A Milton Academy student’s short story will be published this month in The Apprentice Writer, a literary magazine of the Writer’s Institute at Susquehanna University.
Meg Weisman’s “Shuck the shell, lick your lips, bat one eye…” was one of 75 entries selected from nearly 5,000 submissions.
The Apprentice Writer publishes poems, stories and personal essays by high school students from a 13-state area. The magazine is distributed each September.
Excerpt from “”Shuck the shell, lick your lips, bat one eye…”
Analogy: I am to the car ride to Cape Cod with parents as the junebug is to the ashtray.
“I’m sure things will turn out for the best,” my mother plays with her pearls. They are like her smile, white, toothy, and expensive. My father squeezes her knee but it is a forced kind of thing like swallowing aspirin. Then he just keeps driving, twisting the wheel gently and tensely, as if it is a champagne cork. As if he will pop and steam at any moment. My father is terse, my mother is anxious, and there is a junebug rustling around in the ashtray in front of my seat. Outside it looks like the world is flooding and all the cows and trees and fences are washing away and running together. There are certain things I look for on this drive. I look for Poppasquash Rd. in Harwichport; I look for Hallets drugstore in Yarmouthport, where they now only sell ice cream, but still line the walls with apothecary vials. I look for a highway sign that reads simply Food and Books, marking a tacky little place that serves waffles ’till five and where you can trade your airport romance novel for a TV trivia book. When we turn on to Stage Harbor Rd. in Chatham, I try to see past the hedges and seashell driveway of a certain house, of Julip’s house, even though he isn’t there.
Analogy: Julip is to me as a wedding dress is to a widow.
Julip is someone I always want to know still, but never want to see again. It’s so curious that I think of him every time I see someone skateboarding, every time I eat jellybeans, every time I walk my dog, and every time I kiss a boy, even Harley. Julip did not think I was pretty the first time he saw me. He thought I was ugly and told me so. I was crying under a picnic table outside Nick’s Deli and Pizzeria across the street from the Shop Ahoy. He crawled through the pizza crusts and cigarette butts to come see why I was crying.
“I wish you could see how ugly you look when you cry, because then maybe you wouldn’t.” It was a sort of backwards way of making me feel better. He was right, my eyelids probably looked like raw salami and my face was probably as red and shiny as a tomato, and so I stopped. But not before he plucked a tear from my chin to see if it would taste sad.
Analogy: tears are to sadness as blackberries are to sweetness.
Julip had a one-eyed Jack Russell terrier name Dog that we would sometimes take with us when we picked blackberries. Of course we couldn’t have been older than twelve, but there was something so sensual about the whole thing. The blackberries were as ripe and glowing as a woman expecting. We would spend reams of time lying on the grass watching to see what the other was going to do next as if we were not human, but some other primate creature. But my mother wanted the blackberries so we would have to get to our feet, drunk from pollen and the heat and each other’s breath. After hours of picking there were stains of blood and juice under our baby nails. My mother always let Julip stay for dinner if she made pie from the fruits of our labor. I stole for the first time with Julip: seven blue jellybeans from a plexi bin in the candy store.
Analogy: stealing is to Julip as skateboarding is to Julip.
Julip didn’t ask me to, but I would go watch him skate at the Church of the Holy Redeemer parking lot with the other boys. It was in those times that I felt so much younger than he, even though our birthdays were only nineteen days apart in February. He was definitely too cool for me in his creeper Vans and baggy cords so I was always trying to please him. I would help him wash Dog; I would go to every Chatham A’s game; and I tried to learn how to skateboard. I tried to learn how to skateboard and I broke my arm. When I couldn’t get my cast wet at Cotchapinacutt, he brought me a Nutty Royal bar and Archie comics. I never felt like I had to please him after that.
Analogy: Archie is to Betty as Julip is to me.
I don’t have any memories past that summer that don’t include Julip. Maybe it was unhealthy, but he was my little world, and I could cup all of us into my palms like a snowglobe and see how happy we were. We only had one fight ever, and that was when he found the scar on my wrist. We sanded the porch railing for three dollars a piece from his father. Julip said, It’s not smooth enough until it’s like your skin. We made the poor teenagers at Daisy’s Ice Cream give us a doll-size taster spoon of every singly flavor and then didn’t buy anything. We couldn’t be together for our birthdays so we would celebrate them at their half in August. We made a cake in the shape of a half moon and we would give each other half presents such as one earring or a single drumstick. That’s how I felt without him, like a single drumstick, and it was because of this that we would sneak out at night to meet at the third telephone pole down from my house.
Analogy: telephone poles are to kisses as docks are to fishing rods.
The air was wet and clumped and salty like my hair after the ocean. I felt like the telephone poles were countdown to something big like New Year’s. Julip was waiting, his hands reached into his pocket in a deliberate way like a child dunking a cookie in milk. Sometimes when I talked to him, I noticed his eyes were never doing anything else, never swinging back to see who was looking; never straying to the side to watch a gaggle of drunken coeds stumbling down Mainstreet; never studying the creases in his palm. His eyes were always listening, and saying something back. Tonight they were saying kiss me and so I licked my lips and I did. With other boys, I will get squeamish from their waxy lips and gag at their mollusk tongues. I will pray for them to go farther just so that this part can stop and I will open my eyes to watch the television static or the fuzzy dice swing. I will be silently screaming Julip, Julip, Julip! At that moment the folds of my mind are screeching his name all at once and his fingertips are on my temples, but I don’t want this kiss to end. In social studies they told us about Pompeii. They told us how perfect remains of people were found frozen eating breakfast or washing linens or running down the street. They had been captured in that exact moment because of the petrifying nature of the volcanic deposits. I wished that a giant volcano would pour its silt and lava over us then so we could stay with our lips touching forever.
Analogy: eyes are to wandering as teenagers are to drinking.
It was always “Sheehan’s idea” when we got in trouble. It was always Julip’s idea when we got away with it. When I was four I drank one third of a bottle of pure vanilla extract because I wanted the smell inside me. Pure vanilla extract is thirty seven percent alcohol. Julip and I went out to dinner at The Squire at least once a week with our parents. We’d sit in the bar section so Julip and I could drink Shirly Temples and steal each other’s cherries. We would play knuckle-bleed foosball until our clam chowder came. He tried a steamer long before I ever did. “It’s real easy,” he said, “like pullin’ off a band-aid. You just gotta shuck the shell, hold your nose, and do it.” Once when we were fourteen, the last of our summers, Julip said that if we hung around outside long enough we could pull a “Hey, mister…” and score a few Captain Morgans. But the cops in Chatham are like little boys who have just learned to tie their shoes, and we never did.
Analogy: gingerale is to shirley temple as now is to then.
Now I am awake, and out of our dusty green Volvo, and at a back table in The Squire with my parents. The waitress only asks me what I’ll drink but I feel like she is trying to squeeze lemon juice into a hangnail. I order gingerale, which is like a pale, naked shirley temple. “We need to get you some more, nice, upholstered hangers for when…umm… if you go to Williams,” my mother says. My father takes off his signet cufflinks. I excuse myself from the table. The ladies room has a bead curtain for a door and a cartoon of an uber female mermaid holding a mug of beer. I sit down in one of the stalls and study the dozens of lipstick bruises on the white paint that have been signed and dated. On the left wall there is an inscription carved into the wood: JB+ST in an angular heart. Julip Bailey and Sheehan Toce. I take off my sandal, fitting the buckle between my thumb and two of my fingers and steadily begin to scratch out the initials.