Muscle Memory by Rosie Forrest

The folding chairs perch on the rocky bank. We’ve wedged the rubbered feet into damp crags, and we hope they stay put. There are three of us here as the tide comes in, and we grip cans of warm PBR tight enough to dent them. We are lonely. We have all been dumped. The youngest one, the one whose place this is, was punted midday by a thin-haired brunette who claims everything is “the worst.” This friend of ours, the newly single one, is blonde and muscular like a gymnast. There’s a ferocity to his very core that punches you in the gut when you stand next to him, when you try to stand still next to him and just be. His name is Barry, and he never even liked the girl. They mostly did it wasted. They did it wasted the first time, and sometimes that’s all it takes for a bad habit to form, a first time in the dark where no one sees.

There was talk earlier of digging for mussels in the cold bay water. Roll up our khaki pants, big fat rolls of beige cotton, and wade in, but as the sun sets behind us, and as the tree trunk is dressed in a skirt of tin cans, my inclination toward the ice cold water wanes. I hope it’s forgotten, the way we forget to pay rent and call our mothers. My phone vibrates in my pocket, and I don’t need to look. Instead, I pop the tab on a new beer, and ask the others, offhand, if given the chance they’d fuck Lesley, my ex, if they’d ever consider it. There’s no right answer here, and I imagine it’ll keep us on the shore until the sun plows a divot in the western hill.

Evan is the other friend. He’s a big guy and takes care to balance his chair at a less precarious angle. Between the three of us, Evan’s got the conscience. It’s his voice that warns us not to shoot cheap rum, not to climb onto Barry’s roof, and not to go home with that college girl grinding against us at The Page. Barry and I look to Evan for his answer on the Lesley question. I know he had a thing for her, the way he’d breathe all shallow when she sat near him. His tongue swelled around the “sl” of her name, but he said it anyway, “Hi, Lesley,” thick with that swollen muscle in his mouth.

“C’mon, man,” Evan says. “Don’t make me answer that.” He leans forward and the back leg of his chair skids off its post. Evan lurches, tries to stay his beer, but it tumbles out of reach and into the tide pool. His toe bleeds and my phone buzzes. Must’ve cut his toe on a shell.

“That’s an answer for you, right there,” Barry says. “That’s your answer. Right. There.” He combs his hair away from his forehead and I’m surprised how deep his hairline has receded. Evan sidesteps down the bank to retrieve his can and clean his bloody toe. “I bet she left her box of tampons under the sink,” Barry continues, and for a moment I think he means Lesley, although of course that makes no sense. Barry tenses up and swipes the air with a bear paw. “Maybe I’ll leave them on her car. Just dump ‘em all over the hood of her car.”

“Nah, don’t do it, man,” Evan says. “Then you’re the dude who dumped tampons on some chick’s car.” With his thumb, Evan puts pressure on his toe, but the blood keeps running free.

It was a month ago when Lesley kicked me out. The lunatic. She had a fork in each hand spearing at nothing, like she’d chugged a carton of savage juice. I haven’t a clue what she screeched at me, her voice some alien electro-frequency, but I do remember the way her spit collected between her lips, gathering and pulling apart like cake batter. Evan can have her, phone her up, suck all that spit through a straw.

Next to me, Barry growls. He’s wicked drunk. His eyes are big and his mouth puckers in like a turtle’s. I think about laying a hand on his shoulder—my phone bleats nonstop in my pocket—anything to bring him back down, but Barry’s far gone, he could wail on me hard, he’s a strong sonofabitch, and when his fist cuts across my jaw, I’ll think he knows about us, me and his thin-haired brunette, and the metal chair will fold and flip out from under my arm when I try to explain how it was so dark that night it felt like she and I were slugging through squid ink, like we were heaving ourselves through some kind of marsh, and Evan wasn’t there to tell me not to, and then we were, and then we were, and then we had, and here I am.

Rosie Forrest
stream Rosie Forrest imageRosie is currently the writer-in-residence at Interlochen Arts Academy, where she also teaches in the summers.  Her fiction has appeared in Whiskey Island, Ampersand Review, Prime Mincer, and is featured in Trachodon’s collection, “Bite: An Anthology of Flash Fiction.” Rosie earned her MFA from the University of New Hampshire.