Aurelie Sheehan is the author of two novels, History Lesson for Girls and The Anxiety of Everyday Objects, as well as a short story collection, Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant. Her work has appeared in journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, Epoch, Fence, New England Review, Nimrod, and The Southern Review. She has received a Pushcart Prize, a Camargo Fellowship, the Jack Kerouac Literary Award, and an Artists Projects Award from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Since 2005, Sheehan has directed the Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Arizona, where she also teaches fiction.
Her other T-shirt says “Adidas” on it, and just last week she learned how to pronounce that word, rhymes roughly with Make It LAST. And if things last two weeks or two months, it's a long time when you're fourteen, and the newness of the day overlays your life like a new coat of paint, blues and blacks and reds over a suburban Gesso wash.
Relax, your parents fit into a category of difficulties called PARENTS.
Relax, your body is a mystery, capable of withstanding much violence, and it's called THE BODY.
The T-shirt is on sale for five dollars. What a deal! Mickey Mouse doing his characteristic bashful one-foot-forward dalliance. She buys it.
Time is really very easy to understand. The teenager will strip in the hostel bedroom, a dormitory room with bunk beds. Everyone else is downstairs already, time for dinner on the wharf. She will look about two hundred times cooler in this T-shirt than she did before. She will not realize that she's been joined upstairs by Bruce C., the one who showed everyone the condom he had in his wallet the night before, the one who wears a jean jacket and what is it about him really? Something about him crosses a line, is sexy and also disgusting and she's afraid of it. He will see the girl, the teenager, because he's come up to get, of all things, that same wallet—though not to fetch the crinkled up old condom package that he found in his brother's room six months ago and has carried, a talisman, ever since. He'll stop in the doorway when he sees her. He'll watch her rummage in the bag and then, in one long stretching movement, take off her shirt. She's not wearing a bra, but he'll only see her from the back. Her back is white with many freckles, and she's skinny, and it will almost look like her back goes in where her spine is, not out, and that will be so odd for Bruce C., so fearful, a little like—a little like his baby sister's back, only skinnier, and then before much time has passed this new shirt will drop over the skin—white large sheet of blindness—and he will remember who this girl is, the exact specific clique she's in, the exact relationship between them, and his eyes will shut, his fluttering eyelids will shut, and he'll hold in his mind the image of her terrifying back, a back that creates a more powerful tenderness in him than a fourteen year old ought to be able to gin up, a back that is not a Playboy back or a jerk-off back or any girl's back—though it will become, in its specificity, an anonymous back—but is, for a second, a part of his own fingerprint, riddled with doubt and surety, the most terrifying white, freckled back, the most possible moment of skin, of a kind of absurd sexual appetite which comes from down there, but also—within—but then she screams.
It's a short scream. It comes out before she is even aware of it, an anonymous teenage girl wired to hate.
She notices how small his feet are and wonders if a man can be strong and still have small feet. Does her father have small feet? Does her mother? The feet, small as they are, move back and forth awkwardly as he reaches behind him into the cooler. It's as if they have a life of their own, or maybe that they have no life at all.
“Budweiser or—looks like there's one more Corona.”
“I'll take the Corona,” she says. What else is there? The afternoon is entirely lost.
He's facing forward again. When he faces forward, his feet disappear and are replaced by his frightening eyes, looking up at her from underneath teetering sunglasses. He has a sunburned nose.
“Can you do me a favor?” she says quickly—then wishes she hadn't spoken at all.
“What's that, babe?”
She remembers that her boom box is still in his car and there is no way she can leave without it. Or she could, but her imagination isn't strong enough.
“Can you put lotion on my back?”
It was late at night, just last night, when she met him, although he claimed to have seen her before. He is in the telecommunications industry and this is 1980, when even the word “telecommunication” is new and reminds her of billboards or adding machines, or whatever. She hasn't had a date since Jonathan, and last night, she remembers, that seemed like forever ago, although at seventeen it isn't forever, exactly, only a matter of days, a month at most. No years besides this one matter in terms of what she knows, who she is, what she has learned about men as she's gotten older.
“Don't you remember, we stood by the bleachers? You were pretty messed up. A little party animal, aren't you?”
“Me? Oh, I like to party, sure. But I don't remember you. I hardly ever go to football games.”
“Bet you'd look cute in a little pom-pom dress or whatever you call 'em.”
She turned away then.
With sudden energy, he said, “Look at that asshole try to open that with his teeth. What an asshole!”
She looked over to the guys standing around the keg waiting for new beer. She laughed some.
He took her by the shoulder, a kind of buddy-buddy thing, a way of touching that didn't mean anything.
Now, she lay on the beach, belly to the ground. The bumps are hard as boulders—wasn't sand soft, wasn't that the thing? Out the side of her eyes, the sun comes in like a shout, like her mother shouting at her, about her job, or about her hair, or about her father, or about the applications to college scattered around the dining room table. She can, in the background, hear the small waves piddle across the shore, and she can hear the cars passing—cars going twenty miles an hour somewhere, away from here. He is shaking the bottle of sunscreen. Who shakes sunscreen, she wonders.
She hears the cap flip up and he leans very close to her ear. She smells his cigarettes, and something else, like car freshener.
“Do you want a little—here?”
His hand passes down over her ass and he slides his fingers between her thighs. Speechless, she widens them just a little.