Indoor/Outdoor

by Meghan Lamb

The houses in the hills are bad at being real, thinks the younger sister,
looking out the back car window. They all look sad, she thinks, all
spread apart, connected by their flimsy trails, clumsy, ragged roads
like scratches.

If they were houses on a map, they would not look so sad, she
thinks. They would be white dots, little speckles on the green. If they
were houses in a model village, they’d be small white boxes, like the
ones beneath the glass-framed landscape at the rest stop. The white
houses looked happy there. At least, they made her happy, looking at
them and imagining their insides. She did not picture people living
in them, though. Instead, she pictured different kinds of food, white
boxes filled with carry-out.

Maybe that’s why the houses in the hills are bad at being real. They
are not like boxes, or, at least, not like the ones in diagrams. They
look uneven, badly folded, badly balanced on the hills, and she can
tell by looking she would not like what’s inside.

The younger sister says, does anybody live in there?

Yes, says the mother. There are people who live in the hills, in
many different places, who live different lives from ours. She smiles,
thinking, it is time for us—at last—to talk about these things.

No one responds.

The younger sister looks back out the window like she’s disappointed
that the mother’s said something so obvious. Meanwhile, the hills
build into mountains and the sad scratch trails grow more sparse, as
do the yards of all the small white houses.

The houses all grow dingier and dingier, the scratches, somehow
thinner but somehow more scratched, more savage.

Such different lives, the mother says, in case the father’s listening.

She glances to her left.

He isn’t listening.

***

The father’s driving. He is focused on his driving. He has driven for
six hours, and they have six more to go. His eyes are tired, but they’re
focused on his driving, and his eyes and ears need to stay focused, so
they do not leave the main road.

In one mile, says the GPS, turn left on Sacramento, and the father
smiles at the GPS’s voice.

It is a low-tone female robot British accent—that says, Sah-crahmehn-
to—that he has selected for its sexual appeal.

***

The older sister also isn’t listening to her. She has her headphones on,
and she is listening to Frank Ocean. The soft guitar palms through
her, shimmering its muted, misty halo, in its jangled gauze that
drapes around his voice.

I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me.

It started from nothing. I had no chance to prepare.

I couldn’t see you coming.

She thinks that maybe, she will see someone that she could not
see coming. She cannot see much around her now. The sun sets, sky
dims. She repeats the song. She’s looking at the dark line as it bleeds
into the bar along the screen.

She trains her eyes along the dark line as the song plays.

She repeats the song.

Repeats the filling in of this dark line.

She’s waiting to be filled, to fill the dark space this song represents.

She waits. She listens, looks into the landscape of his voice.

***

Before the summer, when the older sister was in eighth grade, she
would talk about Frank Ocean with her friends from school.

He went to UNO, she would say. That’s where I want to go.

He lives in LA, she would say. That’s where I want to move to.

He has the best style range of anyone who’s making music now.
Like, how he sings R&B, jazz, and raps. He also has the best abs.

Did you know that he’s, like, gay? Her friends would say whenever
she would talk about his abs.

He is bisexual, the older sister would correct her friends.

But for a guy, though, right, bisexual is gay.

The older sister always rolled her eyes at things like this.

You, like, have no idea what words even mean.

***

As the sky darkens and the blue-tinged shadows swallow up the
mountains, hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of low lamps begin
to glow. They line the highway walls, embedded in the concrete so the
road below becomes a long, gold, shining string of light.

The father looks at them and smiles at the well-lit road. The mother
looks at them and smiles because they make her feel safe. The older
sister looks at them and thinks about the dark car, moving through
this line of light just like the black bar on her screen. The younger
sister looks at them and tries to count as many as she can. She can’t.
She quickly loses track. She gets frustrated with the concept of the
lights, the concept of a thing so numerous it can’t be counted.

I’m hungry, says the younger sister.

No, you’re not, the father says.

I know I am, she says. I’m hungry now.

The father sighs. He doesn’t want to leave the highway’s long,
bright line, although he realizes that he too is hungry now. He glances
at a sign of icons, pulls off at the exit. In one mile, make a U-turn,
says the disapproving GPS.

