What delighted me was watching how the sun changed my appearance. I spent nightly hours in the mirror, describing the new shades and hues of my face or arms to my martin, who was colorblind.
Photograph via Flickr by sumeet basak
We were the type of bird and girl to take holiday in the south of France, minus older cousin Mamie who got sick in Lucerne so stayed back to rest and breathe the air there. We were a color-changing girl and footless, tweaky, jealous little martin. The martin followed me around that summer as I fell in love, tangling its wings in my hair, sometimes gripping a strand like reigns to keep me from tumbling along the jagged rocks along the shore. It liked to peck at the gentleman’s lapel when he leaned in to kiss me. The time I spent with my martin earned us many shared habits: We sighed when somebody talked too long, whistled up and down octaves like a tuning flute in the mornings.
I had a good time there alone at the hotel. I made friends.
I met men.
All gentlemen were named Mathieu, and each was very different both in heft and temperament. They lasted only three days per, then said goodbye on the windy cliff outside the hotel the next morning and got into a little white Panhard or camel-colored Peugeot and drove away. Men were always driving off that way. I’d go back into the hotel lobby, order breakfast, then up to my room to bathe. The martin clucked happily on my naked shoulder, back in first favor and full of gusto, shaking its head in delight and preening every time I splashed it with the suds.
What delighted me was watching how the sun changed my appearance. I spent nightly hours in the mirror, describing the new shades and hues of my face or arms to my martin, who was colorblind. In the mornings I put on my suit and had breakfast outside. The crashing waves on the rocks below did little to wash out the chatter of old ladies on the patio. They spoke of their sons, the waters, besmirched each others’s aches and pains. Days they sat out. From under the striped maroon umbrella they wore masks of white cream on their faces, lavender lipstick, spoke of fresh fruit.
More often than not, I spoke of myself.
My cousin Mamie sent notes, which kept me in mind of the days, the date. Mamie was less and less on my mind.
Everything seemed easy. I found a long stick and scratched a picture of a naked woman into the sand. A gentleman appeared. He had loose, brown tapered locks of hair. It was very attractive. He introduced himself as Mathieu Pinceau. I took it as a joke-name, and called myself Lala Cigarette. We went to dinner at the Oriental, then drove to a party downtown at his mother’s. The martin flew up and perched itself on the chandelier. Now and then it would make a sign—blocking out a light with its wing—which I took as some kind of eye-rolling gesture. Honestly, I sympathized.
The night was hot. Mathieu pushed his hair from his face with the butt of his hand like an ape. It seemed crude. He wiped his neck with a cocktail napkin. Then he showed me around to some girls at the party.
Their conversations seemed a little conceited. They were talking about a pack of wild goats attacking young women as they strolled through the roses at the Borély at night. They seemed terrified and enchanted as they talked about these goats, trading the gossip like old ladies. They were all wearing peach and blond and buff colored dresses, chiffons and chintz. Dressed like windows, I thought, pinned together with pink jewelled and golden hardware. Their fallow-colored updo’s gave them all the look of naked, newborn babies from the neck up. Bland, really. They were most impressed by my lack of composure. One asked to try on my jacket, sniffing a stain on the sleeve, pronouncing the word to herself in whisper, with reverence: chocolat. They described the wild goats to me again, this time very careful to choose their words. Wiry, skunkish monsters. I nodded, as was the custom, Mamie had told me, in the south of France. Where are you from, they wanted to know.
“Texas,” I told them.
“The Texas?” they asked me to confirm.
A breeze blew through the room just then, thank God, and I got away. Mathieu was drinking beers and pouring me Ricards on ice at the bar. His mother passed me plates of almonds. Across the room an older gentleman played Berlioz on the piano.
“Mathieu,” the mother called out to the piano player. “Play something less demanding now. I think some of the girls feel like dancing.”
This Mathieu rolled his eyes and switched to Stravinksi.
The girls joined hands in a circle. My martin rolled its eyes at me from the chandelier. I yawned in response: “Yes, yes.”
Mathieu drove the blue Citroen a bit too slowly back to the hotel the next morning. I got so bored sitting in the car. Even the scenery—the pastures, the cows, skies the color of hay, the brittle clouds—looked unamused. They milled and swayed waitingly as we drove by. My martin was asleep in my rabbitfur purse.
“Are we there? Yet?”
It had already begun to feel old hat with that Mathieu. Days two and three were spent reading comics on the balcony while he massaged my toes. He must have been very old-fashioned, all in all. His hair never looked so good as that first time on the beach. Finally I told him: You’re gross. He drove off so slowly in that Citroen. I could still hear the motor purr when I drew the curtains to run my bath.
