The woman had long black hair. Her skin was carmel colored, her features dark, even darker with black makeup around her eyes. Her bikini was also black. One of her legs lay straight on her black towel, the other bent at the knee, pointing towards the sky. Her hips parted slightly. Her face rested in my direction. Her eyes were closed. Her lips were pink. One of her hands lay palm up in between her face and myself. Her fingernails were painted black.
Looking around the beach, people seemed littered with tattoos. Words and images. I noticed revolvers, crosses, flowers, tigers, trees and bones. She had a black butterfly tattooed on her calf.
I laid down on my back and closed my eyes. Meditation had become a small joke I shared with myself. There was plenty to think about and plenty of time to not think on the horizon. Voices began poking around in the darkness.
“Cerveza, frozen drinks, four twenty four twenty…”
Shutters of cameras, birds, people laughing. Even in the dark I kept seeing her.
I snuck a peek. She had rolled over. There was a man kneeling next to her. She looked up at him, squinting her eyes, smiling. His toned arm was covered with tattoos. I wished he would step across the cones and become obliterated.
We made brief eye-contact. She wasn’t frowning or smiling. I settled back on my back and stared up at the sky for a moment before shutting my eyes again. I’ve always been terrible at napping, but I was tired and hungover. Maybe if I dozed off I’d wake up and she’d be gone and I’d stop looking at her.
I did doze off, and dreamt of one of my sister’s childhood friends, who, at some point, had lost her mind. The last time I’d seen her in reality was under a bridge in Milwaukee, at night.
In the dream, she was led by my sister on a leash. Her face was painted like a clown’s– pasty white, red eyes, blue frown. The two of them burst through the door and immediately my sister’s friend began to panic. I thought she might hurt herself or someone else. I didn’t like seeing her led around on the leash. I was confused because I knew (in reality) that my sister had cut off contact with this friend after high school, after years of increasingly bizarre phone calls and text messages. I put my arms around her from behind, hugging her but also rendering her arms imobile. She struggled briefly before relaxing her muscles and body against my chest.
I jerked awake when a volleyball hit me in the ribs. Squinting in the sunlight, I registered the face of an asian guy leaning over me to pick up the ball.
“So sorry,” he told me.
I sat up. The woman in the black bikini also began to rise, however, the top of her bikini was now missing. Quickly, she grabbed a breast with each hand. She began to smile. I quickly realized she was looking past me. She stood up and began to run past me, away from the sea, laughing and hollering in a language I didn’t understand. I rose, walked to the water and began heading south.
Hundreds of people were enjoying the beautiful weather. The tide rose and fell in a mellow way, like the rising and falling chest of a healthy napper. Every so often sat lifeguard towers of slightly different color schemes. The fractal-like repetition of the scene encouraged further post-doze disorientation.
I set my sights on the jetty- a piled boulder pathway reaching out into the sea. The end of the line. Past there, the beach seemed to give way to a marina or harbor (I’m not so educated in nautical terms) and beyond that, a field of skyscrapers, reaching into the sky the way the jetty reached into the sea.
The beach was littered with beautiful women of all shapes and colors. Walking along the tide, I felt less disgusting scanning the beach, occasionally letting my eyes settle on the eyes, mouths and bodies of strangers, than I had felt when I was imobile.
Out in the water, a floating billboard type boat was drifting by. The billboard said: “WHAT’S THE BEST THAT COULD HAPPEN?” in white letters over a black background.
Walking with my feet in the water, I navigated small children playing, their sand castles, their parents or guardians, joggers, elderly people and loners. Walking felt good. A thin layer of sweat condensed on my skin and when a breeze kissed my chest, a good tingle reminded me that I was a human being, capable of feeling and thinking a variety of incredible things, that it was a pleasure to be alive.
