Stepping carefully over the lake-smoothed mostly flat stones along Beach 1, Isabel tuned into a teenager complaining loudly to a nearby adult about the rocks hurting her feet. Put your shoes on, the adult said. I don’t want them wet, was the reply. Then why did you bring those? They’re my favorites. Why would you wear your favorite shoes to scuff through sand? They’re comfortable. Then put them on or don’t whine about your feet…
Isabel couldn’t help a grin. It wasn’t all that long ago that she’d been a teenager and would have done the same. If she’d come out to Presque Isle as a teenager. Which she hadn’t. Her parents had no interest and no time: There are three rivers in Pittsburgh, said her mother, that should be enough water. But there’s not a beach, Isabel replied. You don’t swim. That’s not the point of the beach. Then the rivers will do…
It wasn’t the same. Even as an adult, she couldn’t buy that one. You didn’t find sea glass along a city’s river bank. You couldn’t look out over the water and only see water. It was nice, but it wasn’t as peaceful, as tranquil. It wasn’t quiet. So as soon as she moved out, up to Meadville, she’d started making almost weekly treks to Lake Erie, almost always on Presque Isle.
It only took once walking along the stones that looked too smooth to hurt your feet to realize they hurt your feet. They’d not only hurt her used-to-shoes city feet; they’d bruised her feet.
They did until you got used to it. Which she was by now. Ever since she’d been in her own place, Isabel only wore shoes when absolutely necessary. And she’d been coming to the beach looking for sea glass long enough her feet were hardened. Now and then she still grimaced when she stepped on one of the sharper rocks, and it took a little time each spring to get used to it again, but generally she could walk across them without pain.
She considered telling those who apparently didn’t come often that some of the other beaches were much easier on bare feet, but she didn’t make a habit of talking to strangers. Isabel generally tried to avoid that as much as she tried to avoid shoes. Possibly more.
Making her way farther from their continued bickering, she headed toward the little dock made of cement. She suspected it used to be a boat launch since it sloped down into the water where it eventually disappeared, but she had never seen it used for that. The metal tube things coming up out of the concrete along each side had rusted and at least one of them had lost the cap and looked dangerous to step on, so she always stayed away from the edges when she wandered down to where the water got deeper. Beside it, though, collected at the top edge, she often found a good bit of sea glass.
Crouching there, where the water ebbed in over her feet but wouldn’t get her capris wet past her knees, she sifted pebbles through her fingers. At times, she gathered some of the little rocks instead, since so many were beautiful and interesting. Mostly, she left them in favor of glass.
As usual, there were quite a few small opaque white pieces, but they were too common and too small to bother with. The five tiny pieces of green and one even tinier piece of dark blue, she stuck in her pocket. There were a few browns, but she didn’t take brown glass. They reminded her of beer bottles. It could be they were oil bottles or something else, but that’s not what she thought of, so she left them.
After a good bit of searching with not much luck and her knees and ankles starting to ache, she moved away, up into the sand.
Was that pink glass? Turning back to where she thought she’d seen a flash of color, Isabel crouched and dug through the damp sand. It wasn’t glass. It was plastic. A small pink troll with a silly grin plastered forever on its face and damp sand caked in its fake pink hair. She wondered if the little girl who lost it cried over its loss or quickly forgot it in favor of other things.
What should she do with it? Rebury it and let some other kid have the fun of finding it? Maybe. But maybe the child would come back for it. She could leave it lie, but it seemed wrong to toss it down as though it was garbage, when she wouldn’t even do that with garbage, so after going back to the water to rinse the sand out of its hair, she decided to make the little thing a castle to help her be found.
How long had it been since she’d made a sand castle? Her grandparents took her to Maine once, and while her grandma attended whatever business she had there, she and her grandpa went to the beach. He’d helped her build a huge sand castle, nice enough to attract other kids, including a little boy with light brown hair who kept smiling shyly at her while they played together. She’d kept asking Gramps if he’d take her back to that Maine beach until he built a big sandbox behind his Pittsburgh town house. They’d spent many hours designing perfect castles. She’d even started drawing them to plan out the next design to try, which gave her a nice escape while hiding in her room to avoid her father. She didn’t draw the boy, but she imagined him playing there with her. Until she got too old for that kid stuff and lost interest in sand castles.
And her mom was right. She didn’t swim. She didn’t trust the water. Gramps put her in swim lessons to help her learn, but she wouldn’t do it. Wading was nice. Anything above the knees was too deep.
Still, the water called to her. She came to Presque Isle to walk along one of the beaches or trails while listening to the roaring or creeping waves sweeping against the shore. It was her newest escape. It helped her head and soul unwind.
And often, it inspired a song, or at least a line or two of a song.
Today, it was not relaxing. It was not bringing words or music from anywhere within. She hadn’t found one decent piece of glass. Today, two years to the day the jerk walked out on her, she got nothing but a troll. Appropriate.
So be it.
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