Writer's Workshop

Riptide

© R. Plant. All Rights Reserved.

This is a draft of a novel called Riptide. I think it fits into this literature because the story centres around death and renewal, and uses a strong metaphor of the ocean to accomplish this goal.

Victoria slouched in her beach chair. She was mesmerized by a sand crab darting nearby. It would poke its head out from the sand and run, then scamper off to burrow for a few seconds. The sand was always moving, but you had to look closely to see it. Soon there were more. A family of crabs held her captive for the good part of an afternoon as she ruminated her life, and most importantly, what she would do next. Her life was like sand. She was like a crab. Scampering. Leaving. Hiding. Letting life slip around her. It was amazing she’d finished her masters, she realized, now that she could sit down in the sun, think about it, and breathe. During that time, oh let’s see…Her mother had died of cancer. Her father, once an international surfer champion, had turned to the dark side up here on the North Shore. He had problems with painkillers and women. Sometimes not in that order. Victoria had come to her mother’s funeral a year and a half ago, gone back to Honolulu to finish studies in ocean sciences, and then returned home to help her dad clean up his life. And his beach house.

The cottage was disgusting in some ways and exotic in others. Victoria had arrived last weekend and spent the night cleaning while Dad got high with his buddies at the Lokowea Cantina down the beach. When arriving home, he collapsed in her arms, mists of beer echoing on his breath as he said, “The house looks greaaaaaaaaat, baby.” His dark body, topped with a mop of bleached sun hair, passed out shortly afterward. Victoria then walked around the still sunlit house, recovering. The aesthetics appeased her eyes: the (now) clean, warm patios with big ceramic pots of spider plants and dwarf citrus plants hugging the corners; shelves of books and albums from the 60s and 70s; bright hyacinth and climbing jasmine crowding the patio structures, tropical palms brushing against screens. Not a place of modernity, the house harbored the meaningful: fishhook pendants, surfboards, sand, foliage, photographs, books.

Victoria had opened the windows. Let in the light and the pound of the ocean. Some windows didn’t have screens, which meant the house also housed the occasional gigantic cockroach, the Periplaneta americana–three inches of bug–which, thankfully, did not colonize indoors at all. Cuter were the brown and green anoles, which skittered across the sandy floors, escaping into the hinterlands of the walls.

Victoria had gotten burned. Unlike her father who naturally dark-skinned, Victoria had inherited her mother’s paler skin and light eyes. Time to dip into the ocean one final time before heading up to the cottage through the coconut grove. Tonight was another party. They were never-ending. And the guys were twice her age. Victoria could feel her entire body sigh as she walked into the sea, felt the warm waters rush at her feet, up to her waist, and finally to her hot shoulders. The summer surf was calm compared to winter, when waves grew humungous and curling. She had surfed a few times, but preferred to swim or to lay in the water and give in to it, let it float her and move her around like an object. Hadn’t been a cloud in the sky earlier, but now the marine layer began creeping in, and with it her dad and his friends for their nightly party in the coconut grove between the beach and his house. This was her cue to get out of the water, get dressed, and disappear.

As she emerged from the water, she waved to her dad but kept her distance. Her dad would seriously injure anyone who would try to touch his daughter, but just the same he wasn’t too observant when high–and Victoria got the darkest looks from a few of the guys, which creeped her out and constantly made her rethink staying here all summer. The only consolation was that her dad would be going to Costa Rica next month and she’d have the place to herself. That’s just what she needed. Back at the house, she went around to the back to hang up her towel. She got inside just as the first raindrop fell.

Once in, she felt chilled and dashed upstairs to the warm second floor, where her bedroom and bath were. Here, she felt comfortable. The place had her old belongings in it–shells she had collected, her favorite books (Lord of the Flies, Anne of Green Gables, and various fairytale fantasies along with an eclectic mix of classic literature and science fiction). All this, and her Poppy, a stuffed green turtle Mom had gotten her at such a young age that Victoria felt she had owned Poppy from the beginning of time. Now worn, the turtle nevertheless provided Victoria some comfort from the mayhem and sorrow due to her mother’s death and her father’s strange decay.

Downstairs, a door slammed. Victoria recognized it as the back screen door. She figured it was her dad, coming to fetch some more beers. Rainfall would not dampen his party. He and his friends would put up beach umbrellas and watch the rain and the waves, and all would be beautiful in their mind-altered world. But when Victoria heard the sound of footsteps striking the hardwood stairs, she froze. Dad never came up here. And his friends knew better. The last person who had been up to her room was Mom. Nearer, nearer. It sounded like the person was wearing boots. She quickly locked her door and held onto Poppy. From her room she could easily climb out the window, which led to a balcony. She could then climb down to the first floor balcony–she’d done it before–and escape to the yard. But as time quickly coalesced to a finite thing, she stood there unmoving. When her door burst open, she still had not moved.

***

Laka was sweeping petals off her back patio when the rain came and a girl screamed. It seemed to come from the next house over, Robert’s place. She dropped her broom and crossed her yard, peering over to the beach house. An empty lot stood between hers and Robert’s place. Palms formed the only barrier between the houses. Laka was not dressed for running–she had no shoes, a cotton sundress–and she wasn’t that fit, slightly overweight, but it didn’t stop her from getting to Robert’s fast. By the time she arrived, she realized all was too quiet. The soft patter of rain falling from an unforgiving sky joined with the murmur of waves to the north, but whatever life may have been inside the house seemed there no longer. She knocked on the back door. A wild chicken careened past her feet and gawked from the yard. She was thinking, churning. A woman could be screaming for any reason: pleasure, joy, pain. It could have been Victoria. It could have been anyone. Should she just go on in? Should she wait? What was the proper etiquette for intrusion when someone might be in trouble?

