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Clichés
by Aaron Teel

art by Allison Campbell
art by Allison Campbell
"You're a single soul spit in two," Mom said, drunk before dusk at the beach on her thirty-sixth birthday. We were not quite fifteen and we sat with her on a giant towel embroidered with palm trees, drinking warm cans of Lone Star wrapped in paper towels and eating a lunch of pimento sandwiches cut into triangles, crust removed, with crumbled fig newtons from a plastic bag.

When we finished Walter said, "I've gotta pee like a racehorse," and sprinted into the sea. "Don't speak in clichés!" Mom shouted after him, but he dove into a small breaking wave without slowing or turning around. "I have to pee too," I said, standing and steadying myself in the sand, "like a turtle."

"Why a turtle?" Mom asked. I shrugged and walked shakily after Walter. I stood in the surf with the water up to my knees and let myself go. The pee on my legs warmed me inside and out and, lightheaded from the beer, I splashed Walter playfully when he came near. We'd had violent splash wars when we were younger that stretched endlessly on until we were both sun blistered and salt water blind, neither of us willing to be the last one splashed, and Dad would wade into the battle in his cut-off jean shorts and drag us kicking and screaming from the surf.

Walter squinted at me, turned as if to walk back up onto the beach, then suddenly attacked with a wild flurry of splashes, slapping the water with both hands and shouting "Splash attack your face! Splash attack your face!" which had been his war cry.

"You used to play like that when you were little!" Mom yelled. Walter waved for her to come in, and when she shook her head no he called her a landlubber and a scallywag until she relented. She took off her t-shirt but kept her shorts on over her one-piece bathing suit, the way she always had, because she was ashamed of the way her body had changed from carrying us inside herself. "Don't you bastards splash me," she said, but we did it anyway, and we dunked her under the water and told her she was baptized. When she realized her keys had been in the pocket of her shorts, that she'd forgotten to take them out and that they were gone, she sat down in the surf and started to cry. "I can't believe I did that," she said, "I even thought to myself, 'Self, don't forget your keys are in your pocket. Self, don't forget to take them out if you get in the water."

"I'll find them," Walter said, and he turned and dove under again.

"You're not gonna find them, Dickhole," I shouted. "It's the ocean."

"Why do you say that?" Mom said, "Maybe he will find them." She was still crying, but silently, and without moving her face at all.

"He won't though, it's the ocean. It's too big."

"This is how you're different," she said, and splashed the water lightly with her fingers. She looked at me sideways and said, "This is the part of your soul that Walter got."

"What part?" I asked. Walter popped out of the water and walked around in slow circles, spreading the water with his hands, then dove down again.

"He wants to find them for me so he believes he can. He lives in his heart. You live in your head." I didn't say anything and she placed her hand on the top of my head, as if to demonstrate. "Neither is better," she added, "they're just different ways of being. Yours is lonelier, though." We sat quietly and watched him. Up and down he went, taking quick breaths then diving down again.

"I'm going to leave your Dad," she said. "That means you guys have to leave him, too. If you want to stay with me." I shrugged my shoulders. The shrug was meant to show that I didn't care but peripherally I could see that she wasn't looking at me anymore so I did it again, higher this time, and accompanied by a smacking sound I made by sucking the back of my teeth, which meant the same thing as the shrug but audible. She looked at me that time and started to say something else but Walter bound triumphantly from the waves with her keys dangling from his mouth like a trained seal and she laughed and clapped like a little girl, like he'd done a magic trick.

We celebrated on the beach with the last of the Lone Stars. Walter and I sang "Happy Birthday" in English and Spanish and afterward I shook my can to let the foam spray on her hair but it caught the wind and misted over all of us. Mom put all our empty cans and sandwich trash in a plastic bag and handed it to me. She handed the cooler to Walter, then took one each of our beer-sticky hands in both of hers and led us to the car. She took a long, roundabout way home. We could have walked the quarter mile to our house in less time than it took her to drive us there. We were all three drunk as skunks on Lone Star, and I thought to say so, but didn't, because it was a cliché, and I couldn't think of another way to say it.



All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.





Aaron Teel is the author of Shampoo Horns, winner of the Sixth Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Award. His work has appeared previously in Tin House, Monkeybicycle, Matter Press, Brevity Magazine, North Texas Review, Side B Magazine, and others. He teaches language arts and English as a second language in Manor, TX, and is a workshop instructor for Badgerdog Literary Publishing in Austin, TX.

Allison Campbell is an artist and writer whose passion is creating things that show the world's less-seen, magical underbelly. She lives in beautiful Idaho with her beau and her books.
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