The car’s radio lid snapped open and miniature five-piece ensemble band curtsied to Una.
“Un poco de música for the road?” La Señorita Cucaracha inquired.
“I knew it! Why, I always did think there were tiny men dancing and singing inside the car stereo!” Una cried out.
“This is just one of our jobs, lil’ lady. We work inside traffic lights, too.”
“You turn reds lights into greens! Is it difficult, to have two jobs?”
“Aye, sometimes. But we gotta mouths to feed at home. Artist life is sweet, but it don’t pay them bills. Now, how about some jazz?”
Carefully arranged black dots and lines sloped upwards from the itty-bitty instruments.
One of the musical notes circled the tip of Duo’s nose.
He went cross-eyed as he observed it.
The other two notes swooshed through Una’s left ear and zoomed out her right one.
She giggled and waved her hands in the air, trying to latch onto a hermitical treble clef.
“Notes only appear to be pitch-black. They blow up in thousands of disconcerting colors, hues and undertones in our mind.” Duo smacked several solfège syllables with his right paw.
“How rude,” the chamber orchestra harrumphed.
The lid slammed shut.
“Duo! Now look what you’ve done!” Una sat up.
“¡Ay ay ay ay! Es un gatito malo…” La Cucaracha shook left and right in disapproval.
“Soy práctico. Those fiddlers are oh so very distracting. We are to focus on a task at hand,” Duo said.
Greenish-blue butterflies of worriment wavered in Una’s irises.
“The beach is so big, Duo. What if we can’t find the petal?”
“You are getting bigger, too, Una. Branching out, to fill the whole wide world.”
“I don’t feel big. I feel small.”
“Every single particle of you is beautiful. It is becoming beautifuler and beautifuler, as the experience notches on your life belt change you.”
“Thank you, Duo! You made me feel so much better!” Una pulled him into a brief hug.
Duo endured it for a while with a frown.
“In case anyone asks: This. Has not. Happened.” The tomcat looked out of the window, feigning indifference.
“No quiero interrumpir the tender moment, pero…” La Cucaracha hiccupped. “I think that I am… shrinking some more again! Get out! Now!”
“Oh no! What can we do?” The car door remained handle-tied to Una’s finger-pleas.
“¡EL BOTÓN ROJO!” La Cucaracha bleated.
Duo punctured the red HAZARD SWITCH (eject button for bad kids) with his tiny nails.
It made a hisss sound like a deflating balloon.
The Beetle doors flapped open in a desperate chicken-like desire to fly.
The two voyagers were prematurely driven out of their vessel.
The tiny red car lay on the side, now the size of Una’s palm, coated in a fine layer of sand.
“We’re here!” Una kicked off her sneakers.
She carefully picked the Beetle up and deposited it in the light-blue backpack.
“Duo! Duo! Look! Come on! La Señorita Cucaracha brought us to the beach! Just like she promised!”
A vintage wooden sign revealed the following:
The sun had all the earmarks of the egg yolk spilling over the horizon, suspended above the perfectly still, egg-white oceanic surface.
Una cantered towards the line where the ocean and the sand shook hands day-and-night, like old confidants.
She spread her arms towards the water.
A wave rose upwards to return a firm hug.
“How do you do, little lassie? And how do you do, sand?” whooshed the ecstatic ocean.
“How do you do, ocean?” sand whistled back.
Nearby, a sandy-haired bespectacled boy and a sandy-furred golden retriever puppy sat cross-legged and cross-pawed next to a sand stronghold.
The bespectacled boy raised his arm in a bashful beckon.
Una’s feet hippety-hopped towards him out of their own accord.
“Hi!” she said a little out of breath, the parasol of her hair casting a red shade on her cheeks.
“Hiya!” the bespectacled boy took a look-see at Una.
Then, he glanced back down, readjusting his glasses. “Buddy and I are waiting for the fridge eggs to hatch!”
“Woof!” Buddy mopped the sand around him with a tail-swoosh.
“Mere waiting doesn’t mean always getting what you wait for.” Duo snorted from within the bicameral backpack.
“Oh, what a darling diminutive doggie! I love him to bits!” Una knelt to caress Buddy, who was wriggling like an eel.
