Warning: This poem is flangst. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Shiv has trouble relaxing and having fun, due to his history of abuse and neglect, so a beach trip is more complicated for him than for most people. ECR Boy! The poem includes multiple flashbacks, social anxiety, financial anxiety, extreme body modesty, hypervigilance, reference to past near-drowning, emergency manhandling (by Aida of Shiv and by Shiv of Edison), flibbering over acceptance vs. rejection, awkward interactions with another family, mild overstrain of superpowers, awkward apologies, Edison is blunt as a bowling ball and has no filter because he is four, and Shiv is little better due to past abuse, frustration over solar limitations, and other challenges. On the whole, though, it has a positive tone. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward. This is the second in the beach thread, and you'll need it to make sense of later poetry as well as dialecticdreamer's story "Family Stories."
"Everything That Is Real About Us"
The trip to the beach
started out unlike anything
that Shiv had experienced before
(which helped) because they
traveled by teleporter.
A swish and swirl of energy,
and they were all standing
on a compass rose set into
the concrete skirt around
a red brick lighthouse.
The teleporter gave them
a jaunty wave and disappeared.
"Welcome to IT Beach, sponsored by
geeks including Bill Gates, Aron Buffer,
Cheryl Kocinski, and corporations from
Adobe Systems, Inc. to X Marks the Spot,"
said Dr. G. "All hail the Beach of Geeks!"
"Hail!" the Finns chorused.
"Now can we play in the sand?"
Edison said, hopping up and down.
Elisabeth laughed. "As soon as we
make our supply run," she said.
Shiv looked at the family loaded
with baskets, bags, backpacks,
and coolers with enough food
to feed him for a week.
"We need to buy more
stuff?" he said faintly.
"Just a few things particular
to this location," Elisabeth said.
As she led the way along a row
of vendor booths, Shiv spied one
cheerfully labeled Hatters Gonna Hat.
The front table held handsome fedoras,
while sun hats flapped in the breeze,
including some cheap straw ones for
only a dollar. There were cloth hats too.
"I call safety on hats," Molly said.
"Shiv doesn't have one, and Edison
outgrew his old sun hat again."
"Go pick," Elisabeth said,
putting a hand on each boy
to urge them into the booth.
Shiv looked around willingly enough,
but hesitated to make a selection,
because they'd already bought
a ton of stuff for him today.
It was more than everything
that he had ever gotten on all of
his previous beach trips combined.
"You really do need a hat, Shiv.
Your hair and skin are so light that
you'll burn in no time if you don't,"
Molly said gently. "If it bothers you
for me to buy, then look for one in
your own price range. Straw ones
start at a buck if you're broke."
"I kinda like that white safari hat,"
Shiv admitted. "I always wanted one,
but I never had a chance before."
"This canvas one?" Molly said,
lifting it off its hook. "It's reversible,
charcoal on the inside, and it has
brass grommets for ventilation.
You have a good eye."
"I just wanted one that I
could pick up," Shiv said.
He poked his superpower
through the grommets and
tugged the hat into his hands.
"That's a great idea,"
Molly said. "Then the wind
couldn't steal it, even if you
don't cinch the neck string."
Meanwhile the shopkeeper --
who wore a fake fur trapper hat
that was completely out of place
on the beach -- was helping Edison
pick out the correct size of hat.
Edison wanted a baseball cap with
red, yellow, blue, and green cloth
and a propeller whirring overhead.
However, he was distracted by
playing with the shopkeeper's shirt,
which had a funny face stuck to it that
you could change with colorful pieces of
vrip cloth, including plastic googly eyes
that actually moved. It was weird.
Edison scampered over, grabbed
Shiv's hat, and shoved it along with
his own into Molly's hands. "Okay,
Molly, we're ready to check out,
can we go now?" he said.
"In a minute," she said, then
turned and added, "Shiv?"
"Whatever," he said with a shrug.
So Molly bought both hats and
handed them back to their owners,
then everyone trooped to the next booth.
Cynosure Seas Gift & Beach Shop
had sunglasses, mats, surfboards and
plastic buckets spilling out the front.
They had more beach toys than
Shiv had ever seen in his life.
You could get just a bucket and
shovel for five bucks, or a bigger one
with tools or treats, or even one with
a ton of tools if you had more money.
There were small, medium, and large sets
of sandcastle molds, too. The shop even had
a set of three different brick-shaped molds.
"We have plenty of beach toys," Dr. G said,
patting Shiv on the shoulder. "We just need
to log our previous treasures, and Aida wants
a new bucket to fill with aquarium decorations."
Edison ran to a shelf and dragged loose
a box almost too big for him to carry.
"And apparently a few other things,"
Dr. G said with a wry smile. "Well,
as long as we're getting that, then we
may as well get a spare one." He took
Edison's box and added another one.
They moved to a section marked
Treasure Island, which had buckets in
assorted sizes that read, Beach Treasures.
Then Shiv noticed that Elisabeth carried
a bucket full of tidbits with the same design,
only someone had used a marker on it so
it said, Yesterday's Beach Treasures.
She dumped out the bucket onto a table,
and all the Finns gathered around to make
a pattern out of rocks, glass and plastic beads,
seashells, bones, and bits of driftwood.
"House rule for the Yesterday bucket
is that everyone can choose one thing
to take out and put in," Dr. G explained.
"That matches the beach rule that everyone
can take one nonliving treasure for free, and
if you want more, you can buy a bucket. They
close that option if there's not enough sea-wrack
to go around, though, and supplies are limited."
A shopkeeper took a snapshot of the contents,
then helped everyone repack the bucket.
Aida brought her new bucket, and
finally Dr. G paid for everything.
"This way, this way," Edison said,
dancing around the slower adults
as they walked toward the beach.
Tucked into a notch in the cliffs was
the white stucco building that held
the IT Beach offices and showerhouse.
They stopped there to change clothes, and
Dr. G said, "The family changing room is here."
"Yeah, so?" Shiv said. "The sign for
the men's room is right over there."
Not wanting to get stuck in a room
with a couple of kids, he headed
briskly in the other direction.
"Suit yourself, but this is the one
that has the private cubicles with
locking doors," Halley said.
Shiv made a quick U-turn and
followed them into the family one.
It was empty, and then completely
full of Finns. "Shiv, you get first pick
of cubicles," said Dr. G. "Preference?"
"This is fine," Shiv said, taking
the middle one in front of him.
"Edison, who do you want --"
Elisabeth began to ask.
"Heron!" crowed Edison.
Shiv tried to tune out the noise
as he scrambled out of his clothes
and then into his new swimsuit.
There was barely room in his bag
to shove in his street clothes and shoes.
He hadn't expected so much new stuff on top
of his go-home clothes, an emergency wallet,
a candy bar, and a ratty hand towel.
When he came out, everyone was
milling around in their swimsuits.
"Sunspotz and sunscreen," Molly said
as she opened a makeup organizer case
full of beach essentials. "Shiv, you start
since you have the lightest skin."
It still startled him to be offered
something as expensive as Sunspotz,
but he'd rather deal with that than risk
getting a sunburn, because those sucked.
So he put the sticker on the back of
his hand, and just like it had at Pennsic,
after a few seconds he couldn't even
tell that he had the thing on, as if
it was a temporary tattoo.
He slathered himself with
sunscreen, then handed
the bottle back to Molly.
They left the changing room
and headed for the beach stairs
by a strange glass tower going down.
