Frigid wind whips through my long brown hair and bites me with cold teeth. It carries the strong smell of the sea in it, which stings my nose. Gray, salty water is churned into waves by the gale and sprinkles my chilly bare feet that are sinking into the wet sand. A seagull struggles to fly to its nest. I watch the large bird as it finally defeats the wind and lands in a small hollow high on a weathered rock.
I sniff, disappointed by the wind, then turn around and walk up the beach, avoiding flurries of gritty sand. Huge rocks like the one the seagull is perching in stud the beach and reach into the sky like the rough fingers of an old man.
I come to the gravel road leading away from the beach and the sea and awkwardly hobble across it, not wanting to press my feet too hard against the sharp little rocks. I walk across a lawn of grass that is long and plush like a carpet.
As I enter my small house, I welcome the warmth and savor the familiar smell.
“Is that you, Nicole?” my mom calls from the kitchen.
“Yes.” I enter the steamy room and sit at the table. My mom is at the stove, grilling the sea bass my brother, Brent, caught that morning for dinner.
“Why back so soon?” She starts humming a pretty tune as she adds spices from glass shakers.
“The wind is too cold,” I groan miserably.
“I thought it might be,” Mom says knowingly, looking at me. I see that she is wearing her peach-colored apron. It has the handprints of Brent, Zoe, and me on it in red paint. Mine are smaller than my two older siblings’.
“It seems it always is,” I say, fiddling with the zipper of my jacket.
“Well, that’s Maine’s beaches for you,” she sighs. I nod in agreement. Maine’s beaches are always cold and windy.
I get up from the table and walk down the narrow hallway that leads to my room. School pictures of us three kids hang on the walls alongside my dad’s fishing boat, a large, proud vessel. Mom and Dad are standing next to each other in the bow of the boat, squinting in sunlight yet smiling.
I enter my room, which is small like the rest of the house. Sand dollars of various sizes and hues are tacked to the walls, and the bedside table, desk, and dresser are all covered in dark, glossy seashells which I have collected along the beach and in tide pools. Several of my watercolor paintings add to the decoration, resting on the seagreen walls. They are mostly of the sea, but there are a few lighthouses as well.
My bed is messy and unmade, as it usually is. I let myself fall onto it. I punch my pillow a couple times and lay my head down sideways. In this position I can see my painting of the large sky-blue lighthouse. It is taller and wider than most lighthouses, and unlike the rest of my paintings, it actually exists. I discovered it one day while exploring along the beach. It is old and rickety, abandoned, with wide sheets of wiry ivy growing on it. I think the ivy looks like it’s strangling the lighthouse, so I left that part out when I painted it a few weeks ago.
That night, after dinner, and after I have brushed my teeth with thick toothpaste, my sister, Zoe, and I sit in the living room and look out the big window. We stare at the choppy waters, illuminated by the pale moon that sits in a throne of twinkling stars. The light of the moon dances on the water, glittering brightly.
“The sea is so beautiful,” Zoe murmurs, tucking a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. I pull a blanket draped over the back of an armchair and wrap it snuggly around myself.
* * *
“I know,” I agree, “especially in the night.” The next day the wind has stopped. I am relieved and return to the beach, after Mom tells me to stay away from the water and be safe. Despite the wind’s absence, it is still cold. The sun shyly peeks through thin, stretched clouds, providing no warmth.
Instead of heading back home, I start the short journey to the blue lighthouse. It is hidden in a small bay that has huge boulders blocking the entrance from the sea. Large trees grow around it, hiding it like a leafy wall.
There is no door to the lighthouse, just rusty hinges connected to an empty frame. The sky-blue paint is faded and peeling, revealing cracked wood and rusty nails. The inside of the lighthouse is hollow and dim. I am sure there used to be doors and floors, but now it is just one large room that leads up to a glass roof, for the large light is gone too. A few bird nests are built on the wall, but I don’t hear anything from them.
A squeak brings my attention to the floor of the lighthouse, which is dirt and weeds now. A small ferret is looking at me cautiously. I can see its small legs are tensed, ready to run. I freeze, not wanting to scare it or make it angry. I am afraid it might be rabid.
The ferret takes one step nearer to me. It seems to relax.
It is brown and skinny with a long tail tipped with black. It has dark eyes ringed with white fur, as are its ears. I’m not sure if it is a boy or a girl, but I’ll pretend it’s a boy.
“What’s your name?” I ask thoughtfully. My voice echoes in the lighthouse. “Is it… Rumor?” I realize using the word as a name is odd, but I like the sound of it. I kneel down to him, all thoughts of him being dangerous gone. My movement seems to frighten Rumor, and he hisses and scampers off, running through my legs and out into the cold day. I turn and watch him.
Suddenly, a bird with dark, russet-colored feathers and a sharp beak thuds into the ground with outstretched talons next to Rumor, sending a plume of sand into the air. I yelp in surprise, as well as fear for the ferret. The bird appears to be some kind of hawk. I see the bird struggle to grab Rumor with its wicked talons. I run out onto the beach, waving my arms and yelling. The hawk’s attention is momentarily on me. Rumor must sense this, for he scurries out of the hawk’s grip and runs into the woods that fringe the beach. The bird pursues, and I grab a few small pebbles and dash into the woods. I immediately lose sight of the hawk, and I search desperately for Rumor. I hear a commotion a few feet away and see the hawk crying angrily into a hollow log. I throw one pebble at it but miss. Luckily, the stone startles the bird, and it backs off. I throw the other pebbles. They all miss, but they drive the hawk off. It flaps off into the sky, cawing in frustration.
I find I am exhausted and fall to my knees into a patch of ferns. Rumor comes out from the hollow log and looks cautiously for the hawk. He cocks his head then sees me. I think he’ll run from me, being the timid thing he is. But instead he slowly comes towards me. I reach out my finger and pet his neck, delighted at how soft his fur is. The ferret makes a sound that is much like the purring of a cat, and if ferrets smile, I’m sure that is what Rumor is doing. I pet him with my entire hand now, smoothing down the unsettled fur. He eventually runs away, leaving me with a smile on my face. I stand up and walk back out to the beach, then begin the journey home.
I tell no one in my family about Rumor or the hawk, just for the sake of having a secret. But I tell paper and paint about Rumor, using a thin brush as my tongue. The painting shows a small ferret with a black-tipped tail, running from a fierce hawk. I hang it on the wall once it has dried.
I return to the spot in the woods, the place with the disturbed patch of ferns and the hollow log, in a few days, just to see if Rumor is still there. But he is not. I am slightly upset but not terribly. It is what I expected. I sit outside the lighthouse, staring at the bay. It is not windy, so the gray water is relatively calm. I then jump to my feet, excited, for I notice it is warm. The sun is out, and it is warm! I run out onto the beach, leaving the sky-blue lighthouse behind. I laugh with joy and spread my arms out and spin in circles, leaving a spiral in the sand. And as I turn to go home, to tell Mom it is warm, I am not sure, but I think I see a black-tipped tail dart through bushes out of the corner of my eye.