“I see you have a cat,” said the bespectacled boy. “What’s his name, then?”
“Wow, he isn’t scared of Buddy, at all! They seem to get along! He sure does meow a lot.”
“Sit! Roll over! Play dead!” Duo shouted out in amusement. “Would you look at this blockhead? Doesn’t this animal have any dignity? No… Don’t… lick me… you… Dog! By the way, Speccy can’t understand a word that I’m saying!”
“We went for a bit of a swim just now,” the bespectacled boy went on. “My hands got so wrinkly I thought I was turning into an old person!”
“I only ever swam in the swimming pool,” said Una conversationally.
“Oh! I’ve never been to one, myself. Say, is it true that if you pee in it, the water turns different colors?”
Duo paw-prodded the back of her head and began whispering. She repeated what he said, word by word. “Umm, there is no such thing. This is the kind of lie parents will tell to prevent you from pool-peeing.”
“Oh, you are smart. Wanna make sand angels?” the bespectacled boy inquired.
“Making a sand angel is leaving a mark in the atoms of the Earth. Even better than a footprint because it’s a full body print. Your memories will be written in the sand. And each atom will be a tale,” said Duo.
“Water may wash them away,” said Una.
“Then, we make s’more!” replied the boy.
“He’s got a point,” meowed the tomcat. “Life washes your former self away, but you can build you back, over and over again. Better do it yourself than buying a sturdy, prefabricated house that has nothing to do with your soul.”
The two wriggled in the sand, flailing their arms and legs.
Small fry leaving big marks.
Their bodies were painting the portraits of their souls.
“I have to go now,” said Una, some moments after.
“Oh.” The bespectacled boy looked at his feet.
“I need to look for my sister. She is missing, you know.”
“Do you need some help?” he offered.
“I don’t know where to look next,” Una admitted.
“I will share my binoculars with you! You shared your time with me, so it’s only fair!” A Bespectacled Boy tossed the binoculars to Una.
“Oh, thank you!” Una exclaimed.
When she used them, the strangest sight unraveled before Una’s eyes.
A gigantic glass of wine swayed lazily left and right, dancing a slow tango with the becalmed sea waves to the sunset tune.
It contained the most peculiar-looking fish Una had ever laid her eyes upon, wearing a marshmallow-blue pillbox hat and an elegant periwinkle coat.
“Is that a… poached, drunken salmon floating in a wine glass?” Una re-read the petal out loud.
“A Sea She-Salmon, if you don’t mind.” The she-fish adjusted her head adornment.
“What… What are you doing in that wine glass?” asked Una.
“What does it look like I am doing? Whining with wine is what I am doing!” Sea She-Salmon pouted. “Enjoying the Pinot Noir flavors: black cherry, berry, and currant.”
Una noticed that the salmon was also holding a smaller glass, drinking wine from it.
She wondered whether inside that glass there was an even smaller salmon.
“Pinot Noir?” Una was bamboozled by Sea She-Salmon’s words.
“It is one of the few wine varietals that pair well with a delicate, poached salmon. Never mind that. Do you see the petal?” Duo whispered.
“Not yet. But, Duo, even if I find the petal… How are we going to get to it?” Una murmured back.
“What is it you desire? I am an entrepreneur, a purveyor if you will. A tit-for-tatter.” The Sea She-Salmon opened her periwinkle coat. “I trade in doohickeys, doodahs and whatchamacallits aplenty!”
Amidst the fish scales, there lay a coral petal.
“Ah,” said Duo knowingly. “Some tips for haggling. She will drive a hard bargain. Do not feel obliged to buy anything. Pretend you do not care for that which you care for the most.”
“There is no time for games, Duo! Paz might be in danger! What do you desire more than that petal?” Una squawked.
“What is it I desire?” The Sea She-Salmon’s bulbous eyes bulged more than usual. “I wish to go home, back to my natal river. I was supposed to catch the underocean tube to continue the salmon run. I got drunk. I got lost.”
“What I want the most is to see my sister, Paz! I would give anything in return.”
“Help me leave this accursed wine glass! And you can have the petal. Do we have a deal?”
“We do,” Una confirmed.
