"Shades of Beauty" by Bernadette Gongora

Congratulations to Bernadette Gongora, 2nd Place Winner of's (MANA) Summer 2021 Short Story Contest! To read MANA's announcement of its Short Story Contest winners, go HERE.

  “Vamonos, vamonos!” the mom anxiously hurried the blond, curly-haired boy and the little pig-tailed petite girl along. Eva jumped from the top bunk and harangued him until he was semi-conscious, staggering into the bathroom. 

   Today was Sunday, a special day because they would have their Papi all to themselves at the beach. It would have to be an early day because he loved to enjoy the beach in the morning untouched by the clattering of disrespectful interlopers.

   The previous evening, the children enthusiastically observed how their mom took out all the necessary accouterments to make the picnic a spectacular lunch, which always included the staple Wonder bread, salami, gouda cheese from the Italian deli on the corner, deviled ham, and a dab of mayo to make it complete. She would then gingerly wrap each gem in saran wrap which seldom kept those pesky grains of sand from infiltrating the meal. 

   Now, all our life support went into the red ice chest replete with all the booty. First,  their mom placed in the Coca-Cola bottles which stood erect to attention,  then the sandwiches, and finally Chips Ahoy and Jell-O cups hopped in.

   The dark drive was a welcome blessing because it would conserve the kids’ energy which was meant for the sun, fun, and sand. The family arrived at their heavenly destination. 

   The sweet-salty breeze emanated through the car windows and woke the darling ragamuffins ensconced under their pink and blue towels. As the orange lollipop-like morning sun began to rise, Eva and Julio impetuously escaped from the car, but not without a strong admonishment from their father to be cautious. 

   The cool flour-like white sand slid between their toes. As they attempted to grapple with the slippery silver beads, it was as if the beach was swallowing them up and weren’t making any ground. Suddenly, they were whooshed up like birds and landed gently on the prime spot where they throw their blanket and were close enough to the surf and be out of the path of walkers, and momma hen could see her baby chicks. It was their Papi, coming to the rescue, like always.

   Eva watched as her parents removed their beachwear and donned their bathing suits. Mami loved her sailor suit with a navy-blue bottom half and a red and white striped top with a blue belt. Papi was a hipper and wore psychedelic navy blue and white trunks. 

   Now, it was the kids’ turn. Julio had blue trunks and would have preferred to go buck naked. Eva adored her lime-yellow bikini and could live in it all day and loved how it glowed on her dark olive skin. 

   She adored her father who looked like her and had a similar lighthearted spirit. Her mom was waif-thin and had milk almost translucent tones. 

   “Venga,” her mom motioned.

   The children obeyed and were slathered with Coppertone lotion. She was intoxicated by the sweet coconut butter fragrance, but her skin crawled when her mom globbed it on her diminutive frame.

   Eva decried, “Why do I need more icky lotion?”

   “I don’t want you to burn and get black, Mija,” said Mami.

   Eva respectfully snapped in her native tongue, “Julio is the one who burns, not me.” Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed her father's clenched jaw twitch, and although her papi was a stoic man of few words, those searing glances and mandibular muscles can whip any wayward child into submission. 

   Eva never thought of being dark as bad. Sandra and Linda, her friends from across the street were nice and fun to play with, but strangely they rarely came out to play. They were darker than her but didn’t speak Spanish.

   The warm sun and the swish-swish caressing and kissing the shore took her in a hypnotic trance where she ruminated on the kaleidoscope of shades her cousins, aunts, and uncles were and had an aunt they called La Negra who was tall, thin and always wore red lipstick on her voluptuous lips. Everyone loved her affectionate, warm hugs, and the fragrance of citrus on her clothing. 

   As Eva grew older, she was more attuned to the subtle dynamics of her surroundings and the multifaceted prisms in society.

   It was soon going to be lunchtime, so Papi plopped the vanilla and chocolate pair and zealously pulled the duo across the turquoise salty wave one last time.  Wave after wave made butterflies in their tummies before Mami pulled out the picnic and had to say farewell to the ocean until her father felt the ocean pulling on his spirit. 

   Eva lazily looked in the distance on the shore her mami waving and yelling, “Eva, you’re going to get black!”

   The children sat down and unwrapped the sandwiches; they were famished but were aware if they overate they would carve into their swim time and did not overindulge. 

   While they were enjoying their meal, Eva glanced to her parents who had their backs facing toward them, but could vaguely hear her mom say, “I don’t want her to get darker!”

   Her father replied, “Dear, you can’t keep her from the sun and enjoying the outdoors.

   Her mom hesitated and said, “I don’t want for my Eva to be hurt by anyone. You know how people are. I want to protect her.”

   As the clouds moved in Eva began to ponder the dynamics of her world. Did strangers treat her mom and brother differently from her dad and her or had it been her imagination? 

   She had an epiphany, but it did not have a word in her lexicon, but there would be a time as she got older the enigmatic word would be revealed by people’s actions and comments.

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