The Return by Roberta Beary

My bicycle falls against the bay’s stone wall. My son, secure in his tiny seat, points to the careening gulls. Grandma, Grandma, he shouts. How could he know? I never told him my mother’s last words, heard more as threat than comfort. I unbuckle him. Cover my unease by handing him his spade and pail. On the shore he bends to his task, squealing as his treasure trove of clams grows. The gulls circle the air above us, then fly off. Except for one. Stouter than her comrades, she eyes the clams with a greedy gaze. Grandma, my son cries as the plump gull swoops closer. Dropping his pail, he runs towards me. He wears his frightened look. Perhaps he recalls the time I came home to find she had tied him to his highchair while she calmly fed his french fries to a seagull. I had thought him too young to remember. She blamed her cruel act on the doctor. A change in her medication. As my son and I watch the pot-bellied seabird devour clam after clam, more memories return. My mother stealing my dinner off my plate when my father’s back was turned. How she’d force me to clean every pot and pan. My raw hands deep in soapy water, my feet on the step-stool my father carved the night before he disappeared. My son smiles as I comb the sand from his soft curls. He calls, Grandma, stop stealing, as the bird scours the pail for the last of the clams. I approach the seabird, unclasping my lanyard. To be forever free of her is worth the price I paid for its braided leather. I lower the loop without a sound. But with a screech, the creature flies off towards the bicycle, and settles in my son’s tiny seat. She sits there still. 


Roberta Beary has words in Best Microfiction 2019/2021, and Best Small Fictions 2020/2022. Recently, Beary collaborated on One Breath: The Reluctant Engagement Project, which pairs their writing with artwork by people with disabilities and their families. Originally from New York, they divide their time between the eastern US and the west of Ireland. They tweet their micros @shortpoemz.