Sarah didn’t like many things. Books took too long to read. Movies were all either boring or ridiculous. Running was way too much effort. Swimming was far too wet. Only Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, played loudly on her headphones, made her feel alive.
Sarah didn’t like many people. Her mother was too exhausted to be interesting. Her little brother was too energetic to be tolerated. Her step-father was too rude to be listened to. Her teacher was too sweet to be believed. Only her best friend, Frankie, made her feel understood.
Sarah didn’t like many places. Her bedroom was narrow and confining. The bus stop had oil stains and smelled of exhaust. The park was too full of sad squeaking swing sets. The beach was too full of sad, squawking people. Only the spot on the end of the pier made her feel free.
Sarah was in that spot today, earbuds in her ears, Rachmaninoff in her head, butt seated on hard cement, legs dangling over the end of the pier, cheek pressed against the wooden railing, eyes on the endlessly rippling horizon. She was, for just one moment, perfectly happy.
Then the song ended, and she remembered.
Frankie the brilliant. Frankie the weird. Frankie the genius of comedy who could make Sarah laugh so hard milk came out her nose. Frankie the loyal. Frankie the kind. Frankie was moving to Iowa.
Iowa was so far way Sarah wasn’t sure it was real. Lots of corn, Frankie said. Not much in the way of hills. No ocean at all. Sarah couldn’t even imagine it.
Symphony No. 2 started up again, but now Sarah wasn’t listening. She was trying without success to picture a horizon filled with cornstalks and the sixth grade filled with girls who weren’t Frankie, while she watched the progress of the giant sea turtle that was swimming toward the pier.
There was a giant sea turtle swimming toward the pier.
Visions of Frankie drowning in waves of grain disappeared in a flash. Rachmaninoff swelled as the turtle raised its head and looked right at Sarah. He was just below her now, patiently treading water.
“I don’t like to get wet,” Sarah said.
The turtle was unmoved.
“I have my iPod with me,” Sarah said.
The turtle didn’t even blink.
“It’s not safe to climb down from this spot,” Sarah said.
The turtle waited.
Sarah took out her earbuds and set her iPod on the cement. Rachmaninoff was silenced, but her heart still beat the strong, steady rhythm of Symphony No. 2.
Sarah left her spot on the end of the pier and climbed down the wooden struts toward the cold water. She had never been to this place under the pier, but the rippling horizon remained in its place.
The turtle met Sarah where the water lapped against the pier. It turned its back to her and she climbed on. Quickly and quietly the turtle took her out to sea.
Sarah knew that she should have felt afraid, but she didn’t. She felt alive.
The water stretched out on every side. The shore was just a smudge on the horizon. It was so very far away. Sarah lay her head on the turtle’s ridged shell and cried so hard her whole head ached. Then she told the turtle all about Iowa.
Sarah knew she should have felt ridiculous, but she didn’t. She felt understood.
The sun was sinking into the water, setting each ripple on fire as it slowly disappeared. The turtle turned back and carried Sarah back through a golden wonderland to the real world, to solid ground, to the continent that would soon swallow Frankie whole. Sarah clung to the wooden pier as the turtle swam away.
Sarah knew that she should have felt abandoned, but she didn’t. She felt free.
Sarah climbed up to where Rachmaninoff waited in that perfect spot at the end of the pier. She put the earbuds in and slowly walked down the pier, in the general direction of a sixth grade classroom that had no Frankie in it and of a state called Iowa, which Sarah still couldn’t imagine but now felt sure was real.