Down by the Elbow, Billy’s place was, up high on the rock, so high it was a hardship to get from the dock to the cottage. All rock, gray granite with a stripe of pink quartz marbled by white. Wind-born waves shuffled against the shore, blue-tailed skinks sunned in crevices, dragonflies hovered and snapped at minuscule prey. We all of us lived like that in summer, perched on rocks on our islands out in the open waters.
That afternoon she came from the Elbow to us. She pulled up in her whaler and her dog Thora, wearing a pink lifejacket that matched Billy’s bikini, leaped out. Billy laughed like one of the loons around here. Thora jerked and jumped at the sound of it. Dumbass dog, we thought. The water rippled as Thora chased a water snake, and Billy called out “Let’s swim.” One hand held her waterproof bag with her smokes and boat license, the other a liter bottle of Coke. Particular about that, she was. We dove in, swam to the point and back. Sparkling hot. Slept on the rock out front, but Billy shivered and Thora skootched up to her. Brittle our Billy was so we fed her and between bites she pulled on that Coke bottle like a baby at the breast. We had our suspicions.
We played dice as dusk lumbered in. Roll one thousand to get in the game, first to get ten thousand wins. Billy yanked her pink sweatshirt over her thin shoulders and right on down to her knobby knees. When her turn came, she ashed her smoke, lipped it on the saucer and flung dice across the table again and again. We caught them. Wind gentled through the screen and the candles sputtered tiny black plumes. The stars came out and Billy rolled five aces. Well, whaddayaknow she said, a strangled confession. Her smoky regret stank up the room. We knew then. Stay, we said.
Mouthy she was in her no, so ‘round ten we shoved the whaler off our dock, gave her an extra flashlight. Told her we’d pick her up the next day in our Hunt boat, do a picnic. But when we tied up at her dock she wasn’t there. No Thora either. Scoured her island. Went about to the others, we did. Later word came to us.
No one gets to stay, you know. No one. But we’re here anyway, rolling the dice.
Catherine Parnell is an editor, teacher and co-founder of MicroLit Almanac and Birch Bark Editing. Her publications include the memoir The Kingdom of His Will, as well as stories, essays and interviews in Emerge (ELJ), Cult, Orca, Grande Dame, West Trade Review, Tenderly, Cleaver, Free State Review, Barnhouse, The Brooklyn Rail, The Rumpus, The Southampton Review, The Baltimore Review, and other literary magazines.