Sommer Schafer received her MFA from San Francisco State University in 2013. Her fiction is currently and forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Hobart, The 3288 Review, Glimmer Train, Santa Monica Review, China Grove, Room, A Bad Penny Review and others. She lives with her husband and two children in San Rafael, California, and helps edit The Forge Literary Magazine.
“You’re not going to do that stuff again, right?” Ginny had asked before he left on the airplane.
“I haven’t done that shit in years, why would I start again now?” he had said. But it was his sister’s wedding, and all the guys would be around again. He didn’t think he’d be doing it again, but sometimes you just had to play things through.
First the ceremony. It was meant to be outside. But the day of, all hell broke loose. Rain blowing in off the ocean. So they had it inside the community center where the floor-to-ceiling windows helped them pretend they were outside. His job was to walk his mom down the aisle. He had been ready for that for weeks. So the morning of, he knew exactly how tightly he wanted to tuck his shirt into his crisp black linen slacks, and how many buttons to button on his excellent black suit jacket. He knew exactly how high to pull his black nylon socks. And the final piece: at what angle to tip his stiff black hat, which covered his thinning hair on top, he couldn’t believe it. “Wowsers,” Ginny had said when he’d tried it on for her several weeks ago. “You look hot!” Yes, he did. And by the end of the aisle, he had just about perfected his barely-noticeable-though-very-cool limp-walk, his mom red-cheeked and grinning on his elbow.
He didn’t think he would cry, however. After sitting down in his spot, the lights from above burning into his face. At first he convinced himself it was sweat. But then there was that familiar lump right at his Adam’s apple. There was no way you could swallow that one down. It was just that there was his sister. There she was. The one who was always put in charge. “You’re not the boss of me!” he used to say to her, 8-years-old to her 12. She picked him up when he broke his ankle playing tag those many years ago. Picked him up in her arms and carried him to the house. For some reason, he now imagined them getting older. He imagined becoming old.
He skipped out during the reception after the buffet dinner. It was raw halibut salsa and shrimp bisque and piles of cooked crab and fried scallops. Sparkling juice. He found his sister, told her, “I think I’ll head out. But this has been great.” And he knew that he meant it.
And she said, “OK,” and she looked pleased with everything. “You’ll miss the cake,” she said.
“Save me a piece,” he said.
The boys were waiting in Kevin’s truck. “Woo-hoo!” Derik yelled, right into his ear. “Hat and everything!”
“Keep it down, man.” He looked at Derik like he was stupid, because he was, then shook hands with the three of them, Derik, Andy, Kevin. Derik had gotten fat. Most of it seemed to be in his face. Kevin had grown his hair long. Looked fucking awful, he thought. Andy, always the skinny one, had gotten skinnier, seemed to be jitterier than he remembered. Crazy kids. “What up?” Kevin sped them to his place, still in the basement of his parents’ house.
He changed. Then there was plenty of crack to go around, and Kevin had a bag of mushrooms for later. Just like old times.
He couldn’t remember who suggested it first. “Let’s get out the boat, dude. Let’s boat out to that lighthouse Max’s sister is at tonight!”
And so Kevin sped them down to Seal Harbor and they found his skiff. They jumped in, buzzed and ecstatic. After all, how many times would they be together again like that? The rain had stopped but the wind was up. It made pulling out difficult, not wanting to knock anyone else’s boat. Finally, out of the harbor and in the ocean. The wide ocean moving up and down like it was someone’s, God’s maybe, big bowl of soup that he was rocking back and forth. And they were like that someone’s, God’s maybe, little crackers, moving back and forth in that big bowl of soup. Up and down. Derik puked. “You missed the fucking side, man!” Andy slapped the back of his head.
“I’m not cleaning that shit up,” Kevin kept his hands on the wheel.
They cut the engine just before the lighthouse dock, then sidled up to it and he jumped out to tie the rope to one of the poles on the dock. They kind of hobbled up the path to the lighthouse. Tried the door. It was unlocked. Derik was laughing. Andy snorting into his hand. “Shut the fuck up,” he said. He opened the door at first just a crack. It was dark inside. He listened but heard only the trees’ branches in the wind, the waves crashing on the rocks. Kevin pushed the door open and led the way in. “Quiet!” he said. Kevin looked back and smiled, goofy, which he thought was starting to look bad on Kevin these days.
They must have been sleeping at the top where the roaming light was. In the living room Derik found her purse, just lying there on the couch. In the kitchen a bottle of wine, a package of smoked salmon, unopened. Andy pushed Derik aside and grabbed the purse, opened it. “$60 bucks, dude!”
“Yeah? Give me that!” Derik grabbed the purse back. The money and a lipstick fell out.
“Shut the fuck up!” Kevin hissed. “Gimme that,” he pushed over them. $60 on the ground. “Nothing else?” he asked, and Derik threw the purse to him. Empty inside. A small handmade cloth purse, probably from her days in India. He jammed the money into his pants pocket.
The next morning he slept in but was up for brunch. His sister and, now, husband, walked into their parents’ house. On the table his mom had spread a lace tablecloth, three quiches and a huge fruit salad. Hot coffee. “You’ll never believe this,” she gushed, her cheeks turning red like they did when she got worked up. “We were robbed last night! Can you believe it?” And no one could. This small Alaskan town? Middle of fucking nowhere?
After brunch. He had two more days in town but wanted to do it before she and her husband left for Mexico. “Here,” he said. “$60 to replace what was stolen. I didn’t get you a gift, so let’s just make this my gift, OK?” She was surprised and happy. He realized she hadn’t been expecting anything at all. She gave him one big hug, and because they hadn’t hugged in years he thought, wow, he was the taller one now, by two heads. And of course it had been like that for years. What, was he stupid?
And then he thought, wasn’t it all kind of funny? The guys and him. That crazy shit. All kind of sad.