“In the winter,” said the cop, “it’s the same crew committing a bunch of different crimes. Left.” He picked up my left hand like a CD he didn’t want to scratch, from the edges. “In the summer, it’s different perps doing the same few over and over.”
“That must be exciting,” I said, watching as he smashed my fingertips one by one onto the blue inkpad. His badge said Officer Howland.
“Right,” said Officer Howland, reaching for my other hand.
That summer, everyone hated cops, even white moms and celebrity chefs. Personally, I’d hated cops since high school; the boulder in the woods where I smoked weed with Lisa between last period and Key Club had FUCK 12 written on it in Sharpie. I didn’t write it, but I read it almost every day.
“It’s a pleasure to serve,” Officer Howland said, apropos of kind of nothing. I hated cops when I lived in New York, too; I glowered at them at rush hour on my way to my boyfriend’s apartment. I guess I never saw cops much at liberal arts school.
“Thank you for your service,” I said. I didn’t even smoke weed anymore. I still hated cops. There was blood running down the inside of my leg, getting my sock red. I hoped maybe I looked like I’d been totally raped so he’d feel bad for me. Then I felt guilty for hoping that; of course I didn’t hope that. I hoped Officer Howland would let go of my hand so I could knock three times on the dinged-up wooden desk in front of us. He didn’t. Even if he had, I couldn’t have made a fist without getting blue everywhere. He lowered my thumb onto the gridded card, rolled it back and forth to smudge the appropriate box.
“Think you can handle the rest?” Without waiting for an answer, he turned to rearrange paperwork on another vacant desk. My hands felt unheld. It was nighttime and only us inside the precinct.
“Most break-ins are in the winter,” Officer Howland said over his shoulder.
“What?” I said.
“You asked about being a cop on island.” He returned to examine my work. “Summer people don’t lock their doors before they go back to the city.” He signed his name on the card and wrote mine out in block capitals, like a kid. “But you know that, don’t you?” Fuck I hated cops. I said nothing. I remained totally silent. Can it even be considered a break-in if the door is unlocked? Not only unlocked, but actually ajar? I hadn’t been a burglar; I had been a neighbor, a girl next door, returning the cup of sugar I’d borrowed, kind of. That was good, I would use that later.
I imagined that court, like everything else on the island, would be deliberately old fashioned (charmingly so, for the tourists) — a judge in buckled shoes sentencing ladies for their wanton behavior. There are no stoplights here, but there are a lot of terribly quaint car crashes. There are two liquor stores; there are six rustic roadside farm stands. Sometimes, against my better judgment, I would light out after my shift and drive around on the lam, past sedate pastureland separated from the woods by stacked stone walls. At the momentary crest of the island’s tallest hill, the ocean gleamed in every direction. I’d pull over to buy a pint of speckled snap peas or a wedge of sheep’s cheese then drive home to eat it alone on the bench behind the bunkhouse. Food had begun to feel like an experiment, something to roll around my mouth and notice the texture and price of. How many hours of labor equaled this bite? Equaled this one? That would be dinner.
Plus, it was too hot to cook. And the Bulgarian girls were always doing whippits and eating sardines in the communal kitchen. They were here courtesy of special summer visas designed to “foster cultural exchange,” or maybe just to solve the conundrum plaguing affluent vacation communities everywhere: an abundance of high-paying customers in need of excellent help, but nowhere cheap enough for the help to live. The Bulgarian girls were content to live ten to a room and work all the time. So was I. They loved it.
“I love it here,” I said out loud.
“What?” Officer Howland’s face looked curdled in the light of the bone-colored computer.
“I love living on the island,” I said. “I just moved here.”
“Welcome,” he said, tonelessly. Probably, he was from the mainland, somewhere economically and socially deprived. Wareham, maybe. Or Bourne. I smiled because I wanted him to know I was on his side, at least in this regard. Like, as in: we hate Summer People.
“Why’d you come out here?” I asked, smiling.
“They always need more cops in the summer. Then one year, I stayed.” Still smiling, I waited politely for Officer Howland to ask how I, a girl with such a rakish haircut and legit, unimpeachable class consciousness had ended up on the island. He didn’t.
Before moving to the island, I’d known exactly two things about it: it was the site of a major Kennedy scandal and it was the location of my ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s parents’ second home. Lily Walden. I know what you’re thinking, but no, the money doesn’t come from the pond.
