No man, ever, had torn the wrapper free from a candy bar with more ferocity than Corey Gordon on the night he went swimming.
He wasn’t in the water while accomplishing said feat. He was on the road, fresh off another evening spent forcefully reminding drunk individuals that while walking away from an argument might make them a metaphorical punk, not walking away might make them an actual punk.
The late drives, powered by sugar (the aforementioned candy bar), nostalgia (for the better old days of radio, when Nirvana wasn’t considered classic rock), and dreams (of ways to blow the melting popsicle stand known as the United States of America) usually ended after the second yawn. Melancholic, fructose-provoked reveries died out quickly–and the role of resurrector no longer entertained the man behind the wheel.
Corey Gordon yearned for a dangerous situation to insert himself into.
From strip mall to dunes was a straightforward trip underneath half moon’s light. Corey strolled along the byway as though he belonged, as though his presence did not raise issues of legality and common sense. A small cooler and orange street cone balanced him out. Just another day at the beach, a quarter past midnight.
At the thought of nosy-rosy residents or robbers, Corey stayed dry. Let ’em try their luck. The police would likely move on the moment they ascertained his race–if they even showed.
He stopped twenty feet from water’s edge, setting down cone and cooler. He stripped down to his swim trunks, grey and black under the moonlight. He flexed his arms, forearm to bicep, savoring the tension, running his hands over them as if applying especially thick lotion.
He pulled one wet can from the cooler for want not need (anticipation had chased the chocolate away minutes before). In less time than it took to finish a drag race, he’d knocked it back and dropped it back, providing the others with a vision of the future.
Being slightly older than the millennials super-pumped to be alive during a time of unprecedented opportunity to deepen their souls and enrich their characters, to play direct roles in the reconstruction of a global monolith, Corey insisted on being too informed to haphazardly embrace progression any quicker than he would dully accept regression. Yet, he lacked the sense to be cowed by the magnitude of a move across the ocean, away from the only home he’d ever known.
The negatives were no light load. Nor were the positives.
No worse time, no better time.
Tempestuous images of European beaches flashed every time he erected a screen. Spain, Greece, France, even England boasted some gorgeous spots if the language barrier presented a concern. (Corey didn’t care; who went to beaches to talk?)
He stopped twenty feet away from shore, content to float, and it was while in this position the epiphany struck: rather than wondering how best to escape a burning house, he should be planning to flee the master bedroom.
Of all the warnings people gave vis-a-vis nocturnal swims–poor vision, attacks from within and without–he’d never been privy to a specific horror story. No one who’d lost a limb, or even caught a trespassing charge, much less brushed against Morta or Megalodon.
Corey basked in his vulnerability. He began to feel less like an intruder/idiot. He even patted the water, as though confirming a sublime connection.
The intruder padded along the narrow road separating sands from structures, mind swimming faster (and clumsier) than his entire body had just minutes before.
A woman’s laughter appeared, then, halting him mid-stride with gentle nips to his bare calves. She’d sounded young and in love. A man’s voice, garbled and boisterous, followed. Chip ascertained the sounds had traveled downward, from the condominium standing at his left.
Part of Corey Gordon–a significant chunk, larger than a grown man’s fist–yearned to ingratiate himself into a group of strangers. It would be easier than he feared to bounce up the stairs and bop a fist against a door, and let the relative power of genetics carry most of the weight across the threshold.
It was just what he needed.
He sprinted over to the stairs, the contents of the cooler filling the air like a rockslide. He freed his hands and flattened his hair, motions which assisted him greatly in the silent concoction of a likely story.
Then the damn turtle.
Or the damn human, for looking down. For not just heading up the steps.
The box turtle dawdled by the staircase, greater concerns than a peeved person encouraging it along. Corey struggled to identify the feelings such a routine creature scattered throughout his mind. They’d become lodged in nooks, forcing Corey to admit the limits of his adventurousness.
He scowled; he muttered; he mentally drummed up future scenarios for the wandering reptile (new pet, fresh meal, stale roadkill). He lifted a bare foot, intentions less than idyllic, but before any part of him touched the turtle, its shell adopted the properties of black ice.
He stumbled, landing on the wooden steps knees-first.
“Ow ow son of a!”
The woman’s laughter penetrated the condo’s front door and set fire to the once-welcoming wood.
The stink of his fraudulence weakened Corey’s other senses. The turtle had disappeared into the shadows. The unabashed emotion stood at an unreachable crest. The flames feasted on pungent air, and Corey’s hands flew up, the gesture of a man unable to discern salvation from survival.
Corey returned the next day to see the safety cone and ice cooler still where he had left them. He thought of retrieving them, but the sunshine was too bright.
The turtle was long gone, anyway.
Jennifer Benningfield’s stories have appeared in several publications, including Black Dandy, The Sonder Review, Vagabonds and Five:2:One. A lifelong Marylander who has been in the (mostly) benevolent thrall of words since receiving “Green Eggs and Ham” as a birthday present, her writings can also be found online at www.trapperjennmd.blogspot.com.