The sun bleeds through his white hair—bleached. Each strand of hair the wire frame of an umbrella. Shirtless, he’s stretched out on the floor. The air—the fuzz of a peach—warm and quiet. His hands cover his face and he doesn’t see you leave the shower, but you see him on the floor. Bleached hair, toned chest, and a little joint between his lips.
You know he’s not ready to start the day. Unwilling to wake up. Unwilling to let it begin. The day begins. He pulls back his hair and it does you in. You think we could be mothers, if we tried hard enough. And fathers too.
You’d say, Act like my mother.
And he would.
Then you’d tell him to brush your hair and he’d say, Okay. Act like my father. You’d put on a belt because fathers wear belts—thick black belts broad against your skinny waists. From the floor, he pulls at your towel. It falls and you fall with it.
The air is warm like peach fuzz.
He’s up before the sun and out the door.
What happens here deserves to be left here. If he stayed any longer, he would have been trapped. Recycled air funneling through the the window unit. The smell of cigarettes coming from the next room, blood red lips, and cheap prosecco. There, at the motel, this how they keep time.
Time, a measurement of bodily fluids. A measurement of swimming the lengths of yourself before swimming the lengths of another. Swimming to let go. Swimming as a measurement of the body.
He slams the door of his cruiser, turns the key, and takes a drink of day-old water, and he’s gone. If you were to go and ask the motel keeper, he’d say he’s never seen the guy. And then if you were to ask the motel keeper how he makes money, he’d say, By minding my business. You’d leave frustrated, but you’d know the answer. You’d know it lies somewhere along the coast or lost off the shoulder of the road or floating in the infinity pool of some rich family. You’d drive on like he drives on.
Naked on the bed. Naked on the beach. These are all imagined.
Situations you’ve never been in, but you watch him. You watch him as he crawls into bed with person after person. As he takes off his trunks and dives in deep. Dives deep into the ocean. That sudden release. That deep breath before entering. All the blood rushing to your chest.
He’s flush and coy. His chest. His wet body wet from waves and water. You think coy. Even though you would never say that aloud and nobody who knows him would ever call him coy.
The other person on the shore calls out his name, he pretends not to hear, and wipes the sand off his knees. His knees make you weak and you knock at them until you can’t knock anymore. You know what it means to be coy and he says to you, I am your mother. I am your father. Wipe the sand from your eyes.
Tyler Dillow lives in Washington and is the author of Watershed.