The fishing rodeo was great fun. A triggerfish won the boys $15 plus a new pair of wiper blades for their father’s car.
Sunday morning and time to go home came too soon. Wanda had found some seashells; all of them but one were small and had been chipped by the tide. The treasured conch shell was almost as big as the little girl’s fist. It was tan on the outside with markings that reminded her of the wings on a flannel moth.
Its inside was shiny and pinkish like a porcelain figurine. The shell was empty with no trace of its former occupant, but it made a sound that mimicked the rush of the ocean whenever Wanda put it up to her ear. She tucked the treasure into her heart-shaped apron pocket, unsure if she should give it to her mama or Lydia.
The drive home always seemed shorter than the drive down to the gulf. After dinner, the boys sat in the front seat with their father, while Wanda stretched out on the back seat to sleep. When she woke up, she overheard them talking.
“Daddy, did you really run into Miss Peggy by accident?” Denny asked.
“And why did you pay her hotel bill?” Drew added.
Mr. Martin hesitated and then said, “No … It wasn’t exactly an accident. Miss Peggy’s husband got hurt pretty bad fighting in Korea, and she hardly ever gets to go anywhere. She’s a nice lady and I thought she deserved a nice vacation. Besides, we needed someone to help with Wanda since we wouldn’t have Lydia. You boys are big enough to understand, but I didn’t want Wanda to go blabbing to your Mama.”
“Why shouldn’t Mama know?” Drew asked.
“Because, your mama already feels guilty about not being able to take care of you kids––especially Wanda. I don’t want her to feel any more ashamed than she already does. Your mama used to be a regular workhorse and now she’s sensitive about what she can’t do.”
Wanda had awakened a few miles back, but she remained quiet. Playing possum was a good way to learn things. Her father clicked the radio on. Perry Como was singing something about catching a falling star. It reminded her of the lone firefly. She drifted back to sleep and when she woke up again, they were at Berretta’s Drive-In.
Their father bought them ice cream sodas and made a point of reminding the children, including Wanda, they mustn’t, under any circumstances, mention Miss Peggy. The Martin children were used to getting instructions about protecting their mama from things that might upset or tire her. Keeping this little secret would be easy.
The following afternoon, Lydia joked with Wanda. “Were ya’ll the fashion plates of the gulf? There’s so much laundry I figure you changed clothes six times a day.”
Wanda put her arm next to Lydia’s to see how much darker she had gotten at the beach. She pulled her apron out of the laundry basket and made sure the shell was still there.
“What did you do? Take your apron along?”
“Well, I’m honored it was part of the fashion parade,” she said. Then Lydia pulled part of a dead sand crab out of one of Denny’s pockets. “Boys!” she said, making a funny face.
Late that afternoon, Mrs. Bolivar stopped by to say she was going to Piggly Wiggly and ask if there were any errands she could run. Drew went into the coat closet and took the roll of film out of the camera. “Mama wants to see photos of our vacation,” he said. “Can you drop this off at Rexall’s?”
A couple of days later, the delivery boy came from Rexall Drug.
“Looks like the pictures are here,” Lydia said.
“May I see them, please?” Mrs. Martin said. “You’ll never know how much I wanted to be there.”
Lydia held the stack of pictures up and began slowly flipping through them one by one. “You can see them later, Wanda,” Lydia said. “Amy’s mama just phoned. They’re coming by to take you to the park.”
With that, the doorbell rang.