The Sea Lion Waltz

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2004

By Sophia Veltfort, Illustrated by Jasmin Bowers

The beach was still, the sand untouched. The only sounds were the wind and the breaking of the waves on the shore. Ally doubted that she, Olivia, and Jake were allowed there, as it was a private beach, but chose to ignore that piece of information. They continued along the path, finally reaching the sand. Ally reached down and took off her sandals, burrowing her toes deep into the cool sand. Olivia copied her, and lastly Jake, hesitantly.

“I’m not sure we’re allowed here, Ally. The sign says this is private property,” Jake said, looking at a nearby sign. “Besides, there’s no lifeguard. Maybe we should just go back. We could walk by the stores.” He stopped walking and looked back at the path they had taken. “Come on.”

the sea lion waltz three kids

The beach was still, the sand untouched

Olivia glared at Jake. “No, it’s fine. There’s nobody here to mind if we just walk along the water. It’s really not that big of a deal.” She linked her arm through Ally’s and began to walk.

Ally pulled on her brother’s arm. “Come on. It’ll be fine. If someone comes, we’ll just leave. OK?” She pulled on Jake’s sleeve and gave a pleading smile, silently apologizing for Olivia. Jake and Olivia never had gotten along, but ever since Ally and Jake’s parents had split up, they seemed to be in an everlasting argument. Their father was moving to New York for a new job, and Jake was going with him. But their mother was staying in California, and Ally had been given a choice whether to stay or not. Olivia and Jake both constantly told her their opinions on what to do, often ending with them screaming at each other. Ally was tired of it all, and wished they would stop.

“Fine. Let’s just go. I mean, why would it matter if we got in trouble,” Jake said, turning to Olivia. “You don’t care about messing up people’s lives, as long as you get to have fun, first. Let’s just go, and if we get punished, hey, so what? Why would I care? It doesn’t matter.”

Olivia opened her mouth to reply, but Ally answered first. “Jake, leave it. We’ve been over this so many times, it’s getting old. Let’s just walk and talk about something, it doesn’t matter what.” She kicked some sand up, and felt the wind throw it back at her. “Let’s walk to the rocks up there, and then we can come back.”

Olivia and Jake both nodded, but Ally could tell that her friend was at the beginnings of anger. They had been friends forever, and Ally could detect when Olivia was mad. For the last three months, she had been in a constant state of the beginnings of mad, especially when near Jake. Ally felt more sand hit her leg, this time from Olivia.

A wave crashed on the sand, sending foam rushing to their feet. Ally sighed. “I love how quiet it is here. It would be so nice to own a house here, and be able to sit on the sand whenever you wanted. You could hear the ocean all the time, instead of all the busy cars and things. And you could just stare out at the ocean, all day long.”

“Mm,” said Olivia, looking happily at the ocean. “It is nice.” She smiled, then looked sideways at Ally, her eyebrows raised. In a tone of mock condescension, she added, “It would be so horrible not to be near the water at all, and be surrounded by tall, ugly buildings. I’m not sure I could handle it, it would be so depressing. But,” she shrugged, “I guess some people like it. I feel so sorry for them.” She sighed, shaking her head, an expression supposed to look like sad confusion on her face.

“But,” said Jake pointedly, as he reached down to brush sand off his pants, “they get to be near technology, resources, and lots of interesting people. I bet they feel bad for people who have nothing but sand and water nearby. But, hey, who knows,” he sighed.

Olivia stiffened, and Ally struggled to find a way to stop, or at least delay, the fight. “Let’s just sit down for a little. We can go on later, and we don’t have to be back for a while. Let’s just sit, and look at the water. Just for a bit.” She sat, and the others followed reluctantly, one on each side. The water barely touched their toes as they leaned back on the sand, feet extended. The fog was so thick that Ally could only see a short distance out until everything became a swirly gray. She loved this weather, and even though Olivia was in a bad mood, Ally knew she loved it, too. When they had been younger, maybe seven or eight years old, they had come to a beach like this with Ally’s parents, and Olivia had been incredibly upset when they weren’t allowed in the water.

“No,” Ally’s mother had said, smiling slightly. “It’s too cold. Maybe in a month we’ll come back and then it will be warmer. No one swims now, see? Look how few people there are!”

But Olivia had stamped her foot, saying, “But I want to swim now! I can handle it! I’m like a polar bear. Or a fat sea lion. Right, Ally? We’re tough. We’re sea lions.” And with that, she had marched around, starting to howl, trying to sound like a sea lion. “Ow ow! Owwwwwwww!”