"Does anyone need the beach lift today?"
Elisabeth asked, looking at Graham.
"I'm good," said Dr. G. "Shiv?"
"I'm fine," he said, staring at
the unfamiliar structure.
The Finns ignored the stairs
alongside the beach lift, instead
choosing the switchback path
cut into the stone cliff.
Shiv was really, really glad
that it had high metal handrails.
The view was gorgeous, though.
Below them, the beach was
a long swath of golden-brown sand
broken up by the clusters of rocks.
Sunlight sparkled on blue water
that foamed white at the edge.
Dogs scampered around,
making Shiv wrinkle his nose.
He wasn't a dog person.
People dotted the beach in
singles, couples, and families --
not enough of them to feel crowded,
just enough to add some interest.
Automatically Shiv started scanning
for marks, then quashed the impulse.
He already had more loot than he needed,
and the Finns had more food than even he
could eat. He didn't need any more, or
the trouble that could come with it.
Besides, he felt like a mooch.
They came down onto the sand,
and Shiv saw a glint of light at
the far end of the beach.
"Is that a bridge?" he asked,
staring into the distance.
"It's a natural bridge," Dr. G said
at the same time Halley said,
"That's Backbone Arch."
"There's another beach
on the other side of the arch,
Steamer Lane, but that one has
heavy surf for experienced surfers,"
said Elisabeth. "It's too rough
for children or novices."
Aida heaved a sigh,
bumping her beach bucket
against the side of her thigh.
"We could still go watch."
"And wear ourselves out trying
to keep Halley and Edison out of
the water?" Elisabeth said. "No thanks."
Shiv let the family argument ripple
past him. As long as nobody was
yelling or throwing things, he
didn't care what they said.
He was too distracted by
the beach itself, the sighing
of the waves and the soft sand
all full of things and the seagulls
flapping and squealing overhead.
"Let's pick a spot," Dr. G said.
The other Finns fanned out,
examining the ground as well
as the surrounding scenery.
"Here looks good," Molly said,
waving for people to join her.
Elisabeth took out two blue packets,
each of which unfolded into a big beach mat,
and then staked them down to the sand.
Aida set up something that looked like
a cross between an umbrella and a tent,
tilted to block the sun and pinned down
on the bottom where it touched the ground.
Dr. G took out a sand screw, twisted it
into the beach, then added a little table
and a giant rainbow beach umbrella.
Shiv helped pile up all the totes
and carriers full of stuff, keeping
a close eye on his own bag.
Finally he retreated under
the shade that Aida had put up
over one of the beach mats.
Shiv liked the not-quite-tent.
It gave him something he could
crawl under and watch the beach
without being seen by everyone.
Just sitting under it made him
feel a little less nervous after
all the excitement today.
Sand scrunched underfoot
as someone new approached,
and suddenly Shiv's instincts
shrilled a sharp warning.
Whoever it was had
There were two tiny knives
laced into the boot tongues, and
a cunning little coin knife that must
be tucked into a hidden pocket in
the wearer's board shorts.
Then there was a thing like
a pointy plastic ring, only it was
turned toward the inside of the palm.
Shiv wasn't even sure what that one did,
but he was sure that it meant trouble.
The beach bag held even more:
a titanium keychain knife, another
concealed in a money clip, and
a comb knife of rigid plastic.
Even as Shiv scrambled
to his feet, he wondered if he
could duplicate that coin knife --
unlike his, it had a sheath, and
the blade was fine steel somehow
set inside the original coin.
"Shiv, come out here,
there's someone I'd like you
to meet," Dr. G called.
Maybe they weren't about
to get massacred after all.
"Hi, Watermark!" said Halley
as thon pelted past them to hug
a short muscular person wearing
a Bareskin top and board shorts
striped with blue-and-white.
"This is Watermark, one of
the folks who helps with security
for our family," Dr. G explained.
Shiv looked at the bright blue-green streak
that formed a crest in the dark hair, and realized
he was looking at a superpowered bodyguard --
and no white hat would have that arsenal.
So he tucked his hands behind his back,
squared his feet, and gave the stranger
the little shoulder-bow that Boss White
had carefully drummed into him.
"Hi, I'm Shiv with the Ebonies & Ivories
out of Omaha, Nebraska," he said.
"Dr. G invited me here today."
She returned the bow and said,
"Watermark of the Marionettes,
from Italy. I'm pleased to meet you."
Shiv couldn't resist any longer,
now that he knew she wasn't a threat.
"Can I see your coin knife? It's so keen."
She raised an eyebrow, but pulled it
from its secret pocket and showed him.
Shiv stroked it with his talent,
careful not to move the metal itself.
"Okay, yeah, I think that I could
make one like that," he said happily.
It would be a nuisance to cut the coin
into a hilt and sheath, but after that
making a circular blade and melding it
into the middle of the hilt would be easy.
"That's a useful skill," she said,
then added, "Nice swimsuit."
"You too," Shiv said. He hadn't
seen Bareskins before, and now
they were popping up everywhere.
"I love the watercolor effect,"
she said. "Where did you get those?
I'd like to get a pair of my own."
"Uh, Variations just this morning,"
Shiv said. "Halley picked the store."
"Yeah," Halley said, but thankfully
left out the embarrassing details.
"Come and play! The beach has
good waves today, not too rough."
"That's for kids," Shiv scoffed.
"What, your dodging skills are
so good you don't need practice?"
Watermark said. "Suit yourself,
but I like to keep mine in shape."
Shiv watched them walk down
to the water, where the blue waves
broke into curves of white foam.
They splashed around for a few minutes,
but then Watermark switched to something
that was obviously an exercise -- waiting
for a wave to rush in, and then leaping
away at the last possible second.
As Shiv watched, Watermark
missed a jump and got splashed.
"Ha ha, you're dead!" Halley teased,
then pounced on her and knocked
both of them into the water.
It looked like a lot of fun.
Shiv felt tempted to join them,
but then he remembered that time
when a much older foster sister
had pushed him down and
nearly drowned him.
She hadn't gotten into
trouble for it, of course.
Shiv had been the only one
who got in trouble in that family.
"Are you okay?" asked Dr. G.
"You look like you're having
mixed feelings about something.
If you want to join them, go ahead,
but you don't have to go in the water
if you don't want to for any reason."
"I'm fine," Shiv said. Then he
realized that if he didn't buck up,
Dr. G was going to realize how
nervous he was feeling.
So Shiv made himself go
down to the surf and splash in
the waves for a little while.
It was more fun than he expected.
Most of the Finns joined in, at least
for a little while, regardless of their age.
That made Shiv feel a bit less
like he was acting childish.
Then Edison bounded over and said,
"I wanna go treasure hunting and so does
Aida. You wanna come with us?"
"May as well," Shiv agreed.
"Sure," Halley said. "Wait up
and let me get my shoes on."
Thon was barefoot. Watermark
had left her boots on, and Shiv had
his beach shoes which were fantastic.
They hiked down toward the far end
of the beach with its weird rock bridge.
The sand gave way to gravel and
then to piles of rock. Halley climbed
over them with familiar grace.
Watermark followed, keeping
one hand turned toward the ocean.
Shiv decided not to ask about that.
Ahead of them, Edison eagerly
pointed out the first of the tidepools.
And Aida turned into a nature program.
As Shiv stared, she narrated every plant,
animal, and rock formation they passed.
Some of it was in English, and some
was in some science language that
Shiv didn't even recognize.
