Charles Haddox

Sherry Sweeney goes to the movies with her boyfriend at the base theater on The Presidio and studies birds and bird behavior and has memories of Youngsan, South Korea, El Paso, Texas, and San Francisco, in the years 1963 to 1974. Her real home is depression.

On the beach Sherry picks up a small stone that she thinks is jade, but is actually radiolarian chert. She is pale and speckled like the moon, and the sun has made her rosy as it does the moon when it moves into earth’s shadow at total eclipse. For a lustral moment the grassy hills surrounding her are reflected in the shallow waters of a lagoon cut off from the ocean by a narrow beach. Beyond lagoon and beach are red, white and multihued waves on the cold evening sea. She could have cried for the hour, making a sound like the trumpet of a conch shell, for the hour and the curved pebbly beach like an ovum and the waters with the intoxicating aroma of semen. Bronze kelp, ragged limbs, wash up with polished glass and bone. Sometimes she wonders if she hasn’t died and gone to hell. Her shoulders hurt all the time. She hates her freckles. Sherry and her boyfriend are passionately in love.

She doesn’t understand why she went to a party with her sister when her boyfriend was out of town and met a guy and had sex with him in her Volkswagen bug. She’s thinking it’s because she’s sick, she’s crazy. She smoked cigarette after cigarette to get his taste out of her mouth. She really loves her boyfriend. The triangular hills are turning dark in the third twilight. She throws the pebble that she thinks is jade into the sea. It doesn’t make a splash. She came out to the beach to watch the zodiac wake up, and to think about what she’s done.

If you stop reading a story it doesn’t end; it simply isn’t there anymore. She has tried not thinking about what happened at the party, but it keeps coming back.

One of her boyfriend’s surfer buddies recognizes her and approaches over the wet pebbles, a skinny, fair-haired Italian-American guy named Joe Nero who calls himself Krishna Vidya. He and some friends have made a fire on the beach, even though it’s forbidden. There are three other fires going already. The smoke smells like sugar. They sit with a group of kids, he with his legs stretched out, she in the lotus position. She leans on him. All of the others are strangers to her. They laugh and argue and pass around a bottle of Wybyrowa. Relaxed, slightly drunk, she tells him the same lie she told her boyfriend, Robert. She loves to tell lies that are close to the truth.

“I hear you got left at a party on Jackson last week.”

“Yeah. My sister took my car and went over to the park so she could do it with some guy she met. I was stranded and had to get a ride home with somebody I didn’t even know. He bought me a cup of hot chocolate at Blue Burger and told me he couldn’t believe my sister. He’s from Piedmont and works at Hi-Times, but he’s a lot older so he didn’t try anything with me.”

She keeps adorning her lies with all sorts of details, fully confident in her own shrewdness.

The waves open up like petals on the beach, and offshore the black rocks are crowded with seabirds. Pairs and pairs. Sherry has field guides and knows all about the birds. There is a cormorant that has twenty-four bones in each of its wings. She has a copy of Peterson’s A Field Guide to Western Birds in the pocket of her yellow windbreaker. Night has overtaken them. The sea turns black on the ninth day of the waning moon.

“Robert was real nice about it.” She feels guilty, but can’t help herself, even though she really loves him. Their first kiss was on a hill above the lagoon. The beach was glistening with millions of by-the-wind sailors; icy pelagic skin and fingernails, a nonpareil agony under the relentless moon. She met Robert on an overnight field trip to the Marine Mammal Center. Feels guilty, too, and dirty, lying about her little sister Molly who’s barely going to turn fifteen.

She drives back to the city in the same car where she had sex with a stranger a week before. She stops at a Speed Mart near the bridge and buys a grape popsicle, checks her earrings in the rear view mirror to make sure she hasn’t lost one, eats the popsicle in the parking lot and smokes a cigarette. Her lithium is wearing off and she shivers uncontrollably. The streets are wet and cold. She decides to stop and see her friend Cindy Fairmount on the way home.

Cindy’s an ex-drug addict who lives with her parents. She’s made macaroni and cheese. After dishing up Sherry a plate, she makes a fire in the fireplace. Sherry doesn’t want to lie to her.

“Hey, so what’s up with you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Then eat.”

“Things happen to me that could only happen in hell.”

“That’s how I felt when I was using. I was living with a guy on a boat and all I had was my rig wrapped in a piece of cloth and a couple of pairs of jeans. I was sick and tired all the time.”

“But you’re better now.”

“Today, tonight. I want something to help me lose some weight. But that’s not why I really want it. Wanting it so bad’s pretty rough, too.”

“I messed around with a guy when Robert was out of town.”

“What did you do?”

“All the way.”


“I don’t know. It was in my bug. I’m hoping I just dreamed it. That it didn’t really happen.”

“But it did.”

