Did Anyone Find You?
He said he knew the dune trails from childhood and wanted to show her. They entered through an opening on the beach. The path was carefully outlined with rope boundaries to keep them off of the vegetation. He hiked faster than she did, pointing out poison ivy. She found all of the best views, and stopped for them, her thighs already burning. She used his footsteps, thinking it easier, but the sand still spilled beneath her sandals, making the climb tedious.
They stopped when they reached a plateau. To her, it felt more private here than it did even at home. “This is the spot where my mom got naked,” he said. “She just stripped down and rolled down this hill and into that valley. She said it felt so good.”
“Sounds like her,” she said.
“Nothing. It just sounds like something she would do.”
“Whatever. I’m going,” he said, and stumbled wildly down the hill and into the uncordoned valley.
She stepped carefully, bending her knees, ready should she tumble.
“You’re a real maniac,” he said.
“Someone has to protect the coast from erosion,” she answered.
“This is definitely it,” he said. “My dad smoked a joint, too. My brother and I climbed all up through there,” he said, pointing to a steep rise.
“Did anyone find you?” she asked.
“I don’t think so.” He paused. “I don’t really remember.”
They climbed out of the valley and followed a more narrow path through a flat, grassy area. A map on the route showed them how to get back to the beach, about a quarter of a mile from where they’d entered the trails.
It was low tide. The shore stretched long and flat up ahead. Because the parking lot was so far away, this part of the beach was sparsely populated. Most people were on foot, not settled, scanning the shore for debris. She took a token every time, usually a sand dollar.
At the end of the trail men in khaki uniforms, Rangers, huddled. When they reached the men, he greeted them.
“You had to be very careful in there,” one of the Rangers said.
“Oh?” he asked.
“It’s a dangerous time for the nesting birds.”
“I didn’t notice,” he said. “I don’t think we stepped on anything.”
“You didn’t,” the man said.
She looked back at the path, at the dunes, retracing her steps in her mind.
I’d been at the cottage for almost a week, recuperating, when Rita and Dan drove up.
Dan hugged me, but Rita cried right away. My nose was still broken. I didn’t look good.
I heard my husband say, “You little devil,” to Dan, who had brought a bottle of cognac.
“Don’t cry,” I said. “Let him make you a bloody mary.” Rita nodded. “Two,” I said to my husband.
She asked me about the accident and I told her the same story I’d told everyone else. You couldn’t put much spin or variation on it. Most of the sensations I remembered I wouldn’t share.
“One for you. And one for you,” my husband said, handing us the heavy cocktails. He winked at me. I stirred mine with its celery, eager for the first peppery crunch.
“I missed these,” Rita said. My husband’s bloody marys were that way, they hung with you. Nobody knew his secret ingredient, canned clam juice.
Rita and I sat on the swing in the yard, overlooking the shore. It had been cloudy that day, which made the orange glow of the sunset extend further across the horizon.
Rita said, “I brought a few outfits. I wasn’t sure what to wear tomorrow.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Wear whatever you want.” “It’s all black,” Rita said. “Just one of them shows my boobs more. Maybe I shouldn’t wear that one.”
Rita and I sipped, watching Dan and my husband building the frame of a bonfire on the beach with driftwood. Aside from the phone calls, it occurred to me that Dan hadn’t spoken to anyone in over a week. The cottage could be isolating in that way and I was too raw for him to go.
My husband called out to us, “Can you get the lighter fluid?”
Rita said, “Where is it?” and stood. “I’ve got it,” I said to her. “Got it,” I said to him.
I passed through the screen door, hearing it slide into place behind me. The cottage was mine now. So was the house. The cars. I could sell whatever I wanted, to manage any debt there was.
I opened the door that led to the basement, slowly descended, my knees aching with the movement. In the corner by the seasonal decorations, the American flags, I found the tin of fluid balancing atop an ugly bulge in the concrete floor.
In the evenings we drank and played all-terrain bocce on the rocky beach while the little kids collected their starfish and wishing stones. The older ones exchanged scuttlebutt under the dock behind the kayaks.
We broke up the game so scouts could go back to the cabins for more wine and ginger snaps.
Eddie and I waded out to waist deep and reunited. He was still wearing his son’s goggles. When I realized we were both peeing I laughed and told him to look the other way. I looked the other way too, but out of the corner of my eyes I saw him standing straight and still, keeping his mouth open as he went.
The kids were like Lord of the Flies when they got together. My daughter was screaming, saying Eddie’s son stole her magic.
Eddie waded that way.
He was like family except for the time the summer before college we got drunk on beer and fell asleep cuddled on his basement floor.
When I thought about the others—his wife, our other friends, the kids, and my husband—I thought these things will always happen and ducked under the water, dropping to the bottom to open my eyes.
Jennifer Pieroni is editor-in-chief of the literary journal, Quick Fiction. Her work has appeared in Hobart, elimae, Word Riot, and Wigleaf, among others. Work is forthcoming in Another Chicago Magazine, Bateau, PANK, and Corduroy Mtn.
Writer’s Recommendations: Three songs for a summer day
“Stand by Me” by Ben E. King
“Summertime” by The Sundays
“Namaste” by The Beastie Boys