MENDOCINO, CA, 1987 – The river cut through the sand all the way to where it met the Pacific, where the bluffs rose up to the town. Part way down the beach, a bridge spanned the river; an enormous concrete plank set between two ledges a hundred feet up.
Adrianne helped Paula with her shoes in the car in the parking area. Paula had mastered the secret of untying them and seemed to consider it a great accomplishment. “OK, now leave them like that,” said Adrianne once both shoes were tied with safety bows. “No going barefoot on the beach.” Not that it wasn’t warm enough to do so. Certainly the weather was a great improvement over the thin flurries of sleet they’d left behind in suburban Cleveland a week or so before, but she envisioned broken glass, nails, rusted can fragments, and God knows what else abandoned in the sand by endless waves of locals, transients, and tourists.
Adrianne zipped up Paula’s jacket and lifted her carefully out of the car. The jacket was too nice for the beach. It had been given to her by one of Gom’s friends. ‘Gom’ was the closest Paula could come to pronouncing ‘grandma,’ and the name had stuck. Her friends were always bringing the children gifts and acting like it was nothing. It made Adrianne feel like a refugee. The jacket was quilted, white, and hand-embroidered with a pastel bouquet.
Melvin was already at the river’s edge, beating the eddies with a stick he’d found along the way. It constantly astounded her how different he and Paula were and how different both of them were from her or Dale. The last time they’d visited, Gom’s friends had nearly gone hoarse exclaiming how much Melvin favored his father and Paula favored her. It wasn’t quite true, and of course they left Dale out of it now.
Paula was a quiet, mysterious child, absorbed in a realm to which her mother did not quite have access. As they strolled toward the bridge, hand in hand, Paula scanned the beach, pausing occasionally to point at something indiscernible in the sand or on the opposite bank of the river with her bottle before looking expectantly at her mother. “What do you see, Paula?” Adrianne would ask, or more often say, “Ooh, nice. Look at that,” and they would walk a bit further. Paula was most like her mother in looks. The wavy blonde hair, faultless complexion and regular features were adorable now and would become strikingly pretty as she grew older.