The Texture of Glass by Ella M. Kaye
Singers & Songwriters
©2018. All Rights Reserved.
Singers & Songwriters
©2018. All Rights Reserved.
Stepping carefully over the lake-smoothed mostly flat stones along Beach 1, Isabel tuned into a teenager complaining loudly to a nearby adult about the rocks hurting her feet. Put your shoes on, the adult said. I don’t want them wet, was the reply. Then why did you bring those? They’re my favorites. Why would you wear your favorite shoes to scuff through sand? They’re comfortable. Then put them on or don’t whine about your feet...
Isabel couldn’t help a grin. It wasn’t all that long ago that she’d been a teenager and would have done the same. If she’d come out to Presque Isle as a teenager. Which she hadn’t. Her parents had no interest and no time: There are three rivers in Pittsburgh, said her mother, that should be enough water. But there’s not a beach, Isabel replied. You don’t swim. That’s not the point of the beach. Then the rivers will do...
It wasn’t the same. Even as an adult, she couldn’t buy that one. You didn’t find sea glass along a city’s river bank. You couldn’t look out over the water and only see water. It was nice, but it wasn’t as peaceful, as tranquil. It wasn’t quiet. So as soon as she moved out, up to Meadville, she’d started making almost weekly treks to Lake Erie, almost always on Presque Isle.
It only took one time walking along the stones that looked too smooth to hurt your feet to realize they hurt your feet. They’d not only hurt her used-to-shoes city feet; they’d bruised her feet.
They did until you got used to it. Which she was by now. Ever since she’d been in her own place, Isabel only wore shoes when absolutely necessary. In decent weather, she often pulled off her sandals and walked barefoot along the sidewalk to go up to the corner store for a couple of things. And she’d been coming to the beach looking for sea glass long enough now that her feet were hardened. Now and then she still grimaced when she stepped on one of the sharper rocks, and it took a little time each spring to get used to it again, but generally she could walk across them without pain.
She considered telling those who apparently didn’t come often that some of the other beaches were much easier on bare feet, but she didn’t make a habit of talking to strangers. Isabel generally tried to avoid that as much as she tried to avoid shoes. Possibly more.
Making her way farther from their continued bickering, she headed toward the little half submerged dock. She suspected it used to be a boat launch since it sloped down into the water where it eventually disappeared, but she had never seen it used for that. The metal tube things coming up along each side from within the concrete were rusted and at least one of them had lost the cap and looked dangerous to step on, so she always stayed away from the edges when she wandered down to where the water got deeper. Beside it, though, collected at the top edge, she often found a good bit of sea glass.
Crouching there, where the water ebbed over her feet but wouldn’t get her capris wet past her knees, she sifted pebbles through her fingers. At times, she gathered some of the little rocks instead, since so many were beautiful and interesting. Mostly, she left them in favor of glass.
As usual, there were quite a few small opaque white pieces, but they were too common and too small to bother with. The five tiny pieces of green and one even tinier piece of dark blue, she stuck in her pocket. There were a few browns, but she didn’t take brown glass since they reminded her of beer bottles. It could be they were oil bottles or something else, but that’s not what she thought of, so she left them.
After a good bit of searching with not much luck and her knees and ankles starting to ache, she moved away, up into the sand.
Was that pink glass? Turning back to where she thought she’d seen a flash of color, Isabel crouched and dug through the damp sand. It wasn’t glass. It was plastic. A small pink troll with a silly grin plastered forever on its face and damp sand caked in its fake pink hair. She wondered if the little girl who lost it cried over its loss or quickly forgot it in favor of other things.
What should she do with it? Rebury it and let some other kid have the fun of finding it? Maybe. But maybe the child would come back for it. She could leave it lie, but it seemed wrong to toss it down as though it was garbage, when she wouldn’t even do that with garbage, so after going back to the water to rinse the sand out of its hair, she decided to make the little thing a castle to help her be found.
