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Excerpt from "The Ties that Bind"
by Francine Kubrin

They unloaded the car, Eve lugging blankets and towels, her mother grunting under the weight of the picnic hamper, and her father holding an umbrella that towered over him. Seeing him stumble across the sand, Eve picked up one end of the umbrella but he pushed her away. "Go find a spot halfway down and not too close to your aunts and uncles, especially that fool Bessie. Scat, now."

Her father planted the green and yellow striped umbrella in the sand like a warrior staking his claim, then plopped down in a beach chair, burying his face behind the Sunday newspaper. On most occasions, Eve was eager to go to the beach but today she didn't want to be here. Her stomach tied in knots, Eve took extra time in helping her mother arrange the beach blanket, straighten its corners just so, refold the towels and unpack the hamper one item at a time. She ignored her cousin standing in front of her. "Eve, what's wrong? Don't you hear me yelling? Come on, we're all waiting for you to ride the breakers with us. You always set the pace for us out in the briny deep. I'll beat you to the shore." "I'll be there in a few minutes, go ahead without me."

Dangling a keg of lemonade from one hand and cradling a cake tin in the other arm, her mother stepped forward. "Why don't you go with Carl, like you always do? You've been sulking all morning. What's wrong with you today?" "I don't want to be here. I never want to go to the beach again. All I can think of is Michael, my best friend ever, drowning. Why can't you understand that?" she stammered. "Such nonsense, what a silly girl you are. What happened to Michael will never happen to you. There's nothing to be afraid of here. You're a big girl, twelve years old, not a little coward afraid of her own shadow. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Do you want your cousins to see you being a crybaby?" She brought her face close to Eve's, the daughter assaulted by her mother's stale breath.

The mother gripped her daughter's shoulders. "Eve, look at ne now. Listen to me, young lady, don't you dare embarrass me in front of your aunts and uncles. What kind of mother will they think I am if you don't want to join the others?" She lowered her voice to a snarl. "You're not going to make me look like a fool, are you? If you do, you'll pay the price. Now, go," she said, shoving Eve towards the shore. Seeing her mother's cold stare, Eve shuddered.

Wrapping her arms across her chest, she walked slowly to the shore, the hot sand burning her feet. Reaching the water's edge, she lingered to watch her footprints vanish beneath the surf. She looked back and saw children screaming and chasing each other along the shore. Facing the water, she saw swimmers frolicking, their cries muffled by the crashing waves. A wave of nausea swept over her as she stood poised on the shore. She edged into the surf, kicking aside clumps of seaweed, and feeling the sting of salt spray and the warmth of the sun. Soothed by the balmy air, she closed her eyes, imagining herself floating In a bathtub, the ocean washing her as clean and pure as a baby. As the seawater gradually covered her, she felt the knot in her stomach relax, the nausea fade. When the water reached her chest, she took a deep breath, plunged in, resurfaced and swam, her body rolling back and forth, inhaling and exhaling with each stroke. She heard someone yell. "Eve's here now. Let's ride the breakers. Let's wait for the next big one and ride it in together."

As she rode the breakers, she felt a gentle hand on her back, buoying her forward. She looked over her shoulder, and seeing no one, nodded at the expanse of the sea. Reaching the shore, she scrambled to her feet, looked up at the sky and then towards the horizon. She placed the back of her hand over her heart, waving her fingers slowly. "Goodbye, Michael, goodbye, goodbye," she whispered to the waves. She turned towards the beach and saw her mother, smiling, blowing kisses and waving a beach towel. Looking down, Eve grabbed the towel from her mother and wrapped herself in its folds, enveloped in the scent of the sea and the grit of the sand.