They can drive all the way to Galveston if they want to, and they do.
Mom ties a red scarf around her hair and rolls the windows down. The
girls, Marnie and Jolene, sing songs they learned at their first Girl
Scout camp out last summer. They argue over the words. John Jacob Jingle
Hymber Smitts or Smith. His name is my name too. Is it Smitts or Smith?
It's fun to argue. They can do it for as long as they want, when their
Dad isn't there, and so they do. They make up Mad-Libs in the car, they
use words like Bra or Fart or Sex to make the stories funny. Mom turns
on the radio. They laugh about that song the old sleaze Conway Twitty
sings, And as I taste your tender kisses, I can tell, you've never been
this far before...
They take the ferry and throw a loaf of bread to the gulls. Jolene
watches the dolphins follow the wake of the boat and Marnie stands at
the mast because she loves getting splashed. They drive all the way out
to the Bolivar Peninsula.
There's a beach house for rent. It's all one room, with a little
avocado colored kitchenette and a bathroom full of seashells. They'll
all share the big bed. The place smells musty but beachy, like wet sand.
There's a balcony. If they'd come here in the summertime they could have
slept out on the balcony. Maybe we can come in the summertime, Marnie
says. Maybe we can move here. We'll put out crab traps, we can have a
bonfire and make S'mores. We can plant a watermelon patch.
Mom puts it on the plastic. It's cold so everything's cheap. The
ocean is gray and rolling. The best time for the beach, Mom says, we
have it to ourselves. They walk to the corner store, they buy Corn Pops
and weenies and canned beans. Mom buys a stack of paperback romances.
They'll go out for seafood tomorrow. They'll go to the Strand and put
tee shirts on the plastic.
The field around the beach house is full of stickerburrs. They run
barefoot across the field, to test how much pain they can stand. They
can't make it all the way to the beach, it hurts too bad. They turn
back, pull out the stickers from the soles of their feet. Jolene makes
monkey noises as she picks Marnie's feet. I'll bet we can harden up our
feet, Marnie says. We do it enough and we'll be beach girls. It'll make
It's too cold to go barefoot on the beach, Mom tells them. She wears
a light jacket, and the girls throw towels around their shoulders to
keep warm, because they didn't pack properly. It's cold but the cold
feels good, it bites them and keeps them awake. The girls dip their
fingers in the water and shiver. They fill their jean pockets with
shells. Mom watches, doesn't follow. Her mood is changing. She says
They eat Corn Pops when they get back. Mom makes them instant hot
chocolate. She says the Swiss Miss looks just like her girls. The house
has a radio with a cassette player, so they listen to their Dolly Parton
tape, the one with "Jolene" on it, and then they listen to Crystal Gale.
It's too cold though, they can't sleep. Mom does the old trick. She
opens the oven and they sit in front of it, treat it like a space
heater. She makes more hot chocolate. It's fun, isn't it Mom? Marnie
says, it's like a camp out but better, because we're at the beach.
Mom looks bad. She's too thin, and her veins stick out too blue
against her skin. She doesn't look pretty now because her face is
collapsed. When she's tired, and just with the girls, sometimes her face
wrinkles up into grief. The girls can't see bruises, but Marnie knows if
she took her shirt off, you would see them on her back.
They sing Mom's favorite song. They try to make it good, they know
she likes it when they try to sound pretty. She loves Glen Campbell.
They can't remember all the words. Galveston oh Galveston, they sing. I
still hear your sea winds blowing. I still see her dark eyes glowing.
She was twenty-one when I left Galveston.
Do you know what that song's about? Mom asks them.
It's a love song, Marnie says.
It's about a man in Vietnam. He's afraid of dying. And he's missing
the girl he loves. Isn't that sad? Mom says.
Yeah, the girls say. Time for bed, she tells them.
The mattress smells of wet dog and the sheets are sandy. They sleep
in their socks and pants. Mom puts the Crystal Gale tape in again. The
girls watch her through half-closed eyes. She paces. She walks in and
out of the house. She walks funny, like she's drunk, or hurt, but she's
not. She needs to think. At home, when he's gone, she sits in the silver
light of the television with the sound turned down, and smokes. But
there is no television here.
She's going to call him, Marnie whispers.
No she won't, Jolene says.
Shhh. If she walks out to the balcony one more time, she's calling
him, Marnie tells her.
How do you know? Jolene asks. But Marnie always knows.
She does go out to the balcony. They can hear the ocean, even after
she closes the door.
Claudia Smith lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Nathen Hinson.
Her fiction has appeared online and in print. She has stories
forthcoming in Ink Pot and Night Train. You can find more
of her work at claudiaweb.
"You've Never Been This Far Before," 1973, sung by Conway Twitty, lyrics
and music by Conway Twitty. "Galveston," 1969, sung by Glen Campbell,
words and lyrics by Jimmy Webb.