She was six years old when I first met her on the beach near where I live. I drive to this beach, a distance of three or four miles, whenever the world begins to close in on me. She was building a sand castle or something and looked up, her eyes as blue as the sea.
“Hello,” she said. I answered with a nod, not really in the mood to bother with a small child.
“I’m building,” she said. “I see that. What is it?” I asked, not really caring. “Oh, I don’t know, I just like the feel of sand.” That sounds good, I thought, and slipped off my shoes. A sandpiper glided by.
“That’s a joy,” the child said. “It’s a what?” “It’s a joy. My mama says sandpipers come to bring us joy.” The bird went gliding down the beach. Good-bye joy, I muttered to myself, hello pain, and turned to walk on. I was depressed, my life seemed completely out of balance. “What’s your name?” She wouldn’t give up. “Ignatz,” I answered. “I’m Ignatz Kakalovich.” “Mine’s Wendy ... I’m six.” “Hi, Wendy.” She giggled. “You’re funny,” she said. In spite of my gloom, I laughed too and walked on. Her musical giggle followed me. “Come again, Mr. K,” she called. “We’ll have another happy day.” The next few days consisted of a group of unruly Boy Scouts, PTA meetings, and an ailing mother. The sun was shining one morning as I took my hands out of the dishwater. I need a sandpiper, I said to myself, gathering up my coat. The ever-changing balm of the seashore awaited me. The breeze was chilly but I strode along, trying to recapture the serenity I needed. “Hello, Mr. K,” she said. “Do you want to play?” “What did you have in mind?” I asked, with a twinge of annoyance. “I don’t know. You say.” “How about charades?” I asked sarcastically. The tinkling laughter burst forth again. “I don’t know what that is.” “Then let’s just walk.” Looking at her, I noticed the delicate fairness of her face.
“Where do you live?” I asked. “Over there.” She pointed toward a row of summer cottages.
Strange, I thought, in winter. “Where do you go to school?” “I don’t go to school. Mommy says we’re on vacation” She chattered little girl talk as we strolled up the beach, but my mind was on other things. When I left for home, Wendy said it had been a happy day. Feeling surprisingly better, I smiled at her and agreed. Three weeks later, I rushed to my beach in a state of near panic. I was in no mood to even greet Wendy. I thought I saw her mother on the porch and felt like demanding she keep her child at home. “Look, if you don’t mind,” I said crossly when Wendy caught up with me, “I’d rather be alone today.” She seemed unusually pale and out of breath. “Why?” she asked.
I turned to her and shouted, “Because my mother died!” and thought, My God, why was I saying this to a little child? “Oh,” she said quietly, “then this is a bad day.” “Yes,” I said, “and yesterday and the day before and -- oh, go away!” “Did it hurt?” she inquired. “Did what hurt?” I was exasperated with her, with myself. “When she died?” “Of course it hurt!” I snapped, misunderstanding, wrapped up in myself. I strode off. A month or so after that, when I next went to the beach, she wasn’t there.