They pull into a brown brick, brown roof, diner-tavern restaurant.
They file inside and seat themselves around a dim-lit, dark-wood
booth. The waitress passes out a set of forks, knives, spoons, and
thin red plastic cups covered with tiny hairline scratches.

The older sister orders first. A garden salad with no croutons. Oil,
vinegar in cups, please, on the side.

The father groans. A salad?

I’m a vegetarian, she tells her father for the hundred-thousandth
time.

The younger sister has been staring at the pictures on the menu,
most especially the spicy chicken sandwich. She is picturing a fire
burning in her mouth, emitting smoke streams as she belches out a
hot bright ball of flame. She thinks, tonight’s the night when I will
get the spicy chicken, and it’s going to be extra fire-breathing spicy
hot. But, what if it’s too hot, she wonders, and I burn my tongue, or
worse, burn holes inside my throat, and I never swallow anything
again? She pictures doctors reaching down into her throat with shiny
tubes and knives to fill the burned-out, steaming holes so she can
swallow.

What would you like? The waitress asks the younger sister.

Chicken—um—the chicken . . . nuggets, she says, and she swallows
hard.

I’ll have the portabella melt, the mother says. She hesitates, then
adds, a glass of wine, please. Cabernet.

We don’t have that, the waitress says. Just red.

The mother bites her lip. She makes a little hissing sound. Okay,
that’s fine.

The father contemplates the dinner-breakfast options and decides
upon the special, something that they call the western skillet.

The waitress asks him, do you want to get smothered and covered?

The father contemplates what that might mean.

The mother looks at him like, no.

The father looks at her like, yes.

He says, yes, and the waitress takes their menus. She returns
shortly with their food. The older sister sighs because her garden salad’s
covered in white dressing.

The younger sister bites a nugget, thinks, I’m such a coward, and
the father starts to eat his smothered, covered western skillet. He
pauses halfway through and makes a face. This thing is terrible.

The mother sips her wine and looks gently betrayed.

***

I thought that I was dreaming, Frank Ocean intones, again, after the
car has passed innumerable lights and shadows. I couldn’t see you coming,
he laments as the triumphant GPS announces, You have reached
your destination.

They park in front of their hotel room, which is on the upstairs rim
of two long rows that curve into an arch. The arch curls out onto a
mostly empty parking lot, which leads out to the road that leads out
to the beach.

The night is cool. The air is thick with salt, with sounds of insects,
distant music, distant cars, and ocean waves. The air is thick with
strange sensations, strange, dark possibilities that hover in the sounds
of the unseen.

The parents, tired from the road, sink down into the switching,
flipping rhythms of the satellite remote control. The sisters ask if
they can swim. They say, yes, in the pool, so they change into their
new suits they picked out just for the trip.

The older sister takes her suit into the bathroom, where she folds
each item of her clothing on a towel on the floor. She looks at her reflection
in the dull hum of the light. Her long, blonde hair, bright yellow
edges, frayed, split ends. Her face, a big, bored oval. Blisters on
her feet. Mosquito bites across her legs, bright red beneath this light.
Her nipples, two sore spots of strangeness on her chest. She touches
them, hesitantly, and the feeling makes her shiver.

***

The pool is divided in two sections. First—the shallow end—is set
inside the building, blue electric water trimmed in pale, teal tile, surrounded
by some waxy, potted plants, some awkwardly misshapen
mini cacti.

The younger sister dips in, climbs out of the pool, leans over the
cacti, fingers hovering above the needles, dripping, thinking, sharp,
sharp, pointy, sharp, sharp, pointy, sharp. She leans in, breathes in,
reaches out her finger. Touches it. It isn’t sharp.

The second side—the outdoor pool—is set apart, divided by a gray
glass wall that you can swim beneath. Outside, it’s dark. The pool, an
electric blue bowl, set in black, reflecting lines of white light, dancing
veins.

The older sister swims beneath the glass partition. The water is
much colder on the other side. She holds her nose between her fingers,
holds her breath. She feels her chest expand with breath. She
dives down to the bottom of the pool.

