Here is this week’s effort, a brief story taking place in Rhode Island and Martha’s Vineyard. Please respond with negative and/or positive feedback, anything would be nice, thanks!
“A Place Just West of Here”
Somewhere in the world St. Petersburg bubbled to lights, candied stars sweeping through sweet bistros and dapper arcades, along avenues and boulevards. Ivan imagined his brother switching on lamps, slipping tennis tickets into a book to hold his place, leashing Mowgli for a walk. Ivan allowed the cigarette to somersault gracelessly from his lips and pirouette on the water between his legs. The sun crested overhead, a white, aggravated eye over the island. He observed from the edge of the dock suburban trenches carved into hills on the far shore, alive with traffic and church bells. Ivan thought of the passport pinned over his bed, airfare safe in an envelope beside a calendar tagging off the days until November, when he would fly.
Since moving to Warren that August, Cam and Paris had taken to calling the cottage their “little hideout,” reaffirming its state of impermanence. –It’s no Big Apple, Paris admitted. Ivan had played along at first, but their typical nesting prevailed: they’d memorized the cable channels, maintained a library of takeout menus thicker than the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (which they’d been piled next to for precise comparison), and had dedicated some half dozen Sundays to redecoration.
Ivan refused took no part rearrange anything, especially his bedroom (despite the sun spilling onto his pillows at an hour previously unknown to him––Six). The idea of working another habitat into a home incensed Ivan. Already a year had been misspent on the “city” of Providence, waiting for degrees in the mail, talking about New York, keeping a casual eye out for Emma Watson. Tonight, no different.
–What’s so stunning about Russia is what I want to know, Paris asked from the bedroom. He and Cam were lying on Ivan’s bed, blowing smoke up at the fan. –That’s all I want.
Ivan’s practiced defense of his intentions deflated into an offended sigh.
–Oh, don’t be like that Rohr.
–I’m not. I don’t care.
Cam propped herself up on a pillow, storms of gold dust swirling around. –Ivan?
–Really. We’ve gone over it…thousands of times.
–He thinks there’s no winter in Russia, Paris said mostly to himself. –There’s winter in Russia you know? And it’s especially cold Rohr. Ever heard of Gulag?
Ivan shrugged, walked out through the kitchen to the porch where he lit the last of his pack. A trip to the store had threatened since last weekend. He could hear his roommates:
–He just misses his brother.
–So? That’s his family Anthony.
An inaudible beat, where Paris no doubt advised Cam not to call him that.
–You know what he wants. He was planning New York that morning, remember?
The reply came unaffected. –He’d be stuck with us if he didn’t have….
–Don’t, Ivan spoke coldly from the porch.
–Not even for cigarettes?
–Not for liquor.
–What if I bought a skirt Ivan? I’d wear it only for you. I’ll let you see my scars. Cam’s flirtations devolved into stoned laughter, rolling around the bed, blowing kisses so close it made them dizzy.
Ivan Rohr and Anthony Peck made crew September, freshmen year. By Columbus Day weekend they’d both fallen out of favor with coaches for “lax conditioning schedules,” which was administrative talk for doing drugs, attending parties, making friends. Sophomore year they were anonymous to the athletics department entirely. Anthony showed Ivan how to get select girls to show at parties, Ivan taught Anthony how to rolling cigarettes. They experimented with flavors of whiskey, talked about how unbelievably warm it was on the water and of what professions they’d invade with their respective degrees.
It was spring semester when they met Samantha Sweeting, champion equestrian, daughter of the dean, starlit eyes and a tooth for Jacob’s Creek. Her father called her “excessively charitable,” administrative talk for “falls in love with everyone.” Her gift of psychoanalysis, how jarring her eyes were stuttering through brief, chemical naps––in short, changed everything.
Generally breakfast was served out of a box at whatever time Paris grew anxious for company, ranging from predawn to four in the afternoon. Today they had toast off the stone kiln in the backyard, fishing for butter in various wasted tubs. Cam huddled in a baggy Emerson hoodie, ducking the chill sea breeze, gulls calling. The hoodie was one of Paris’s storied collection.
–Who’d you date from Boston, she asked, using her finger to cull for honey.
