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Sprawling on the bed in a lamplit summer condo, we tickled each other between tokes and spread blinds with fingers, wondering whether it was raining or not. Cecilia propped herself up in one of our laps — whoever’s it was changed with the day and the mood, or maybe it didn’t; we never kept track—and we’d bend chapped lips to her upturned face, breathing secondhand smoke from the spliff into her mouth. Sometimes our lips touched, but often they didn’t, and we always forgot what we meant to say next. Some of us worked, but our managers were lazy, so we showed up when we would, borne on the sway of our own inclinations, muddled and unprecarious, often unchecked.
We lived at the beach with saline breezes and sand between sheets, left by Cecilia or one of us guys who always forgot to shower before climbing in bed beside all the others with the TV muted and the local radio streaming through a smartphone propped against tissue boxes stacked on the nightstand. Someone always stopped to get takeout for lunch; the Mexican place on the corner gave portions that lasted through dinner, and we ate frugally, smoked indulgently, and, when one of our older siblings or parents visited for the weekend, we’d coax them into buying us booze for the week which we drank until the condo was dry as our mouths. Cecilia knew a guy who would stop by the place, smoke in bed with us, then ask that we guys hang in the living room. After remuneration—Cecilia’s doing—the guy would leave, telling us to live slow, think fast. Cecilia didn’t mind, just brushed her teeth and settled back between the inseams of our less demanding laps.
She came from a family of brothers who, she insisted, were just like us. We only asked once to know anything more. Not exactly like us, someone said one day with Cecilia obtuse-angled, arms wrapped around his knees, her own legs off the bed, head tipped for a toke. Almost exactly, you’d be surprised, she said between gray breaths. That’s a shame, we all thought, but none of us said, and the rest of summer we pretended to forget that however far from normal this was for all of us, to Cecilia it was that, only that: routine.
The balcony overlooking the block—where fat vacationers in patterned trunks and ill-fitting tankinis waltzed toward the beach—was cluttered with cushion-less deck chairs where we’d sit in the mornings, before the thick plastic bands got too hot from the sun. The inflatable pool toys where we propped up our feet gradually warped and deflated as summer developed. As guests, too drunk to care or too sick to tolerate, crashed on the balcony, in sleeping quarters made of pool noodles and floats. If, by the afternoon, they hadn’t yet been roused, Cecilia would slog out in dollar store flip-flops, offer them water, then tell them to leave. It was our condo, and she was possessive; girls never stayed in our bed, nor would we have wanted them to. We had Cecilia beyond whose warmth in our laps we need not have sought condolement. Harboring guests was like hogging the spliff, and we obeyed when she said it was time to pass.
We wore through summer like Cecilia through the soles of her cheap flip-flops. Our seasonal jobs petered out with the tourists. Gradually, we sobered up, went home, back to school. There, in the condo, we left Cecilia one day; the soles of her feet, blackened from walking between beach and condo, curled and uncurled in the gauzy late day haze. It’s time, we told her. We hope you’ll be okay. She told us her brothers would be by to get her at the end of the month. Until then she had leftovers and pot enough to last.
I wonder, we said in rounds, trundling away from the beach in one of our Jeeps, I wonder what happened to Cecilia this summer. And none of us could answer; it wasn’t a question. We just sat with our hands on our knees where she used to dangle herself on the days spent in bed, and we squeezed the flesh there, eyes out the windows, praying to God that her brothers were nothing like us.
Charlie Griggs's writing has been published by Hobart, Prime Number Magazine, Blue Lake Review, Foundling Review, and Floodwall Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]