"This beach has two types of
tidepools," Aida said. "Here is
a boulder field, and farther out,
rock outcrops reach into the ocean."
"Can we explore the rock outcrops?"
Halley asked, and Edison said, "Yay!"
"No," Watermark said before Aida
could answer. "That's too risky. You
could fall in and get swept away."
"I can swim!" Edison protested.
"Not well enough for that water,"
said the bodyguard, and Aida agreed.
Shiv heaved a sigh of relief.
He couldn't actually swim at all,
even though he enjoyed getting wet
if nobody else crowded too close
and made him feel anxious.
Even the shallow tidepools
of the boulder field proved
fascinating to explore, though.
"These are ochre sea stars
(Pisaster ochraceus) and then
these are giant green anemones
Aida said, pointing to the critters.
"Uh huh," Shiv said. "Now tell us
something useful: do they bite?"
"Not humans, but they are both
voracious predators," Aida said.
"Look around, see how this tidepool
is clear of mussels? Sea stars eat them."
"Look! Octopodes!" Edison said,
pointing into another pool.
Something red and slimy
slithered out of it, over the rocks.
"That's an East Pacific red octopus
(Octopus rubescens)," said Aida.
"They're very intelligent."
They crossed an area covered by
a slippery carpet of grassy stuff that
made Shiv grateful for his new shoes.
"This is surfgrass (Phyllospadix torreyi),"
Aida said as they hiked over it. "It's one of
the few flowering plants that grows in
the ocean. See the bubbles on it?
Those are made of pure oxygen."
Shiv spied a shimmering seashell
that was whole, not broken like
most of them, and reached for it.
Aida grabbed his wrist. "No!"
she said, then let go. "Sorry, Da
told us not to grab you. But don't ever
touch shells with your bare hands until you
make sure they're empty. Some molluscs
are venomous, and most seashells are
sharp. You could cut yourself."
Shiv snorted. "No I won't."
He picked up the seashell with
his superpower, juggling it
up and down in midair.
"Okay, you got me," Aida said
with a laugh. "Just do it that way.
I usually poke things with a stick."
Shiv realized that she and
the younger Finns each held
a long piece of driftwood, and
of course Aida had her beach knife
strapped high on her right thigh.
He couldn't resist asking,
"So do you know what this is?"
"That's a California mussel
(Mytilus californianus)," she said.
"When they're alive, they're edible."
They put it in the treasure bucket
and continued on through the tidepools.
"Look at this, but don't bother it,"
Watermark said, pointing to
a tiny creature underwater.
It was the most brilliant shade
of blue that Shiv had ever seen,
dotted with equally vivid yellow.
Two ears poked up from one end
and a crown of tentacles on the other.
"Ooo," Halley said, leaning over
so far that thon almost bumped into
Edison on the other side of the pool.
"This is a California blue dorid
(Felimare californiensis)," Aida said.
"They're pretty rare around here."
Shiv found what he thought of
as a regular seashell, a gray spiral.
"Kellet's whelk (Kelletia kelletii),"
said Aida. "They're all over the place,
so take as many of those shells as
you want. People like to make
garden art from them."
"We should probably turn back,"
Watermark said, so they did.
Shiv was playing idly with
the edge of the mussel when
Edison found another shiny shell.
"Good one!" Aida said. "Threaded abalone,
(Haliotis kamtschatkana assimilis). Their shells
are popular for making jewelry and other crafts."
"Finders keepers," Edison said, grinning.
"That's pretty big to put in the yesterday bucket,
but you can put it in my today bucket," Aida said.
They found more shells in the sand on the way
back to the Finn camp. Sometimes Aida needed
her beach knife to pry them out of the rocks.
They crossed paths with a woman headed
in the opposite direction, whose black bikini
did nothing to hide her impressive muscles.
Like Aida, she had a big beach knife strapped
to her right thigh, and sturdy beach shoes.
"Hi, Aida," she called. "How's the hunting?"
"Hi, Sandy," Aida said. "It's good today.
There was a storm just last week, and
the beach isn't too picked over yet. We
mostly hit the low and middle zones."
"Then I may go high," Sandy said.
"I'm hunting supplies for a neighbor
who makes nature crafts, and
a few fun things for myself."
As they walked on, Aida explained,
"Sandy is a firewoman in Mercedes.
We do educational events together."
Before long, they had found enough
treasures to fill most of her bucket.
Finally they reached the Finn camp,
only for Shiv to be cornered by
Molly who said, "Hand, please."
He showed her the hand with
the Sunspot stuck on the back.
"Good, you're still green," she said,
letting him go. "The new sunscreen
is definitely working better for you."
He hadn't even noticed the bottle.
Then Shiv gratefully flopped onto
a beach towel with a sperm whale
printed on it in shades of blue.
"Mine," Aida growled. She didn't
grab him again, but she did yank at
the corner of the beach towel.
"Fine," Shiv grumbled,
rolling onto the starfish one.
"Aida, if you don't want to share
your towel, please remember
to roll it up when you're not
lying on it," Elisabeth said.
Shiv didn't care what towel
he used. He just wanted
lie there and not move.
He ate a candy bar, and then
the sound of the surf lulled him
into a doze for a few minutes.
Then he heard a jingle,
followed by excited voices.
A vendor of cold treats pushed
his cart along the beach, and
the younger Finns asked for some.
"Oh, I want a Matisse," said Molly.
"Something berry flavored if he has it."
The vendor, sensing an easy mark,
steered his cart in their direction.
Shiv pushed himself to his feet
and joined the general rush
toward the cart full of goodies.
Molly picked out a glass jar of
Matisse yogurt in raspberry vanilla.
There were popsicles made of
plain water, coconut water, or
almond milk, any of those with
fruit chunks, and blended fruit.
A basket held all kinds of fresh fruit
for making milkshakes or smoothies.
Edison wanted coconut water with
orange slices, while Halley ordered
a banana blueberry almond milk blend.
Shiv tried to be good and not whine
for anything, really he did, but then
he spied a familiar, spiky red lump.
"Is that dragonfruit? That's dragonfruit,"
he said. "Can I have some? I want some."
He remembered from Pennsic that Dr. G
would buy anything edible that Shiv pointed to,
and sure enough, Dr. G said, "Yes, it is, and
yes, you can. Do you want the popsicle
or the healthy unicorn smoothie?"
"The smoothie," Shiv said. He couldn't
resist the swirl of pale blue and hot pink.
"You have a fine set of sons,"
the vendor said to Dr. G.
"Is this one your oldest?"
"Shiv is more of a nephew,"
Dr. G said. "My oldest son is
Heron, and he's back there."
Shiv damn near choked on
his smoothie. He was used
to hearing, Oh, he's not ours,
he's just a foster child.
He had learned to be quick
about excluding himself
to avoid the rejection, but
this time he'd been caught with
his mouth full and missed the cue.
He wasn't sure how he felt
about what Dr. G had just said.
Nobody had ever really claimed him
like this before, except for Boss White,
and that was different from this.
Tolliver hadn't wanted Shiv as
an apprentice, but he was still
the closest thing that Shiv had to
a father figure other than his boss.
Mr. Vanburen had treated Shiv
as a bratty little brother, which was ...
surprisingly more functional than most of
Shiv's relationships with foster siblings.
Being claimed still brought up
a whole hassle of mixed feelings
that Shiv didn't want to deal with.
So he slunk back to the camp and then
took his drink under the not-a-tent to savor.
