Just a Cigar by Marian Brooks

I can smell my father’s cigar from behind the sand dunes. I only like his cigar smell, not the smells of his cigarette, pipe-smoking friends. He likes to clench the cigar between his teeth and then puff three times. Up close I can see his teeth, small and yellowed by tobacco juice. Often, he looks at the sky and I wonder what he’s thinking. His freckles make me smile. I want to play “follow the dots" on his back. He is standing up, squinting into the sun and asks if I want to take a walk on the beach. “Maybe we’ll have an adventure." Almost right away, we see a small, dead seagull at the edge of the water. We stop and stare at it. I poke it with a stick hoping it will jump up and fly away. I wonder what could have happened. My father says, “That bird probably didn’t eat enough and was weak. You know, you don’t eat very much yourself, Jill -- just bananas, cream cheese and jelly sandwiches cut in quarters and chocolate milk." He’s right. That’s all I eat. That’s all I will ever eat.

We move on and find lots of glittery shells but most are broken and they scratch the bottoms of my feet. The smell of salt is in the air and my braids are flying in the wind. I can see them in my shadow. We go into the ocean up to my knees and a large wave starts to roll in. I grab my father’s hand tightly knowing that he will not let me drown. I’m in his arms now above those smaller waves.

“Don’t worry, Jillie Jelly, I’ll never let anything happen to you. Up you go!"

I’m sitting on his shoulders way high. I spy two ships far away. They look like toys. A small plane whirrs above us. There’s a flag waving behind it with a picture of a lobster and some words I can’t understand. The life guards blow their whistles at those splashing boys who are out too far. The guards are blonde and have white stuff all over their noses. My father puts me down gently after a while. I slosh my way back to the shore in the shallows while he bodysurfs in. I watch the water run between my toes. Little crabs tickle my feet. Sand Pipers tip toe into the water and then run away from it as the sea sneaks back less than a minute later. It seems silly to run in and out like that.

We walk back to the beach. I have to skip in the warm sand to keep up. There’s my mother and too cute little brother, Evan, under a green and white, striped umbrella. Our adventure ends for now.

Another is about to begin.

My mother often warns me that just about anything can happen and will if I’m out of her arm’s reach A year ago when I was four, I took my doll and carriage out for a walk and didn’t tell anyone. As I was going down the driveway behind our house, I hit a bump and the handle of the carriage came up and hit me in the mouth. The carriage rolled over. The doll’s head was cracked and my two front teeth were missing. Blood was all over my new yellow dress. My mother reminded me that there is danger everywhere you look.

“You’ll get hurt," she tells me whenever I ask for a two-wheeler or anything else with moving parts.

But today, I am making a run for it. I am going to have my own adventure. While my parents are sitting close to the water under the umbrella, cooing over their baby son, I am going to fly like a bird over the hot sand to the boardwalk. My arms are behind me as I run. The sand is hotter than I thought, so I crawl under the boardwalk for a few minutes. There’s lots of stinky trash under here; seaweed, banana peels, dead snails and some scary shadows too. Suddenly, this doesn’t feel like an adventure anymore. OK. It’s time now to fly back to the green and white umbrella. Only it’s not there. The sun’s so bright, I can hardly see. I stand still for a minute, thumb in my mouth, hoping someone will find me. I walk over to another green and white umbrella but it’s not ours. I wipe my eyes with my sandy hands and start to cry. Everything looks different now. Even the sand castle I helped to build is gone. I’ll probably never see Mommy and Daddy again. I will have to live in an orphanage. I’ve heard about them. I can’t even tell anyone my address.

We came here on vacation on Friday and I don’t know the name of the hotel where we’re staying. A woman in a green bathing suit, big sun glasses and a straw hat asks me if I’m lost. I nod “Yes." She gives me a glass of juice, takes my hand and we walk around for what seems like an hour. The woman asks several people if they know me. No one does. We walk along the beach looking for my parents. They must be looking for me now too. My father will be worried, my mother, angry. In the distance I can see my father running toward me and soon I’m back in his arms at the umbrella, now closed.

My mother says, “You could have gotten hurt, or worse yet, stolen, or worse yet, you could have drowned!" She hugs me a little too hard.

My father sits down, out of breath, re-lights his cigar and puffs three times.

So, I am not planning any more solo adventures for now. I’ll just have to take flight with Daddy.


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