I looked in the mirror naked. I was the color of a stray still then so early in the summer—just a beigey, yellow tan.
I was not young enough to need a proper chaperone to tame me and nearly too old, too wary to take interest in any real danger.
I felt more and more at home in the south of France. The martin and I explored the terrain and shared the stale bread we stole from the tables in the hotel dining room. We felt so happy. Our nosiness for death returned like a garland of holly at Christmas. We watched the men drag jagged slabs of gray granite from the quarry on carts pulled by ponies. We watched other men polish them until they gleamed, then chip into them with slanted knives for hours and hours: “R.I.P.” We visited the university clinic, brought flowers, followed students to the basement morgue, salted slugs, put our noses in the gutters, the martin and me. There was once a yellowheaded blackbird we found dead in the sandy brush at the foot of a hill. I strung it on a cord of yarn the martin pulled from my sweater and wore it as a necklace to dinner that night at the hotel. Old ladies asked where on earth I’d bought such a thing. I told them it was a gift. They pointed at my eyes and huddled. “Come, join us,” they said. Their jewelries clanked and their coiffures rustled as they shifted their chairs and place-settings to make room.
They spoke of their sons, the weather, the dynamic views of forest and seascape and brittle air from up in their suites. I ordered pheasant and rare ham. They deliberated on the color of my complexion. One tuttered her tongue to shush them and pulled out a small pamphlet. Unmuted Madame Joseph Desbois rose, she pronounced. The others nodded and from their purses pulled lipstick, held up soupspoons, and dodged the pale purple stuff across their mouths.
I was not young enough to need a proper chaperone to tame me and nearly too old, too wary to take interest in any real danger. I always easily did and still do bruise. Still, after one particular evening of having drinks at the Two Boys, then dancing at the Zouk with Mathieu—a blond, funny, pekid one—I stole a basket of candied orange peel from a little Arab man. Some gypsies came to laugh. The martin did very little to dissuade me from speaking my mind and pecked halfheartedly at the Arab’s eyes. The gypsies laughed some more and wagged their skirts: “Come with us,” they said.
We rode horses down a barren brook. I thought at first how horrible these gypsies were, and how great—the general stink of them had my head swoon, my throat close. We ate roasted goat and chewed native grasses. The place was a burnt-out car in a field of flowers. Their music and dancing were terrifying and then, unfortunately, boring. I woke up in a tent under the ruined aqueduct the next morning. The walk back to the hotel was long and lonely. I was all of a sudden the color of a children’s doll. I suffered a coarse memory: swallowing pennies at the request of my Grandpa Then:
“Suck on this toy horse’s mane.”
Of course, I obeyed.
A note from Mamie was waiting at the front desk when I arrived. It said she was better, and would I meet her train that Sunday and please arrange for another bed to be added to the room.
I think I go back to Texas. I think I turn into a prawn. The martin gets awarded some great honor by the ministry of defense. Mamie marries and has three children. I turn into a big fat possum. I turn fourteen.
I felt despondent and ratcolored all morning. A Mathieu invited me for a late lunch at the Balbec. Maids came in and out of my room changing flowers while I got dressed. I spritzed myself with bleach. I ordered three bowls of oyster bisque at lunch and told Mathieu about Mamie. “My chaperone is coming,” I told him. He asked what she looked like and how old. I licked my hand and spat. The martin took a bath in my soup. When I returned to my room I found that Mamie’s bed had come at the expense of mine: Those maids had simply split my bed in half.
I wonder what happens in the future.
I think I go back to Texas. I think I turn into a prawn. The martin gets awarded some great honor by the ministry of defense. Mamie marries and has three children. I turn into a big fat possum. I turn fourteen. An escaped convict catches me in the swampwoods of Blessing. He cuts off my hands with a sharpened soup spoon. I’m made to wear a blond wig and sing songs at parties. My father takes out an ad in a local tabloid. He’s running for governor. He publicly disowns me. I turn into a painting of fruits: grapes and apricots set in a silver bowl on a black velveteen tablecloth. Little white mice come to nibble on the grapes. The painter must replace them. At the market he reads a public decree: Be good and let the girls cause all the trouble. The painter goes home and unlocks the door to the basement. His seventeen-year-old daughter emerges for the first time since she sprouted hair under her arms. Her eyes have turned ruby-red and glowing. Her skin is white. The painter fixes the light, sits down in his chair. The girl plucks a mouse by its tail from the still-life and lowers it, sword-swallow style, down her pale, sweaty throat.
