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<div class="ptext">When I was twelve, my mother became a tidepool. I found her by a favorite haunt of ours, in the rocky stretch of Cabrillo Beach, where steep concrete stairs molded to the sea cliffs led down to jagged, shifting stones and crashing waves. It was low tide. Her body was becoming black tidepool rock, her hair a clump of washed up kelp. Hermit crab eyes crawled down into the pulsing saltwater of her belly, leaving behind empty sockets to be filled [[when the tide came in|Lunch]].</div>
<div class="ptext">My [[mother|mother]] tapped her long fingers on the countertop. Hollow thuds rang beneath each point of impact.
I swallowed the last of the soup. The saltiness lingered in the edges of my teeth.</div><div class="ptext">A week before, we were eating <<linkappend " lunch">>, bread with canned cream of mushroom soup, watered down and heated up on the stove<</linkappend>>. She kept glancing at me across the cracked wooden countertop where we ate our meals, as if daring me to speak first. The sunlight cast a watery ray<<timed 3.5s t8n>>, spilling into our bowls, pale gold against my mother’s paperwhite skin, highlighting the grey in her black hair<</timed>>. If I stared hard enough, I could see the protruding veins in her arm, the color of verdigris, pulse gently with [[life|softlunch]].
<div class="ptext">But we weren’t in the habit of noticing [[each other|swallow]] these days.</div><div class="ptext">We shared the same pointed chin. Bony wrists. Narrow black [[eyes|asktide]] that had kids in third grade trying out fake Chinese on me.</div><div class="ptext">"Let's go to the tidepool today," she said when I finally met her gaze.
</div><div class="ptext">I didn't have a choice either way, but there was nothing wrong with visiting the ocean.
She wrapped my hand tightly in hers as we walked [[out|totidepools]].
</div><div class="ptext">@@.typed;Down past Cabrillo's small strip of sand down the rocky coastline stumbling single file down a harshly angled trail down the shifting rock to the tidepools at low tide, down and down and down@@
<<timed 14s t8n>>—until we stop and catch our [[breath|perched]].<</timed>>
</div><div class="ptext">The air was heavy with salt mist and seaweed.
Where we <<linkappend " stood, ">>a flattened stone studded with limpets, <</linkappend>>the rocks were still slick with water. The tide threatened to soak our sneakers, forcing us back each time it rushed in hissing and foaming at the mouth, until we realized it could not reach us, yet.
We watched the tidepools beneath us, and what shifted inside of them: [[anemones,|anemones]] [[a sea urchin,|urchin]] [[fish;|fish]] [[snails and crabs below.|snails]]
My mother dipped her [[fingers|fingers]] into the pool.
</div><div class="ptext">I leaned down and rolled up my sleeve. The hair on my arm raised at the chill of the water. I ran a finger along a pale green anemone's sticky tentacles—it curled back into itself, a blooming flower in [[reverse|perched]].</div><div class="ptext">They darted into crevices at the merest ripple, flickering silver as they [[turned tail|perched]].
</div><div class="ptext">Globed in violet spines. I [[drew back|perched]].
</div><div class="ptext">Ridged striations curled on the hermit crabs' shells. They wandered [[away|perched]] from our crushing shoes, carrying their homes on their backs.</div><div class="ptext">"[[Cold|always]]," she commented. Her nails were purpling.
She stared out, over the water to the indistinct boundary between the fog and the ocean.
</div><div class="ptext">"It's always like that," I said.
"Back home there is water clearer than glass. As warm as you are."
As always when she mentioned her old homeland nowadays, I pursed my lips and stared at the ground. I had tired of stories and twisting my tongue for strange words; it had been shamed out of me with the way people tripped on my names and asked my mother to repeat, slowly, everything she had said. My [[father|father]], at least, made me American enough.
I [[shook|shook]] my head at her.
</div><div class="ptext">He is always clean and efficient in his English, on the occasions he decides to speak. [[Second generation|always]].
"I wish you didn't argue with your mother so much," he'd told me. "You know these are hard times for all of us." And I nodded and promptly disregarded his advice.</div><div class="ptext">"Not that cold," I said, as if her words were a personal attack. "There's always something growing in these pools. They're like gigantic eggs."
Her hand strayed to her belly. I looked down at the tidepool again, not wanting to meet her [[eyes|eyes]].</div><div class="ptext">It was only when a ripple spread across the surface that I realized she was crying in front of me for once.
I hugged her partly to comfort her, partly because I was scared. What is more terrifying than finding that your parents are as lost as you are, not as invincible as you thought?
"What's wrong?" I asked. "What's [[wrong|empty]]?"</div><div class="ptext">"I don't //know//. I want to go home."
"Let's go, then." I pulled at her hand. "Just a short walk."
"My other home. Over the ocean." She stops, lets the incoming tide soak her shoes. "And do you hear that? [[Listen|listen]] to my son's heartbeat, in the water. Even he is closer to my old friends."
</div><div class="ptext">At first I believed she was going insane. I'd seen the spots of blood on the bathroom floor. My mother's pale face taut with pain as my parents staggered to the car, her roundness poised to [[leave her|early]].
But I listened to humor her. Beneath the crashing water: a heartbeat like a muffled bass drum, weak and slow. A pickup note, then the main beat.
"[[If I could be the ocean|why don't]] I could hold him and touch home," she said.
</div><div class="ptext">[[Too early.|listen]]</div><div class="ptext">"Well, why don't you?" I said, tired of it all. "I'm going back home now."
