When we were young, we would swim across the water in our cove to the island on the other side. We would go to find the red clay. We dug it up with our bare hands and shoveled it into grocery bags, then tied them to our ankles to swim back to shore with our chins just barely breaching the top of the water.
With the wet clay, we made plates and bowls and tiles with our hand and foot prints smushed into them -sometimes shells too- then set them out in the sun to dry. After, we would smear the red clay all over our bodies and arms and faces, and scrape away patterns with our fingers like warriors or animals. We would then, start at the top of the path at the house, and at full speed, arms flailing, preparing for flight, feet slapping stones, palms smacking open lips, run over the dock and fling our bodies off the edge like wild birds. Like the birds whose sounds I miss waking up to.
And one time, I swear I really did become a bird. I opened my eyes, and suddenly I’m gliding over the water, and as my wings graze the surface, I look down to see my sisters sprouting gills and whiskers as they jump up to nip at my toes. I rise higher and higher to perch myself atop a nest on the island, look across the water and see my parents. My mother waters her petunias and rubs sunscreen on my father’s back while he hides from the sun under the big red umbrella, clinging to the shadows. My sisters climb out of the water, stretching their necks as their gills recede, and sit on the warm wood of the dock. My mother feeds them boiled peanuts and drapes her dark black hair over their shoulders to dry them off.
I begin to miss my mother’s hair and the warmth that radiates from the crook of a mother’s neck. I miss her green thumb and her sleepy white robe.. and her black hair. I miss my father and his simplicity, his routine, like a bear, because when he stands to hug me I can feel the pads of his paws pressing to my shoulder blades. He is not a very tall man but he is surely an outstanding man. I miss my sisters in the way that I begin to miss winter in the midst of summer or summer in winter, but know it will come back around in due time.
When they realize that I am gone, I cannot call to them, they cannot understand me. I try swooping down to them because maybe, if they look in my eyes, they will see me, see a bird with human eyes. But they just shoo me away and swing their arms at me. I retreat, crashing to the ground, my wings caked in red clay. So, I plunge into the water to clean myself off, diving among the fish as they disperse before me.
I come back up to the surface, gasping, open my eyes, look around…. “Erin! Eriiiiin! There you are! It’s getting dark, it’s time to come in for dinner”. My mother wraps me tight in a towel and with one corner in each fist, I fling it open wide and run up to the house flapping my “wings”, only to be a bird again tomorrow.