Where the Sky Meets the Sea
2019, High School, Prose
Sky was seven. She had a crisp white bed and pink shoes and didn’t like to swim. She had a window to the sea and loved the blue rolling past, but she didn’t like waves. But she loved fish. She lived on a petite island in the middle of the ocean with her father, and the ocean terrified her. For Sky, it was a life of contradictions, but at that age contradictions were meaningless.
In Sky’s young, fresh mind, the ocean was a blue, swirling mass, torrents of breath escaping its nostrils. It lunged against their sharp coast, licking their house and howling when angry. Every year the ocean crept farther up the cliffs, and each year, her fingers shaking, Sky stretched less to feel its crests.
When sleeping, Sky dreamed of slate waves, and she woke up screaming. The sting of salty air never soothed her.
Few people lived on their island. There was one grocery store and a fish market. There used to be a boat tour, but its doors had shuttered and the paint peeled. For Sky, the town was quiet except for the sea’s murmuring. But she was seven, and at seven it was hard to feel lonely.
Sky lived with her father, Caleb. At 18, Caleb had taken one-year-old Sky and her battered purple suitcase and had moved to the island from Kansas. Until the age of 19, he’d never seen blue sea, only golden waves of corn. He’d moved to the coast with an old truck that, from the wind’s kiss, broke down. So they boarded a ship to the island and never left its shores.
Sky had loved the sea in their first years on the island. In those days, the sea hadn’t stretched to the edges of the cliffs. It didn’t howl and crash at their door. It had been golden and soft, and white beaches straddled the island. In the pockets of turquoise, mangroves flourished. Sky had gone with her father and picked smooth pebbles, and she’d loved the minnows, had squealed when darts of silver slid past her toes. In those days, her laughter bubbled with the sea, and the sea laughed with her. But each year the sea brought more bleached coral and more waves, and eventually the sea reclaimed the beach. But sometimes, spread with blushes of pink, the ocean softened. Sky’s father wandered on the sand when the tide was low, real low, and imagined the waves sinking back to reveal smooth ribbons of gold.
It was mid-afternoon. Sky watched the ocean boil and froth. It gripped her toes, and she stepped back, shivering. Though in the past silver darts had sped past her toes, only dead ones washed past now. After storms, these dead fish coated everything like leaves of silver. It was an issue for the fish market. The mackerel moved North with the cold water, and the nets returned with carcasses. It filled the air with panic. Though they prayed every evening the ships unloaded, it was out of their control.
This evening, when the loads of festering fish came, the old men cried from their faded folding chairs. Under the purple sun, some said it was God’s plague. They wondered whether the industry could continue, or whether the island would shrivel.1 And Sky kept hearing the word global warming, and she imagined the Earth like a shrimp in a crockpot.
Sky stood on the beach, watching the crumpled faces of the fisherman. She didn’t care about plagues or industry. She didn’t care about global warming or God. She just wanted to see the flicker of live fish, smell the salty sweetness of scales untinged by rot. But the water had been too hot lately. The island was thirsty.
Her shirt clung to her stomach, and the smell of dead animals clogged her nose. The algae, dried up, lent an acrid smell. Yet though it refused to rain, the ocean still swelled. It was so hot.
“Come on fish, come on rain,” Sky insisted. The sky remained pearly.
Hair stuck to Sky’s neck, and her toes burned. She gazed at the ocean, her little hand blocking the sun. The ocean was past the two-foot marker on the beach—that had never happened before. The ocean murmured and swelled. Too hot, it said. Terrified by its blue tongue, Sky left the fishermen and scrambled home. She was so thirsty, but it took ten seconds for the tap to run, and even then the water was muddy.