She crouches at the bottom of the pool for a moment, listens to
vibrations of non-sounds around her. The non-sounds of the generators,
humming in strange harmony. Electric whines, dimmed, thickened
by the water’s depth.

She hears a chiming sound.

Another chiming sound.

A silence, and another chiming sound.

A deep, electric shudder, and the generators soften to a hiss.

Another chime. Another chime. Another chime.

When she comes up for air, the chimes—a digital phone sound—
ring clear. The air feels sharp. She sees a person sitting on the deck.

A vague, dark outline, blue-lit by the pool. Intermittent chimes.

A face. A silhouette. The bright rectangle of a phone.

A thin man. Young, or youngish. Older than her, but not old.

She dives back down into the pool, swims beneath the dark partition.

Back and forth between the warm, bright, indoor lighting and the
cold, dark, dancing glow. She shivers with the suddenness of these
transitions.

She swims back to the outdoor pool, to the pool’s edge. She squints
toward the man.

He looks up. He waves. Hi.

She waves back. Hi.

She glances downward, treading water. Glances, slowly, up.

His phone chimes and he chuckles, softly. He looks like he might
be watching her.

She looks back down, then looks back up, again.

He’s looking at his phone.

She pushes off the pool’s edge with her mosquito-bitten legs.

She kicks hard, lets herself glide from one section to another,
pushes back and forth, from warm to cold, from light to dark, while
thinking

indoor          outdoor
indoor         outdoor
indoor         outdoor
indoor         outdoor
indoor         outdoor
indoor         outdoor
indoor         outdoor

***

The older sister lies in bed with damp hair, turned toward the wall.

Her friends are messaging her from their various locations.

So bored, :/ types Jena Thompson

Yeah, me too, she types.

I touched a dolphin, types Kate Myers.

She types back, so cool.

She nods off to the flashing of the names and words up on her
screen until she gets a message from her best friend, Marianne Lee.

I met up with a guy, types Marianne Lee.

:0 What was he like? She types.

He has tattoos.

I want to get one now.

She types, what did you do?

Just bedroom stuff, types Marianne Lee.

At the house show.

Was the band good? She types.

Marianne Lee types, ha, no.

😉 , types Marianne Lee.

She types, <3 🙂 😉

She clicks her phone screen off. Stares at the black screen.

Marianne Lee is always meeting up with guys. Marianne Lee is
taller, thinner than her other friends. Marianne Lee wears black.
Marianne Lee lives down her block. Marianne Lee lives in a big white
stucco house with strange-shaped windows. Marianne Lee has tiny
freckles near her eyes. Marianne Lee has sleek black hair that shines,
like seals swimming.

She sets her phone down on the bedside table. She watches a mosquito
dancing up the gray-black wall. Its little glints of wings, its little
shiver movements—bedroom stuff—its shrivel of a stomach, filled
with other people’s blood.

***

The mother, meanwhile, stands out on the back porch, in the dark.
She sips a glass of Cabernet and looks into a row of trees. The trees
are filled with insects. She can hear them, whispering within the
branches, in a sort of quiet, creaking chorus.

A low drone—like an organ—interrupted—every now and then—
by crackled chirps, and high-pitched, buzzing chimes. The branches
of the trees quiver ethereally, eerily, like something that belongs
beneath the ocean. She watches them and listens, through the hum
of insects, for the distant ocean. Thinks about the ocean waves. She
thinks about their darkness, gleaming vaguely. Of the water. Of the
cold. About how cold the waves would be.

She thinks of drifting on them, drifting off, away from shore, of
slipping . . . but a loud sound interrupts her thoughts.

The insect chorus swells into a sharp roar, for a moment.

Then, it dies.

Her throat stings.

She has swallowed too much wine.

***

Breakfast is Pop-Tarts—for the sisters—coffee—for the parents.

Swimming! shouts the younger sister, pulling on her still-wet suit.

When I’m done with the paper, says the father without looking up.

The father takes forever finishing the paper.

Let’s go back to the pool, says the older sister.

Sure, that’s fine, the mother waves them on. She sits and sips her
coffee. She makes sad little exhalations as the pages turn.

The older sister sighs. Come on, she murmurs. Let’s just go.

