She asked if my glands had undergone a desert mutation that inhibited my ability to sweat. I asked if her skin was thicker to keep her insulated from the Wisconsin snow. We laughed, loud and with our heads tilted back, the way we wouldn’t around men. She kept driving. The sun so round and fine it looked as if I could pluck it right out of the sky. Fruit vendors dotted the road, vine tomatoes spilling out of recycled crates. We pulled over and bought a bunch, popping the hot fruit in our mouth like candy.
In the car, she admitted she had never seen the ocean. An hour later, I admitted I had never left the desert. As time passed, our list of nevers would lessen.
The water at the beach was brown and disappointing, but she loved it anyways. At summer camp earlier that week, we had exchanged photographs of ourselves. When I looked at hers, I commented, this person must love the photographer very much. Look at those eyes. When I said this, a cloud passed over her and that’s when, by and by, she suggested we rent a car and go to the beach, leaving our camp counselor designations behind us.
We were each looking for something unattainable.
Now, I read against an old fringed blanket until the shadows around me lengthened. I bought a coke at the boardwalk, and when I returned she was gone. My eyes blurry from the heat, I called her name, scaring gulls in upward thrusts. The sound of the wind against my ear. I was scared until I saw a tiny fleck out in the water, beyond the buoys, arms spread wide, hair cascading past thin shoulders. I yelled across the water, sun setting, tide up to my ankles. She lay on her back and began to float, drifting further out. I swam out longer than I thought possible, grabbing on to her sunburned wrist. She looked at me with hazel eyes till she finally saw something that made her say okay.
We rode on the Ferris wheel, hot hair against brown shoulders. I wish we didn’t have to go back. We didn’t speak on the way home.
I met her that summer and we spent a golden day together. The next eight years we both drifted off into oblivion, in our lives of desert and snow. She emailed me out of the blue. I left my husband, the photographer, the email said. Do you remember that day at the beach?