The Ex

You pull out the tape player left under the boat seat and put in the cassette. You half want and half unwant to hear your ex’s voice. If you want to borrow the boat and get directions to the cave, you have to press play.

So you do.

You can’t remember the name of the guy sitting to your left, but you’re pretty sure the girl in the back is Jenny. When you told them about the boat and that the rest of the trip consisted of someone else’s directions, they assumed that someone else would be here in person. The tape recorder is better, you assure them, not wanting to get into the what-ifs and could-haves and the complicated sexual positions you and your ex circle around when you meet.

The tape is static until tribal drums beat out Let It Be grossly off pace. You know the tribe, a mix of twenty-somethings swathed in floosy animal print garments yoga posing and Karma Suturing with fifty-somethings between the shadows of crystal rock lamps and oversized lotus prints. You know this because you were into that sort of thing last spring.

Your ex won’t tell the directions without first reminiscing about the time you and Katz searched the desert for Peyote and cactus flowers at three AM and got lost, which was totally worth it to see the sun rise like that, but totally not worth it when you gave up on the Peyote and ate too many mushrooms, pocketed on a whim before the hike, and forgot to bring water. Sunburn like no other that day.

You go to fast-forward the tape, but Jenny stops you. The story is too good. You think she’d be a perfect fit for the drum circle. Probably even hang with it long enough to baby swap for breastfeeding Sundays, the type who’d rave on and on about the experience of another infant sucking her boob in online reviews.

You don’t like her knowing this part of you.

The next segment of the tape references more friends, Lizard in particular, who always found you more competent even though your city blood made you a piss poor rock-climbing partner. You lack the one-with-the-universe attitude that makes climbing bearable, forever-overthinking foot and handgrips.

You only ever wanted to feel like you could fall. 

            That’s pretty much why you broke up in the first place. The voice gets choky, reminds you that there are dinoflagellates in the cave. Thank god you’re not drinking together. You’d have to offer up your bandana for the tears. Not that you wear a bandana anymore. You gave that up last month for shoes with laces.

The tape nears its end, instructing you of the two jays taped under the seat for Lizard, who will take care of the boat when you’re done if you dock it where you found it. The tape’s last request is to mail a postcard at the next town you visit. Doesn’t have to say a thing.

This is why you hate favors. Where will you find stamps? 

You start the boat, thankful for the motor’s sound to take your mind off your ex’s voice. The water is clear. You drive the rest of the way zoning in and out of Jenny and the guy banter over fair wages in developing countries and the impact of societal narcissism on dolphin habitats. Now that you’re almost there you want to turn back, but it’s too late. The cave’s mouth is wider than you remember.

Jenny takes off her clothes first, then random guy. The bugs remind you of your glow stick club days when you made your clothes from road kill T-shirts and hats. You gave them new life by cutting them up because you were tired of cutting yourself. You take off your clothes. 

Jenny throws a glowing dive stick. While random guy fetches it, she wraps her legs around your back and pulls you toward her. Your ex’s voice still in your head, you feel pulled in the wrong direction.

The guy surfaces with the glow stick between his teeth like a zombie Labrador. He paddles up to Jenny. You focus on the bioluminescence, thousands of cells defending themselves against you.

Climbing the ladder to the boat is a bitch. You flop down on deck still naked, but warm, and listen to the guy and Jenny pretend to be Orcas. As you lie there drying, you take one of the joints between your fingers. You could tell Lizard later that there was only one.

Your memory digresses to what the tape did not, the time you braided beads into your ex’s hair, each one representing eternity. You threaded seventeen eternities into hair that night. You counted forty-eight stars. You barely lasted eight years. And now you’re down to just one moment.

Charlie Broderick
Charlie M. Broderick graduated from Hamline University with an MFA in creative writing. More of her writings appear in Revolver, Sleet Literary Magazine, and Red Bird Press.

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