How long had it been since she’d made a sand castle? Her grandparents took her to Maine once, and while her grandma attended whatever business she had there, she and her grandpa went to the beach. He’d helped her build a huge sand castle, nice enough to attract other kids, including a little boy with light brown hair who kept smiling shyly at her while they played together. She’d kept asking Gramps if he’d take her back to that Maine beach until he built a big sandbox behind his Pittsburgh town house. They’d spent many hours designing perfect castles. She’d even started drawing them to plan out the next design to try, which gave her a nice escape while hiding in her room to avoid her father. She didn’t draw the boy, but she imagined him playing there with her. Until she got too old for that kid stuff and lost interest in sand castles.
And her mom was right. She didn’t swim. She didn’t trust the water. Gramps put her in swim lessons to help her learn, but she wouldn’t do it. Wading was nice. Anything above the knees was too deep. Still, the water called to her. She came to Presque Isle to walk along one of the beaches or trails while listening to the roaring or creeping waves sweeping against the shore. It was her newest escape. It helped her head and soul unwind.
And often, it inspired a song, or at least a line or two of a song.
Today, it was not relaxing. It was not bringing words or music from anywhere within. She hadn’t found one decent piece of glass. Today, two years to the day the jerk walked out on her, she got nothing but a troll. So be it.
Tucking the thing into her pocket so it wouldn’t get lost again, she dropped her sandals and moved toward the water. She had no bucket to haul wet sand or water farther up onto shore, so she chose a spot at the edge of where it was wet enough to work with but out of reach of the soft rolling waves.
It was slow going, but she had all day. No one was waiting on her. She’d run her errands the day before. Isabel always took care of her errands on Saturday to get them out of the way. Work was tomorrow. Today was her own. If she wanted to stay and build a sand castle, she could take as long as she needed.
Except that it was atypically warm for May, and without western Pennsylvania’s typical partial cloud cover buffering some of the glaring midday sun, her shoulders warmed fast. By the time she had a decent castle made, her legs felt the work of crouching, standing, bending, and her shoulders were getting a pink tinge that she would definitely feel later. But the wide, rather messy but stable castle was complete with a turret to stand Little Pink Troll on top of so it could look out in wait for its ... owner. At least it was only a piece of plastic. Replaceable. Unlike...
Telling herself not to go there, Isabel took the thing from her pocket and gently nudged it into the sand of the turret, leaned up against the wall for support, looking out. And then she changed her mind and turned it away. Little Troll would be annoyed about being left behind, wouldn’t it? As though not important enough to be kept safe in its owner’s care? It should have its back turned.
With a deep sigh, she took a few steps backward, pulled her phone from her bag, and snapped a photo of the troll in her castle with Lake Erie in the background. Maybe she’d post it to a local lost and found page. Chances were good, though, that it would be taken by a different child by then, or the waves would come in and claim it.
Because she hated to see it with its back turned, she fixed it to look forward, as though it hoped her original mom, original owner, would find her and take her home. Or maybe she would hope not to be found and was watching to run if a stranger came near, even a stranger that maybe looked like her, because she’d be too angry about being left.
“Stop it. It’s just a toy.” Grabbing her sandals, she ambled back up the beach to the softer sand and down farther away from the lifeguarded area, when there was a lifeguard there, and there wasn’t always. She preferred off-season when there wasn’t.
Watching for any glimmer in the sand that might turn out to be something worth keeping, Isabel didn’t hold much hope of that. It was late May, just past Memorial Day. Tourist season had already set, and pre-season glass-hunting season had already hit, so the water-smoothed glass was pretty well scavanged, either by a curious child or a collector. It was harder to find these days, since sea glass had lately became the in thing. Still, it was always possible.
The clear tall straight glass vase she’d been dropping them in was two-thirds full. After finding the first one, found her first time on the Isle, two years ago, it became an obsession. She loved the mystery of where they had come from, of how long they’d been at the bottom of the lake or swirled along strong currents, of what they had been before. There was also the simple beauty of each piece.
