SUMMERTIME

Beast Fiction: Dancer

“Beth is weird and fat and white trash and unlucky and I am tall and normal and beautiful and educated. We are together now because of the ocean, because of surfing.”

There is the ocean, glimmering and vast and frothy, pelicans joined in wavering formations of black silhouettes, and there in the waves, paddling with fat fingers, sliding off the board instead of standing upon it, tangly dark locks swirling around as she is pulled toward shore with each crashing wave, is Beth.

I stand on the beach, watching, one hand shadowing my eyes and the other on my hip. A few minutes later, Lukas emerges from the waves, soft blonde curls matted against his head, dimpled smiling cheeks, fulfilled by the roaring ocean. Beth is still out there, determined to get up on that board but destined to flop about, too thick in the middle, too bottom-heavy, too misfortunate to rise victoriously and float, as I am learning to do and as Lukas does, reigning mightily over the unruly sea.

Beth is weird and fat and white trash and unlucky and I am tall and normal and beautiful and educated. We are together now because of the ocean, because of surfing. Beth saved up for months to come here and take lessons. I came after I quit my job working as a personal assistant for a major network news anchor’s wife.

I hadn’t planned on learning to surf. I was visiting Josh, and I was going to relax and take sun, maybe work on a business plan for the live-drawing-and-wine café I wanted to start up if I could convince my parents to invest. But I prided myself on my ability to take advantage of an opportunity, of an unfamiliar new place—so when I saw that I was in a world-class surfing destination, I changed my plans and decided to learn how to surf.

I got good, fast. I’m fit—strong adductors, from years of running. And Lukas proved an excellent instructor. Josh had heard good things about him, said that he wouldn’t overcharge me. I was willing. Lukas swaggered into Moca wearing only his swim trunks, which hung dangerously low on his hips, and everything about him was salty and sensual and carefree. He asked, “Which one of you is Natalie?” in his thick Australian accent, and I answered nonchalantly, swinging in the hammock chair and sipping a latté that Josh had made me. Lukas raised his eyebrows, then Josh came over and introduced me as “the girl he’d met in New York” and Lukas shook my hand in a very American way.

Josh and I met when he was in transit from Halifax to Costa Rica to set up the café. He was a friend of a friend; they’d done a sommelier course together. At the party in Brooklyn, Josh mixed me a cocktail and I watched his bicep flex. He told me about Moca and I said I wished I could come visit, it sounded so amazing. The morning after I took him home with me, we were already like a married couple, reading the newspaper in my favorite breakfast spot and talking about little scenes from the previous night’s party. Still, I assumed I would never see him again. Then, I don’t know how it actually happened, but I think it had something to do with the fact that I’m thirty-two now, I’m actually old, and now when I sleep with a random guy I feel like I’m wasting time that should be spent investing in a relationship, and so I quit my job and bought a ticket to Costa Rica.

A few days in, Lukas saunters in and blinks at me like he can’t believe that he’s actually going to get paid to hang out with me in a bikini. Couldn’t be older than twenty-eight—he is, in fact, twenty-six, but the sun has prematurely wrinkled his visage—and he’s winking at me behind Josh’s back, says he can’t wait until our first lesson. Someone will be joining us, he says, another American, named Beth, from somewhere in Pennsylvania.

“As long as I get a lot of personal attention,” I say, when Josh is only slightly out of earshot, taking a customer’s order at the counter. “I really need it.” I fake dumb girl, shrugging and squinting. And he smiles and my uterus falls through my belly into the ground and is washed away with the river, and I’m gone, and I will never, ever, grow up and be in an adult relationship.

*

After surfing, we drink. Imperial Silver is the preferred national beer, only slightly better than drinking actual urine. Everybody at the bar—tourists from Germany and Colorado and Argentina; surfer bums; long-haired expats with wrinkly skin and feather earrings—is drinking it, unless they are drinking margaritas, which cost twice as much. The sun is setting over the ocean, and everybody has gathered at the seaside bar to watch. Beth covers up in a shawl. I have put on little torn denim shorts that my butt cheeks hang out of, and I’m in my bikini top. Lukas’ eyes can’t stay off my chest.

