Failed Prodigal

One year past childhood and no longer a runaway, he returns alone to the island of his family’s past vacations. But their absence is somehow apparent in the waves, in the slack fabric of the white umbrellas.

The island children will not be still for pictures; he wonders if they know it is a different time he is framing. Lithe girls in fuchsia, and frayed rope boys crumbed with bits of shell.

When they are flitting about like parakeets he calls them over. “Look,” he says, holding a magnifying glass to sand, “you are all walking on a field of broken glass.” 

A dark-haired girl coughs and spits out blood, and a small dog barks at the shape on the sand. The visitor says, “I don’t remember, is there a doctor here?” The children point west, to water.

A boat arrives like the color blue failing to hold true. But the dark-haired girl won’t come down from the arched tree she has climbed; she hugs the rough trunk and averts her eyes. A medic leaves medicine, but as the boat is leaving the dog rushes in to snatch it up and dash away. After a while the animal returns, distant and distracted, as if beset by a new wisdom or a jumble of names.

Soon the children make a house of sand—a great room like a silo with a low door. They crowd into it, their bodies close as cells in a honeycomb. “Come in,” they say. “Quickly!” And the young man joins them. 

Beneath the bright flue all wait for revelation, swatting at flies. “Treasure is buried beneath us” a small boy says, “but the island is sailing faster than we can dig.” The young man longs then for mimosa blooms, for hawk moths that kiss with a spiraling tongue. He longs for bowls of bright sherbet served at birthday parties on green lawns, and for Chinese lanterns in evening trees. 

It is at that moment that the girl comes down from her watch. She says she can see through walls. She says the hidden ones will have to learn how to walk all over again, now that they have lied to the sand about what they are.

--Daryl Scroggins



More work by Daryl Scroggins appears in the print version of SleepingFish 0.75.