When Grandpa calls our rotary phone, it’s six in the morning. I’ve been watching Nan through the window as she searches the shore, her gingham sundress bobbing like a buoy in the shallow tide. We’re leaving, Grandpa says as his voice crackles static. I found us a place, and we’re leaving. I twist the coiled cord around my fingers. Nan drifts by the rocky cliffs.
In August mornings, before the heat swells and the green flies swarm, Nan rises from our bayside cottage. She walks the shore and digs for sea glass in the sand. She keeps the smooth blue shards in vases on the kitchen counter. She tells me they come from ships that fall apart at sea, their wreckage drifting until the bay spits them to sand. When I wake, I always peel back the gingham curtains and watch her skim the shoreline, her back hunched against the sun.
Today Nan stops and looks behind her, where the Woodland Beach Hotel sits slouched above the dunes, its blue paint peeling, the carved posts of its porch crooked and cracked. Nan’s looking for the light, I know—I look for it, too. From the corner window, it glows golden against the curling paint.
The light is why Ma and Pop still work in the old hotel. Why we live in Woodland still. In her corner room, the hotelier studies stacks of blueprints and says she’ll bring the beach to life. So Ma and Pop drive our van down the gravel road and varnish her Oakwood stairwells.
The truck is blue and still says “Bayside Treats” in faded letters. It was a food truck once, when Nan sold pretzels by the fun house on the pier. She’d fold a red-and-white striped awning from her truck, she said, and she’d dust the dough with salt. She said her parents pushed a cart once too, with blue wheels and a striped umbrella. It had always been enough to keep them there, in their clapboard cottage where they could hear the calliope play across the water as the pier lights splashed the bay with gold.
When the flies came, the tourists left, and the storm swallowed the pier. The fun house sank to the sand and the calliope was silenced. Pop painted over the food truck, and Grandpa takes the train from Smyrna to travel the coast, to scour towns where streetcars still run through Trolley Parks where we could park our carts again.
We’re not leaving, Nan says. She sells her sea glass to tourists at the markets in Rehoboth. Ma and Pop fill the truck with hammers and brooms to fix the broken houses. It’s enough to keep us here, in our little clapboard house, where we can see the bay go on for miles. The shoreline a slick mosaic: a mural of pebbles and stones.
I twist the coiled phone cord around my fingers. I watch as Nan’s silver hair flies around her face as she heads inside from the August. In the doorway, she shakes the sand off of her feet before pulling the phone from my hands.
We’re not leaving, Nan says. She crosses the kitchen to her vase, her sea glass glowing cobalt beneath the windowsill. She pulls one stone from her pocket and throws it into her vase. The vase breaks, spilling sea glass and salt water across the floor.
She hunches over and touches the bay as it glints in pools on the tile. She touches water to my palm, and the salt sinks into my skin.