Slim thought she frankly wasn’t fit for an ordinary world. Not that she put it that way, exactly; that would have been her mother’s paraphrase. She tended to like things most kids didn’t. At eight years old, for example, Slim wanted to be an illustrator of books for children or an elocutionist “because I love that word, it sounds like electrocute but peaceful and pretty”. It was one of her mother’s words; she spoke in public often. Slim kept a notebook about differences in people, observing their manners (she had been instructed to do this), the sorts of things they talked about and those wordy pauses between thoughts (“uh” or “um” meant there was no more coming, whereas “you know” or “you see” meant there was lots more), or, sometimes, their choice in clothing. Especially odd prints and bright colors. Slim liked to draw, and preferred exotic or messy over commonplace. More fun to sketch.
The house was set above the beach. It was large, she supposed, although it was so full of visitors beginning spring that it felt as though it shrank. There were rooms left over so why not fill them, her mother said, and her father raised his eyebrows as though he disapproved but he didn’t, much. He liked five course dinners and fishing on his boat and casting about for the right book of poems to share with them by the fireplace or on the veranda swing, glass of whiskey in hand. Slim liked the smart, heavy glass but found the smell revolting. She always exited after one poem, to the beach or the third floor which was essentially one long playroom for kids and adults alike. It made for a great sleepover room, but that only happened once or twice a year. Mother felt it excessive for Slim to be that involved with the town girls. Going to the school was well and good now but that would change.
Slim didn’t ever want to leave Brimley Cove, at least not on good days. The bad days could go on and on during winter and then she told her mother to take her away, off to the boarding school back east but she could say that because it wasn’t to happen for at least three years. The other times she felt sea salt and horsetail waves and sunsets that spread like a ribbon of colors along the rim of the world were signs of something more. Slim felt everything held signs and she tried to read them in the tides, the foamy lather left behind, upturned seashells, jellyfish innards, snakey plants. The seagulls cleaned up much of what she wanted to see. She wondered what she missed, what sign would point her in what direction.
“You’re possibly meant to be a fisherwoman,” her father said as they strolled down the beach one day. “Or a diviner of some sort.”
“What’s a diviner?”
“Someone who can read the future in ordinary things. Tea leaves are traditional but I don’t put any stock in that business. But romantic enough.”
“Tea leaves! Irish Breakfast and Oolong have something to say? I’ll have a look next time.”
He laughed and patted her shoulder.
“If you don’t believe it why say that to me?”
“Because you’re a dreamer, a flibberdigibbit, and an angel all thrown together. I think it’s your departed Gran’s blood. You will either soar to great heights or fall terribly hard, my dear Slim.”
She took off galloping. “I was born to fly!” She jumped about until her legs got all wet in the waves she saw too late, then walked into the water, clothes streaming wet.
“Keep your face to the sea and your eyes open!” Her father called out the reminder. “You are not yet a mermaid but a mortal!”
“But look what I just found!” She held up a sand dollar, no chips or cracks.
He gave her a thumbs up.
So, there were advantages to being in that place with those parents. She was happy often, but she knew that in school others thought her odd. They hated reading, doing math, making projects. She liked all that but especially art class (only weekly) and gym (twice a week), particularly when they climbed ropes or ran races. She was good enough in gym, to everyone’s surprise, and also art and they told her so sometimes. They ate lunch with her but said only the basic nice things, she noticed. And some rude things. She suspected it was because her family was from the city, had some money and had lived here only three years.
The twins, Herbie and his sister, Shelly, were her two good friends. They lived three houses down. Their parents were good friends of Slim’s. She thought Herbie and Shelly were interesting–they liked to make up plays with her–but bratty. She often had to stay as far away as possible from Shelly’s long, pink-glossed fingernails. Shelly had little fits, her mother said with a head shake and smile, trying to coax Slim’s sympathy. But Slim had left in a dead run more times than she had told her parents. She had to keep peace with the twins or she would be hopelessly alone, especially in summers.
