Ordinary Phenomena: Snakeskin

You feel her trace the moles carved into the shallow of your skin like they’re constellations.

A mystical pastel illustration of a sunset with golden-pink clouds over a glistening sea.

Nothing drains you quite like the sun. Feet in the sand and hands half-buried in the ground in the search for shells and pebbles and the almost tangible memory of a childhood in these waters. I remember, you’ll say, the shallows where I learnt what seaweed felt like when it wrapped around my ankles, and the sea glass that cut like it does on the land. You’re there with a friend. She drove you both down in a huge second-hand Mitsubishi burning too much oil and that must cost fifty-five dollars to fill. The beach stretches out in front of you like a Monet painting, blurred in the haze of the midday sun. You ask your friend to spread sunscreen across your back, and you feel her trace the moles carved into the shallow of your skin like they’re constellations and you are a map of galaxies. She’s never worn a swimsuit before, never let the sun touch the tops of her thighs or the curve of her stomach, but she does in front of you. She trusts you, and you can’t tell whether the heat in your cheeks is from your gut or the unrelenting sun above. Summer blisters the undersides of your feet, thongs left to melt on the shore while you cool your bodies in the rising tide. Small balls of gelatine wash up against the sea foam, translucent spheres of light. She calls them jellyfish eggs, though you’re not sure that’s what they are. You fight the urge to squash them between your toes. Salt rolls off the rotting ocean and onto your drying lips; you can feel the water shuffling lifetimes of quartz, granite, basalt, and shipwreck, empty beer cans, spilt oil, and plastic residue. It is an archeologist’s dream, holding stories in mouthfuls of water. Your friend splashes you, in that playful way friends and more-than-friends do. The ocean slows you down in your chase, leaping like spacemen in zero gravity. Yet she moves, carried in the wind like a train made of silk chiffon. You both relent, falling back to be carried like driftwood. Chills run down your spine, goose pimples make tracks on the flat of your chest. It’s too cold at first, then too comfortable to leave. You lie in the sun, waiting for the heat to dry you up, body splayed out like the sea stars you used to marvel at on excursions to the Melbourne Aquarium. Your friend tells you there are more grains of sand on earth than all the stars in the sky. In the evening you hear fireworks or a car backfiring a street over, sitting next to each other so your damp thighs touch, and you stare at the sky like it’s your sunscreen slathered back. In due time you’ll realise the sunscreen didn’t quite cover you. You’ll wind up burning and red, it hurting to sleep at night. Your skin will peel a week after the burning subsides, reminding you of the riptides, keeping part of you tethered to the salt and the shore. The smell of fish and foam made something pleasant when you drive past the shoreline, and the sand spilling from you a never-ending replay of that day. You wonder if all the stars in the sky make up the grains of sand inside your shoe.

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