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by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar

We stroll on the beach, Sandra’s hand in mine, as if she is six again. She’s always loved sand and water. At six, she would have giggled and skipped and clapped like a wound-up toy; today, she is touching the waves lightly with her fingers. Her lips curve into a half-smile looking at seagulls diving in for fish.

The breeze throws her straight, once shiny, black hair into her eyes. I pull the scarf off my neck and tie it around her hair. Before, she wouldn’t have let me pull her hair into this old-fashioned style.

The sky is soon claimed by clouds; I regret not carrying umbrellas or rain ponchos. Perhaps my mothering instincts are fading.

I brought Sandra here to this quaint, quiet beach town because I couldn’t see her wilting like a weed under spray. Everything familiar in the city was killing her slowly after her young husband died in a car crash.

Sandra stops walking and stares unblinkingly at someone or something. I follow her gaze and it’s locked by him who is carved in stone and standing atop that cliff overlooking the sea —  handsome like a Greek god, still like a lighthouse.

Her hand slips from my palm, like it used to upon spotting a butterfly on our walks together. She must have been seven then. I used to call her name as she ran amok after the flying insect.

She starts towards the statue, an invisible string pulling her. I can’t catch up; my bones heavier each day.

“Sandra,” I shout, but the rumbling clouds muffle my voice.

She climbs the rocks to the cliff quickly, with the agility of a mountain goat, and stands in front of him, on her toes.

A light rain has started. I hold my right hand out as a visor.

She clasps her hands around his stone neck and places her chapped lips on his. After a long kiss, she stands there reading his face intently as if it’s the chapter bearing the denouement.

“Come down, baby,” I say shakily.

The sky is an ominous gray; the waves of the sea are intemperate. Sandra looks otherworldly in the flashes of lightning: her blue, cotton dress billowing; her hair, free of the scarf, flying in all directions. She is different, not mine anymore. Each hair on my body stands, the follicles hurt.

Suddenly, she pulls her right foot off his pedestal into the air, stretches her right arm away from his neck, and aligns her body in a ballerina pose.

I know that stance. She was 12, dancing in a pink tutu; I was in the front seat, watching. In that pose, she looked at me, her eyes pleading: I don’t want to dance anymore, Mom. I’d agreed for her to quit ballet after that recital.

She waves at me. A thunderclap absorbs the splash.

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American, born in a middle-class family in India and forever indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means. She is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee and her work has appeared online in Ellipsis Zine, Lunch Ticket, and Star82 Review, and in print, most recently in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2018. She blogs at Puny Fingers. Twitter @PunyFingers.