Back in March and April, when the island was deserted and there was no work, I spent my days looking for her name on mailboxes. Every day, I followed a different pea-stone driveway to its natural terminus: a mansion, and then, inevitably, the sea. I learned how to trespass from Clare.
“Between October and May,” Clare said as she worked her way around the perimeter of a sprawling, glass-walled monstrosity, “everything is fair game.” Clare would know. She tried the sliding doors one after another until one finally silked open to reveal a living room draped in white sheets. One hundred percent pure Egyptian cotton, a floury layer of dust. Clare’s family came to the island in 1650; Clare moved back last Christmas after flunking out of a college where everyone makes their own majors. She slept in the bunk above mine at the bunkhouse.
Occasionally, Clare and I would open a door — or, if things got really dire, a window — to find someone already inside the summer house. Never a resident, always another friendly local with whom we’d exchange gossip before moving on to our respective next marks. Clare and I never stole anything, but sometimes we had sex.
I had always figured being gay was harder than being straight, so it had to be better. It is literally exactly the same. When Clare’s hand is inside me, I look across the green expanse of lawn or tarped infinity pool and think about things that occupy the same category as my cunt: beautiful female hippies refusing chemotherapy and dying nobly at experimental beachside clinics, waitresses down on their luck, the lady seated beside me on the ferry who spent the whole trip filming the ocean out the window on her phone. Once, I tried to explain this feeling, the feeling of being a hole, to my ex-boyfriend, and he pulled out and finished on my belly.
This late in the summer, trespassing is impossible; Benzes hunkered in driveways, foliage obscuring nameplates hammered into the oaks along the road. I still looked for WALDEN on the drive to and from work. Probably, like Jackie O, Lily lived too far off the beaten path to be found, even by Clare and me.
Once, we broke into Clare’s dad’s house, a prefab behind the shorefront Shell station that serviced the last working fishing boat and oozed rainbow into the surf. We walked right in. The door didn’t have a handle, just half a coat hanger looped through a tear in the screen. There was a bed in the kitchen and shelves warped under the weight of wet books. On the fridge, Clare’s report card from 2008 was magnetted beside a tide chart from 1992.
“Clare struggles with imaginative play,” said the report card.
On the day I was born, the sun rose at 5:12 and set at 8:15, the chart informed me.
I followed Clare’s voice to the other room, her old one. Girls’ bedrooms accumulate meaning: vibrators under beds and postcards taped, word side down, to walls and journals and stuff. Boys’ rooms, in my experience, are unsnoopable. I knew Clare was gay when I saw her bed at the bunkhouse: a rumpled fleece blanket, a bong tucked between the bare mattress and the wall. Sparse like my ex-boyfriend’s apartment, where nothing was hidden except two Polaroids of Lily wearing a sundress somewhere dark and crowded. I found them in his sock drawer one time when he left for work early and I woke up alone in his bed. I made coffee and spent the whole morning searching.
I crossed Clare’s old room to inspect a chest of drawers adorned the way girls like: glass figurines, a snake-shaped piece of driftwood, a bumper sticker that said, “I’m vegetarian, YOU can eat MY meat.” Tacked above the dresser was a photograph of toddler Clare grappling with a blurry white smear of cat. In front of the dresser stood Clare and the same cat, much worse looking.
“If I hold him, will you spray?” she nodded towards a bottle of medicated goo. The animal was stiff and mangy in her arms. A huge tract of fur on its face had receded to reveal something like skin. “Spray him there,” she said. “Now rub it in.” The cat’s head felt cool and slightly tacky, like unscrubbed linoleum. The cat wriggled out of her arms and bolted through an open window. “My dad always forgets,” explained Clare, following it out.
“Do you know someone named Clare?” I asked Officer Howland, not remembering her last name.
“Nope.” He picked up my fingerprint card and began to fan himself with it, drying the ink.
“Do you know the Waldens?”
“Is there a bathroom I can use?” I opened my blue hands to him and he pointed past me to a closed door. Above the toilet, there was a wire basket brimming with men’s deodorant and body spray and loose, disposable green tooth flossers. Those things were terrible for the earth. When I want more of Lily, I scroll way back through my ex-boyfriend’s Instagram to see: a photograph of her standing in front of a lichened stone wall, grass and trees sloping away to the familiar ocean. Farther down: a short video taken in bed, him holding her hand like a microphone, singing into it. I recognize the morning light in the background from when my boyfriend used to take me to dinner at his parents’ and after exactly two glasses of wine his dad would say, “You kids better sleep here tonight,” and we would. And when we woke up, we’d have morning sex in my ex-boyfriend’s bright childhood bedroom and then his mom would serve us eggs scrambled slowly in a double boiler with sautéed leeks sliced like green glass bangles. Also, mini croissants and a little mound of raspberries on each plate.
