Champagne from Ohio, as it turns out, sits like glue in your guts and festers to gasoline on the back of your tongue if you leave it there long enough. It is not as charming as it was the previous night, but charm was more or less invented by alcohol anyway. And it is a lie.
It was a nice one though, as far as those go.
Fatin is hungover. Hungover in an extraordinary, unrivaled way, befitting herself but also not so befitting anything with a pulse. If she does in fact still have that.
She checks with two fingers to her neck and she’s still checking when Dot plunks down next to her on the sand. “How do you feel?” Dot asks and this in itself is an aggression, a bit uncalled for.
“Great. I did pushups and an early morning foraging run before sunup.”
“No I puked on Rachel’s bed.”
Dot makes a pleased little noise in the back of her throat. “No way, I puked on Rachel’s bed too.”
“Solid.” And if Rachel kills her when she sees it, then she will unwittingly be committing an act of mercy. So joke’s on her, really. Fatin pushes her sunglasses further up her nose. “Happy birthday, Dorothy.”
Fatin would but she doesn’t have the energy.It’s unfairly sunny, cheerful, sweaty, frustrating. Putting the pathetic in pathetic fallacy.
Fatin thinks she’s about to moan, but it winds up into a demented laugh from the deep well of her unsettled guts and Dot gives her the look . The sanity check. “I was just thinking. What if we’re here forever. Like what if this is our life now? Caveman birthday parties, sisterhood of the traveling dysentery, made-up beach sports and unseasoned campfire catch of the day. I’m not sure when I stopped thinking this was something temporary I had to endure and started thinking long term. Have we snapped?”
Dot looks thoughtful. “Sisterhood of the traveling…pants, right? I feel like the joke was right there. We’re all wearing the Fatin Jadmani line of fashion. I think you overworked it. C’mon, Fatin.”
“C’mon Fatin,” she agrees. “I’ll workshop it. When I retell it later, you keep your mouth shut.”
“Fine. Let me have your sunglasses, then.”
“Well hold on now. It wasn’t that good of a joke,” Fatin mutters, leaning away so Dot doesn’t try to snatch them off her face. “If you take them, I’ll scream.”
“For help? From who exactly?” Dot spreads her hands grandly, indicates their general isolated misery.
“It’s from whom .”
Dot gives her a suspicious look. “Is it?”
Fatin’s mouth goes flat and she stares out at the stupid ocean. “Do I look like I know?” She folds her legs up and wraps her arms around her knees so she can set her chin on them. Everything hurts and not in a good way. “Ask Sylvia Plath over there. If I scream she’ll probably kill you. She’ll bug out, bad dog. I’ll do it, I don’t care.”
Fatin’s only half-joking. They’re all pulling tight against such a taut line. You so much as breathe on the thread and it snaps. It runs between all of them, though, they’re feral and reactionary and worst of all protective. When you have nothing, even a stranger becomes everything.The perspective - the context of the thing is a lesson in immersive sink-or-swim language. They speak it now.
Leah’s forty feet off with an armful of flotsam and a vacant look in her eyes like she was doing something and forgot what it was. Fatin would call her habits lost-looking if it didn’t always look so purposeful. Insanity is just commitment, Fatin figures, and she’s been raised to respect and appreciate commitment.
“How is she not hungover?” Dot grumbles and they watch Leah drop her armload of junk in a pile and spin in a circle once for some reason. “What is she even doing?”
“She wasn’t drinking. And who cares, look at her go.” She gestures proudly while Leah stands ankle-deep and dissociates in the general direction of the horizon. Lost, but purposefully. Art, almost. If Fatin was inclined.
“She wasn’t?” Dot squints.
“Discreetly. Would you drink if you were prone to bouts of paranoid ghoulishness? Leah’s crazy, but she’s not stupid.” Fatin clicks her tongue against her teeth and they watch Leah sit abruptly in the surf. “I think for her, it’s a houseguest in her brain she is learning to live with. Make room for it, understand it, respect it. Accept you can’t evict it, so make sure it’s wearing clothes and not shitting on your carpet.”
Dot takes a moment to catch up, then gives her a confused look. “Huh? You mean - what, being crazy? Insanity? A houseguest? ”
Fatin shrugs, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. “And I think we can make room for it too. The thing in Leah’s brain. A spot at the campfire. The allowance that it might not always be wearing pants or it might miss the toilet seat sometimes. But it is trying and it’s kind of cute in a weird way. I kind of like having it around.”
