Short Story (as mentioned in Tumbling)

Here's the first story I wrote when I arrived in New York. It's a fictional version of my last night in Michigan. To read the post it was mentioned in, click here.   

Red Trunks and Blue Water

by Tanya Eby

When you see him on the beach, just the back of him, you see only the brightness of his red trunks, the slight dawning on his shoulders of sunburn. When you see him, when you watch him watching the water, you wonder what he would feel like lying beneath you. You can almost trace the sharp curves of him; how his shoulder blades rise like the curve of a Frisbee, how his hipbones, like bottle caps, would dig into the softness of you. Then you remember the softness of you. You are mounds of sand, folding. You are dunes and white hills. You would swallow him. There would be nothing left.

 

"You want some chicken? Have some chicken." It is sunset. You are on the back porch of a cottage overlooking Lake Michigan. Everything is washed in a warm, red light and you finally understand the term rose-colored glasses. Your friends, who own the cottage, bustle about. They want your last days in Michigan to be memorable. In New York, looking at the cool brick walls of your apartment, they want you to be able to close your eyes and hear water on the sand…and you will.

"Chicken is good for you. It's grilled." This is Brian. He is tall and blond and gay. He stands looking down at you, smiling. "You'll waste away to nothing in New York. You won't be able to afford anything. You'll have to eat Ramen Noodles."

"Ramen Noodles." His partner, Greg, echoes from the kitchen where he stands, doing dishes, listening.

You eat your chicken.

Later, the sun slips away in a burst of magentas and deep purple. You all applaud, you and Brian and Greg, as if the sun could come out and take a bow, as if the sunset would perform an encore if you shouted loud enough.

Brian sits next to you. "What are you thinking?" he asks. He squeezes your knee. You know you should tell him you're thinking of the flight tomorrow, of being scared, but you're not. You're thinking of the heat in the air, the lake rolling against the sand. You're thinking, briefly, in flashes of red, of someone you've only just met. You wonder what he's eating at the cottage next door with his sister and her family.

It's that slight time of bluing…daylight blending into the dark denim of memory. The bugs are out. You slap your thighs, your legs, your ankles. But none of you wants to go in.

"I'm thinking I'd like to go for a swim," you say. Brian nods slowly.

"Not too far," Brian says, ever the big brother, ever watchful.

 

In the water, you are a buoy. Your breasts bob, your stomach lifts, your legs drift apart. You can lie like this forever, suspended in the gentle rocking of the lake. It is a good time for this; the water is calm. Tomorrow there will be waves; great waves and heavy rain and you will have no regrets. You bob. You feel as if you are water breathing-your hair fluid around you; no sound, save the beating of your heart, the surge of sand beneath you. You stretch. You are beautiful. Here, the moon shining on you, you being water, you are a round pearl smoothed. You are reflective. You are light.

 

This happens earlier.

"Why New York? Why do you want to go there?" Your mom asks. She is not angry; she only wants to understand. You try to be honest with her, to not hold back.

"I don't know," you say. " It just feels right."

"But what are you going to do with your things?"

"I'm going to sell them."

"Everything? What about your furniture?"

"I'm giving it away."

"But why?"

You can't explain.

"I'll keep some things," you say. Your mother smiles weakly. "I'll keep my clothes. Some books."

"What about your movies? I could keep your movies for you. And your Christmas ornaments. You can't give up everything. It's not healthy."

"Would you mind keeping some of my things?" Your mother's eyes beam.

"No! Not at all!" Then she shows you the Martha Stewart labeler she ordered straight from the magazine, and the huge Tupperware tubs she bought at a garage sale for an event such as this. She's always like this. She plunges forward. She focuses. Later she will cry heavy tears and try to understand. You don't want to think of her crying.

"Promise me," she says. She holds you at arms length and stares you in the eyes. This is her old trick. She's done this for years to see if you ate the cookies, if you hit your brother, if you changed your grades with a pencil and eraser. "Promise me whatever you do, you won't use the elevators." She pauses. Waits for you to blink. "They have those rolling blackouts and I don't want you to get stuck in an elevator with someone crazy."

This is the only thing she asks of you. This is her one great worry about New York.

And then you laugh.

Both of you.

 

On the sand, he watches you, but you are not aware. In your mind, he is just a speck, a grain of bright red.

There isn't a reason for your moving…just a sense that something in you has shifted, as the shore shifts, as your body floating on the surface of the water shifts. You could give a hundred reasons if pressed. You draw your fingers through the water as if able to create an angel that will linger behind you, wings spread. There's only one reason that matters: because you want to. Because you want to become someone new. You want to emerge as an orange.

Peeled.

 

Brian and Greg ring the dinner bell. They're telling you to come in; it's too dark; they can't separate your shape anymore from the water. You swim to shore trying to memorize each motion of your body. Crawling out of the water is like surfacing from a dream. It still clings to you, still wants to pull you in. You wrap in a towel. You can hear laughter between the two cottages and the crackle of a bonfire.

You imagine the rest of the evening before it happens. This is not to say you're psychic; they haven't created a word yet to describe how far from psychic you are. You imagine because you are bored. You are trying to keep your mind from thinking other things…of things like leaving everyone you know and love, of moving to a place where everything, even the rain, will be terrifyingly, wonderfully new. It's the ripple effect. You toss in a stone and follow each ripple as it grows. Sometimes you get lucky: sometimes you see where the ripples go.

You imagine there will be laughter and stories passed and marshmallows too burnt laid over half-melting chocolate. Your friends will sing your praises of having the balls to move. You will glance between your legs and the circle will laugh because, clearly, you have no balls. You will catch his eye and your face will redden and you will blame it on the heat of the fire. "This is a great fire," you will say and their faces, illuminated and shadowed, will nod, heavy of sleep.

It isn't that you want love. It isn't that you need it necessarily. You just want someone to notice you. To do a look-again. To imagine kissing you, touching the soft of your arm, brushing the bangs from your face. It is always about this: hoping for someone to pause because you exist.

This, too, is a memory being made. Later, in the heart of Manhattan, you will have trouble recalling the exact shade of blue of the night sky, the exact words spoken. You will remember only this:

You sat on the beach, you and the man whose name you won't quite remember who looked at you from the beach and wore red swimming trunks. You sat on the beach while the rest of the world was weighted with sleep, shoulders just touching as if by coincidence, as if you weren't aware of the closeness of your skin, as if electricity were normal. You were talking and then he reached over and touched your cheek. "You're touching my cheek," you said, though maybe that's not what you should have said. And then you were kissing. And then, later, you will remember that you imagined you were outside yourself, observing. You watched from above; your two bodies like bleached wood entwined, rolled smooth from years of wind and sand.

You will remember kissing him and looking at the night sky and feeling vastly empty. You will remember that your tongue moved and your body moaned and you tried to count the stars one by one by one by one. I am not this, you thought. Just that.

This is not who I am.

In the morning the sky is smoke gray. It's an old stretched canvass empty of paint. In the car, your cheek against the glass, the rain heavy on the window, you have no regrets. Not really. It was a good swim. You felt so alive then, buoyed by water, floating in the own expanse of your skin.

You leave quickly. A hug and a kiss to Brian and Greg. Chin up. Feet moving forward. No looking back. Ghosts of you, of the turns you could have taken, spiraling around you and then evaporating as mist.

Barreling through the clouds, the plane hits a great lake of blue. It is so blue and so bright, you shade your eyes. You are now soaring from the bottom of the deepest lake, reaching bravely for he surface that somewhere stretches just before you, blinking white.