Caleb watched Sky run home, and as fishermen ambled past, he nodded at them. In the distance, a thin black line stretched across the horizon. Black meant rain, and rain meant waves. He knew they needed rain—the lake in the center, their one source of freshwater, had shriveled to a pond, and they hardly had enough water to flush the toilet. But what was the cost of rain? The storms had been monstrous lately. It was like the heat made the ocean thirsty, and it sucked at the rims of their beaches, their stilts, their white cliffs, for nourishment. When first arriving at the island, Caleb had been confident the sea would never reach home, but he knew now it wouldn’t be long before the waves washed into their living room. And it had been hot.
In his heart, Caleb knew the cost. He had left Kansas to flee the foul whispers about Sky. Even when imagining their home under slate waves, he couldn’t bear leaving. If they returned, he was terrified Sky would shrivel, her pure, blossoming radiance stained. On the island, with its soft beaches, they had found a refuge, and Sky had bloomed.
His daughter’s giggling screams broke the silence. Caleb, seeing she had found a crab, felt a smile crack his salt-hardened face. He was 24 but looked 40. But with Sky, he sometimes felt young again, and hope-filled. He turned his back to the black strip. He would take the heat. At least it kept the ocean low. But the weather never listened. And the rain advanced, the ocean grew, and the heat multiplied under the clouds of white that unfolded from millions of factories.
The mainland waited.
Sky and her father stood at the edge of the beach, hearing the keening wind. Rain splattered their faces. The weatherman had said a cyclone would hit, and Sky shivered, dread webbing her skin. Her heartbeat quickened. “Have you ever been in a cyclone?” she asked Caleb.
Caleb knew the storm strengthened, and could only shake his head. The heat made the storm stronger. “Never.” Their ocean formed cyclones, hurled them north, but never had one boomeranged back south, back home. The island scrambled to prepare for the unheard of.
“Is it worse than a storm?” Sky said.
Caleb squeezed her hand. His mouth tightened.
They had moved their valuables inland as quickly as possible. Caleb shuttered the windows to the house, turned off the gas, electric, water. A fisherman, his house situated in the island’s center, allowed them to stay, yet Caleb wondered if it’d be enough. He feared when they returned, home would be a pile of beams. Sky didn’t sense the precariousness of their situation. She chattered about returning to her room with the window to the sea.
A gull wheeled, screaming, above them. Caleb took Sky’s hand, her purple suitcase in the other, and they climbed back up the path. The Earth, its temperature slowly warming, turned, and the cyclone finally arrived.
TAKE SHELTER the radio blared, static coughing from its speakers.
The wind hit like a freight train. It keened, its roar filling the spaces in their skulls. The fisherman, Sky, and Caleb huddled on the floor, an electric lamp on the floor spilling pale rays on the hardwood. The staccato sound of doors slamming and the nail of rain on the aluminum roof, like a thousand hammers, convinced Caleb that he’d died and gone to hell. The old fisherman gripped the side of a table. Sky sat between the two men, tears streaming down her face. The electric lamp was their anchor, and they were almost swept away by shadows and terror, whipping stings of rain, and the shots of shattering glass.
Sometimes they heard their heartbeat, the hollow, warm sound of sustenance pouring through their veins, and it was the only thing that convinced them they were still alive.
Sky buried her face in Caleb’s arm and wished the storm would stop.
The sun broke. The noises quieted. Sky, Caleb, and the fisherman uncurled. Stumbling outside, they stretched their limbs, surveying the carnage. The sunshine, spilling like melted butter, juxtaposed calamity.
Mute with shock, Sky and her father combed the wreckage. Amid shrieks and wails, they learned five had died—the old woman that made cornbread for Sky, a grocer, and three children. Ships, their noses smashing their neighbors’ delicate hulls, piled over each other like toys. People crawled between the twisted branches and warped buildings, searching for bodies and scraps.
Sky, standing at the beach rearranged into a foreign configuration, felt as if she’d been robbed of a vital limb, and for a few seconds couldn’t breathe.
Their home was gone, swept into shambles by the sea. Only jagged stumps poking from the sand remained. The two surveyed the wreckage, the purple suitcase between them.