Laka finally opened the back screen door, trying not to think of what might have happened here, hoping beyond hope that the scream had not been Victoria, that it had been a happy party-goer nearby. Or something else. Anything else. Laka’s big brown body moved quickly through Robert’s place; it was cluttered but clean. Victoria must have gone to work with the elbow grease, poor girl.

When Laka thought about Robert, she felt shy, her naive thoughts hiding dormant feelings. Here she was, 40 years old–still pretty in the face. People often complimented her long, black hair too. Okay, so she wasn’t the skinny thing she used to be, but she was kind. Charitable. Laid back. She lived on her own and worked at the North Shore Deli, where for a living she made big batches of macaroni salad every morning and then sandwiches throughout the day. Not exactly your prize woman, she told herself. She had known Robert for a long time. She’d also known, and adored, his wife Camille. When Camille had died, Robert was so sad for the longest time. Then he went nuts. There was no other word for it. He had always been sort of the party-surfer type, but he was too old to let his life slip like this. Out with a different woman every weekend. Getting into the harder drugs. Still surfing, but it was all risky with his state of mind. He had lost weight. But Laka had a crush on him anyway. She hadn’t when Camille was alive; it came afterward, before his decline. Laka recognized the crush was an unrealistic expectation. She dreamed of what he could be (how he used to be), not what he was. And if he became what he could be, he would never go for her. He liked the skinny model types. They liked him too because he was a beautiful surfer god with crushing blue eyes. He would not go for the dark, buxom woman who was quiet as the sun and as exciting as a blade of grass. Robert was simply an unreachable goal, but that made the idea of him safe too. Laka had been hurt too much in the past to get too close to someone again. She didn’t want to get burned. Watching the flame from a distance was a happy medium.

Her thoughts of Robert buffered her current unrelenting fear as she investigated the house. She wasted no time in searching the downstairs before heading up to Victoria’s room. When she got halfway up the stairs, she saw that the bedroom door had been broken open. She scurried up, not thinking what might await her there. The ambient light coming through the window was strong, despite the rain. The light blared through the room like a trumpet. The window itself was shut. Laka began to call for Victoria and searched the small bathroom before heading back downstairs. The front and back doors of the home were unlocked, as usual. Up here, it was safe generally. If Robert and his friends were nearby, nobody would dream of breaking into his house.

Laka was becoming a bumbling mess, with tears streaming down her cheeks, when Robert came inside, completely unaware of anything. He was already good and high. He needed more beer and headed to the kitchen. The sight of Laka seemed to surprise him.

“Robert,” Laka said, fearing the worst.

“Hey, Lakaaaa, what’s wrong, babe?” White teeth showed through his easy smile. His face seemed contorted in pure ecstasy.  

“Have you seen Victoria?” Laka’s voice was child-like, afraid.

Robert said, “Sure, hon, just awhile ago. Down at the beach.”

He maneuvered past her, heading to the kitchen. Laka waddled behind him. “I heard a scream, and came over. Her door is busted down, Mr. Robert. I don’t think she is at the beach.”

Robert seemed to move in slow motion as he turned to look at Laka. He could not grasp the situation completely, Laka could tell. His face was stone-cold, with an air of mystery.

Robert’s wits came about him quickly. He raced upstairs, stumbling twice as he headed up to Victoria’s room, Laka following. It was clear to Laka in the next hour that Robert was going to take over, but he wasn’t exactly all there. So she followed him. First, back to the beach to tell everyone. The party dispersed, everyone hiding their drugs first, and then calling the cops. Then the search began.

***

Having your daughter stolen was a complete buzzkiller, thought Robert, but it wasn’t a mean thought. He would stop painkillers forever if it meant getting Victoria back. He was already blaming himself for her disappearance, or kidnapping, or whatever had happened. He just couldn’t think. His brain was still in the fog of Vicadin and beer. He found himself relying on Laka for support as the day grew into night. Officers came to the house, questioned people, and left. Robert’s buddies sobered up and scouted the house, then the yard, then the neighborhood. Laka and Robert went to the beach, but they had left one of Robert’s friends at the house in case Victoria came back. All anyone knew was that Victoria had probably screamed right around 4:15, and when Laka investigated the house and Victoria’s room five minutes later, the girl’s bedroom door had been busted down. Laka had not seen anyone run out the back door. She would have seen it, she said in her statement to the cops, because she had been standing outside sweeping her patio. Robert’s yard was only a lot away. Through tears, Laka had explained that she would have seen someone dragging a girl out of the house, even with trees in the empty lot between her place and Robert’s. Robert had consoled Laka at that point, putting his arm around her and squeezing her in, and he had no idea how good that felt to the woman. The police questioned everyone in the neighborhood about whether they had seen a car nearby. Because the front of the house faced the coconut grove and beach, any infiltrators, if not having gone out the back door or balcony, would have gone out the front door and would have had to drag Victoria to a sidestreet.

Note: the featured image was added by the owner and is by Mary Woodbury. It is a photo of the dead coral while snorkeling at Hanuma Bay, Oahu.

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