Salt, Chapter Two
Salt is a story told in three chapters. Read Chapter One.
The following morning, while her mother was resting, Bridget went to the beach. Their house was on the quiet side of the island. No waves worthy of surfing, so it was always relatively serene. It was a good place to sit and think and these days Bridget did a lot of thinking.
Most of the summers in Bridget’s life had been exciting. Full of colour and sun and memories. Almost all of them had taken place on this very beach. Racing and jumping between the rockpools to see who could catch the most crabs. Building giant sandcastles only to surrender them to the ocean. Running through the sea, legs weighed down by the water so their lungs were full of laughter.
Riley was in a lot of those memories. He was one of the few who lived here. Bridget was only a summer migrant. She hated saying goodbye at the end of every summer to all her friends here, but especially him. They never stayed in touch during the rest of the year. It was like he was tied to this place. He was always here when she returned.
Until she didn’t return.
They left in the middle of the night. Her parents were fighting and Bridget was trying not to listen. She was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and dreaming of honey ice-cream, sweet and sticky dripping down her fingers. Before she knew what was happening, they opened the door to her room and pulled her suitcase from the cupboard. They packed her clothes into it right in front of her without a word as to what was happening. Summer was over. They were heading home.
But this is home, Bridget thought.
She felt like a ghost, watching them pack up all her things, put her in the car and drive away. Across the bridge. Back to the mainland. All while Bridget was still looking through the back window.
Her mother was on the phone the entire road home. Bridget assumed it was something to do with her job. Maybe she was going to be fired. Bridget tried to recall what her mother had said when she talked about work. It was mostly coffee and stress.
It turned out to be the opposite. She got a promotion.
Bridget went back to school and started catching the tram home for the first time. She had begged for years to be given such freedom. But every time she opened the door to an empty house, she didn’t feel independent. She just felt alone.
As Bridget dialled down the temperature on the air conditioner, all she thought about was going back. As she wiped the sweat from her brow on the walk home from the tram stop, all she thought about was going back. There was a small flame of hope starting to build inside her. Summer was coming. And she would get to go back.
But the days and weeks and months all passed and there was no good news.
That was the first summer she spent in the city. It was hot and sticky and sweaty and she wished for a wave to crash over her to cool her down. She slept on a single sheet in front of a small spinning fan that would eventually break. She stayed in her room, reading books about the ocean. Pirates and mermaids and sea creatures and secret islands and terrible storms. When she had devoured all those stories, she went to the library to find more. Sometimes if she stood in the shower and shut her eyes, she could almost feel the ocean around her. She went to the local swimming pool only to swallow a mouthful of chlorine.
She didn’t expect good news the following year. Her parents told her she was getting older. She should be looking forward, not back.
Not long afterwards, it became a summer of tests, appointments and dead ends. White corridors and waiting rooms and ticking clocks.
Suddenly, looking forward was even scarier than before.
Just after Bridget returned from the beach, Riley and his mother showed up on their doorstep clutching a wicker basket full of fruits and vegetables. They clearly already knew.
Bridget felt like everyone knew.
Her dad told them that her mother was still asleep, but they were welcome to come back in the afternoon. He thanked them for the food. They promised to return with more. Bridget watched as Riley’s eyes darted around the hallway, probably searching for her. Not knowing that she was hidden at the top of the staircase, digging her fingernails into the carpet and watching the marks disappear. Her dad closed the door and she leapt forwards to help carry the food into the kitchen.
She made a fruit salad for lunch, the sour berries exploding with flavour inside her mouth.
In the evening, Bridget was riding her bike back from town when the chain slipped and she flew over the handlebars.
The pain was immediate as soon as she smashed into the ground. The gravel dug into her knees and palms. Her hands were stinging. The ache shot up her arms as she lay helpless on the side of the road.
Tears streaming down her cheeks, she took a few deep breaths and then sat up to examine the damage. She could move all of her limbs. She could see the road in front of her. She was only a few blocks away from home.
Her chain laid in a greasy mess on the grass. Gingerly, she picked it up and put it in her front basket. She pushed her bike the rest of the way home, only to find that the door to her parents’ bedroom was shut.
Feeling defeated, she returned to her bike in the front yard. Her fingers were shaking too much to slot the chain back into place.
Over the fence, she could see a bonfire blazing in the pit in Riley’s backyard. Somebody was home.
She wheeled her bike over and knocked next door. She wasn’t sure who she wanted to answer. Let it be Riley. Let it be his mother. Let it be—
Read Chapter Three.