A skinny boy stretches off the dock for the highest branch of the blueberry bush. His pinkish white skin glows against the shadows in the bush, and his arm crooks around the crooked branch to clasp a handful of berries. The tiny berries will make sharp pings as they hit the bottom of his tin bucket. He stretches again, on tiptoe, his waist rising out of his faded blue cotton bathing suit, and his grandmother says, “Hold it this time.”
He holds. He is not really picking blueberries. They aren’t quite ripe yet. But the sun and shadows are right today, so she guided him out to the dock for a picture. He squints, wavers on his toes. He knows he should enjoy the sun, the way it toasts his skin and makes his brown hair a warm flat hat across the top of his head. Still, the comforting dark of the house beckons. It is not really dark, once you’ve blinked away the assaulting sunlight. It has texture, color, and coolness, it promises a cozy spot to play cards with his sister, whom he always beats. While she struggles inside with a complicated solitaire game, he is alone in this glare of sun, picking pretend blueberries. Why didn’t Grandma pick her today?
But here she is, peeking out of the shadow, still in her jeans and checked shirt from the morning’s forced hike. Grandma shoos her away, but instead of retreating back to the dark house, she runs to the end of the dock, crouching safely away from Grandma, her hurried steps still swaying the dock. Grandma adjusts the camera, tells him to hold the bucket up an inch higher, closer to the bush. What is his sister looking at? It is the time of day for fish to swim in and out of shadows under the dock, resting lazily in the sun filled water, then darting away at a quick awareness of the watching girl. He wants to be there, bossing her.
“Well, that’s good.” Grandma closes the camera into its square leather casing, the brown flap fitting snugly over the small round lens. He wonders if the flap will appear in the picture, as it sometimes does, when the photographer forgets to push it out of the way. Sometimes that is the picture, the inside of the casing, his grandparents’ address carefully lettered in his grandmother’s block printing. Grandma snaps the case and moves slowly off the dock. He wants to run by her, but he remembers last summer when Grandpa fell in and had to go to the hospital, so he waits. Her parting words, “Why don’t you take a swim before lunch?” he ignores, now crouched by the side of his sister. He reaches for a fish.
Are you the unseen girl of “On the dock”? Is the boy your brother? Lovely piece.
Yes and yes. Thank you! I am stupid about commenting on blogs, but I recently read your piece about air conditioning and it has stayed with me–I love your examination of the differences in ideas of personal space in Indian and American culture. And then I had a dream about sharing a bed with more and more people because of your post!