Warning for strong language, racist characters and situation.
Author - Rose Scobie
Ralph and his wife often came to the beach. It was a ten-minute drive from their house and it was an easy way to occupy their kids without having to resort to their iPads. He loved splashing in the waves with his boys and helping them dig huge holes in the sand and then bury them up to their necks.
His twin five-year-old sons were his world. They had already been down to the water and had jumped waves together. Now, it was time to dig. Ralph glanced at his oldest (by two minutes) Everett and watched him work his pale, thin arms, digging as fast as he could with a green and yellow plastic shovel. Ralph scanned the area surrounding their gazebo trying to locate their second shovel so he could join him.
“Hey Jenny, have you seen the other shovel?” he said when he didn’t spot it.
Jenny was his college sweetheart. He had fallen hard for her bleached blonde hair and overly plucked eyebrows when they were freshmen Poli-Sci majors at UC Santa Barbara. He had been attracted to her wide, no-filter mouth and her D-cup breasts.
Nowadays, exhausted from looking after their twins full-time while he spent long days at his law firm, her no-filter mouth was often full of passive-aggressive comments about how it must be so nice for him to be able to take shits alone at work. Meanwhile, her breasts sagged from nursing the twins.
“I haven’t,” she said, “but have you tried looking with your eyes?”
He swallowed and forced a smile. “I’ll look again.”
Ralph walked all over the spot of the beach they had claimed with their chairs, towels, and sand toys and came up empty-handed. He decided not to further poke the bear and began to dig with his hands.
“You didn’t find it?," she asked. "I know I packed both shovels.”
“No hun, I looked.”
“If I look and I find it in an obvious spot I’m going to be so annoyed with you.”
It was Jenny’s turn to walk around the perimeter of their small patch of sand. She was being more thorough though, picking up towels and blankets and looking inside their assortment of beach bags.
“It’s not here,” she said.
Just then their second son, Hunter, started pulling on Jenny's black, linen sarong. “Mommy, Mommy, I want my shovel!”
“I know baby, we are trying to find it,” she told him.
Hunter pointed over at a group set up fifteen feet away from them. “It’s there!”
The group was made up of two couples and three kids. One of the kids, a small, brown girl, was digging alongside her mother using a green and yellow shovel.
“Well spotted Hunter." Jenny patted him on the top of his bright-blonde head.
Jenny walked over to the mother and daughter. “Excuse me. I believe that’s our shovel.”
Ralph watched as the woman looked down at the shovel she was using to dig her daughter a ring around their sand castle. The woman glanced over at Everett and saw he was using an identical shovel.
“No," she said. "I’m pretty sure it’s ours.”
Jenny stood her ground. “It’s ours. We have two.”
The woman then replied with a little attitude. “So do we.”
The woman turned away and Jenny marched back over to Ralph.
“Did you see that?” She growled at him through clenched teeth. “All I did was ask for our shovel back. What is her problem?”
“Mommy! Shovel!” Hunter had begun to howl.
“One second, baby,” barked Jenny.
Ralph remained silent while Jenny re-scanned the area around their beach gazebo and confirmed that their second shovel was missing again before turning back to him. “I’m going to get our shovel back.”
He knew the train had left the station and there was no use trying to stop her.
Jenny had pissed people off before, and he usually tried to physically distance himself from her when she was on one of her crusades, but on the vast sandy beach alongside the crashing waves of the Pacific, there wasn’t anything he could hide behind.
Ralph wished Jenny could just let it go. It was a plastic shovel for Christ’s sake, but he knew Jenny couldn’t. One of her favorite refrains was "If you give those people an inch, they will take a mile."
Sometimes it was the slow clerk at the checkout counter who short-changed her, and other times it was the guy at the car wash who did a “half-ass job” drying their BMW SUV. Mostly it was their maid, Maria, who had to deal with Jenny’s one-woman crusade for quality service.
Ralph came home one day to see Jenny down on her knees, Windex and a paper towel in hand, wiping down their backyard sliding door, with Maria standing, staring down at her.