It was frigid and delicious. The blue swirl
tasted a little like tea and something floral.
The hot pink was the dragonfruit, with
kind of a cucumber-melon flavor.
Shiv wanted something to go with it,
so he rummaged in the snack hamper.
They had Jumble Munch in Chive Dive
and Honeybunch, not his favorite flavors.
Then he found something in baggies
labeled Strawberry Power Bars.
Those turned out to be delicious.
Shiv snarfed down the first one
in about four bites, then took
another to nibble slowly.
Meanwhile Halley unpacked
a whole heap of sandcastle molds and
other tools from some kind of mesh hamper.
Edison dumped out the yesterday bucket
and started making patterns with the bits.
"Whatcha got there?" Shiv asked with
his mouth full of strawberry goodness.
"Wait, are those the pyramids?"
"We're going to make sandcastles,"
Halley said. "These are the molds."
"That's an Egyptian pyramid and
that's Mayan," said Edison pointing
to the orange and red molds. "Then
the Parthenon is from Greece and
the Colosseum is Roman." They were
green and yellow. "The Taj Mahal is, um ..."
"That's this blue one with the onion dome,"
Dr. G said. "It's a Muslim mausoleum in India."
Trust the Finns to build sandcastles
shaped like major world monuments.
They weren't the only folks intent
on making sand sculptures, though,
Shiv saw as he looked around.
A family of thirteen had bought
the brick set and were busy
building a giant fort of sand.
They all seemed to be having
a great time, but none of them
actually looked related to each other.
"What's with them?" Shiv asked.
"Are they really together, or what?"
"That's the St. Elmo Sankofa Home,"
said Elisabeth. "They live in Santa Cruz.
It's one of the few group homes that accept
superkids. See the lady with the chestnut hair?
That's my house sister Ellen Capercaille. We
grew up together in Winlock House."
"Why does one of the kids look ...
smushed?" Shiv wondered.
He really did. His head was
as wide as it was tall. One eye
went one way and one went
the other. He didn't have all
his teeth and something was
definitely wrong with his nose.
"Shh," said Elisabeth. "Collie
is a shapeshifter. He doesn't
have much practice with holding
human form yet, and this is actually
quite good for him. If you make fun
of his face, that would make him sad,
so please keep your voice down."
Shiv thought about how hard it was,
sometimes, not to wet the bed at night
and then imagined having to concentrate
like that all the time just to stay human.
He shuddered. "Sorry, I didn't know."
"That's okay, most people don't,"
said Elisabeth. "It's okay to ask
questions, too, just remember
to respect people's feelings."
Ellen seemed to be coaching
several of the younger boys as
they worked on the fort, but Shiv
couldn't recognize any of the words.
"What language is that?" Shiv said.
He tilted his head, trying to catch it.
"I don't know, but I can find out.
Hey, Ellen!" Elisabeth called.
"Awaswas or Chuk'chansi?"
"It's Chuk'chansi, like Ichiro here,"
said Ellen, waving at a boy with
short black hair and glasses. "He's
learning, and so we're practicing."
"Sounds Indian maybe, but
not like Omaha," said Shiv.
"Hey kid, you know hand-talk?"
He made the signs for sun and
water. "I dunno one for beach."
Ichiro turned away and hurried
to the other side of the sand fort.
"What'd I do now?" Shiv said,
cringing in anticipation of
the inevitable lecture.
He should know better
than to try making friends,
really he should. The Finns
rubbed off on him, though, and
sometimes he just ... forgot.
"You didn't do anything wrong,"
Ellen said. "It's just that Ichiro has
a complicated past, and a lot of that
comes from the Chuk'chansi tribe."
"You don't like them, or what?"
Shiv said, trying to make sense of it.
"I don't like their behavior," she said carefully.
"They kicked out a bunch of folks, including
my mentor Fat Salmon who was one of
the few native speakers of Chuk'chansi
back then. We put him in an apartment
on our lot until he passed away, but
I'm still pretty mad at the tribe."
"What's that got to do with the kid
snubbing us?" Shiv asked.
"He's not snubbing you, he's
just sensitive about his past,"
Ellen said. "You can help
by changing the subject."
Shiv had no intention of
fucking up again by picking
another wrong topic.
Just then, Collie staggered
over to Edison and mumbled
something that was probably
supposed to sound English but
Shiv couldn't understand a word of.
"We're sorting some decorations,"
Edison said. "Do you want to help?"
Collie nodded and reached clumsily
for the pile of stones and shells.
"Halley's mixing up the fixative
for my sandcastle," Edison said.
"We're going to try something new,
spraying it over the outside instead of
pouring both solutions into dry sand."
For some reason, that made Ichiro pop up
behind the sand fort. After a moment, he
came to talk with Halley. Shiv could hear
the words just fine, but he still couldn't
understand them, even in English.
Several of the other Finns had
already started on a sandcastle
with a broad base and two towers.
Halley and Ichiro mixed a batch
of some cloudy liquid while Dr. G
watched them work. Then they
blended that with some sand.
"Okay, Edison, here you go,"
Halley said, handing him
the big tub of damp sand.
Edison started working on it,
and it looked almost like clay.
"Would you like to make one?"
Dr. G asked Shiv. "There's
plenty to go around if you do."
"Regular is fine for me," Shiv said.
"I just need some water for it."
"There's a watering can in
the beach tools," Edison said,
pointing toward the hamper.
Shiv found the tiny can,
ran down to the beach to fill it,
and then came back to the camp.
He chose a spot and watered
the sand until it stuck together.
Then he made a pile using
a round mold, but he didn't
leave it that way. Instead,
he used seashells to carve
the sand into a new shape.
It was delicate work, and
as Shiv sculpted the towers,
he used his superpower
to reshape the shells.
He loved how sharp
they could get with
only a little coaxing.
He made windows and
doors, and even the fine lines
of the stones in the walls.
The older Finns were making
good progress on theirs, too, with
Heron adding rows of tiny rocks and
shells to outline imaginary gardens.
Edison finished his sandcastle.
"Okay, Halley, spray it on!"
he said, wiggling eagerly.
Halley used a spritz bottle of
some yellowish liquid to wet down
the outside of the castle, while Ichiro
had a sprayer of ocean water.
After a few minutes, Halley
told Edison, "Test it now, but
be careful. If it's not hard yet,
we can spray it again and
wait a little bit longer."
Edison tapped his finger
against the sandcastle, and
it made a solid clink sound.
"Yes!" the boy crowed.
"Okay, test it and see
if it worked," Halley said.
Edison carefully picked up
the sandcastle and shook it.
Grit rained out from the bottom,
leaving a thin shell of hard sand.
"Isn't that fragile?" Shiv asked.
"Nah, it's hard as concrete now,"
Edison said, rapping his knuckles on it.
"But what if it didn't work?" Shiv said,
He'd feel awful if that happened to his.
"Then we'd mark this experiment as a failure,
and try something else this time," Halley said
with a shrug. "It did work, though, so now
we can publish this on GeekSqueak."
"Can I help with the writeup?" Ichiro said.
"Sure, using ocean water to help keep
the bacteria happy was a good idea,"
Halley said. "Maybe architects can
use that for building houses!"
"Shiv, do you want to make
your sandcastle permanent, too?"
Dr. G asked. "Ours is bigger than we'd
want to keep, but yours is small enough."
"Permanent how?" Shiv asked him.
Sandcastles weren't meant to last.