My ex-boyfriend is country-house rich. Lily is island-house rich. My parents are Alaska-cruise-every-two-years rich. They live in Munds Park, which is in Arizona. My ex-boyfriend’s parents live in Brooklyn Heights, which is in Brooklyn. I used to live in Brooklyn, too; my ex-boyfriend still does. In his little apartment, I used to feel the same as him. Like, I felt like we had the same body. Like, when he was sleepy, I slept. Like, when I arrived at his door weepy and frustrated, he preheated the oven and unwrapped the frozen par-baked pizza and once it was hot, he cut three uneven slices and brought them to me and watched me finish them. This happened often enough that maybe I planned it.
Another artifact of Lily: a silver necklace with a bulbous heart charm I found at the bottom of the box of my things he dropped off. He must’ve gotten confused. Or the bond between oneself and one’s ex’s ex is unbreakable. Lily’s necklace wanted to live on my neck, where it had been all summer.
I pissed steadily and thought about texting Clare, but my phone was dead. I figured I was still owed one call. Did I know her number? Clare really liked to give head but hated to receive it, which was fine by me. When her head was between my thighs, I never knew where to look or what to do with my hands. In porn, girls touched themselves, but I was about as interested in fondling my own tits as I was in touching Clare’s. Avoiding my nipples, I’d tighten my elbows and limpen my wrists, letting my fingers drift across my own clavicle until they found the cold heart charm. They’d begin to tug. That was another thing to experiment with, the tugging.
I thought of Lily’s necklace on Lily’s neck, of making Lily’s little neck green with tarnish. She had martini-glass tits, practically none at all, thanks to being a prolific middle-school anorexic. My ex-boyfriend told me that; her ex-boyfriend told me that. Beneath mine, her body would be a mat of tiny white flowers, like the ones that grew in the shade of rock walls all over the island. I saw the hiked-up sundress and, beneath it, her ass, so pale it was lavender.
“You like that?” Clare surprised me the first time she noticed. She slid her hand between the necklace and my throat to pull, hard, lifting my head almost to hers. I just kind of gurgled. After that, she choked me all the time and so Lily was always on my mind. In my imagination, she is always college age, the age of unironic Polaroids. Is it fucked up to fantasize about a college girl? Clare is only 21 but acts old as dirt. Of course, really, Lily is my same age, our ex-boyfriend’s age, and living happily in Astoria with a job in media or something. We’d never met.
Officer Howland looked me up and down when I emerged, hands dripping. I’d thought about wadding some wet toilet paper and wiping the blood off my thighs but hadn’t.
“Do I get a call?”
“Do you want a call?”
He sighed and slipped his blue-stained hand into his front pocket. For a second, I wondered if it would reemerge from the khaki fold holding his cock, banana phone, but it didn’t. He offered me a flip phone.
I dialed a random number, or, I dialed my ex-boyfriend’s number. I wasn’t sure. Either way, the voicemail box was full. I hung up and handed the phone back.
“Well, you can’t stay here,” Officer Howland said, like a bartender.
“Just come on back tomorrow, and we’ll sort this whole mess out.” This, I dutifully reminded myself, would never happen if I were anything but a pretty white girl. Even the Bulgarians, who were also white and, in fact, way prettier than me, would have faced some kind of consequences: wages garnished, visas revoked. I thought about saying something because it sounded smart and self-aware, but didn’t, cuz it also sounded insensitive.
“Do you have somewhere to go?”
I thought about the bunkhouse, the darkened porch scattered with Soviet cigarette boxes and emaciated girls emptying them; Clare high or asleep somewhere inside.
“I live in the blue house behind the Stop & Shop.” Officer Howland nodded. I followed him out into the creaking night. The storm had rained itself out. I was hungry, maybe for the first time all summer.
All I’d eaten that day was: squid Clare’s dad had fried in the afternoon and caught the night before by shining a flashlight into the sea and dropping a baited line into the cuticle of light. Also, peach pie. Clare and I had dined in an immaculate mansion that was empty even now, at the pounding head of summer. We’d slipped in through a basement door and up the glass staircase. The first floor was one giant room of raw wood, like a sauna. According to Clare’s brother, who tended the forest of tropical trees in sedan-size ceramic planters throughout the house, the owners were in Turks and Caicos.
