It was the first time she'd noticed the hair on her belly button. It wasn't beside her belly button or above it, but actually in it, a long, daddy-long-legged shaped string, coarse and black. And while pulling it out might have been a typical first reaction, hers was just to stare in wonder. How long had it been there, and had anyone else noticed it in this bikini season? Serena had a perfect beach body—slender, smooth legs, a cover-girl quality stomach, toned arms, the kind of figure most girls and women envied. But that hair, that one hair. Still, she didn't pluck it, even as she prepared for a retreat to West Sands, her destination for a solo day in the sun.
Coco-butter sunscreen, a sheet-sized towel, an iPod and three cans of soda, three waters and carrot slices in an icy mini-cooler. She'd leave her cell phone at home along with a note on the table: Mom, went to the beach. Back around 4. Not that her mother would necessarily need a note because they could run into each other on the boardwalk where her mother sold bird-shaped kites to spoiled children and young-hearted adults. Mom and she had never flown a kite together. Mom said she was so tired of looking at kites, she loathed even the idea of touching one. It didn't matter, Serena said to herself. She preferred to be alone and lazy anyway, her idea of exercise being the quarter mile walk to the beach. She might not even make it to the boardwalk.
While most people left their summer cottages, Serena left her home, keeping the door unlocked, marking her as one of the few permanent residents who maintained small-town habits. Not only did she have a sense of security, she believed there was nothing worth stealing inside the tiny place Serena's mother had won in the divorce. Serena was right, for the most part. Except for a medium-sized flat screened television, little would entice a would-be criminal, unless he or she had a penchant for refrigerators or dish washers. Their indoor-outdoor cat, Vicious, a hearty male tiger-striped, lived up to his name enough to put off potential catnappers. Serena passed him on the driveway just as he was carrying a dead, decapitated lizard toward the pet door.
"Thanks," she said. "Don't leave it on Mom's bed." Vicious swished his orange tail.
Serena took the route of least resistance, the road hot enough to melt her pink flip flops, the one that brought her by Beech Nuts, where tourists rented worn volleyballs and umbrellas with the store name printed on the thick canvas tops. She didn't use an umbrella, preferring to suck in the sun, store it in her skin which had morphed from Irish white to Mediterranean brown. She passed the tourists spilling out onto the sidewalk, in line and ready to support the local economy. She looked back at some teenage boys ogling her in her white two-piece bathing suit which revealed just enough to make them embarrassed of their reactions. Tossing her back-length, brown hair over her shoulder, she sauntered on without smiling.
Her feet brought her to the sidewalk, which brought her to the sand, which brought her over the dunes and closer to the quiet water. West Sands Beach wasn’t as popular as East. She easily chose a remote spot, spread her blanket, kneaded lotion into her arms, took a quick swig of water, plugged her ears with music and relaxed. She sometimes thought her favorite sport was nothing—no thinking, no moving, just nothing.
She dreamed her mother, a woman with white skin perpetually shielded from the sun, was standing beside her, holding a kite shaped like an eagle. "Do you want to fly it?" her mother asked. Serena shook her head, waking herself.
Serena sat up. It was already late afternoon, maybe even past four. Her mother was not there, but something else was. The belly button hair. But instead of black, it was blond, bleached out and more fragile looking.
She pulled at it. It was not fragile, instead, stubbornly planted, like a fine, strong and strange umbilical cord. She pulled harder, gripping it as firmly as she could between her thumb and forefinger. The hair slid right through. She wiped her slick hands on the towel and this time succeeded, the growth that had attached itself to her body and dared to change color while she was sleeping, now defeated.
"Take that!" she said, holding it into the air, letting the wind blow it away.
She packed her things, realizing she’d barely had anything to drink and had ignored the carrots entirely.
She shrugged, folded her towel and headed home, into the sagging sun.
Katherine M. Gotthardt
Copyright August 4, 2013