Fiction Jen Currin Literature

Beach Story

Jen Currin


[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”35″ bg_color=”#505556″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]O[/mks_dropcap]ne ex-wife was looking sexy in a retro green bikini with a built-in, conish bra. She seemed taller than she had the summer before, her legs longer, her toenails redder. The other ex-wife had been going to the gym since the breakup. Her blue one-piece showed off her strong hairy calves, her sculpted arms. Highlights glinted in her frizzy brown hair and her black-framed glasses made her look as serious as ever, although she laughed and laughed, sprinting across the sand, grabbing a friend’s ass, diving for the Frisbee.

It was another potluck-birthday-going-away party. Herons fished at the water’s edge; seagulls dove lazily above them. Five, ten, then twenty people sipped warm ciders, smoked joints so fat they stretched the papers they were rolled in. Blankets and towels spread with crackers and olives, goat cheese and fruit, chocolate and nuts. Gossiping and swimming as the afternoon swung into evening and the sand started to chill under their feet. Then it was sparkling wine from a friend’s backpack, a driftwood bonfire, candles wedged in the sand, and dancing to the tinny, tiny music from someone’s phone.

The sexy one came back from peeing in the woods, flushed and laughing. She had seen a standoff between a skunk and a raccoon, but the skunk had finally slunk away. She hadn’t been sprayed. She fanned out her armpits with her hands as if releasing the smell that could have been. Her stories were always like that, tumbling and flawless.

Standing so close, the serious one could smell the salt of seawater, the warmth of sun on her. She had heard that she had dumped her boyfriend the week before. When she put her arm around the sexy one’s shoulders, she could feel the flat wet blanket of her hair, still dripping from her swim.

Of course the sexy one was the first to take her shirt off when the moon rose, to yell “Skinny dip!” and then race to the water. The serious one had not seen her breasts in eighteen months. In the firelight, her nipples were mysterious, flickering circles. She took a chug of cider and could only think of them in her mouth.

A week later they ran into each other on a street lined with bookstores, boutiques, and coffee shops in the neighbourhood where they used to live, where the serious one still lived. Neither had anywhere to be that day. At the corner café, they ordered espressos and shared a shortbread cookie. The sun was hot through the windows, the coffee very strong, the barista flirtatious and significantly tattooed. The sexy one wore pink lipstick and a new vanilla scent, her grey eyes bright between mascaraed lashes. She called her ex-boyfriend self-centered and mopey and told funny stories about their relationship. The serious one laughed at everything she said.

It was only a few short blocks to the serious one’s apartment.

After a year, more than a year, after a year and six months, her kisses were deep water, her skin the softest apricot. The sweetest vinegar between her legs. She had gotten even better at spanking. Her sweat had taken on a different tone, milkish, slightly sour, as if she was sweating out the scent of her other lovers.

That night in bed, the serious one sat up and read a poem. Not an entire poem, but an excerpt from a very long, very famous poem by someone dead. Parts of the poem were still quite good. She chose a few lines about happiness being all around us, how we can pluck it out of the air just by breathing. Then she lay back down. It was true, she thought. Happiness could be that easy. Like breathing. And she turned to the sexy one and started kissing her again.

 ◊ ◊ ◊

They did their best to keep it a secret from their friends. But within days they were seen holding hands on a certain gay street and later at the grocery store picking out a watermelon and after that it was common knowledge.

A mutual friend called the serious one. “You two are so perfect for each other it’s sickening. I don’t know why you ever broke up.”

“We’re just hanging out,” said the serious one.

“But you’re back together.”

“Not really.”

“You’re dating.”

“I wouldn’t call it that.”

“What would you call it?”

“Hanging out. Like I said. We’re hanging out.”

This friend hadn’t been satisfied with her answer, and other friends had called and texted, but the serious one never changed her story. It was just a light summer thing. They weren’t getting back together. It was fun. It was summer. It was just a light summer thing.

