I could see Cera wrestling through her unstructured paisley fabric purse. She didn’t notice me; my gaze was hidden behind my sunglasses and a US Weekly. I was like a mother looking casually through my daughter’s diary, except I wasn’t her mother; I was her sister.
I thought Cera appeared more like an ornamental paper bird confined to a cage than a carefree young girl behind the glass doors of her boyfriend’s luxurious 60 foot yacht. Her thin pink lips were in a straight line as she fumbled with the medicine packet. The small white pill was invisible as she carefully pinched it between her two fingers. She threw the Plan B pack on the mahogany table with one hand and shoved her face full of pretzels from the crystal bowl with the other. Each bite looked automatic and strained, a joyless mechanical necessity. The ruffled skirt on her purple and white striped swimsuit shook as she devoured the salty snack. She glanced out the glass door, probably to see if her boyfriend Clinton was within view. I ducked behind my magazine. Cera placed one of the two pills in her mouth, poured Miller Lite as a lubricant, and flushed the pill the same way we had sent my goldfish down the toilet to a better place.
However intrusive my spying, I felt justified. My baby sister would not be having a baby.
It was August, the end of the hot summer. Hundreds of boats with names like Rig-a-toni, Wet Dream, and Just Us were tied together in massive lines creating a huge party space. What Mardi Gras was to New Orleans, Party Cove was to Missouri: women and girls on boats showing their boobs for a few cheap purple beads. The name of Clinton’s boat, The Encroacher, didn’t seem as playful as the others. My legs were sticking to the leather seat as I watched a girl on a pontoon across from us scream, “I have to pee,” and jump into the hot green water.
In the unforgiving Ozarks heat, I thought of the Cera before Australia. It was like she had gone on a NASA mission and a fraction of her soul was lost floating out in space. I hoped the pills would transport Cera back to her unfettered self. Last weekend, after a phone call full of incoherent sobs and “Dayna, come,” I drove to the compound Clinton had recently purchased, only to find Cera lying in the manicured oversized front yard of their new home, dramatically poised before the sweeping Isis Cream marble staircase. I crawled down next to her. She had stopped crying, black tears stuck on her face as she pulled Monopoly money out from the top of her grey spandex dress and threw the paper bills at the sky. The pink $5 bills fell onto the green grass next to her hair. She looked different: the dark chocolate had been choked out of her hair and replaced with a golden tint.
“Apparently this money works fine for buying drinks.” Her thumb flipped through the remaining bills.
“You bought drinks with Monopoly money?” She nodded, beginning to smile.
“This helped.” I snapped her painted-on dress.
“Well one day my boobs will be a feeding device and my vagina will be a baby portal. I figure I should celebrate it while it’s still mine.” She pulled out a brass $500 bill. “Why does this matter so much?”
I grabbed the crinkled bill. “Does it?”
She turned to look at me for the first time since my arrival.
“You know the author of Peter Pan had a shit life.” She stared at me, her blue eyes rimmed in red. “Barrie…” She started.
“You are on a first name basis?”
“Barrie’s brother, “ she continued, “David was his mother’s favorite. He died. Could have been murder, could have just been an ice skating accident.”
“Cera, this is depressing. Is this like one of mom’s stories where everyone dies miserable, limbless alcoholics?” I shook her hand trying to get her to laugh. But she just stared back at me with her flat blue eyes.
“David’s mom never got over it. She told Barrie the only good thing about his brother’s death was that he would forever be her little boy. This article said that was what caused the height issue. Barrie’s I mean. He had psychological duffism.” Her words slurred out his diagnosis.
“Dwarfism?” I tried to muffle my giggle. “Did you really call me here to talk about Peter Pan?”
“He only grew to 5 feet 3 inches.”
“Maybe he didn’t get enough nutrients or maybe he came from a short family. Don’t read too much into it.”
“I loved that movie. I loved Wendy, the children flying, the mermaids in Never Never Land.” Drunk, she shook her straw hair. “Peter Pan wasn’t about a kid that never wanted to grow up. It was about a boy haunted by shadows who wanted desperately to be loved by his mother.” She looked back at me. “Peter Pan– yet another manufactured mirage of happiness. The truth is always so disappointing.” She took the $500 bill away, holding it above us next to the black sky and night stars.
“Do you love Clinton?” I said in a whisper.
“No,” she said, tossing the rest of her Monopoly money into the grass. I turned to look for Cera, but she had walked back into the head, as Clinton pretentiously called the on-boat bathroom. Cera often pointed this out to him. But he reminded her that the only pretentious people were artists and people who wrote short stories, both activities Cera enjoyed. Funny though, Cera later admitted, “He has a point.”Cera’s favorite beer, a Miller Lite, sat on the mahogany table sweating down onto the red wood. Nothing pretentious there. I pealed my legs off the leather seat and opened the sliding glass door into the living quarters of the yacht to get some air-conditioning. I stood inside under the vent and closed my eyes. “Cera, you okay?” I called as soon as the water finally shut off.“Yeah, just feeling funny. Probably that burger I ate for breakfast.” She came into the living quarters. I smiled at her chaotic outfit.
