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Sunrise At Sunset

By Ann Gonzalez

The sand gives way, melting under my feet with every step. I lean forward like I am pushing against the wind or towing a trunk. I wish the hideout were closer. Sarah and I must walk the length of Breaker Beach to get to it. Cutting into the reeds, it is difficult to remember which switch to take. Eventually we find our way to a small clearing with a roof of sky.

“To hell with you! I don’t give a shit about you or your stupid ideas.”

I want, so much, to say this to my friend. Don’t get me wrong, I like Sarah; she is my best friend. It’s just that she has been teasing me all day about the way I look. She wants to know why my long, brown hair is so thin and lifeless. “Where’s the body?” she repeatedly asks. For some reason, I thought when summer freed us from our freshman year I would be able to forget, for a few months, about not being pretty. I swallow my words with gulps from a bottle of Tequila Sunrise.

Sarah and I have been making this hike, regularly, since summer began. Each day, before we make the trek, we steal a few cigarettes and bribe my older brother to buy us the orangey liquor. The mix is cheap, sickly sweet, and packs a punch. That’s why we like it.

Sarah is chattering on incessantly, telling me what I have to do to make myself more attractive.

“Sam,” she says. “Samantha, I am serious, you need to wear makeup. You’re all freckly and you’re starting to break out. It won’t kill you to use a little eyeliner and blush.” Sarah sits up a little straighter and pulls her shoulders back a bit. “And for God’s sake stop buttoning the top button of your shirt. You look like a friggin’ nun.” To punctuate her point she pulls open her own shirt exposing the edge of her soft-cup bra. I finger the button at my throat.

I know Sarah wants to cure me of my flat-chested, homely-girl isolation. Her intentions are good. As I listen, I hug my legs to my chest. I place my head on my knees and gently rock. “Okay, makeup,” I mumble into my thighs.

Even though I look tightly wound, in my mind I am leaning back arrogantly, resting my broad shoulders against the wall. I am drinking tequila, real tequila, not the candied version. I drink it straight, out of the bottle, with a hundred-year-old worm smiling at me from the bottom. I drink and drink until the worm writhes on my tongue. I bite the head off, smile, and eat the rest. In my dream, I take a drag off a self-rolled cigarette and look up at the purple sky. I tell my friend to “shut the fuck up.” I am rugged and hard. I don’t even look at her. Smoke slithers from my nose.

Really, I hang on her every word. More than anything I want her to have a good time. I want her to like me. I nod and agree to make all the changes she suggests. I will wear lower cut shirts and makeup. I will touch people more. I will flirt and act interested in every dumb thing guys want to talk about.

I take two more big gulps from the half-empty bottle. “Okay, Sarah, okay. I get it.” In my best falsetto I sing, “I feel pretty. Oh so pretty. I feel pretty and witty and bright!” I pretend I am looking in a mirror and brushing my hair back from my face. I hate the way I am behaving. I hate my simpering need for Sarah’s approval. If it weren’t for her I would never even consider curling my hair or plucking my eyebrows.

Five years ago, when I was ten, I allowed a boy, a young man really, to put his fingers in my vagina. In turn, I agreed to pull on his penis. To this day it makes me queasy to think about it. I don’t know why; it wasn’t that bad. I mean, I didn’t like it, but I think it kind of messed me up. I can’t explain it, but I’ve been wary of boys and men ever since.

As the sun sets behind the reeds, the hot summer air rapidly cools. Sweat condenses on our arms like dew. Sarah’s voice has turned into a relentless hum. It must be the drink; I no longer understand a word she is saying.

“Sam, stop hogging the Sunrise. Give it here,” she chides. I hand over the bottle. We warm ourselves by it as though it were a fire.

Sarah has long blond hair. She is thin and smart, and some would call her nasty. The boys really like her. I do too. I envy her more than anything. She doesn’t waste time catering to people who can’t do something for her. She smokes Newport Menthol Extra Longs that she steals from the grocery store; I smoke Winston Lights that I steal from my mother. She is bold; I am not.

I am still crouched in a small ball. “Sarah, I don’t think I can walk up to some guy and start stroking his chest or rubbing his neck. I can do the other things, but I don’t know about that.” I lift my head from my knees for a moment and shake it ‘no’ resolutely. I might be able to do the fake flirty laugh, but touching an arm or shoulder seems impossible.

“Sam, it’s easy. Just go like this.” Sarah reaches out and runs her hand down the inside of my upper arm. “Nice shirt,” she whispers, lowering her head so she is looking at me through the lace of her eyelashes.

Goose bumps rise on my arms, over my whole body. It takes all of my self-control to keep from unraveling. I want to wrap her in my arms, my legs, my lips. I want to kiss her smiling, open mouth, to caress her small, soft
breasts. If only I was a boy. If only I didn¹t give a shit what anyone
thought. But I'm a girl and scarcely able to breathe.

Sarah laughs. She hands me the last few remaining slugs of tequila.

“Drink up Sam. Everything is going to be okay,” she smiles. “It¹s easy once you get the hang of it.”

We finish the bottle. I fall down while standing up, and stand up while falling down. I am very drunk. I weave a long roundabout path searching for the shortest way home. I saunter this way, then that. The sun is almost gone now, setting over the breakwater and the blue horizon. In the murky light, I see a road ahead. More than anything I want to go straight home, straight to bed. But, hard as I try, I continue to meander. I head this way and go that, steer that way and go this.

 

Ann Gonzalez knows what it is like to hide out in the high grass of a Cape
Cod beach. Her last story published in VerbSap was Mad Dog.

Photo courtesy of Image*After.

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