Promises - Carolyn Curry

            Rose Hensley raced down the beach, her small feet splashing in the waves. She stole a glance behind her as the figure’s colossal steps swiftly overtook hers. Soon an arm locked around her waist and her feet were lifted from the sandy shore.

            “Grandpa!” She shrieked with laughter. “Put me down!” Rose squirmed, writhing and twisting, but the grip of George Hensley’s arms only grew tighter.

            He playfully shook her from right to left. “Oh, is that what you want?” He let her drop a few inches closer to the ground.

            “No, Grandpa! Don’t drop me!”

            “Alright then, Rosie,” He breathed heavily. His heels sunk deeper into the cold, wet sand. “I suppose I can let you go.” George placed her wriggling feet on the ground.

            Rose’s feet kept moving once she was free. With her short, childish strides she ran back in the opposite direction towards the gray-shingled home, looming over the dunes.

            “Chase me! Chase me!” She yelled. The ribbons of her white dress and her long, dark locks trailed behind her in the air, tangling together.

            “I’m coming!” George called, but he was done running. As he made his way back, he planted his own cavernous footprints next to his favorite granddaughter’s.

            Rose sailed into her Uncle Walter’s arms in the home’s living room. “Aha! I caught you!” His deep voice echoed off the two-story ceiling. He lifted her up and ran, making small loops around little Anna Hensley, who’s engrossment in her copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made her unaware of the ruckus. She eventually lifted her head and observed her daddy playing airplane with cousin Rosie. Even at eight, she wondered why her daddy never laughed like that when he played with her.

            Walter put on a record. He and Rose were twirling now, her feet resting on his brown loafers as he stepped and twirled to Sinatra’s smooth voice, reverberating off the white walls.

            Rose clung to her uncle’s button down as they whirled around the room. She looked up only once to find Anna intently staring at her. If Rose ever looked at grownups for too long they would look away and her mother would tell her she was being rude. But Anna wasn’t a grownup, and maybe Aunt Irene didn’t teach Anna like Rose’s mother taught her.

            Just as Rose was about to look up again, the music came to a scratching halt. Walter quickly took a few steps away from his niece. Irene Hensley stood by the record player with her arms crossed. She wiped her hands against her green dress and shifted her gaze from her husband to Rose and pursed her lips.

            “Why don’t you keep your grandfather company in the library?” She directed.

            Rose looked up at her uncle, who kept his eyes on the oriental rug. She opened her mouth to say something, to ask why Aunt Irene seemed so angry, but instead just followed the orders. As she left the room, she turned back. Uncle Walter and Aunt Irene were yelling, their arms gesturing vehemently, the creases in their foreheads and eyebrows deepening. Anna was still sitting cross-legged on the couch; she read from the book on her lap while she covered her ears with her palms.

            George was sitting in his plush leather armchair, a book open on his lap. His thick-framed glasses perched on the very tip of his nose. He looked up at Rose without lifting his head, beckoning her to him. She climbed into his lap, scratching the leather as she gripped it for support.

            George reached for the side table on his right. The ice rattled against the glass as he brought it to his face and tipped the liquid into his mouth. Rose didn’t like the smell of it; she wrinkled her nose.

            “You couldn’t always drink this stuff, Rosie,” George explained. “Only bad men made it, and only bad men sold it.”

            “Like B.B. Eyes?” Rose asked. She heard something shatter in the background.

            “Yes, just like him.” George brought her a little closer. “But back when I was young, like your daddy and your uncle, things were different. Even the bad guys weren’t all bad because they had something called loyalty. They never abandoned their brothers, and they never broke their promises. They took everything seriously. Promise me, Rosie,” he said, “that when you’re old you’ll never forget who your family is, and the promises you’ve made.”

            “I promise, Grandpa.”

            “Because no matter who you are, or who people say you are,” he continued. “Your honor and your morals still matter. You might not understand this all now, Rosie, but one day you will. Respect matters.”

            “May I interrupt?” Rose’s mother asked from the door. Her voice was more timid than normal. She twirled a finger around her long, dark curls. “It’s time for your bath, Rosie.”