Beth hands over money for our beers. I say I will pay her back and she shrugs like she doesn’t care, and I know she actually doesn’t; I also know that I don’t really mind not paying her back if that’s what she wants. Lukas doesn’t have any money aside from the cash we’re giving him for our daily lessons, which doesn’t amount to much. He’s squatting in some abandoned hostel. We clink beer bottles and drink. We’ve been surfing for three days straight now, and it feels like an accomplishment, something to celebrate.

The crowd is getting rowdier as the sky fades into light pink, then dark purple. It is too much of a cliché but Jimmy Cliff is playing, then it switches to Sublime, even worse, but it doesn’t matter. I am glad to be here but also glad I don’t have to live here, even though it’s beautiful, because then I would be a cliché just like all these people, using Latin America as my backyard-playground to live out my fantasy life. Happiness has no tasteful side, I think, as I swig the terrible beer.

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Beth asks me what I do. Now that her hair is drying I see that it is dyed magenta with hot pink streaks. It looks like it was done professionally. Her face is sort of pug-like, but the hair is interesting, at least. I explain that I’m between things, and when she looks at me blankly, I say that I was working as a personal assistant.

“Like a secretary?” she asks. Lukas, who has been glancing around the bar like a child with ADD, tunes in now and smirks at me, as if he knows that this is a challenge—me being called a secretary.

I shake my hair, feeling the ends graze the middle of my back. Not a secretary, I explain. It’s more complicated. I help this woman run her foundation, and sometimes act like a second parent to her son, and generally manage the household. Well, I correct myself, I did all those things. Now, I’m here, in Costa Rica.

“To learn to surf,” Beth finishes. I correct her again—not to surf. Not for any reason. I came to visit Josh and hang out, that’s all. Lukas conveniently looks around again when I mention Josh.

Beth nods, swigs at her beer. “So, did you study, like, nonprofit organization? I mean, because you run her foundation. Or did you study business administration? Something like that?”

I’m speechless for a second, then slowly shake my head. “No. No, no.” I pause, then go on. The words tumble out quickly as if I’m embarrassed of them. “I studied art history and philosophy.”

Beside us at the bar, a group cheers loudly, and I realize they are watching American football on the TV hanging from above.

“And what do you do?” I ask Beth. From underneath her shawl, her tattoos peek out at me: a bunny with devil’s horns on her forearm, a butterfly made of skulls on her thick, muscly neck.

Beth is vague, says she’s a dancer. I hide my smirk. She says something about touring in New York City. I picture a seedy bar in Times Square, Beth in a sequined black leather two-piece, her belly bulging over the bottoms, men sticking dollar bills underneath the seam.  

*

When I get back to Moca, after stopping at my hostel for a quick shower, Josh isn’t there. I check the tiny room he sleeps in, attached to the café, and see no signs. I do see a bottle of Absolut Citron, which I take with me out of the room. Where the hell is Josh? Here I am, in Costa Rica, tanned and naturally exfoliated by the sand, getting ready to watch the sunset alone. My nice buzz from the ocean, from successfully getting up on the board, from those beers and from watching Lukas ponder my body with his young libido, is all fading away now.

From the resort across the little road, I procure a plastic cup of ice. The patrons are overly tan, smiling too hard, people with too much money, too much leisure time, too little soul. There is a pool in the shape of a surfboard. Nobody is swimming.

Staring out across the river toward the ocean on Moca’s patio, I start to relax. It’s not so bad being alone. As the burning yellow ball looms closer and closer to the horizon, I sip my vodka—or Josh’s vodka, but whatever, I’m his guest—and consider my options.