For weeks they fisted and kissed and fucked and stroked and slapped each other. As they crossed railroad tracks on the way to omelette breakfasts, as they biked to each other’s apartments after work, as they slept and sweated and dreamt, as they went to the movies or met for cocktails, each secretly hoped that the other would change her mind.

 ◊ ◊ ◊

They had married seven years previously, in June. It had been a beach wedding, a sunny day with seagulls and a few clouds, their friends in white pants and lavender dresses, pink suits and shorts, bikinis and rainbow boas. Encircling them were jars of fresh daffodils, lilacs, and foxgloves picked from a friend’s garden. The white-haired marriage commissioner stood by as they read the words they had so carefully written for one another.

“I will love you until my heart kicks out,” the serious one had said.

“I honour your freedom, beautiful creature,” the sexy one vowed through tears.

“May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth,” the lesbian marriage commissioner solemnly said. Then she smiled widely. “It is my great pleasure to pronounce you married. You may now kiss and dance wildly.”

And their friends cheered and cried and jumped up and down on the sand. One friend started up on his bongo drums as another sawed away at her cello. Everyone shimmied and pranced to the music, the champagne corks popping like fireworks.

 ◊ ◊ ◊

The serious one remembers this day as she spoons her ex-wife, smelling the musky vanilla sweat at the back of her neck. It’s a humid August day and they’ve been fucking since midmorning. Hot sun bakes the red curtains and fills the room with pink light. She wants to say something about that day but she doesn’t dare. Saying something would mean it, this thing they are doing, is serious. And it’s not serious, although it’s been seven weeks and at times, when they are about to fall asleep together, or when they are on the phone about to say goodbye, it seems like there is more to say, like something is going to break through the surface of the conversation. But then they just fall asleep or hang up, and she always feels lonely until she sees the sexy one again and can kiss her face.

 ◊ ◊ ◊

Their bodies are so familiar to each other. The scar on the ridge of the elbow from the motorcycle accident, the crooked nose from the missed catch while playing softball. The hairs crawling from the crotch down to the leg, the hairs crawling up to meet the belly button. The mole on the left breast, the soft flesh of the inner thigh, the strangely small second toe, the paths carved by stretch marks. They hold each other as they’ve held each other thousands of times, slick with sweat in the hot box of her bedroom.

 ◊ ◊ ◊

How did it end? The serious one has a hard time remembering. Her memories of that time are scenes seen through a rainy windshield periodically scraped by wipers. She can sometimes catch a glimpse—a clear image, a crystallized thought—but mostly it is a blurry wet painting of dark November days, cold notes left on tables, nights spent alone, nausea, insomnia, crying phone calls to friends, and finally hopelessness, boxes packed and papers signed.

But how did it end?

They fell out of love.

No, that’s not quite it.

They never fell out of love.

The sexy one fell out of lust and fell into bed with someone else. The serious one fell out of trust.

What a bad poem of a breakup it was.

 ◊ ◊ ◊

But how did it end?

The sexy one fell out of lust and …

No, that’s not quite it.

There was this other thing, this thing they never talked about until months after they broke up. This thing they still have a hard time talking about.

 ◊ ◊ ◊

The sexy one has always been more brave. And so it is she who says, after seven and a half weeks, “I think we should talk. About this. I mean, us. What we’re doing.” They are on the phone, planning their next date. “Let’s meet at the beach. I’ll bring some paper and we can draw.”

By draw, the serious one knows she means map. The sexy one loves maps, any maps, used to cover their apartment walls with them, buy antique globes from thrift stores and stuff them into tall bookshelves. The serious one always wondered why she was so obsessed with everywhere that wasn’t where they were.

At the beach, it is windy. The sun is out but fall lurks in a slight chill. The serious one has brought green tea in a thermos and a basket of blueberries. When she arrives, the sexy one is already there, unrolling a big piece of brown butcher paper and attempting to secure the corners with large rocks. As the serious one approaches, she sees there are already words and pictures drawn on the paper.