Then one week before Slim’s ninth birthday, her parents threw a party. She thought it was for their anniversary which was also coming up.
“Not really. It’s more like a social, a good old fashioned social, but one that is also a welcome wagon of good will for our new neighbors.”
Her mother laughed and she lifted her lipstick away from her mouth so as not to spoil the curve of coral. She was getting ready at her dressing table and Slim was sitting on her bed, fingering the pretty spring dress that lay beside her. She had already dressed in cropped turqouise pants and a white blouse. She had added a string of multicolored sea glass beads that she had made.
“And old term, dear, when people brought a basket of useful items to new arrivals in a community.”
“Oh, like housewarming gifts?”
Her mother finished application of the lipstick and then ran a brush through her long golden waves and smiled at Slim in the mirror.
“Yes, like that, Felicity Thompson-Harrier.” Her eyes caught Slim’s in the reflection. “When are you going to put some weight on? You’re eating lunch at school, right?”
Slim screwed up her face and slipped off the bed. “Yes, but I like when you make my lunches. I would rather eat rabbitty lettuce and radishes than those greasy hamburgers like Herbie, who eats mine, too.”
She sidled up to her mother and the mirror and posed this way and that, seeing what everyone else saw. She was long on bony limbs and shallow of chest and even her face was narrow. It meant she could run faster, hide places others could not, make herself scarce. But her hair, like her mother’s, fell over her shoulders in luxurious folds when she brushed it well at night. It was worth a few good ounces.
“You look fine, Slim. My little elf. My girl.” She hugged her close. “Now, off. I have things to do and people to meet soon.”
Her mother’s touch radiated through her blouse, warming her skin. How she wished her mother was home more but she was famous now, a motivational speaker and author. Only her father was around, but just after long hours in his home office where he was not to be disturbed. He wrote about scientific things, but was trying his hand at a novel, he sheepishly admitted. Her mother had said two writers were more than one family deserved, then kissed the top of his balding head. Slim thought that over but she also felt proud.
It was at top of the stairway where she liked to wait as people brought laughter and the swish and shine of colorful clothes. In a few minutes she would help place trays of tiny sandwiches on the table and make sure there was fresh ice in the punch, not because she had to but because there was little else to do but listen and watch. She leaned her chin on the railing.
The door swung open and two people entered who appeared to be giants, with two tallish children in tow. Slim had never seen them before. Maybe these were the welcome wagon people. There was a boy much older, perhaps fourteen, who was on his phone the minute after he shook hands with her parents. The girl, though…more her age. Slim came down a few steps.
“Slim!” her mother called. “Come meet Desiree!”
With a name like that Slim expected the girl to be wearing a long sweeping skirt and a jeweled barette in her fussy hair but instead she wore grey leggings and a loose violet and white t-shirt with shiny rivets on the shoulders. Hair was chin-length, straight, brown.
She held out her hand as taught. “Slim.”
Desiree gave a crooked smiled, showing big teeth that gleamed in the peachy light of setting sun. “Des. Can we get out of here or do we have to make small talk around the hors d’oeuvres as usual?”
Slim and Des took off for the beach at a good pace, Des moving faster due to those long legs. They scavenged the litter a high tide had left and talked about living in a beach town, Slim giving her tips, Des adamant it was only for week-ends if her mother could help it but her dad was sold on a “simpler, slower lifestyle.”
“Adults get weird ideas, you know? They say something like it’s a fact. Like how much I am going to love it here blah blah.”
Slim walked over to an unbroken, perfectly round, white sand dollar. It shone a little in the amber of dusk. She picked it up and felt how it filled her hand, light with a little grit, then took Des’ hand and put it in her palm.
“That’s so beautiful,” Des said tracing the delicate flowery design, then searched Slim’s face. “Can I keep it?”
“Second one this week. It’s yours, a welcome gift. It’s destiny, I think. It waited for you. You will love it here–we’ll see to that.”