Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The door closes behind me and the rubber bottoms of my sandals slap down the worn wooden steps, the noise piercing the almost-light quiet of the campground at 5:32 a.m. As my right foot touches the sand below the bottom step the wind blows and an involuntary shiver runs through me. It’s fucking freezing out here.

Back up the steps. I slide open the glass storm door and walk through the living room, the light from the bathroom slithering through the crack at the bottom of the door. Chris is peeing. I hear her wash her hands, and suddenly feel the urge. All night curled up in a ball to keep away the cold puts pressure on a girl’s bladder. I lean against the creamy-ocher counter, fingering the knots in my hair as I wait my turn.

Chris pulls open the door and I cringe in anticipation of squeaking hinges, but there is only the swisshhh-pop of the door sliding into place. Her hair is piled in a medusa knot on top of her head, dark chocolate tendrils tumbling out as she steps forward into the kitchen. She wipes mascara from under her eyes and I hear Josh stirring in his bed through the doorway I’m standing next to. Poor bastard didn’t bring any warm clothes.

“You want tea?” Chris is rummaging around in the cupboard, looking for mugs. “Yeah, I just gotta go to the bathroom. Anyone else coming?” I turn to face her when I reach the door, my hand on the frame. “I don’t know. Didn’t you ask them last night?” She finds the egg shell-white mugs and the sink hisses as she fills the electric kettle with overly chlorinated water. “Nah, but I bet they’re still up. They were still out there when I came in to call Liam at 2:00.”

I slip the door closed and stand in front of the mirror. Fuck that. It’s way too early.

I open the door, the red ON light from the kettle coming at me like a laser through the dim grey glow of the cabin. Chris is in the bedroom putting on more clothes. I put tea bags into the mugs she’s set out and let the water keep boiling; we’re not ready to go outside yet. My hands and hips rest on the green arm of the couch, waiting.

“Here.” She tosses me a blanket. “You’re gonna freeze.” I wrap it around my shoulders and nod gratefully. “Yeah, I went out while you were in the bathroom. I thought this country was supposed to be too hot for its own good.” “So much for that.” Chris takes the kettle off the stand and pours the steaming liquid into the mugs. She hands me one, handle first so I don’t burn my fingers.

“Ready?” I raise my eyebrows and start toward the door, blanket dragging on the creaking tile floor. Chris walks through as I slide it open for her, her bare feet skipping lightly. She’s at the bottom when I remember: I promised Josh I’d wake him. I hitch my blanket higher and trudge back up the steps. He’s curled up in his bed like a cocoon, the pale blue of the covers barely registering in the half-light. I touch his arm through the cotton as his sleepy, still-drunk eyes turn to look at me. “Come on buddy, gotta get up if you don’t wanna miss it.” “Shit. Why is it so fucking cold? It’s fucking Australia. Isn’t there like an ozone problem or something?” Josh fumbles to put his numb feet into his sandals and rewraps the blanket around himself as I gesture to the counter. “There’s tea if you want it. See you out there.”

Slap slap, my sandals hit the steps for the third time and at the bottom I leave them next to the wall of the cabin. I start out towards the path, my feet crushing the top layer of pine needles, sending up the smell of Liam’s cologne. The scent stings my nostrils like a jellyfish, traveling into my lungs and lashing their boundaries, leaving angry red welts. At the opening in the tree line the needles under my toes disappear. Fuck, even the sand is cold.

Chris is sitting on the beach, her blanket wrapped around her and her feet buried in the sand. She’s resting her mug on her left knee and hugging the other to her with her arms. “Whose fucking idea was this?” I sit down heavily and the last word gets pushed out in a hiss. Chris doesn’t even look at me. “Yours.”

She holds my mug wordlessly as I rearrange my blanket, trying to find the least cold of all possible colds I could be at the moment. When I find the position that will allow me to raise my mug to my lips without sacrificing warmth, I take my tea from her and sit sipping it, burning my tongue.

I hear sifting sand and Josh comes stumbling through the trees onto the beach, his blanket wrapped around his head like he’s the Virgin Mary if she was gay and male and not a virgin at all. “Sit down, Mary, show’s gonna start.” Josh stays standing to my right, one big column of pale blue. The water folds over itself 20 feet ahead of me, rushing further and further away until another crest breaks to take its place. I wonder are there jellyfish in there. Men of War.