Her roommate laughed when she started throwing it into the vase, the vase that had held the first bouquet her first real boyfriend had given her way back when. “It’s just broken glass, Izzy. Why are you collecting bits of garbage?”
Glass wasn’t garbage, though. Glass was made of sand, and like sand, sea glass came in a lot of shades, and different textures. It could be shiny or satin or matte. It could be crushed and melted to make new glass. She’d read they sometimes used it in asphalt, which made roads shine in the sun, which she thought was pretty cool. It could be also be crushed to become sand again. Glass and sand went together like ... guitar and voice. Both were wonderful alone when done right, but together they were a versatile and beautiful combination. Trying to explain to Libs was pointless. She barely even got music references, since she was barely into any music.
Lisbon Garcia, named after the Portuguese capital city, was the only friend Isabel had left from her school days. They looked about as different as they could, with her own strongly Irish heritage and Libs’ Portuguese heritage, but Libs had asked about Isabel’s Spanish-spelled name one day when she didn’t look Spanish, and somehow, that led to a so-far life-long connection.
Isabel overlooked the lack of music appreciation, and the laughter. It was friendly laughter, no harm meant. She loved how easily her friend laughed. And she understood the point. She did. She didn’t even know why she was obsessed with the search. It called to her, so she did it even without understanding why.
A shine caught her eye and she bent to pick it up out of the sand. Glass, but not smooth. Dark green. A piece of broken bottle. Beer bottle, probably. Maybe the color faded over time. Maybe the water changed the color. Maybe this piece would be worth collecting some day after it had time to be smoothed and faded. When it didn’t look like a beer bottle.
Bracing herself in the sand that shifted under her bare feet, she threw the piece as far as she could out into the water, which wasn’t very far since she’d never had any arm strength. Then she wondered if she should have. What if it hit a fish? Not likely, she guessed. The smack of the small piece against the surface of the water would slow it down, and it would drift slowly into the depth. Any self-respecting fish would be able to move away from it.
Continuing down the shoreline, Isabel watched for glass, but also for sharp rocks to avoid since she was leaving the sandier part of the beach. Most of the rocks weren’t sharp. Most had been in or along the water too long to still be sharp. The lake smoothed everything, even broken hearts after a while, if you gave it enough time.
With enough time, it would. Once she filled her vase, she would tell herself it had been enough time. She would stop expecting the phone call that hadn’t come in two years, the one she knew wouldn’t come but still could. Two-thirds. She had only a third of the vase left, and then she’d let him go.
~~ ~~ ~~
James eyed the blonde girl staring from the passenger side of an old green Plymouth held together by gray Bondo badly applied over rust. It was stuck at a red light, and she took full advantage of the time to leer while he walked along the sidewalk toward and past her, cautious of edges of pavement raised by tree roots or holes eroded by salt.
Yeah, so he took his shirt off after his run. It was damned hot and his shirt was soaked enough to tug at him. Had she never seen a guy walking down the sidewalk without a shirt? Yeah, so he was in decent shape. He was workout fixated, his buddies said. When you didn’t have a girl and didn’t want to pick one up temporarily, what else did you do with your energy? Play that war game and jump up and down yelling at the big screen because your fake guy didn’t do what you wanted him to do? Yeah, no thanks. Not that he had an issue with games. He’d been known to play a mean game of Centipede and Asteroids on the old Atari that had been his uncle’s prize possession in his younger days. He got it. It was good entertainment, sometimes a good brain workout. But too much sitting time about killed him. It was a great thing to do in your early teens when you were naturally lazy due to all the hormonal crap, but that was about half a lifetime ago by now.
He would be thirty next month. And despite his deformity, he could work circles around any early twenty, even the fit ones. He supposed he should be flattered by the girl’s stare.
Yeah, so he was flattered. He also didn’t want to think about it.