"Well, I bought an extra box
of that bacterial fixative in case
anyone else wanted it, but if you'd like
to try using your superpower instead,
then the kids can use that one with
play sand at home," said Dr. G.
Of course as soon as he
said superpower, Shiv wanted
to see if he could make that work.
He hunkered down beside
his sandcastle and concentrated
on it, all the tiny grains of sand
that made up its shape.
He squeezed the sand
together with his mind, trying
to make the edges go into each other
so that they'd stay put even after he
let go of the energy around them.
He felt it working, or thought he did,
and when he came out of the haze
to look at his work, he saw that it had
turned glittery and glassy on the surface.
The sandcastle was also only about
half the size it was when he started.
"What the hell happened?" Shiv said.
"If you mean the shrinkage, I think it's
because you compressed the sand
while binding it," Dr. G explained.
"Huh," Shiv said, suddenly dizzy.
The world was graying out too.
"Think I need to lie down."
Gentle fingers pressed against
his wrist, and then Dr. G said,
"Here, try this. We brought
some Hum-Dingers in case
anyone ran low on energy."
A plastic packet tapped against
Shiv's hand, so he accepted it.
The energy gel tasted like honey
and rice and caramel, with enough salt
to stand out as a separate flavor.
As soon as he finished that one,
Dr. G handed him another packet.
By the end of the second, Shiv had
revived enough to accept the bottle
of water that Dr. G offered him.
"It would help if you could eat
something, too," said Dr. G.
"Are there any strawberry bars
left?" Shiv said. He'd seen the boys
digging into the bag earlier.
"Two left," Dr. G said, and
brought both of them to Shiv.
"These're won'r'ful," Shiv mumbled
around a mouthful. "Wish we had more."
"Thank you," said Dr. G. "My wife
and I made these last night."
Shiv ate both bars, and
after that he felt a lot better.
At least the beach quit spinning.
Maybe he could cadge the recipe
and make his own, if that wasn't
too complicated or too expensive.
He knew the Finns were above
his pay grade in a lot of ways.
Shiv licked his fingers, then
picked up his sandcastle.
"That turned out really well,"
Halley said. "I bet you could
sell those as sculptures."
Shiv hugged his sandcastle
against his chest. "No."
"That's okay, Shiv, you don't
have to sell those if you don't
want to," Dr. G assured him.
"Since you're keeping it, you
could make it a candleholder,"
Edison said. "Look at the towers.
You made three with flat tops and
the rest pointy. The big towers
are wide enough for tea lights."
Halley dug into a beach tote and
brought out a giant bag of tea lights.
"Here, have as many as you want,"
thon said. "We use these for picnics
and decorating our sandcastles."
"Like how?" Shiv said, although
he took a few of the tiny flat candles.
"Let me give you some inspiration,"
Dr. G said. He brought up pictures on
his smartphone of candlelit beaches and
a previous sandcastle the family made.
"That is so out of my league,"
Shiv said, shaking his head.
"No it's not," Edison said.
"You just take these and go
like here --" He tried to push them
into the towers, but the candles were
just a little bit too wide to fit in. "Aww.
Can you make the tops wider?"
"Maybe." Shiv dumped out
the candles and ran a fingertip
inside the top edge of the tower,
pressing the sand in on itself to make
the space a little wider and deeper.
When he tried the candles again,
they fit perfectly into the hollows.
"Yay, you did it!" Edison crowed,
wrapping Shiv in a strangling hug.
Then he scampered away.
"I don't know how you put up
with him," Shiv said. "I couldn't."
"Well, I couldn't cup my hands
around a sandcastle and turn it
to stone," Dr. G said with a smile.
"If people keep taking the sand,
won't the beach run out?" Shiv said.
"Do you know where sand
comes from?" Aida said as she
moved over beside Shiv.
"The beach?" Shiv said,
wondering what the catch was.
"Sand comes from the rocks,"
Aida said, pointing to the cliff.
"Wind and water break off pieces,
and wear down those boulders into
pebbles, and then into sand."
"Okay, so?" Shiv said as he
looked at the tall rugged cliff.
"So that takes time," Aida said.
"Also people do things like build dams
that block sand from flowing downriver
and replenishing beaches. If the loss rate
exceeds the gain rate, then the beach shrinks."
"That doesn't sound good," Shiv said.
He liked this beach. Or maybe he just
liked going to beaches with people who
didn't totally suck. In any case, he didn't
want for IT Beach to wash away.
"It's not good, so if the sand
runs low, then the beach office
closes the takeaway options while
they refresh the sand," said Aida.
"There's a guy named Saltation who
uses Beach Powers to move sand
from harbors to shrinking beaches."
"Cool," Shiv said. "I like this sand.
It's fun to play with. Some of the bits
feel sharper than others, though."
Aida grinned at him. "Here, let me
show you something," she said as she
reached into one of the many beach totes.
"This is a pocket microscope. Pick up
some sand and look at it under this."
Shiv didn't really see the point,
but he gave it a try anyway.
And the sand was beautiful.
Magnified, it looked like gravel.
Some of the grains were sharp while
others had been polished smooth.
Most were tan or white, but a few
were orange or pink, and one was green.
A tiny seashell nestled among the stones,
along with a bright blue fragment.
"This beach is mostly feldspar and
some quartz," Aida said. "Feldspar
will be brown or tan, and quartz is
usually white or clear, although it
can be rosy, smoky, or other colors."
"What's this blue thing?" Shiv asked.
It didn't look like the rest of the sand.
Aida looked and said, "That's beach glass.
I didn't see any in the tidepools, but if we
search the sand around here, we might
find bigger pieces -- but probably not
more cobalt, because that's rare.
Most is brown, clear, or green."
"It's pretty," Shiv said. "I've
never seen anything like it."
As he tilted his hand, the grains
of sand glittered in the sunlight.
"Have you ever seen recycled glass?"
Aida asked. "Folks tumble the good kind
into gravel for paving paths, and then
junk glass goes into concrete mix
for making sparkly bricks."
Shiv thought about that.
"Like a light gray brick with
black specks that glitter?"
"Yes, that's a common kind,"
Aida said. "It's the tumbled glass
that resembles beach glass, but it's
not identical because the weathering
in a tumbler is only mechanical."
"Beach glass has chemical changes
from the salt water, too," Dr. G added.
"I'd like to see a bigger piece,"
Shiv said. "It sounds nifty."
"I don't know if we have any
in the yesterday bucket now,"
Dr. G said. "We could certainly
go beachcombing, though."
"Yeah, let's do that," Shiv said,
pushing himself to his feet.
Just in time for Edison to come
pelting back to the not-a-tent.
Shiv tensed, but the boy didn't
grab onto his legs this time.
"Mum says I might owe you
an apology," Edison said.
"Do you want it or not?"
"For what?" Shiv said,
shaking his head. "You
didn't do anything that was
any more obnoxious than usual."
"I shouldn't have bugged you
about your back," Edison said.
"Mum told me it can make people sad
if you point at their scars, and maybe
you didn't want to talk about it."
"Really don't," Shiv said. "So
why'd you say anything, if you're
supposed to know better?"
Edison's lip wobbled. "Because
somebody hurt you and it's mean!"
"I'm not -- okay, yes, it hurt when
it happened but it doesn't now,"
Shiv said, trying not to remember
Boss Batir swinging the belt
or the burning smack of it
against his skin. "I'm fine."
