As I take each headlong step, my mind swirls at the distance I am covering. White threads of tiny waves break along Lake Michigan’s southern shore. The sand dunes are dotted with cottages—some little more than weather-beaten shacks, others with shining windows and straight decks. Youngest of seven with older cousins counted by the dozen, I walk toward the steel mill’s distant outline, going farther by myself than I ever have. The sailboats at Dune Acres sit high on the empty beach; their rigging clanks in the breeze.
Next to a sea wall shines an oval pool of separate water, shallow and clear. Small fish with big heads and odd-shaped tails swim in this lake by the lake. Under the hot sun, the bug-eyed monsters wriggle, tiny feet poking out under their fat bodies. I stare and stare.
Hungry and thirsty, I tramp back to our pink and white cottage, to my parents and aunts and cousins, hoping someone has missed me. Two days later, I bring Daddy back, but instead of tadpoles, we see only a damp depression in the sand. He says, They turned into frogs and hopped away before their water dried out. Daddy teaches me the word “amphibian,” making me wish I could breathe underwater and still be a person. I practice my new word as I jump in and out of my father’s shadow. I plop my footprints into his, before the next wave washes them away.
Jenny-Lynn Ellis (she/her) is a former therapist whose essays appear in Pithead Chapel, Dreamers Creative Writing, The Colorado Sun, and elsewhere. A participant in the Lighthouse Writers Workshop Book Project, she blogs at themoreiwrite.net.