They are something like this: Option A involves Josh and I falling in love and deciding to live together in Costa Rica, not of course in that disgusting little room he sleeps in but in a beautiful hut alongside the beach, and not in a stupid cliché kind of way but in a very sophisticated way, with beautiful bamboo furniture and handmade cloth curtains, and swank parties with DJs coming out from New York. This is probably the top option. Option B is similar, but instead of staying in Costa Rica, Josh and I head back to New York and open up a tropical-themed restaurant, or maybe the art wine bar I’ve been envisioning, or eventually both. In Option C, Josh is essentially replaced by Lukas, and instead of a lifelong partnership it’s several weeks of letting Lukas pound me on a nightly basis, after long days of surfing in which I quickly rise from beginner to shredding like an expert. The plus side of Option C is that I return to New York with a sexy surfing body, instantly attract a man who is ten times the man that either Josh and Lukas are, and proceed to broadcast said relationship all over Facebook so as to rub it in Josh and Lukas’ digital faces. And Option D . . .

I don’t dare think it to myself but, as I drain the cup of vodka and begin chewing on the ice cubes, and the sun begins to disappear into the ocean, I realize that Option D would be something like this: me, drinking alone, watching a sunset.

Except that I’m not alone—now Lukas and Beth appear, and they are surprised to see me.

“Oh, hey, mate!” Lukas’ grin fixes everything, and I’m immediately for Option C. “Looks like you found my favorite sunset spot.”

Beth smiles broadly and asks how I’m feeling and whether I’m sunburned.

“You’re so sweet,” I tell her, and offer them vodka.

We pass around the cup, taking sips. Beth sits at a picnic table and lights a Marlboro Menthol. I can’t help but wrinkle my nose. Now the sky looks like a Turner painting: swirly pink spirals, deep purple clouds.

A line of birds flies low over the river that leads into the ocean. They disappear into the canopy. Lukas, shirtless as always—does he own anything but that one pair of swim trunks?—props up one bent leg on the patio railing and leans over it, squinting at the birds.

“They’re looking for their hammocks,” he tells me. He explains: every night, the birds soar together, searching for their homes for the evening, high up in the canopy. It’s usually in roughly the same place, most of the time. The way he tells me all of this, I can see that he really knows it. Not like he watched it on the Discovery Channel knows it, but knows it from being here, spending so much time with the ocean. I’m still in favor of Option C when Josh saunters in, barefoot, holding a large parcel of something wrapped in white paper.

I can smell the beer on his breath from ten feet away.

"Who wants to make a bonfire on the beach?” he asks. Behind him are a few of his employees at Moca—one local girl, and an Australian guy and his girlfriend.

“You missed a great sunset,” I tell him. He eyes the bottle of vodka on the floor and gives me a smile that is very difficult to read. Then he looks at Beth.

“My surfing buddy, Beth,” I say. They shake hands. Josh shows us the red snapper and black bass he just picked up from the market. We all head off toward the beach. The whole way, Josh and Beth walk up ahead of the rest of us, and I have no idea what they are talking about, and Option C is seeming better and better.

*

We hunt for wood far away from the water line, and as we return with our bounty, Lukas builds a pyramid. Probably this is what Burning Man would be like. 

While Lukas and Josh are getting the fire started, Beth asks me more questions about myself. I don’t know why she is so interested in my life. I tell her about my little apartment in Brooklyn, and she asks all sorts of practical questions, to which I respond that yes, I’m subletting it while I’m away, which annoys me because it feels like I’m admitting that I can’t afford to go away without covering my monthly rent. So, I turn the tables and ask her about where she lives.

