Fortnightly Story: Lying On A Beach Towel

palm trees, grass, ocean at Bronte Beach on sunny day

This short story is the first chapter of my debut novel, My Year With Sammy published in December, 2015 by Ginninderra Press :

Sammy said she doesn’t like kisses.  No kisses and no hugs.  She would roll on the floor and wrestle with and jump on top of her dog in between the uncontrollable storms full of accusations that swept us all up like a tsunami above her childhood.  I wasn’t surprised one day when I saw her lying on the new couch, in the new house, beside her brother, her newly adopted cat, one of a pair, asleep on her stomach, the blue sister, who she called Sapphire.

At the sea pool, Sammy digs her toes into the grass, face down on her striped beach towel.

Are you okay, princess?   I ask.

She says, Yes, Mummy Two.

Bits of dirt collect in the hollows beneath her ankles.  Every time she sighs, another few twigs collect there.  She’s still small enough to lie beside me and use my shade, although we’re up on the grass under a tree, near the sand of the beach.

It is mid-September. Further up the grassy slope, a group of bare-chested young men in boxer swimmers sit cradling cold beers or glasses of red wine from a cask, before they run along the wooden perimeter of the pool and jump into the water that is outside the shark-net, then clamber back up the netting to leap in again.  They don’t bother us.

She is beside me now, my daughter’s child, and I acknowledge this, sometimes stroking her head with the palm of my hand.  Her  shoulders are unfleshed and rounded, the firm shoulders of a high wire acrobat, and, for this, she is admired by her brother when he stands below a tree in readiness to help her when her foot is stuck between the trunk and a high branch, his blue school shirt hanging loose over his grey shorts.  With her shoe stuck in the tree, Sammy takes the shape of a gymnast, a renegade one—no professional—with her brown hair hanging loose and free.

Sammy is very beautiful, but who wouldn’t say that?  She has teeth that become prominent when she laughs—an open-mouthed generous laugh that comes from deep in her solar plexus.  Her teeth capture that laugh and encircle it like a precious gift, unwrap it after a moment into a broad smile.  Her softness is significant—her soft hair, thick, mid-brown, full of character; and the softness of her shoulders.  There is a delicate boniness to her face:  she is cheekbones and eyes and mouth.  But her face is set in place by sheer force of will, by a stubborn internal command.  She’s not compliant.  I’m not her mother, after all.

Sammy brushes the dirt off her towel, rests her head on her arms.  She doesn’t say anything to me, but she knows I am here, a particle of her thoughts.  My worrying brain thinks, thinks, and freefalls across the spring fragrances that connect us.  She trails behind me, and she’s unpredictable.  Her eyes absorb the bright blue or the pale gray of the morning sky—whatever the time of day—repelling darkness, translucent.  Sammy is not the clearly drawn profile of a typical five-year-old girl, she is not transparent.

Soon Sammy will go for another swim.  To prepare myself, so I will not spend the whole time worrying, I see in my mind in precise detail Sammy swimming across the ocean pool, one paddle after the next, swimming past surf boards, past the sea gulls; she swims the way gulls fly, consistently, steadily, across the vast expanse.  She strokes towards the shore with an uneven rhythm in the calm water.  She swims very close to the beach.  I can see her, the determined chin and the pursed lips.  Just beyond the breakers, her legs fall beneath her, and she walks upright through the waves.  Down on the beach, she shakes the water from her arms, from her legs, and with a swift shaking of her head, she whips her hair to the sides and walks to where I am on the grass, spraying me with water.

I stop stroking her hair, and—there—she notices me again, in my own particular body, in her floral swimsuit a pattern similar to mine.  She pushes her fingers into the dirt at her sides, and it makes them brown.  She is a daredevil.

Watch me! she says.  I’m going for a dip.

And she lifts herself from the towel in one sideways, swift action.  She is halfway to the water.  I sit up and stretch my spine to watch.  She hits the water and all her movements slow.  She ducks her head under the sea, her whole body now submerged beneath the surface.  Her hands pull through the water her feet kicking wildly.  She emerges, turns on to her back, floats there with only her little face exposed, struggling to keep her legs stretched out, rather than sinking down beneath her.  The water keeps lifting her and she drifts my way.

And I watch.  If I do not watch, what will become of her?


Copyright © 2016 Libby Sommer

First published in Parenting Express

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13 thoughts on “Fortnightly Story: Lying On A Beach Towel

  1. Reblogged this on Write of Passage and commented:
    Author Libby Sommer shares a chapter of her novel, A Year with Sammy, with us. I have read this book and can tell you it is a wonderful depiction of family dynamics in a household of which a child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder is resident. Written as though being told over a cup of coffee (or tea) at a kitchen table, the book is a quick read filled with the full spectrum of emotions as shared across the cozy setting of a friendly kitchen.
    Read on.
    Libby, thank you for sharing this chapter! Such a wonderful introduction to all that comes after!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Libby! This book was so powerful in its depiction of the family dynamics within a family with a special needs child. I am still trying to write a review of it, but become overwhelmed with imagery so that starting it has been difficult. I want to write about all of the book at once!
    Such a beautiful portrayal!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. your description in one phrase of ‘My Year Sammy’ is excellent. it’s a great ‘elevator pitch’: a depiction of the family dynamics within a family with a special needs child. thank you so much for sharing your appreciation of the novel.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. you’re a wonderful supporter, Ellie. it’s great to have met you on WordPress. ‘My Year With Sammy’ has always been available as an electronic book. Perhaps I’m using the wrong links re purchasing info, or not making this information clear. do you have any advice re how i can improve things?


      1. Hi, Libby. I would have bought the electronic version but didn’t see it on my iPad. But that was before we had a US VPN, when Amazon prevented me from purchases of any media under a year old. That’s OK. I used to buy books both ways for years!
        Your link is fine. It defaults to the electronic version, but lists the physical version, too. I hope I can get you a few more sales. It really is a wonderful book.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s very nice of you to share your knowledge through posts. I love to read stories about your experiences. They’re very useful and interesting. I am excited to read the next posts. I’m so grateful for all that you’ve done. Keep plugging. Many viewers like me fancy your writing. Thank you for sharing precious information with us. Best sand proof beach towel service provider.

    Liked by 1 person

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