In her debut collection of 13 short stories, seventh-generation Floridian Gale Massey explores the lives of girls and women illustrating the moments that shape and alter destiny. "Rising and Other Stories,'' written over a period of 10 years, seeks to discern societal constructs and their acute burdens, and the many ways that people -- particularly women and girls -- attempt to rise above them.
Below is an excerpt from a story called “Low Tide’’:
The girl woke at midnight to the sound of water and stepped into the dark hallway outside her bedroom. Her mother stood at the kitchen sink in a rumpled yellow house dress, pouring a glass of water over the shriveled potted ivy on the windowsill. When the woman picked up her car keys, the girl stepped into the moonlit kitchen.
"Where are you going, Mom?”
“For a drive.”
"I'm coming with you." The girl expected her to say no, but her mother walked out the front door.
They drove south through town on the old bay road past the smokehouse where the smell of wood and mackerel hung in the air. They passed the bowling alley where her father had tried to teach her the game but what she learned was that a gutter ball would make him laugh.
He'd been buried a month now.
The drawbridge was up where the road curved west and the bridge crossed the Intercoastal. The lights on the guard arm blinked yellow against the black sky. The girl and her mother waited as a boat passed below and the drawbridge lowered. The nightwatchman raised the guard arm and waved them through.
Beyond the flat one-story motels lay a stretch of deserted beach. A breeze from the gulf blew across the dunes and bent the sea oats toward land. Her mother got an old quilt from the trunk and gave it to the girl to wrap around her shoulders.
Despite the warm night air, the sand cooled the soles of their feet and chilled their skin. Low tide had left bits of shells, fish bones and seaweed, scattered like shrapnel along the shore. Seagulls slept in small clusters. A white heron flew down the beach. The sky was shot through with stars, evidence that the world still spun.
They walked a mile then spread the blanket and laid on it. Moonlight reflected on the waves, lit her mother’s face. Her mother seemed to fall asleep and so the girl curled in a ball and closed her eyes too.
When she woke, her mother was sitting up cross-legged and staring at the horizon.
"We should go," she said.
They stood to leave, but a large object appeared at the water’s edge. Awkward and lumbering in the lapping waves. Half-submerged and dark, the girl’s first thought was of driftwood, but it moved with the purpose of an animal.
"In all my years,” her mother said.
"What is it?”
"A sea turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs.”
Small waves crashed over its back. It heaved forward, trailing bits of seaweed and foam. It stopped at a spot between two sand dunes and started digging a hole.
Her mother whispered, "This is her beach. They say that a turtle lays her eggs in the same place she was born.”
The sand was soft. It didn’t take long to dig a hole a yard wide and a foot deep.
"She'll lay her eggs and leave.” Her mother sat down to watch. “If the raccoons don't get them, a few will survive. But not many.”
Perfectly round eggs dropped from beneath her tail and rolled into the nest.
"She doesn't stay?”
"No, she buries them and leaves.”
"But who raises them?”
"They don’t need raising. They hatch and crawl to the water.”
"All alone?" the girl asked, but the woman wasn't listening.
The turtle, her eyes glazed with labor, never seemed to notice them. An hour later she'd laid more than sixty eggs. She kicked at the sand until they were covered then turned back toward the water.
The woman went to the turtle and placed the palm of her hand on her shell. At first the creature didn't seem to notice, but then she stopped and turned her head. She sniffed the air between them. The woman lifted her hand away. She followed the turtle into the water. The girl followed her mother.
The water came to the girl’s knees as they walked. Her mother knelt and pushed herself alongside the turtle. It got deeper and the girl wondered if the woman meant to return at all. The mother and the turtle crawled silently, the waves breaking over their backs.
Further out the bottom gave way to underwater cliffs and currents. The turtle swam away, leaving her offspring to survive or not, to find the sea or not. The tide was at its still point. Soon, the water would begin to rise.
The girl stood chest-deep in the black water hoping to see the turtle one last time, losing sight of them both as they disappeared in the current.
Morning yellowed on the horizon. A breeze crossed the sky. She shivered and waded back to dry land. She shook the sand from the quilt, wrapped it around her shoulders, and sat down to wait.
Gale Massey is the author of RISING AND OTHER STORIES (April 13, 2021; Bronzeville Books) and the novel, THE GIRL FROM BLIND RIVER (2018), which received a 2018 Florida Book Award and was a finalist for the Clara Johnson Award. Her work has been featured in Lambda Literary, CutBank, CrimeReads, Sabal, the Tampa Bay Times, Saw Palm, and Tampa Bay Noir. Gale was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers Conference, a fellow at Writers in Paradise, and has served as a panel judge for the Lambda Literary Awards. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in both fiction and nonfiction. She is a seventh-generation Floridian who lives in Tampa.
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