The blue-green of the pool is not quite as clear amid the brightness
of the sun. The water is much warmer. The transition from indoor to
outdoor is not as sharp. The older sister shuts her eyes. She lets the
two sides blur together.

Eventually, the thin young man returns. Alone. He’s wearing dark
blue swim shorts and a stretched out white T-shirt.

He waves. Hi.

She waves. Hi.

He takes the T-shirt off, sets it behind him.

She looks up at him. He looks okay.

He sits down on the pool’s edge, dips half his legs in, kicks below
the water, making shiny little waves.

I like the way you swim, he says.

Oh, thank you, says the older sister.

Like a seal, says the young thin man.

The older sister thinks of Marianne Lee, and she smiles. She is flattered
by the indirect comparison. She dives back down, kicks off the
edge, and power kicks between both sides, then pops her head back
up, gasping, like, see?

The young thin man smiles back. She thinks, he’s younger than I
thought. She takes a longer look. His smile is nice, and body . . . he
has nice-ish abs. He’s not Frank Ocean, although he is likely not bisexual.
Bisexual means that your body’s perfect.

The younger sister crouches by the cactus once again. She touches
it. Still dull. Not sharp. She thinks, so disappointing. So, she pushes
down, and down, until the point enters her skin.

A tiny drop of blood.

She winces.

She thinks, victory.

***

The family goes out for lunch. They choose a restaurant that overlooks
the beach, with vinyl booths and picture windows. The father
gets a burger and the mother gets a turkey burger and the older sister
gets a fruit plate.

The younger sister gets the spicy chicken sandwich. Yes. This is the
day. She looks at it and contemplates its color, peels back the bun, observes
the white, coagulated mayo, drizzled full of red lines from the
extra spicy sauce. She pats the bun back down. She holds the sandwich
in her hands. She breathes in. Okay, I am ready, she thinks. She
bites down. She closes her eyes for a moment to absorb the spiciness.
Her moment never comes because the sandwich is not spicy.

They chew their food and watch the ferries leave the harbor, churning
thin, white trails of froth that cut into the deep blue-gray. The
seagulls hop among the broken stones and concrete slabs. They pick
at bits of garbage, shrieking, flapping, for no reason.

***

The mother tells the older sister she is old enough to wander through
the town. The father doesn’t argue. So she nibbles off the final fleck
of watered honeydew and sets her plate aside, sets off to see what
she can find.

She walks along the docks, looks at the bobbing boats, their female
names. Amelia. Kathleen O’ Malley. Dulcinea. Dorothy, My Girl. Estella.
Foxy Brown. Joanna. June Bug. Lorelai. Luna Lucille. Mary of the Sea.
Goodbye, My Girl.

She walks along the quiet streets filled with Victorian homes—
tall, ornate-trimmed houses, shades of faded pastel paint. She passes
by the numerous art galleries with crude ceramics, awkward charcoal
life drawings, and crappy oil landscapes.

The sun grows hot as she reaches the town’s main square. She
comes against a sudden burst of people from the downtown farmer’s
market. She weaves her way through sandaled feet, through bodies
wearing different shades of linen, bearing tote bags filled with vegetables.

She brushes up against a table filled with fresh-picked blackberries.
She takes one from the box and pops it in her mouth.

She finds a table filled with tasting samples from a winery. She
sneaks a plastic cup and downs it in one gulp.

She takes a free fan from a local politician’s booth and waves toward
her, with the blank side pointing out, the text side pointing in.
The paper fan wafts his name in her face, repeatedly. The fan goes:
swish swish, Gerry Gerrish, Gerry Gerrish.

She sees a girl that looks like Marianne Lee, and another girl that
looks like Marianne Lee with short hair, and yet another girl that
looks like Marianne Lee with blue dyed hair and a rather striking,
very nearly see-through sea-green dress.

***

The mother and the father and the younger sister move down to the
beach. They walk along the water, toting canvas bags. The younger
sister skitters out into the waves, then back.

Look what I found. Her footprints form a zig-zag pattern in the
sand.

She holds her hand out for the mother.

Look.

Two shards of beach glass, smoothed and rounded by the tide,
frosted with salt and sand.