“I’m not telling him.”

“You know that’s wrong.”

“I know. But I can’t and I won’t. Jeez.”

“So you think it’s going to go away?”


“Was it forced?”


“Have you told your doctor?”


“Do you think you might be pregnant?”

“No. God no.” Her voice sounds like dripping water.

“You need some real help. You need to talk to your doctor. You’re crashing.”

“I know.”

Cindy pretends that Sherry is going to be okay. That she’s going to be okay. She says a prayer to herself.

Sherry takes her coat off and puts it over the chair. Cheese tastes like sour milk to her. With damp hair parted in the middle, coiling roots of a tree, she is an ordinary teenager in 1974. Her breathing betrays her, surpassing the normal twenty-one-six. She excuses herself and goes to the bathroom. The sidereal ninth day moon in Gemini, the envelope of light, is in her thoughts. She believes that she could live on the beach.

Sherry hadn’t known anyone at the party. It was outdoors in someone’s back yard. She had a lot to drink, and pretty soon people and trees were practically indistinguishable. The boy had talked to her. Everybody at the party went to a school different from hers. She wore an ecru smock with an apple embroidered on the pocket, and was very pleased with the way her hair looked. Until the boy started talking to her, she felt exceedingly awkward. They drove to a park in her car, where the only witnesses to the uncomfortable and meaningless sex were medlars and lindens and Japanese maples.

Sherry’s Peterson’s Guide has fallen out of her windbreaker pocket. It smells like cigarette smoke and mint Tidal Wave. She’s throwing up in the bathroom. Cindy pages through it for a moment, finding words she doesn’t need to see written on the inside cover.

Just because you have problems, too, you seem to think the whole world has to revolve around making you feel better. I’m sick. Don’t you understand. I’m sick. I want to forget about knowing you, about school, about the fact that I can’t have a fucking normal life. I’m sick. I want to love you, but you’re constantly stressing me out and I don’t need that.

Cindy Fairmount’s boyfriend is a recovering alcoholic five years older than her. He pressures her not to wear makeup except for cherry lip gloss which makes her look sallow and indistinct and accentuates her lips. They fight all the time, and she knows he’s no good for her and a wrong decision. She’s hoping an assertiveness class she’s taking at the YWCA will help her get their relationship under control. When they’re together she’s always one pinky finger away from going out and finding a hit, which she’s doubts she’ll ever come back from, having known plenty of addicts besides herself in her time. So what Sherry has written is hardly a bed of flowers, not to mention her showing up at the house tight enough to be sick.

“I swear to God that I will never treat you like this again,” Sherry says in a voice hoarse from all the retching.

“If you care about me at all, Sherry, you’ll leave me alone. You’ll lie down and go to sleep.”

“Do you want me to leave?”

“So you can do something to yourself and I’ll have to live with that? No thanks. You can sleep on the couch.”

“Do you know what it’s like to have your heart broken?”

“Sherry, stop it. Stop feeling so sorry for yourself, and listen. Please don’t always twist my words around. Please don’t always take everything personally. Don’t you trust me at all? Do you think I’m lying when I say I consider you my family? Can’t you see that? Can’t you see what you’re doing to yourself, and Robert, too?”

“I was born like this. Why was I born like this? Why couldn’t I be ‘Sunday’s child’? I’m tired of it. My dad’s about to retire and he’s talking about taking us to Port Arthur. Can you imagine me living in Port Arthur?”

“Janis Joplin was from Port Arthur.”

“Yeah, and see how she ended up.”

“Uh, huh. A fucking addict just like me.”

“I meant dead, Cindy, I meant dead. I meant like me.”

“You need to talk to your parents about what’s happening to you. And your doctor.”

“Did you see that show called, ‘Cry Help!’? Did you see some of the places they put mentally disturbed kids? I’d rather be like Janis Joplin than in a place where I’m kept in solitary, or restraints, or beaten or raped. I have nightmares about it all the time.”

The sun spreads quicksilver dawn like a shielding womb over two sleepers, one in her bed and the other on the sea-blue couch in a house owned by Cindy Fairmount’s parents. Over the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Arctic Oceans petrels skim the waters bringing grace. The goddess in her faithfulness sustains the worlds. But even gods must make sacrifices in order to cheat death. The sleeper on the couch awakens, sore and thirsty, thinking of her boyfriend Robert, and grape popsicles, and birds. She finds her straw purse that she bought on vacation in Barbados and checks her wallet to make sure all of her cash is still there, and counts her lithium pills, wondering how long she would make them last if she chose to run away, or if she stayed behind amid the plangent waves and colored shoreline pebbles, for a long, remorseless epoch, that year of her own precession.

Charles Haddox has had work published in a number of journals, including Folio, The Summerset Review, Concho River Review, and The Sierra Nevada Review.