C. E. Hyun’s stories have appeared in The Northville Review, Foliate Oak, Swamp Biscuits and Tea, The Red Penny Papers, and the British Fantasy Society’s BFS Journal. She currently lives in Orange County, California, and at cehyun.com.
It was June gloom at Laguna Beach, and I’d warned my little sister that it would be too cold to swim, but she insisted on wearing her new bikini under her dress. We walked along the boardwalk in our flip-flops, stepped onto sand that was cool between our toes.
At the tide pools, we saw hermit crabs, translucent shrimp, and aggregating anemones covered in bits of broken pebble and shell. My little sister crouched over a pool and picked up a hermit crab, despite my repeated lectures that she wasn’t supposed to touch. She was serious and intent, and the crab walked over the palm of her hand.
A young couple stopped at her pool and she looked furtively up, quietly slipping the crab back into the water. She scurried away from the pool and the couple bent over it excitedly. When they left, she scurried back. I sat on a rock and watched her, watched a little boy chase after a crab and smash it with the back of his sand pail shovel. His mother stood a distance away, oblivious.
My sister came over to report that the hermit crabs humped each other.
“They hump each other?”
“Yeah, they climb over each other. One was so mean, a huge one that smushed over a little one.” She told me she’d held most of the crabs in the pool.
We ate gimbap for lunch. We made sand hearts and castles and doughnuts. My little sister buried my feet, my legs. She dug a giant hole that we filled in so no one would fall into it.
She took off her dress. Her new bikini was a very cute black and white polka-dotted affair. Little bows at the hips, playful ruffles at the seams. She splashed in the water. When I was reluctant to join her, she splashed me too.
We browsed the local shops. We got Starbucks frappachinos: a java chip for me and a double-chocolate chip for her. The latter didn’t contain actual coffee, but still: “Don’t tell Mom,” I warned.
“I won’t,” she said, delighted to hold this potential leverage over me.
Later that night, she dug out old dresses I didn’t know we still had, and modeled them. I asked why she was trying them on, and she said her first school dance was next year. She wanted to see if she could wear one of the dresses we had.
The last dress was a clingy black affair, the type of thing you could pick up for ridiculous steals on clearance, provided you had the waif body to wear it. My little sister put it on, looked at herself critically in the mirror.
She was too young to wear that dress. I wanted to say she looked too young to wear that dress. But she didn’t. She pulled it off perfectly. It complemented her long limbs, highlighted the fact that she was ab-endowed. Through a stranger’s eyes, I saw how she might not look eleven years old. Even to me, she didn’t look eleven.
She turned to face me. “What do you think?”