“They just pull the plants out every few months, trash ’em, and buy new ones.” Clare jumped to touch a silver leaf arching toward the high ceiling. The alarm system was off, and except for two unopened bottles of rosé, everything had been cleared out of the fridge. Clare filled two glittering highballs with gin, cold from the freezer, and slid wet pie and tentacles onto matte ceramic plates. “My grandma makes peach pie before every hurricane,” Clare said after I took my first bite. “It’s good,” I said. I was using the pie innards as a chaser for the gin, which was expensive but not easy to drink. Clare had a habit of calling glasses of straight gin or vodka “martinis,” and I was never sure whether she was joking or just seriously misinformed. We were sitting on an upstairs balcony, our legs nudged under the banister to dangle over the edge. Far below, the ocean groveled for the shore.
“Pie so good, all the boys come home from sea,” Clare said, like I’d asked. Her dad did maintenance on rental properties and her brothers were landscapers but they had all been fishermen once. Behind her, tree canopies shifted in the wind to reveal slivers of summer houses. All day, the island had been haunted by clouds.
Later, when I found myself drunk and spread across a deck chair, I looked at the storm past Clare’s shoulder and wondered if Lily’s chain around my neck might not be deadly. I felt like a lightning rod. I imagined the massive, two-girls-shaped-hole that the owners of the house, or more likely one of their staff, would return to find, our empty outlines burnt black like in Looney Tunes. I imagined some island cop unspooling yellow crime-scene tape across the balcony door before ducking back under it to run a finger through our sooty remains.
“Damn trespassers,” he might say, or: “Fucking dykes.”
Officer Howland locked the precinct door behind us and together we waded through the smell of wet pavement to the same cruiser he’d loaded me into earlier. I wondered if he’d let me ride in the front seat this time; he didn’t. “Policy,” he explained when I tried the door. Probably, he just wanted to keep the seat clean. Fuck ’em.
It hadn’t yet begun to rain when Clare finished. Then, we took a shower. I left her there, beneath the stream. I just had a feeling. I stepped directly from the water into my cutoffs and out the front door before she could say a word. I followed the driveway down to the dirt road. The houses on either side were invisible except for their owners’ names on signs. It was a gated community with no actual gates, just a succession of mossy stone columns that straddled the road in discrete intervals, one on each side. Driving between them to get to the house had felt like passing through portals to other worlds, one after another, until the last pair of columns returned me to my own just in time to spot Clare’s truck parked off to the left with her leaned against it, a greasy brown bag in one hand and a foil-wrapped paper plate in the other. Earlier, she’d called to invite me to lunch on the beach where her dad was serving the squid hot and oily to her brothers, laughing in the background. I hadn’t made it; she’d called again.
“Are you free for dinner then? I know a place.” She was obsessed with me.
I left my car parked beside her truck and walked along the dirt road. I recognized the names of two senators (old money) and one English writer of acclaimed espionage novels (new). Based on their devotion to minimalism, I assumed the owners of the mansion where I’d left Clare were new money. Living on the island had made me extra literate in fabulous wealth, or maybe my ex-boyfriend had. I fingered Lily’s necklace.
“Can I crack a window?” I asked Officer Howland.
“No,” he said, “but I can.” He rolled mine down as far as it would go, halfway. I had committed my crime in the most remote of the island’s several towns: church, tavern, post office, precinct, a thousand-acre wilderness of private estates. The way to Stop & Shop was all blind hills. On the left we passed a farm stand shuttered against the rain.
I had been walking down the road for a long time before I saw it, WALDEN carved clean into a knee-high sign I practically tripped over. I caught myself. I heard the ocean beyond the woods, the crash of each wave and the skitter of its undercurrent pulling pebbles across the beach. The air was a jellied matrix in which me and the trees and the water were all suspended together, tingling. I would only take a peek.
Only once I had reached the end of the looped driveway did I realize Clare would’ve stopped to peer around the bend to check for parked cars. There were none. The house looked empty and lustrous, wooden shingles bleached so blonde they radiated cloudlight. Inside, I imagined china cabinets with viscous glass doors, an unused dumbwaiter, cutlery. From the balcony, bikini tops and bottoms waved like idle hands.
