Josh McColough

Andrea tells me this part of Florida is known for its white sand beaches—not like the trashier Atlantic side with its brown sand, murky waters, and medical waste. I tell her it must also be known for air so thick and yewmid (I say it how Andrea pronounces it) that a minute outside of our air-conditioned condo is an asthma attack. Andrea calls me a pill.


After the sun drops below the horizon in a burst of pinks, purples, and yellows, the quartz beach tempers. Andrea tells me this beach boasts the most beautiful sunsets in the world, and that I should feel lucky to bear witness to such glory and to lighten up, it’s vacation. I tell her I’m going for a walk and if I collapse, just put me on ice and ship me back home to Chicago. Thick crowds move up and down the beach like people at an airport. Departures, returns. (Andrea tells me it’s the busy season because kids just got out of school. If I wanted to vacation among hordes of awful people, I’d go on a cruise. That’s what we’re doing next year, she says.)


Darkened and sun-wearied bodies peel off from the waterline, shaking sand-crusted towels, dismantling giant domed tents under which multiple families could dwell. Sand castles decompose. A round European man, hairy, in a patterned Speedo wades knee-deep into the Gulf, sits down, and becomes a silhouette. Snapshots are taken. Selfies. Proposals are tearily accepted. Hugs. The sky is a Bob Ross canvas streaked with phthalo and Prussian blues, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow. Midnight black. The ceiling of the sky is terrifying in its expanse as it meets the ocean’s camber.


I walk closely behind two bikini’d women drinking from plastic tumblers. They wobble against the slight grade of the beach. Andrea doesn’t drink, and doesn’t like that I like to drink. These women are drinking. I wish I were drinking with them. Something hard mixed with something sweet and soft. Vodka or rum, juice. They smoke cigarettes. We are locked into cruise control at the same deliberate, vacation pace. Puff of smoke laced with vodka or rum. Sulfur sea water. Coppertone. Baby oil. Coconut. Their bikinis—one black, one red—are triangles that disappear into the cracks of their butts. Black bikini, red bikini. Taut skin, loose skin. Tattoos.


They talk loudly, above the surf’s white noise.


“So did you fuck him?” the woman in the red bikini asks.


“Yeah, I fucked him.”


“Was it good?”


“Does it matter?”


“Whatever. Some fucks are better’n others.”


“I s’pose. I ain’t fucked as many guys as you.”


“Damn sure.”


 “Fucked plenty, though.”


“Just sayin’, I know I fucked more guys than you. So it was good?”


“Yeah, it was fine. You know what, though?”




“I think I went and got myself pregnant.”


The woman in the red bikini loses the cigarette from between her fingers. “You what?!” she asks, bending over to retrieve her smoke and blowing sand from the filter.


“I think I got myself pregnant.”


“Didn’t he wear a rubber?”


“Don’t remember. We was pretty drunk.”


“You don’t remember if the boy you fucked wore a goddamned rubber?”


“I said we was drunk.”


“Drunk or not, still, goddamned, you gotta know if he wore a rubber.”


“I dunno. I think I may have got myself pregnant.”


“You take a test?”


“I just feel funny. Like before.”


Smoke, vodka/rum. Smells more like vodka.


“You stupid-ass girl.”


“I thought maybe he pulled out in time, but I don’t know ’cause we was so drunk.”




A flare lights the sky, bringing the conveyor of people to a halt. A whip-crack tear in the darkened canopy and daylight pours forth. I think it’s a roman candle, but it’s distant and falling into the ocean. A meteor. Bodies curve upward and face the glow. Fingers point. Screams. Grains of light shed from the ball and break apart, sizzle and vanish. Titanium white, phthalo blue, cad yellow, indian yellow. Midnight black.


“You see that?” the woman in the red bikini says.


“I look fuckin’ blind to you? Fuckin’ knocked up, maybe. I ain’t blind.”


“A comet!”


“That wasn’t no comet, you dumb-ass. It was a— a— a fuckin’—”


“It was a fuckin’ comet,” the woman in the red bikini says. She turns to me. “You see that?” she asks, and I freeze for fear of having been caught listening.


Andrea tells me that this is the most perfect place on earth to view the Perseid meteor shower. But I don’t say it. “A meteor,” I say. “A shooting star.”


“Yeah, that’s what it is—a fuckin’ shootin’ star. See, I told you,” the woman in the red bikini says. The conveyor of people resumes and the two pick up their conversation. “So you’re knocked up again.”


“I think maybe.”


“You dumb slut. Well, I ain’t bailing your ass out this time. You got yourself into this mess, and you get yourself out of it. Pay your own goddamn bill. Drive your own ass to the clinic.”


“Come on, Mom. Don’t be such a dick.”


The two women exit left and trudge in the sand to their building. I stand in the darkness for a few minutes, soaked in smoke and vodka. Later, Andrea will ask me about the walk, and I’ll tell her, “Not bad. Little crowded.” I’ll fix myself a drink, and Andrea will tell me that she wants to go shopping in the morning, and then she’ll turn out the light. 

Josh McColough received his MFA from the University of Iowa's nonfiction writing program. This is his first fiction publication.