The trip felt short, no longer than a nap pressed against the vibrating car window. Meiko jolted awake. Her head was sore from the constant bumping against the glass. Her mother turned off the engine without a word, leaving Meiko blinking drowsily in the passenger seat. She could hear her opening the trunk, already beginning the task of bringing boxes into the house. It was typical of her to be so quietly diligent. Meiko often thought if her mother had been born in another life, she would have made an amazing soldier.

Meiko had removed her sandals during the trip to put her feet up without getting mud on the dashboard. She strapped them back on and stepped out of the car. She was immediately assaulted with the humidity of the air. A sense of nostalgia gripped her. It felt as though she’d never aged. Every year, no matter how much older she grew, her spirit seemed to have been trapped in the web of time at the beach house. The seagull’s cries never ceased, the ocean’s waves rolled with an endless energy. Even now, at the age of fourteen, a sudden childish impulse to run straight to the coastline had to be quelled. Her mother wouldn’t even have noticed her absence, if there hadn’t been boxes in the trunk to be unloaded. Meiko would rather deal with her mother’s cool indifference than her passive aggressive silence, although the amount of words spoken to her in either state would remain the same.

Her mother’s hatred of her had no definite beginning. She believed it had begun to intensify once Meiko began to show signs of independence, signaling the end of her mother’s short-lived maternal instinct. Some nights, when sleep was not even a passing thought, Meiko would look out of her bedroom window and travel backwards in her mind. Her first memories were of independent discovery, and many times, the subsequent embarrassment of unguided mistakes. Meiko’s earliest memory, in a strange way, had perhaps set the tone for her whole life.

A neighbor at the beach house had approached Meiko riding her tricycle past their house, alone in the middle of the street. They had been baffled as to how she’d managed to get so far away without being directed to play closer to her yard. The neighbor, an older woman, pondered aloud about how old Meiko must be, and how shocking for her to be out alone. Meiko had looked directly into the woman’s eyes and held up three stubby fingers in eyesight. The image of the woman’s wide, surprised eyes remained in Meiko’s mind as clear as a photograph. It was the first moment in her life she was seen as different.

Meiko brought the last box into the kitchen and set it down quietly. The house, much like the rest of the beach, was frozen in time. Everything had been coated in a thin layer of dust, including the windows, giving the rooms a gloomy cast. Meiko wished her mother had continued to pay for cleaning services after her grandmother died. Now she would have to join her in cleaning the entire house, and then clean her room alone. Despite the work, the arrival to the house was always the best part. When her grandparents had been alive, they had come down and helped with the work. Meiko had loved their attention and questions. “How’s school? What classes are you taking? I’m sure the boys are all over you!” The answers never changed. School was fine, she was taking the basic courses, and no, surprisingly enough, the boys were not “all over her.” It was the routine, the pleasant and stressless small talk that she missed. Her mother had still acknowledged her rarely, but she had made more of an effort around Meiko’s grandparents. In between giving her quick commands, she’d ask Meiko questions about things that she’d forgotten in their time away. “Meiko, where did I put the phonebook?” “Did we bring the small frying pan?” Meiko stored away these meaningless moments of conversation like a box of treasures, taking them out and admiring them once in a while. The uses of the word “we” were especially pleasant memories, glittering in her mind like little diamonds.

She heard her mother’s footsteps upstairs, opening closets and drawers. Meiko peered around the wall into the living room. The record player sat untouched since her grandmother’s passing. Quiet music had once filled the house while everyone got resettled. Meiko desperately wished in that moment that she had a cell phone. A friend at school had once let her use his, and Meiko had hid her shock to find the endless library of music he had access to. She had done a quick search of her favorite record and stared at the screen. A portable version of The Best of Chet Baker stared back at her, taunting in its closeness. So many nights she’d laid awake staring at the ceiling and humming the notes of “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” It seemed to Meiko the ultimate love song. The singer, someone smart and aware of his mistakes, was so infatuated that he was unable to stop his own emotions. It was the complete opposite of the sort of rational control on life her mother had. It excited Meiko. More than anything she wanted to experience the reckless pull of love. She wanted to feel an impulse so strong she couldn’t stop it, not even out of fear. She wanted it to grab hold of her and pull her out of herself, leaving a shell of her thought behind.

 

Amy Nicklin is a Cartooning major at the School of Visual Arts.