Mamie wears an ugly yellow dress and smiles with her suitcase. Her face is wrinkled from weight loss. Her dress hangs like a hunting tarp. I wince. She smells like raccoon and spoilt milk. I tell the taxi where to drive. Mamie seems to me like under a magnifying glass: freckles, lip chap, rumbly belly, mustily honed buck of hips when she says it: “I’m here. Hey, I’m here. Party time.”
And she won’t stop talking. “I’m here,” she says at the station, and says at the hotel, and in our room, and on the beach. “I’m here, finally.” She seems very happy in these new sunglasses purchased with freshly exchanged banknotes from the hotel giftshop. She scratches the small of her back and sucks her cheeks, shoulderblades jutting up like stunted wings. “We have to go shopping,” she says. “I need all new fashions. It was so tart in Lucerne. Nuns and cows, oh my goodness.” She calls my name.
“I’m here,” I say and smear my nose on the corner of my beach towel.
“Gross,” Mamie says.
The martin keeps to itself, fluttering in and out the open window.
I miss the Mathieus. It’s doldrums already. I scratch a withering bluebonnet in the sand with my big toe. Not a single Mathieu appears.
“We’ve got to go dancing,” says Mamie. “I need new shoes.”
To myself: I gag. I ask Mamie a question and throw my stick at a gull. She looks down at my drawing in the sand.
“Not a gentleman’s doodads! Is that what you’ve drawn? Privates? I’ll tell your mom!”
“How could I possibly,” I answer.
Mamie laughs and flips on her back. Her suit is loose and rubbery around her hips. Despite the bones, though, her breasts joggle robustly.
A Mathieu stops to stare.
Sitting up now Mamie talks:
“Are there good parties here? Are the men tidy? What have you been doing all this time? I heard there’s a hotsprings. Let’s go there. Let’s go to the movies. Let’s go out tonight.”
The next morning she sings “Pick Me Up Jonnie.” It’s the martin’s and my least favorite song. “Pish,” it says, and regurgitates a silk worm, poor bird. I’m in the bath. I’m on the balcony. I’m reading, in bed. A snakey layer of tan has already sloughed off on the sheets, leaving my arms raw and blotchy. The martin tugs a loose strand of skin from my forearm. I pretend it hurts. It hops off the bed and flutters to the sill of the window, turning its neck around, head cocked resentfully, ashamed.
“Come let’s go catch a game of tennis then get our nails done.”
It’s Mamie. She puts on white socks, a stretchy skin-colored bra. I pull up the blanket and grit my larynx, grumble: “You go on. I’m going to sleep this bug off.”
It is true that I don’t feel well. Mamie’s thudding steps across the floor, her loud, so wet, cheese-flavored breathing have made me sick. Slackened thighs flashing white and wrinkly through her open robe as she thuds across the floor, yes. Her big-toothed, hot, lip-licking mouth still haunted with Roquefort—“What’s this stuff!”—it ails me. I know how to describe her. It’s Mamie sitting on the floor at her open suitcase: phlegm-fogged, babbling, wide-eyed, curls bouncing, thighs astride, lion-like, lifting her tennis shoes up by the strings going “oooh” and everything, really everything so soaked already with the scent of her—“What?”—birthday-cake-flavored body creams, that nasty sweat of hers. Sweat that’d make a dog gag.
“See, I should just throw all these dresses out,” she’s saying. “Or give them to the needy. Do you want them?”
I gag a bit just then.
“If you get me sick I’ll be so mad,” Mamie says covering her mouth with one hand. “You know how sick I was in Switzerland? Those stupid nuns just kept splashing water on my face. I could have killed them.”
Like sisters, my martin and I are birds of prey together, sick for death, dirt, anything wreckish, darkened, just out of reach.
“Then stay away,” I say from the bath. “You go on, you go, Mamie, have fun,” I say from the balcony, from under the covers, hiding between the palm fronds in the corner. Oh, I will. Then go then. Fine. That’s alright. Go on. Okay, lazy. Okay. Bye. See you later.
As though I’ve planned this all out:
It is enough, I tell my martin, for the story to take a turn for the worst. Because there wasn’t enough death in our days, I apologize. Like sisters, my martin and I are birds of prey together, sick for death, dirt, anything wreckish, darkened, just out of reach. But instead, there was Mamie, complaining about the falcon-footed, too-tankish bathtub, the difference in the catsup here, ice-creams too soft, carpets not dampening enough in the hotel halls:
“Oh God,” she’d say. “I can’t sleep with that ruckus in the halls.”