Look.

Seven ordinary bleached shells—two half-shattered—otherwise,
the same.

Nice, says the mother.

When the younger sister’s back is turned, she pitches them away.

The younger sister grinds her feet into the big green balls of kelp,
delighted and repulsed as they deflate with hissing pops of air. The
dark, translucent stalks around them look like strands of hair from
some strange monster, from some witch that lives within the sea.
They come into a long and empty stretch of beach, divided in two
parts. The first: a pebbled outer layer, trimmed with blonde grass,
large, gray mounds of driftwood, gnarled roots of washed-up trees.
The second: flat sand. Here, the mother spreads a blanket, opens up
the canvas bags.

The mother and the father open up a six-pack, sit, and read. The
mother reads a book. The father reads the paper.

Still the paper? says the mother.

A light breeze ruffles its pages. It’s important not to lose track of
what’s going on.

The younger sister wanders through the beach. She watches how
the sand appears to come alive beneath her feet. The small crabs scurry.
Waves lap at the shore as thousands of small holes gasp open to
absorb the waves, like many thirsty mouths.

Sometimes she sees a palm-sized jellyfish, a flat, blue, dried-up
disc, an under-body splayed with skinny ciliated threads. The dried
blue disc is topped off with a clear, half-circle sail. They look so delicate,
she thinks, like mini spaceships made of glass.

She wades into the water, lunges face-first into waves. She sputters
salt, spits. Lunges. Sputters. Salt goes up her nose.

She lets herself drift with the tide.

Looks at the beach, back at her parents.

They are little speck-dolls, sinking in the sand.

She watches as their movements become hazier and hazier, like
figures in slow-motion on a distant screen.

Saltwater drizzles down her face, gets in her eyes, and blurs them,
as they grow smaller and smaller, as she drifts further away.

***

That night, the older sister lies in bed, listening to Frank Ocean sing
about a certain kind of love and loss. He sings, Your dilated eyes. He
sings the pale sky, Watch the clouds float.

White Ferrari.
White Ferrari.
White Ferrari.

She thinks about the many different versions of Marianne Lee, all
living in a white room in her head. A blank white box filled with Marianne
Lees, sitting and standing, talking to each other, dressing each
other, and undressing each other.

She thinks about the blue-haired Marianne Lee and the see-through
sea-green dress. She peers into the white room of her thoughts. She
thinks about the sea-green dress. She starts to peer a little closer . . .

Thinks about Frank Ocean.

Thinks about Frank Ocean’s abs.

She thinks:

Green dress
Green buttons, unbuttoning
Green straps, falling
Pale skin, pink nipple
Pale skin amid dark tufts of hair
Pale skin amid the White Ferrari
Pale contours of her White Ferrari
Pale edges of her White Ferrari
White Ferrari

She listens to the song until the black bar has filled in.

She clicks her phone off, and she stares into the blank screen.

She tries to fall asleep, but she can’t sleep.

She turns her phone back on.

She types to Marianne Lee, there’s a cute guy here.

***

The next morning, the older sister walks along the docks, along the
pathway she has carved out in her mind. She thinks, hello, Amelia;
hello, Kathleen O’ Malley; hello, Dulcinea; hello, Dorothy, My Girl.

She passes by the pastel houses and the galleries, looks vaguely
into windows, into curtains shifting.

A cat sits in a window, yowling at nobody in particular.

A plastic bag skates, softly, through the street.

She comes into the town square, and she sees the thin young man.

He’s walking parallel to her, across the street. He waves and walks
toward her. She keeps walking in the same direction.

Hi, he says, behind her.

Right behind her.

She turns. Hi.

They walk in silence for a while, pointing every now and then at
things they can both see.

Haha, a yowling cat.

Haha, a dick tag on a brick wall.

Haha, look at that guy’s face, up on that sign.

It’s Gerry Gerrish. He is bald and long-faced. She feels bad for him.

My name is LJ, says the young thin man.

She says, hi, LJ.

I’m so hungry, LJ says. Have you had breakfast?

She says, no.

Let’s go get breakfast, says LJ, and they walk together, back the
way she came, to reach the restaurant along the docks.

