The farther they got from the carnival the softer the sounds became. The high pitched bells and whistles from the games and the screams from the rides and the off-key jangling of the local band on the stage faded and blended together until it was all just a wash of distant buzzing. The sounds that rose up in their stead were much lighter and easier. The steady crashing of the waves on the beach. The whistling wind in their ears. The crunch of sand and shells under their shoes. All sounds soothing enough, and quiet enough, that they were absolutely covered over by the sound of their own off key drunken caterwauling.
“That’s not how it goes,” Peony yelled, as though Mel could not hear her from six inches away.
“That’s how it goes up your butt.”
They fell out laughing, peals and shrieks reaching to the sky. If they hadn’t already been holding each other up they would have fallen and probably scratched themselves on the glasses and bottles of wine they carried. ‘Up your butt’ had been the pinnacle of humor for close to two decades.
They veered south down the beach, stopping only to take their shoes off. A usually quick task that now, after each of them had already worked their way through an entire tray of wine slushies back at O’Houlihans, had turned into a dexterity and agility check they might not pass.
“Oof,” Mel said, falling backwards with her wedge sandal halfway off. “Ow, my ass.”
Peony had been doing a better job at standing but fell anyway, in solidarity.
“Soft fall,” she said, and reached around to slap her back pocket. “I’ve got plenty of ass for the cushion.”
“And I bet Roy loves it,” Mel said, nearly breaking a nail trying to get the knot on her shoelace out.
“Where’d all that ass come from, anyway?” Peony asked, staring and patting. “It wasn’t there and then it was. What happened?”
“I’unno ‘boutchu,” Mel said. She gave up on the knots and began pushing on the back of one sneaker with the other. “Mine’s all chocolate cake and…finally…margaritas.”
With grunts and creaking bones the two women found their way back to standing position, and worked on carrying their shoes and the wine and the glasses.
“Getting fat sucks,” Peony said.
“Getting old sucks.”
“Nah. Debt. Starting a career. Fucking…caring…about things. Who wants to be twenty?”
“Fucking teenagers, that’s who. Idiots.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
“Hold on, we’re almost there.”
The little dock was far enough down the beach that the sounds of the carnival could be drowned out entirely by the waves. There were no hotels here, no beach houses, no bars. Just a two lane road that led to a twelve car parking lot that closed every day at sundown. Humanity was behind them, north up the shore. The only light was the waxing moon coming through the thin clouds racing on the wind.
They’d been coming to this little dock, once a year, for as long as they’d known each other. Someone besides them gave a shit about it. Every year they showed up expecting to see it torn down or just broken from a hurricane and never fixed. But the dock was always in excellent shape with new boards, and hardly even creaked as they stepped carefully down to the end. What was the point of this dock? It was too short for the ocean, it belonged in a lake. You could launch a canoe or a kayak off it. Did they do that during the day? People knew. Mel and Peony were not those people. They dropped their shoes off where the wood met the sand, used extra care putting the bottles and glasses down near the end, and then finally sat at the end of the dock, aching feet in the water.
Barely had they gotten themselves settled when light splashing began not far out in the water. Mel and Peony, who had been giggling about nothing, stopped themselves and held their breath. Something was moving in the water. By the moonlight they could barely make out two dark shadows moving under the water. Fast. Toward them. Peony burped. Mel slapped her arm. They both stared until the shadows were at their feet.
The shadows swelled and burst out of the water, revealing the busts of two women. One had long hair, floating on the water’s surface behind her. The other’s hair was in a short bob. The moon came from behind the clouds to illuminate their faces, cold, pale, with large light eyes. Behind them, fins slapped lightly at the water’s surface.
Peony clapped her hands before raising them above her head.
“Girls weekend!” the other three shouted, and then they were all talking over one another.
“Sesha, you cut your hair!”
“Mel, baby, how’s the kids?”
“Was it a tough flight?”
“Was the swim in rough?”
“Did you lose weight? You look good.”
“Tell me you brought that fruit wine again.”
Peony leaned back a little so she could free the corkscrew from her the small pocket of her clam digger shorts and began working on the first bottle. Mel inspected each plastic wine glass against the moonlight and swept out any sand that had gotten inside before lining them up on the dock for Peony to pour.
“So, how’s land life?” Sesha asked.
“Dry,” Peony said. “How’s ocean life?”
Laughter swept up into the sky like bubbles. Another joke that had not gotten any less funny after nineteen years. Peony finally finished pouring out the bottle and handed out the glasses to everyone. Paz lifted her glass and cleared her throat for their favorite toast.
“Fuck ‘em,” she said.
“Fuck em!” the others returned, just as they had since college.