The Coast by Noriko Nakada

Stormy day at the pier

My girls' size 8 shoes hang, tiny, above the foam of waves crashing against the columns of the pier.

I sit under cloudy skies on a seaside pier where the cool air is heavy with salt. I wrap my arms around the thick rail and rest my chin on the edge. My girls’ size 8 shoes hang, tiny, above the foam of waves crashing against the columns of the pier. Seagulls fly above and the cold wood rests beneath me. I look into the dark water below. Something in the water catches my eye, something black in the wrinkles of the blue water beneath the pier. I strain my eyes, lean out, and see it again, there, something shiny, slipping up and down, in and out of the waves. Seals, three of them, swim far below my dangling feet.

I look up from the water too quickly and the world spins. My parents and brother and sister are all looking out to sea, or tossing bread to the birds. They don’t see me pointing at the seals, but when I yell to them the roar of the waves swallows my voice. I look back down at the water and wish I could swim off with the seals and play in the ocean waves while the seagulls watch over us. One of the seals lifts his gentle head toward me. He ducks back down under a wave and I wait for him to come back up. He pokes his head above the surface again—his shiny, black face. He wants to pull me with him, to show me the secrets of the ocean. I lean out to where the seal is pulling me and my legs slip.

I can no longer feel the wood of the pier beneath me. My body dangles above the dark waves. My arms scrape hard against the rough wood. My hands are my only connection to the pier. I hope my fingers won’t slip. Slivers dig into my palms. My neck stretches toward the gray sky and blood pounds in my ears. My hands start sweating and I don’t think I can hold on much longer. I wonder if I’ll live if I fall. I don’t want to die. The seagulls fly weightlessly above me like white tissue against the dark sky. I shut my eyes and pull. The muscles in my arms strain and I grip my fingers tightly around the grainy wood. I swing my right arm up, then my right leg and then roll the rest of my body up. I hug the rail for a minute; feel the solid pier beneath me.

I jump to my feet. Mom! Dad! Where are they? My eyes go blurry, filling with tears. I blink. Mom, Dad, Chet and Laura are there, throwing bread to the seagulls. I look to the water for the seals. They’re gone. No one will know about the seals. No one will know I almost fell, that I almost died. I look down at my feet back on solid ground, and walk back to my family.

noriko-nakada-childNoriko Nakada writes, blogs, tweets from her home in Los Angeles, California. She writes at an ungodly hour each morning before heading off to teach eighth graders at Emerson Middle School. She completed her MFA in creative writing at Antioch University Los Angeles in 2005 and is the author of the young adult memoir Through Eyes Like Mine. Her middle school memoir, Overdue Apologies, will be out this fall. Visit her website.

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  • Yukiko

    great story!

  • Johanna van Zanten

    Well done; the urgency Of the moment comes through. good luck with the publication of your book.
    Johanna van Zanten

  • It extra scary being scared when you are alone. I can recall once time as a kid almost choking on a tomato and no one was there and I terrified. It worked its way down my throat and I never felt more relieved. This story reminds me of that. Such a scary moment — just a moment — for you while your family carried on. Great job.

  • This story was so rich. While it is of an actual memory, it has the ability to work on a metaphorical level as well. To me, there is something cathartic about the no one else knowing. About having such an  audacious secret.