“Now, we are getting somewhere. The Bargain has been struck,” said Duo.
“I don’t know how to help her, Duo. I lied to her! The wine glass is too far! I am a poor swimmer! Oh, whatever shall I do now?”
“What if you didn’t need to swim to her?” The bespectacled boy was back by Una’s side.
He unburdened his pockets.
“Those are… Stones?”
“Indubitably,” said Duo. “You know what they say: stone-skipping and class-skipping prove equally enjoyable. Eggheaded, Speccy is. Play a different game. Throw her… Off balance.” Duo winked.
“Yes! Oval, thin, flat stones. Dad taught me that smooth rocks soar better. Lemme try and tip the wine glass over!” said the bespectacled boy. “It’s a bummer, what happened to your sister. I wanna help.”
He wiped his nose with his sleeve and settled into a bowler-like stance.
Skipping stones galloped over the flat surface, causing ripples in time.
The wine glass swooned, succumbing to seduction.
“Thank you, dumpling.” The Sea She-Salmon now swam next to the shore, producing a petal that used to replace one of her scales. “I’m free! Good luck in finding your sister!”
“We did it! We did it! She fell out of the wine glass and caught the underocean tube!” The two children embraced.
Una’s mouth took a wrong turn and ended up in the bespectacled boy’s Lower Lip Cul-de-sac instead of on the Cheek Avenue.
They ricocheted away from each other.
“Ew! We kissed!” Una yelped.
“Gross! It’s so wet! Maybe we have cooties, now!” The bespectacled boy cried out.
“Oh no!” A horrorstricken expression appeared on Una’s face. “My Mommy says that if you kiss a boy you are married to him! What are we to do?”
“Who cares! The salmon petal is ours. Would you two stop canoodling for a moment?” said Duo. “Una, listen to this:
To shadowy park
Sad looking girl in glass floats
“I have to get into the wine glass now?” asked Una.
“It looks like it. It’s already coming over.” Duo’s paw pointed toward the horizon. “Let’s wait it out.”
“You know, I don’t like being Four-Eyes.” The bespectacled boy broke the silence, absently drawing in the sand with his right toe.
“But Four-Eyes see more of the world. They notice more things than the mere Two-Eyes can. And… I can see more of me in you!” said Una, glancing at her dual reflection in his spectacles and his nut-brown irises.
“That was such a nice thing to say! Here. I made this for you.” He placed a craft shell necklace around her neck. “Don’t you forget about me!”
“Oh thank you! I…” Una’s hands dug through her backpack like a mole burrowing through an underground tunnel.
She took in his blue-car-ornated swim-shorts. “Do you like cars?”
“Oh, boy, do I!”
“I have something for you too!” Una handed him a miniature Red Beetle.
“A Volkswagen! Whoa! That is like… My favorite car, ever! Thanks!”
“Don’t you forget about me, either.” Una smiled.
“Getting rid of the stolen goods, eh? Clever girl.” Duo smirked.
The glass clinked “cheers” against the shore, announcing its presence.
“Your wine glass is here,” said the bespectacled boy.
“Yes. My wne glass is here,” said Una.
They shook hands solemnly, the bespectacled boy standing on the sand and Una in the ocean.
“Bye, Buddy,” Una whispered to the pup.
Buddy licked the tip of her nose.
“I have to admit it, I’ll miss that big lug.” Duo sniffed.
The rim of the wine glass tilted forward.
Una clambered inside with haste, slipping and sliding along the way.
Her backpack yo-yoed alarmingly.
A school of fish approached, paddling around the glass foot and stem, pushing it further and further away from the shore.
It was only then when Una noticed a morose mouser meowing for her, whisking along the seacoast.
“Duo! Oh, dearest Duo! You… You fell out!” Una peered over the glass rim.
Salty liquid from her eyes mixed with the ocean tears.
“I don’t know how to go back! Please take me back to him!” Una pleaded with the fish.
It was too late.
The Implacable overwater current seized the wine glass.
It sent it spiraling in an unknown direction.
“It’s life, Una! It’s life.” The wind relayed the last meowy memorandum to her.
Then, Duo metamorphosed into a mere maroonish-obsidian far-off dot.