Memory one: A day at the beach
The stain-glass windows in the nursery dye the pale marble floor into shades of blues and violets.
I’m laying on my belly on the floor surrounded by pastels and drawing pictures of places that don’t exist.
Floating gardens filled with flowers, mountains made of candy, an island filled with rainbows.
Clara, my nursemaid, keeps an eye on me, her eyes poking above her schoolwork every couple of minutes.
But I’m a good girl, so she’s not very strict with me.
I nod at my work, then scramble upright to make my way to the table.
“This is for you,” I tell her and give her my latest work.
She pushes her big round glasses up and looks at it appraisingly “Oh that’s wonderful, is it a garden?”
I shake my head “It’s an island where everyone is friends with one another. The people who live there cannot feel hatred so they live together in harmony.”
“I wanna go live there with my parents so they can become friends.”
Clara’s face makes a complicated expression before patting my little head “I’m sure your parents would love that, in fact, maybe you should give this drawing to them instead of me?”
“If you want me to.” I then run back to my pile of drawings and pick out the floating garden, I really like this one, I sort of want to keep it for myself but I don’t think she’d like the candy mountains, not with how often she tells me sugar is bad for me. “You can have this one then. It’s a garden that floats in the sky and picks up anyone who needs a place to go.”
She takes the drawing from my hands, looks at it and gives me another pat on the head “Thank you. It’s lovely.”
I beam with pride and then lay the other drawing by the door so I don’t forget to give it to my parents during dinner.
I head back to my spot only to remember I ran out of paper. So I drag myself up again to the chest of drawers to pull out some more paper before rushing back to my spot on the floor.
that evening while the servants load up the table with food I walk up to father and give him the drawing.
“How nice, thank you, Elizabeth.” He says with kind eyes.
“It’s an island where people don’t feel hate and everyone is friends with one another,” I explain
“Show me Julien” mother snaps her fingers at father and the softness in his eyes vanishes as he rolls them in response. He hands off the piece of paper with a scoff.
“Oh, it’s a magnificent sweetie.” Mother croons happily at me, she reaches out her arms and I rush towards her for a brief hug “Such wonderful expression.”
I feel a lovely light warmth in my heart as I explain “Thank you mother, I wish us three could live there so you and father would become friends as well.” I smile but mother doesn’t smile back. Her eyes drift to father, father merely shrugs in response.
Mother lets out a strained chuckle “Lizzy, darling, your father and I are already friends.”
I cock my head in confusion “Really? Then why do always look at one another like you’re angry?”
Mother’s jaw drops “Uhm…” she stammers, her eyes fixed on the ceiling as she tries to think up a response.
“Let’s just eat.” Father says briskly “Elizabeth go to your seat.”
“Yes, father.” I bow my head obediently as I walk to my chair.
While the servant-boy behind me fills my glass with water I stare at it, wondering what I said wrong.
Dinner is silent. Normally mother would at least try to hold a conversation with me but tonight the only thing exchanged are angry looks between mother and father.
I wonder if there’s something I can say or do to make this right again.
I carry the question with me throughout my evening playtime and up into my bed.
I don’t sleep well that night.
But the next day.
A miracle happens.
There’s a knock on the nursery door around seven in the morning.
Normally this would be Clara with breakfast but to my surprise, it’s not Clara at all.
Mother and father, together.
And they’re smiling.
“Lizzy, sweetie, it’s going to be a beautiful day so I gave Clara the day off and we’ll be going to the beach, just the three of us.”
The three of us?
I don’t know what to say but inside my chest, I feel a ball of excitement growing.
“You’d like that, don’t you?” Father asks uncertainly.
“Good, then hurry up and grab your things. The train departs within the hour.”
He doesn’t have to tell me twice, I rush towards my dresser and then remember I’ve never had to look for my own clothes…
I check all the drawers and find my bathing suit in the last one as expected.
“I don’t think I have a towel?” I wonder aloud.
“That’s all right, we have towels.” Mother assures me.
“Can I bring my drawing stuff?”
“As long as you don’t lose them,” Father responds.
I nod and rush over to the desk collecting pastels and papers and a big chunky eraser.
“Do you have everything?” mother asks.
“I think so?”
“Then let’s go before we miss the train.”