They sit across from one another in the booth behind the one her
family sat inside the day before. The booth is empty now, but she
keeps glancing at it, over LJ’s shoulder, like she half-expects to see
them.

What’s up? he asks her.

Nothing. Sorry. She orders the fruit plate and a coffee that she
doesn’t really drink.

He gets a skillet—extra sausage, extra gravy—smiles as she nibbles
at a rind of cantaloupe. You like fruit, huh?

She shrugs. I am a vegetarian.

He says, that’s cool. I think about things like that, sometimes. He
takes a bite of sausage. He smiles as he swallows. He does have a nice
smile. Big, white teeth.

She smiles back at him with a closed mouth.

They talk about the town—he lives nearby—the mountains—
where he used to live—the restaurant—he used to work in a place
like this—family—two brothers, older than him—family trips—
they suck—his favorite color—gray-blue, like a stormy sky.

Me too, she says. She’s just now realized this fact about herself.

Everything is gray-blue here, he says. It’s a good place to be, if
that’s your thing.

They laugh, as if this town were nothing but a gray-blue brush of
paint.

He pays for both of them.

She thanks him.

I guess we’ll just walk back together, since we’re at the same place,
he says.

She says, I think I might want to walk a bit, by myself.

If that’s what you want, he says. He leans down, hovers for a moment,
then he leans in close to kiss her on the mouth.

The kiss tastes bad—like sausage—and his teeth feel really big.

They butt around and scrape and click against her own. His tongue
pokes at her teeth, insistently, until she opens them. She lets his
tongue lick at her tongue, which lays there, flat, unsure.

I’ll see you later, then, he smiles when the kiss is over, takes her
number, puts his number in her phone.

Mhm. Later, she says. Her voice is breathy, like a little kid’s.

She thinks, that’s not her real voice.

She sounds so dumb and wrong.

***

Back at the hotel everyone is on a different screen. Her mother and
her younger sister tap their tablets. Her father’s looking at the weather
on the Weather Channel, echoing the forecast out loud. Sunny.
Chance of showers. Rain.

The morning passes into afternoon this way, until the rain begins
to fall.

The father says, goddamn the Weather Channel.

The rain begins to fall hard, hissing as it hits the ground.

The mother moves out to the porch and pours a glass of wine.

***

The older sister gets a message from LJ:

 🙂 Hi

She types, hi.

He types, (rain)

She types, yeah, it sucks.

He types, the color though.

She types, haha.

He types, I want to see you soon.

She types, later maybe.

He types, 😉

And a little later, he types, ;))

She looks into the screen. She starts to type, then stops.

She turns the screen off. Looks up at the blank white of the ceiling.

She thinks, I don’t know what to think.

She thinks, don’t think.

She tries hard not to think and feels a satisfying sickness in her
stomach.

***

A few more days go by like this, the television glowing, tablets on.

Every now and then, a message coming in.

The younger sister yawns.

The older sister shifts around, not thinking, watching couples argue
about houses on HGTV.

I’m never getting married, says the younger sister.

Like you’re old enough to know, the older sister says.The couples
choose between their top three houses, all of which are flawed, and
none of which they seem to like that much.

***

At a sleepover last summer, all the older sister’s friends were talking
about famous people that they liked. They started off comparing fa-
mous women to themselves—she’s kind of fat—I want her hair—
you’re prettier than her.

She has nice legs, the older sister said.

Her friends gave her a look.

I mean, she does!

Marianne Lee laugh-coughed, then. Lesbo.

I mean, I’m jealous of them, she corrected herself.

Don’t be jealous—you look great, her friends all reassured her.

They talked about the boys they liked—both famous and non-famous—
and they asked the older sister who she’d choose.

Frank Ocean, she decided. The first name that came to mind.

Her friends approved her choice, with varying degrees of hesitancy.

***

I’m old enough to know, the younger sister says. It’s not like you
know anything.

The older sister nods.

The couples finish arguing, then choose the least offensive choice,
then they pretend to be excited on TV.

This show’s depressing, says the older sister.

This show’s funny, says the younger sister. Everybody’s dumb.

I guess that’s funny, if you think you’re smart, the older sister says.

