Most everyone in the family calls Dylan “slow.” Worse, his abusive mother claims he’s wicked. He might not think fast, and it takes him awhile to form the words he wants, but Dylan has magic. He can spin marbles from oyster shells, and whip up Chicken Alfredo by tapping his thumbs together. In fact, he hopes to be a famous chef someday and put his magic to good use. Right now, the only one to appreciate his supernatural abilities is his loving uncle and caretaker, a disabled Vietnam veteran. When Uncle Jim dies, Dylan’s Aunt Agnes sells the house the two lived in, and ships Dylan off to an adult boarding home. There Dylan meets an equally gifted but troubled young lady named Liona.
With a rocky beginning, Dylan finally finds a friend in Liona whose mind-reading abilities makes it easier for him to communicate. Just when he settles into his new life a precious gift from his deceased uncle is destroyed. Despondent, and confused, Dylan flees to the beach and the oyster beds where he feels most at home, and where his magical empowerment comes from. His old Vietnamese friend, Tim Lan, offers him a room in his shanty in exchange for his magically-made pearls. Dylan is tormented by the suspect requests of Tim Lan, for the old man takes his pearls to town and sells them. He’s muddled by his feelings for Liona for he’s never had a girlfriend before. His nightmare ensues when his drug addicted mother, who had once washed her hands of him, returns to exploit his gifts. He’s never stood up to her before but the time has come to be his own person, otherwise he risks losing everything he’s worked for – his relationship with Liona, with Tim Lan, and any hopes of independence – if he lets her destroy him.
I ran along the beach to catch Tim Lan, out of sight from my mother, beyond the buttes of the far shore where huge flat rocks played stepping stones with the sea. A perfect habitat of tide pools and miniature caves and flat stones that held the sun’s rays so that when you lay on them they warmed your back and made you feel like a fat sea lion basking on the reefs. Tim Lan had already chosen a boulder and sat meditating by the time I reached him. I climbed on another rock below his, exhaling relief that I had dodged the Accuser and saved my soul.
“I’m sorry,” I said, not knowing how else to express the regret that ate at me.
“For what your mother says?” he asked. “You’re not responsible.”
I didn’t respond. I felt that I was. She was my mother. It was my fault she was even here on the beach, or that she approached Tim Lan. Or that she had accused him of treating me ill.
“She doesn’t treat you well.”
“No.” I admitted. “She didn’t treat you well either.”
The waves crashed and splashed at us, agitating the sand and pebbles below before they slid away.
“What was she so angry about?”
I looked up at him for an indication as to whether my mother’s claims had been true. A calm smile on his face, his shirt unbuttoned exposing his chest to the morning sun, the lack of care about what had just happened, kept me questioning.
“I’m not sure,” I said. As much as I hated my mother, the words she threw out at me could have held some truth in them. Tim Lan could be selling those pearls for a lot of money, and hiding it from me, though I didn’t think that what he got for the pearls was any of my business. Still, he could be generous and offer a bonus once in a while. I could use new shoes. “Did you see her yesterday? At the Trading Post?” I asked.
He was quiet for a moment. “What trading post?”
I didn’t answer.
“No. I don’t think so.”
I lay back down again. His reply should have made me feel better but I remained uneasy. Maybe I would have been happier if he had told me he had seen her; that he did sell pearls in front of her, and that he did sell them for thousands of dollars. At least I would know they were both telling the truth. Now I had to guess.
“Why?” he asked.
“She said she saw you.”
“Maybe she had me mixed up with someone else.” His answer was quick and under any other circumstance, could have made sense, if I hadn’t been suspicious.
“Probably,” I said. Not trusting him made me feel dirty, like I was to blame for not believing him, and I wasn’t a good friend, or a loyal friend because I didn’t trust him. I didn’t like feeling dirty so I slid from the rock I was on and took off my raggedy shirt, spreading it out in the sun so it would be warm when I dressed again. I slipped out of my worn shoes which were already unlaced, and placed them next to my shirt.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I need to bathe,” I mumbled and jogged away from the cliff and tidepools toward the breakers. Once I hit the cold salty water, I let out a holler. The shock of the temperature woke me. I screamed loud and hard and strong. With each shriek, I moved past a row of thundering surf until I was in water up to my chest. The tide lifted me and gently brought me down, rolling to shore, splashing on the beach behind me. Larger waves came and each one swelled and ebbed taking me farther away from land to where I couldn’t touch bottom. I treaded water then, and waited for the one wave that would submerge me, bathe me clean from all my bad thoughts. Wash my body and my mind in one grand sweep. The rising wave trundled toward me, swirling higher and higher, blocking my view of the horizon, caps of white fingers spitting out at the cloudless sky above. In a split second the wet mass plummeted on top of me, then churned my body like butter, pressing me into its liquid shelf. I held my breath, scrubbed my face, as I rolled in its embrace. This powerful force sloshed me around in salt as if agitating me in a washing machine. Just when I could no longer hold my breath, I gushed to the surface, left in foam and coarse sand, which raced away back down the beach, yanking at my body, throwing me off balance, pulling me back to sea.
I struggled to my feet and pushed my soaking hair out of my eyes. The air breathed cold against my wet skin. I walked back to where Tim Lan lay watching me. Grabbing my warm shirt, I dried my eyes, shook sand and kelp out of my hair, and blew the salt out of my nose. Refreshed, I dressed again, but without the shoes.
“Feel better?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I answered. “Kind of.”
Tim Lan slid off his boulder, and without looking at me, without inviting me to join him, walked away in the direction of his shanty. I wondered if that confrontation with my mother would have a lasting effect on him. If so, I may be more homeless than I thought.