Astir like a chicken muffled under burlap, she tosses in bed then jumps up and jolts the door open, curls smashing like chimes, grimacing, face caked in green—“from the hotsprings!”—clay.
“Stop walking by!” she hollers at the guests in the hall, then slams the door.
“Americaine,” I hear a Mathieu say through the wall. Hearing the word makes me homesick.
Texas smelled like okay flowers and good burning asphalt. That night I seek out dreams in the cool woods of Blessing and make a deal:
I tell the darkness, “I’ll do anything you say. I’d trade my face, my eyes, my head, for an in with you.” Then I’d not have to fear it, I’m thinking. The lumbering sun overhead casts those sucking shadows. I don’t see straight. Texas stars, spurs, fall and pin me down. A train will run me over. Kids throw dead man bones over a hill. Mamie can’t be bothered to untie me from the tracks. She’s traded her laugh in for high-heeled shoes. They are just cheap department-store pumps—blue and already scuffed by the rough terrain, mucked already too in carrion. She gets into a fog-colored taxi and disappears. The sun turns me bright gold.
Next day I discover a new breed of man. He’s named Sol and he stands on the Bridge de Boue and jerks ropes in and out of the water. The ropes are affixed to chunks of rotted “boeuf” or a whole cooked duck.
I lean against the wrought iron rail and watch him jerk the rope. He does it so the meat jumps over the surface of the water and the rope goes slack and bouncy, then the meat plunks down deep and splashes and the blood from the meat mixes with the froth of the splash and then he jerks the rope again.
“This is how you fish?”
Licks his fingers, which disgusts me, slightly.
He has a thick face. Like all sand-colored brawn and greased and reflective and black hairs sprouted, big oiled roots beneath the surface built up around his eyes—honey brown, Mamie would say—thick brow, cheeks, fleshy and firm. Now he rests his elbows on the rail and looks out towards the town.
“You like?” And then, “You like me?”
The martin stirs inside my blouse, flutters around my armpits, snaps my bra.
“Yeah. Sure I do.”
I do something I haven’t done yet in the south of France. I untune my ears and look down and fidget. I feel scared.
“I’ll take you for a ride then,” says Sol.
“Americaine,” he says.
I feel I’ve been dealt a new hand. A life of infinite brackish water. His motorbike is a steely green. We ride out of town and into the farmland. We stop at a clearing amidst dense trees. Sol unravels his ropes and we lie together. His smell is gamey and cold, breath tepid and morose like stale wine. An earthworm slides into the crook of my collarbone, wiggles with each of Sol’s slow, greasy movements. Now and then he regards the empty sky with some apprehension. Yet he takes his time.
The martin sleeps roughly in my mussed hair. I’m wearing a fishstunk canvas catch-all over my head like a cape. My hands have been kept warm in Sol’s armpits and now taste of grilled meats.
By daybreak we are rolling down a cold and crumbly hill into the Valley de la Bouse. It’s a little village paved in brown, gaudy dirt, cowshitty roads empty now in the still, twang, country birdsong morning.
“Home,” says Sol.
The martin sleeps roughly in my mussed hair. I’m wearing a fishstunk canvas catch-all over my head like a cape. My hands have been kept warm in Sol’s armpits and now taste of grilled meats. When I blink, wherever I move my eyes there are black spots—empty holes singed on the edges all around in rings of fire. There’s a sharp and rusty fishgutting knife stuck in the rope lassoed around my waist, and Sol’s told me to show and twist it at anyone who asks what my business is anywhere I go. We stop outside the main square and Sol lights a cigarette. I swivel my hood away, freeing the martin. The nests knotted beneath the strangely undisturbed front-curtain of my hair unravel.
But wait. This is just some stupid town. I’ve been here before, says a signpost. I read it again. “Dauphine’s Swans,” it says now—a burnt-out drawing of a rat nibbling cheese, the kind of woodburn you make with your father’s glasses in the sun held at the proper angle. I’ll burn a hole through Mamie, I think. Between the eyes. Sol grunts and slaps himself awake a little. Well, I don’t feel good either. I rub my eyes with the butts of my palms. The faint lilac of Mamie’s last purchase at the perfumerie alights some nausea. It kind of hammers in my throat and gets my tongue all wet. I spit on my wrists. Understanding, Sol blows smoke at the wet skin. This is love, I think. At the very least. Shitsmell over dumb flowers for the sake of forgetting and being new, grown up a little, and just the right amount of alone.
