Jennifer Pieroni

Jason found his friends on the raft floating across the black water. He waded out. It wasn't about swimming, really. It was about being on an island, together. Robinson hauled himself up in one smooth motion and sat beside Jason. "Forgot my cigarettes," Robinson said, nodding toward the beach. Between them and the beach Jimmy rocked the rowboat, causing the girls inside it to scream. "Jackass," Robinson said.

"I'm not dragging that thing up if it sinks," Jason said, though if it did sink, he would probably be one of the first to help.   

"Jimmy," Robinson hollered. "Jimmy. Go back and get my smokes."

"You get them," he said, nudging himself between Robinson's sister and Rachel.

"Go get my smokes, Jim Jim."

"Christ, I just sat down," he said before nosing down like a duck for pond weed.

"Come and help us, someone," Robinson's sister said.

"You see?" he said to Jason. You see how my sister needs me?

But it was Jason who pushed off the raft, sending it floating back, stretching the rope that served as the boundary for the swimming area. He was strong, but still, his hairless pink nipples gave away his youth. He dragged the rowboat to the raft and the girls scrambled up, each of them sitting to form a shivering line on the ledge. Then Robinson's sister began to splash.

"You bitch," Jimmy said. "You little bitch."

"Fuck you, Jim Jim," she said.

Robinson said, "Just give me my cigarettes."

"The little bitch," Jimmy said to him.

Jason still stood in the water; he was in as deep as his shoulders. A breeze ruffled the water top, and he sensed something was coming over them. It was the cause for all of the shivering, all of the raised hair. Robinson's sister continued to splash. Jimmy came at her, but he was losing his balance.

"Can't believe this numbskull," Robinson said, going for his cigarettes. He stood and jumped from the dock. Maybe he straightened his legs. Maybe it happened even though his muscles and joints were loose. Maybe it happened because he needed to be broken; his uprightedness needed to break. Jason didn't want to believe that though. His shoulders emerged, but not his face. The only difference between him and the buoys on the rope: he wasn't attached.


There are places people go to die. Florida, for example. Marco Island is basically heart attack central. Then there were city alleys where a person's spirit would pass into the storm drains. The gym, especially the pool. Jason would add Thayer General Hospital to the list, because he was too young to appreciate that births happened there too, that some people healed there, got up from bed and walked out the revolving door.

Jason's mother, Wini, apologized to Robinson's mother and hung up the phone.

"Visiting hours. Let's go," she said.

"I'm not going," he said.

"He's your friend, Jason."

"I said no."

Wini lit a cigarette and rearranged herself in her seat.

"I'm not going in there," Jason said. "That's it."

All night, the night before, the phone rang and the call waiting beep-beeped. How many girls—five, maybe more—hyperventilating into their pillows. Jimmy was scarce. Jason didn't call him: he didn't call Jason. The host of Saturday Night Live had just welcomed the band to the stage when Rachel came to his window.

"Can you hold this?" She held a paper carton of orange juice.

Jason took the juice and watched her straddle the window frame briefly before tipping inside. It wasn't the first time. She walked unsteadily toward him and rested her head against his shoulder and began to heave. They melted onto the floor, leaning their backs against his dresser, its chipped veneer their usual backdrop. Jason turned the television even lower. Robinson was paralyzed. First he's pedaling. First he's swimming. Then he's jumping. Then he's at a standstill. He can't feel his toes. He can't move them. Or feel his knees. Or his dick. He has his arms and hands, but not his dick.

"It's bullshit. This is bullshit," she was saying. When she cried like that she developed a lisp, her lips split and awry, tongue swollen. Jason's dog heard Rachel's voice and nosed through the door. "Gingy," Rachel said. "Good girl." Jason knew that Rachel had gone to Thayer. Then she'd taken the phone off the hook. She'd waited for her mother to turn off the lights. Ginger wedged herself between them. They each ran their hands over her coarse orange fur while she yawned and sighed. Rachel watched with him to the end of Saturday Night Live and then went home.

He couldn't go to Thayer. What did you do? Bring balloons and a card. You don't just walk in like that. You just don't.

Jennifer Pieroni has work in or coming from Another Chicago Magazine, Hobart, Guernica, PANK, elimae and others. She was a founding editor of Quick Fiction.

Read more of her work in the archive.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Cavale.

W i g l e a f               02-02-12                                [home]