Leslie and I are 14. We leave the cottage and let the screen door smack shut. We walk beneath the live oak; its branches reach the edge of the yard and touch a thicket of oleander. We wear no shoes; we crush layers of leaves that have fallen to the ground and hardened. The tips prick flesh on the bottoms of our feet. We have cash in the back pockets of our cutoffs, tube tops, lush young brown hair.
We want wine coolers.
I look old, so maybe the K.O.A. will sell to us, we decided, brushing our hair in the bathroom before we left, gazing at ourselves in the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet.
As we walk, we pretend to smoke cigarettes, feeling people watch us even though no one is. There are no cars. The sun floats just above the ocean; the asphalt is warm but not hot and the sand along the beach is a light tan. Men stand at the shoreline and fish with 5-gallon buckets and Styrofoam coolers. Children scoop sand and run.
The K.O.A. is empty except for the man behind the register. He wears a red cap that reads PANACEA, the name of the town closest to us. Keys for campsite storage line the racks behind him.
“Hi,” I say. Such a northerner. My cousins call me Yankee.
“Hi,” Leslie says.
We try to move leisurely, as if we were in JCPenney or Younkers. We peer into the chest freezer stacked with ice-cream sandwiches, Drumsticks, bait, fish heads. We pretend to read labels on cans of tuna and boxes of Hamburger Helper.
We stand before the glass door of the reach-in fridge. I look at the speck of red polish on my baby toenail.
“You take them,” Leslie says. Back at the cottage, her mother is drinking wine while my father drinks bourbon. There are cases of alcohol on the kitchen floor, beneath a shelf full of dirty kitchen towels, fly swatters, ant baits, insect sprays with rust around the top.
“I don’t look that old.”
“Yes you do,” Leslie says.
I grab 2 orange wine coolers and hold them by their necks between my fingers, then grab 2 more. We have no plan if he asks for I.D., but I lead the way to the register and sweat, the shelves behind the man becoming clear with every step. Ashtrays. Dirty white coffee cups. Stacks of cartons of cigarettes.
He winks. Then rings up the wine coolers.
“Anything else?” He puts them into a small paper bag.
“Marlboro Light 100s in a box,” I say. I pull a ten-dollar bill from the back pocket of my cutoffs and straighten my spine. I feel tall. We walk out of the store; the sun has gone. We look at the horizon line and see nothing that makes us wince.
For the last two decades, Anna B. Moore has been publishing creative nonfiction, essays, and short fiction in a variety of literary journals and magazines, including Shenandoah, Black Warrior Review, Brain Child, American Scholar, and most recently Entropy.
She lives in Chico, CA, where she has been an adjunct professor of English since 2001.
Photo – The Author, Age 14