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flash fiction by Sofia Soto (Teen Voices Series)
I touched the horizon once. The place where the sky meets the water all the way out in the ocean. You’d think it was just an illusion, nothing more than where eyes rest when they can’t see any farther. But I knew there was a stopping point: maybe a wall, maybe an invisible barrier, maybe a space to conceal the Sun where she sleeps.
I was five years old when I reached it. If there is a pot at the end of a rainbow, there is a place where the sky meets the water, I concurred.
Mom took Rebecca and me out to the lovely beach. Everything was lovely to Mom that year. The leaves, the snowflakes, the grass, and the heat, all of it was lovely. She called us lovely, too. She’d take our faces in her manicured hands, kiss our noses, and call us her “lovely girls.” Rebecca always thanked her, but I’d say nothing. She was too young to remember when Mom would yell and cry and call us anything but lovely. When I ask her now, Rebecca tells me she remembers the smell of Mom’s perfume and the softness of her touch. I only remember Mom’s hot pink nails biting into my cheeks and the sting of old words still hot on her lips.
But I agreed—a rare occurrence, agreeing with Mom—that the beach was lovely. You could smell the love woven into the salty air. You could feel the love mixed into the warm sand beneath your feet.
Rebecca didn’t feel the same way, which she expressed on most of our beach trips. She’d build a single sandcastle and then cry because she got sand in her swimsuit. Mom would refuse to take her home and she’d pout in the car for the rest of the day.
Rebecca and my mom were no strangers to passionate fits of rage that I had to wait out, like hot water bubbles seeping through the lid of a boiling pot closed as tightly as my five year old hands could hold it.
That’s what happened that day. She built a sandcastle. She got sand in her swimsuit. She cried. She left me alone, holding a toy shovel in one hand and my hope in the other. Mom didn’t even unlock the car for her, she just rolled her eyes and flipped over on her towel. It’s no fun making sandcastles by yourself. I walked down to the ocean instead.
The ocean. She never threw a fit. She never abandoned me. She never called anything lovely. She just sat there, waiting for me. I let the water roll over my toes and glanced back at my mom; asleep, of course. Two boys with boogie boards dove into the waves beside me, followed close by a wary mother shouting “not too far, boys! Stay where I can see you.”
I walked slowly into the tide. I didn’t know why I was going so slow, but in hindsight I think a part of me was waiting for Mom to get up from her towel and call “not too far, Mary! Stay where I can see you.”
I looked over my shoulder again, holding my hope in my hand. She did not get up. I dove underwater and let the hope drown.
I don’t think anybody ever taught me how to swim. I never understood anybody who didn’t know how. The water will press you forward, push you down, or raise you up. It’ll tell you when to go, when to stop, when to breathe. All you have to do is kick. Not that hard.
I didn’t know I was that far from the shore. When you’re five years old and three foot two your legs stop touching the ground before the water even gets dark. I floated onto my back and listened to the ocean tell me stories. I can’t remember any of those stories now. Oh, how I wish I could.
When I rolled forward again I saw the beach I came from in the distance, about the size of my thumb. I probably should have panicked, but I didn’t. Instead I turned around to find the Sun preparing for bed. Orange filled the sky when she yawned, pink emerged when she brushed her teeth, and purple bloomed when she sang a bedtime song.
If there is a pot at the end of a rainbow, there is a place where the sky meets the water, I thought. It only took about five more minutes until I bumped headfirst into exactly what I was looking for.
I rubbed my sore forehead with one hand and traced my fingertips over its surface with my other. It felt rough and bumpy, like an acrylic painter’s canvas, but the medium looked like watercolor. The colors of the sky get a little less impressive the closer you are, but I didn’t care. There it was, in all its glory. The horizon is tangible. It was there, and I was touching it. In the back of my mind I already knew Rebecca wasn’t going to believe me, no matter how many times I’d try to prove I wasn’t lying (and trust me, I spent the rest of my life trying), but I didn’t focus on that. I wanted to stay forever, but I was worried I might've been intruding on the Sun’s private property. I was quite fond of her and didn’t want to step on any toes, so I planted a quick kiss and left.
I don’t remember what happened after that. I’d like to say that Mom was beside herself with worry and police were littered on the shore looking for a little girl named Mary Jane who disappeared and I finally found a way to become important. When I think of this story, that's the ending I give myself, complete with a dramatic wave at the horizon as Mom drives away from the lovely beach. But I don’t think that’s true.
Sofia Soto is a high school senior from Poughkeepsie, NY. She has been previously published in her local school newspapers. “Horizon” is her first flash fiction.
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