It Is What It Was
by Stephanie King
We were lanky and wore bikinis that made the old guys leer at us. The seagulls floated above us, each forming the sloping M of a child’s drawing, as I kissed Tommy Henderson under the pier. I was fifteen and wanted more than anything to give up my virginity to this flaxen-haired lacrosse star from school, but he was going into his senior year and never took me seriously. Still, I let him suck the salt from my suit and push my bikini bottom aside to slip his fingers into me as the waves crashed against the pilings.
They were all there at the funeral: Marcy, who had frequently covered for me with “sleepovers” when I wanted to sneak out; Jamilah, who had an older brother in college who hooked us up with weed; Allison, the first among us to have a car that we used more for lunchtime runs to Taco Bell than for anything nefarious. My memories of them were as hazy as a reflection in a steamy bathroom mirror.
It wasn’t that I mourned Tommy Henderson, fifteen years later, gone too soon after getting addicted to Oxy following a knee surgery a few years ago, then moving on to the harder stuff that eventually killed him. I drove the five hours back home in memoriam of my own youth, of that liminal summer.
Marcy was the only one who still lived in town, and she asked if I wanted to come over to hang with her eyebrow raised. I’d been sleeping on my parents’ couch, their home much smaller than the one I’d grown up in, the detritus of my childhood jettisoned. I’d never known her like that in high school, all those sleepovers we never actually had. I thought about that pier while Marcy railed me from behind with the strap, remembering how I had wanted that golden boy inside me with all of my teenage longing. Since I couldn’t see her face, I could think about anything.
In the morning, I wanted to see the beach before I drove back to the canyon where my parents lived. We saw girls who were very much like we once were, applying sunscreen to each other, squealing at the chill of the surf at their ankles as they waded into the ocean, before we walked out on the pier. At the pier’s octagonal end, Marcy turned to me and asked, “Do you ever wonder–” and I rushed in to answer “Yes” before she could finish, cutting her off, or else opening her question up to everything.
There’s nothing quite like a funeral to make us aware of our own mortality, and there’s nothing like seeing the ocean meeting the horizon to make us aware of how small and insignificant we are. My ideas for stories often come from putting two unrelated things together, whether ideas or forms, and going from there.
Stephanie King is a past winner of the Quarterly West Novella Prize and the Lilith Short Fiction Prize, with stories also appearing in CutBank, Entropy, and Hobart. She received her MFA from Bennington and serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. You can find her online at stephanieking.net or Twitter @stephstephking.