This little village. The martin gets back into my hair. He seems put off by something. A small dog scratches its paw at a worn wood door and is let in. Then the worn wood door opens and the dog is let out. It walks along the road now carrying a kitten on its jaw. Sol throws his head back, making a cold cleft note with his throat. In my short time with him, I’ve come to understand this as a way of saying, “How could I forget?” He reaches down his pants and puts what he pulls out in his mouth, sucking it like gristle. Then he puts it on my finger—our marriage ring. Cuts the engine. We walk alongside the bike towards the square hand in hand.
That first day I start turning gray. We make the rounds quietly around the village. Sol fills a stained duffel with family heirlooms, soda bottles filled with liquor, bruised pears, baguettes, embroidered linens and so on. Every visit to every friend and relative requires for me to sit with the children, pretend to help them to knit a sock, throw a pebble in a bowl, put a beetle on its back, go pee. Sol comes to get me regreased, breath refreshed with smoked cheese, fresh onion, big bulbous hand gripping me up by the neck. He plunks a cherry between my lips with his fat thumb.
These people play just whatever’s on the radio. Their children barely look up. The children barely move. It’s as though bricks will fall from the sky.
I sleep that first night on a scratchy wool blanket in Sol’s father’s shed. The horses throw hay over the crooked divider and talk about their birthdays. They are twins, these two horses. They want to know who is older. And yet they don’t want to know who is older. They say they both feel young. They say they can’t remember being born, who came first, who second. They say they love one another, but for each his own happiness he prays he is second born, since the first born always gets the brunt.
I consider myself.
If I cross my eyes slightly my skin fuzzes over gray as mousefur. I wonder if my skin is changing or if my eyes are. Those people are still playing that radio. Just whatever’s on. Soap commercials. Some kind of phoney opera. I can hear them in the house slurping soup, shaking petals from the bouquet. If I had a mirror I’d fix it on my shoulder always to know who’s behind me. I wonder, maybe that’s what my martin is for: to tell me what I can’t see. I keep my knife stuck blade-deep in the dirt by my side. I sleep.
In the morning Sol is there.
“Hi,” I say.
He waves his hand and continues to pick at the dirt with a stick. His drawing looks like a pile of bones.
From the house I smell the fish have fried. I duck beneath the laundry line and peek inside. The Grandmere sits at the kitchen table kneading her thighs and spitting into a cup. She’s got a green dress on. Her hair’s pulled tight back like a doll. She smiles to welcome me in.
“I’m not good at doing dishes,” I tell her, fingering a stack of dirty plates.
She talks and bobbles and laughs and winces and shakes her head for a while.
I don’t nod or shrug or squirm my mouth around. I show her the ring Sol put on my finger.
“Put your hands here, cherie,” she says, and carefully takes my open palms face-down on her knees. They feel soft-boned and useful. I mean to be polite: I don’t lift my hands away. She leans back a bit in her chair.
“Tell me, what do you like?” she asks me. Her gums make a sound when she moves her mouth. Small nervous white hairs, like shy grass, grow from the creases of her wrinkled chin. Her eyelashes are caked with eye-batter. She seems irrespective of her own face and things growing on it. I listen carefully, holding my breath not to smell her, out of honor. Speaking slowly now, “Qu’est-ce que tu aimes?” She cocks her head sweetly and flutters her battered lashes.
I begin to tell her. I begin to lie, to please her. And she nods and closes her eyes and smiles.
“I like sailing and dogs and I like reading about history, ancient kinds, old stones,” I’m saying. “I like plotting ways, stars, knowing which way the wind blows, etcetera. I used to like tunnels, caves, those sort of hidden places but now I prefer to be outdoors. I like to cover my arms so that they don’t get burned from the sun,” I’m saying. “I like peaceful music, the ocean, counting numbers, long strands of grass.”
“Put your hands a bit higher,” she says, moving them for me up along her thighs. “Rheumatic,” she says.
“I like stories with surprise endings. I like it when flowers never die.”
“And higher still,” she says.
I don’t want to be rude.
“I like anything,” I say. And this, too, is love.
“Fish,” I say.
I lean and rest my face in the lap of her crumbsy apron, breathe deep.
“Smells like?” she says.
Fish. And I creep my hands up a little more.
