I come to Dead Girl Beach in June’s finest hour. It does not want me. The sun kisses down my chest. Its lips are heavy, lazy things. I imagine the sweat on my chest is spit, carrying the familiar aerated taste of foreign places and I see there are two dead women, drying out on the surf.
One lays lengthwise on top of the other, who, in turn, is propped over her own knees. Suggestive on the living reads careless on the dead. Dead Girl Pier, I want to call them, even though my mother would say I am not a child anymore. I cannot go around pointing out everything I see. I watch out of the corner of one eye. Behind Dead Girl Pier, a small patch of holy shade. There is no one else around. I make a concession with myself. I begin to crawl to it. It is painful on my knees to crawl through hot sand. I get up after a few seconds and walk the rest of the way. It is also painful on my feet to walk through hot sand.
I sit in the Dead Girl Shade where the sun doesn’t hit me on the chest or even shoulders, and when I lie down, it doesn’t hit me at all. Though I am stealing comfort from them, the dead girl eyes of Dead Girl Pier are open and kind on me, not truly looking and only barely blinking. I feel unseen. I could fall asleep unseen very easily.
(I could dream of nothing underneath the sand. It is unworthy of record. A crisp void of currents, absently battering undue waves of no substance into no space through no force at all. In a roundabout way, I see myself in nothing. As a valley lacking spine. As a humorous wing too small for flight.)
I wake from nothing beneath a layer of sand. It is not a quiet dark behind my eyes. The sand has a glow to it, like the moon. I can see it through my eyelids. The world is only red and burning as ever. I am buried alive. There must be an imperceptible movement living things do, that, asleep on the beach, I forgot. I’m flattered though I should be ashamed.
Only to Dead Girl Pier, I reveal it is not a terrible thing to be buried. To forget how living girls keep themselves surfaced. But I do wake and I do surface and the sand does find its way under my clothes and into my body. And I take intrusion lying down and fighting. I spit as much as I can, it is not much and I hardly look like I’m fighting while doing it. The taste can’t be as salty as I taste so I eat more. No change. I am always feeling things the wrong way. I feel the grains shift with the grinding of my teeth, snapping like terrible, weak teeth from littler girls.
Around me the dead girls have done an excellent sink. There are lots of them now. It is always a hot day when lots of them pile together like live seals, like live rocks, live moss. They form their piles a ways away from me but I feel the pull of their superior gravity. It’s a pronged desire. I want too badly. They are dead girls and do not want at all. There is a deficit to want in this country. The air does not know what to do with it.
The afternoon brings the sun straight overhead. Dead girls have given me enough shade. They bake out under it and I retreat between the legs of the Real Wood Pier, which are almost completely dry. The tide has pulled back very far. I cannot see it anymore. It is still hot under the Pier but not burning. The air is very still and has been hiding here all day.
There will be more dead girls in the evening. They will come from all sides. Many will roll in with the tide. The fresh ones sometimes spit or gasp. They aren’t all drowned though, some will fall out of cars on the interstate. Some have always been here and today will be uncovered by shifting dunes. They all have their way made to Dead Girl Beach for them. Folding and drifting with it, dead girls are an object of much respect. Often quiet, and sometimes even elegant in the way they let the beach move them. Good company.
Then there is an interruption of more life entering Dead Girl Beach. It must be a slow news day. A news van spits out a beautiful woman in a peach dress and her cameraman. Too stiff to be dead, she walks down the dunes, between the water softened girls and salty pebbles and microplastics. And she comes to me. I am moving too much. She rangles me still with one perfectly manicured nail. Picks the knots out of my hair, says something to her camera about the tide, which means something else for dead girls. She turns to me, pulling down the hem of her peach dress, I consider an evil second looking where she doesn’t want me to, like I know a man might. I think often about acting like a man, like the camera man, adjusting his lense. But I don’t. Think of it as some animal shape mercy takes. Or maybe, some more evil intent.
My mother believes they make women like this on an assembly line, with bikini magazines for filling and Apple cores for shape. She says this is what she doesn’t want me to be. That girls like this survive by the rule of fruit flies. (You cannot swat them all.)
My mother thinks I’m smarter than I am. That I always know what I do. My mother has not let me brush her hair since I was young. I was trying to send messages with the brush. It hurt her head. If I had one now I might take it to the sand, say in my brushing language, lamb of my eye, / they don’t even know / you exist. I find comfort in that loving mockery. I repeat it back to myself now and again. My own hair has always been a rat’s nest.
The woman in peach asks me what do you think happened to the tide? I look at her body. Her knees are drawn together. She has lovely knees. Wrinkled soft. Mine ache to come closer. They collapse instead. The sand is still hot on them. It begins to sizzle. The sweet living fruit fly comes to me. She lowers her microphone for my convenience. I want to tell her to run. But then, she’d leave.
My mouth is dry. All the wetness in the world is in the air around me and rising. Fast. I love you, I tell the living woman. I love you. It brings me to tears which I cover with my hand and drink. Drinking replenishes me.
When I open my eyes she is still there. Into the mic she says. I take her microphone tip between my lips.
Some days I hate / myself on the shore / of Dead Girl Beach / It goes down easy / There is nothing bitter / to this courtesy / It is all too easy / to do a dead girl slump / In my dead girl slump / I am the only one here / who can still do wrong / Dead Girl Beach / I know a solution / to rule breaking / Dead Girl Beach / My mother doesn’t / She’s too embarrassed / she asked / where did I come from? / Evil / Needful evil thing / who crawls on the floor and hates in the mirror / I have been wicked / I have been calloused / I have been growing / I have allowed sex / to grow calloused / out of my mouth
Some days I hate / right next to the dead girls / they are too good for it / But not me / I feel it coming up from my nose / into my eyes / Bile / I hate with it / And I tell myself / with it, there is a difference / between weakness and strength / with it. I stroke the hair of my arm / and I promise / with it, everything matters / Alive and dead / The outcome of all things beaches itself here / before the tide rolls back / too quickly /
But some things get struck / some boats can’t pull into harbor / when the water is floating / with dead girls. Notice their bellies, / up like navigation fins. They say / find me / find me / find me / And then home / Dead Girl Beach / between dead girls / the sand is coarse / but kind / If you can trick yourself / into believing girls grow / bones like coral you might / even begin to think / the dry sand on the north end / is nothing / more / than piles and piles of / Dead Girl Baby Teeth / Of course it is selfish thought / and not dead / enough to get away with / selfishness
Hi Momma / I’m on tv.
Nobody hears any of it. The foam head is wet. A piece has been bitten out. My mouth is dry again.
The camera man has a monitor behind him. On it bodies in the background of the peach dressed woman are pixelated beside the projected weather maps where storms pull from the sea and the sea pulls from the debris and the dead girls wash out of the beach.
The audience at home sees many colorful squares. Some move and some stay very still.
Josie Levin (she/him) is a visual artist and writer whose work has appeared in several publications, including Kitchen Table Quarterly, Peatsmoke Journal, and Plainsongs Poetry Magazine. You can follow Josie on Twitter and Instagram @bemusual.