Map: Virginia, setting of “Sandy Bottoms” by Kim Norris

This is a guest post from Kim Norris who contributed in response to the American Vignette: Summer Garments call for submissions. The piece was originally published on her 4 Good Ideas blog. The setting is Virginia Beach, VA. Enjoy!

Hot summer mornings we awoke to cicada sounds – zwhirrrrrrr-chi-chi-chi – from the tops of the high pines that lined our backyard in Virginia Beach. Harbingers of heat, their call meant beach weather to me. Mom taught school, so she had summers off too, and most days – every day it didn’t rain – we pulled on swimsuits and shorts and tees over them. Mom directed as we loaded the Volkswagen with beach bags full of soft, faded sheets and fluffy colorful towels. She filled a cooler with sandwiches and snacks and poured iced tea or lemonade in a dispensing thermos. We stacked folding chairs and a half-inflated rubber float in the hatchback. I packed whatever I happened to be reading that week – Nancy Drew most likely, or a Little House book.

Car loaded, we’d head for the oceanfront. We shunned the crowded narrow beaches where tourists laid down in front of the concrete boardwalk, side by side like sardines in a can, the Atlantic Ocean lapping nearly at their heels as high tide approached. Mom preferred the far end of Atlantic Avenue, down to 64th Street; only locals knew where to park and the beaches were broad. White, hot sand flooded flip flops and burned feet as we crossed from the street to the dunes. Prickly sweat trickled down my neck with every step as I trudged toward the green, foam-capped surf, the sounds of its crashing audible even before Mom had killed the car’s ignition. I longed to drop everything I carried, strip down to my bathing suit, run to the water, and let the coolness rush over my feet and up my calves, but Mom had a certain order to things. First sheets must be spread, chairs unfolded, the cooler and thermos buried under a pile of not-yet-sandy towels to keep the high, hot sun from melting the ice too soon. Mom insisted on sunscreen for us girls, cocoa butter for herself; I hated to apply lotion, not liking the way it made the sand stick to my skin. Finally satisfied, Mom would sit primly on the sheet smoothing the wrinkles and futily wiping away sand blown by the shore breeze.

“You were born on the other side of that ocean,” Mom would tell me. On clear days, I believed I could see Spain’s hazy distant shore at the far emerald edge.

The ebb and flow of a perfect beach day: first dig toes deep in shifting wet sand, taste salty spray, feel the brine. Wade out, jumping waves to push past the breakers, turn and body surf back in, stomach as a longboard, no need to fear a wipeout. Sit submerged to the neck just behind the break line, and let the rhythm of the wind and water lull. Return to the soft sheet, eat a PB & J, trying desperately to keep the sand from clinging like sticky jelly; fail, and learn to love the crunch. Stretch out and let the hot sun beat down relaxing back muscles, bury both hands in the cooler sands below the sun-baked surface. Seek heat relief at the water’s edge; drip dreamscape sand castles at the tide line. Walk the hard, wet sand. Search for shells.

Grass-covered dunes shimmered in summer heat. Cooler and thermos emptied, afternoon storms building above, we packed up, crossed the scorching sands to the unrelenting swelter of the street. We’d lay damp towels down on the Volkswagen’s leather seat to keep from burning our legs. Sandy, salty, sweaty bathing suit bottoms made us wriggle and itch. All the windows rolled down, wind would further tangle the mess of sea-water curls that snaked the napes of our necks, glued by sweat.

Home again, and still a certain order to things. “To the spigot!” Mom would say. “No one goes in the house until they rinse!”

Sis and I raced to the backyard, both wanting the first water out of the hose, warm from the sitting in the sun. The perfectly heated stream chilled quickly. We rinsed clean our arms and legs, unburdened sandy bathing suit bottoms of fine white silica. Followed the cold hose with a tepid shower, cool Noxzema on hot burned skin, tangles combed. After, we sat on the screened back porch and sipped root beer floats, sweet and foamy, so cold it caused a headache when I drank it too fast.

Day relented and moonlight emerged, in pink cotton pajamas, we watched fireflies sparkle in the backyard. On the line, our summer suits dripped dry in the humid night air. Crickets sang. Heat lighting rolled across the sky.

Kim Norris learned to hold a pencil when she was four and she immediately began writing poems and short stories; her plots improved after she learned to read. She has no musical talent, mathematical ability, or business acumen, so she works as a technical writer, editor, and marketing coordinator. She’d rather be a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, but so far, that has proved more challenging than algebra. She consoles herself by blogging and writing fiction. She blogs more fact than fiction at Four Good Ideas, more fiction than fact at 4 Good Ideas, and offers mouthy opinions on Twitter @KimHNorris.

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