Johnny America


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.

Filed under Fiction on January 11th, 2019

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