Whatever brief gratitude I felt was quickly replaced with sexual thoughts. Maybe I’d finally lost it and turned into some kind of pervert, but I swear, many of the people I saw were posing in lewd positions. It truly looked to my eye that some of these people were engaged in coitus with a team of invisible men. Close to me, a woman lay on her back, her legs stretched, her back arched, the back of her head burrowing into the sand. Beyond this one, a man in tiny shorts was on all fours. His ass faced the sea and his legs were slightly parted and his face lay on its side in the white sand. Everywhere I looked, people seemed to be acting in a way that embarrassed me. A boombox was playing Guns n Roses cover of Knock Knock Knocking on Heaven’s Door.
Finally, I approached the jetty and clamored up the small hill of colossal boulders, whose surfaces alternated from smooth and slippery to rough and sharp. I stepped out onto each rock with slow precision, feeling the textures of the rocks with my bare feet, which had grown soft over a northern winter.
Two young adults passed me on their way back to the shore. As far as I could tell, they were the only other human beings on the jetty.
Muscles I hadn’t been using lately burned pleasurably as I climbed deeper into the ocean. I started seeing lots of those little things– I can’t recall their names but the word ‘polyp’ comes to mind. Whatever they were, they looked like little mouths covering crevices between the rocks. Evidence of sea life, of the underwater world. I was glad to be apart from the tumbler of human voices, glad to be listening to the waves that were sometimes slapping, sometimes crashing against the rocks.
I felt a presence behind me. I found a place to turn around and saw a team of ugly brown birds the size of house cats, between twelve and fifteen of them, getting comfortable on the sunny rocks. Most of them had their wings raised and stretched out, as if they were airing out their stinky armpits. Some of them were releasing weird sounds, similar to something between a human burp, a human hiccup and the honk of a goose.
Returning my focus to the boulders, I moved along them at a steady pace, keeping my head down. Waves crashed higher, water filled more cracks. Increasingly, I had to use my hands to balance myself as I moved forward. The wind picked up as well, and for the first time since I’d arrived in Miami I felt a coldness familiar from what I had left behind in the cruel northern winter. I didn’t know when I’d return, and definitely did not feel like doing so was in my best interest. However, I’d left some semblance of a life there, one that didn’t quite deserve to be abandoned. Isn’t that the terrible truth about abandonment, though? Creatures that are temporarily abandoned repeatedly learn to accept abandonment. Things that are abandoned for good adapt, burrow through the wall back into the world, find a new life, or die.
“You lucky, man.”
I looked up and froze. A strange, high pitch voice had spoken to me. I’d reached the end of the line, the boulders descended gradually yet permanently into the sea. Immediately, I began to scour my mind and body for reasons to be hallucinating, my ears scanning the scene but encountering the sounds of water.
“You real lucky.”
To my amazement, what I had thought was a piece of boulder began to move towards me. What I had thought was a piece of boulder was a tiny black man’s head. With slow precision and stumpy limbs, he crawled over the rocks towards me. I couldn’t move. I probably could’ve moved, but I didn’t consider it. I was transfixed on the little man, immobilized by curiosity. He moved like a spider fleeing a rainstorm with only five of its eight legs remaining, but he didn’t slip, nor ever stand still to consider his next move. He couldn’t have been more than four feet tall. Soon enough, he climbed up on a boulder next to me and sat down, smiling up at me. One of his two gold teeth glittered at me, full of sunlight. He wore brown corduroy pants and a beige linen shirt, whose breast pocket he pulled a swisher sweet wrapper and a lighter. He lit up.
“What your name,” he said, coughing, before passing me the blunt.
I told him.
“My name is Pete. You lucky boy. Today is a good day for you.”
“Why is that?”
“Because one day a year, I come out and wait and see. I wait and see for somebody to come out here all the way, all alone and I push them into the water and I take that big stick over there and drown them.” His tiny hand pointed ahead where sure enough, a piece of driftwood taller than myself stood, wedged between a few boulders. The blunt tasted like licorice.
“I am all alone,” I said, squirting at him, becoming stoned.