“Are you sure its not the Plan B?” I said taking the pill pack she’d hid under her purse on the table. She shrugged. I pushed the other pill towards her.“You should have worn the black swim suit. The purple looks like something a five-year-old would wear. And it doesn’t match your purse or your cover up.” I shook my head wondering why my mother had ever let her wear a rainbow bright outfit to school. Since then every day was like playing dress up. Normally I found her methodically mismatched wardrobe endearing, but seeing her now it looked more like wistful chaos haphazardly wrapped on a melancholy girl.
“I am not matchy matchy,” Cera said. She started to dance, picking up her cover up and her purse, moving around with the clothing as if it were a person.
“And why are you wearing grandma’s necklace at the lake?” The large oval cameo necklace had a peach glow against her tan skin. Only Cera would wear a family heirloom at the Lake of the Ozarks. Cera ignored me, dug into her purse, and produced a thong one-piece swimsuit. It was white and looked like it was made for a sixteen-year-old’s body. “ I could have worn this.” She used the white spandex as a sling shot and tossed it towards me. “Live a little.”
“Speaking of living, you need to take the second pill for this pregnancy not to happen.” Cera rolled her eyes. “ Cera, if you don’t take it…” I sighed. “It’s like taking antibiotics for three of the seven prescribed days. You won’t get rid of the flu,” I said, drawing out the word flu and hoping Clinton would not walk through the sliding doors.“For a twenty-eight-year-old that has never had sex, you sure seem to know a lot about it.” Her words were sharp.
“I am not ready to be the Saturday night babysitter.”She smiled back at me weakly. “I want to take the second pill, but if I take it now I am sure to vomit. “ Her grin grew larger.
She picked up her beer, gulped down a huge swig, and turned to the porcelain sink. She made overly dramatic puking noises as beer flowed out of her mouth. I couldn’t help but laugh. Our father had taught us how to make fake throw up noises as small children one weekend when our mother was out of town. “Drink, swish, spit, the louder the better,” he would say, handing us a cup of water. Our mother returned in a maternal panic thinking the plague had hit when she found the three of us pretend vomiting into all the sinks.
“Father would be so proud,” I said between giggles. Cera turned her mouth frothy like she had rabies. She wiped the beer from her lips with the peach fuzz of her arm. I shoved the pills towards her again and pointed.“What are you waiting for?”She took some Millers from the cooler and put them in the fridge, “For something meaningful.”“Do you want a baby?”“Does anyone ever really?”The dread washed over me. Since she had returned from Australia all her ideas of romance had been glazed over with the practicality of babies and marriage.“Are you doing this because of that Aussie musician?” I said plucking at the stitches of her wounds.She went to the cabinet and took one of Clinton’s cigarettes, placed it in her mouth and lit it.“What are you doing? You don’t smoke.” I stood up fanning the smoke around her. She laughed, coughing, the smoke pouring out of her lungs.
“You really need to get laid.”
Clinton walked through the sliding door and heat poured into the cool space.
“Don’t put your drink on the mahogany,” Clinton said in a teacher voice as he walked back into stateroom number three. “Have you been smoking in here?”
“Dayna needed to have a little puff.” Cera lifted her drink, soaking up the thin water ring from the wood.
“Well, you two fucking knock it off.”
“Whatever,” Cera shrugged.
He glared at her.
“We’re tying up to Aggie Busch’s boat.” He looked giddy, like a little boy that had just won the spelling bee. Clinton craved box seats at sports games, VIP tables at clubs, and parties with personal wait staff. Cera never cared, in fact some days I think it annoyed her.
“If important people think he is important then he feels validated,” Cera whispered to me. Unaware, Clinton grabbed Cera’s open beer and threw it out.
“What are you doing with that?” Cera asked, putting her foot on the cooler to stop him from taking any more of her favorite beer. He kissed her leg and looked up at her.
“Were throwing it out; it’s all Miller Lite. Weren’t you listening? We are tying up to Aggie Busch’s boat. They’re going to let us drink as much Bud as we want. We can’t drink this in front of him. He’s Aggie Busch.” He moved her leg and shoved the full cooler out the sliding door.
“Get rid of this,” he called to the random mixture of freeloading friends and their dates of the weekend. His friends always seemed like Clinton’s fan club of the moment. I think he liked it that way. They all either leased cars from him, drank at his bar, or were Kansas City socialites with girlfriends decades younger. I watched some guy named Tim smiling at his bright twenty-year-old girlfriend as he struggled to get his t-shirt over his round belly.
My sister had once told me her idea of a white picket fence was a house with a purple front yard with two lemon trees. I thought of that as I watched her casually holding the second pill behind her back.
“So wasteful,” Cera said, standing in front of the fridge protecting her secret Miller stash.
Clinton smiled back at her. “Well, come on, get your fine ass out here.” Clinton’s big hands mimed the shape of a curvy body, one that was not Cera’s. He puckered his lips like girls do in Facebook pictures, closing his eyes, pumping his fist in the air. His skin was burnt, a red brown color. A white MU visor shaded his youthful brown eyes.
