The Moment

It’s come forward almost forty yards, the father says, waving a hand to the south. I turn around, follow the line of his finger to the metal breakwater that separates this strip of lakefront from that one. Piles of sand have accumulated in the crevasses of the metal barrier; miniature hills sprouting sparse green shoots, peppered with pebbles, the faint footprints of the lakefront wildlife that inhabits these beach miles.

When you were little, the sand used to end back there, he says, tracing a line in the air halfway between where we stand at the water’s edge and the beach house that sits along the road, yards behind us. I turn again, the sun glinting on my sunglasses as I watch the beach house for a moment. A family has arrived at the beach, stepped through the low-slung concrete archway, begun their trek across the sun-warmed sand.

Sitting on our mussed towels, sand-streaked and damp from hosting wet swimsuit bottoms, I dig my toes into the cool sand, absently watch the family step closer to where freshwater waves throw themselves cheerily against the shore. They’re four; young mother, father, two small boys. The mother balances, as so many mothers do. She’s a bag on one shoulder, toddler child on her hip, his chubby hand resting easily on her back as he watched the water loom larger before him. Before her, husband and son step laboriously through the sand, the minuscule yellow rocks pouring from the holes in their beach shoes with every high-stepping movement forward.

The boy’s long dark curls blow in the wind, the same wind that whips the sand in near-opaque clouds across the width of the beach. Next to him, tall above him, his father adjusts his sunglasses, tips, re-fits his baseball cap, slides it back over his neatly-trimmed head.

Then, they’re there, and the littlest one holds his mother tight, watches from the vantage point of her hip while his brother and father stand in the water, the water rolling up, over their dusty shoes, leaving water running in lines down their ankles.

Between them and where our towels lay sprawled amongst holes dug to water and little piles of rocks, four Spanish-speaking friends have arranged their beach chairs in a circle. A decorative sheet spread on the sand between them, they’ve a a cooler, an umbrella, and all the accessories that indicate a day-long campout on the sand. When I sit, yards away, snippets of their conversation rise within earshot, words and phrases I know by heart ringing familiar in my ears.

I’m enjoying my brief respite from chasing the two-year-old along the shore when one of the couples stands, unwrapping a tiny infant from where he’s been swathed in a blanket, laying in the seat of a fifth beach chair. The infant’s parents stand at the water’s edge, their backs to the lake. Before them, a friend balances her phone in one hand, tapping the screen, focusing, zooming, angling with the other. The infant, in his mother’s arms, looks down, inadvertently hiding his face. He is jostled gently, his mother croons to him, tickling his feet, trying to coax a smile from his young lips.

Behind the camera, the friend whistles, calls the baby’s name, snaps her fingers; the traditional dance of a photographer of young ones. But to no avail. Finally, she photographer waves her hand at the baby’s parents, ya no le hables, no le hables, don’t talk to him, don’t talk to him. Shrugging, they look up, smile, their arms around one another, the waves behind doing their best to reach their heels. Once more the woman calls the infant’s name, tapping the phone’s screen furiously when the child looks up, lifting his fair, round face toward her voice, and the white light of the sun.

And the moment is captured.



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