Here’s the game: pretend cool earth or maybe an inch of seawater to wade in. Pretend an island. Pretend the mind’s a thing that floats, keeps this raft drifting. I roll a bottle out into the sea and hope someone finds it. July already. Can’t even sit in a chair without bouncing my leg. I dig my toes deep in the sand. Converse with God to make the time go by. I lay face down and my mind starts to swim.
I am half asleep and Elonne streams her hands through my hair as the window swallows my sighs. She drinks her milk cup, preoccupied with her tablet. I focus on breathing to fold the YouTube voices out of this daydream. I know she’s tired too. It’s a ceiling fan morning and the air leaves salt deposits along our foreheads. In the next room, the twins are probably trying to find the same sanctuary, a momentary ocean. They’re restless, arguing with each other for ten, twenty minutes. Voices hitting the wall. Rough day.
I miss Mom and Dad. I barely heard Dad’s shoes tumbleweed down the stairs this morning. It was only five-something, but that’s when he gets ready for work. I imagine him cutting the twilight with his white foreman truck, riding around Northeast Philly neighborhoods with a fleet of sanitation trucks. Black bags disappearing into overturned trash cans and no one notices.
Mom comes into my room to check my sister and me. The water is ankle high and rising. We’re floating like seaweed but the waves die around my Mom’s tired feet. I ask if she wants to chill and she says she want to but needs to get something out to wear. I sink into the water as she disappears. Mom goes to soothe the twins, who relax for a while until something else stirs their frustration and they’re nagging each other again. Thirty minutes pass. I can taste the barbeque tang of fried hot dogs and the cool scent of french fries steaming downstairs. Mom and Dad are lost in the patterns of necessity I have yet to travel. The moons dusk away and I miss them.
A sharp bang. That was the closet door slamming closed. I leave Elonne in my room and knock on the twins’ door. No answer, so I open. Nevaeh says Laliah always gets her in trouble; Laliah says Naveah is too aggressive. Saltwater in the heat of their eyes. It rarely gets this bad, but I understand. Every push, shove, and hurt word shoves time forward. I grab them and pull them into me for a secret moment and they stop. I tell them to be quiet and watch the water. What water? We all walk to my room and slump against the floor, drained.
Here’s the game: Pretend. Pretend a day when Mom and Dad aren’t tired anymore. Pretend this isn’t far away from possibility. Pretend that God or the universe or someone will find the bottle and give us a day of water, enough to cover this heat and sooth our souls into fish. I can see two moons moving through the day, half invisible. Buckets of ocean spill across the floor. The walls are as solid as quicksand, but the outside is so close. If I could poke a finger through for long enough, everything would fall into piles of sand. If you close your eyes long enough, it’ll start feeling like summer.
Inside a Water Bottle Crusted With Plankton
As a sophomore of Temple University, Dynas Johnson recently switched her major from Media Studies and Production to English with a Creative Writing concentration. Since freshman year, she has been working as a contributing editor for Hyphen, Temple’s undergraduate literary magazine. Her poem “somewhere no one can find my body” is upcoming in the Speakeasy Workshop student anthology, hosted by The Blueshift Journal. When not writing (or doing homework), Dynas can be found volunteering at the Eastern Service Workers Association, watching My Hero Academia, or prowling for bubble tea.