Monday, January 7, 2013

January Excerpt: Small Change by Richard Hartwell

Small Change
Richard Hartwell
Newport Beach, California
PHOTO: YoTut/Flickr

Like so very many kids raised and suckled at the beach, particularly those reared in the Newport Beach of the early fifties–descendants of divorcees and married boredom–my cousin and I learned to build sand castles repeatedly. It’s too bad that relationships can’t be rebuilt as easily as sand castles. The lap and lapse of waves did not trouble or defeat us, as day upon day our moods changed in the early summer from the somber gray of dawn in May or June to the brilliantine of cobalt blue and then to gold by mid-afternoon in August and September. By then our rosette bodies were speckled with the whiter dots and dashes of the Morse code created by un-rinsed salt and sand.

Salt-matted blonde hair was usually strewn to the left of my cousin’s face, revealing her right-handed cowlick, balanced by a small mole on her left cheek that she tried to hide. My own hair then was always cut way too short to hang anywhere but straight up, like a severed shock of hay, each stalk raised in supplication to the sun and sky. Like my back and shoulders and nose, my scalp too was pitted with the itchy white shadows of sand and salt and the inner red glow of sunburn almost matched the outer beacon of what they called carrot-red hair, much too short to hide any of my outside blemishes.

I have no memory of our clothes; perhaps swimming trunks or bathing suits sometimes, but most likely cut off jeans for both of us and an old white tee shirt for my cousin’s blooming modesty. I only remember the bodies; both growing lithe and strong, chubby fat giving way to stretched muscles, elastic and elongated, pulled by years and adolescence, like taffy lying bulbous in the pan and then stretched out and thinned and fine and resilient.

We shared much together, my cousin and I: our interwoven dysfunctional families; our money-making scams; a love of the beach and sun and air and sea; and, of course, the company of each other, separated only by eight months in age. We had even been enrolled in kindergarten together until the educational power brokers realized that the dissimilarity in last names didn’t cancel out the similarities in build, features, temperament, or sanguinity. I was quickly hustled away and into another classroom. I remember we both cried. Still, other than at school, my cousin Jocelyn–Josh as she was called then–and I were most often inseparable boon companions; at least inseparable by others until the time when I created a chasm in our youthful camaraderie into which we both slipped and from which we never escaped.

That day of our distancing started much the same way as any other early summer day did for us at the beach. That dawn was inseparable from any other gray dawn. Our interests for that day were as like-minded as those of the day before, and, as far into the future as we could see; they were as alike as those expected of the days to follow into infinity. The only anomaly that seemed to mark that day different from all surrounding others was the fact that we had money.

Now, by money I don’t mean to imply we were flush and fulsome with loose spending change donated happily or begrudgingly by others, be they parents or guardians or other relatives or unsuspecting bystanders. No, what I am noting is that we had between us that day money acquired by ill means and, therefore, needful of immediate use. It was burning holes in our pockets!


If you would like to read more of this story in Empirical, the January issue is now available at your local bookstore and online at our website.

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