“You see Maria? This is how you get rid of the streaks," she said.
That time he had managed to slowly back out of their four-bedroom Huntington Beach bungalow home and slip away to the sports bar down the road where he sat sipping a glass of blonde ale until enough time had passed for Jenny to finish her tutorial.
Ralph knew who Jenny was referring to when she said “those people." He didn’t fully agree with her view of people of color, yet he mainly viewed her prejudice as a quirk, so that he wouldn’t have to confront the hard truth about who he married.
On the other hand, the Latina mom with the shovel in question, knew racism when she saw it and was angry that his wife's actions were clouding her beach day with family and friends.
As Jenny approached her again, she started to shake her head.
“I’m sorry,” Jenny said, in a patronizing voice, “but, are you sure that’s not our shovel?”
The woman stood up from where she had been crouched down in the sand with her daughter and let out an audible sigh.
She turned to her friends under their gazebo and called out, “Jacob! Come here for a second.”
A tall blonde man with his wet-suit pulled down to his waist put down his drink and strode over.
“What’s up Gina?” he asked.
She held the shovel out in front of her chest in a death grip for Jacob to see, her knuckles turning white from anger. “Did you bring this shovel down to the beach?”
“Yup,” he replied, and his brow furrowed in confusion as he looked from the shovel in Gina’s hand to Jenny.
Gina was used to seeing the look of distrust she could see in Jenny's blue eyes. Gina turned to Jenny and shrugged with her hands up, just like the emoji, and she was about to crouch down again to resume playing with her daughter, when she caught sight of her husband Jay out of the corner of her eyes.
Gina and Jenny watched as Gina's husband tilted his head to the side, turned on his crazy eyes, began pounding his fist into his palm, and mouthed, “I’m gonna fuck you up,” to Jenny's husband.
Ralph's eyes widened. He looked like he was about to shit his pants.
Gina's husband, Jay, wasn’t the largest man in the world, but he was jacked from years of weightlifting and CrossFit. It was fully believable that he could fuck a guy up. He wore a blue tank top that clung to his pecs and his right forearm was covered by a tattoo of the Puerto Rican flag he had gotten the day he turned eighteen.
Growing up, Jay’s gender, his muscles, and his white friends had protected him from this kind of racist microaggression, but it was only after he had met Gina that he began to notice how prevalent these situations were. He couldn’t stand them. The frustration and pain he could see in Gina’s eyes was all he needed to fill himself with rage.
Gina felt the same rage as Jay, but things like this happened to her every time she left their zip code. To her, it was just another drop in a bucket already overflowing. Infuriating, but ordinary.
What Gina couldn't deal with though, was her husband getting arrested for assault.
Gina dropped the shovel and rushed over to her husband. “It’s ok babe. Let it go," she said, resting her hand on his bicep.
“Pfffffft,” he said as he shook off her hand. “I’m so tired of this crap.”
He looked over at their friend Jacob and said, “I mean, I love Jacob, but you notice how she didn’t approach him to ask for the shovel? Or either of his two blonde kids?”
“I know babe, but it’s not worth it,” she said.
“If he steps to me, I’m gonna FUCK him up.” Jay said to her loud enough for Ralph to hear.
Gina looked back to Ralph and Jenny's Gazebo. They were packing up their things while one of their kids threw a tantrum. She watched as Jenny unfurled a sandy blanket into the air, the second plastic shovel flipping from the fabric and onto the sand.
Rose Scobie loves surfing, writing, and being a mom. She has enjoyed the Summer Writer’s Academy. She has a BA from New York University and an MA in Chinese Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She worked as an English editor for the Economic Observer in Beijing before relocating to London and working as a business intelligence analyst at Deloitte, UK. She has spent the past eight years as a stay at home mom and has greatly enjoyed tapping into her memories in order to create poetry and short stories for the Summer Writer’s Academy. Rose has always loved to write, and she greatly enjoyed being inspired by the brilliant writers who read their works and discussed their craft at the weekly writer’s workshops. She plans to continue to write for the foreseeable future.