“Well, I’m finally settled into a nice little apartment,” she says, smoking probably her fifteenth cigarette. “It was tough, for a while, sleeping in my car.” She looks at me, hesitating for several seconds, and then she lets it all out. By the time the fire is ten feet high in the night sky, and Lukas has finished cooking the fish inside tinfoil and propped up on some rocks inside the flames, I know the entire story of Beth: the man she was married to who abused her every day, who hit her with a baseball bat until she grabbed it and took a few swings at him, how he called the cops and used his personal connections since he worked as an EMT to have Beth dragged from their home and thrown in jail. When Beth came out of jail, her husband had emptied her bank account, initiated a divorce, sold her belongings on eBay, smoked her hidden stash of weed, and was living in her house, her dead parents’ house, the home her parents had built her and that she had lived in thirty-six years, with another woman. It also came out that he had gotten another woman pregnant while they were married. Beth had $114 to her name and had to clean the bathrooms in bars and restaurants in her small Rust Belt town just to get by. That was why she was sleeping in her car.

Chewing on some fish, Beth shows me burn marks on her arm from the times he shoved cigarettes into her skin. “Wow,” I say, not knowing what else to say.  

Then Lukas comes over and high-fives Beth, then me, saying, “My surfing mates!” He is already drunk. Josh sits, eating, looking at the fire, quiet. I came here to see Josh, so I get up and go to him.

I feel like I don’t know what to say, so I say that Beth just told me a horrible story. She was abused by her husband, I tell Josh. I embellish almost without thinking: Now she’s forced to dance in strip clubs for money. She does a little prostitution, too. Isn’t that horrible?

He looks at the fire and nods.

“Yes,” he says. “That’s really horrible. Did you like the fish?”

I wanted something more and now I feel like Options A and B are becoming increasingly less likely, though I couldn’t say why or how.

The fire is actually very pretty. It silences me. Josh gets up and walks around on the beach, closer to the water. The waves are breaking very far away, and I watch Josh roll up the legs of his jeans and wade out, into the frothy low tide. I can hear Lukas and Beth talking but it doesn’t sound like anything, just murmurs punctuating the swooshing waves. I take another sip of the whiskey Josh brought with us.

Three people are approaching in the distance and their bodies are getting larger, more defined, as they move along the sand like boats bobbing on water, unevenly pressing forth. When they materialize I have no idea where they are from. They are dark-haired, good-boned, are finishing smoking a joint.

Lukas in his friendly surfer way shouts a greeting and they respond, giving away some clues about their nationalities—Spanish maybe, or someone possibly from Germany. There are some handshakes and a bottle of something is produced and passed around. They sit. Josh is watching, deciding whether to abandon his post in the froth and re-join us. He remains.

We are talking, a little, in a friendly way. The local girl who works at Moca is switching back and forth between Spanish and English, telling a story about some other Spanish tourists she met recently. One of the new arrivals, Julia or Jules or something, pulls a gangly metal contraption out of her backpack. Beth moves next to her and they are talking, but I am distracted because Lukas has come to sit behind me and is pressing his warm torso against my back, rubbing my shoulders and the nape of my neck. I feel special and tipsy and this is why I came to Costa Rica, to make a bonfire on the beach at night with two men who adore me. I’m fully ready to pursue whichever Option will make the most out of these precious days here.

They—Jules or Julie and Beth—are sticking the metal contraption into the fire. Beth is very serious, intent, and she is holding flames now, moving into the empty space between our bonfire and the sea and moving in circles, a body dancing with fire, dragging the metal contraption through the air and carving flames into the night sky. Everybody watches as she makes the fire criss-cross over her body, swoops it underneath her, gets low to the earth and then zooms back up again. Josh has returned to observe. In a moment of pause, we applaud Beth, and she stops, bows, and hands the fire wreath to Julie or Juliette, who does her own fire performance. Beth sits near me and I can hear her breathing, hard. Lukas high-fives Beth; everybody tells her how great her performance was.

There’s chatter about sleeping on the beach; I’m worried about mosquitos. The party is still going strong, but I tell Josh that I’m tired and he doesn’t blink, stands and begins walking toward my hostel. He is smiling, I see in the moonlight.

“Wasn’t that incredible?” he asks me.