Chris puts her mug in front of her, deftly sneaking her arm in and out of the cloth wrapped around her shoulders. The tea is gone. “Want more?” She shakes her head no. “Don’t wanna miss anything.” I drink the dregs of mine and set it next to hers. “Same here.” I can just make out the island, black and curious-looking against the periwinkle sky. It’s too far to swim to but it doesn’t matter; I hate swimming in the ocean.

“Holy shit.” Josh points across the water. The sun is crisp and clear and yellow, still only a sliver but as I watch it rise it turns white and makes the clouds behind it an unreal shade of orangey-pink. The light hits the water in a thin stripe the same color as the sun itself, but the rest of it is a shimmering silver-blue-lilac. The water moves stealthily towards me up the beach, retreating each time only to come closer the next. Shhhhhhh.

Next to me Chris is motionless. I wonder if she’s trying to figure out how this is going to go, our being away from home for four months. She gave me the excuse to come back to Sydney that I’ve been looking for since I came to visit Liam last June for our anniversary. My family thought I wanted to come here to fix things with him when really there was nothing left to fix after August. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there and covered it with wanting to look out for Chris while she was on the other side of the world. Not like the fam is around ever but still- even the weekly phone calls about classes and you’re-a-big-city-girl-now gets boring when life as you know it has been pulled out from under your feet. It’s not my fault this happens to be where he lives. I just love it here.

Josh rewraps his blanket. “I’m going back to sleep. I’ll meetcha back here when it’s warmer.” He turns and walks towards the cabin, and now I can see that his blanket is white, not blue. His feet sink unsteadily into the sand and I wonder if I look like that, a slipping stumbling mass of poly-cotton blend.

“Ready to go in?” Chris is standing; I didn’t even notice her get up. “Nah I’m gonna stay. Don’t hog the covers.” She bends down to hug me, sand falling out of her blanket and into my hair and clothes. “Wipe your feet off when you come in, I don’t want sand in the bed.” “Yes ma’am,” I say, and give her a wave.

The sun’s above the water now and I can’t feel the cold. Maybe it’s the tea, or maybe I finally just got numb. Either way I lift my toes and watch the sand fall down the twin slopes of bones in my feet. I bury them again and feel it now, the cold rushing up my calves. I’d call but my phone’s in the cabin and Liam’s probably asleep anyway. We used to watch the sunrise out my window when he visited, making plans for after graduation- marriage, a green card, kids. I wonder would he remember that if he could see this one.

I pull my blanket tighter and shut my eyes. Light turns the inside of them red-pink-orange-purple and I can still see the waves rolling towards me; they’re fucking relentless. I open my eyes and stand up, my joints stiff with cold and having been in the same position for an hour. My feet and legs go pins and needles as I walk across the sand toward the pine-covered path. I duck under the limbs of the trees and recross the carpet of dark green, picking my sandals up by the straps before climbing the steps. I slide open the door and set my mug on the table. Sand rains out of my clothing and I can’t help feeling sorry for whoever is going to sweep the floor tomorrow while I’m lying on the beach getting a tan.

Chris is asleep, her knees drawn close to her chest and a pillow in between them. Her hair has come loose and lies fanned across the pillow like tentacles, lying in wait. It’s colder in here than it was outside. No heater. Everything in the room is illuminated by the sections of light that sift through the blinds, and as I climb into bed they slip across my body, dissecting it. Chris wakes up just enough to tell me not to steal the covers, as if I could the way they’re wrapped around her tighter than a straightjacket. My sunburn from yesterday flares as I lay on my side staring at the wall, trying to avoid thinking about anything but the white paint. Chris rolls over and puts a hand on my shoulder. “Go to sleep. You’ll see him in a couple of days.” My “Yeah” floats into the lightening room and I wonder if I even want to. She knows I don’t know. She answers my phone sometimes when Liam calls so I don’t have to make a choice.

I check my phone, 6:47. Damnit. No messages. Chris is asleep so I gently pull a corner of the comforter over myself and close my eyes. Nothing like a best friend to remind you that even the most beautiful sunrise on a trip halfway across the world can only make you forget for a moment. Bitch.

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