"You don't look fine, but Mum
said it doesn't count as fibbing
and that I should just ignore it,"
Edison replied. "I'm sorry for
making a fuss in the store."
Shiv snorted. "That's not a fuss.
I've made so much of a fuss that
I got arrested and dragged out."
"That's stupid!" Edison said,
his eyes widening. "Didn't they
know an upset person needs
a quiet room to calm down?"
Shiv flashed on the one that was
no bigger than a refrigerator, pink walls
closing in so he couldn't breathe.
"Not. A. Fan," he gritted.
The breeze shifted, and
Shiv moved to follow it.
Right now he needed the wind on
his face and the wild smell of the ocean
to remind him where he really was.
"Edison, keep your focus on
your mistakes," Dr. G said.
"I'm sorry that I grabbed you
without asking first," Edison said
to Shiv. "I know it's wrong, but
sometimes my skin gets hungry
and I just ... forget the rules."
Shiv had "just forgotten"
a zillion things when he was
upset, and he had never gotten
an inch of slack for any of it.
Suddenly he didn't want
to be that much of a dick.
"Water under the bridge," he said,
waving it off. "Just remember it's
not always safe to jump on me.
If I'm in a good mood, it's only
annoying. If I'm in a bad mood,
then somebody could get hurt."
That had happened before.
Shiv had lost count of how many
foster homes he got kicked out of
for being "too violent," no matter
what had started the fight.
As bad as some of those had been,
Shiv would hate it if Edison
got hurt because of him.
Edison wilted. "I didn't mean
to scare you. I'm really sorry."
"I wasn't scared!" Shiv said.
Creeped out, yeah, but Edison
didn't need to hear that.
"So we're all okay now?"
Edison said. "I don't want
you to stay mad at me."
"I'm not mad either," Shiv said.
"It's just I was already antsy
because of the store, and
you pushed a little too hard."
"You don't like stores?"
Edison said, frowning.
"But they have nice stuff."
"Nice if you can afford it,"
Shiv muttered, tamping down
all the memories of wanting and
not having. "Let's say I have a lot
of bad memories about stores, and
not very many good ones -- and all
of the good memories are recent."
"That stinks," Edison said.
"Yeah, it does," Shiv said.
"That's the story of my life,
kid -- one big heap of stink."
"I'm sorry I made you remember
the bad parts," Edison said. "Today
was supposed to be all about fun."
That made Shiv smirk. "Well,
it's the most fun that I've
ever had on a beach."
"So will you forgive me
for messing up?" Edison said.
"Yeah, sure," Shiv replied,
and braced himself for
the boy to ram him.
Edison didn't. Instead,
he tucked his fist against
his palm and bowed. "Mum
said not to grab you again,
and do this instead."
Bemused, Shiv returned
the rock-and-water salute.
Then he realized that he felt
like something was ... missing.
So he spread his hands and
said, "C'mere, Monkey, let's
play some Hot Potato."
Edison grinned and hugged him.
Together they chanted, "One potato,
two potato, three potato, hot!"
The little boy let go, and Shiv
sighed. It was weird, but it was
turning into a familiar sort of weird
that apparently he missed when
Edison actually left him alone.
"Will you come beachcombing
with me?" Edison said. "I heard
you talking about the beach glass,
and I want to look for some, but Mum
said I had to take a big person along."
"I want to look for beach glass too,"
Shiv said. "Is there room in the bucket?"
"If there's not, we can throw out
something else," Edison said.
"Sure, that works," Shiv said.
"Aida, are you coming? It sounded
like you know where to look."
"I'll come with you," she said.
"This is a good beach for hunting
sea glass, because it has lots of rocks.
Chips of glass wash up near those."
"I'll come too," said Dr. G. "I've
been lounging around long enough;
I should get up and move now."
They rambled along the beach,
sometimes right where the waves
were bringing in new stuff from
the ocean, and other times
farther up the slope.
Shiv enjoyed himself,
even though the beach was
a mix of fun and trigger farm.
Everything familiar made him twitchy.
He wasn't actually good at relaxing
in the first place. A lot of it was
new, though, and the Finns
were fascinating company.
Every time Shiv started to slip
into a funk, someone pulled him out --
a dog barked at him, Halley cracked a joke.
That made it kind of a roller-coaster,
but he wouldn't give it up anyway.
He liked listening to Dr. G talk
about the people they saw, and
Edison's bright chatter was funny.
As they walked, Aida showed them
how pebbles and bits of seashell
collected near the boulders.
Once she found the first piece
of beach glass, a bright green oval
with a frosty surface, Shiv got the feel
of it in his head and started sweeping
the shore with his superpower.
Beach glass reminded him of
the felted soap that a lady sold at
the farmer's market, soft and fuzzy
outside but with a hard core underneath.
The beach was mostly sand full of rocks,
some rounded and others still sharp, but
there were also a few fragments of glass
in the same range of development.
"Look out!" Shiv snapped,
yanking Edison backwards
with a hand on his shoulder.
"Hey," Edison whined.
"No grabbing means you too!"
Shiv pointed down. "Watch
where you put your feet. You
almost stepped on that."
"Stepped on what?" Edison said.
"All I can see is more sand."
Shiv looked closer, and sighed.
Only the tips of the wicked points
actually showed above the surface.
Reaching down with his superpower,
he jerked the broken bottle out of the sand.
Dr. G swore under his breath.
Shiv didn't know any of the words,
but they weren't the string of vegetables
in Esperanto that he usually used.
"Edison, let me carry you for
a little while," Dr. G said.
"Okay," Edison said, holding out
his arms to be picked up.
"What about the bottle?"
Edison said, watching it hover.
"It's not beach glass yet,
it's just litter, and big pieces
like that are dangerous," Aida said
as she opened a garbage bag.
"Wait a minute," said Dr. G.
"Shiv, would you like to try
making some beach glass with
your superpower? It won't quite be
identical due to chemical weathering,
but I bet you could come close."
"Sure, I'll try it," Shiv said, and
Aida gave him a different bag for it.
Farther along, Edison spotted
a cluster of shells surrounding
a piece of white glass worn
into sort of a heart shape.
Then Shiv spied a bit
of pale, icy blue glass.
"Oh, you got lucky,"
Aida said, envy clear in
her voice. "That's a rare color.
You won't see much blue,
even this light blue."
"Can I keep it?" Shiv asked,
hoping that he could.
"You can if it fits into
the bucket," Aida said.
It fit, and they moved on.
They found a few more pieces
before they turned back, but only
some were good enough to keep.
Aida pointed out big chips,
broken edges, and pieces that
simply weren't finished enough yet.
"Throw 'em back," she said, suiting
actions to words as she skipped
a bottle bottom out over the waves.
"Let the ocean polish them some more."
When they got back to the Finn camp,
Molly checked everyone's Sunspotz
again. "Your green is just starting to fade,"
she told Shiv. "You've got a little more time in
the sun, but not much. How about finding
some shady recreation for a while?"
"Fine by me," Shiv said, reclaiming
his starfish beach towel. The not-a-tent
cast plenty of shade over him. "I can
try my hand at making beach glass."
He used his superpower to break
the brown bottle bottom into bits
the size of the ones they'd found.
He smoothed the edges, which
was easy, but when he tried
to mimic the delicate frosting
and pitting, he couldn't.
"This is stupid," he muttered,
throwing away another failure.
"It's not stupid, it's just new,"
Dr. G said. "Pick a fresh piece,
and this time, concentrate on
just one thing. Try the frosting."
