Even from several hundred meters away, her feet are clearly visible. Pink socks, it seems, carnation pink like a decomposing hog’s tongue. She’s in what appears to be a large woman’s blouse, gauzy fabric that billows out behind her as she pads along the sand. The shirt her sails, the long neck her mast, and that dark whip of hair? Flag. A flag to match the red one set up by the Red Cross on the shore, meant to mean: these are not safe waters.
On the first day, Dahlia goes out to meet her. Dahlia’s been taken on her parent’s second honeymoon, a word she’ll associate for the rest of her life with Maraschino cherries and ungainly coitus. She doesn’t try to avoid her mother and Samson’s frequent displays of affection, though she doesn’t avoid stating how distasteful she finds it either. It pleases her, to see her skittish skylark skank of a mother go out of her way to find privacy, to avoid her daughter’s critical grin. Dahlia opening the closet to see her mother with her coils fingering Samson’s hair, lipstick marks like tiger stripes.
March the fourth, and Dahlia’s tired of hide-and-go-seek with her skinny Ma and her pseudo Pa. She spots the girl and runs to her, heaving, feet sinking and staining the beach: Dahlia’s size nine cobalt blue Mary-Janes. She wraps her hand on the girl’s shoulder, bony joint coated in thin blouse like white sea-glass.
“Hello,” Dahlia says, bringing the unknown to a standstill. She’s small, smaller even than Dahlia had anticipated, a veritable scrap, shipwreck. The skin in the folds of her knees is pale and clear, but the rest of her is burnt black. The color has spread even to her eyelids, like watercolors, or wildfire.
“Hi.” She answers, quite coolly, turning to face Dahlia. She has a pert nose and squinty eyes, maybe thirteen years old to Dahlia’s seventeen.
“I’m Dahlia,” Dahlia says. This is how she operates, stun, shock, wait for a reaction. This is why Dahlia doesn’t have a boyfriend, and why she couldn’t stay back home while her mother and Samson rode out this vacation. No one wanted to keep her, and no one was willing to leave her alone.
“I’m Mina,” she says, and from that moment (and various moments in the twelve day span that followed) onwards, for the rest of her life, Dahlia will associate pink socks, blouses, boats, bells and dying with that name.