A pretty girl. Right enough age. Full wavy neat hair and nice features. She grinned as the driver, a guy about his age but not so much in shape, let off the brake with the change of light from red to green. The girl was his type, definitely, looks-wise, anyway. Not that his type had turned out well for him yet. Which only meant he hadn’t found the right his type.
Maybe it was time for another beach jaunt. Beach girls were different than small city girls. Very small city girls.
Greenville, Pennsylvania was barely a city, technically a borough of only some six thousand people, and in recent years it had fallen into disrepair about as bad as he had himself. It was the kind of town where people stopped at Sheetz for $10 worth of gas and a single pack of cheap cigarettes to get them through till payday. But more recently, it was coming back into its own. As he was. They both had a ways to go, but a start toward a goal was at least a start.
His roommates wanted him to go to Sam’s later. James shuddered at the thought. He hadn’t been there in seven months. The place was a dive, and not even a nicer dive, but a true dive, known for cheap beer and often for ... well, cheap women who went for the cheap beer and the guys who were there drinking plenty of it.
That was before he started his workout routine. These days after work, he grabbed some jerky and downed a quarter bottle of Gatorade while shoving into his shorts and running shoes, then he walked down Shenango Street, up Race, across the river to Riverside Park. At the ball field entrance, he stretched some and then ran the length of the narrow road that circled the park, detouring to the amphitheatre where he bypassed the shorter steps along each side and used the middle area where the stones were deeper. He did at least one jaunt up and down, often two or three times, before continuing on around the park.
Sunday was his play day. He had a standing time slot at Carried Away Outfitters for a ten mile kayak rental. Some day, he would buy his own kayak. The problem was finding a place to keep it. His parents said he could store it at their place, just outside Mercer in the middle of the trees where they had a big three car garage, a big shed, and a big rolling lawn, but that was a trip out there and a trip back and James too often got stuck talking forever. It screwed up his routine and took too much time.
Right now, his routine mattered too much. In time, he hoped it wouldn’t.
Sam’s could be okay by now. Seven months. Could be it was time for a self-test, with Bruce at his side in case seven months hadn’t been long enough. Next weekend. That would give him time to prepare.
~~ ~~ ~~
When some girl looked at her funny, Isabel realized she was humming louder than she thought. She often hummed songs in progress when she didn’t have her guitar handy. This one was about getting over him, the long-term unsordid three year affair of the heart rather than the body. Most of what she wrote was about him, sadly. She’d long ago stopped playing her songs for her mother because she was tired of hearing, “Another one, Isabel? Let it go, already. He wasn’t worth it then, as I told you at the time, and he’s not worth it now, either.”
Easy for her mom to say. At eighteen, Jocelyn Dillon met the man she believed was intended for her, became Josie Dillon Sanderson at nineteen, and had Isabel at twenty. Everything perfectly in order, like everything in her mother’s life. Nothing got to her. Nothing distracted her from her goals.
Completely unlike Isabel who was distracted by everything and was always meandering through shifting sand. She’d have to wonder if they were even related except for their nearly twin-like looks. Along with the same square facial structure, too-narrow eyes, and too-long nose, their hair was the same shade of mousy ashy light brown. Except her mom had red tints; in sunlight the red was nearly like fire burning along the edges of her head. Isabel was lacking even that much vibrancy. She was dull, inside, outside. Dull. The word Mickey had used when he left. “You’re just too ... too dull, Izzy. I kept waiting for you to pop out of that gray shell, and I know it’s in you, but you won’t let it out. If you’d let me in more, I could help you, you know, but since you won’t and I’m tired of trying, I have to give up. Sorry.”
Sorry. The jerk actually said Sorry like, Yeah, no big deal. Three years of dating after being school friends for years and your only real boyfriend, the only one who knows your whole story and still swore to be there for you. Let you think it was going to be forever. But hey, see ya ’round.
She knew exactly what he meant by wouldn’t let him in. He meant it physically, even if he was trying to make it sound like more than that. She couldn’t do it. The risk was too high. He hadn’t committed enough. What choice did she have but to stay inside herself when she had to try so hard not to repeat her mistakes? Especially the biggest one.
