- She Came from the Sea
The first time the rubber ducks washed up on the beach, there were just a few of them, eight or nine. The holidaymakers didn't quite know what to make of them: Where had they come from? And why were they floating in this uniform group with no obvious purpose or destination? But unlike the typical pieces of plastic that often floated to the shore—bottle caps, netting, and bags, pockmarked and stained—these bubble-bath paraphernalia were spotless. Almost glistening. The sun reflected off them as they were pulled along by the tide, dipping in and out of view, near the oceanfront.
When the children caught sight of these shiny objects, they immediately turned toward them, like magpies, unburying themselves from the human-sized holes they had made in the sand. They put down their slopping buckets of water, ceasing to traipse them back and forth between the parent posts. And they began to run the length of the beach, trying to wave the ducks in, frantically flapping their arms and flexing their larynxes.
As they finally neared the shallow water, these eight or nine rubber ducks were claimed in a frenzy: the small boys snatched them up and picked at their eyes with sticks or threw them back into the water for the dogs to fetch; the girls placed them in turreted castles or lined them up in neat rows, making them into friends and feeding them sandwiches. Emily—the smallest of the holidaymakers' children—had been the first to spot them. She had turned five just that week, and her parents had bought her a pair of binoculars, by her request. Her russet hair fell over its edges as she held them up to the water. When the ducks grounded, she already knew which one was hers: it was the runt of the group, just like she was. Emily had been watching it come in and had kept her eyes fixed on it as it slipped to the back of the line, tired from its journey she assumed. She pulled up her water wings, snapped her goggles on, and dived in, scooping it toward her with a trowel before one of the others could take hold. [End Page 19]
Can we keep them, they asked. Their parents were suspiciously observing them up close and from all angles, again probing: Might they have germs on them? And how did they end up on this shore? But in the end the children won, like always. They've crossed the wide ocean, they fantasized, they've seen giant waves, Atlantic storms, dolphins and blue whales, convincing the adults of their ceremony, while riding their rubber ducks over imaginary waves, in the air. They are The Creatures of the Sea. And so, in this small town in which Emily spent every summer, and where her mother had too when she was a child, and her mother's mother too, each of these extraneous objects from The Great Unknown found its new place in the world: in a toy box, on a shelf, or next to the bath. In the case of Emily, it was under her pillow. But, they brought something with them to this new, opportune land—something that was unquantifiable and transient. It couldn't be touched or named, or even conceptualized. It lived as a feeling in the crook of a rib, a stirring that made them foreign, and therefore inexplicable.
That night, each of the holidaymakers' small children dreamed of soaring whitecaps and a vast swell that pushed down onto their lungs, emptying them out, and the endless blue that made them desperate. And just as the ducks had been tossed by the waves, bobbing between peaks and froth, the children turned in circles, and thrashed, and begged for respite, whimpering in their sleep, as if they were really there.
The following day, when the parents woke up, they were alarmed by the lack of extra limbs shifting between the sheets or by a wet streak across the bed: Where were the children? They rushed between play areas, tv locations, kitchen cupboards, and porch swings, preparing for the...