The next morning Sol and I ride the twins out of the valley. The martin sits between my horse’s ears. Sol carries fishing rods strapped to his back like arrows and a pail of dead rabbits dangles from his horse’s throat. He throws me a stale hunk of bread. I take a few bites and drop it in a slow-running brook from atop my horse. A storm-petrel lands on the bread and rides it down the brook. Ha ha. It’s the same size as my martin.
The sky begins to close. The hills spread and the sea appears down beyond a bank of clouds. A small cliff stops the horses. Below are just brown rocks and sand.
“Leave the young one here,” says Sol, pulling me off my horse.
It begins to rain.
It’s me, Mamie.
I’ll tell you what about those nuns. They boil cow legs in big pots in the big kitchen next to the infirmary and serve the sick girls just clear broth with stupid little dry crackers, feed the meat to the dogs, and put the bones up their own underpants. We could tell from how they walked around they just left the bones up their underpants all day. And they go around kissing one boy’s picture. They lick his face at the altar and moan and pet each other’s cloth-covered heads. This boy looks like a girl, in a long white dress and ugly scraggly hair—I’ve seen him all over the place. Why they love this boy, I don’t know. They think the boy is in these bones, I think. I think they think by putting these bones in their underpants, they’re making love to him. As though that were how it’s even done.
I kept telling them, “I’m hungry.”
“Sisters,” I even called them. “Sisters, hey, I’m so hungry. Feed me something besides these stupid crackers. This soup tastes like cowspit. Come on!” They carried me to the garden and sang a dumb song. They laughed and danced in a circle. Their heavy black skirts flopped around. You know what kind of shoes they wore? Men’s shoes. When I got well enough to walk around, I’d watch them in the chapel, crowing like heated cats at a strung up statue of that boy they love. He was made of dark wood. I would watch them through the stained glass windows. At least I haven’t got that life, thank you God, I thought, looking in on them. Anything but men’s shoes.
I told them, “Let me use your telephone. My dad’s got friends all over. Doctor friends.” They just kept splashing cold water on my face. They would not listen. The other sick girls rolled their eyes. This was Lucerne. I could see the lights from a casino from the second-floor window. I got real bold and antsy waiting till they let me out of there. “Who’s in charge?” I wanted to know.
I wrote my cousin a letter. I had my suitcase full of travelers cheques. The sisters told me I’d been poisoned. They said to stay, kiss the picture, drink more broth. No thank you. When I left they all followed me to the train station, filing down the roads and alleys. They looked at one another with worried eyes, ugh. Each time I didn’t know my way, they’d point and cross themselves. “I’m fine, go away now,” I told them. They crouched around the crowds at the station and stirred around the platform as I boarded the train, like they were conjuring something. “As if,” I said to them. “Shoo,” I said from my seat at the window. They just stood there like sorry cats. A man and wife recrossed their legs and looked carefully at my face. The train started with a few shaky halts. The sisters got on their knees. I covered my face with my hands and made a wish.
A few hours later, I saw France.
Well, now I was living! I ate pistachios and looked in the windowglass at my face. I was pretty! Those sisters had done something right, at least. A boy came and took the empty seats the man and wife had left. I rubbed the salt off my hands on the soft brown cloth cushion.
“How old are you?” he asked me.
“I’m sixteen,” I told him.
That’s really what happened. I’d tell you anything. Ask me anything. I’m your open book.
Now you say:
“Do you like your little cousin?”
In a word, yes. My little cousin is thirteen. We share a suite here in the hotel. I’m supposed to be her chaperone. She’s turned into a grouchy kind of stray cat—gray and brown and black splotches. What am I supposed to do? She drags in all kinds of dead things from outside. The smell of her bed is like a rotted pot of flowers. I imagine her out on the road tonight—all those nice clothes going to rags walking in the dirt, so careless. But do I care? I don’t. As long as what she does doesn’t hurt me, she can do whatever she wants. I have boys in striped swimsuits rub me with coconut oil by the pool. A frumpy girl brings me a pina colada. I suck the squirty maraschino cherry and always have a date for dinner, whether my cousin is around or not. She must be caught in the rain out there, I guess. They say there’s going to be floods and mudslides. A torrent brewing over the ocean coming to wash out the town. Fa la la. What can I do? A big hurricane with winds so strong the staff upstairs is boarding up our windows, no one is permitted to leave the hotel, and my cousin is out there, what did she say, hunting around for her dead bird? Yes, a big, big storm is coming. That’s the chitchat in the dining room tonight.
Ottessa Moshfegh has had her short stories appear in Fence, Noon, Sleepingfish, Unsaid, and Vice Magazine. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.