The train in big, loud and magnificent.
I walk in between mother and father holding their hands and we make our way into the first class where we have a small room just for ourselves.
The train people bring us food and drinks and mother even lets me have a sip of her wine.
I’m not sure if I like it, but it feels like a treat anyway.
Father fetches sweets for me and I get a dish of butterscotch candies just to myself.
“Now don’t eat too fast, we have to stay on this train for three whole hours,” Father warns me but between staring out the window, drawing pictures and eating sweets it feels like the journey took no time at all.
The announcer calls out “Niangon beach.” And I jump from the bench.
“All right that’s our stop. Lizzy, sweetie do you have all your pastels?” Mother asks and I look over the table and then under the benches just to be sure before saying “Yes mother, I have everything.”
“Good, come on then.”
The station is a big white stone building with coloured glass and a large sign that says ‘Niangon beach’ in scuffed hand-painted letters.
We follow the throng of people up reddish wooden steps that are covered with sand. I wonder at the air. It tastes different out here. Like nothing, I’ve ever tasted before but it’s…fresh in a way. Around the stairs grow long plumes of dune grass and blue thistles that are harsh and prickly.
The sky is a bright white, brighter than I’ve ever seen before and large colourful birds are shouting at one another.
And then we reach the top of the steps, and I see the sea. A shimmering pool of molten silver stretching off into eternity.
I want to stand there taking in the beauty but the people behind me push and grumble so my father pulls my arm saying “come on Elizabeth.”
A stone path leads us down to the smooth green sand beyond and I want to take off my shoes and just run around until I fall over exhausted and giddy.
“Now let’s get you in your bathing costume.” Mother tells me as she takes my hand and drags me to one of the wooden changing rooms dotted around the shoreline.
Inside it’s pretty dark and I learn that mother isn’t very good at changing young children.
I try my best to help her though and together we manage to figure it out.
“All right, now go look for father while I change myself.” Mother tells me and I nod, shooting from the booth and feeling my feet sink into the soft sand. I start to run and it feels like I’m flying. Smiling widely I rush up and down the beach less concerned with finding my father and more with just enjoying the rays of the sun on my skin and watching them bounce off the dark water like floating diamonds.
I make my way to the shoreline and giggle as the water flops over my socks. Peering deep into the inky depths I see small fishes, crabs and other tiny critters.
I kneel down, butt in the sea and try to reach out to them but they flee from my fingers.
I retract my hands disappointed.
Two big angry hands scoop me from the water and up into their arms. “Elizabeth why aren’t you with mother?” Father asks me accusingly.
I shrug. “She told me to go find you while she changed into her bathing costume.” And well, you found me but the end result is the same right? So why do you sound so mad? I wonder in my head.
Father grunts but says nothing more as he brings me to the big linen blanket that is ‘our spot’.
“Oh, there you two are?” Mother says nonchalantly as she drops down on our blanket and starts pouring herself a glass of wine.
“Yes.” Father grumbles “I had to pick her up from the sea before the currents whisked our daughter away forever.” He tries his best to make his voice sound level but we can all tell he’s really angry.
“Surely you exaggerate.” Mother responds, then instead of drinking the wine she hands it to father instead “Besides, Elizabeth is fine, so there’s no need to be so cranky.”
“That’s not the point.” Father hisses as he rejects the glass and pulls out the pitcher of lemonade instead. He takes a deep breath before handing me a glass of lemonade saying “I don’t want you to leave this blanket without me okay?”
“Okay,” I respond in hopes of making everyone happy again. I smile sweetly, then take a sip from my lemonade.
Mother rolls her eyes, father pretends not to see.
I spend most of the rest of the day on the blanket, drawing the scenery around me, each way you look there’s a different thing to see. There are the dunes behind, the sea in front, a big Ferris wheel on the right and the jagged rocks that stand tall, green and shimmering amid the green sand.
I try to draw the birds that come up to our blanket but father keeps shooing them away calling them ‘little thieves’ because they try to snatch your food when you’re not looking.
Then I try to draw the Ferris wheel grunting at the concept of circles.
Mother looks over my shoulder “Oh a Ferris wheel! Do you want to go on that sweetie?”
