by Andy Haynes
It is so hard to get a kiss in a landlocked state. All day dust blows over me and soon I will be more dune than man. I am drying up, shrinking down. Travelers stop to look at me. They are riding in jalopies. I give them sandwiches and batteries and I ask for news of the coastline. None of them say anything useful. They all think they should be the ones in charge of naming hurricanes. "Caitlin," they say. "Rebeccah," they say. Some of them are writing down lists of good names for hurricanes. "If it goes well," one adds, "I will do another one on tropical storms next."
I tell them that I don't care much for hurricanes, but that I did once have a daughter who was born during a tornado. It happened in the root cellar. The birth was hard, and afterwards her mother collapsed into sand and I forgot her name. My daughter was called Tuber. It was a name she chose herself. One day I left her in the yard, spinning herself around so she could get dizzy and fall to the ground giggling. I was inside buttering bread for sandwiches. Then suddenly she was gone. On the news they said she crossed the freeway, traveled five miles, and destroyed the entire town of Jacobsville before dying out.
One traveler raises his eyebrows at me. "Pippy," he says, as he finishes his sandwich. "That's a good name for a hurricane." The travelers leave in a line, and the last one doesn't shut the door. More dust fills the dry cracks in my hands.
I have a sewing machine, and I am building a parachute out of all the clothes I've outgrown. It is a spectacular thing. This is because I have paid special attention to the colors. There are no browns adjacent to blacks. The threading comes from a store that sells only threading. It took the delivery driver one year to find me, and when he dropped off the package he did not go away. Instead he took a paper from his pocket and said "Do me a favor. Tell me what you think about these names? Ok?" Then he read to me: "Irene, Jessica, Jenny, Rachel."
I closed the door on him before my eyes turned to dirt.
What I really need is a swimming pool. And a drink of water. What I really need is an evacuation order and a house worth boarding up. Some ice.
Because the first girl I kissed was fond of very cold water. She liked it when I melted ice on her back. I used to take handfuls of it, the big cubed kind, and press them onto her spine. "Promise me," she said, "That no matter how much I squirm and cry and beg, you won't take the ice off me." I promised. Then we put our clothes into a pile and I pressed the ice so hard into her skin that before long she was gasping and my palm was numb. "Can you feel your hand?" she asked. "No." "Ok. Then touch me." We had fun.
But we could not pay the bills. Soon the city shut off our power and there was no way to freeze water anymore. For a while I borrowed ice from neighbors. They got annoyed and stopped answering my calls. Afterwards, I tried pouring tap water over her head, and sometimes that got her off, but then a man from city hall came and stopped up our pipes. Sex became dry and she complained of aches and melancholy. I did what I could. I ran to the grocery and scooped ice out of the frozen vegetable cooler, but by the time I got home it was only water again. She had grown so fragile that she could not put a single sheet over herself at bedtime for fear she would melt during the night.
Eventually, she moved to Alaska. At the airport she told me that "It's just too hard to be happy in a landlocked state." When she kissed me goodbye I could tell how sad she was. Her lips were unseasonably warm.
Sometime later, I saw her in a photo. She was at a barbecue and she had bottle rockets in her hands. If I had one word to describe how she looked, in that photo, I would say moisturized.
When my parachute is finished I will wear it. Then I will jump off something very tall. I am hoping that I can ride on tornadoes and updrafts all the way to a beach in southeast Asia. Preferably in the middle of monsoon season. Sometimes a traveler or two will comment on my parachute. They say, "That thing is too heavy, the old girl will never fly. Did you give her a name? Everything needs a name."
I do not trust their opinions. "Are you aerospace engineers?" I ask them.
They shake their heads.
"It is my dream someday to be the guy that gets to name hurricanes," they say.
It was either a hurricane, or just a strong storm, that wrecked my sailboat. This happened a long time ago. The ocean puked me up onto a beach and for two weeks I had nothing to eat but shells. My teeth chipped and my gums bled. I could not move, and the rains were sharp and painful. I curled up into a tight ball. I tried to take up less space in the universe.
A girl with no hair saved me.
Instead of hair she had an umbrella growing from her head. The handle was long, and curved, and it poked through her face like a tiny plastic horn. The stem sprouted through the top of her skull. It rose two feet and from there it spread out into a rich canopy of green large enough to shelter both me and her. She sat beside me until the rain stopped. She fed me octopus eyes and kept me dry. I figured out that if I rubbed my thumb and finger across the fabric of the canopy then she would have a powerful orgasm. When the rain and the wind and her pleasure was all done, we looked at each other and laughed. It was sunny and we were very thirsty.