The older sister doesn’t think she’s smart.

Meanwhile, the rain keeps raining, running down the glass, still
tapping at that strange sensation in her stomach, stirring drifts of
fog. The gray-blue sky remains—her newly chosen favorite shade—
reminding her of him whenever she looks out the window.

***

Meanwhile the mother stands and stares out at the rain.

She sips her glass of wine until it’s finished, pours another splash.

The father comes behind her, puts his arms around her waist.

He murmurs, hey. His voice—that gentle, cautious voice she really
hates.

He murmurs, lately you have been . . . I mean . . . think of your
brother.

She does think of him. The rain. The darkness of the sky. She sighs.

She looks up, and she finishes her wine. She looks directly at the father,
reaches for the bottle, and pours more.

***

The rain stops, and the white sun seems to burn away the lost time.

They go to the beach. This time, the older sister joins them.

She shows a little kid how to build castles out of dripping sand. You get it wet, then let it drizzle down, like this.

The little kid refuses to be bothered with the subtleties of dripping
into fine points, into fine accumulations.

It’s a blob! he screams. He slams his fists into the castle, runs away.

The older sister shakes her head and scoops a new handful of sand.

She crouches down above the frothy damp line where the waves
keep breaking, gets the sand wet, sits, and drizzles down a new foundation.

Kids don’t get how to do kid things, she thinks. Ultimately, no one
really understands the way to be the way they are.

The younger sister sees another jellyfish.

Another, and another.

Suddenly, she sees a clearing where the tide gets caught, with dozens,
maybe hundreds of their tiny, blue disc bodies.

She thinks, wow.

She thinks, oh shit.

She thinks, amazing.

She stands above a still wet, not yet dried-up jellyfish.

She takes a piece of driftwood, pokes at it, and steps away.

She steps up, swiftly jabs the stick into its body, skewers it, and
stands, and stares.

The jellyfish does nothing.

***

They go back to the restaurant. The father gets a turkey burger, looks
up at the mother, who smiles, lightly. The mother orders French silk
pie and nothing else. The older sister gets a side of French fries with
her fruit plate.

The younger sister gets the spicy chicken sandwich, asks for extra
hot sauce, thinking, let’s try this again. She takes a bite, and oh it
burns, it burns, it burns! She downs a glass of water, gasping. She
thinks, victory.

The older sister makes it halfway through her fries before she gets
a message from LJ: I’ll meet you there at 9. She asks the younger sister
if she wants the rest of her fries.

Obviously, yeah. The younger sister takes her plate and eats them.

The mother smiles at this act of sharing. You’re so sweet. The
mother kisses her forehead, kisses her cheek.

The older sister smiles queasily. Her mother smells like wine. Hey,
how’s your pie?

The mother shrugs. Okay.

***

It’s 8:51 when she makes it to the docks. The sun is just beginning
to go down. She paces, looking at the boats. Some names are gone,
replaced by others. Don Juan. Heat Wave. Paradise. Obsession. Happy
and Alone.

She sees the dark speck of his form approaching at 9:10. She walks
toward the dark speck. Lets him take her in his arms.

He smells like mints this time.

He whispers, hey.

She whispers, hey.

He kisses her cheek.

She kisses his cheek.

It tastes like lotion.

You smell good, he says.

They walk along the beach. They watch the sun burn bright. Reflected
streaks—like cinders—dance impossibly along the waves.

The streaks dim down to violet, replaced by bobbing, far-off lights.
She smiles at them. She thinks, that’s what the boats became.

The air is thick with salt, with sounds of insects, distant music
from the boats. A dull thrum, punctuated by some yeahs and woos.
He takes her hand. He leads her to a shadowed inlet where the air is
cooler, with a stronger, fishy water smell.

I thought that I was dreaming when I saw you, he says.

Yeah, woo! shout the boats.

I never could’ve seen it coming.

He gives her a mint kiss. This time, she tells her tongue to move. It
does. He moves his hands down to her back, down lower, lower. Woo.

She hears a clinking sound, a swishing sound, a zipping sound. A
gentle cough. A shifting, and a deeper cough. Mhm. Another kiss. She
doesn’t move her tongue, this time. He takes her hands and moves
them to his waist. Then lower, lower.

