Childhood is being buried to the neck at the beach. Children can’t see behind them. Their vision is like a ball joint: up, down, left, right, straight ahead but never back.
Aimee is buried to her neck at Rehoboth. Aimee was buried by teenagers who faced her towards the ocean. Aimee sees no one she knows, hears only their voices, feels food land around her. Her brother Tom and his girlfriend Lindsey have tossed and deftly landed their french fries near Aimee’s face. She knows better than to say Stop it. Stop it = they drop one on her head. Please stop it = they wedge one behind her ear.
The birds are swarming. Their pattern is random, like they’re the napkins and plastic of overfilled trashcans, shot into the air by the wind. The sea breeze is unpredictable. The birds scatter and swoop.
Childhood is being buried in blankets on a bed. Children can lose themselves in imagination. Their vision is blocked by eyelids and pillows; they can see forever this way.
Aimee is in her blankets playing Warzone. She must hide beneath the dirt and sandbag cover of the trench laden battlefield. Bombs are dropping. Bullets whiz. Get down, Get down, she whispers to herself and her stuffed comrades. She finds the body pillow and covers herself with it. Tom breaks through her door with his puffy black headphones screaming. Tom lands on the pile of bedding. Aimee screams are unintelligible but mean My arm doesn’t bend that way! Because, if spoken, the words My arm doesn’t bend that way = her arm is found and bent further = crying = shaming = Tom leaving, slamming the door, waking Dad. Tom bounces up and down on the pile, smiling, nodding his head. There’s a blue bruise on his chin.
Dad sleeps from 3 to 9, leaves for work at Aimee’s bedtime. Apparently he’s awake while she’s at school. Why doesn’t he sleep while I’m at school, so he can be awake when I get home? Aimee never asks this question because she’s scared Tom will call her selfish and stupid. Mom would just say, Well honey, um, well, and change the subject. Questions come to Aimee all the time, and they’re so often unanswered. Tom bodyslams the bed again. He is a bomb falling, atomic. Aimee releases a guttural cry.
Aimee feels like its been hours since Dad and Mom left for their walk along the beach. Sometimes Aimee asks Mom what Dad does at work. Um honey, well, he makes things for soldiers. Aimee looks at the ocean the way her Mom looks out the window when Aimee asks too many questions: with a sleepy sadness. She’s starting to lose feeling in her arms.
Aimee’s parents are coming closer, almost in focus. They are holding hands, moving slowly. Aimee hopes they would hurry. Tom and Lindsey make out behind her. Aimee can hear the bag chairs creaking as they lean toward one another, can hear, she thinks, the faint sound of Lindsey’s tongue ring knocking Tom’s teeth. She pictures the silver ball making dents in his crooked smile.
There is a black-beaked white bird by her face. Aimee has no choice except to be still, but tenses as if she can further affect stillness. It pecks at a fry near her neck. A feather brushes her face as it flies. Aimee screams. Another fry bounces off the back of her head.
“Shut up. Shut up!” Tom says. He won’t move up there, and breathing is becoming hard. Aimee does her best to work with it. Breathing must have been difficult in WWII, with all the smoke and dust and fear. Beneath the covers she feels her air running low. She wiggles and writhes. It’s too much, her training hasn’t prepared her for this guerilla warfare. Aimee tries to keep alive. Medic? Medic? Tom is lost in a song. A song that sounds to her like it’s crumbling. Aimee is left with no option. She’s sorry as soon as she does it but knows that people have to do things for survival that make everyone sorry; she yells, Dad!
Tom’s song hiccups off. They both know what this means. Tom stands stock straight; Aimee burrows deeper.
Mom and Dad come into Aimee’s peripheral view. Dad kisses Mom on the cheek. This is something, like his laugh last night during Scrabble, that Aimee only sees on vacations.
Her parents are close enough now that they see her. Thank God, but I’m sorry, she thinks. Tom and Lindsey separate. Tom’s breathing is so heavy Aimee can hear it, can hear him trying to lighten it. Lindsey stomps over, each step louder, and Aimee is sure she will kick her head like a football. She brushes away French fries, buries some of them. Mom and Dad are almost in earshot. Tom whispers a teeth-clenched threat.
Dad stops and removes his sunglasses. “Thomas, your sister asked to be buried?”
“No, Dad. Never! I begged them. ” Aimee yells toward the ocean. Tom looks at his feet in the sand.
Dad stares at Tom, trying to make eye contact. “We were trying to have fun,” he says.
Dad shoos away a straggling gull. “Fun?”
Tom starts talking fast, “Yeah. Dad, Dad, it was actually fun; we all worked together to dig, to dig the hole and then she just jumped right in it. Lindsey and I covered her up. It was fun, funny. Really fun. We took pictures.”
Dad wipes sweat from his forehead. “Get her out. Now. Before a bird pecks her face off.”
A second passes where no one moves or speaks. Aimee notices the tide is reaching farther than it has. It almost touches her. Above being swept away and drowned, above gulls pecking her skin, she’s suddenly more afraid of a familiar storm brewing behind her.
Aimee smiles wide, and no one sees it. “It was actually kind of peaceful, Dad! Just looking out at the water. It wasn’t really all that awful. Really. Honest.”
No one hears her. Aimee’s face is wet with tears.
Mom sits in her chair. She tries, “Tommy, come now. Go sit by her head and let me get a picture. Then you help her up.”
Tom’s still holding Lindsey’s hand. Dad is between Tom and his sister. He doesn’t move. He stares.
Dad points to his daughter’s head. Silence; the wind. A bird comes in for a fry and Aimee screams. Dad shoves Tom out of his chair. Tom picks himself up and brushes some sand off of his swim trunks. Dad pushes him back down.
Mom looks at Dad. “Thomas, not here.”
“You think you’re tough fucking with smaller people.”
Tom stands. “No.”
Dad’s lips tighten. “That wasn’t a question. He grabs Tom by his hair. “Go fix this.”
Tom stomps over. His face is red. He gets close to Aimee’s head, shapes his hands like claws. He digs, but gently. Aimee’s arms are the first things free. They’re asleep, but she uses them to help Tom dig the rest of her out.
“Are you crying?” he asks.
“Sand hurts. Just, it got in my eyes.”
Down the hall, a door slams open and bounces back against the spring stopper.
That wobbly echo.
Like a soldier spurred by adrenaline, she grabs Tommy’s arm. She doesn’t say Get under here. He wouldn’t listen. She wants this equation to result in less pain. She yanks him towards the pile of covers. He’s scared, malleable. “Don’t,” he whispers, but she covers him. She pats down the blankets around him like it’s all sand. She’s figured out how this can hurt less. Tommy lets himself be camouflaged. He flattens, disappears. Aimee hears the footsteps. She rolls off the bed, turns, stands at nervous attention. She faces the door as it flies open.
Tyler Barton lives in Lancaster, PA, where he co-founded The Triangle, a local literary organization. He is currently the fiction editor for Third Point Press. In August, he will be attending the Minnesota State University at Mankato's MFA program for Fiction. Visit tylerstevenbarton.wordpress.com to read other published stories, and follow him @goftyler.