June told Wanda there was a man in the tub. The party had gone on late into the night but it was morning. The apartment had emptied. Their roommate Heather was already on a one-way flight to Tokyo.
For the Bon Voyage, June had made punch in hollowed out watermelon halves. The overflow got the counters sticky and the floors tacky. Walking across the linoleum towards the bathroom, Wanda’s flats crunched like bows pried off birthday presents. June tagged behind her picking up shiny black seeds and sticking them in her pocket, flicking them off her fingers, stuck from all that sugar. In the bathroom June showed Wanda the man.
He used damp towels as a pillow. He breathed as a cat would, whiskers twiddling with his yawns. A few dusty beer empties floating by like lazy fish in the melted-down ice cube water.
He looks like that painting, June said. They’d met in Art History. They were aware of Marat.
Wanda shook his shoulder and they waited for the man to wake. To tell them why his boots were hanging over the lip of the tub, resting on the toilet. Why he never left the party. Why he was in the bathroom.
He lifted himself up straight and he turned from The Death of Marat into The Birth of Venus. The tub was a shell. His jeans dripped. His boots disrupted the surface of the water, setting off vibrating rings like skipping rocks make. He shook out his ink-stamped hair. It spat all over the tiles as he roused himself awake. He said his name was Jack and when Wanda asked if he was a friend of Heather’s, he said I wouldn’t say friends, but yeah, we’re friends.
Heather was gone and Wanda would miss her in ways June wouldn’t understand. For small islands of time when the world was asleep, Heather had belonged to Wanda, listened to her, followed through on her demands. She was her pet. Wanda knew this man was some sort of gift Heather had left. Heather and the man weren’t friends rather, business associates.
Wanda would leave the smaller bedroom June and her shared to sleep with Heather behind her locked door. It was locked, Heather said, to protect the vintage purses she sold on Ebay. June knew it was locked to keep secrets so she let the secrets do their thing and make a mess. You can’t get clean until you have a mess first.
In Heather’s room, Wanda felt taken care of and the windows made it feel like the purgatory between the sky and the ground was theirs until they figured out where they belonged. They didn’t think June knew anything about it, asleep in their little cave a few feet away.
June got Jack a dry towel. Wanda lead him out of the bathroom. He was sore and hunched over, trying to get his back up to straight. There was nowhere to sit in the living room, the couch cushions vertical from a party fort. Wanda brought them into Heather’s bedroom. The morning light was a soothing shade of yellow. Heather’d left behind her queen sized, four-postered bed with a flag of Japan hung above it. The flag was once a target for Wanda on those sleepless nights. You are here.
Wanda spotted something in Jack’s hair. She thought it might be a bug. She pinched it out with her fingers and showed it to them. It was a watermelon seed. Jack took it and bit into it like you’d do with a questionable coin.
Between his teeth, like a cigarette, he spoke, If you swallow the seed, you grow a watermelon in your belly. Wanda bent and snapped her teeth over the jutted-out husk and pulled it from his mouth. June felt for the ones she had collected in her pocket and tried to add them up with her fingertips, but they were so sticky, she’d lost count.
I sure could use something to eat, Jack said. Wanda looked at him and swallowed the seed with a gulp that for a moment made her throat swell like a frog’s.
June went to the kitchen and found the watermelon halves, emptied of their punch, yet still with a thin layer of pink meat on the rind. She got a paring knife and brought it to the bedroom where Wanda fed them the syrupy flesh with that red sun above them, pulsing as if alive.
With the rind cleaned bare as a dog’s bone, June brought it back to the kitchen. She let it rock in the sink until the echo of it stopped and she could hear noises from beyond the bedroom door, noises like the kind that would wake her in the night. The noises she never told Wanda and Heather she could hear. The noises that filled her up fat to burst.
With tacky fingers she tried to open the handle but it was locked. Heather’s code didn’t work. She blew on it, wiped it clean with her sleeve and tried again. The door remained shut.
June had a feeling this was all Heather’s idea. This man was a party favor. She ran the tub removing the last beer cans laced with plastic rings. She added soap to bubble and salt to mineralize the water. You can never get anything totally clean. You can live with something just appearing that way.
She removed the seeds from her pocket and laid them on the rim of the tub. A firing squad. She undressed, got herself warm and covered in suds and swallowed those seeds down like secrets. Secrets are dirty truths. They didn’t seem to exist outside of the apartment. The bodega guys and the rental bike stand and the pigeons probably knew about Heather and Wanda. No one keeps secrets with strangers, only the people you’re most afraid will hear them. Her hands dove under the water. She planted the last seed deep inside herself willing it to grow into something she could keep to herself.
Melissa Ragsly’s work has appeared or forthcoming in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best Short Fictions, Iowa Review, Epiphany, Hobart, Joyland and other journals. She is an Associate Editor for A Public Space and a Program Coordinator at the Authors Guild. More can be found at melissaragsly.com.
Artwork by: Sara Lightning
Sara Lightning is a painter from Denver, Colorado, currently living and working in Budapest, Hungary. Her paintings primarily focus on the figure in various states of abstraction, often collapsing pictorial space between the figure and the environment. Her approaches range from creating visual intersections between people and architecture to using patterns as a grounding device against which gestural iterations of the figure are overlaid.