“Are you okay?” Dot reaches out and gracelessly tacks the back of her hand against Fatin’s forehead. “Hm,” she concludes eventually and draws her hand away. Unresolved, apparently. The plot thickens.
“I’ve had worse houseguests. I’ve had worse roommates too. Worse family, even.” Fatin smiles. “Look at her.”
They look. Leah gets smacked in the face by a dislodged chop of surf and blinks as her hair plasters itself to the crown of her head comedically. Her expression is wounded.
Dot looks back at Fatin and laughs, shaking her head. “You’re losing it.”
“Yes, I would agree. You read porn now, Rachel eats carbs, jesus-freak tongues girls, Mother Theresa runs through the woods on all fours catching birds in her teeth, and I care about people, I’d say it’s a localized contagion.”
“It’s not porn.”
“It’s porn,” Fatin says seriously. When Dot opens her mouth to protest, Fatin cuts her off. “It’s porn,” she repeats. “Shut your mouth, it’s porn.”
“So we just make room for it?”
“Yeah. We make room for it. Look at Leah. Look how gracefully she makes room for it,” she gestures demonstrably as Leah gets hit in the face by another wayward swell and begins violently sneezing the water from her sinuses. “We make room for the porn.”
“You know…” Dot says slowly, deliberately, “I wouldn’t have guessed it, but I think you might be the weirdest person I’ve ever met.”
Fatin turns to give Dot a look of utmost pity. “Oh, Dorothy. You have got to get out more.”
“I am aware.” They watch dispassionately as Leah gets bowled over on the next swell and has to stand, lest she be washed away entirely. Her hair hangs about her head in a bedraggled sort of way. She’s holding fistfuls of something and staring down at her hands.
“I could watch her all day,” Fatin decides.
“That’s kind of…gay.”
“Yeah,” Fatin agrees absently. “If this is life now, there’s going to be more of that. Being a girl is a lot of ‘haha just kidding… but what if .’ The female species is ninety-nine percept homoerotic tension and conditional irony, I’m kidding if you want me to be kidding. The homosexual tension will eventually hypnotize us. We’ll snap. I’m just lining up my options.”
Dot laughs. “Oh, my gentle pervert.” She chafes her hand against Fatin’s sandy back and it shouldn’t be comfortable but it is. “Maybe if I squint and like, tilt my head a bit I kind of get it,” she meets her in the middle. “Could be the island. I miss television. Maybe she’s the next best thing.”
“Maybe she is. And? My parents would absolutely hate her. ”
“You’ve got brain rot,” Dot says fondly. “That’s why you get her. Because you’re crazy.”
“Hm, yeah maybe.” Fatin nods to herself, thinks on it a bit, and then, “Kinda does it for me. She’s got crazy-eyes, like a bonkers purebred, genetically fucked in the head. Fear makes me kind of horny. Who isn’t into crazy.”
“Boo, no fun. Give it a few weeks, I’m gonna climb that like a tree. Adapt or die, Dorothy.”
“I can’t tell if you’re joking,” Dot laughs.
Fatin’s turns her chin, gives Dot a grave look. “I am always joking.”
“Yeah, and you know what that means? That you’re actually never joking. That you-” and she punctuates her point by pressing a finger bluntly into Fatin’s forehead, “-are discreetly the most sincere person in any given room. But don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”
“You know…I wouldn’t have guessed it, but I think you might be the coolest person I’ve ever met.”
“Well now who needs to get out more.” Dot jerks her chin over Fatin’s shoulder. “She’s walking over here.”
“Act natural,” Fatin stage-whispers, pokes fun at her.
“What does that mean?”
“Say something rugged and wholesomely domineering.”
Dot frowns, flicks through her rolodex of wisdom as Leah approaches. She settles on, “you need to eat more greens. You haven’t been shitting enough.”
Leah stops in front of them, hears it, awesome.
Fatin smiles wryly at Dot. “You’re so charming.”
“I think we nailed it,” Dot stage whispers back and very well, the last laugh has been had.
If Leah was planning on saying something, it gets lost. She frowns at Dot. “Wait do you actually track our bowel movements?”
Eventually Dot offers, “why wouldn’t I?” Like they’re all the weird ones. Again, perspective, like a natural disaster.
If Leah’s perturbed, she has more pressing things on her mind. She doesn’t comment, so…small blessings, really.
“What do you got there?” Fatin presses and Leah seems to remember she’s holding something in her hands.
