Seventeen all lissome energy and curves, her jeans tight, cut-off at the knees. Sunrise at the beach. Coppertone and cigarettes. Her dark Kennedy shades (Jackie, or John?). Lip-stick red like secrets of a rose.
I couldn’t have remembered this I wasn’t born. A photograph?
“Hey pass me a cig,” she killed a pink-stained butt in the sand.
“Smoking’s bad for you,” I said.
“Easy. Just a joke.”
“I’m…not in pain,” I said. “My hip, my back are young. I can run again. I can run along the beach till sun-set not in pain.”
“No pain, no gain,” she said.
“Fuck gain. I’d rather run.”
Those three guys about a hundred feet away, I didn’t like the way they looked at me. At her.
“Hey, fuck-head. What’re you looking at, fuck? Turn the fuck around and walk. C’mon, walk, walk, walk!”
“That’s my — your uncle, Lenny,” biting her lip. “Settle down, John Wayne.”
She laughed anyway, that crazy wild laugh.
“I don’t like the way he’s looking at me.”
I never liked the way he looked at me. What was he, nineteen in this scene? I could take him. I didn’t know how the hell old I was but I was certain I could make him sorry I’d ever been born (as I’m certain he one day would be/was — whatever).
“Those guys with him. I don’t appreciate their attitude.”
“I’ve never seen them before,”she said. “This is your post-card, not mine.”
McCoy and Johnson. Friends of my school days, not hers — or Lenny’s. I never liked the way they looked at her.
I watched, arms folded across my chest, trying to flex my rather puny biceps, till they were gone.
“Don’t panic,” she said.
“I’m not panicking. Who’s panicking?”
“Really, they’re only life-times,” she said.
This must be a photograph. An old one I might have seen god knows when or where. Snap-shot records of years passing. Glossy black-and-whites of heads caged in those thick black-framed glasses that made “near-sighted” synonymous with “nerdy,” “goofy,” “ridiculous.”
“Watch us watch ourselves grow old…”
“Oh, lighten up,” she turned away.
She walked to the water. I tried to recall — the photograph, or whatever previous, similar occasion sparked this hallucinatory deja vu. Generic Memory of no particulars. No individuals or details. Just what The Race knows and remembers.
“Jelly fish!” she screamed, running, laughing.
When she reached our blanket, she knelt and fumbled for a cigarette.
“Goddam jelly-fish!” she laughed. Then, mock-somber, “They were huge, enormous, and they multiplied.”
“Anticipate agony,” I said. “We know no other way.”
“Calm down,” she said. “Relax. It was all just skin.”
Instinctual, the rage. I wanted to kill her.
“Have you been working out?” she asked. “You really do look thin.”
“Day is torture,” I said. “Night skips like a record.”
“Enough soap operas and maudlin narratives! Paint me colors. Sing me songs…”
“The way things turn…I never wanted this. To be like this. One of those fuck-ups tamed by life…”
“Why did you bring me here?” she sighed.
“I dunno. It’s mother’s day. Figured I’d do something nice.”
“It was peaceful, before this, I mean after all that,” she exhaled blue smoke. “Eventually we all know peace. Or at the very least ignorance of, or indifference to, unrest.”
“I never loved you,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” she shrugged those adorable girl-shoulders. Ridiculous, corny, sentimental to compare them to wings; but that’s what they seemed; wings of a young bird considering flight; confident, not yet certain.
“I mean, you never did anything but smoke cigarettes and get wasted on Valium and Darvon and what-have-you. Listen to the god-damned radio or watch TV.”
“Staggering, the countless lives we live in bed,” she said.
“But I respected you, once.”
“Oh? When was that?” bored.
“The day you died. I could never explain it to anyone, I mean, not without them looking at me funny. But that was the first and only time I ever saw you do anything…real. I mean, you just woke up to go to work and died instead. That’s something serious, something people do, I mean a real thing everyone can do. Die. Death. Not something you can just return if it doesn’t fit.”
“Real. That what you want? Wanted?”
I looked not at her, but at the sea.
“Try this on for size,” she leaned into me, still on her knees, and kissed me. Not a mother-kiss, a deep, wet tongue kiss, “soul-kiss” I think they called it in her day. She was not my mother — yet. She was a seventeen year old girl, a beauty. Waft of pheromones and cigarettes and bubblegum and a perfume I didn’t recognize, not the fancy French one I would come to know.
I assume it was some kind of Oedipal thing, only my father wasn’t around for me to kill. I almost beat up my uncle though, which if analyzed, could make the situation appear quite perverse. Deranged, in fact, but “let’s not go there.” Let it go.
She was a hot young woman once. Smart, which I knew, but also charismatic, seductive, alive, whatever, which I never would have guessed.
And all the years passed through the fiery minute of a dream.
And it was night, and she was walking away. Toward the water, the parking lot? Too dark to tell.
She reached a point, the end of something. Not a place in space, or even time, but…but what? Imagination? Memory? Mine, or hers?
She waved, a quick jest, a “see ya ’round” type salute, and blew an over-the-top histrionic, silent-movie kiss. From where she was. Some end-point, horizon, limit, intensity of faith, absence of fear. A rush of freedom and other such thrills that bob to awareness when there’s absolutely, positively no place left to go.
“And dark was above her in the sky,” I said softly to everyone and no one.
She was gone.
I’ve found no photograph or other referent that might have inspired the scene.
I’m still looking.