I stepped off the rock, knowing that she was no longer watching me. I had learned the distance in her gaze like the back of my hand. I climbed back up the cliffs [[alone|back home]].
</div><div class="ptext">By the time my father returned from work, she hadn't returned.
"Where is she?" he asked. A frownline creased the space between his eyebrows.
I could only say I had left her at the tidepools hours ago. She had forgotten her phone on the [[countertop|dinner]].
</div><div class="ptext">We eat [[dinner|dinner taste]] there. I was sent off to sleep as my father paced by the house phone, [[restless|doorbell]].
</div><div class="ptext">I can't remember much of it, only that it was salty, like [[drinking the ocean|dinner]].
</div><div class="ptext">The doorbell rang early next morning, two people in uniform. My father brought them into the living room as still half-asleep, I careened down the stairs and into a seat next to him.
"We're very sorry," the woman was saying. "We found a person drowned, on the rocks. She carried your [[wife's id|id]]."
</div><div class="ptext">My father's mouth opened and closed like that of a gasping fish. His moustache quivered.
<<timed 3s t8n>>"Are you sure?" he asked.<</timed>>
<<timed 8s t8n>>The woman nodded to her partner.<</timed>> <<timed 11s t8n>>He pushed a piece of [[paper|photo]] facedown across the table.<</timed>>
</div><div class="ptext">I turned it over.
A swollen, blue-tongued thing with bruised skin faced me. They had confused it for my mother. Even at her worst, she had never looked like this.
"This isn't her," I told my father. He didn't respond, just stared.
<<timed 8s t8n>>Impatient, I stalked off to my [[room|waiting]].<</timed>>
<div class="ptext">I would [[wait|return]] for her to come back. Maybe not even my father believed it, but my mother was still alive and would be very disappointed to learn her husband had forgotten her.
<div class="ptext">I waited.
<<timed 3s t8n>>I waited.<</timed>> <<timed 5s t8n>>I waited for her through a day of school,<</timed>> <<timed 7s t8n>>a week of history and mathematics and English,<</timed>> <<timed 9s t8n>>two weeks,<</timed>> <<timed 11s t8n>>until winter break slipped in and I waited at [[home|waitwait]].<</timed>>
<div class="ptext">I was beginning to tire of waiting.
"I'm going to go out," I finally called to my father three mornings before Christmas Eve, and I walked out before he could ask me where I was [[going|run]].
</div><div class="ptext">I ran down the street. There was wind whistling through the scraggy trees on the edges of the cliffs, gnarled roots barely holding them safe.
I ran [[down|down]].
</div><div class="ptext">@@.typed;Down past Cabrillo's small strip of sand down the rocky coastline stumbling singly down a harshly angled trail down the shifting rock to the tidepools at low tide, down and down and down@@
<<timed 14s t8n>>—until I stop and catch my [[breath|pool]].<</timed>></div><div class="ptext">It was here that I found her again.
Her belly once again filled with life, fish darting about her dark rock. Eye sockets where limpets had settled, anemones blooming on the ridges of her spine. She had become a tidepool.
"I'm [[sorry|apologies]]," I said to her.
</div><div class="ptext">Sorry for the yelling, the moodiness, the way I tried to wish her foreignness away, all that had been lost.
But apologies are like salt: only good in small amounts. And we had oceans and oceans of regret to hold [[between us|days]].
</div><div class="ptext">We were both weary, so I sat and listened to her heart beat until the tide washed against my [[feet|back]].</div><div class="ptext">My father knew where I had been from the smell of kelp in my hair and the water I left on the welcome mat.
"She's a tidepool now," I told him, and he took my arm tightly.
"Don't—Plase don't go down there anymore. You could slip. It's dangerous." His words were strained with grief.
I promised I wouldn't. She was happy, now, anyway, and she didn't need me to remind her of what she had [[left behind|left behind]].
</div><div class="ptext">There were some people who called me a liar when I spoke of my mother's transformation into a tidepool. Eventually, I stopped telling that story, stopped believing in it myself, and people settled on deeming me creative. The years flickered by. Older, and marginally wiser, I walked to the cliffs one day, my last before I [[left|east]].
If I had taken anything from California, it would be this: the grey Pacific swelling with the gale, crashing on the black rocks. The wind whipping salt spray onto my clammy skin. The summer fog that blurred the shape of gulls scrying the water for food.
</div><div class="ptext">Then I was off East for university, the occasional [[visit home|backandback]] on holidays to see my father.
</div><div class="ptext">I bring a girl home with me in spring. Her favorite color is yellow. She has an entire collection of yellow dresses that burn brightly against her dark skin. Today her tight ringlets of hair settle against a golden ruffle and the sun makes it hurt to look at her.
I take her to the [[cliffs|partners]].
</div><div class="ptext">There, she talks about Michigan, how if she wasn't here she'd be at a campground by a lake playing Two Truths and and Lie, scaring her little cousins with tales of monsters. I tell her about salt, the place where the concrete-sheathed waters of the native San Gabriel meet the foreign ocean, recoil, turn muddy.
She skips closer to the [[edge|careful]].
</div><div class="ptext">I grab her hand. "That's a long drop."
She laughs, then catches my expression. "I'll be [[careful|peers]]."</div><div class="ptext">She peers over the side of the cliff at the jagged rock [[below|geez]] us, a dizzying distance away.
</div><div class="ptext">//Geez//, she says, //imagine falling.//
<div style="font-size: 1.5em;">[[end.|creds]]</div>
<div class="ptext">Much thanks to Twine and everyone who contributed to its documentation.
Background image from <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/FD_sabE544U">John Towner</a> of Unsplash.