“I don’t want to be insensitive, but I do feel it is my duty to point out you are indeed holding something.” She raises her eyebrows sternly and adopts an appropriately patronizing tone. “Is the nothing in the room with you right now?”
“Ha,” Leah says tonelessly. She turns her palms upward and opens her fingers and it sure is a pile of rocks. “The colloquial nothing, as it were.”
“That…” Fatin purses her lips, “sure is a pile of rocks.”
“I’m aware.” Leah’s fingers snap closed around them again. “I’m not crazy.”
“Okay, I’m crazy. This is unrelated. Scout’s honor.”
Fatin zips it up, nods dutifully, scout salutes she thinks? She has no idea. Celebrities get honorary doctorates, surely they’ve all earned honorary scout meritship. She’s eaten goat. She shits in a hole in the ground. She won’t beg, but c’mon.
“I just…” Leah’s knuckles tighten and her gaze scatters somewhere vaguely to the left. “What are you two talking about?” She redirects, shuffles her hands so they’re partially obscured behind her thighs.
“Fatin’s gone native. She says we’re going to be here forever.”
“That’s optimistic,” Leah chuffs.
Dot shrugs one shoulder, excuses everything the generous way she does, she’s a fuckin’ G is what she is. “She’s adapting. Fatin’s gonna be mom and you’re gonna be dad and we’re all going to make room for our shared mental decline. Take a good look at your future, Leah.”
Leah stares at Fatin openly and she’s usually a pretty big fan of that, but something about it feels exposing in a not-sexy way. Is this what it’s like to be self-conscious? It’s both thrilling and horrible and kind of arousing.
“Flattering, but Dot’s definitely dad,” Leah says after a lengthy pause. “If dads were actually useful.”
Dot gives Fatin an absolutely shit-eating grin. “I tried, man.”
“Try less,” Fatin begs.
Leah smiles innocently, oblivious and beautifully deranged. “I’m crazy uncle material, at best. Like the one that only gets begrudgingly invited to Christmas.”
“Well,” Dot says diplomatically, obnoxiously, “Everybody likes a crazy uncle. Don’t worry, Fatin, she can be from my side.”
“I’m going to kill you.”
“Now, now, dear. Not in front of uncle.”
“Are you guys okay?” Leah asks and that is rich.
“No,” Dot says cheerfully. “Hungover as fuck.” She dusts her shorts off as she stands, using Fatin’s shoulder for support to get to her feet. Before she lets go, she squeezes and gives Fatin a little shake, looking up at Leah as she does it. “This is a good one, you know?”
Fatin rolls her eyes and Leah just gives her a confused smile.
“Okay, I’m going to start chores. Don’t forget to shit more, Fatin.”
“What would I do without you.”
Turns out she’s going to have to figure it out, because Dot walks away and Fatin’s still sitting there with a cloud in her aching brain and Leah holding fistfulls of nothing.
Leah stares down at her, unsure. Fatin gestures to the spot Dot had vacated and pushes her sunglasses up again, determined as they are to slide off her nose. It’s a thin shield against the ruthless, cheery morning sun but it’s not nothing.
“What’s the news report, uncle?” Fatin asks disinterestedly. “Everyone survive the night?”
“Yeah. Rachel would like a word, though.”
“Fantastic,” Fatin mutters and wonders if a will written in sand on a deserted island holds any legal authority. “Martha?”
“Hunting. Surprisingly resilient to hangover. Kind of a badass.”
“The happy couple?”
“Alive and well.”
“That’ll be all, captain.”
Leah laughs. “You do that, you know?” She gives Fatin a secretive smile. “Roster us. Nearly every hour. Obsessive. Almost…”
“Crazy?” Fatin finishes, waggles her fingers menacingly.
“Deranged,” Leah agrees. “But sweet.”
“It’s hardly my fault you guys are always getting into trouble. You age me horribly.”
“Well now that’s only fair to the rest of us. Level the playing field. Your worst day will nearly always beat our best.”
Fatin narrows her eyes, lets out a suspicious hum. “Don’t you flirt with me, Leah Rilke, I will island-marry you. I will caveman throw you over my shoulder. I will kill a goat for you.”
“You’re stupid,” she laughs and yes. That is probably the size of it.
“You gonna tell me what you’ve got there? For real this time?”
Leah’s closed fists are resting on her thighs and finally, finally, she turns them upwards and opens her palms. “It is, in fact, just rocks.”
