It looks like nothing bad can happen. The day is cloudless, inviting outside in the tender way of autumn. The trail to the beach is still swamped from last week’s rain. Thirty people could lie in the rain-pool but only seven do. Other pools spread around them and among the dunes in tones of blue, green and bronze. She knows it’s The Holocaust Memorial Day, one of many. For days going on years she has carried her memories of them, parents who were surprised by her presence everyday until they passed away. Their own memories were heavy with their memories of their families, the dead families in Poland and Austria, lost to war. She carries heavy memories full of holes. They are nestled inside her, but sunny days like this one push them aside.
There haven’t been enough good moments this year. She’s thought again and again—she always thinks—that she’dbe alone again, if not immediately, then in a few years, and if nobody left her or the place or the time or this life, she’d get old no matter how much she’d resist it, and she does puta fight.
But now, they follow the trail, the seven of them. One couple brought a poodle whose teeth go upward over its mouth. Another couple brought an adolescent daughter lonely enough to join them. The third one brought nothing, only water and a towel. They splash through knee-high water to an unsteady little bridge and then into the dunes, and their feet leave traces in the sand, like lost traces in the snow, people taken and guarded and beat and sent away on foot in the freezing winter. Her family. On TV, a film from that past showed the bad days of people going toward their worst day yet. The director caught the most disgusting angles of what the cameramen considered a most disgusting people. Was this my family?
We are going to the beach. The sun tans the skin to a point before burning, then the breeze blows on it like a mother blowing air on her daughter’s wound. Sometime, after the holocaust and after Mom’s settling down in Israel, doctors warned that blowing air on a wound involves bacteria and inflammation. But she, a blonde-red-haired woman with European delicate skin, thin legs, and heavy breasts disciplined by triangular bra cups, she with frayed eyelashes surrounding surprisingly light green eyes looking tired from the years and the length ofeach day—she knew what’s best for her daughter. She hadn’t been “there,” though, the mother, not in the ghetto or the camps, not in hell, like the father, the stocky man with a gentle face and darker hair and eyes and skin than his daughter’s, and yet his eyes twinkled, they did, much more than the mother’s. He would have said that’s fine, go out, enjoy yourself today, but light a candle for my parents, and my little brother, and my aunt and uncle, and my cousins, except for the one who escaped, thank goodness. He uses such expressions, but they have no god in them, only heart. Her mother, too, however, lost family. She ran away and lost everyone else, except for her daughter, that rough fruit of the desert, who’d become a woman with no explanation, no excuse for her neglect of the dead. Nothing is sustained by her spirit, her soaring spirit in the dunes and the pools and the oceans, nothing to hold onto in days to come but a candle she may or may not light. She goes, and dives, and takes pictures. Nothing bad will happen, not yet, not today.
Note: Originally published in November 2014, Life In, Life Out (Matter Press).
This flash is something of a "time travel story" because it explores an internal journey and an external journey simultaneously, the external taking place in the present and the internal in the past. Memory and history are inseparable from the now, and this dynamic is the drive behind the story.
Avital Gad-Cykman’s flash collection Life In, Life Out was published by Matter Press. Her stories have been published in The Literary Review, Ambit, CALYX Journal, Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s, Prism International, Michigan Quarterly Review and elsewhere. They have also been featured in anthologies such as W.W. Norton’s International Flash Fiction Anthology, Sex for America, Politically Inspired Fiction, Stumbling and Raging, Politically Inspired Fiction, The Flash, and The Best of Gigantic. Her work won the Margaret Atwood Society Magazine Prize, was placed first in The Hawthorne Citation Short Story Contest, and was a finalist for Iowa Fiction Award for story collections. She lives in Brazil.