Excerpt #22, Rocking-Chair Moon

Mountain View Intermediate School (4-5)

 

Snake-Naked

—Ben

 

Tonight,

like all the other nights

of all the other late-summer

vacations we’ve spent at this big old house

in this little old town,

I sneak into Carly’s ground-floor room and

whisper her name but she’s already

on her feet,

 

waiting,

and we slip through the back door

into the salty air and pad barefoot

across the creaking, peeling boards

of the porch and onto the cool sand,

trying to keep quiet and just like

all the other times failing,

powerless to stop our laughter from erupting,

but this time feels different,

 

even as

we race for the familiar shush of the ocean

on the familiar path

through the tall beach grass

and shed our clothes and sprint on,

snake-naked,

toward the white surf in the far,

dark distance and the rocking-chair moon

setting above it,

and the soft, wind-carved sand

hardens and flattens,

 

even as

we high-wade through the low,

frigid backwash and plunge on

into the exciting, scary power

of the breakers, even as we lose our feet

and get pushed and tumbled

head over heels

and ride one wave then another

back toward shore

and I try not to imagine

what kinds of creatures

could be surfing along next to me,

 

and I feel especially different,

like Adam in the garden

after he ate the forbidden apple

or whatever it was—an olive?

—as Carly calls my name

over the ocean’s growl and I answer

but keep my distance and don’t look

in her direction even though

the sliver of moon would barely outshine

a distant candle flickering against

a black wall, and then this

teacher-voiced

wet-blanket thing murmurs,

 

You might have another chance

for night swimming,

young man, and next time, like this,

you could be icy-cold and

numb-muscled

and maybe even laughing,

but there’ll be no embarrassment,

no pausing in the deep shadows

in the sharp-bladed grass

to hunt for clothes, because this time,

tonight,

is the last time you and your little sister

go on your big adventure snake-naked.

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