In the old family photos taken at Strathmere, a man stands among his five daughters. He is our father. Feet firm in the sand, he wears blue swimming trunks, his shirt blowing in the sea breeze,. He looks straight into the camera, his eyes clear and unsmiling. When I look at these photos, I smell the tang of Old Spice and Coppertone. He is wearing the same maroon canvas shoes that I found after he died, crumbled into the bottom of an old shoebox in his closet.
We know that our grandmother’s beach house is gone. It was blown away by a hurricane sometime in the 1960′s. My older sisters are on a pilgrimage to see if they can find where it once stood. We walk down Tecumseh Street to the grey bleached pilings of the sea wall. A forest of striped beach umbrellas are scattered across the sand, white fringe barely stirring in the sluggish air.
One sister tells me I do not remember any of this because I was too young. The other asks, do you?
I am small, peering over the prickly front seat of our new station wagon. The dashboard glows with silver circles and dials, rows of gauges, banks of chrome buttons. The lights across the dashboard glisten like carnival lights in the blackness. I see Daddy’s arms relax on the ivory circle of the steering wheel, his window is rolled down now. We are almost there. The night air, ripe with creosote, salt, and still warm asphalt, swirls into the car.
I sit on the sea wall with my back to the ocean, looking down the street. The beach houses on Tecumseh Street, homely and faded, innocently nestle below the flat faced condos that rise above them. Another hurricane on another day will remove more houses along Tecumseh Street, granting room for more condos to claim their entitled view of the ocean.
A little distance away my sisters sit close together, their heads bent over the old cracked photos. I look at the one in my hand. It is my favorite. I peek from around my father’s legs, a towel draped over my shoulders. Daddy is holding my hand in his. He looks straight and true at the camera.
I wait on the sea wall at Strathmere, looking down Tecumseh Street towards the highway, but no cars slow and turn in.
Ruth Michel has been writing for three years and has recently completed a novella. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri.
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