When I walked into the bar at noon, I reconsidered my outfit. I had bought a two-piece skirt set at Target on my way to the apartment that I’d change in: a borrowed space, a secret, its walls hollow and beige. I contorted my body into unnaturally angled reflections in the mirror until I became another person with the right lighting, the right position. The fabric I wore was a shade of muted tropical print that belonged in a 1950s tiki bar. It hugged my bones tight; my skin felt stapled on. The fabric died before my body could make protest. Stale cigarette death. I replaced the pre-pubescent skirt with denim cutoffs, transforming from Marilyn to Brigette: both who I knew you’d sleep with.
You’d already ordered a peach mojito. I felt my legs veer toward the exit, the weight of the swinging door keeping me in, the weight of my conscience swinging out.
Once, I found myself in Salem, Massachusetts. It was here I decided against past lives. Before then, I was convinced that I had descended from witches: a bridge between my evangelical Christian upbringing and atheism of adulthood. A need for spiritual connection, for any connection. At that time, there was still meaning to be found. So, I found myself drunk off of mead for the first time, lips drenched in sweet honey, searching for my soul the night before Halloween. There was no haunted anything, I learned. Only tourists who paid forty bucks to walk around in someone’s backyard corn field with a flashlight on a roped path six feet behind one another. I didn’t belong. I was from California and wore sun dresses on Thanksgiving, drank mimosas on Christmas mornings because it was too hot for coffee. And so it was then I gave up the last frayed spindles of romanticism, religion, of any deeper meanings of life.
I would tell you all of this while we melted underneath a triple digit sun, the salt from the sea freshly dried on the tips of our tongues, exchanged between us in passing shadows, hidden. It had been three years since I swore to never return home. But it wasn’t fate, I told you, there was no such thing, after all.
You ordered me a peach mojito without asking. Assured me that it would transport me to a deserted, white sand beach. I told you not to be fooled by my cheap floral top. I was no sucker for white sand beaches, truth be told. I wasn’t muted—I was blinding bright, I swore, I swore.
I was azure, a nameless blue, a lost neon flickering out in a graveyard of casino signs in North Las Vegas. I was the name of a color there wasn’t a word for in the ancient Greek language, in a single work of Shakespeare. We lived in a world of black and white then, the sea wine-dark, our hearts void of color.
I pulled the frays of my jean shorts down across the tops of my thighs, browned from early summer already. My skin felt hot; everything smelled of seraphim. Of burning flesh. Puritan fear inside the stakes that made up my joints—on fire.
Afterward, you pushed me into the backseat of my car. I don’t know how many peach mojitos it had taken me to resist resisting. I’d wondered what the Before would taste like now that I had crossed over into the After. My legs were splayed across the back of my driver’s seat; I remembered how my dad had told me to get beige interior, but I couldn’t bear to buy leather. And so our bodies sweated against each other over cheap, hot, black fabric. I’d never afford a new car again.
“Press repeat,” you said when you were finished. I reached through the middle console and hit the back button on my outdated CD player. After the song played, I pressed it again. And again, and again, until the buttons faded raw. Long after I blocked your number, after the mysterious calls from a Russian area code would reach my voicemail box and play an inaudible song. Something about being fifteen—you said that’s how you felt. Fifteen, I thought back. To bruises that bled into parts of me I intended on staying forgotten, like the back wall of my closet I’d punch holes through, then crawl up against to sleep.
My body, pressed between cheap fabrics, panicked under the weight of that damn muted floral. You probably went to Mexico on your honeymoon, I suspected. That’s where you fell in love with peach mojitos. The song played a thirtieth time but felt warped in my ears, the guitar singing a drunken siren’s wail.
My thoughts spiraled through past lives: I lived in Montana once. Though the definition of “lived in” is considerably vague. Measured in time, or circumstance? It might as well have been a lifetime—that planet-big sky stretched over the membranes of my memory. I felt the cold steel of the bed of a pickup truck, watched the horizon spark flames and curve into the shape of the moon, the dark roads that went on forever, and ever, and ever. I tasted mint julep, no peach, no, the first beer that’d ever touch my lips. Blood on my taste buds like metallic tides. I was three years old. My dad had since sworn off shirts in his brash teen years, his income branded with Marlboro Reds and Budweiser, my childhood branded as something I’d never feel as if I could escape.
You were smothered in muted breaths against my rib-cage, the one part of my body I was trying to keep for myself. I wanted out, off, away, but my strength had lost itself in a verse back on repeat twelve. I focused on the tattoo on my leg: a crudely drawn beer can with the words “We’ll be good,” etched beneath. I felt like I always said that at moments like these.
Erica Hoffmeister was born and raised in Southern California, earning her MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University’s dual degree program in 2015. She has had both poetry and fiction published in several online and print journals, was a runner-up for the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, received an honorable mention for the Lorian Hemingway Award for Short Fiction, and has been nominated for Best of the Net.