The Fox and the Lobster

Kristen MacKenzie

This is what I remember.

The cold brine of kissing on the shore, the flash of red through dune grass when I opened my eyes, moving a stray grain of sand across the roof of my mouth, the ridges and wetness suddenly foreign after the shapes of her. 

***

“Did you see that?” I whispered. She pushed the curtain of her hair apart, shaking

her head. Her cheeks were the color of the fox’s tail, the same color as my mother’s cardigan, always buttoned to the top. 

“Who is that girl I saw you talking to at the bonfire last night?” my mother had said over breakfast that morning.

“Tally Newman,” I answered, and watched Cheerios swim away from my spoon as I lowered it into the milk. I didn’t meet her eyes. 

***

Tally licked the salt from her lips, looking up, and watched the grass move when the wind was still, following the red shadow through the gray. 

“It’s my first time,” I said. My voice was part of the waves, part of the gust that pushed Tally’s hair to hide her face from me again. “My first time on the cape,” I amended when she didn’t answer, and my face was hot, then cold. 

She still didn’t speak but I saw her eyes flash briefly in my direction.

What color were a fox’s eyes, I wondered. 

“Does your mom know where you are?” She asked in a voice too old for a sixteen-year-old. 

I shrugged.

“Just on the beach.” 

Tally’s eyes were the color of the sand and the seed heads that moved above us, restless. Her lips were swollen. She shifted her legs and the hem of her dress lifted in the breeze that moved low, pushing, caressing. Her gold eyes held mine when I looked up. 

“Do you want to do it again?” Her top teeth made little dents in the purple-pink of her lower lip.

A flash of red in the dunes, brighter and closer.

A cloud moved across the sun, and the shape in the grass shifted. Tally’s hand moved fast, gripping my bare knee. 

“Forget about the fox,” she said and her hand moved higher. I closed my eyes.

***

My mother looked up from her knitting as I pushed the door of our cabin open, letting the night in. Her mouth flattened as she looked me over. Her cardigan’s pearl-buttoned front lifted with her sigh.

“Em, that’s the second pair of jeans you’ve ruined this week.” She set the needles aside and jammed the tightly wound ball of wool onto the tips, looking out the window. The arc of a new moon curved over the beach.

“I don’t like you being out after dark.” My mother’s brows said more than her words, heavy and mobile. 

“Sorry,” I mumbled, and wiped sand from my pant legs onto the mat. It crumbled in a colorless shower, the gold and amber and flame it held on the dunes lost in the yellow of lamplight. I brought my hand to my face, pressed it to my nose. I could smell her still. 

“Are your allergies acting up again?” My mother asked. I shook my head and dropped the hand. 

Her hands twitched toward the pile of knitting again but settled into an uneasy clasp on her lap without resuming their work. I edged toward my room.

“I rented that new movie you told me you wanted to watch,” she said before I made it to the hallway. The tone of her voice was different, hesitant. I turned back. Guilt made my stomach clench. 

“Thanks, mom.” I gave her a quick smile, hand braced on the scuffed wood trim of the door. “Maybe tomorrow night okay? I’m kind of tired.” 

Her brows shifted low, pushing the double lines between them into furrows. 

“Alright.” She stuck her long legs out in front of the easy chair, settling the knitting across her lap again and sand from the bottom of her shoes made a tiny mound on the floor with her movement. The needles clicked. She didn’t look up again. 

“Goodnight,” I said, and turned away from her silence and the closed-up angles her brows and mouth made. A line was between us, Tally with her quick fingers and soft mouth on the side where twilight began, and questions that wouldn’t be answered on this side where the dark hid my uncertainty.

***

A heavy splash beyond the breakers made Tally lift her head. 

“Whale,” she said, and held her breath until the swell of breaching black sunk under the waves again. When she turned back to me, her eyes were darker, the same shade as the cougar I’d seen in the zoo with my mother the year before, a dangerous color. 

“I think my mom knows,” I said, turning to watch the horizon, unable to meet the unblinking amber of her eyes. 

“Knows what?” 

I looked back at her. Tally’s eyebrows were dancing lines of pale brown, her mouth an amused knot.

“Do your parent’s know?” I asked. 

She shrugged. The blue and white flowers of her dress bowed and tipped, obscuring the rounded shapes of her, so different from me. I watched the ripple helplessly. She leaned for me and the unbuttoned flaps of cotton fell open. All I could smell was ocean, the scent of girl, lotion, lip gloss and laundry soap, buried under the tang of salt and fish. My hand moved for the shadow-shapes of her but stopped.

“There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing, you know,” she said in her too-old voice and put my hand on the triangle of warm skin. My fingers pressed flat, clinging even as I pulled away. 

“Then why do I always feel so guilty?” I whispered, not meaning to be heard. The hand newly reclaimed burned in my lap. 

She heard. 

“If you feel so bad about it, don’t do it.” She pulled her dress together and stood up, leaving a warm hollow in the dune’s edge. 

“Tally, wait!”

But she ran, bare feet moving into the wet sheen of the tide’s reach and out of mine.

***

The bonfire was bigger that night, driftwood piled in a silver jumble, flames twisting blue and yellow against the wind coming off the water, burning with a frenzy as if the end of all this wasn’t there in front of us, the wealth of weeks reduced to one last night. I watched her across the light from the fire that distorted more than it illuminated, painting bright shapes on her face, removing its familiar lines.

Would I remember that she had a tiny scar at the corner of her mouth? 

She turned a laughing face to the girl standing beside her, lifting a white strand of lobster to her mouth. My belly twisted with sharpness that wasn’t hunger. 

Would I want to forget the way she said my name like a sigh?

My mother crossed in front of me, pushing a plate into my hands that held the last lobster roll. She pressed the side of her thick arm and long, sweater-wrapped torso against me for warmth. I looked back across the flames for Tally but my eyes found only shadows.

“You don’t need friends like her, Em.” My name came out in staccato as if she were addressing a five-year old not paying attention. 

Tally was gone. 

The firelight turned the lobster’s pale flesh pink, red, gold. I ate until the sharpness went away, salt and sand bitter in my mouth.

Across the dunes, the grass rippled and the fox stood still, waiting.

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Kristen MacKenzie lives on Vashon Island in a quiet cabin where the shelves are filled with herbs for medicine-making, the floor is open for dancing, and the table faces the ocean, waiting for a writer to pick up the pen. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Rawboned, GALA, Extract(s) Daily Dose of Lit, Maudlin House, Cease, Cows; Crack the Spine, Eckleburg, Referential, Bluestockings, NAILED, Knee-Jerk, Minerva Rising, Mondegreen, Prick of the Spindle, Crab Fat, Wilderness House, Poydras Review and Diversity Rules. Her short story, Cold Comfort, placed in Honorable Mention in The Women’s National Book Association’s annual writing contest.