That made it a lot easier to get
an even coating of frost, but then
the edges were still pretty sharp.
"Smooth the edges, then do
the frosting," Dr. G suggested.
That worked pretty well, but Shiv
never did get the hang of the pitting
before he ran out of glass and energy.
He handed Dr. G the best piece
and said, "For the family treasure bucket."
Then Shiv tossed the rest of the pieces
out over the beach. Let the ocean
finish what he had started.
A mouthwatering smell filled
the air, making his stomach growl.
It smelled like seafood, onions, and
other things he couldn't identify.
Elisabeth gave a shrill whistle,
then yelled, "Finns to the center!"
which brought everyone running.
Dr. G grinned and held out
a hand to haul Shiv up, which
was more necessary than
Shiv wanted to admit.
"There's a mom-and-pop shop
that digs firepits to make seafood boils,
and their specialty is selling large quantities,"
the older man explained. "They put the food
in disposable aluminum trays, each one
with enough to feed ten people."
Sure enough, the Hispanic dude
was uncovering huge heaps of food --
whole crabs and clams, potatoes,
corn on the cob, and onions.
Another tin held a mountain of
tropical fruit in all kinds of colors,
glossy with some sort of syrup.
"Shovel it up, Aida's coming,"
Dr. G advised as he piled food
onto his plate as fast as he could.
Shiv didn't hesitate to grab a plate and
load it with as much as it could hold.
The seafood was salty and savory,
the vegetables boiled to tenderness.
The fruit held an unexpected hint of
some spice that he couldn't identify, and
Shiv frowned over it as he chewed.
"That's cardamom and lime, in case
you're curious," Heron said as he
sidled up to the table. Shiv had
only seen glimpses of him all day.
"It's good," Shiv said.
They took their plates and
sat down to finish the stuff that
couldn't be snitched with fingers.
You needed both hands to open
a crab, and everyone else wanted
tools, although Shiv didn't bother.
The heavy meal restored his energy
by the time he was licking the last of
the juice from his fingers. "That
was awesome," Shiv said.
"We're happy to feed you
any time," Heron said.
He really liked feeding people.
Shiv noticed that, for all his long face,
Heron was as good for a handout as Dr. G.
"Yeah, I get that," Shiv said. "It's weird,
but I think I'm starting to like it anyway."
"We'll grow on you," Heron said.
"Okay, I ate a little too much. I need
to walk it off. Would you like to come
with me, and get away from the horde
for a few minutes of quiet time?"
"Good idea," Shiv said, checking
the back of his hand. The yellow dot
was beginning to show color. "I've
got a little bit of sun time left."
So they walked toward the far end
of the beach again, where the waves
rushed and shushed against the rocks.
It was quiet and calm, not too many people
around -- the ones who wanted to wade or
play in the sand tended to stay closer
to the lighthouse, and this far down,
the tidepools were the main attraction.
"What are all these knives
buried in the sand?" Shiv said,
suddenly looking down at the beach.
A wave swished around his ankles.
"And why are some of them moving?"
"What kni--oh!" Heron said, perking up.
"About the size of your hand, really sharp,
and kind of like two of them stuck together?"
"Yeah, how did you know?" Shiv said.
They didn't show on the surface,
at least not that he could see.
"Those aren't knives, they're razor clams.
There's a show," Heron said, pointing to
a tiny hole in the sand. "We're outside of
the peak season, so this is a long shot,
but let me just check ..." He poked at
his waterproof vidwatch, then grinned.
"Yes! We're in luck! I'll call it in."
Shiv was stunned. He had never
seen Heron look so excited before,
and it seemed weird. "What?" he said.
"It's safe to dig razor clams today, and we're
outside the peak season, so almost nobody
has licenses now," Heron said. "Technically we
don't need any, because the beach itself is open for
clamming, but it's worth buying in for the perks, like
getting first dibs on the clams -- if they run low, people
with licenses can still go digging, but the beach
will stop offering it for the general public."
"Okay, what does this have to do
with me?" Shiv said, tilting his head.
"They're fast little things," Hero said.
"Da's going to buy us a family license.
You're going to shut it about being
a mooch today, because you're
about to help us catch supper."
"I've never done anything with
clams before," Shiv hedged.
"So? The shells are sharp, just
pull them toward the surface so
we can dig them up," Heron said.
"Razor clams are big and meaty.
We'll make a nice pot of chowder."
"Okay, that I can do," Shiv said.
He liked clam chowder, and
he didn't get it very often.
The shells really were sharp; it'd
be easy to pick them up, even through
several feet of damp sand. Some
of them were down pretty deep.
Before long, they had a horde
of eager Finns all around them,
and Dr. G handed out pings for
the family license by touching
his vidwatch to everyone else's.
Shiv's wasn't the waterproof kind,
which cost more, so he had to peel off
the plastic sleeve protecting it.
"Do you want a quick lesson
in clamming, or just have at it?"
Aida asked, turning to him.
"Please," Shiv said. "I have
no idea what I'm doing here."
"Okay, when a wave comes in,
the razor clams will move toward
the surface. When it goes out,
they'll dig in," Aida said. "They're
fast, so grab 'em when they're high."
"I can reach them even where
they are now," Shiv pointed out.
"Why make more work for yourself?"
she said with a shrug. "Also, take
the second-biggest clams. Leave
the giants to make more big clams,
and the little ones to grow up."
Shiv closed his eyes and felt
for the razor clams, knife-sharp
and lurking far underfoot, then
tried to compare their sizes.
"The granddaddies are down,
like, yea far below the rest,"
he said, measuring in the air.
"They'll come up," Aida said,
and then, "Wave! Everyone ready!"
The wave swooshed around them,
and all of a sudden it felt like being
in the middle of a knife fight.
Shiv grabbed as fast as he could,
but razor clams were slippery somehow
in a way that ordinary knives weren't,
and they slithered through his grip.
He only managed to flip two of them
onto the dry sand before the rest
escaped back below the surface.
"Mine!" Elisabeth yelled
at the same time Aida
called, "Strong show!"
Both of them started
digging like mad, Elisabeth
with her trench tool and
Aida with her knife.
Shiv got the hell out of
their way. He could find
the darn things anywhere.
Each time a wave rushed in,
he managed to snatch another
two or three of the clams and
toss them to shore, where Edison
put them into the family bucket.
Heron was right, razor clams
were big fat things, full of meat.
"Look at this," Aida said proudly,
holding up something that looked
like a pecker caught in a butterfly knife.
"I bet that we get a third of a pound
of meat off this one, maybe more!"
Shiv had to admit it was kind of fun
chasing clams, even if it was hard work,
especially when you got so much meat
every time you caught one of them.
The oysters they served at Blues Moon
were kind of like clams, but they were only
about the size of his thumb inside.
"Time to call it a day," Molly said.
"What?" Shiv said, staring
at her. "I'm not finished yet!"
"Oh, you're finished, all right,"
she said, pointing down.
"Look at your hand."
Shiv looked, and dammit,
the green spot was all gone and
the yellow one was as bright as butter.
"But we only have like thirty clams!"
Shiv protested. "The family license
lets us pool our limits, and we could've
gotten these for two solo licenses.
That's such a waste of money."
"It's not a waste, Shiv, because
some of the money from licenses goes
to maintain the beach, and the rest of it
goes to other wildlife in the state," said Dr. G.
"I don't begrudge it, and neither should you
if you like this beach as much as I think."
