June 25, 2009

Elisha Webster Emerson

Walking the Ocean

She fled between shout and scream, slamming the screen door, my words shredding like paper in the small crisscrosses after her. She said she'd be at the beach thinking things out, but what I see as "thinking things out" is meeting him, the cause of this, that 21-year-old predator, who isn't satisfied with other 21-year-olds, and finds it necessary to woo my 16-year-old daughter. I am her father. I am obliged to loathe the kind that he is—the kind that I was.

The door rattles and where she stood becomes substantial with emptiness, gaping and recalcitrant. I imagine what her mother would say. You get her for one summer, and you can't even handle that.

I imagine her, my daughter, kissing him just to spite me, getting pregnant, blaming me and the childhood trauma I inflicted.

The lack of a father figure, she'd say, tossing her head and clucking her tongue. They'd all cluck their tongues: her mother, her mother's husband, her psychologist, my psychologist, the goddamn pizza boy my daughter just plowed on her way out the door—cheese, crust, and pepperoni all over the sidewalk.

"For dry cleaning," I say and slip him a fifty.

Maybe it's my duty as her father, my penance for not being there the first time she fell off her bike, the first time she fell off her good judgment in love, but I'm here now, and by god, I'll be damned if I get a phone call tomorrow from her mother. Brittney called me last night. Maybe it'd be better if she came home.

I grab a sweater on my way out.

I find her several yards from the rocks, her footprints scattered like teardrops in the white sand.

Distance makes her bird-like, small, and perched, arms clutching her knees. The wind lifts the dusk and tosses it over our heads. It snarls in her hair. The sky twinkles, a cautious medium between pink and blue. It electrifies her silhouette and I am suddenly very shy.

She is my daughter, I say to myself with assertive shoulders and chin, but she is so small and so big all at once. She fills the space between air and salt and semen and love, regret and grief.

I walk the vanishing water line and stare towards the horizon, contemplating what I hope looks like authoritative discipline. I'm sorry, Orion whispers.

I catch her looking, and I smile in a vague sort of way—at her, at myself, at the beach as a whole. She's shivering. I'm glad I grabbed a sweater. I wring it until my knuckles blanch moon white.

She marks quiet spirals in the sand, reminding me of the day she was born and the down that spiraled in wispy swirls on her head, the spirals of skin that swallowed her pinky finger and thumb, the spirals her shriveled fists made in the air.

The sound of the ocean flipping over itself startles me closer and I look up to see her just under my nose. "Hey," I say, "can I sit down?"

She nods, sweeping the spirals away into the palm of her hand. I thank her and I sit.


Elisha Webster Emerson's work can be found in On the Premises, All Things Girl, and Clever Magazine. She lives on the North Carolina Outer Banks with her small family where she eats too much sugar and flies trick kites. Visit her at her website: My Inconvenient Body.

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