“We will be out in a minute,” I said, watching Cera put one hand on her stomach.
“Suit yourselves,” Clinton said, walking out onto the boat.
On the Bud Light boat, Cera spun in circles with her beer, probably a Miller Lite stuck in a Bud Light koozie. She grabbed one of the red-swimsuit-wearing Bud Light models and began swinging her in circles, too. I sat on the leather recliner looking for sunscreen in Cera’s purse.
The night Cera met Clinton I was at the same bar with my best friend. Cera had just gotten back from a year in Australia. She had insisted on sitting by herself a few stools down on the other end of the bar. She was drinking Guinness, the foam sitting on her upper lip like a milk mustache. “Your sister is holding some dude’s face,” my best friend said to me as she ordered us another drink.
Shocked, I watched. Cera held Clinton’s face with both of her hands squinting her eyes as if she were reading palms. “You have a good soul,” she said.
“He has a date sitting right next to him,” my friend pointed out.
“Clinton, really,” the date said, placing her hand on his back like she was pissing on a tree. Cera took her hands off his face, but kept staring at him. Clinton’s date stopped to take gulps of her cocktail. Clinton didn’t move.
“How do you know what a good soul is?” he asked Cera, staring at her blue eyes. She titled her head.
“Not sure really. Never seen a bad one.” She smiled.
His date was gathering her things, “Unfucking believable,” she said, storming towards the bathroom.
“I found her at the mall,” he said, nodding towards his date that was now out of sight.
I hooked my feet into the bar stool, keeping myself from interfering.
“What’s your soul like?” Clinton said, moving his hands across Cera’s face to cup her pink cheeks.
“Can’t you see it?” she said, her eyes unblinking.
“Never been good at reading souls.”
“Mmm… It’s important to learn these things… It will cost you a Guinness and your rent-a-date.” She stared at him with a flat expression.
“I think I’ve already lost her.” Clinton removed his hands from her face and waved the bartender over and slid a dark beer over to Cera.
“OK. Ready? I am the dog that gets left at the house after the family moves. Even after they are gone I stay on the porch waiting for them to come back, though I know they are long gone.”
“Your soul is like a dog…” Clinton’s face scrunched in inquisitive lines and I waited for him to leave her alone with the beer and her crazy talk.
“The fleas come with the dog.” Cera traced the lip of the beer.
Clinton’s date came back. Her purse, once an accessory, was now a weapon. She hit him twice, his body flinching under the stiffness of the clutch. “You’re a piece of work,” she said as she stormed out the door.
“By the way, I am in love with someone else.” Cera chugged the beer in five gulps. “He‘s a world away and doesn’t believe in marriage, so we can never be together, but I will always love him.”
Clinton nodded, staring at his new abandoned stray.
I held the old pharmacy receipt in my hand, watching Cera grasping the edge of the boat. She had purchased the pills two weeks ago. And who knows how long she had been having unprotected sex. If she were pregnant they couldn’t help her now.
“Clinton, get your girl a Bud, she can’t drink this shit here.”
Clinton glared at Cera as she held her hands up. “You caught me,” she said, slowly pouring the beer into the lake while smiling.
Clinton grabbed the beer and threw it into the water. “Cera, here is a delicious Bud Light for you,” he pushed it down into her koozie forcefully. “Let’s try to behave ourselves.” He walked back over to his buddies. They tossed beads and Bud Light hats to women who were now naked, making out in front of a video camera.
“Fucking A,” I heard him say as I walked over to Cera. She was looking pale as she tried to sip the Bud Light.
I brought over her purse. “Why didn’t you take these pills sooner, Cera?”
“I am already cooked.” Cera snickered, putting her hand on her stomach.
“There are other options.” I said. The receipt crinkled in my hand. I thought of her lying in a purple front yard with her chocolate hair nestled in the flowers. I was her sister. I wanted her to have lemon trees.
Cera looked at me, her skin pale and shiny. “See, the difference between you and me is you still believe in fairy tales.”
She grabbed the second pink pill from her purse and shoved it into her mouth. Then she tilted her head back, letting the beer fill her mouth entirely. She swallowed hard. Instantly, the beverage returned to the front of her mouth, this time escaping from the corners of her lips. I watched her hold her hand up to her mouth trying to stop it, but it was too late. I grabbed her hair and held it back as best I could. She leaned over the railing of the boat, my grandmother’s cameo necklace delicately swaying as liquid pretzels poured into the green waves.
For the past two years, Kayti Doolittle could be found sprawled out on the sidewalks of New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia, and South Korea searching for stars or noting the asymmetry of tall buildings. When Kayti is not writing art reviews for Fjords Review
she is plotting with sex workers, now friends, about how to fight the laws that perpetuate discrimination. Kayti recently published “Made in Thailand” for the Green Hills Literary Lantern
about the complexities and interpretations of sex and the sex industry. After a year in Bucheon, Korea, Kayti is traveling throughout the United States writing about sex and art.