“So you got a head start, I see,” she says, setting down her backpack.

“I thought it would be a good idea. To map out a few things before we met.” The sexy one has pulled her blonde hair back in a scarf, but a few escaped strands whip her face.

“But we won’t be able to draw on the sand.”

“I’m just laying it out to show you. We can put it on this”—she pulls a large art book out of her bag and lays it on the sand—”when we want to add to it.”

They kiss and the serious one keeps one hand on the small of her back, the other gripping her upper arm. The sexy one doesn’t say anything but the serious one can feel that she wants her to let go, and so, finally, she does.

They sit on either side of the map and eat blueberries and some bread the sexy one baked. They stare at the map. The serious one sees what looks like a bridge and some rose bushes. She sees the word “promise” and the word “fun.”

“I want to add something,” she says, her mouth full of bread.


“I want to draw something. On the map.”

“Okay.” The sexy one rifles around in her bag for a pen and gives it to her.

The serious one pulls the art book onto her lap and part of the map on top of it.

“What are these bushes for?”

The sexy one raises an eyebrow and laughs. “Guess.”

“Seriously, though.”

“They’re us. Duh.”

“Not just our bushes,” the serious one attempts to joke.

“See how there’s a bridge between them?”

“But what’s that under the bridge? A boat? I really wish you’d waited for me to do this.” The serious one sips her tea and puts a blueberry in her mouth.

“You can add to it now. Go ahead.”

Next to the word “fun,” the serious one writes, “Is it?” On the bridge, she draws two stick figures. She pauses. And then draws a third, with a stick penis. She glares at the sexy one.

“Hey! Play nice. What’s he doing on the bridge? He has nothing to do with us.” The sexy one tucks a strand of hair into her scarf.

“He’s the reason we broke up.”

“He is not. We are the reason we broke up. We are. But this map isn’t about that. That’s the past. It’s about us now. Where we’re going from here. What we’re doing.”

“I don’t want to do it.” The serious one lays the pen down on the sand and holds her teacup with both hands, looking out at the water. “I don’t want to make a map.”

“Honey, we have to.”

“No, we don’t.”

“Then what are we going to do?”

“We’re going to sit here and enjoy the beach.” A seagull screeches overhead and splatters a wet pile of shit on the log beside her. They both look at it and laugh, then look tentatively at each other.

A chilly wind stirs up the beach, but that doesn’t stop the sexy one from getting up and pulling off her dress. She is wearing the same retro bikini she wore at the beach party two months previously. She spreads out her arms and smiles, then turns and runs into the waves.

The serious one holds the map against her lap and wants to let go of it, to let it blow away. But she knows she can’t. The map is not a record of where they are going. It is a record of where they have been. She flattens it with her palm and reaches for the pen. She will draw it, then. The thing between them. The thing they haven’t been able to talk about. She will draw it. She starts with a crescent shape, a new moon. Then another one. She adds little curved spikes. Eyelashes. Then small circles for nostrils, a little bow tie of a mouth. The peaceful face of a sleeping baby. The baby one of them wants and one of them doesn’t.

She looks up and sees her ex-wife splashing in the waves, kicking up her feet and laughing like a child. The sun is starting to sink behind her, lighting up the sails on the boats and making the freighters glimmer.

The wind picks up again, whipping the waves. She takes a sip of her tea but it’s already cold. She has no sweater, so she wraps her arms around herself.


Jen CurrinOriginally from Portland, Oregon, Jen Currin has lived in East Vancouver for over thirteen years. She rides her bike nearly everywhere and has gotten better at growing vegetables in her community garden plot. Jen teaches writing and literature at Vancouver Community College and creative writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She has published four books of poetry, including The Inquisition Yours, which was a finalist for three awards and won the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry in 2011; and School , which was a finalist for the 2015 Pat Lowther Poetry Award and Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Jen is currently at work on a book of short stories.