It really was a wonderful beach, and
Shiv wanted to have it for later,
including these nice clams.
He sighed, and looked at
his Sunspot again. He really
didn't want to get a sunburn, even if
it sucked to quit clamming before
they were anywhere near their limit.
"Yeah, okay, I guess I better quit,"
he said, hiking up to dry sand.
"Now what do we do?"
"I don't know about you, but
I'm giving my five to my sister,"
Elisabeth declared. "That's enough
to make a modest pot of chowder."
"Yeah, but they usually make it
by the gallon like we do," Heron said.
"Don't we still owe them for that trunk
of shrimp?" Dr. D said, tilting his head.
"That's exactly what I was thinking,"
Elisabeth said. "Besides, they have
even more mouths to feed than we do --
nine kids, plus four houseparents."
"Let's just split the take in half,
then," said Dr. G. "Share the wealth."
"I'm smooth with that, and I know
Ellen will be thrilled," said Elisabeth.
"Shiv, what about you?" Dr. G said,
turning around to face him.
"Why are you asking me?"
Shiv said, startled. "You
paid for the family license!"
"You did most of the work digging
the clams, so you get a say in where
they end up," Dr. G explained.
Shiv thought about it.
He wondered if it was safe
to ask what he really wanted.
Only one way to find out.
He licked his lips, tasting salt,
and said, "Can I have some of
the chowder to take home?"
"One care package, coming right up,"
Dr. G said. "We do that all the time for
anyone who's away from home. Since
we're talking about this now, do you
want in on the baked goods too?"
Shiv wasn't about to turn down
free food. "Yeah, I'm in."
"And the clams, darling?"
"Split 'em even," Shiv said.
He knew what it was like
living in a group home and
always hungry: it sucked.
Elisabeth might say that hers
was different, but Shiv would bet
some of the kids went hungry
just because they wouldn't ask
for food, even if it was there.
Shiv's legs felt like lead
as he hiked back to the camp,
but he didn't want to sound like
a whiner, so he didn't say anything.
Molly sidled up and tapped his hand
with something scratchy and plastic.
"What's this?" he said, looking down
at a packet with fruit on the label.
"Perk for being responsible
about your sun time," she said.
"Go on, start with that one."
Shiv ripped into it, because lunch
was long gone as far as his belly was
concerned. The energy gel tasted
like apple butter and raspberries.
Molly fed him more of them,
and when Shiv slowed down, then
she offered him a little black ball
instead. "For dessert," she said.
It looked like burnt rubber, but
he popped it in his mouth anyway,
because how bad could it be?
So much chocolate,
so dark and rich, that
his eyes rolled back
in sheer pleasure.
It was mixed with
something sticky and
and it was so good.
Shiv was trying to suck
the enamel off his teeth
to get more of it when Molly
handed him another one.
Well. If this was what he got
for humoring her, maybe
he'd do it more often.
When they reached camp,
the St. Elmo Sankofa Home
were packing up their towels.
"Oh, good, you're back,"
Ellen said to Elisabeth. "I was
hoping you'd get here in time
to watch your own stuff. We
need to head home now."
"So do we, but we have
a surprise for you," Elisabeth said,
holding up the bucket of razor clams.
"Half of these are yours, as soon
as Graham tags out at the office."
"My goodness!" Ellen said.
"To what do we owe this honor?"
Elisabeth laughed. "That trunk
of wonderful shrimp you sent us,
and Shiv's skill at digging clams."
"Thank you, Shiv, that's
a generous gift," Ellen said.
"We'll all enjoy a pot of chowder!"
Elisabeth nudged him, just
the barest touch of elbow.
"Uh, welcome," Shiv said.
He wasn't used to anyone
making such a fuss over him.
"So what was your favorite part
of the trip today?" Dr. G asked.
"The beach," Shiv said with a chuckle.
"I don't know, I liked making sandcastles
and finding beach glass and there was
this blue critter in the tidepool."
"Least favorite part?" Dr. G said.
"All the dogs," Shiv said,
wrinkling his nose. "I'm
really not into dogs."
"Hardly a surprise," Dr. G said.
"This is nicknamed Dog Beach,
so you'll usually see some."
"It was nice of you to invite me,"
Shiv said. "People usually don't."
"Well, that doesn't help at all,
does it?" Dr. G said. "I think this
worked out much better for everyone.
We can do it again sometime, if you like.
Meanwhile, it's time to pack up."
Shiv ducked into the not-a-tent
to put his things back into his bag.
Halley came and gathered up
some of the sandcastle molds
that were lying around them.
Shiv stared at the jumble of junk.
How had his stuff gotten scattered
all over everywhere like this, when he'd
only gone into it once or twice?
Dr. G sat down beside him
and said, "It's amazing what a mess
the beach always makes, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Shiv said. "I didn't think
I brought this much, but ..."
"Well, Heron kind of scrambled
the camp, calling in the clams,"
Dr. G said. "It probably got
kicked over, sorry about that."
Shiv looked at the tidy tote that
Dr. G was repacking, everything
snapped into its own perfect pocket.
Shiv sighed, suddenly ashamed
of the cheap canvas bag that he had
bought at the Omaha Farmer's Market.
"It's odd, isn't it?" Dr. G said to no one
in particular. "We're ashamed of everything --
ourselves, our relatives, our incomes, our opinions,
just as we are ashamed of our naked skins."
"I guess," Shiv said, one finger flicking
the handle of his bag back and forth.
"We are ashamed of everything
that is real about us," Dr. G said,
"but we shouldn't be, because that
is what makes us who we are,
and who we are is important."
"I'm not important," Shiv protested.
"You are to us," Dr. G said, patting him
on the shoulder. The fleeting heat of
his hand was gone before Shiv had time
to appreciate it. "As soon as you're done
with that, we can fold up the umbrellas."
Dr. G stood up and walked away,
leaving Shiv to his task and his thoughts.
It was strange how someone could
make Shiv feel so confused, and yet
so much more real, at the same time.
Shiv shook his head and went back
to work, tossing aside what wasn't his --
Halley could deal with the Finn things --
and putting his own stuff in his bag.
Something crinkled under his hand.
He yanked the bag open, because he
knew that he hadn't left anything in it
which should make a sound like that.
If Edison put an empty wrapper in
Shiv's bag, the brat was going to regret it.
Instead, Shiv found a whole packet of
Sunspotz with their cheerful stoplight label.
At first he thought that someone must have
dropped it, but no, it was tucked way down
deep in the bag where he wouldn't have
found it until later if it hadn't crinkled.
He wondered if someone might be
trying to set him up, but that was just nuts;
it wasn't like the Finns to frame anyone,
even someone they hated, and they
kept claiming to like him.
Which was also nuts, but
that was the Finns for you.
They had funny taste in people.
Fine, whatever, he'd keep the Sunspotz
and be grateful for their added safety.
Shiv finished packing and swept
his hand over the beach mat
to clear the sand away.
Then he helped Aida take down
the not-a-tent, folding up both it
and the beach mat underneath
so those would fit into their bags.
As they picked up everything
and turned to leave, Shiv took
one last look over his shoulder
at IT Beach behind them.
The sand glittered golden
in the sun and the blue water
winked with a few white waves.
It was the best beach that Shiv
had ever seen, and the Finns were
some of the best people he had
ever met, and he let himself
believe, just for a minute,
that he could keep them.
* * *
This poem is long and so is the batch of footnotes. I will add those in a separate post.