The beach always has a scratchy scent and feel – sand, salt, critters, and grit. Seaweed slime wraps around my legs, lingering long after I swim. Sand dollars, fuzzy on the bottom, hard like a rock on top, call out to be collected. I grab a few white ones. I’m gonna paint them with my Mr. Sketch scented markers when I get home.

I lean my head back and swallow the air like ice water, gulping it, wishing I could drink the sound of the waves hitting the sand. I love the beach smell, but I know that when I’m back at home I’ll stink. Without the sand, the water, the rocks, and the tiny crabs and sand fleas around me, the smell of the beach is something to be purged, cleansed, scrubbed away as quickly as possible.

“Don’t you dare sit on that couch until you’ve had a shower, Missy Ann!” Mom will say as soon as we walk in the door. I’ll want to start coloring my sand dollars right away, but she’ll tell me to go back outside and brush the sand off my legs in the driveway. To her, clean means Clorox and shampoo, Windex and wipes. Her kind of clean makes my nose burn and my eyes water. I hate it.

Clean hair smells good though, unlike a clean bathroom. My new shampoo smells like coconuts. I’d never dare skip washing my hair after a day at the beach. Sometimes there’s seaweed tangled in it, and Mom always says I need to get the sand out so it doesn’t get in my bed. Even though I’m excited to try my new shampoo when we get home, I know it’ll drip down my face and sting my eyes. That’s why I hate washing my hair in the shower.

I like diving down into the cool saltwater at the beach a lot better than taking a shower. The sand glides off all at once, and the sounds of the world disappear. When I’m underwater, Mom’s voice goes away. My baby brother stops crying. The squawking seagulls shut up. There’s no mirror to reflect my missing front teeth, and no comb for my frizzy, tangled hair. Underwater my long hair spreads out, and the fish don’t care if there’s a little seaweed in it. My hair floats and glides with the waves, making me feel like a mermaid. As long as I can hold my breath, I’m free to move like I belong. Upside down. Left. Right. Somersaults around and around if I feel like it.

Running up and down the beach every summer, calluses form on the soles of my feet, but never fast enough. I run away from my towel and the beach toys, testing my speed, seeing how far I can go before I get tired. My giddy laughter stops suddenly and plop down onto the sand. A rock jabs my butt cheek as I lift my foot. I wince at the blood and throw a stone at the barnacle that did it. My little kid tears are salty like the water. My nose froths up inside, like the foam at the edge of the sand.

I play with the cut and get blood on my hands. I check to see if Mom’s watching. She’s not. I wipe the blood on my legs, my arms. I open and close the cut like a doll’s mouth, giggling as it vomits blood. I look around again quickly. My finger jabs into the doll mouth, then quickly plops down on my tongue. The blood tastes bitter and metallic. The sand feels rough on my taste buds. I spit it out. Mom would be so mad if she knew I put something that touched my dirty foot in my mouth, but I don’t care. She’s not looking. And at least it’s my own blood.

“Mom doesn’t have to know,” I whisper, pointing at my foot, as if the cut is a talking doll that could tattle.

I grab a rock and smash the barnacle, destroying the evidence, and sprint into the salty sea.

- Krisa Bruemmer