I look at my father, he did say I wasn’t allowed to leave the blanket without him. “Can I?”
“Oh all right, but keep an eye on her Nora, and come straight back once you’re done.”
“Yeah sure, come on Lizzy.” Mother holds out her hand and I grab it, jumping off the blanket and heading to the attraction.
It’s hot outside the shade of our parasol and after a couple of minutes of walking, I look back at our spot where my hat is still on the blanket. “My hat is still back there,” I tell mother, assuming we’ll go back to pick it up.
But instead, she huffs, then pulls the pin from her hat and places it on my head. It’s far too big and it feels a bit silly but in a fun way “There you go.” She says pinning it in place, it flops over the side of my face but I don’t mind. I look into the windows of the seaside shops and smile as the flowers on her hat are almost as big as my entire head.
The line to the Ferris wheel is long and as we wait mother tells me of the time she went to a beach as a young girl.
Back in Charalia.
“Your uncles and I would go exploring by the rocks and scavenge the shoreline for seashells. We’d then give the prettiest shell to grandmother and she’d give us a half-copper for some shaved ice in the shop.”
“That sounds wonderful.”
“It really was, it’s a shame your father is such a worrywart. Children should explore in my opinion.”
I rub my arm a tad uncomfortably “Well…he just wants to make sure I’m safe.” I don’t like it when mother complains about father.
She shrugs “I guess. Oh it’s our turn!” she pays the man and drags me up the steps towards the seats. I sit on her lap and she holds me close as the machine comes to life and lifts us off the ground. It stops again a couple of metres off the ground so the next people can get on and then it raises even higher. Each time the sea becomes bigger, more endless as I see more of it. The birds fly about and it feels odd to be so close to them in the sky.
“So what do you think?” Mother asks me as we reach the highest point.
“This is amazing!” I shout to the annoyance of some fellow passengers. Mother just laughs and squeezes me a bit tighter.
We start descending again and back on the ground my mind boggles “Can we go again?” I ask in my sweetest voice.
“Sorry sweetie I’m not sure I could do with another wait in the cue, besides father wants us to return right away.”
“But if you don’t tell him I’m sure we can make him believe the cue was incredibly long and have some shaved ice.”
“Yes! I mean yes please, thank you, mother.”
We make out way to the ice shop and I’m confronted with rows and rows of syrups to choose from.
“Which would you like?” mother asks.
“Which did you get as a girl?” I ask back.
“Blueberry and lemon, they’ll mix the syrups if you ask nicely.”
So I do and the taste is divine and I wish we didn’t have to go back to the blanket at all and we could go look for seashells and climb the big jagged rocks just like she used to do with my uncles.
“Come on Lizzy, it’s time to go back.” Mother tells me and I nod obediently.
Father is reading a book with a complicated title “You took your time.”
“It’s a seaside attraction, the cue was immense, isn’t that right Elizabeth?”
I nod and say “Yup it was reaaally long.”
“Uhu.” Father rolls his eyes “Maybe next time when you go and get shaved ice without me you shouldn’t pick a blue syrup, it dyes your tongue.” He tells me and suddenly my heart skips a beat.
Mother laughs “Oops, busted.” And I feel like I have to laugh along so I do. But I feel really bad on the inside.
We could have just asked father if we wanted ice as well, we could have gone with the three of us, right?
Or I wouldn’t have had ice at all…
Father huff and sets his attention back to his book, I go back to drawing trying to push down the pang of guilt in my heart.
Promising myself to be a good girl from now on.
The sun is going down again as I ask “Can I go back to the sea for a bit?”
Father swallows, then says “Yes, but you have to hold my hand.”
I smile and nod “All right.”
Father takes off his shoes and socks and follows me down to the shore.
The air is getting colder by the minute yet to my surprise the sea is still quite warm.
“Father father the water’s still warm,” I tell him as I walk into the waves.
“That’s because the water has been sunbathing all day and it stored some of that heat.” He explains.
“Oh I see, then what makes the waves?”
“The wind makes the waves.”
“Can I go a little deeper?”
“Just a smidge.” Father smiles and then steps into the sea giving me a bit more room. The water crashes into my knees and then I sit down to feel the water tickle my belly.
I giggle. “This is so much fun!”