“No!” Ally had replied, happily. “They arf! Like this: Arf arf arf! Aruf! Aruuuf!”

“They do both!” Olivia had said, laughing. “Ow! Arf! Owrufl!”

And for the next hour, they had galloped around the beach pretending to be sea lions, dancing sea lions, sleepy sea lions lying on each other, and angry sea lions, charging the sand. They danced around doing different ballroom steps, always owrufing. Everything disappeared for them as they raced gracefully about, and at that moment, Ally had thought that this was just the funnest thing to do, and she couldn’t think of anything else she’d prefer. They had made the Sea Lion Waltz their special thing, something that was expressly Ally and Olivia. Ally had hummed the tune to herself sometimes, occasionally adding in an owruf. That day had been incredibly fun. They had even completely forgotten about going swimming, and on the ride home continued to happily be sea lions. But they hadn’t done that for a long time. Why did we stop? Ally wondered. They had always found something like the sea lions day to amuse themselves with before, but Ally couldn’t remember the last time. Before the divorce, of course. Since then, what with Ally’s awaited decision, there had been a lot less laughter from everyone.

“I wonder if there are any sea lions out there today,” said Ally, smiling.

Olivia grinned. “Yeah, and if there are, they’re probably dancing, singing owruf.”

“Sea lions don’t really dance. They eat fish, sleep, and that’s about it,” Jake said in an irritated tone.

“Well, that shows how much you know about sea lions,” said Ally lightly. “For your information, they particularly enjoy the waltz.” She picked up a rock, and brushed the sand off it with her thumb, examining it. “But they might be sleeping now. I mean, you can’t dance as well in the fog.” She looked out at the fog, and considered skipping the rock.

“That’s true. I suppose we won’t see them dance today. Ah well.” Olivia brushed her hand across the sand, smoothing it. “Maybe next time.” She paused, considering whether to go on or not. After smoothing the sand even more, she took a deep breath. “Ally, please let there be a next time.” She continued to gaze out at the ocean, never looking at Ally. “Imagine never being by the water together, never seeing sea lions whenever you wanted, never being able to lie in the sand. Imagine not being able to see that,” she held her hand out to the ocean. “Imagine not being able to hear the sea gulls, and have one steal your sandwich. Imagine not being able to go looking for shells. Wouldn’t you miss that? Wouldn’t you miss me? At all?”

the sea lion waltz three kids dipping on the beach

“I wonder if there are any sea lions out there today,” said Ally, smiling

Her voice broke, and she let her hand fall. “You don’t need to answer. I know you would. And I don’t know how Jake thinks he won’t, but even he will. Even a cold person can’t help but miss it.”

Ally was silent. It was true, she would miss it all, but she would also miss her brother and father. Looking over, she was surprised Jake hadn’t responded sharply to Olivia. Instead, he was picking up sand, and letting it drain through his fingers. She saw him watch it fall, and agreed with Olivia. Even Jake had to miss it. True, he had never been as close to the water as most Ally knew, but he seemed to like it in his own way.

Once, maybe a year before the divorce, their parents had had another huge fight, and Ally and Jake had walked to the beach and wandered along the sand to be out of their way. Jake had been quiet, letting his feet drag, and Ally had left him alone. But then he had surprised her by talking about what he had been thinking.

“You know,” he had said. “Maybe if they spent more time here, by the water, things would be different. It’s. . . calming. Maybe if they had spent less time at work, they would still get along.” He was quiet a moment, then burst out, “They always fight! It’s not fair! Why can’t they just get along, like normal people do? It’s not that difficult! It would be so much nicer if they were just, I don’t know, right.” And he was silent again.

“Maybe,” said Ally wearily, “they don’t want to be. Maybe we should just let things happen, and try our best. Let’s just try” Jake’s only response was to kick the wet sand at the water, but with what seemed like less vigor than usual.

As they all now sat on the beach again, Jake was quiet, and Ally wondered what he was thinking. He was a complicated person, and rarely said what was bothering him. But he and Ally were close, and depended on each other. If he went to New York without her, she would miss him as much as the ocean. She didn’t know what to do. As she wiggled her toes in the approaching water, she realized she was currently with all that meant the most to her, all that she would miss most. Yet they were all going in different directions. She wanted them all. Stop! she commanded them. Stay here! If only everything could stay how it used to be, everything would be great.

the sea lion waltz sophia veltfort

Sophia Veltfort, 13
New York, New York

the sea lion waltz jasmin bowers

Jasmin Bowers, 13
Washburn, Wisconsin

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