Mom, Dad and I were in Wildwood, New Jersey for a vacation. I was only three. I didn’t know what a vacation was, but I knew it meant that Dad didn’t have to work for a while.
“Yay! Đi biễn chơi!” I said in Vietnamese. We’re going to the beach! I’d only learned the word for beach when we left Montréal by car, but I didn’t know what the beach was until the sand was under my sandals, and the green-blue ocean I saw stretched on forever. Even the sky could touch it. Mom covered me in sunscreen while I built sand castles, the grains of which were coarse and uneven. Dad hobbled over to the edge of the water, testing how it was with his feet, and he came back with a pail full of cloudy water. He poured it next to my sand castle.
“Your castle will be stronger with water,” he said, and it was! My dad was a genius!
My admiration of his genius was short lived as I was distracted by all the different rocks in the sand when the water washed over them. Some big, some small, some smooth, some colourful, and some with patterns on them. I found a big one though, the size of a chicken egg. I took a break from castle-building and collected several of them, not as big as that first one, but I kept the ones I liked. I put them in my trouser pockets. Dad came back, drenched from his swim. He asked Mom to reapply the sunscreen.
“Amy, come here so I can apply sunscreen on you too,” she said.
I crawled back from my sand castle, my shorts dragging below my waist, almost off my bum.
“What are in your pockets?” Dad asked.
“Đồ đẹp,” I said. Pretty things.
Dad reached into my pockets, shaking his head but smiling.
“Don’t put stones in your pockets,” he said. “They’ll just drag you down wherever you go.”
“No they won’t,” I protested.
“Fine. Keep them,” he said. “See if I’m right.”
When it was almost time for dinner, Dad folded the beach chairs and umbrella. He carried them up to our motel while Mom brought up her beach bag and our cooler. I was tasked with bringing my castle-building tools, but my shorts kept falling down. Before we got to the massive stairs that led up to the boardwalk, I abandoned all my pretty things. Mom waited for me, smiling but not saying a word. Once we got to our motel room, Dad turned and asked me “Where are all your rocks?”
“I had to leave them behind,” I mumbled, my eyes beginning to tear up.
“I was right, wasn’t I? Don’t be sad,” he said while hugging me. “Giỏi, ba thương.” Be good and I’ll love you, he said, as if I had to be good or he wouldn’t love me at all. Sometimes, it hurt to find out how much of a genius he was.
Bio: Linda Nguyen is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in Montréal where her mind wanders and her fingers type.