Johnny America


Basin Head


The beach at Basin Head was bright and hot in the sum­mer, and it was emp­ty. We felt like we had the whole is­land to our­selves. At the base of the first hill the view opened to grass and sand against the far blue of the ocean be­yond. There was a small canal dis­sect­ing the two halves of beach. An un­oc­cu­pied white life­guard chair was off to one side. We wore san­dals to not burn our feet on the hot sand.

There was a lit­tle bridge over the canal that Pat­ti re­mem­bered from her family’s trips to the east. We stood at its mid­dle, leaned over, and stared in­to the deep, cold wa­ters that led to the Atlantic.

She talked about how she used to jump off the bridge with her broth­er and swim out by the canal.

“I don’t think you’re sup­posed to do that any­more,” I said. “Look at the sign.”

“That’s stu­pid,” she said. “Peo­ple are so afraid of get­ting hurt. It’s just water.”

“I guess it’s be­cause it’s unsupervised.”

Pat­ti rocked gen­tly against the rail­ing and I knew she was remembering.

“Do you want to do it any­way?” I asked.

“Not re­al­ly. Do you?”

“No. Let’s just go to the beach.”

We crossed the bridge and head­ed down to the wa­ter. When I look back at it now I think she prob­a­bly want­ed to jump.

The sand was un­com­fort­able in our san­dals. We set out our tow­els be­side each oth­er, put on sun­glass­es, laid down, and start­ed tan­ning. I was paler than the sand. The ocean made a sooth­ing sound and that was all I could hear as I lay still, with sand in my hair, see­ing red­dened sun­light through closed eye­lids. In lit­tle time, I shift­ed on­to my stom­ach, lay my head down on crossed arms and felt the sun on my back. I turned to look at Pat­ti. She had her eyes closed yet turned away from me.

Maybe we were tired.

When we were too hot, and my shirt was burn­ing on my back, we went in­to the sea and stood like py­lons, wait­ing for some boat to do cir­cles around us.

“I won­der what Arnie’s do­ing right now,” she said finally.

I tried ig­nor­ing her by dig­ging a hole in the sand be­neath the wa­ter with my foot. I sank pur­pose­ful­ly in­to the bot­tom. “Why do you care what he’s do­ing now? I thought you were done with him,” I said.

“I am. I am so done with him.”


Her lips shut tight­ly. I re­al­ized I had nev­er seen her this close to naked. Her skin was so bright. Some­how, I looked away.

When she went to dry off, I stayed out in the waves do­ing a front-crawl so I didn’t look too ea­ger to fol­low her in. In a minute I was bored, so I sat on the shal­low seabed and looked across the ocean. It’s fun be­cause the ocean keeps lift­ing you up and over, rolling back and push­ing un­der you, un­til you’re fur­ther out than you ever ex­pect­ed to be.

As I looked back to the beach I prob­a­bly stared. I went back.

We sat in si­lence for a half hour, en­joy­ing the way the waves moved. As I could feel my­self be­gin to burn, I watched the round olive skin of her shoul­der, or the place above her biki­ni bot­tom, rise and fall with her breath.

“We could stop for din­ner to­mor­row. I think we have enough mon­ey for it,” I said.

“What were you thinking?”

“I was think­ing lob­ster. We haven’t had lob­ster yet.”

“Lobster’s ex­pen­sive.”

“Well, we have to have lob­ster. We can’t come to the East Coast and not have lobster.”

“Okay, sounds good.”

Again, I looked away. I want­ed things so bad­ly I felt it all down my back. The waves of­fered no words.

“It’s get­ting hot. Want to go back in?” I said.

“Nah, I don’t re­al­ly feel like more swim­ming. Do you want to just go now?”

We hadn’t been there for long. But we rolled the tow­els and left.

Pat­ti had my beat-up cam­era and want­ed to take a pic­ture of us to­geth­er. She held it as we smiled and em­braced, with a space in be­tween so the cam­era would lat­er show a stretch of sand sep­a­rat­ing us, and she took the pic­ture. I could feel her skin, still wet.

We walked back across the bridge. I felt close to the ocean. It was com­fort­ing to watch some­thing so limitless.

On the sandy trail back to the gift shop and wash­rooms, there were out­door show­ers. They looked like sad, up­turned flow­ers. We turned on the wa­ter. It was al­most bet­ter to be dirty the wa­ter was so cold. We had trav­el-sized sham­poos in the back­pack I hand­ed first to her. We show­ered to­geth­er in our swim­suits. We avoid­ed look­ing at each oth­er as we washed our hair, though of course I did look at her: wet and shiny and ex­quis­ite — flushed from the sun.

Streams of wa­ter flowed from her hair as she leaned and twist­ed it out in the sand.

We used the sinks in the sep­a­rate bath­rooms af­ter­ward to brush our teeth. We couldn’t af­ford to stay in hotels.

I came out be­fore she did so I walked around the gift shop for some­thing to do. I could still on­ly hear the ocean, ex­cept the sound now mixed with a dis­tant wind chime. I lis­tened to the metal­lic ring­ing and thought I could hear the sink run in the women’s bath­room. I thought of run­ning wa­ter — and of baths.

An­oth­er pair of tourists fin­ished their walk on the beach and came up the trail. One was a friend­ly-look­ing man in his fifties, sun­burned and large­ly built. He was with his wife, who wore a big white beach hat and a match­ing white out­fit. His wife went in­to the wash­room and he wait­ed out­side be­side me.

“Beau­ti­ful day, it is,” he said.

I nod­ded.

“Me and my wife, we are from Mon­tréal” — I no­ticed his slight ac­cent then — “We come here every summer.”

“It’s a good va­ca­tion. And it’s much cheap­er than go­ing over­seas,” I said. It felt like I was look­ing past him. I didn’t feel like giv­ing him the time of day.

He smiled. “Where are you from?”


“A long dri­ve al­so. My son he lives there.”

“It is nice there too.”

“Yes, it is.”

Pat­ti and the man’s wife came out of the bath­room to­geth­er, al­so mak­ing con­ver­sa­tion, and sud­den­ly I felt very old and mar­ried, as if we were two re­tired cou­ples on some Mediter­ranean cruise to­geth­er. I looked down in­to an imag­i­nary cham­pagne glass. It had the word ‘fifti­eth’ writ­ten across the side in lipstick.

The man was very care­ful not to ask what we were, and I was care­ful not to tell him.

We made small talk. Pat­ti re­al­ly seemed to like them, but not enough to stay too long. We left the beach, and end­ed up leav­ing the province in the morning.

We stopped in the park­ing lot of a church and I pissed in the bush­es while she read mag­a­zines in the van. We had a makeshift bed in the back seat. It was the on­ly place to sleep.

As she fell asleep her hand came out from the blan­kets and made its way around my chest.

I turned away from her. But I kept her hand around my stomach.

Some­time in the night she must have re­al­ized what she was do­ing and slid it back to her side, hop­ing not to wake me.

Filed under Fiction on September 6th, 2013

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