little girl was lying. He could feel the wet on his bottom through his shorts and he said the next out-loud words that he’d ever spoken, “There is nothing deader than a dead fish.” He knew this made his Grandma stare down at him, but he didn’t look at her. Instead he looked at the waves hitting the shore and he listened to the crash-hush, crash-hush sounds they made.
Later, in the car on the way back, Moses heard his grandparents talking about Delarosa, quietly and with a sad tone. He couldn’t make out what they were exactly saying about her, but the thought of her made him feel sad too and he wondered how he could miss someone he had never known so badly. Someone who was nothing to do with him and yet in every single part of him. He fell asleep with the lull of road and the thought of the sea. The unknowable, comforting sea.
In bed that night, Moses had a dream and in the morning, if anyone had asked him to, he could relate every part of the dream; like a familiar, bedtime story.
In his dream, it was dusk. In between time, no longer day and not yet night. He was in the yard of his grandparents’ house, watching the sun set over the hills. It was hot and he was very tired. In front of him on the old whisky barrel that served as a table, the ice in a glass of orange juice was melting. The phone started to ring in the kitchen.
He answered the phone and the voice on the other end of the line told him about Delarosa and he listened, but said nothing in reply. In his dream, he could drive and he steered his grandparents’ car down a twisting mountain road to the hospital where the voice had said she was.
The drive had its own dream rhythm. Moses had turned the radio on, then off and there was only the noise of the road and the warm, close air coming through the passenger window. The car headlights caught the white markings in the middle of the road again and again.
At the hospital car park, for a second, he forgot why he was there. Everything was pale, erased - and he sat at the wheel, scratching a scab on his hand. Then he remembered.
In the elevator, the light was so bright, his head buzzed. In a small, humid room, off the main ward, he talked to a doctor and something about her tone made him think it was the voice who called him on the phone. The doctor told him he could see Delarosa and he could hardly breathe. He followed her into the room Delarosa was in and the doctor left, shutting the door behind her.
In this, his dream, Moses thought Delarosa was so beautiful. The clichés rushed through his head – the ‘she looked like she was just sleeping’, ‘she looked so peaceful’. But Delarosa didn’t. She looked beautiful, but not like the photograph in his Grandma’s kitchen. What lit the picture had left her, to be replaced with the remote perfection of marble.
Delarosa’s eyes were closed and Moses noticed a drop of blood, already rusty, on her eyelashes. The white sheet, red rosettes blooming on it where her chest touched it, was pulled up under her chin and in his dream, Moses had an idea. He gently rolled the sheet down, making himself look for a few seconds, then he took something from deep inside her and wrapped it in the napkin he found in his pocket. Before he left, Moses kissed Delarosa and asked her to forgive him.
When he got outside, it was raining. Slow, heavy raindrops drumming the sidewalk, deep and sonorous like the beating of a heart. He drove back to his grandparents’ house, taking the bends in the road with precision, careful of the dark water that slicked them.
When he put the car back in the garage, he heard a dog barking in the distance and he thought it sounded so lonely. By the front stoop, he saw the house cat had dropped a mouse it had caught, but it didn’t look like a new kill. Its body was flat and dry and flies were already beginning to create a haze around it.
In the dream house, Moses suddenly and urgently needed to go to the bathroom. Afterwards, still sitting on the now closed lid of the toilet, he saw the bottle of his Grandpa’s cologne and he took off the lid and dabbed it behind his ears and on his wrists. Then he left the bathroom and went in to the kitchen. He took out the napkin from his pocket and a knife from the block on the table- the block he could only reach in a dream.
He spread the napkin open and cut a piece of what he’d taken from Delarosa and, willing himself not to retch, he swallowed it. Then she was deep inside him. So he could keep her safe.