“Nah, man, there be another guy out here soon. You lucky. You supposed to live, to do something good.” He let a steady stream of smoke from his nostrils that clung to the breeze and floated away. The expression on his face was beatific. Little drops of water clung to his hair, shining in the sunlight like his teeth.
“Why do you do this? Seems like a bad thing to do, killing people.”
“I don’t got no choice, man. I am a ghost. Somebody toss me into the water. Play with me with the stick, keep me at bay, let me get real tired, let me die, let my body float and roll around the rocks. Most of the time, I am gone, nowhere. But on this day, every year, I come back.”
I turned back and looked towards the beach, surprised by how far away it was. Far enough away, I saw a figure moving, so far that I couldn’t distinguish much about them. It could have been one of those burping birds if Pete hadn’t put the idea in my head that it was another person.
“What you come out here for anyway?” Pete laughed, coughing. “All there is to do is turn around and go back. You wasting time, man. You got life to live. You know what I think?”
“I think you like to be looked at. You like them honeys on the beach to wonder about the brave man climbing the rocks.” He licked his lips. “I push you in man, ain’t nobody wonder about you. You gone. They find you on the beach turned green. You wasting time out here.” He flicked the roach into the water. Even through the noise of the sea I heard a tiny sizzle.
I wasn’t sure what to do. If I needed to I could pick the little guy up and toss him into the ocean. I didn’t want to, but I could. Depending on how long he had been materializing here he might have memorized the placement of the rocks and be able to navigate them with his spider-like precision, but I was nearly two feet taller than him, relatively fit and healthy. There was a seriousness to the way he said things through his big smile, though, and of course I didn’t want to drown anyone. I would only protect myself if I had to. I wanted to turn away and go back to the beach, but if I left, wouldn’t whoever was coming next be doomed to be drowned? Wouldn’t Pete be contractually bound by some hellish bargain to drown whatever lonely soul got caught in his web?
I felt Pete’s hand on my back.
“Don’t think too much, my friend,” he said, turning his bright blue eyes from me to stare out at the sea. “Don’t think too much. Think about yourself. What you need to do. Life is good. Life is beautiful.”
I couldn’t help but rise to my feet and turn around and begin to crawl along the rocks, back towards the shore. Every once in a while, I’d peek back and see Pete’s little head, but before long it became impossible to distinguish from the rocks.
The man coming out from the beach and I grew closer to each other. I did my best to stay focused on myself, to ignore him. He was tall, a head taller than myself. He wore red shorts and tennis shoes and he was moving with speed and agility. He had headphones on. He moved rhythmically, most likely in tune with whatever he was listening to. He passed me by without either of us acknowledging each other. After he passed me, he seemed to pick up speed. I turned around to watch him. After every few seconds, he’d punch the air, he’d bounce, he’d dance a little bit. I even saw him yell or sing from time to time. He moved with practice, like he’d done this every day as part of a workout.
As he grew smaller and smaller against the blue of the sea, I convinced myself to keep moving, to get back to the beach, where when I returned, jumping down from the rocks, the sand felt different, much more soft and warm. Perhaps moving along so many porous boulders had removed a layer of skin from my feet, and a new sensitivity had been released from within.
I was hungry. I walked up the beach, to the paved, winding trails and began to think about what to eat. I’d been eating too much meat, and after spending a good amount of time in the sun, and the activity of climbing around the rocks, I craved leafy greens, raw vegetables, fresh fruit, and fish. Light, flaky fish. The restaurants that lined the beach were due to be expensive, geared towards tourists. Scanning for a portal to make my way inwards, to find a place people like to call ‘a hidden gem’ or ‘off the beaten path’ when I noticed a woman on the ground. Blood flowed from her knee and palm. She wore a grimace on her face, a green bikini top, green and black checkered shorts, and black rollerblades with green wheels. As I walked towards her, she looked up, she looked up at me, and didn’t avert her gaze as I approached her. The blonde hair that had fallen loose from her ponytail floated around in the gentle breeze.
