UNDER THE PIER
We left school early to go down to the pier.
It was there the fishmongers parked their boats late at night and unloaded. Mark said it smelled like sex, but in the afternoon, the docks were dry and specked with fishermen, the wafting flags of fishing lines stuck to wooden posts.
“What do you want to go there for?”
Maria said, “I have to show you something. You trust me, right?”
I thought of Mark. My friend was no expert on most subjects, but at the time he’d been dating Peggy Lawson, and you couldn’t call bullshit, after all, on things you knew nothing about.
And so I went. For part of it she even held my hand.
Once there, she took me under, to a dark place where the tide was mostly foam. She didn’t take her shoes off or let me either, so we sloshed through the current with heavy footsteps. She kissed me when we got in deep, on my cheek, and I burnt right up.
“Thanks for coming,” she said. “You won’t be sorry.”
The docks creaked above us, among the songs of the fishermen and wind. The smell was rotten. Almost no light reached us there, but one line drew a path form Maria’s temple to her lips. I saw it clear. “Most people are too chicken,” she said. “Are you ready?”
Tracing from point A to B, I almost didn’t hear her.
“Chicken?” I said.
Maria laughed and squeezed my hand. I wanted to kiss her back.
Then at once she was screaming. I crouched and covered my ears.
“What’s wrong?” I shouted. But Maria didn’t stop. The sound was shrill and it seemed to shake everything. I imagined the old men above us, as stricken as I was, jumping and peeking through the slats.
“Maria?” I shouted. She looked to be smiling.
Soon another screeching took over, a voice as high as Maria’s – they sounded in conversation. Maria stopped at once and ducked and pulled me with her. By accident, I touched her left breast. I only felt hard cotton.
“What’s happening?” I asked her. Just then a missile shot over me. Soon another and another. I held Maria tightly, and over the screeching I could hear her constant laugh.
The bats were shooting in single blasts, and then all at once, in a great, black cloud. They burst out from the bottom of the pier and flew toward the ocean, hitting the sunlight and then curving in a premeditated direction back around.
The whole time Maria was cheering. We held each other close. In the commotion, I pretended to stumble a little, and again I graced the padding of her chest. Maria was so overwhelmed by the phenomenon that she ignored me completely.
When the last bat disappeared, Maria stood upright, still shaking.
“Have you ever seen anything like it?” she laughed.
I shook my head.
“Look!” she shouted, lifting my arm to eye-level. “You have goosebumps!”
“I do?” I said.
“I knew you’d love it! I could just tell.”
When I leaned in to kiss her, finally, for real, she let me – if only for a moment. Her lips were moist and heavy and sweet. Then it was over. She turned and ran through the water, away from me, splashing as she went, toward the beach. I watched her go, unmoving. She was laughing. The air was sick with smell.
Alex Haber is a fiction writer from Michigan. His work has been published in The Furious Gazelle, The Bangalore Review, and several other journals. He received his MFA from George Mason University. Visit his website at awhaber.com for more information.