She had lived in the house for as long as she could remember. And for as long as she could remember they had called it a house, not a trailer. There was some kind of shame in this…it caused her to flush and grow warm…to doubt the validity of her existence. She had been born up north, but the Keys were all she knew. Stupid Jimmy Buffet wannabes. Fat, old, leathery women pretending a life of glamour. Old men with big round stomachs that they used to navigate the crowded streets and bars. The tourists were the worst. Skin like dough and delusions of vacation respectability. Trying to pretend they wanted to be at the ass end of Florida. They drank and talked about how the Riviera was overrated. How Hawaii was too “commercial”. And then there were people like Sarah and her mom. People who never got to go back home with sunburns and pictures and seashells painted by junkies. People who lived in trailers and called them houses.
It was a hot day and somehow the breeze made it seem hotter. Sarah was in the kitchen ironing her clothes, her mother’s uniforms, the tablecloth, anything. She had been ironing for hours. She needed it. Needed to see the wrinkles turn to nice, smooth fabric. She spent so much time ironing. And cleaning. And trying to turn the ugly things in her life beautiful. She painted empty soda cans and made them into birds, flowers, exotic fish. Her mother insisted she sell some of them, but she never did. She couldn’t imagine them in some Midwestern duplex. They belonged to her.
Sarah put the iron down and closed her eyes. She could hear the soft murmur of the waves crashing on the white beach. She could feel drops of sweat running down her back like earwigs. She slowly exhaled and things started coming back to her. Thoughts bloomed in her mind. It had been so long since he had left. But she remembered. Hank. She remembered his laugh and the soft wrinkles around his eyes. She remembered his sour breath and his rough hands. She remembered her mother coming home early, finding them, Sarah not understanding why everyone was so angry. She was six then. Seven years had passed, but she remembered it all. And now she understood it. That it was wrong. That Hank was an asshole. That there were parts of Hank that they had loved despite it all. And that her mother would never forgive her for what had happened. She didn’t blame her, but she would never forgive. Sarah knew that without a doubt.
She opened her eyes and looked around the tiny kitchen. Decorations and drawings and wildflowers in empty coke bottles. All of it made the room look cheaper. ‘Making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’…wasn’t that what her mother said? But what was she supposed to do? She had to try. She had to hope. A tear slipped out of her left eye and she wiped it quickly with a tan finger. Ironing. She had to finish the ironing. There was so much of the day left and she did not want to be left alone with herself. Alone with the loathing she felt. The seeping anger and frustration. She wished there was a switch that could turn off her brain. But she had not yet discovered alcohol, drugs, drag races, motorcycles, sex with nervous tourist boys. That would come. But not for a few years.
Sarah picked up the iron and spit, watching the sizzle and dance of the saliva before it evaporated. She was hypnotized by the heat. These were things you could count on. Heat. Pain. Anger. She did not trust love. She did not trust kindness. She did not believe that life should be painless. With a guilty look over her shoulder, she licked her finger and touched the hot metal. She did this for several minutes, a little bit longer each time, daring herself to see how much she could make it hurt.
She was hungry and had lost track of time. Sarah made a sandwich and sat down on the couch. She could hear some tourist boys running to the water, their shrieks in harmony with the gulls. She thought about the water. She pictured herself laughing, sprinting through the hot sand until she was submerged. But it was never like she hoped it would be. It was never the shock of cold water she wanted. There was only the gentle defeat of the tepid, luke-warm waves.
On the table lay a pair of her mother’s jeans. She placed them gently on the ironing board and ran the iron up the faded leg. She watched the wrinkles, like ripples on the ocean, disappear. She smiled. The smooth glide stopped abruptly at the pocket, like the click thump of a rollercoaster before it begins its ascent. She reached her hand in and felt it close around something small and hard. Cold. It was Hank’s ring. The ring he had been so proud of. The one with the name of some college he had never attended. She slipped it into her pocket. Now it was hers. And she knew exactly what that meant.