Fiction
Fiction

Seventeen

Kate Mooney


 

I want to tell you what it says, but it’s yours. 

 

Beer-drunk, cut-offed, smiling and bleary-eyed in the sun. Oyster shells piled unevenly beneath their feet like a junkyard of discarded moons, they sidestep down to the river bank. Almost falling over from swigging heavy 40’s, which amuses them. Drinking 40’s, alone, is highly amusing. So is smoking blunts, hitting bongs. There are rickety logs and a muddy beach. Storybook tugboats make waves. They jump up and down shouting out to the invisible river pilot, and he beeps his horn. A skeleton of a barge, rusted and run ashore, dominates the landscape. They are drenched in sun and sweat, swamp things adapted to their natural habitat. Friday after school, they are juniors, this is the life. 

 

They crack up deciding which girls and which boys are female-male counterparts. Few are satisfied with the results. They’d rather be paired up with the one who’s smarter, or funnier, or better-looking. Less goofy, less spastic, less prone to anger.  One of the girls goes to pee underneath shelter number three, but she doesn’t go far enough, and if they look up, they can see her ass. The talk continues, like what food would you be? The most boring of the boys, but the nicest to look at, is deemed flourless chocolate cake. What’s your spirit animal? One of the girls is a squirrel because of the way she scurries around awkwardly and when eating, clutches her food as though with claws. She laughs along but is mildly hurt.    

 

A boy alone wanders down the river and a girl catches up with him. He grins as she grabs his arm. He says he wants to explore, maybe climb a tree, and points to the most limbering, falling down, almost horizontal cypress, its bark chipping away. She laughs at him, says good luck. She slips a folded piece of paper in his hand, smiles shyly brave and says, these are some lines I wrote for you. But don’t read them now! Then she runs away to snuggle up with her two girlfriends who are sitting on a log smoking cigarettes and laughing to each other.

 

The sun starts to set. If they linger longer, the cicadas will drown out the night, and lone older men will pull up to sit for hours drinking in their cars with the headlights blaring, and the trees will seem to grow thick and bulbous in the dark like nugs of weed, and the water will shimmer black in the moonlight. They start up their cars, off to binge on dinner and then to bed early to sleep off the drunk.  

  

What are you looking at me like that for?

 

He’s already learning it might not be about her, but the idea of her. But as soon as he makes up his mind about how he feels, the doubts set in. Sometimes she’s not even fun to be around. Ornery as hell or moody, and it’s just not attractive. She’ll start hating on everything. Their friends, bands, writers, artists, someone’s mom….But he knows the same is true for him. Like that day she screwed up her face at him and said, You’re not yourself. And he just scowled back; not until later, after school when he was walking down the fucked-up sidewalk, almost tripping over the mini-avalanches caused by the roots of the oak trees, but you couldn’t really complain, because without the roots you wouldn’t have the majestic canopy overhead, that he realized, How am I not myself? How is anyone not himself?

 

Some mornings he wakes up and her image is burned on his brain, and then all he can think about is seeing her that day at school, in the hall, in English class, he’s almost nervous in anticipation, if she’ll look the same as he woke up seeing her, which is really intimidating and otherworldly, like a siren or scary Medusa chick. But mostly, when he finally sees her, he’s relieved, she’s just a real girl, and she’ll be frowning and sleepy-eyed, or goofy as hell and grinny for no good reason.  

 

An age you’ve already lived, or one you’ve not yet reached

 

I’m swimming out to meet him, curly-locked and mermaid-finned. I think that my formative years are almost over and I’m not gonna make it in time. I’m crying about Holden Caulfield, again. You’re getting me off with your finger. I’m drunk on half a six-pack of Abita Amber. I’m counting off all the songs I know with my name in the title. I locked my keys in with the car still running. I’m afraid I have nodes on my vocal cords and will never sing the same again. I don’t realize I’ll always have this sparkling crackle. My favorite words all have “dis-" in them. I can tell you think I’m more pretty than interesting. I’m listening to Fiona Apple and writing in my journal. I think I’m God ‘cuz I just got FUCKED UP on coffee. I’m confusing your mental illness for genius. I’m a misanthrope, but I love people. I’m weary of my own mythology. I’m wary of my own mythology. I’m so tired of my own mythology. I probably will never write again. I can’t stand it when people bitch about how busy they are. I fucking love driving. This song sounds like the way I want to be. You say there’s the sun, but as far as I can tell, you’re looking at me. My best friend agrees, you can definitely be in love with more than one person at the same time. We’re still having the best sex with guys that give us a pain in the ass. I think there’s pieces of me you’ve never seen. I’m behaving pretty badly, I don’t want to stop. I know I’ll bounce back, but who can say when?  

 


 

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Kate Mooney is a New Orleans-born-and-raised, now Brooklyn-based writer. This May, she received her MFA in Fiction from Queens College. She has written for Oxford American, Brokelyn.com, the New York Post, USA Today, the New York Observer, and The Hairpin. She was most recently a semifinalist in L Magazine's Literary Upstart Competition and received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train Press's Family Matters Contest. When she's not writing, she's mingling with her inner seventeen-year-old by drinking and sweating in the sun with her dog near bodies of water.

 

This is her first published fiction.

 

This story was originally published in Issue #14 of The Literarian