–No one. Please. I never dated anyone.
Cam studied herself. –She was huge.
Ivan busied himself with a grocery list, the contents of which would be of little consequence, Paris informed him. –The car hasn’t been gassed since Wednesday. It’s at the bottom of the hill, actually, not in the garage.
–You left it?
–I rolled home.
–And you expect us to last the winter as is? Or did you fix the bikes?
–What do you suggest I do Rohr, hunt the neighbor’s sheds for gasoline?
–You could, per usual, pick through my savings to cover it.
–Boys, now, Cam hushed them. –See? On the redbrick chimney of the kiln two seabirds had settled, necking and talking nice while a third looked on. They watched silently, trying to name them.
May of junior year the school paper––in an act of abnormally tenacious fact-finding––published pictures of Dean Sweeting “fraternizing” with a notable undergrad, a swim team starlet. Some paparazzi whiz-kid magnified two of the dean’s fingers (one bound by wedding band) hooked under the strap of her swimsuit. More photos leaked, staffers admitted to harassment, and by July the dean’s resignation had been signed, sealed, accepted. Mrs. Sweeting could not be reached for comment. Samantha Sweeting could not be reached at all, tucked away in the wilds of the Vineyard where Ivan’s brother had rented a house for Fourth of July and was considering names for the bengal he’d just bought.
The house crouched between sand dunes and fields sea grass. The first little hideout.
–I don’t understand men, Anthony suggested one evening. Ivan and his brother were fishing, Samantha catatonic on the hardwood. –They foster ambition all their life, achieve their position, then let desire ruin it. Jaws played in the other room. –Don’t you think nature would prevent it? How can you succeed by determination, only to have that same determination counteract all success? I’m being trying to be a little matter-of-act about it, I know, but…sweetie?
–Fuck it, was all she managed, depthless eyes trembling in hallowed slots.
The next morning Ivan’s brother cooked eggs seven different ways, served with salt and pepper and spices abroad. Ivan laid on the table a map of New York City, several blocks emphasized by highlighter, detailed with price and desirability (CBGBs! and The Garden!!!). –Let’s get out of here, he kept saying, although they were already gone. –Let’s move to New York.
Anthony bit his lip. –Brilliant.
They’d settle on a street later that day, at the beach.
The calendar over Ivan’s bed had been drawn in Visual Arts 441 last fall. A gift from Cam. She’d still been in a fair bit of shock, still doing rehab. The pages heavily inked, a black sense of the world feathered with pencil: teenagers ascending a rainy London evening (July), a fox swimming through the Dublin countryside (February), the willowy twist of a dress high on a hill overlooking Mallorca at morning (May). October bristled with grave cornstalks parading away from the distant profile of Kansas City, a scarecrow in the foreground with its head hacked into a violent smile. The stalks wilted downward to rows of clean panels which Ivan blacked out daily. –Almost November.
A moonless night, the starlight found her where she hung in the doorway, blue rings around her eyes.
–The heat’s on.
–I can’t sleep.
–Oh. Ivan could hear the waves, a chorale of insects. –Come here.
She stayed standing, her length of hair and collarbone taking shape. A white tee held to her chest, long legs shining pink and raw. –Better not. She hesitated, then added –Seriously, you would?
–I have to get off this island Cam.
Cool wind swept through, ringing the chimes and knocking at shutters.
–Yeah, okay…you know, I never thought I’d live on the water again, after…and people on the news, or Discovery, they seem so good about it, like, it’s easy for them to forgive or something. She sagged a little, absently pulling the hem of her shirt down. –It’s not for me.
–Those are the people they want though, on TV…Cam?
Her hand slipped from the frame, closed to her breast, gone with a whisper.
The next morning Paris sat at the foot of Ivan’s bed. He held the envelope in hand.
–What are you doing?
–Watching you sleep.
Paris handed the envelope over. –Just five dollars. For gas. Count it.
–I will. Ivan sat up and pinned the envelope back to the calendar. He looked at Paris. –What?
Paris shrugged, completely indifferent.
A small sound like laughter. –Trust me, I know.
