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Everything We Needed

Kate Bird

After breakfast, Darius and I climb to the top of the sand dunes on Tomales Bay, a slender finger of inlet between Marin County and Point Reyes. The sky is a gauzy grey, and beyond the heavy fog enveloping Tomales Point, a broad expanse of open coastline stretches north.

The recent, sudden, death of my mother has me drowning in quicksand. Has brought me here, to visit my Aunt Pat and cousin Karen, who wait below, the wind in their hair.

Darius clambers up the dune on his sturdy little legs, then slides down again, over and over. The sand shifts constantly in the wind and settles again. Like an hourglass, sand emptying out of one place, filling another. By tomorrow the entire shape of the dunes will have changed and changed again. I race Darius down the steep slope chased by an avalanche of sand, and the holes we punch with our awkward steps disappear before we’ve reached the bottom. As we walk along the shoreline, Darius discovers that, unlike ours, his footprints don’t leave impressions in the sand.

“I’m too light,” he says.

Karen’s dogs, Merit and Skye, race ahead down the beach. Merit leaps through the waves, barking at nothing, his big red mouth a happy grin. Skye doesn’t like the water, but she loves to fetch, so I search the beach for a piece of driftwood. When I spy something in the swirling white sea foam, I discover it’s a dog ball with a rope handle. I throw it for Skye.

We sit close together on the seaweed-strewn beach. A swirling gusty wind blows, the kind that makes you feel restless, that whips sand up in your eyes, that whistles into your ears and could drive you mad in time. Aunt Pat looks so much like Mom, and her voice is similar too. Just being near her, the sight and sound of her, acts like a placebo. I close my eyes and let the healing tonic of her laugh wash over me. Darius finds a yellow plastic bucket someone forgot, but he has no shovel. He scoops soft sand into his small fists, opens his fingers wide, lets the wind carry it away.

Merit digs a hole nearby, his paws a furious blur. Wet sand flies into the air and rains down on top of us. We shift a few feet to the west. Merit’s hole grows wider and deeper, the pile of displaced sand gets taller. He pauses, barks, and cocks his head at us. We stand. Peer down into the hole. At the bottom, half buried in the sand, is a blue plastic shovel. Aunt Pat pulls it out, dusts it off, and hands it to Darius. He smiles.

And just like that, everything we needed is given to us.

That night, I imagine the sand dunes shape-shifting in the moonlight. Distant waves pound the shore with a dull repetitive thud, and the deep, complex scent of ocean fills my lungs. The bedsheets are gritty. Sand sifts through the screened windows, coats every surface, invades every crevice. I imagine the wind moving over the ocean and across the beach, sand shifting grain over grain, emptying, filling, changing my shape, molding me into a new form as I sleep.

Kate Bird’s work was published in the February 2022 issue of The Sun Magazine, is forthcoming in the April issue of The Sun Magazine, and was shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s 2021 Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize. Her writing has also appeared in The Walrus, Montecristo Magazine, and Hurricane in the Basement. A graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, Kate is the author of Vancouver in the Seventies and City On Edge.

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