            George huffed. “Go ahead.” He barely looked at his daughter-in-law. “And mind you that she gets clean and stays clean— of everything.”


            Evelyn Hensley scooped and handful of lukewarm water and gently poured it over Rose’s head. She hummed softly as she did this, over and over and over. Rosie babbled mindlessly about the fish in the ocean and the clouds and running along the beach and Grandpa and Frank Sinatra and Uncle Walter’s feet and Aunt Irene’s loud voice—

            “She was angry?” Evelyn stopped, resting her hand limp in the bathwater.

            Rose told her about the arms gesturing and the voices getting noisy and Anna sitting on the couch.

            Something flashed across Evelyn’s face. “Mommy?” Rose asked.

            “It’s okay, Rosie. Everything’s fine.” She began scooping the water again. “This sand in your hair...” Evelyn dipped Rose’s head back in the water and scrubbed her scalp. “It’s just everywhere. It never comes out.”

            Rose sat in the bath and picked at her pruning fingers. “But I like the sand.”

            “Well the sand lives outside, and that’s where it should stay: outside.” Everywhere Evelyn looked she saw more grains: in her daughter’s hair, underneath her fingernails, on the back of her neck.

            “Mommy, can I be a sand monster?”

            “No, you can’t.” She tried to wipe more grains off of Rose’s shoulder. It was everywhere; the water was contaminated, and Rose was contaminated. “I just can’t stand it that you’re always going to have sand on you, and everyone’s going to see it and the things they’ll think...”


            Later that night, Aunt Irene came to tuck in Rose and Anna. She sat on the edge of Anna’s bed for a long time, stroking her flaxen hair and whispering doting, motherly things in her ear. Rose watched, curled up under her covers, as Aunt Irene kissed her daughter’s forehead goodnight, stood up, and headed for the door without a glance in Rose’s direction.

            “Auntie, why are you mad?” The question cut through the quiet summer breeze rattling the shutters and the crickets chirping from the sand dunes.

            Irene turned to her niece and stood there, frozen, for a long time. Rose could see her face from across the dark room, staring with hateful eyes. She spoke sharply. “There are some things that only daddys do, that’s all. There are some things that daddys are just supposed to do, and some things that good daddys, husbands, are never supposed to do.” Her voice remained steady. “You’re lucky that your daddy is a good person.” She marched out of the room.


            Anna’s hair hung in a perfectly straight braid down her back. She sat on the beach with Rose, who was dragging her finger along the tiny mountains of sand, drawing loops and swirls in the grains. Loud voiced echoed from the house, rolled off the dunes and off the waves.

            “They’re mad.” Rose observed.

            “It’s about you, you know,” said Anna.

            Evelyn emerged from the house, carrying a tray of lemonade and glasses. She set them on the patio table and turned to her husband, who stood in the doorway, arms crossed and stance wide. Evelyn spoke for a while, her hands moving from her face to her hat, which she threw on the ground, to her hair. She reached out to him, grabbed his arm, but he violently threw her hands back at her and left, marching around to the front of the house. An engine revved and he was gone, his Rambler a turquoise dot that drifted farther and farther away until it disappeared, blending into the horizon.

            “James!” Evelyn called. She stood there, fruitlessly screaming her husbands name until her voice gave out and she collapsed, sobbing, onto the cold stone. She took in air with ragged breaths, sucking it in with the same uneven gasps as the breeze.

            After a while George stood in the doorway and stared down at his daughter-in-law. He said nothing to let her rough gasps fill the air. He picked up the tray from the table, stepped over Evelyn, and walked along the beach to where Rose and Anna sat, staring back at the house.

            “Where’s Daddy?” Rose asked.

            “He’ll be back,” George replied. He put the tray on the sand and slowly lowered himself to the ground. With a shaky hand, he filled up three glasses and handed one to each of his granddaughters. Anna dumped hers into the sand without taking a sip. She stared out at the ocean, watched the waves as they came crashing at their feet.