“You’re so sexy when I don’t understand you.”
“I do like those odds.” Leah sifts the rocks around her palm with her thumb and Fatin watches, content to wait for the logic, or whatever passes as that these days. Eventually, Leah closes the loop. “I just like them.”
“Who doesn’t love a good rock.”
“No, these rocks. Look,” Leah offers and spreads them out on the sand between them. Fatin takes a closer look and doesn’t write them off the way she had before. She reaches out and fingers through them, pushing them out to study each one Leah’s collected and okay, maybe there’s purpose here. “I should’ve known you were a collects-weird-rocks girl. Sentimental about whatever two thoughts you can strike together and get a spark from, no matter how dull.”
“You’re making fun of me.”
“Well of course I am. I like you,” Fatin scoffs and picks up her favorite. “Huh. Is this glass?”
“Yeah I see glass , I’m just making sure you see it too.”
“You’re not funny.” But Leah’s laughing, so. Where’s the proof. “Reminds me of you,” she gestures like she means Fatin to keep the stupid thing and great . Now she has to be responsible for this thing that’s been assigned value arbitrarily. She’s attached. It’s getting a little heavy, all the things she’s started carrying on her back since they got there. All the things she can’t live without any more. Pretty fucked it’s all just deserted island flotsam she suddenly can’t live without.
“Beautiful sea garbage?” She asks wryly.
“Down but not out,” Leah agrees cheerfully, lovely flotsam that she is. “Who would’ve thought it could be worn so smooth.”
“Oh I’m worn-down sea garbage. Thanks, girl.”
“Stop,” Leah says mildly. “You’re just not as cutting as you want people to think you are. You’re not what I thought you were. Not at all.”
“Writers,” Fatin mutters, but yeah okay, it’s a little embarrassing being caught with her pants down like that, metaphorically speaking of course. The literal is almost always preferable. “Well I hope it was worth it - snorting a gallon of saltwater for your poetic rocks.” She turns the piece of clouded glass over in her palm and smooths her thumb over it a few times, pleased with the weight and texture. It is kind of pretty.
“Do you like it?”
“I’m mad that I do.”
“Then it was worth it,” Leah says peacefully, quite at home with her madness.
Fatin closes the sea garbage in her fist and turns to watch the way Leah stares outward at something she’ll probably never see. Understanding is overrated. The less she gets Leah, the more she likes her. She’s never been a big fan of bland flavors. “You’ve been busy lately,” Fatin redirects. “Does that help?”
“Well. I’ve been told in the past that distractions aren’t substitutions for healing. But you know what?”
“I’m dying to.”
“I can’t stand when people pretend they know best. Pretend they know how to fix me. Pretend it’s something that can be fixed, like it’s not what I am. Who I am, how can I cut that out of me with clean margins? Distraction makes me feel better,” Leah asserts, nods her head once in a rare show of clarity.
“I’m not complaining,” Fatin agrees.
“Isn’t life about feeling better? What does permanency matter when we’re not? Rachel wants to be a carpenter, of all things. She just felt that right here at the edge of the world. Isn’t that something?”
“ You’re something,” Fatin counters, letting out a delighted, if not bewildered laugh. “I like that,” she decides. I like you , she leaves out. So sue her, she likes to sample the available wares. People are fun and strange. She’ll see what comes of it.
“Well, ask me again tomorrow,” Leah laughs to herself, taking up a unique round, split-colored stone to flip absently between her fingers. “It’s a day-by-day sort of thing. This morning I was sure the island birds were drones spying on us.”
“Huh. I mean…are we so sure we want to abandon that theory already? It’s kind of a fun one.”
“Day-by-day,” Leah reminds her. She pauses, her finger still on the rock and she gets that manic glint in her eye. “They could totally be drones, right?”
“Fly high, my sweet lunatic. Never change.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” she says warmly, rocking her knee outward to tap against Fatin’s in that easy camaraderie they’ve somehow unearthed out here in the middle of nowhere. If they ever go back, she’s not leaving without it. She’ll sit right here on this stupid sand and wave the helicopter goodbye if that’s the price. They’re all a little bit mad that way.
Fatin breathes in deeply, holds it a second, then lets it go and feels good about it. “We’re gonna be this way forever, right?”
“If you’re asking if you’re all going to be as mad as me, I’m afraid you have to earn that right. It’s a lifestyle commitment.”