He hadn’t actually wanted her enough. It wasn’t like they’d done nothing. She wasn’t that much of a prude, and he knew it. But she wanted someone who wanted her, not just sex, but her. She needed the want, not the need. She wanted and needed the whole thing together…
She wanted and needed... The phrase struck her and Isabel repeated it within the melody she’d been humming. Wanted and needed and no one could tell her/ she loved him and... she loved and adored him and no one could tell her/ he wouldn’t stay long/ he wouldn’t be ’round/ when she wanted and needed his strength and his ... needed his need of her...
His need of her. Wanted his need of her. He had needed her.
Until he didn’t.
Pausing her trek through the damp sand, she stared out at the restless waves, the constantly moving and mixing and churning water that drew her to Lake Erie so often. She didn’t come for the glass, not really. She came for the lake. The crying seagulls.
She wanted his need of her. But not that one, the real boyfriend. Her thoughts had gone back further. Back to the one who had thrown her so far off balance.
Isabel frowned at the thought. He had needed her. He had. Deeply. Like no one else in the world. Is that all it was? Not love, but the feeling of being so desperately needed? She’d spent much of her childhood alone while her father worked more than full time and her mother took care of the house in between her realtor work and playing with the thought of becoming an interior decorator. Someday she’d do more with it, so she said. The day had yet to come when she actually took a step toward that dream, though. Her mother was far more full of talk than action. She dressed the part of go-getter but lacked the gumption to actually get up and go for what she wanted. The realty thing was something she just fell into through an acquaintance and accepted it because it was offered.
Isabel was her only child because Jocelyn Dillon Sanderson wanted no more than one. She spent what little social energy she had showing houses to people who wanted everything for nothing because they had nothing due to dreaming more than doing, without seeing the irony in her own statement, or who had everything and still wanted more. Her mother clearly believed those were the only two kinds of people in the world.
The truth was: her mother didn’t like people much. Isabel’s grandpa once said it had to have come from her biological father, since it wasn’t from him or from her grandma, both big believers there was good in everyone. Isabel was somewhere between the two. She was optimistically cautious with new people, but fairly avoidant overall. Meaning she was basically a loner and yet craved companionship and adventure, all while being afraid of that adventure.
Wanted and needed… She wanted… what? Someone who understood her, who wouldn’t make her wary. Someone stable who listened. Someone who didn’t particularly need her, but wanted her anyway.
Repeating the new lines along with the melody in her head that had been waiting for words for some time, she found herself singing aloud while she walked the shoreline despite people stopping to stare. She didn’t care if they did. Maybe it would help more than open mic nights to sing out and about where people didn’t expect it.
Except that she didn’t have her guitar. Singing without her guitar was like that old dream of going to school naked and somehow managing to get through the day. She could do it. She’d always been able to hold a tune well. Gramps had always encouraged her to sing, said he loved her sweet, true voice and the way she stayed on key without music. She hadn’t realized everyone couldn’t do it until he mentioned it.
It was her grandfather who bought Isabel a guitar, to give her something to do other than sneaking out to “find trouble.” He picked up on her love and understanding of music and the need to keep her hands busy and decided she could do both together.
If she was honest with herself, Isabel wasn’t sure whether the love for music was hers or his and she was only going along with it because he pushed her that direction.
The thought threw her out of writing mode and out of beach mood. Between that and her warm shoulders, she turned back and made her way to the rocky narrow path through the shrubs that led to the parking and picnic area. As she did every Sunday, she allowed herself the splurge of stopping at Sara’s just outside the isle for a cheesy hamburger and a turtle sundae. She ate the sundae first, in her car with the windows open for air, then opened napkins over her lap and unwrapped her burger to eat on the way home.
Maybe it was time to find out whether this whole music thing was what she wanted or what she’d only fallen into out of lack of knowing what else she wanted.