September 1, 2003
Grainy sand and sticky lemonade
by Susan Hodara
he beat of the Young Rascals filters through the screens of the second story snack bar, growing louder as we climb the wooden steps that are grainy with sand and sticky with blotches of spilled lemonade beneath our bare feet. Good lovin', give me that good good lovin'… We are wearing our bathing suits, mine hot pink with little yellow daisies, a 'bikini' we call it, though it is really just a two-piece whose bottom hugs my hips instead of my waist, so that my navel is exposed. It is the summer of 1968 and I am fourteen.
This is the two-week chunk of August that is our family's vacation. My parents have rented a cottage on Cape Cod, one of a cluster of summer rentals in a small community called Mashnee Village. We've come with the Bensons, whose cottage is on the next block. Mrs. Benson, tall and ample with a mat of short gray hair and a beaky nose, was my ninth-grade French teacher. She is also the mother of my friend Laura and her sister, Grace, who's one year older.
Before Mashnee, Laura and I spent the first part of our summer sitting on her bed playing Spit. When I envision her now, I see her long, slender legs crossed beneath her, and her wavy, barely brushed brown hair falling along either side of her perpetually glum face. Her voice is quiet and languid; she pushes her hair behind her ears when she talks, only to have it clamber forward again, her ears too small to restrain it.
I'd ride my bike to her house in the morning, and there we'd pass the days. Sometimes we'd invade Grace's room across the hall to see what music she was listening to. Grace is also tall, with her mother's face, and hips wider than Laura's that she's always complaining about. On our first day at Mashnee, when we've donned our bathing suits and met, half-naked, clutching towels at the bottom of the street, she peruses my budding frame and declares to her sister, "Look how slight she is!" Her tone is tinged with contempt, but I am pleased by her observation and take it as a compliment.
My parents and two younger brothers are entirely absent from the memories I have of this summer stay, save for glimpses of breakfasts at a round aluminum table in the cottage's kitchen. There must have been some shopping excursions and certainly a few evening barbecues with the Bensons, but these have left no imprint. In my mind, all that vacation I'm in a bathing suit, with Laura and Grace, at the small beach that's reserved for Mashnee residents, and mostly poolside.
It's an indoor pool, enclosed by glass, so you can swim even if it rains. We take turns plunging off the aquamarine diving board, then lie facing up toward the clouds on the plastic lounge chairs whose white strips leave red bands on the backs of our legs. I remember sitting on the edge of the pool, dangling my calves in the water and noticing for the first time the way the flesh of my thighs spread out when it was pressed against the prickly concrete. I was horrified and shoved my hands underneath them, palms down, to decrease their swell.
The lifeguard is curly-haired Jake, old enough that we tease him as if he were a friendly uncle, but young enough to have a pimply brother named Ryan who's the same age as I. Jake, whose body is tanned around his blue, boxer-type bathing suit, shows up everywhere. I figure he is not a vacationer but a summer employee who lives somewhere near the resort and drives over with his brother every day. We pass him on the snack bar steps at lunchtime, then sit not far from him on the grassy area next to the pool to eat our hotdogs and fries. He gives us tips down by the shuffleboard game that's painted on the pavement on the way to the beach, and we giggle and shrug because we're not really playing by the rules anyway. He's energetic and outgoing and I find it exciting to spot him in my vicinity.
His brother Ryan appears to be spending his days at Mashnee because he has nothing else to do, and probably isn't allowed to stay home alone while Jake and his parents are at work. His hair is darker than Jake's, straight and greasy, and it droops in front of his eyes. Even though his body is shorter, it seems harder, stronger than his brother's. He is quiet, sitting off by himself most of the time as if he's waiting for Jake to finish his work, watching idly, thinking about nothing much. Though I never see him use the pool, he, too, spends his days shirtless and in a bathing suit, and there are blemishes along the top of his shoulders.
Nevertheless, it is Ryan whom I kiss every night. We meet as the sun is setting by the rocky shore, down the road on the other side of the resort. There are a few houses nearby, but I don't think they're part of Mashnee. I walk there after dinner with my family, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, pink beach sandals flip-flopping against the pavement, and he is waiting, standing on clumps of rocks that lead from the street to the choppy water below and that sometimes move under our feet. Although I don't know how we've worked out this arrangement because I have no recollection of speaking with him, I can imagine a group of kids meeting up at the snack bar and walking off together at the end of the afternoon, one heading here, another there, until it is just Ryan and me. "Can you come again tomorrow night?" he might have asked me through lips reddened from the pressure of mine. I'm sure I've told my parents I'm with Laura and Grace, but I worry I'll be discovered where I'm not supposed to be, silhouetted against the deep gray of the sea. We stand pressed together as it gets dark, our arms around each other, the ocean wind cool in my hair. His lips dance with mine while our tongues trace circles inside our mouths. We don't talk; I don't even know his last name.
In my memory, it seems like it was night after night, but if you count, there may not have been more than a few of these meetings. I am almost sure that the image I carry of us, nearly motionless and silent along the shore, is from the last night of my vacation. When I slid into the backseat of my parents' packed-up Chevrolet the next morning, my mind was probably steeped in thoughts of Ryan, though nothing more was ever exchanged between us. He was the first boy I kissed that way, and when I think about it, maybe the last: endless and stripped-bare kisses in the night air, more pressure than taste, more me than us. Yet for those few nights, that was the only place I belonged, trailing innocence in the wake of indomitable drives, beguiled by a boy who by just standing still gave me all I needed, and whose weathered lips still linger in my memories like the chorus from an old Top 40 hit.
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