“The fire dancing, you mean?” Josh looks at me as if I’m an idiot.

I turn my head away, then up at the stars. Never have I seen so many.

*

Standing outside, below the sinking balcony of a decrepit building that looks as if its foundation will cave and slide into the sea at any moment, I hiss: “Lukas!” I wait, wondering if I should say it again, louder. There are families camped out on the beach, in tents, and I don’t want to wake them.

He comes out—shirtless—looks down, waves.

“Couldn’t sleep,” I tell him.

“Door’s open,” he says.

On the balcony, Lukas doesn’t wait, pulls me down onto his lap on a chair and shoves one hand down my top and the other up my skirt. I remember now that he is twenty-six.

Twenty-six turns out to be a good age this evening. Lukas loves my body and compliments everything. I love his erection and let him move inside me for a long, long time. He wants to keep going and I sense that he’s proud of this, his ability to persevere, but I have to go to the bathroom.

I see the state of the bathroom in the abandoned hostel and decide to go on the beach. Squatting on the sand, I look up again at the stars and wish I knew something about astronomy. Maybe that’s Orion? I think I see the Big Dipper. It’s something I should know—shouldn’t everybody be able to recognize the Big Dipper?

Lukas is on his laptop when I return.

“You have internet here?” I ask, incredulous.

He says yeah as if it were the most obvious thing—to have a WIFI connection in an abandoned hostel on the beach in Costa Rica—and asks if I want to see a surfing video some friends of his made. I agree and lie down beside him. He is still sweating, hasn’t even bothered to towel off. It’s kind of gross, but I bear it. The video shows Australian guys doing all sorts of crazy things on their surfboards.

“Why aren’t you in the video, if those are your friends, Lukas?”

He has fallen asleep. I close the laptop, find my flip-flops, and let myself out.

*

We spend the day at the waterfall. It is shaded, which Josh loves but I hate. In New York it is winter, and I came here for sun. And the whole day, Josh buddies up with the guy who works for him at Moca—the poor girl has to run the shop all by herself—and they slide down the waterfall like two drunken frat boys. Which is really cute—Josh, definitely, is really cute. He is. But all day I’m thinking about surfing, about Lukas holding my body and pushing me into the waves, about getting up on the board and riding for a bit, then falling, helpless, laughing, into the froth.

We return in time for the unmissable sunset. Josh mixes some rum cocktails and people stop by. It’s a regular night in Costa Rica—watching the sunset, enjoying. There is a dance party happening that night. I say I will go, hoping to sound cool and because Josh seems interested, but I’ve never really been into electronica, or whatever it’s called.

I decide to ask Josh some questions. How long does he plan to stay in Costa Rica? Would he just stay here, if he really liked it?  There is no “us” yet so I can’t ask him questions that include me, but I’m still trying to figure out where I stand vis-à-vis my “Options.” Did I think there would be an “us” by now, over a week into my stay here in Costa Rica? Shouldn’t it have been nearly instantaneous?

Josh frowns. “I have to stay here at least a few months”—that’s what he promised the owner--“and anyway, it’s amazing down here.” He smiles, a goofy, drunk blonde bear.

I nod. Amazing.

“After that, maybe I’ll go to Toronto?” He swigs a fresh beer. “There’s an amazing gastropub there where my buddy works, and he wants me to come manage the place.”

I’ve never been to Toronto, but it sounds cold.

The sunset is stunning as always.

*

It is eleven when I push through the local teenagers crowded around the entrance to the little building. The DJ in the front is playing cheesy hip-hop, and I momentarily stand around, watching the youth flirt in miniscule clothing. Then I ask, as I was told to do, for the secret party.

