by Kristen Elde
We sat along the high shore of our favorite summertime river, arms extended behind us, proud tanned torsos catching the sun's best. Beach towels supported our thin frames, bodies ignorant at this age to the customary effects of the salt & vinegar potato chips and Thomas Kemper root beer we paired with breakneck conversation. My towel was red, yours pink. Rather than take up one each, we spread them side by side--we always did--our bikini bottoms nearly touching on one, our four legs spanning a small section in the center of the other.
In the company of only each other and, I might add, our burgeoning self-consciousness, we unraveled the week just behind us. I'm sure there'd been all sorts of controversy--meaningful glances, telling gestures, double entendres, what he meant to say. I must have had something particularly juicy, because I can still see your eyes flashing, your nostrils flaring over a bit of unexpected news. Challenging your goodie reputation, you scowled and swore, the noisy jays overhead playing up your discontent.
As the sun flattened into a straight line across the horizon, we brought legs to chests and your towel became our blanket. The river churned dark and fast and it was hard to believe that just an hour earlier we'd wiggled and flipped in there like a couple of fishes. If you'd asked me then, years ago, I would have said the day was about to close on us. Now, ten thousand sunsets into the future, I'd say the day was about to close in on us.
There was an interval that, until recently, my memory failed to register. But the other day, curled up on a Marriott bed situated clear across the country from you, I dreamed myself in between two tick marks on your old Guess watch and it occurred to me.
We stayed there, alone on that shore, for several minutes before retreating to the car. We tipped backwards, our matted salt-hair hitting sand still warm from the sun, searing globe now tucked completely behind the local mountain. And through the long, thin cry of a jay, we talked about the future.
Beneath black pines and emerging stars, you brought up college. You'd go away, but not far. You'd join the cross country team, although you wouldn't run very fast. You'd date a little, and one in particular would stand apart from the others, but it wouldn't--said as you surveyed a sample of tiny rocks pooling in the center of your palm--amount to much.
My turn. Face pointed skyward, I buried my hands in the small of my back as I talked about my own college experience. I'd stick closer to home than you. I'd arm myself with a small collection of already-friends, but this wouldn't prevent new connections from being forged. I turned to you and, as if afraid of being overheard, whispered that, me, I'd live the uninhibited life for a few, in the process scarring my perfect, untainted record. Like you, I would date, although my version would be longer and more tedious.
You rolled onto your stomach. As you rested your cheek against the back of your hand, you looked at me and earnestly declared your future love for the boy I was presently seeing. He and you would marry and have babies shortly after your college graduation, you explained, wincing a little in anticipation of, what, my attack? Not to worry, I assured you as I reached over to squeeze your shoulder. I would take well to the news. I would celebrate with you, I would carry your train.
I watched as a big bold moon illuminated the relief in your eyes. You hadn't thought it would be an issue, but you know, one can never be sure when it comes to such matters, you said in a voice wiser than you. Yes, I agreed.
I spoke easily about a move to occur late in my twenty-fifth year. All wanderlust and indecision, I'd be a big city girl--woman, I mean, giggling at the thought. Woman. And I'd have a man--no boys, thank you--at my side. But you didn't laugh; you cried instead. How would you deal with so much distance between us? Why would I create it?
That was where I lost clarity. That was the point at which I failed you. Because I didn't know why, only that it wouldn't really matter. I did my best to explain that you and I would grow apart over the years but that there would be no hard feelings, just distance. An odd expression took over your face and you brought your hands to your ears, as if you'd just then become aware of the commotion overhead. Or maybe it was me you wanted to stop hearing.
I wonder, do you remember this? To be honest, I'm not exactly sure I do. I can picture the conversation, but lately I've become confused over who said what. Was I telling you about you? Were you telling me about me? Was I the one who cried?
It could have gone either way. Like the particles of sand that memorialized our girlhood, trillions of ancient eyes tracking progress, we had enough on each other to, in the very least, serve as convincing understudies.
Not that you could have predicted this, I thought, as I dozed fitfully between clients. Not exactly a role I'd audition you for, either. At the sound of the knock, I closed my eyes and called out a welcome.
About the author:
Kristen Elde's writing has appeared in the Web editions of Pindeldyboz, McSweeney's, Word Riot, Flak, and in various health and fitness-related publications. She lives in New York City.