“I know a thing or two about commitment. Don’t give me that look.” She scrunches her nose, glares playfully. “Maybe not to people , but to concepts. What makes you so sure you guys aren’t a concept to me?”
“I’m not questioning your loyalty, Fatin. I’m not. Nobody is. About anyone. I think we’re well beyond reassurances and insecurities.”
Fatin hums, tilts her chin just so. “Whoever we were before this is over. You know that, right?”
“I know that. I’ve known that long enough I’m not even mourning her anymore. She’s gone and I’m at peace with it.”
“Good. It’s not terrible, right? It’s supposed to be terrible. Why isn’t it?” Fatin wonders aloud, uncharacteristically introspective.
Leah just shakes her head, she doesn’t know and Fatin suspects she doesn’t even care to. That’s probably the best way around it, or through it, or whatever.
“You know I love you right?” Fatin asks incredulously.
Leah gives her a weird look and Fatin’s not so sure she’s the sane one. “Uh, duh?” She rolls her eyes. “You’re not quiet about anything. You love louder than anyone I’ve ever met, it’s deafening.”
And yeah, that’s a little embarrassing. She thinks she’s pouting.
“Jesus, it’s a compliment.”
“Careful with that lord-in-vain thing, Shelby has the ears of a fox.”
“Fatin,” Leah sighs, what a burden it must be. “What matters to me is here with me. Whatever comes after, I’ll have what I need.”
Fatin catches her eye and it’s too much, way too much. It’s too much because she feels the same way. “You mean Dot?”
“I totally mean Dot.”
“Well I called dibs, so keep your grubby hands off of her.”
“I kinda figured she’d be like the Stanley Cup. Like we’d take turns, pass her around.”
“I kinda figured we wouldn’t have to. Like we’re never going to be apart if there even is an after this. I don’t see a future that’s not us.” Fatin laughs and yep, it sounds a little insane when she hears it. “We are warped.”
“Matter of perspective, I’d argue,” so she gets it. Leah holds her strange rock up against the sun and squints to study it in relief against the ocean backdrop. “What if there’s recording devices in the rocks?”
Fatin lets out a satisfied sigh, all is right in her world, fucked though it may be. The little things therein are lined up the way they’re supposed to be and she’s fucked enough too to be happy with that. She stretches her arm out around Leah’s shoulders and brings her close, kisses her temple while Leah ignores her. “Thanks for the sea garbage.”
“You’re welcome,” Leah says absently, still searching her rock for subatomic recording equipment.
“Truly, from the bottom of my heart, I am glad you’re on my side. I would hate to be your enemy.”
Leah laughs to herself, twists the rock around for a better angle. “Keep a good hold on the leash. I’m a runner.”
“Oh, I know. Not funny.”
“But I do attack on command. I’d kill for you. You know that? I mean it. I’m that fucked in the head.”
“Why do you think I feed you?” Fatin’s brows bunch together, consternated and maybe a little upset by the depth of the something connecting them. “This is all your fault, you know? What was that, huh? You marked me. Your blood on my face and now I can’t let you go.”
“Very insidious of me,” Leah agrees, lighthearted. She gets it, but she doesn’t get it. There’s something there, though. Something about the day-by-day that Fatin can appreciate. Time doesn’t feel as much like a noose, but more like breadcrumbs behind her to find her way back.
She uses her hold on Leah’s shoulder to leverage herself to her feet, stretching out her back and rubbing at her sore bottom. “Don’t wander, please. It’s bad for my heart.”
“I love you too.”
Fatin plays feint, hand over her heart, dreamy sigh. Leah laughs and lets Fatin run her grubby nails loosely back through her hair as she turns to go. “Heartbreaker,” she mutters and Leah’s laugh follows her and that’s just the game they play.
“That better not awaken anything in me,” Fatin sighs, kicking sand up as she shuffles away. “Not again.”
When she gets back to the fire, Dot is rooting around to let the embers breathe, tenting the new kindling in an expert sort of way to keep the structure burning. Fatin grabs for some cooling water and stands at Dot’s side, sipping from it and watching Leah sort her rocks. She visors her brow with a hand to see better.
“Mother?” Dot asks seriously.
Dot looks up, eyes flicking demonstrably out to their wayward friend. Leah’s eyes are closed, nose turned up to the front carrying in new air. Dot lets out a little snort of a laugh and shakes her head like it’s such a burden to be so smart, to see everything all the time. “You’re an idiot.”
“That’s no way to speak to the mother of your children.”