Jonathan Kosik has had work published by Monkeybicycle, Glossolalia, Clapboard House, Bartleby Snopes, and had a short story included in the first collection published by Burrow Press: Fragmentation.
Sheryl shifts into second gear. The Firebird’s tires bark as they slip on hot asphalt. The mountains keep Gatlinburg cooler in the summer, but the traffic-choked roads still push the translucent veil that lifts like wet ribbons from the August-baked blacktop. The dreamcatcher her Uncle Ink gave her sways from the rearview. Its shadow cobwebs her thigh just below the denim fringe where a peek of her pocket cuts like snow against the bronze skin she tells me comes from baby oil and plenty of sun.
Ink has a camper he parks in the lot next to the mountain road that climbs to the tourist cabins where a week’s stay during peak season starts at two thousand dollars. Every summer Ink hangs up the wooden sign—hewn from a slab of yellow pine with careful strikes of a hatchet’s blade, then stained amber and butane torched until the letters turned black and read: Native Art. Every summer he raises a pop-up tent and sets up a foldout table. He pulls his black hair into a ponytail and hides his light roots under a dark cowboy hat. Every summer, since we were twelve, Sheryl comes to stay for five weeks.
“This bullshit is getting old,” she says and waves the ash from her cigarette where the T-tops have been removed and left leaning against Ink’s camper. Boys walking beside the road sip blue slushies through long straws. They watch the flow of her hair. I see how they are pulled into her wake. We take a left and head up to the cabins I clean.
“Only a week left and I can get my ass back to Knoxville.” She fans her neck. I watch its pulse beat out her rhythm. “Goddamn, it’s hotter than soup in hell.” She says these things every summer. This summer, since she’s had the Firebird, we get out and drive some if she’s not peddling at Ink’s, selling dreamcatchers, beaded necklaces, polished stones, arrowheads, rocks shaped like axe-heads—but still looking like the smooth creek stones that Ink pulls from the cold mountain streams and shapes with a ballpeen hammer. My mom says the tourists line up at Ink’s tent and buy his knockoffs to quell a sense of guilt, or to try and connect with something they don’t have the capacity to understand.
The tourists leave evidence of their stay in the cabins after they’ve left: bathing suits, earrings, a folded twenty-dollar bill under the corner leg of a foldout couch. They leave condoms, jelly jars that haven’t been opened, bars of soap holding stray hairs, one sock in the dryer. Once I found a roast in the oven, forgotten. I found a pair of panties with the crotch open and trimmed in lace in one of the cabins last week. I let them soak in a sink of hot water with some Dawn and a few dirty coffee cups that had been left out on the porch. I keep them folded in my pocket, hoping they will make a good gift and maybe turn this last week with Sheryl around.
I sweep, mop, change the sheets, run the old sheets through the wash and dryer, Windex the windows if there are fingerprints. Skip the Windex if there aren’t. I rack the balls on the pool table, hang the cues back on the wall. I dust the handrails, dressers, countertops and cabinet doors in the kitchen until the place holds the scent of winter trees. I sprinkle some Comet in the bathtubs and run the suds around and around. It’s a fifty-dollar fine if vacationers leave ashes in the grill or in the fireplace. If they leave a good tip in the envelope on the dining table, I clean up what they missed and don’t report a thing.
All the while, Sheryl looks for a spot where the sun might break through a bank of clouds and find the baby oil shine on her skin. She lights a cigarette and drinks from a half-full bottle of red wine that was left out on the kitchen counter—the cork missing. She sulks and pulls back the hot tub cover. Once in the wash of the jets, she tilts her head back against the rigid fiberglass tub. I knock on the window and wave. She flips me the bird.
“You want to go for a drive later?”
“After ten. Maybe sneak some beers from Ink’s cooler,” she says.
I sit at the edge of the hot tub and pull off my socks.
“Don’t put your filthy feet in here. I’m having a bad enough time as it is. Goddamn sun decided to hide right when we got here.”
“You didn’t have to come,” I say.
“Nothing else to do. Besides, you’ve got to get up here and be a good maid.” She hands me the bottle. “I have to go hawk tourist shit for Ink at six. We gonna be off this mountain by six?”
“This is the last cabin today. It’s going to be hell next week. Labor day weekend. It’s worse than the Fourth.”
“Thank God I’ll be home by then. I can’t wait to never see this place again.”
“You’re not going to miss it?”
“Miss what? This? Ink? That shitty little camper? The idiots up here?”
She raises her sunglasses and rests them against her forehead. The sun hangs in the sky, buried behind a wall of clouds.
“Anything else besides the wine? Find anything special for me?”
Sheryl pouts. Water beads on her oiled shoulders and forms a slick aura on the surface.
“Ink still whimpers and calls out my Aunt Margaret’s name in his dreams.”
“Guess he still wants her back.”
I dip my feet into the hot tub. Slide down until my jeans shorts are soaked.
“You only get a certain number of chances.” She blows smoke to the sky.
The folded panties appear in the bubbling mess. They bob there, unfolding. Sheryl squints her eyes.