She took me into town. It was a sad and eroded place. Dunes piled up against paint-chipped homes. Seagulls called and pecked at everything.
Outside, I saw only men. They wandered around drinking saltwater out of tin cups. I noticed that they did not use words to communicate. Instead, they gargled water at each other.
Some of the men were perfectly shaped. Others suffered from horrible deformities. I saw one with starfish arms for fingers. Another was constantly itching his scalp. It was full of wet sand, matted down with gull poop. As we passed, the umbrella girl took my arm. She was beautiful. Bald and salty. "This is not a good town for men," she warned me.
This was because the umbrella girls took no suitors. Instead they built their own husbands. On the first Sunday of the month, the girls of marriageable age streamed out of the church in white dresses and took a cobbled path to the beach. My umbrella girl was always among them. They carried buckets, shovels, shells, pearls, lobster claws, ropes, flotsam, jetsam, shipwreck treasure and ropes tied in all sorts of nautical knots. The girls sat by the ocean and built their husbands up from sand.
I stood on a dune with the young girls, and the women who were happily married. I watched my umbrella girl work. Everybody was quiet. I had been told that husband building was very hard, and that any mistake would ruin their appearance, personality, or intellect. My umbrella girl had explained to me some basic techniques.
"A starfish arm is used for a good, strong penis."             "An anchor, placed near the chest, makes it less likely your husband will stray."             "If you pack the sand in too tight, your husband will have boils on his face."             "Crushed up fish bones sprinkled through the mixture will make him sweet and caring."             "If you don't wrap the head with a good amount of seaweed, your husband will most likely be an idiot."             The umbrella girl told me that husband building almost never works right. Some girls try dozens of times before they make something they would like to marry.
She was right. A lot of the husbands I saw were failures. At first light, they came wandering up into town. They shrieked at their deformities. They demanded to know who they were. I saw one vomit brine and algae all over the cobblestone. Another had a cannonball lodged in its chest.
Many husbands didn't even make it off the beach. They writhed around on the ground, digging their claws into the sand. Their creators, the poor girls, rushed out, crying, and pushed their husbands face first into the sand until they stopped breathing.
My umbrella girl, her husband was perfect. He ran up off the beach, barefoot and barechested. His muscles were incredible. He took the umbrella girl into the air, then ripped off her clothes with meaty hands. He took her, right there, in the sand, while I watched. My jealously peaked. I buried my face in the sand like I could tunnel to somewhere else. This is not a good town for men, I remembered.
I decided to go. But I had no money. So late at night I snuck into my umbrella girl's bedroom. She was tangled up with her new husband. He was asleep, and his snores sounded like they were coming from underwater. I put two hands on the handle, the horn, of the girl's umbrella. I twisted it hard, back and forth, until it snapped. She died without saying a word and her husband did not wake.
I ran from the town and spent half a year living ten miles down the coast. My features sunk. I grew a beard. It was then, after another rainy season, that I saw a freighter approaching. I signaled it with a driftwood fire and its captain came to me on a lifeboat. I showed him the umbrella handle and he sucked in his breath. He had a gold tooth. "For that," he said. "I will take you anywhere you want to go."
We sailed the ocean for a long time, looking for more girls to kiss.
I do not need a whole ocean.
Just a place for a splashdown.
Like an oasis, pond, river.
I do need to be wet again.
With my parachute, I hope to hit a very small target. I think that a swimming pool would be best. Above ground or under ground, it does not matter. I grew up in a house with a pool, and one night in June we watched from the kitchen as it was struck with lightning again and again and again. The water began to boil. All of the neighbors came out of their homes to watch.
There was a girl. Or maybe it was all of the girls, already. I only sort of remember. We watched the lightning and the boiling water and she, them, kept saying touch it, touch it.
I did not touch it. I should have touched it.
I am hoping my parachute will take me to water.
But still I am afraid to jump. I am afraid I will miscalculate, and land on a tin roof In Brazil where I will break all my bones and get caught up in my parachute. Or I will land in a desert and get impaled on a cactus. Or I will touch down in the middle of a city where no one has time to give me directions.
There are girls, at my old house, in the swimming pool. They are floating around on inflatable rafts. Doing belly flops. Tanning in the sun. They are there. I am sure of it.
"Karen," the travelers say.
"Another sandwich?" the travelers say.
"Georgia," the travelers say. "That's a fantastic name for a hurricane."
The door swings open. Soon I will be more dune than man.