Carousel, by Megan Hayes
Updated: Jul 22
Growing feels a lot more like incessantly turning, wondering which memory from your past will take a new form in the future.
Feel the salt of the sea kiss your cheek as you stand on the shoreline in the baby blue beach dress your mom picked out for you. You’re six years old and there’s something so special about how your feet sink into the sand every time the ocean grabs your ankles.
You see a glimmer of something a few feet ahead and convince yourself that it’s a mermaid toenail. Logically, that doesn’t make sense because mermaids don’t have toes. But you’re six years old, and you try to make sense of all the different things around you.
You walk and walk until you reach the mermaid’s toenail and bend down to examine it. It’s silver and reflects the light, giving it an iridescent glow. It’s beautiful and it will be your prized possession from your family trip to the beach.
The water hits you before you can stand up and return the mermaid’s toenail to your bucket in the sand. The salt of the sea no longer gives sweet kisses on your cheek, it launches a series of assaults on your entire body. This will feel familiar to you in the coming years, the drastic shift from gentleness to violence.
The wave holds you down and you choke and cough, your eyes burn, and your tears blend in perfectly with the unrelenting assailant. It’s not until you feel your arm being yanked, pulling you out from under the suction of the ocean. You hear the panic in your mom’s voice, something you’ll hear years later when she tries to wake your dad, but he doesn’t respond.
She carries you back to the sand and you see the waves subdue, the water becomes calm and makes you believe that it won’t hurt you ever again. Your dad wraps you in a towel and holds you tight, restoring warmth to your small frame, and your sister says something that makes you laugh. You’re six years old after all, you bounce back quickly. But your ability to recover and persevere is something that will carry you through life, it’s not a fleeting childhood skill.
Your family packs up for the day, and you are wearing the extra sweatshirt that your mom packed for you. It smells like her, and you snuggle against it, something that you will do even when you’re 26 and in need of comfort. She turns around and smiles at you from the passenger seat, her smile lets you know that she will always be there to save you from whatever it is that tries to take you away.
In the car, the heat from the vents cover your toes and legs. The sun begins to set over the trees as you make your way back home. This is the same drive you will take when you visit your parents to tell them that you’re engaged and couldn’t be happier. You’ll snuggle against your mom and inhale her scent and your dad’s strong hand will wrap around your shoulder; they are so proud of the woman you have become.
You’ll stand on the shoreline when you’re 67 and remember one of your first and most vivid memories of finding the mermaid’s toenail and the ocean finding you. You’ll remember how fleeting these moments are and how you so desperately wish to have one more second on that towel sprawled across the sand with your family wrapped around you. You’ll look back at your daughter who is making a sandcastle with her daughter, and you’ll see your grandson wander near the water. You take his hand and tell him about the mermaid’s toenail.
Mermaid’s don’t have toenails, they have tails, he says. And you just smile and look for different shells together.
The end of the day comes soon, and you and your daughter and two grand kids sit on a towel sprawled out on the sand. You each hold one of them in your lap and watch the waves lap the shore, the salt of the sea gives kisses to each of your cheeks.
Megan Hayes is a third year undergraduate student at Saint Joseph's University where she is currently studying English and communications. This is her debut fiction publication.
Lynn Magill lives in Western Washington with deep Iowa roots that influence many aspects of her work. She writes poetry and nonfiction and is also a painter and visual artist. She is scheduled to graduate from Central Washington University in Winter of 2021 with a master’s degree in Professional and Creative Writing and will begin her doctorate at Northcentral University in Spring of 2021. She has nonfiction pieces scheduled for publication in Spring of 2021 in an anthology via McFarland & Sons, as well as current pieces in Route 7 Review, Good Life Review, Thin Air Magazine, and Fleas On The Dog. Lynn loves to travel and spend time with her husband on their Texas ranch herding goats and finding any excuse to avoid being within range of cell phone reception.