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The Dunes

Johanna Randall Reed

Your mouth is my favorite

The sand clung to his hair–the softness of strawberry blonde on the California Coast. He moved a slender thumb around his right earlobe; thought of Heather.

He had never been wrong.

And he had always been too good for the four-hundred people of his town, San Joseph. Not hidden, but dropped, between Salinas and Paso Robles, California, a few miles of flat lettuce fields; but, sure, green enough for a postcard.

He liked to take his brother's truck down to the Nipomo Dunes, zip through the sands on his dune buggy, and come home with ocean on his face–a man's water.

The last time he went to the Dunes, he met Heather. She wore a black sailor's hat, her hair nearly white in the sun. She took pictures of the waves with a Polaroid camera. "Perfect," he'd said out loud, not about her, but about the hunt. She said three things to him that day: "Heather," "My dad has cancer," and "Your mouth is my favorite."

She was not a broken bird, just a little blue.

And now, he waited, with his hot head in the sand, for her–and it was all right so far.

"Hey there, yellow-haired Robert!" she called, picking her knees up girlishly as she made her way over the thick sand to him. His name was not Robert, but he enjoyed watching her ankles weak and her arms nervous.

She sat down.

"Hey pretty girl," and he leaned forward to give her the mouth that was her favorite.

But she pulled away.

A thin cloud passed over the sun, hushing the colors of the scene. The Pacific was calm and turning gray.

"Do you think my hair is pretty too?" she said; her bottom lip turned white from the tight bite she administered to it.

"Oh," he said, "yeah." Covered his brow–a seagull had shit on him once.

"My dad is bald now. It's like this shiny dome. The eyebrows are gone too."

For a long time, he thought of what to say in response, but said finally: "Heather."

He had only wanted their mouths.

"I told him I'd bring him back seashells that were millions of years old. Will you help me look for them?" Heather stood, and was already taking long strides toward the shore.

His mother had always scrutinized his girlfriends' waists. If they wore their pants on their hips, she scoffed at "the shapeless flatness of the torso." "An hourglass," she told him, "an hourglass is a real woman's shape. You be sure to bring home a girl who wears her pants up here–" she held her hand stiff above her navel "–and not some whore who wears them down here–" and put her hand below the navel, on the soft spot that was his favorite.

He watched Heather, bent over with her hands in the dark, wet sand–the clouds now heavy over the sky. He went to her.

"Okay, seashells a million years old," he said, clapping his hands.

"There's none here. We need to dig," she said, looking him in the eyes.

He held the stare, soft in his face, and wondered if the green in her eyes was a tear.

"The old ones are under the dunes," she said. "They've been buried like the dead."

Mouth, then.

She kissed him.

Full, huge, too wet, tragic.

No hands, no grab–mouth. Her mouth, and what about his? That was all, and so it kept on. The ocean going grayer and grayer.

Heather stopped as quickly as she'd lunged, and said:

"My dad used to always tell me I could do anything I wanted to. Anything I touched would turn to gold. 'Heather,' he said, and then he'd rattle off lists and lists of occupations. 'Heather, Editor-in-Chief. Heather, Secretary of Interior. Heather, Senior Botanist. Heather, Scuba Diver. Heather, Stock Broker.' And on and on. His hands are huge. He's six foot five. And I think he's a giant. I still call him 'Daddy.'"

And again, the mouth.

Furious this time, almost tearing. A wet biting, with teeth and tongue and something acrid. He could not contain it easily; had to put his palm on her face to steady them both. She pushed down his throat, and he couldn't tell if there was love in his stomach or fear. He felt for the hourglass and didn't find it.

She was on him for a long time, the waves methodically crashing their heavy cycles beside them. Her tongue rolled with the water.

Then she said, her face already turned away: "Seashells."

As they started to dig at the foot of the dune, he wondered if he could take her home to meet his mother and brother. His mother always had an eye out for "the crazies," as she called them. "Don't you go bringing anyone home who wrings their hands at my dinner table and says prayers before they take a sip of water." His mother was a San Joseph native, born and raised; and he looked at Heather now, wondering: "My ticket out?"

They clawed at the sand; and it fell in on itself, as sand does. The hole got wider but not deeper, as things in life do. He touched his tongue to his teeth; she'd bitten it in places, raw–love?

She started talking again: "I'll let you cum in me. I'll let you, if you want. I'll let you."

He wanted to stop digging, look at her and see who was really there; but instead, he moved his arms faster, bent his fingers sore, thinking of home and his ticket out. She talked more about cumming, cumming inside, whatever he wants.

The words diluted.

The waves slate now, and this big hole in the sand as they dug for things older than they.

He was handsome, and his gold hair was her second favorite.

Her mouth again.

But he, fearing death, twisted kissless, almost fell–and plunged his palms deeper into the dune.

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