A Stone Fox

[Santa Monica Pier. An entire funnel cake is wedged between the wooden slats: dough pressed deep into the split grooves, an echo of footsteps visible through a thick layer of powdered sugar. A seagull stabs at a corndog while two friends sit together. The friends blink against the glare on the water. One is remembering; one is listening.]

He says, ‘I remember the sound of grass piercing through the blanket and although it was softer than, say, straw it was still much sharper than any blanket should be. I didn’t have anything else in the car and I didn’t want to do it in the backseat. Hey, can you pass that? And it was the middle of the day. Thanks. The grass left small impressions on her knees and palms and it made me feel sort of disgusted, you know? Like maybe her skin would stay that way, speckled with dents and shallow holes. Then I pulled a piece of grass from her hair and ran it over her bottom lip knowing that it would tickle, that she would be excited but also slightly petulant, you know the way they can be, and I watched the white of her teeth tug at her mouth, green stained hands resting on my chest, changing everything. You know that line from The Virgin Suicides, man? I was her James Franco, I fucking swear.’

[The listening friend asks a question, looking to an ice cream stand. Gestures are exchanged between them.]

‘No. Here—it’s you. No, yeah, she’s probably still alive. I don’t know, man. Don’t take it there. What I’m saying—’

[A seagull has come nearer to their feet. One believes it is the same seagull from before, with the corndog, while the other believes it is quite possibly too big, too gray: a different seagull entirely. The listening friend makes a suggestion. There is a lull in the conversation.]

‘Josh Hartnett? Are you sure? Shit. Well, what I’m saying—’

[The seagull spreads its wings, seemingly signaling other seagulls. The amount of seagulls has increased by three.]

‘—is that it felt like right there, in the middle of the day, we were resplendent or something. Yeah, I’ll take it. Thanks. I’ve been waiting to use resplendent in a sentence. This is exactly the time to use it. I mean, Jesus, it was like she cracked open my diaphragm and filled it with leaves.’

[There is a misunderstanding.]

‘Fuck, man! No. It’s symbolism. She wasn’t, like, crushing me or anything. No. Listen. Just—here give that to me—just picture what I’m saying to you. So, she’s straddling me with her summer thighs, her fingertips drumming away on my collarbone, and I’m still thinking about her kneecaps—’

[They take a moment to examine their own knees. One is wearing shorts: a scar the length of an index finger runs down his shin; the other is wearing jeans: his freckled legs embarrass him.]

‘I’m not saying she had fundamentally unattractive knees. The blanket was thin. It was just, I don’t know, all these dents. If I had chalk I would draw it for you. Anyway, so she leans down and she laughs right into my mouth. I didn’t know how to respond. It felt phony to laugh back into her mouth, so I just kept my mouth open and waited it out. I’m totally serious. I think about that sometimes.’

[The friends look skyward. One comments on the fast-moving clouds. The other says it’s just the way the earth is spinning. They disagree about this. One makes a circle with his finger while the other shrugs. Women with strollers jog by and the seagulls fly away. The brunette woman wears only a sports bra and shorts. The blonde woman is in a full sweat suit. The infants face outward, away from the women, faces red, stretching their toes. The remembering friend lowers his voice.]

‘So, then it happened the way things happen. You’re uncircumcised. You know how it is.’

[A look is exchanged.]

‘What? We weren’t really in talking mode, man. Are you saying that’s something you ask about?’

[The listening friend exhales for a reasonable length of time.]

‘Exactly. I mean, isn’t it their thing to think about? I don’t think I’m being insensitive. It seems reasonable. Like, OK, yeah, like say somebody asks you if you want to go sailing and you’re all, Yeah, I’m down to sail, and they’re all, Come on in! You expect them to already have lifejackets on the boat, right? Boats just come with lifejackets. It’s like ocean law. I am making so much sense about this. If I still had her number I would explain it exactly how I did just now, with exactly the same inflection, and it would make so much sense to her.’

[An old man drops the change in his hand and curses when a few coins roll off the pier. One friend considers getting up to help.]

‘I just remember a lot of grass stains. She didn’t want to take off all her clothes. I held her, thought about her thighs, thought about flipping her over. So I did. And later when we got into the car I saw my palms were dented like hers, as if she had transferred it to me. I rubbed my hands on my jeans, the seat of the car. It looked like I had been doing handstands on gravel. When she kissed me goodbye I kept my hands on the steering wheel.’

[The listening friend asks two questions. The remembering friend answers one.]

‘I don’t know when exactly. Sometime after, between classes, she told me.’

[The old man is crouching down; he cannot grip the remaining coins.]

‘I was just trying to get to English. Even though the rest of her body was really still, her hands were moving and moving and I had the urge to restrain her, ask her to make sense or cover her mouth, shake her a bit. She was standing slightly away from me with her open locker hitting its neighbor whenever she adjusted her backpack. I continued to watch her hands until she started laughing. Then I looked at her mouth. I wanted to feel, you know, that resplendent feeling again. But her mouth just seemed so gigantic and looming, I thought I could count all her teeth, peer down her throat, reach inside her clear to my elbow and grasp her heart. And so she’s just laughing and laughing, but it’s like the sound is off. You know? I’m watching her shoulders move up and forward, down and back, her cheeks wet from her eyes, her chin wet from her mouth. She started to gag, became hysterical, all covered in sweat. It freaked me the fuck out. I wanted to leave her there to melt into the blue metal. I thought maybe she was joking. She told jokes sometimes. She had this great one about van Gogh’s ear. So Gauguin and van Gogh are at the bar and Gauguin says—’

[There is an awkward moment during which their hands bump together.]

‘Oh sorry, I’ve been bogarting. Here, it’s all you. I don’t know, man. We were just kids. It was her thing. I mean people did talk about it for a while. There was a rumor that she threw herself down the gym bleachers. When I heard that I imagined the sounds it would make, how at the very bottom the cheerleaders would have to dodge her. I don’t think it was true. It probably wasn’t.’

[The listening friend is silent.]

‘It was her issue. Her parents were all the wrong things, including judgmental and religious. Are the two synonymous? I should write that down. We were just kids. I’m sure she figured it out. I told her to do what she needed to do. She stopped calling eventually.’

[The listening friend is silent.]

‘I gave her space to think. Then she moved. Things happen. I’m sure she’s fine. I’ve obviously been fine. Look at us. We’re on the fucking Santa Monica Pier!’

[The listening friend is silent.]

‘Have you seen Forrest Gump? Can you believe Tom Hanks was right here? The guy was right here. Blows my mind. Anyway. It was years ago. We were just kids. I barely remember it.’

Cindy Withjack

About Cindy Withjack

Cindy Withjack holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham and is a PhD candidate at Lancaster University, where she is writing a novel. Her work has been published in theBurg, From the Fallout Shelter, The Huffington Post, The Journal, Slice Magazine, Litro Magazine, Women are Boring, and Banshee.

Cindy Withjack holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham and is a PhD candidate at Lancaster University, where she is writing a novel. Her work has been published in theBurg, From the Fallout Shelter, The Huffington Post, The Journal, Slice Magazine, Litro Magazine, Women are Boring, and Banshee.


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