I remained in bed with her until she fell asleep. Craving a cigarette I didn’t have, I stepped through the glass door onto the balcony. I was over a hundred feet in the air. Which floor of the hotel we stayed on, I couldn’t remember. Traces of blood from under my tongue mingled with my saliva. I looked out at the clouds, which were painted delicate shades of purple and orange from the city’s light pollution mixing with the pureness that came with the seemingly endless ocean, the darkness of the uncorrupted horizon. Naturally, inevitably, my eyes became drawn to the jetty. Raindrops began to fall cool against my hot, sticky skin, and I smiled as I remembered where I was about to lay my head.
I’ve been miserable since I left Miami.
I’d been miserable since arriving in Miami. Miserable before, too, but you know how it goes. You get excited about something, spend lots of time daydreaming about it, and then you get to it and you feel the same, like nothing has changed. Even the sun that I’d been longing for felt hot and flat. I felt like a vampire, so white. Then I fell down like an idiot in front of all those beautiful people, and I was nervous to even try and get up because I didn’t really know how to rollerblade. I thought I did; I stood in them in my apartment back home, going back and forth a little bit in the kitchen. Looking around while I was on the ground I could have been invisible. People just walked right by. This guy was led by his mother or his caretaker in a motorized chair, all of his skin was covered up, he had this big stupid hat on, sunglasses, and I’m pretty sure he was asleep. I felt so bad but if he was awake, I bet he was laughing silently, inside his head, at how pathetic I looked.
That’s when I met him. He helped me up, he sat me down on a bench, he looked at my knee and palm. He used his bandana that he’d probably been using as a mask to wrap up my hand, it was sweet. He asked me if I’d like to eat with him. I wasn’t so hungry, but I said yes. I was lonely and thought maybe if I was seen with another person, instead of alone, I’d feel like I belonged, not so out of place. I’d been in Miami two whole days and had spoken only to cashiers and hotel workers. Plus, he was kind of cute. Funny looking, like he was perpetually queasy, or trying not to laugh, but cute enough. He helped me take off the rollerblades, which I was ready to throw in the trash, but he insisted on carrying them for me.
We walked around for a long time. He seemed like he knew where he was going, but after a while things started looking familiar, like we’d walked in a loop. My feet were getting sore and I had managed to work up an appetite. We settled on a cuban place, far from the beach. He ordered a pork sandwich, I ordered chips and salsa. I was feeling shy and usually I avoided street food because I got so sick once as a kid, in Mexico, that I had to go to the hospital. I still have trouble in hospitals ever since. Sometimes part of my brain stops working and it’s like I’m a kid again and I can’t understand what the doctor is saying. My parents couldn’t either, that time in Mexico, all they could do was shout English words, slowly, in a bad Mexican accent, I was so embarrassed.
When his sandwich came, it smelled so good, I’d been avoiding meat for a year or two, only eating it when I was drunk. He knew and smiled and gave me half and ordered another. They were big sandwiches on soft, delicious bread. He wasn’t a big guy, either, but he ate the whole second thing. He smiled so big after eating it, looking high. The restaurant had a little bar and he told me he felt ready to start drinking but if I wanted, he would walk me home first.
I realized then that he thought I lived there, and in turn, I had been thinking the same about him. I don’t know if he was just easy to be around or if I had too many other things on my mind, but it felt funny that we hadn’t interrogated each other the way new friends and potential lovers often do. I told him I had nowhere to go, and we started drinking at the bar, tequila.
What did it matter if he was from Chicago, or Denver, or some dirt road in Oklahoma? I didn’t know anything about those places. If anything, knowing those kinds of things would have made him more unknowable. He drank a lot and didn’t seem drunk until he would stand up. He’d stumble around but remain mentally coherent, in control of his face, voice, and words. I wasn’t supposed to drink too much because of the medication I was on at the time but I felt drunk with him in a good way, warm, happy. He got a bit anxious as the sun was setting (he had quit smoking at the top of the new year, which he said was easy enough until he had a drop of alcohol), and ordered two beers, which we brought with us on our way to the beach.