In the back is a small room where people are doing things with their bodies that can be described as dancing. OK, it is dancing. But I cannot do it so I stand, sipping the “ladies night” (i.e. free, very strong) concoction of cheap tequila and some sugary juices. I recognize some people from around town. There is the girl who serves breakfast at Surf Shack; she’s always so polite, saying con gusto whenever I thank her for bringing me the house hot sauce or extra tortillas, but now she’s wearing a tiny top and little shorts and frenetically throwing her hips back and forth and the DJ, a good-looking American guy, or maybe Canadian, who knows, is watching her, loving it. Then I see the local guy who goes around with a sign saying he will make a palm leaf animal for you in exchange for 3,000 coronas, or about six bucks – he’s deaf, but great with his hands. He’s standing aside, feeling the bass line, with his eyes closed, swaying happily to the music. He inspires me – if even the deaf guy loves the music, shouldn’t I?—and I start to get into it, but I can’t really let go because I’m aware that, at any minute, Josh could appear, and we’ve never danced together and I don’t know what it will be like. How will he see me? How do I want him to see me? 

And then, like a butterfly spreading her wings open for all to see, there in the middle of the dance floor, writhing around the pole, is Beth. Everybody spaces out so that she has room to move, and then she is creeping toward the pole, rolling her eyes around, dancing with her eyes, pursing her lips, flirting with everybody. People are cheering as she lays one hand, then the other on the pole, and then she is up, those thick legs wrapping around it, gripping it; she is hanging upside down, then lowering down, slowly, until she almost falls to the floor but just barely catches herself, stands up, heaving with breath, sweaty.

And there is Josh, clapping. He is barefoot. I have not seen him once wear shoes since I’ve been here in Costa Rica.

The dance party resumes. Beth waves at me. I wave back, smiling really big, as if to say good job. We meet at the bar for the ladies night tequila drink.

“We missed you today,” Beth says. “The waves were really good.”

“Oh, yeah, we were at the waterfall.” I feel a pang at the thought of Beth out there with Lukas, my Lukas.

Beth raises her plastic cup and I bring mine against hers. “Salud,” she says. “I love this place!” Then she is off, back onto the dance floor, gyrating her hips and pumping one fist at the DJ. Josh is moving around, he knows everybody, it’s his party. I might as well not be here at all, so I leave, taking my drink with me. The teenagers are in full form outside the bar now, and for a moment I wish I was one of them. A Costa Rican teenager, in this beach town? What could be better?

I’m not as drunk now as I was the previous night when I get to the hostel.

“Lukas,” I hiss. It feels like a scene from a play, or a sit-com. I giggle. A cat yawns at me from a slab of stone that was probably once a very nice pathway to the hostel. I stand there, looking at the quiet building. How much, I wonder, would it cost to purchase this land? Could I fix it up? I swivel around. This would be my view—the ocean, pure as God. I stop, listening to the waves.

Then I hear: “Door’s open, babe.”

*

I’m not sure, at three in the morning, what I’m going to tell Josh, but I’m walking to Moca now to find him. I’m going to tell him—that I made a mistake? Shouldn’t have come here to visit him, wasted my time, if he was going to be so indifferent to me? I’m going to tell him that I love him and want to be with him, for real, that we need to be adults and make this commitment, make it work, decide what we want? My body feels sad from Lukas’ loving; it feels old and used and rough. The ocean is the only sound that accompanies me as I walk along the beach, turning on the path by where the ocean meets the river to head toward Moca. I eye the river, sultry and swift, imagining the crocodiles lying in wait for my supple body.

I am drunk. Lukas was nervous, for some reason, so made us take shots of tequila from a little flask he had tucked away in his bag. A surfboard, a laptop, a flask—what else does a man need? A twenty-six year old man, at least.

Fortunately, the tequila burned right through Lukas’ nervousness. His performance was just as robust as the previous. So why do I feel, afterward, so empty? Just a great big nothing, except for this tingly feeling in the back of my neck, this throbbing in my brain.

Josh will never know about Lukas. I need to get Josh out of here, away from this barefoot life of sun and sea, this fake life! It’s impossible to be this happy, it is not right. We are city people, northerners, destined to suffer through long winters drinking whiskey to flush our sallow skin.