Hey . . . she says.

He whispers, it’s okay.

It feels strangely warm, yet frozen, like a limb your nerves have
not yet reached, an anxious, straining, but not yet sensitive part.
He moans. He feels what she’s doing—even if she doesn’t—as she
realizes that her hand is clasped and stroking.

It is a smooth yet ridged thing. A muscle, moving. She can feel it
getting thicker, warmer, and this makes her concentrate. Okay. There
is a bad smell. It is probably the fish water. A bad sensation, in her
stomach. That is not his fault.

She thinks

smooth ridged
frozen warm
mint sausage
breathing breathing
bad smell good smell
bad sensation good sensation
bad sensation good sensation
breathing breathing
breathing hard breath
hard breath good
hard muscle good
hard motion good
hard moaning good
hard hard hard hard …
hard hard hard hard ………
hard hard hard hard ……………
hard hard hard hard good good good good good
good good good good
good good good
good good
good good
good

He says, are you okay?

She says, um, yeah.

He says, um . . .

She is shaking.

Look, he says, if you’re not into this . . .

She thinks, fuck fuck fuck fuck. . .

They sit together for a while, staring at the boat lights, getting
cold, the night wind blowing hard, the salt air stinging.

He says, it’s okay.

She says, no . . .

It’s okay . . .

No, it’s not okay.

He stays there, sitting with her, but he shifts, a bit, away.

Although her heart is shuddering, her shoulders shivering, she
feels like she’s floating, somewhere, out of body, in the dark.

She thinks, I’m sorry.

Says, I’m so sorry.

He laughs, drily. Don’t be.

Is she sorry?

She feels sorry.

She knows she feels something.

I am gonna go, he says.

She says, all right. It comes out in the airy child’s voice, the voice
that isn’t hers.

She wonders what is really hers.

She thinks, I don’t know, and she tries to turn the thought into, I
don’t care, but she can’t.

She thinks, I don’t know anything.

I’m bad at being anything.

I’m bad at being anyone.

I’m bad at being real.

***

I met up with a guy, she types to Marianne Lee.

Where? types Marianne Lee.

She types, by the beach

Marianne Lee types, ;D

What was it like?

She types, 🙂

Marianne Lee types, that’s so cool.

I have always wanted to meet someone by the beach.

For just a moment, she feels warmed by this attention,
until Marianne Lee types:

I’m so jealous! ;)) 🙂

She types back, don’t be jealous.

Starts to type, it wasn’t even good.

Instead, she types back, <3

Marianne Lee types, <3

***

The next morning, the older sister stays in bed with headphones on,
listening to Frank Ocean singing White Ferrari.

She imagines white rooms filled with women—filled with Marianne
Lees—fading into outlines, into ghost shapes, into nothing.

Bad luck to talk on these rides

Mind on the road, your dilated eyes

She thinks about the long ride—home—ahead of them.

She thinks about a big house, filled with white rooms.

White Ferrari

Thinks of white clouds, drifting, fading.

Had a good time.

***

The family goes back—one last time—to the beach. The mother and
the father sit together as he reads the news. He passes her each section
as he finishes. The sun is warm but mild, and the sky is blue. It
is a very nice day.

The younger sister walks along the water, picking up pieces of
stones and broken shells and broken glass. She carries them with her
until she has too much to hold, and then she pitches them—one by
one—back into the waves.

She smashes her bare heels into the kelp bubbles and bursts them
in a violent, stomping, popping, hissing trail, almost steps onto a
jellyfish. Her bare toe barely grazes it. She feels its jellied skin, steps
back, and shudders from the feeling.

She wades into the water, walks into the waves until they reach her
neck. She kicks out, paddles deeper, farther from the shore. She sees
the speed boats in the dark blue water, churning thick, white foam,
the line of buoys separating beach from open sea.

She paddles out, up to the line. She grabs hold of a buoy, bobs
there, looking at the great, big, blue immensity.

She hangs on, for a moment, waiting for something to happen.

Nothing does.

She lets herself slip down, beneath the boundary