Sky didn’t even need to ask Caleb. The carnage struck his heart. She knew from his face set like stone, the protective way he gripped her hand, and the fear filling his eyes, that she must drink up the sea. Sky absorbed the ocean until the turquoise water filled her eyes and fell down her cheeks. And when boarding the ship, still holding the battered purple suitcase, she imagined the ocean sang to her.
On the boat ride, desolate, Sky’s father explained, below a sky polluted by millions of factories, why the ocean was angry. He explained that gas trapped the heat in the Earth, raised the temperature, and caused the oceans to swell. He told her about faraway lands—Alaska, Greenland, Canada—and how glaciers, hulks of shimmering ice, inflamed the ocean.
And Sky kept picturing shrimp boiling alive. She imagined her skin blistering, and she looked at the ocean with a glimmer of realization. As her father explained that global warming caused the lake to dry, and the mangroves to die as they became flooded with saltwater, Sky finally understood. When she asked if the ocean howled because it was blistering, Sky’s father didn’t laugh. She understood that the ocean was in pain.
The wind spiraled to the sea and combed its soft, frothy peaks. The sea was layered with indigo, and the sun leaked purple blood onto the water. And Sky reached her hands up past the smog, and she believed, with the ocean lifting her and her heart full, that she could touch the sky.
Kansas wasn’t as foreign as Sky imagined. They learned about their island’s recovery from the news, and each evening they huddled by the TV and watched for glimpses of home.
Sky did not have sea, but she had golden waves, and she ran through the corn until dust coated her like sea salt. It was hot in Kansas, but it was a dry heat, and they were safe. Safe from the swelling sea, the glaciers that pooled into waves, and the angry, howling wind that spent its vengeance on the ocean’s inhabitants.
In Kansas, the only fish were in the supermarket, and they resided in metal cans. When Sky stood up, she did not feel she could reach the clouds. But sometimes, when Sky and her father stood outside, their white truck parked behind them, Sky imagined she could hear waves, and she knew that they would come home, someday, and smell the sea again. It was only a matter of time.
 Loughry and McAdam, “Kiribati–Relocation and Adaptation.”
 “Trouble in Paradise: How Does Climate Change Affect Pacific Island Nations?”, The Climate Reality Project (blog), entry posted March 14, 2019, accessed June 14, 2019, https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/trouble-paradise-how-does-climate-change-affect-pacific-islandnations.
 ABC, “Cyclone Plan,” ABC Emergency, accessed June 14, 2019, https://www.abc.net.au/news/emergency/plan-for-an-emergency/cyclone/#before.
 Alan Taylor, “Category 5 Cyclone Pam Devastates Vanuatu,” The Atlantic. March 17, 2015, accessed
June 14, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/03/cyclone-pam-devastates-vanuatu/388024.
 NASA, “Effects | Facts – Climate Change,” Global Climate Change, accessed June 14, 2019, https://climate.nasa.gov/effects.
Climate change has always seemed like a distant, impersonal topic to me. I’ve heard Florida will be underwater soon, but that’s 50 years in the future—I feel a glimmer of concern, but not enough to spur me into urgent action. I kept wondering why something so terrible, so literally globe-shattering, was getting so little urgency even though scientists, some politicians, and advocates blared the alarm. And then I realized—climate change, for many, missed the human perspective. We always hear how the seals are dying, how glaciers are melting, and how the earth is slowly warming. But until these calamities affect us—shatter our lives and inspire terror—we lack the empathy to properly address the challenge. With my story, I hoped to infuse enough of that humanity with two characters, Caleb and his daughter Sky, to spur compassion and action, driving home the message that climate change is drastic and a catastrophe that affects everybody. Maybe it’s just noticeable for the island inhabitants and polar bears now, but soon it will be for the people in Florida, London, Singapore who face crises. Few can fully grasp that. I only just have. With this story, I hope to inspire a sense of urgency, to inspire others to extend their humanity just a little bit. If we all have empathy for those already suffering from climate change, if we all acknowledge global warming as the true threat it is, then we can respond with enough vigor to inspire change before further calamity strikes.