I insisted he come back to my hotel. He was worried about where his van was parked and that he’d be fucked if it was towed. I wanted to fuck then and there. Patiently, I told him to park at the garage attached to the hotel, that there probably wasn’t a safer place. His face got sheepish and he asked if he could kiss me first. I said no and closed my eyes and he kissed me nicely, sweetly but without fear, an exploratory way like a flashlight in an abandoned building.
He told me the walk to the van was long and that he’d take me by the hotel and then drive over but I told him I didn’t care and we walked away from the beach in the right direction, west, the way the sun sets. I was afraid of losing my nerve, like I’d let him go out of my sight and I’d sober up or fall asleep or he might just disappear like a phantom. If he was going to drug me and kidnap me it probably would have already happened.
He moved some shit out of the passenger’s seat for me. The van was a bit messy yet un-filthy and it smelled like him, like gentle onion sweat and smoke and somehow, dirt and trees. I looked in the back where some milk crates and a thin mattress were arranged and I would have gladly fucked him back there, where he could have had any weird amount of sex, I didn’t care at all, but I rolled down the window and smiled, feeling happy, happy to look forward to something, even something as close as five minutes away.
I came fast, imagining filming the sex and from then on I phased in and out of pleasure as he moved me around the bed gently, but with strong hands, or roughly with gentle hands. I have no idea how long it took for him to ask me if he could come in my mouth, and I nodded, panting as he took off the condom.
Laying there, I watched the ceiling pulse, like the shadows were being manipulated by a light that was somehow sentient or at least supernatural. My left palm was on his lower belly and he played with my hair. I wanted to tell him things. I wanted to tell him that I came to Miami because a person reached out to me on Instagram offering me twenty five grand to shoot a single girl-on-girl scene. I wanted to tell him I didn’t need the money, that really, I was desperate to leave California, that I was desperate to leave Mike, that he’d gotten almost violent with me and hated himself for it and through that means, built a creepy wall around himself, that I shuddered at the thought of his cock and the way he became quiet and weirdly precise during sex, sex that felt more like an occult ritual than real sex, and that he’d been really hurt when I started doing OnlyFans and said that porn was like a malignant sickness permeating through society and that something bad was going to happen to me. Like what? I’d asked Mike, looking at his face while he stared out the window that faced the hills, Like I’ll get raped? Sex trafficked? I wanted to push further and summon images of me in a dark room with any number of men standing around erect like naked zombies, or better yet, like horses, the way they sleep standing up if they ever even do. I told him that I’d done research and that it wasn’t the eighties anymore and the same things, the same scary things causing his brain to panic are the same stories of LSD making you think you could fly and that wasn’t using fentanyl or driving drunk just as scary or evil? Both things that you’ve done? And he’d said that’s not fair, that he was trying to be better and his voice wavered and I looked away because I think he was starting to cry and that was the only time that ever happened.
He turned over and looked into my eyes and asked me if he should stay or go and I told him to do whatever was more comfortable even though I wanted him to stay, I wanted him on a leash with a choke chain. I wanted to cry. He told me he would stay. I fell in and out of sleep, sometimes pretending to sleep, or waking up briefly as I heard him showering or stepping outside onto the balcony. He wasn’t in the bed when I fell in between sleep into sleep paralysis where snakes were writhing around in my belly. Inside, I screamed and tried so hard to move, and then he opened the door and even though I couldn’t move yet, the night breeze felt like a kiss and he sat on the bed and kissed my forehead, and finally, like Snow White, my eyes opened. I wrapped my arms around him, pulling him on top of me, feeling the bones in his chest, breathing hard and deep as my core felt compressed under his weight and even under him, struggling to breathe, I fell asleep like a dog in the back seat on a long drive.
— Evan is currently unemployed and living out of his van with his dog. He runs a small press, Road Dog Books, printing chapbooks when he has the resources. Twitter: @evanmcconahay/Instagram: @roaddogbooks @evanmcconahay