by Shannon Garvey
You be the eyes. I’ll be the ears. You, Pete — you’re our nose.
There’s a resounding OK from our group and I look at the ground. The gray sand gives way beneath my sneakered feet. The canvas is soaked through and the cold is close by but at bay. We trudge on in a line.
I can’t see where I’m going! Justin shouts and we all laugh in the sand, the rain pelting down, falling slanted on our heads.
Head to the trees! I smell the trees!
You smell my farts...
I reach out and push the rain jacket in front of me. It grunts and snickers. We drift from the exposed sand into a patch of scrubby trees for cover. Pete runs ahead and jumps from a low hanging bough, landing softly. The plants here barely cling to the earth, like mythical vegetation on Mars. I think I could dig them all up with a clamshell if I tried.
Absinthe! Justin turns his body, offering his backpack up for examination. Brandon extracts the big blue bottle and pulls off the cork with a pop. My nose is running and I wipe away at it with the crumpled and soggy tissue pulled from the reserve in my pocket. I shift my feet. Justin drinks from the bottle and passes it to his right. You take a swig and wiggle as it goes down. I grab onto it — the condensation makes my grip stick just enough to compensate for my small hands. I breathe through my mouth before putting the heavy bottle to my lips and drinking in. The green, viscous liquid slides down the back of my throat and leaves licorice on my tongue. I’m warmed from the inside and laugh before passing the vessel to Brandon.
Oh, shoot. He shrugs and drinks conservatively. We continue passing the Absinthe around and around until the bottle grows light. We huddle under the scrubby branches that offer nearly no cover from the rain, hidden in the dunes — far away from anyone. We begin to chant, swaying and jumping in unison as if our Absinthe cult were performing a ritual sacrifice. A sacrifice to the rain… to the dunes… or to nonsense.
I look to the left. There is a pair of underwear hanging from a nearby branch. I sniffle, but the snot drips down to my upper lip and seeps into the corner of my mouth.
Onward! Justin takes a long, selfish pull and puts the bottle in the backpack with a firm zip. I pull my fingers out of my sopping mittens and push them against my cheeks — both are cold. We emerge from the circle with our heads higher than our necks and wetter still than ever before. I break into a run and laugh at the heaviness of my steps, the warmth in my blood, and the tightness in my chest as the sand absorbs the push of my feet and pulls me down. The boys follow my run through the pelting rain and overtake me. My face is cold and my snot mixes in with the rain on my chin. We approach a hill and my breath becomes thick with the incline. My body loves the weight of the hill and the rain although it is sharp against my skin. I reach the top and laugh loudly at all of the lightness and the tripping, falling heaviness.
At the crest of the hill, a bowl of sand rolls out in front of us. You’re the first to run back and charge for the lip, flipping and landing hard. I run down, my legs falling behind and quickening. I feel like a child about to crash and when I fall into the wet sand I land with a thwack and grunt through my laughter. I hear the boys shouting in response, but I wait for a moment. I stay where I’ve landed and stare up into the grayness and blink through the dropping rain. I listen to my breathing, quiet against the heavy sand.
I’m reminded of snow days — of falling into the thick white after rushing downhill with limbs smaller than I have now. I’m reminded of trying to follow each snowflake from the sky before they would land and melt on my cheeks — reminded of holding my breath until I could hear the foghorn.
Last New Year’s I went sledding. I fell down the sharp hill in my thin top and lingered for a beat too long at the bottom of the hill. Someone slid hard into my head and I began to cry, sitting up and bawling from the whiskey and the shock, but also from the fact that you weren’t there. That we had never spent New Year’s together. I should’ve known I guess. I kept crying, the tears coating my face and solidifying like ice as if something were actually the matter.
Now the rain keeps falling and my body wants to stay close to the ground, but the laughter pulls me up. I see You and the boys rolling down the hill, leaving thick marks in the sand. We stand in the middle of the bowl and look around, noticing the desolate landscape. I shiver and wipe my nose with my sleeve.
I think we need to find cover someone suggests. We continue our trudge out the way we came, up the other side of the bowl, putting foot into footstep until we see the red and yellow leaves remaining on thicker trees than the dunes can sustain. We see the end of the path covered by the trees from our point of view above and the encroaching earth more solid than the sand it touches. In one final sacrifice, the boys catapult their bodies down into the leaves landing in the sand and falling out of sight, each like Alice down the rabbit hole. I see you hesitate before you leap and I think to myself:
People throw themselves into the unknown all the time.
From the Author
Born in Rhode Island, I grew up navigating by the shore, listening to the train go by at night, and waiting for the foghorn blare to through the snow. I graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in Neuroscience and Behavior. I now live in Kittery, Maine and work as a bartender by night.
I love the smell of water before it floods my nose and doctors have told me before that I have sand in my ear canal. The intertidal zone is my greatest fascination. Besides that, I love the feeling of cold fingers in the fading light, getting lost on foot, and I often stop what I’m doing to watch the sunset.