‘Now once there was a time I fell asleep on the beach,’ granmama started, and Lulu turned to listen.
The porch was white hot on the first day of autumn, melting and shining like a lost summer day, like a thirty-second of August, if such a date could squeeze itself into a calendar.
Benny lay puddled on the porch steps, drooling and sighing, his beagle tongue running and panting.
‘Hotter than summer today,’ granmama noted, dabbing the sweat from her brow, and she stopped and thought and smiled. ‘Beach was nice the day I fell asleep. I’ll never forget. 1928. July? July.’ Granmama nodded, and the girl at her feet watched her sleepily, dreamily. The beagle snored. Granmama continued. ‘When I fell asleep it was day, and when I woke up it was night! The moon was behind a cloud, you understand, one of those moons that don’t mean well, hidin and all. I never liked a moon like that.’
‘I don’t mind a cloudy moon,’ Lulu interrupted.
Granmama just shook her head. ‘You’ve always been an odd one, Lu, so that’s perfectly understandable.’
The girl retrieved the sleeping beagle, and held him in her lap. There, too, Benny lay spilled like molasses, panting and snoring, and everything slow and rainforest hot. The telephone pole wires buzzed, and the sound sizzled in the ears of all things living.
‘When I woke up it was night!’ repeated granmama. ‘And all around me were shapes. Black little silhouettes in the moonlight. And there wasn’t much moonlight on account of that cloud. So in the dim light I can see all these shapes surroundin me!’
‘Gremlins?’ Lulu guessed, eyes wild. ‘Goblins?’
‘Nope, not a gremlin or goblin in sight,’ granmama replied.
‘Not hobgoblins?’ whispered the tiny girl, hoping to not startle the beagle in her care.
Granmama chuckled. ‘No hobgoblins, not a one.’
Lulu leaned closer. ‘What, ma? What was it then?’
‘Little silhouettes in the moonlight? Knee-high?’ The old woman grinned. ‘Well it took one of them to squawk to get all the rest squawkin. Seagulls, and dozens of them to be certain. All circlin me in the dead of night. A big one took a snip at my toes, and I kicked at the bastard. Gotta show them you’re tough or else they all start takin bites outta you.’
Lulu wished for monsters, and had received seagulls – plain, ordinary seagulls, courtesy of granmama.
‘Figure they were waitin for a death rattle from me,’ granmama went on. ‘Beach vultures.’ She reached down and tugged at the toes of the sleeping beagle.
Benny jumped awake and barked and bared fang. Granmama pulled back, laughing.
‘Ben thought you wanted a bite of him,’ Lulu said, caressing the dog’s head. In a moment he was snoring again, slumbering again, in a cool, arctic canine dreamland.
The old woman looked north. ‘You still goin apple pickin later with those boys up the road?’
Lulu shook her head. ‘Doesn’t feel much like apple weather. It’s too bad. I was ready for summer to be over. I stored away all my shorts!’
‘Maybe it’s a beach day then,’ suggested granmama. ‘Could be the last one for a while maybe.’
The girl stood up, and the beagle oozed onto the porch floor. ‘I’m pretty tired actually. Don’t wanna fall asleep on the sand like someone I know.’ And she smiled, and the old woman smiled back. ‘Come on, Ben. Let’s cool off in front of the fan.’
The beagle detached himself from the porch, and followed Lulu inside.
Soon they were napping by the fan, and the beagle had a bad dream of lions, and the girl’s dreams were just as bad, but with the occasional shadow of a seagull . . .