As I near Moca, I hear voices—Josh’s I recognize; he is laughing. And Beth! There she is, leaning over the railing—the railing Josh held me against to kiss me when I first arrived to Costa Rica and he found me exciting and fresh—holding a cigarette, blowing smoke all over Josh, making some weird movement, maybe dancing, with her arms. There are empty cocktail glasses on the table with a whitish brown liquid at the bottom. It appears that Beth has just finished telling a great story. Josh cannot stop laughing.

“Hi, guys.” I try to disguise my bewilderment.

Beth smiles, waits for Josh to reply.

“Where’d you go, Nat? You were there one minute, and then you left . . .”

I say something about taking a walk on the beach, the stars. They nod and Josh says it’s his favorite thing to do, walk alone on the beach.

“Beth was just,” he is still laughing, “doing an imitation of herself on a surfboard. Oh, man. Hilarious!”

Beth shrugs. There is black mascara smudged on her sweaty cheeks. “What can I say—I’m not a natural, like Natalie is.”

I manage a dry laugh. Josh looks so relaxed, smoking one of Beth’s cigarettes. I know that he will stay up all night since he has to open Moca at dawn anyway. Then he will take a long nap in the afternoon. Wake up and start the partying all over again. It’s Costa Rica! Pura vida! Why not!

Beth lets out a long sigh. “Maybe surfing just isn’t for me.”

“But,” Josh says, “you haven’t given it much time.”

Shrugging, Beth agrees, says that she just always had this dream, for no reason, of learning to surf, but maybe it’s better to give it up.

“Lukas is such a good instructor, though,” she says to me. Is there a wink in her eye?

“He is,” I agree. I tell them I’m tired and we all say goodnight. I leave them, hearing their laughter trail behind me, punctuated by birds waking up cozy in their hammocks, nestled beside their loved ones.

I awake to a full onslaught of chirping birds, and a slight hangover. It takes me a moment to remember the tequila.

I’m exchanging the equivalent of one dollar for a coconut with a straw sticking out of it when I see Beth at the surfboard rental place. She waves to me, and I head over, sipping the juice down. Almost instantly, the hangover subsides.

“Lukas says he wants to surf alone today,” she says cheerfully.

Alone? I can’t imagine why Lukas would forego the money we pay him for the lessons. And it feels like he’s avoiding me, me who he was inside only hours ago.

But Beth is renting a surfboard now, has negotiated a cheap price with the guy who runs the shop. I look at him, sitting there in sunglasses, and remember seeing him dancing last night. He smiles and hands me a longboard.

Out in the water, I ducking under the first few waves instead of letting them catch the board. My shoulders feel tired and finally, I’ve exceeded my tolerance for the sun. It would be nice if a large cloud would pass through but it’s bright, open sky, all the way across. I lie on the board, paddling like a half-dead walrus, inhaling salt water each time a wave crashes over me, and suddenly I miss my apartment, and New York. I miss decent wine, good beer, parties where people talk and flirt and serve hors d’oeuvres rather than dancing so fiercely that they sweat through their clothing and have to take it off. I miss wearing shoes, real shoes. I even miss my stupid job. No one, since I’ve been in Costa Rica, has needed me for anything. In New York I was needed. I was needed for the not unrespectable sum of forty-five dollars an hour. Here, I am, what—the girl Josh met in New York? The girl who came to visit him and is now fucking the young Australian—

Beth is rising on the board. She is up. She is lifting her arms high toward the sky, then brings them lower to steady herself. She is riding in toward the shore and as she gets closer, just before she belly flops ungracefully into the shallow froth, probably bumping her head on the sand, she lets out a whoop, a mighty yell, a shout of victory. And then Beth is gone, underwater, and there, floating aimlessly in the waves, held up by their salinity and dependability—they will always come, the waves, will return again and again and again—there, adrift, am I.