“There is life there,” Mumford said, and he sliced the branch with his pocketknife. It was easy for him, like he were shucking a cob of corn.
That made it look all the more dangerous to Wren. He was not even allowed to use a knife at the table on those holidays when even the kids would eat meat.
Such celebrations were scarce as a late-winter fig, and not a fiber of greasy, gristly flesh was to go to waste. Wren’s father especially would not risk some foolish son of his slipping with his utensils on the plate and flinging the precious ration onto the floor where the dogs would snatch it up. He made it known often that foolish sons were known for such things.
So Wren never used a knife, and ate with his hands, sucking each finger one by one. The older boys and girls laughed until his father joined them and yelled for them all to be quiet and finish eating.
Mumford shook off the rotted flesh and flaky bark. It fell into the water and streamed away, swirling around the round, shining river rocks. It was hard to see past the clusters of white birches, but from their little hidden hilltop spot, you could just see how to stream bent over and down the hills and cut its way through a shoreline cliff into the sea. It seemed purplish and so still from that distance, fuzzy even, as if the waves had frozen.
“God, do I love the ocean.” Mumford breathed it.
“Why?” Wren squinted up through his grassy hair.
As Wren spoke he began roughly rubbing his hands together and dusting his palms against his leather vest. Tiny bark bits and mossy dust fell in a haloed cloud. “It’s big. And it means I Forget. Every old thing it forgets, nice and clean.”
He looked at his hands front and back, and frowned. “All’s left is the sands.” Squatting, he dipped his hands in the stream. It looked so cool and clear.
Wren had never seen sand before. Once, he recalled, Mumford had said the sands shone, like fresh, baby moons. And not just at night, but during the day, even the brightest times, all the tiny grains of sand would each catch the sunlight just right, and would sort of sparkle, just like diamonds.
In fact, Mumford called the shoreline his Secret Diamond. The reason for the “Secret” part in that name was, of all the things Wren wanted to know and see and hold with his eyes, his second most desired wish. Mumford never explained it, and Wren did not like to ask too many questions, of anyone.
Yet most desirous was Wren to actually see the seashore, not from afar, or in a story, but see it like he saw Mumford. Yes, Wren very much wanted to see the seashore, and as he left with Mumford quietly, to return home quietly, the want grew, though crowded and hidden by every other thing, like moonblossoms will grow in the daytime. Yet it grew.