The Minus World
Maria’s hair flitted across Luz’s sunburned cheek as they whispered conspiratorially on the deck of the fiberglass sloop. A steady westward wind whistled through birch trees, gained speed over the lake, then mingled the sisters’ hairs into an ephemeral brown burlap before streaming on to Georgia. Maria craned her neck to peer down at their husbands over the bow of the S.S. Saint Vincent Ferrer, so named by their plumber father for his trade’s patron saint. These husbands, Gene and Francis, were rigging up a preposterous slingshot which they planned to use to rocket cans of beer over vast stretches of cloudy blue water. Canned beer floats, for a while, Gene had told them. The women had been discussing skinny-dipping for the better part of an hour — Luz a strong advocate, Maria staunchly opposed. Maria shook her head left to right. Luz nodded more emphatically up, down, up, down.
Again, Maria protested. “I’ll concede the point but it’s, it’s just not proper.”
“Frank’s my husband,” Luz stated with the rolling voice of an orator, “and I officially grant you permission to show him your scandalous tits.”
“Please don’t, don’t,” Maria implored as Luz gripped an aluminum stanchion and pulled herself up.
Luz turned. “The clock’s ticking and our world’s finished in like three hours, little sister. I’m going to skinny-dip one last time before the fireball sweeps things clean and I hope you’ve got the nerve to join me.”
Maria took a deep breath, then nodded.
Luz unceremoniously stripped off her green bikini, stepped back for a running start, and cannonballed into the cool lake. The splash diverted Gene and Francis’s attention from their slingshot. They noted Luz’s absence, and Maria looking worriedly at the momentary dimple in the water’s surface. “Luz’s gone skinny-dipping,” she told them, “I’m sorry.” The men looked at each other; both shrugged their shoulders.
Luz resurfaced off the starboard side of the boat. The men and Maria observed as her face broke through the water, then her chest, then her steadily kicking legs. She floated on her back, grinning up at her audience.
“My wife’s skinny-dipping, Gene, and she is a fiery and fine-looking woman,” Francis observed.
“So she is, Frank,” Gene agreed quietly, then, noting that Maria was privy to their conversation, continued with added volume, “just like my wife, who shouldn’t be so modest and should join her sister for one last swim.” Gene smiled at Maria, whose face flushed red as she turned away from the men.
Gene returned to the project at hand. “Back to work?”
“Let’s get this tubing sorted, then I think we’ll be ready for a test launch.”
Francis switched on the radio and began finessing the slingshot’s tendons as Gene scribbled projectile trajectories on a paper towel. The announcer reminded them that he’d be keeping them company until the fireball sped him off the air; three hours until the shock wave would speed its way around the world to dear old South Carolina. Every time she heard the countdown, it hit Maria like a brick to the head. She stood akimbo, watching her impetuous sister glide through the peaceful water and considering the knots holding her own black bikini.
The brothers-in-law half-listened to the radio, contentedly finishing their beer-slinging contraption, shaking hands when they were satisfied.
“It is ready,” assessed Gene.
“It is ready, and it is good,” added Francis. At some unseen moment after their initial six-pack of test launches but before completion of final adjustments, Maria had joined her sister naked in the lake. Neither of the men had noticed when she’d lowered herself into the water, but they noticed now. Their wives were treading water a good twenty yards out, waving at them to send two cans of ammunition their way. The men launched eight, then swam out to meet them.
Maria gave Gene a kiss, clutched his hand, took a breath, then dove away beneath the surface as deep and fast as she could muster. When she touched bottom she righted herself and looked at her loved ones paddling above. Luz pushed her face into the water for a moment and waved one last time. It’d be happening any instant now, she knew, and Maria wanted to hold on to every millisecond of life she could.
She felt the shock wave shake the water and watched the three of them fly away. The blue sky turned ashen. It’s not fair, she told herself as the lake began evaporating away from her.
Illustration by John LEE.
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