by Elizabeth Matthews
We let our hair grow uneven. We twirl the split ends between our fingers, pluck out the dead ones — black, lifeless strands. They break away easily, without any pain. We dress the same, different shades of purple with scooped necks that show a hint of our developing breasts, cut-off jean shorts with frayed edges that tickle our thighs. We have been to third base, but our teeth are still covered in metal that scrapes against the pink flesh inside our mouths. We chew gum, eat hard candy and corn on the cob.
The female no-see-ums feast on our blood. We let ashes from our cigarettes fall on our shins to scare them away.
Carolyn’s hair turns curly in the heat. She leans her head against her forearm as she stands behind the snack bar window. It’s nearly 5:00 in the middle of June, almost the longest day of the year. We’ll still have light for hours. We smile at each other, our eyes too tired to sparkle. The night before we met on the third hole to drink vodka that we stole from our parents.
We are looking for secrets, the way everyone we know has a secret. But secrets are hard to keep.
Carolyn licks her finger and rubs out hot dogs on the chalkboard. Last one, she says. Want to split?
We like when the sun starts to go down, the way that dusk makes us feel older, how it evens out our skin tone. Everyone looks good in this light, our older sisters tell us. We help Carolyn shut down — restock the chips, turn off the soda machine, wipe away the ashes that have fallen between the wooden planks.
When her shift is over, we walk to the end of the pier. A seagull makes a cry that sounds like a squeaky gate opening. We are barefoot and the planks give us splinters. Sometimes boats cruise past. We stand in a way that looks like we don’t care, head tilted to the side, a hand on one hip, the heel of one foot digging into the ground, our gazes beyond each other like hitchhikers who won’t put their thumbs up.
We remember it’s high tide. The water in the bay is dark. It doesn’t take long to take off our clothes. We run our tongues along our teeth, allow them to get stuck or pricked. We go through the squeaky gate and jump, our splashes silent as if they never happened.
Elizabeth Matthews received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Brain Child, Quality Women’s Fiction, and Brevity, and is upcoming in The Tishman Review. She teaches writing at Westport Writers’ Workshop in Connecticut.