Anthony had ordered Deja on vinyl, and the seventh track on that record played as a pale, pimply teenager leapt off the bridge screaming –There’s a shark in the estuary!
Ivan and Anthony bathed in the sun, recounting high school crushes, tampering with the tempo. A few yards off shore Samantha floated on a gray rubber mat. Against the nautical gauzed horizon tiny white sails hunted for sharks, an annual competition. They watched her, a red bowtie bikini, arms and legs splayed in starfish fashion, gold hair casting behind her riding waves.
Anthony broke the spell. –Have any idea how they run wires out here?
–For cable and telephones. They aren’t underwater, are they?
–I don’t know. No.
–I want nothing to do with it anymore. Islands. We’re island hoppers, if you hadn’t noticed. I’m through with it. It’s like we’re cut off from the rest of the world. If we never see another island again I’ll be stoked. Let’s go to Utah.
–Long Island is an island, and that’s where we’re going.
Anthony glanced at the map. –I’m not sure. He turned the record up. –Let’s go to Manhattan with a thousand bucks and tell a taxicab to take us to the moon.
–A thousand bucks won’t get you lunch in Manhattan.
Samantha had sailed further out. It was remarkable, Ivan thought, how big, black sunglasses blocked it all out, what she was thinking, what she was feeling, how maybe there weren’t eyes behind them at all anymore. –Will it be bad with Sam?
Anthony fiddled with the needle some more. –She’ll be fine by then. On a long enough timeline we’re all children of divorce.
–I mean living together. Won’t we….
–Fall in love?
–If it hasn’t happened yet I wouldn’t worry.
Ivan opened his mouth––the scream was lonely and remarkable: sharp, burning, the height of surprise. Horror snaked through the crowd. Ivan and Anthony stood up as the masses surged: hysterical parents waded through the surf, calling names; squeamish teenagers hopped the median to stand in the road, facing away from the carnage. Anthony hiked forward, slowly, drunken. Ivan scanned the water. Nothing at first, until he spotted the gray, rubbery mat, reduced to ribbons in the surf. He saw the long, pale body dragged onto the beach.
–Nine-one-one! Nine-one-one! –HELP! –We need an ambulance!
No one ever saw the shark.
Ivan shoved his way through and when he saw her he fell to his knees and knew she was dead. Her legs absolutely ruined, colorless tendons and raw, pink muscle sprayed across the muddy beach. Ivan did not realize until later that night he’d been sobbing the whole time, and not until the following winter would he understand, to his disgust, that it was not Sam’s unmoving body that broke his heart, but how her hands, channeling whatever cells of life were left, had seized Anthony in a firm proposal, her lips purpled and beginning to sputter an inanimate speech that signified: Don’t go, Don’t go, Don’t go. Upon this discovery he felt an intense shame (Don’t go, don’t go), longed to be away from him and her and the redolent scars (Don’t), but at the same time (go), what could he do but comply?
The lights of the convenience store buzzed the way the cicadas would buzz when they hatched next summer. –It’s cyclical, Ivan explained to Cam, who huddled against him, the frozen food section calling up goose bumps on her bare arms. –They live underground their whole lives, then come up for one summer to mate and die.
–That’s no way to live. She let go and made for a warmer aisle.
Anthony handled the checkout, pinching Ivan’s envelope between fingers, and called for a carton of Newports. –Are any of these cigars smokeable?
The cashier raised his brow. –No, he said. –Not if you stuffed them with the guts of a Cuban.
–Fuck it, give me one of those grape Dutches.
Back at the hideout Paris transformed the unsmokeable cigar into a fat blunt which he tested to the halfway point before passing it to Cam on the floor. Ivan stayed in his room.
He counted the stack once and counted it again. Slowly he lifted the envelope to the calendar, brought it back and counted again. He looked out the window at the water, he looked out the door of his room. Paris and Cam, stoned watching television. Some four hundred dollars missing.
He restacked the bills, flattened them out and sealed them away, briefly scanning the room for a little hideout before letting it carelessly to the ground. Cam had her legs crossed, laughing at something on TV, or something Paris said. He stood up.
–Paris, he shouted. –Did you remember butter? Did you remember milk? Did you remember to get the honey?