On Saturday we went down to the rocks to photograph and I forgot my camera. Typical. “Remind me next time,” I said bitterly to Elliot, who wasn’t listening.
Drive just south of the city, past the Oudayas at the mouth of the river with the huge cemetery running down to the sea, past the lighthouse and the surf school, past the bicycle market. To your left are line upon line of apartment buildings and to your right is the Atlantic, in deep green today, and the setting sun is sometimes in your eyes as you follow the curves of the road.
Here you are: you are getting to the part where the cliff face falls down into rocky shelves and tide pools, where fisherman stand on the very edge of the sea and get soaked in the spray and as always, you worry about them being swept away. (I don’t know if it happens or not…is this part of a fatalistic view of life where preventative measures are not taken, or is it just not really all that dangerous? Some day I will find out and tell you.)
We swerve across oncoming traffic and park in a tiny spot in front of what looks to be an empty apartment building, newly built. Taking our lives into our hands, we commend our souls to God and cross the street, where we find ourselves at the top of a cliff. This area has an enormous shelf at the bottom, complete with tide pools, casual boulders scattered about, and a sandy bit where boys are playing soccer and turning cartwheels and flips.
We make our way down. Ilsa climbs an enormous rock and pulls out her sketching book and pencil case from school—the one I just had to replace because the first one got stolen. She drops a brand new pencil sharpener in the sand and I stoop and put it in my purse with a sigh. Boys come to show off, climbing behind her on rock, doing flips down the side, glancing sideways to see if she’s noticed their antics. They faux fight, they race. Ilsa sketches on, unmoved. The wind blows her long blonde hair behind her as she bends over her paper, concentrating on the silvery mermaid she is drawing. “I like to be the only one on the rock,” she tells me.
Later she decides to go rock climbing herself. The boys follow to where my daughter is scrambling up, her hair a golden curtain. It’s obvious to me what’s going on but Ilsa is oblivious still, disdainfully scorning a proffered hand when coming down, appalled at the offer of help which she interprets as doubt in her ability. She is a mystery to them, in her black leggings and tennis shoes and long hair, clambering all over the rocks. She fancies herself a tomboy and mocks the “Barbies” at her school, but she’s really quite feminine in many ways.
The boys continue to approach in a sort of dance. They don’t come too close, they take turns; there are definite rules to this. I think that I could map this out, the way they circle shyly, the way they punch each other and vie for who can throw his body into the air the highest. We are near a shelf of rock covered in tide pools. The boys strip to their underwear, run across the rocks, and suddenly dive into the one deep pool in all these tiny ones. I catch my breath because it looks so improbable, like they’ve somehow found a tiny stretch in the space-time continuum, a baggy part, where they can splash and play. It’s still dangerous, but it’s fun too, like watching those scooters weave through traffic—there’s freedom there.
A lot of this is done with sideway glances at Ilsa, who continues totally unaware. I’m glad for it, but part of me wishes she could see her power without being damaged by it, and that this knowledge could be a pool unexpectedly deep enough for diving set in the rocky shoals of the upcoming years. We leave them, still splashing, and set our faces towards the cliff that is our way home.