He felt he'd been carried by magic to a new land - filled with warm sun, clicking palm trees and breaking blue waves. Not at all like the home he'd left just the day before, his birthplace of mountains and drifting snow.
He remembered the mirror-like plane that brought them, silver and blue, little wings painted on the side and a word he could almost read. ("Eastern," his mother had said.)
He'd never been on a plane before. It felt so smooth, not bumpy like a car. Then suddenly they were here - he didn't know where or how far - but it was different, with its own rules, its own fairies and demons.
Everyday they went out to the beach, just down the alley and across the street from his new home. Slipper shells, chinamen's hats, and yellow toe nails were thrown out by the waves, along with blue balloon creatures that floated on the water. They stung him once; his leg felt on fire.
In his new land the ocean was his companion with its soft foam, brilliant sparkles, and deepening blue. The sea was moody: now glassy with ripples never breaking its surface, now churning and white, with waves as far as he could see, and sometimes all on the same day.
Overhead above the sand, the birds flew just out of reach or stationary in the wind, suspended. He tried to touch one on his tiptoes, but it moved a bit and seemed to smile.
And he liked to watch the men who came from the waves, who walked along its edge gathering what the ocean threw up: twisted wood, star fish, bones - dark leathery men who never spoke, but drifted like the water. He asked his mother. ("Beachcombers," she said.)
At sunset they disappeared at the far end of the sand in a grove of palm trees. When he grew up, he wanted to be a beachcomber.
One afternoon he went out to the ocean and came upon a wall of rain. On the beach side it was dark, cloudy, a downpour cutting the road in half, steaming on hot tar; on the land side, blue sky, water hanging like a beaded curtain, droplets glistening in the brilliant light, birds flying from rain to sun and back.
Sometimes the trip back from the beach was scary if his mother got too far ahead of him, if he didn't hurry like she told him. Then he had to go though the alley alone just to one side of the food stall where the hot dog man who wore an apron smeared with red and yellow, could see him.
The plump hot dog man held a sharp pronged fork and leaned toward him as he tried to slide by. "Sissy", the man yelled. "You big sissy." He held his toy close to him, fearing that the man would grab it and cook it. "Carrying a doll, what a sissy." He pushed himself along the wall to the entrance of the alley, where he ran to his house. Then he was home, safe in their small two room wooden shack.
Gradually he began to understand why they had come to Florida. It had to do with his parents not being together, the loud voices he had heard from his room when he lived in the mountains.
The last time he saw them together, his mother had stood like a carved indian, arms folded, eyes on fire, while his father went up and down the stairs with suitcases. Afterwards he had stood in doorway and waved to his son at the top of the stairs. He ran down to him. "Papa, don't go." His mother's eyes blazed. His Dad knelt down and hugged him. Tears filled his father's eyes.
His Dad got inside the Desoto that had taken them across the country once, and around the town most of the time. The car became smaller and smaller, turning into a tiny black dot; then he couldn't find it. It had disappeared.
Coming to Florida had something to do with his parents not living together, with his mother getting a "divorce". But why? His parents weren't living together, so why would a "divorce" make it any different? ("When you're older you will understand," his mother said.)
They had to go to a "lawyer" to get a divorce. So once a week they spent the afternoon at the lawyer's instead of the beach. The office was dark with the curtains drawn. The room was filled with books. They weren't friendly like his father's, but big and brown, all looking the same and very stern.
The lawyer sat behind a large desk, speaking in words that he had never heard. The man talked in a low tone that soon put him to sleep in the big hard oak chair. Later, he told his mother that he did not want to grow up to be a lawyer.
Some mornings his mother took him to visit his grandfather's large house on a canal. His father's father had a big boat, a big car, and a nurse named Claire he loved to play with. When they arrived his mother went out on to the patio to see his grandad.
He and Claire walked off together, looking at all the large houses next to his grandfather's. They went far away, over to the highway, where a wall and two white stone towers stood at the entrance to the neighborhood.
He told Claire when he grew up he wanted to marry her. They would live together in the towers, and he would bring her fish to cook from the canal next to Grandpapa's house. She laughed. Then they walked back to the patio where his grandfather tickled him and told him stories.
* * * * *
Several months went by.
In the late afternoon, he was playing in the sand and saw a wave throw something large and shiny onto the beach. He ran after it as it rolled back. Suddenly he was carried by the wave - out to sea he was told later because he couldn't remember. He only knew it felt soft and strong, and he couldn't breath. It was like going to sleep.
A couple, sitting under a palm tree, saw him disappear into the ocean. The husband dove after him, carrying him back to his mother whose face was white.
They became good friends with the couple, a Mr. and Mrs. Love. Wasn't that a strange name? ("Yes,but there are lots of strange names," his mother said.)
When a hurricane looked like it might hit the town, they stayed at the Love's, away from the ocean. They locked up their home and left the cat inside.
At the Love's the wind wrapped itself around the building and tried to shake it loose. Palm trees banged and brushed against the windows; coconuts fell on the roof. The lights went out so they lit candles. Mrs. Love cooked them bacon sandwiches on the gas stove. They tasted so good, he ate too many.
The next day the sky was clear, and he felt better. They went back to their house. Branches had fallen all around, but it had not flooded, and the cat was safe.
After a long time his mother had to go to court. Why? ("So the divorce could be finished," she said.)
She dressed in her prettiest clothes. When she came back she looked happy. She lay a blue paper down on the table, as she hung up her hat. He saw his name, "Layton" written twice on it and a letter: "v".
"What does this mean?"
She picked it up quickly and put it away. "It said Layton verses Layton."
"What does verses mean?"
"It means against, me against your father - that's how a lawyer has to tell the court about the divorce."
When he went to bed that night, he could hear the ocean as though the waves were breaking close to the house. It did that sometimes. He bent loose parts of his pillow slip into folds and rubbed his hand across it. "Rough," he said to himself. Then he stretched it out and ran his hand along it again. "Smooth," he thought. He did this over and over, as he often did before he went to sleep.
Suddenly he wondered what would happen if the Loves got divorced. Would it be Love against Love? That seemed strange, but his mother said there were a lot of strange things.
The waves broke around the house again. He put his thumb into his mouth and went to sleep.