If I did end up in court, then this is the moment I would need to revise. I would need to justify my progress through the gate and down the garden path, past the peonies so loaded with pre-storm humidity that they drooped across it, smearing my calves with dew when I brushed by. Maybe I entered the house to shut the kitchen window against the approaching rain. I did. There was a plate of leftover pancakes on the counter, the Saran Wrap mangled where someone had taken a torn, cold half. In the stainless-steel sink, dishes soaked.
But the window wouldn’t explain why I let myself drift up the curving front staircase, and then back down it, and then up again, this time via a servant’s passage that spat me out on the third floor. The door I found myself opening was hers, I knew it. Her necklace felt hot against my neck. Lily was the kind of girl who must have received a fine wooden jewelry box for some childhood birthday. I would find it, open it, return the necklace. I was there to return the necklace.
Her bedroom floor was thick with discarded outfits, spaghetti straps and wrap dresses flaccid with wear. On the bedside table, a handful of seashells translucent as toenails. The window at the foot of her bed was open. With my head on Lily’s pillow, I could see the ocean gathering in urgent pleats. Keeping my upper body perfectly still and my eyes on the storm, I used my feet to shimmy out of my shorts and briefs. I elbowed off my t-shirt and kicked all my clothes over the edge of the unmade bed to mingle with hers. I peered down the landscape of my body. Breasts, and, between them, belly. Beyond that, hips that smoothed into the mounded tops of thighs, which foreshortened away into socked feet, pointed to the sea. Outside, it finally began to rain.
All over the island, families were returning home from the beach, retracting sun umbrellas and tenting The Post over their heads to walk short distances to spacious cars where they laid towels across leather seats before cracking windows to catch the smell of raindrops hitting the hot sand parking lot. Soon, Lily would push open her bedroom door with one hand, untying her rain-soaked halter dress with the other, and find me curled up naked in her bed like a kitten.
The housekeeper found me. Or, that’s what Officer Howland said after he woke me up by throwing a bedsheet over me and shaking my appropriately cloaked shoulder.
“Hey,” he said from beyond the white glow. I waited for a moment before pulling the edge down beneath my chin, sticky with drool. “Hey,” the cop said, backing away. “Are you hurt?” I looked down at myself: a field of snow, an unset table, a toppled column.
“Then get dressed.” He stepped half out the door and turned his back. The window was closed now; the foot of the bed was damp where rain had blown in. It was dark outside. I fished my clothes off the floor and slipped into them before I allowed the sheet to fall loose around my ankles. Only then did I notice the blood.
I didn’t have my story straight. The cop left the room and then returned a moment later with a menstrual pad in one pink fist. The pad was wrapped in piss-yellow plastic, so old it looked vintage, cancerous. I imagined Lily in middle school with this thing in her pants. The cop left again, closed the door.
“Just come out when you’re done.” I wondered if he had daughters, and then I kicked myself for even caring. I hate cops. He led me silently out of the house; the foyer was crowded with cleaning supplies waiting to be deployed by the housekeeper I never met. She could’ve been one of my roommates, except none of them can drive because of their shitty restrictive visas.
“You really scared the bejeezus out of her,” the cop said, gesturing at the maid’s car parked beside his cruiser before opening the back door and guiding me into the dark space behind it. Then, like now, the drive made me feel dignified and mute. I felt like a colicky baby strapped in on the long drive home from Tucson, falling finally asleep. In the rearview mirror, I could see Officer Howland’s eyebrows. Fast-approaching car headlights dripped over the crest of the next hill and then exploded above it, blinding both him and me for a second during which I reached to unclasp the chain around my neck, dangling the necklace out the window before letting it disappear with a clink into the night.
When we arrived at the bunkhouse, Officer Howland killed the engine but left the headlights on. He got out, unlocked my door, and stepped back to let me pass.
“Okay, well,” I said.
“I’ll be in touch tomorrow following a conversation with the homeowners,” he said.
“It’s an island,” he added like he was quoting a state license plate or reading my mind. “No one’s a flight risk.” I nodded and followed my shadow, long in the headlights, up the porch steps.
Clare opened the door before I could touch the knob; she was naked, rubbing her eyes against the brightness that cut suddenly out when Officer Howland restarted the car. As my eyes adjusted, I imagined how we must look to him, lingering in the driveway: two dark silhouettes against the open, golden door, heavy-headed aliens with hands raised in greeting.
Silas Jones is a fiction writer from Arizona and Washington State. Their stories have appeared in Hobart, Foglifter, the Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere; they are an MFA candidate in fiction at Hunter College in New York City.