The street lamps formed yellow pools of light on the sidewalk, illuminating the cracks, and filling them with equal shadow and light. A group of crickets camped out in a bush chirped together in unison, their music sounding like a throbbing heart. Suddenly they stopped, as if afraid. The silence that followed was quickly broken by the sound of rhythmic thumping on the concrete as a girl jogged into view. Her hair was rumpled into a loose ponytail, and the tip swayed back and forth to the beat of her gray sneakers. A cool breeze started to blow, and the girl slowed to a walk, taking full advantage of the refreshing gust of wind.
Leslie paused and looked around, as if she were lost but not very concerned about it. When she ran, she didn’t pay attention to where she was or where she was going, only to the rhythmic repetition of her feet landing and then pushing her up and forward; arms pumping; breath even and rationed in her chest; leg muscles warm and humming.
Leslie stretched, raising both her arms straight up over her head, and half closing her eyes. Suddenly she stiffened, eyes wide, and peered into the dark. She seemed to have heard something, and as she lowered her arms, she strained her eyes to stare in the direction of the cul-de-sac down the street. There were two houses down there, and in the valley between their roofs, Leslie could see the ocean, black and silent and calm.
She tilted her head slightly, as if trying to hear the unknown sound again. Then, the wind shifted, carrying the briny smell of the ocean, and with it a wisp of a song. Strangely, it sounded as if the ocean itself was singing, but her initial shock was lost in the complexity of the song, and it seemed as if the music was holding a gentle finger to her lips, telling her that everything would be fine. And somehow, this invisible gesture spoke to Leslie like an almost forgotten memory, something her mother had said a long time ago.
She had been in bed, just on the brink of sleep, with the comforting sag of her mother’s weight at the end of her mattress. Her half-shut eyelids blurred the dim bedroom that revolved around her and her mother and the nightlight between them, but something startled them open again. It was a silver glint from her mother’s wrist, like the sparkle of a bracelet in sunlight, or little fairies playing tag. But when Leslie tried to see it clearly, her mother’s wrist appeared to be bare except for the scars, her fingers fondling Leslie’s toes through the sheets.
“Honey, one day, you’ll hear your calling, and you’ll feel it’s touch, and you’ll know what it says even if you don’t understand right away. It might hurt at first to accept it, but you’re special—our family is special, and you need to stick with it, whatever it is, and whatever it brings you.”
Her mother paused, examining the pale scars that ran across her wrists like lightning bolts, and then looked at Leslie with eyes brimming with love and maybe a few tears. “Just remember this: magic is never easy, but you’ll find that it’s better to keep it and be different, then to let it go and risk spending the rest of your life trying to get it back.”
As her mother’s voice faded in Leslie’s mind, the song gained strength in her ears and all around her. Wildly beautiful, it came straight from the waves, and was almost haunting in its uniqueness; like no instrument ever invented. But at the same time, Leslie heard something familiar echo in the song, as if she had heard it once in a dream. It sounded the way she expected sirens would when they sang, but without the memory of ships drowning, or the dark eyes or deceiving lips. It had the sad twisty mood of a song that calls for help as if no answer is coming, when it knows the listener will be drawn in with no choice but to comply. Then the song changed its tune, whispering the feeling of sand between Leslie’s toes and the memory of her mother’s eyes at night. The moon seemed to quiver with the unknown depth of the song as the last notes sounded, tangled up with the howl of the wind in an abandoned lighthouse, and the clear, ringing chorus of newborn stars.
The wind changed again, unexpectedly, and the song went with it. Leslie stayed where she was though, listening for anything that would prove to her that the song had been real. She felt a shiver between her shoulder blades that trailed gooseflesh down her arms and into her fingertips, and a strange empty feeling curdled in her stomach. It was as if the song had become part of her and had then taken that part of her with it when it faded. And wanted that part of her back; she needed to find out what it was really trying to tell her. Already, she was forgetting the way it had seemed to talk to her, telling her something she didn’t understand. The wind hushed, with no sign of anything except the night growing cooler. The girl turned slowly, confusion and a touch of uneasiness written on her forehead, and then bounded off down the sidewalk, her movements similar to a deer’s.
Behind her, the crickets chirped in unison, as if they hadn’t stopped.