By Brian Vincent
Tina walked slowly along the beach toward the water-soaked wooden pier that stretched forty feet onto the Atlantic Ocean. A strong wind from the north raised goose bumps on her arms and reddened her bare feet, and the wetness in the air pressed the jeans against her legs. She left bare impressions as she walked, her body not heavy enough to pierce the hardened sand.
Her father had promised that Boston might be their last move, that he would work hard to find a job would lead to more money and a better life, and that she would make and keep friends here. She had looked into his eyes, her own eyes reflecting the detachment of a person hardened by life many years beyond her eleven, and slowly shook her head. This was the fourth move in as many years, and every new city proved as unfruitful as the last. A short time at one job, then another, most culminated by Paul being fired for drinking or insubordination.
Their clothes and some small belongings fit into much used suitcases. They abandoned several pieces of furniture previously discarded by someone else, walked two miles to the bus station, and left Kansas City four hours later.
They arrived in Boston at night and gathered their belongings from the underside of the bus as other passengers were greeted by friends or family. Tina watched a girl she had noticed earlier as she was helped from the bus by a man that was probably her father, and smiled as the girl was lifted from the ground and hugged warmly by a very pretty lady in a pantsuit and leather jacket. The girl noticed Tina and waved at her meekly before being whisked away toward the parking lot.
"Your mother was like that, you know," Paul had said.
Tina turned to look at him.
"She was beautiful and strong. And she loved you."
Tina looked back toward the girl and the people she was with. They left in a shiny four-door car that looked as clean as if it were on a new car sales lot.
"If Mom hadn't . . ."
Paul started, and his eyes widened as he interrupted her. "Yes, Tina, but we cannot think about that any more."
Tina turned away from Paul and looked for a moment toward the ground. As she picked up one of the suitcases, a tear rolled from her left eye.
Tina's black hair blew across her eyes, and she pulled it aside with her hand as she proceeded slowly, her feet landing on the pier's protruding chunks of wood that easily pressed down. She raised her hand to cover her neck and turned her head to survey the beach in both directions. No person was in sight, and the only structure was a wooden house on stilts about a quarter mile to the south. Waves traveled at an angle toward the beach and slapped against the sand. She shivered and closed her eyes.
She reached the end of the pier and gazed toward the horizon. It was late evening, and the clouds that filled the sky like a blanket of cotton balls were dark and grey. She sat down and the near-frozen water on the pier clung to her moist pants.
Tina had come here several times with Wendy, a girl that lived nearby. Neither girl spoke much as they spent time together, but both enjoyed walking long distances and observing such things as sea shells, unusual driftwood, and people that they occasionally encountered. Wendy's father worked on a fishing boat in the summer, she had said, and in the winter he worked for the City of Boston, cleaning and deicing the streets. Her mother had been gone for as long as she could remember, but Wendy said that whenever he could, her father spent time with her as she did schoolwork, painted or drew artful things, or they would watch television together.
Now Wendy would be at home, perhaps sitting down to dinner with her father, as Tina stood at the end of the pier and gazed out over the water.
Paul had returned early in the afternoon to the trailer that he called a mobile home, on a tract of land owned by his supervisor, John McDermott. Tina's mouth hung open as he slowly opened the door of the trailer and entered, several hours earlier than he should have finished working for the day.
His lips quivered as he turned to her and regarded her expression of disapproval.
"Oh God, Daddy, did it happen again?" she had asked. She crossed her arms and her eyes pleaded to him.
He looked at her momentarily, pressed his hands against his face, and began to cry. She moved toward him as he dropped to his knees, and reached out her hand but did not touch him. After a few minutes he grew quiet, and remained motionless as she squeezed past him to leave the trailer.
Twelve years old now, Tina's face was drawn tight against her cheekbones, her body buffeted by the wind as she stood with her toes hanging over the end of the pier. She looked down to the water and located the large rock she and Wendy knew to watch out for when she swam. The grey silhouette of the rock was visible only just after a wave passed, but it was where it had always been, twelve feet below the end of the pier and just below the surface of the water. She moved so that it was directly beneath her, her toes hanging just over the edge.
She shivered no more, and stood erect, hands at her sides as she looked toward the path that went from the beach to a place near the trailer. Paul was probably halfway through a bottle of something by now, forsaking the task of determining their future in the interest of drowning out bad memories.
Tina stood tall and erect, looked once more at the water beneath her, closed her eyes and fell forward. She remained rigid, arms and hands firmly by her side. She struck the water headfirst, her body at a slight angle, like a diver who had underestimated the distance to the water.