Father smiles my way and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this happy before.
On the other side of the ocean, the sky turns orange as the sun dips into the sea.
“Come on Elizabeth, it’s time to go back home.” Father tells me and I frown “But I don’t wanna go home yet.”
“If we don’t go back now we have to stay the night here, and then I’ll have to fight off the pirates who party on this beach after dark.”
My eyes grow big “Can we?”
“No.” He tells me in no uncertain terms.
Well, it was worth a shot.
The next day I tell Clara all about my beach adventures, I show her the drawings I made and tell her all about the Ferris wheel and the pretty things I’ve seen.
“That’s wonderful.” She tells me but for some reason, she doesn’t mean it.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
She looks surprised “Nothing, nothing’s wrong.” But that only makes me more suspicious.
I squint my little eyes at her. “I don’t believe you.”
“Elizabeth Juliana Nora Chattoway.”
“Drop it, just drop it.” She tells me and there’s nothing more I can do from there on. She used my full name so that means it must be serious.
I nod, walk to my bag and pick out my drawing stuff. Then take my usual spot on the floor and start drawing, stealing glances in her direction whenever I can.
Then after dinner when mother and father usually go their separate ways this time mother takes my hand and leads me to the parlour where we sit down, all three of us.
“Lizzy, darling we need to talk.” Mother tells me and I cock my head at her.
“Well, you see” She tries to find the words while fidgeting with her necklace “Father got a promotion.”
“That’s good right?”
Father shoots a look at mother and I’m not sure if he’s angry or sad “Yes Elizabeth that’s good.” Then he pulls me up on his lap and continues “But it means that we have to move away from Cygne.”
“Away from Cygne?” But Cygne is huge, what else is there outside of Cygne? I mean I guess there’s Charalia are we going there?
“There’s a place called Jaobai that father is going to keep an eye on for the king.”
“You’ll be a real princess sweetie.” Mother croons.
“Well not exactly, but we will live in a palace.”
“A palace?” My eyes grow big at the thought as I imagine tall white spires and a deep moat filled with crystal clear water and colourful fishes.
“But we have to leave now to be there in time so you have to grab your bags and kiss mother goodbye.”
I look at mother confused “But why?”
“Because I’m staying here.”
“Well, someone has to keep the house running over here.”
Mother pulls me close to her bosom and hugs me tightly “Don’t worry sweetie, you’ll come back here one day, it will not be forever.”
“But we do have to go if we want to make it to the train in time so go to the nursery and grab everything you need with Clara.”
With a complicated feeling drifting around my stomach I nod and rush to my room.
Where Clara is already waiting for me.
I realise that this is the thing she was melancholy over.
She must have known all day.
“Well then, time to pack all you need.” She smiles for me but it feels forced “You don’t have to be happy if you don’t want to be.” I tell her earnestly and her eyes erupt in tears she tries to cover it up with one hand while looking for a handkerchief with the other.
While she does that I go to my drawer and pull out my paper and pastels. Then put it on the table and go look for my books, clothes, toys and everything else.
“Don’t forget your toiletries and nightdress,” Clara adds as she rubs her eyes with the handkerchief.
I smile at her and nod.
When the pile is complete we put them into bags together and then when that’s done I guess it’s time to go.
“I’ll miss you.” I tell Clara and she smiles then kneels down and hugs me tightly “I’ll miss you too Elizabeth. Now off you go before your father comes up to see what’s taking so long.”
I nod, pick up the one bag while Clara carries the rest and we go down the stairs.
Father stands by the door, mother is nowhere to be seen.
“Well time to load up the old carriage and get going, the airship is waiting for us.
“She thinks it’s for the best if we ‘just go’, come on, we cannot be late.” He holds out his hand for me to take but I want to say goodbye to mother first. “Uhm…”
Father scoffs, scoops me up in his arms and sets me down in the back of the carriage.
I’m not sure what to say or do so I just sit there frozen. Watching that slim window of time slip away as the coachman ties our things to the roof and then father sits down in the front with him.
The coach cracks his reigns.
The coach comes to life and we’re off.
Off to a different place.
A different world, one I know nothing about.
I wish mother came with us.
I think they tried very hard yesterday for my sake.
But they simply cannot be friends.