Written by Claire Hilton
Every other Sunday at 9:30 in the morning it’s my job to get the groceries. Usually I don’t “get ready” in the mornings because usually I don’t see anyone worth “getting ready” for, but every other Saturday night I know that, the next morning, I have to go someplace other than here for a few hours, which means I have to “get ready”. I hate getting ready. So last night I slept in a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt so I could just roll out of bed and go. When I wake up my body is all sticky and the clothes cling to me because the air here is always salty and humid like a steam room. Even after a nice hot shower, the minute you step out you’re sweaty and sticky all over again. I don’t even remember what it’s like to feel “clean” so I don’t really feel “dirty” either, which is good I guess.
I walk out in to the kitchen and Mrs. Benitez is at the sink cleaning the dishes, even though she’s not supposed to stand very much because she’s got blood clots in her legs and really bad varicose veins. Last time I checked she was in her 70’s, but I’m not a hundred percent sure. She smiles at me sweetly and I smile back but I don’t say anything. I walk over to the front door and take the keys to the boat and the keys to the golf-cart off of the lighthouse-shaped key hook, trying not to jangle them too much because Mr. Benitez is asleep on the couch in his bathrobe. He’s always sleeping or playing cards and he’s usually sick. He’s got a catheter with a little plastic bag tied around his thigh full of piss. Usually I have to help him change it before I leave, but Mrs. Benitez turns to me and says not to worry about it today, Dear. That she’ll take care of it. They’re nice, the Benitez’s. They take care of me. I moved in with them when I was 12 and people said I was very lucky, because the older you get, the less people will want you cuz most people want babies or really little kids so they can actually raise them, so it’s really nice that they took me in anyway.
Last year, for my 17th birthday, they gave me their old boat. Mostly because they’re too old to drive a boat and they can just take the boat-taxi if they ever want to go to the mainland, which they never do, but still, it was a nice gesture. Mr. Benitez bought the boat second hand in the late 90’s when he and his wife first moved to the island, and Mrs. Benitez named the boat Hope Floats, after that bad romance movie with Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. She loves that movie. I’ll bet it was a beautiful boat when they first got it, but it’s pretty old now. Whenever I take it to the marina to fill up the gas tank, Rick, the attendant always says,
‘Mary! Good to see ya. And good to see you haven’t sunk yet!’
I swear it’s the same every time and he always laughs when he says it too, I guess because he’s trying to make a joke because honestly it is kind of a miracle I haven’t capsized yet. When the Benitez’s gave me the boat, I did my best to make it look nice by giving it a new paint-job but it didn’t do much good, so I changed the name from Hope Floats to Hope it Floats. I guess it’s pretty funny, but honestly it’s more of a prayer.
I close the door behind me, careful not to jangle the keys too much and walk out the front door, on to the front deck, and down 36 steps, which are cluttered with seashells and things Mrs. Benitez has collected from years and years of walking on the beach, when that was actually something she could do. Now even just watching her stand to do the dishes this morning made me kind of nervous.
When I get to the bottom of the stairs I take out one set of keys and start the golf cart that we keep under the house. All the houses here are built really high up on stilts to keep them from getting flooded and destroyed by the storms. Everyone drives golf carts too because there aren’t any real roads, just narrow little sand paths that cut through thick forests of palm trees, which I imagine a normal sized car would have a real hard time with.
I drive the golf cart to the docks at the end of the island. A bunch of guys who had stayed in the pink house this weekend are loading up their rental boat to go home. The pink house is the cheapest house to rent on the island, even though it’s one of the biggest, because it’s falling apart. Some guy built it in the late 50’s before the island had any real zoning laws so he built it right on the beach, but now a lot of the beach has eroded away, so at high tide, the stilts that hold up the pink house are more then halfway underwater, and the whole structure kind of slopes forward on a diagonal. If you put a marble on the floor right when you walked in the front door, it would roll all the way to the other side of the house. There used to be stairs leading up to its front porch, just like our house, but the bottom half of them got washed away, so now there’s just half a staircase dangling mid-air. The few times Mr. Benitez does talk to me, we like to place bets on how long it will take before the whole thing crashes down in to the ocean. A lot of people my age rent the pink house though because it’s so cheap, and I always think it’s so funny when a group of guys rent it because the house literally is pink. Bright, baby, Florida pink, with aqua blue trimming around the windows.
I get out of the golf cart and I see one of the guys smile at me out of the corner of my eye, but I pretend like I don’t see. Mrs. Benitez told me yesterday they’re here on spring break from some College. Gulf Coast maybe? Or USF? I don’t remember. As I get closer one of them whistles at me. I feel so funny when guys do stuff like that. My stomach will really start to hurt and sometimes my hands even shake. I grip them really hard in to fists as I climb in to my boat so they can’t tell that I’m nervous or bothered. You can never let a guy know he scares you. I don’t really know why, but when I was packing up my stuff to move here I found my mom’s old journal from high school and she had written that and it really stuck with me for some reason. I guess because guys do scare me, but the only guys that have ever really been in my life are Mr. Benitez and I guess my dad. I really don’t remember him at all. I used to try to remember him, but when I did I would throw up and cry and Mrs. Benitez would make me stay in my bed for the rest of the day, so I don’t try to do that anymore. And also, I feel like guys usually whistle at girls who are way different from me. Girls who “get ready”, so I just ignore them as Hope it Floats putters away towards the marina.
I leave Hope it Floats at the marina for Rick to fill up and start walking towards Publix, which is where we get our groceries. I walk past Rick and he starts to say his usual joke but I walk past him too quickly to hear him finish. By about 11:30 I’ve purchased everything on Mrs. Benitez’s grocery list, which mostly consists of frozen dinners and cereal. Before I go to check out I throw a box of those chocolate-covered Entenmann’s doughnuts in to the cart for Mr. Benitez because they’re his favourite snack and he’s got a catheter so he needs some happiness in his life. I think they taste like medicine though. Once I buy everything I push the shopping cart full of bags all the way back to the marina because there’s way too many to carry. I load them on to Hope it Floats and then I hide the shopping cart behind one of those industrial sized trashcans before anyone can see me because you’re not really supposed to take shopping carts from Publix.
By the time I get home the boys that had been staying in the pink house are no longer by the docks. They’ve probably been gone a while now. I tie Hope it Floats to the dock, load all the groceries on to the golf cart, and head back home. As I drive across the island I count four houses with the lights on. Not many people live here year-round because there’s nothing but beach houses, a church, and a golf cart repair shop. We don’t even have a police station or a fire department. If something bad happens, they have to come over from the mainland, and that freaks a lot of people out I guess, but it’s never really bothered me because boats are pretty fast and any boat is faster than Hope it Floats. It’s also Sunday so all the people who only come here for the weekends are probably gone by now. It’s pretty dead here most of the time.
It takes me fifteen trips up and down the steps to bring in all the groceries from the golf cart. By the time I’m done, I realize that Mr. and Mrs. Benitez have already gone to bed. It’s 6pm. I sit down on the couch and open the bag of Cheetos I bought for myself and watch some cartoons for a little while. There’s a big window behind our TV with a perfect view of the pink house. All the lights are off, but the porch is still littered with a bunch of plastic cups. There’s a giant hole in one of the windows and a couple pieces of the porch railing have fallen off. It’s high tide now, so you can only see the top half of the stilts under the house. It kind of looks like it just rose right out of the ocean. I get through about a half-hour of Teen Titans before I start to drift off. I don’t have the energy to walk back to my room, so I just fall asleep on the couch.
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