Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2021    poetry    all issues

Cover of Fiction Summer 2021


Diana Akhmetianova

Michael Kozart

Emily Hancock
Catching Tadpoles

Anastasia Carrow

Ronita Sinha
Leaving Behind

Travis Lee
A Mermaid's Garden

Broderick Eaton
Ann, Without

Olivier FitzGerald
The Woodfall Home

D.E. Hardy
Media Studies

Ashleigh Catsos
Black Beans

Parker Fendler
Three Dollar Ticket to Happiness

Elizabeth Lyvers

Jeffrey S. Chapman
The Bikini

Mary Tharin

Joey Porcelli
Parachute Drop

Writer's Site

Jeffrey S. Chapman

The Bikini

My 30th high school reunion is coming up this weekend. In three decades, I’ve watched classmates die, divorce, lose houses, lose children, fight cancer, shuffle through careers, wander aimlessly through lives. But in June 1982, on the last day of 6th grade, we hadn’t felt these pains. The biggest controversy was what kind of fucking bullshit Darth Vader was up to. Those were Bill’s words: “What kind of fucking bullshit is Vader up to?” It had been two years since Empire Strikes Back came out and Vader said he was Luke Skywalker’s father. Half of us believed him, half of us didn’t, but we still argued about it after all this time.

Summer vacation started at noon on Friday, but in our minds, the real summer vacation didn’t start until the next Monday. That’s when Mrs. Lusk opened up her pool for the neighborhood kids. Every weekday in the summer she let all of us swim in her pool for free.

Mrs. Lusk was the grandmother of a boy in our grade, Trevor. His father had run off and his mother was a drug addict, so he lived with his grandparents. She opened the pool up to all the kids, I assume, so that Trevor would always have friends around, and perhaps because she wanted to keep an eye on him better than she did his mother. Every day, Mrs. Lusk sat at the end of the pool as a lifeguard, in a one-piece bathing suit with an attached skirt.

At ten-to-one on Monday afternoon, Bill—my neighbor and best friend—showed up on my porch in a bathing suit and tee shirt, a towel draped over his neck. On the way to the Lusks, we picked up Missy and Nate. There were no parents, just groups of kids. There were never any parents.

It was not the warmest day, but the sky was cloudless and there was the slight desert buzz in the air. It certainly wasn’t cold enough to keep us from our first afternoon swim. Mrs. Lusk held a morning session for kids under 12 and an afternoon session for kids over 12. This would be the first year that we were allowed into the afternoon session. It was bathed in mystery, as if we would be told the secrets of adulthood at the gate. We didn’t talk much on our walk.

So we were disappointed to discover that the afternoon session was just like the morning. There was no big secret, no secret ritual. If anything, it was more boring. The older kids spent less time playing and more time lying on their towels, working on tans.

Still, we smelled the sharp smell of chlorine, and the pool was crisp blue and clear. Summer was here. Bill, Nate, and I quickly shed our shirts and flip-flops and dove into the pool. Missy, however, took her time. She sat down on her towel; she got up and went into the changing room; she came back out and dipped a toe in the water; she finally took off her shirt and shorts. I saw why she hesitated. She had traded in the one-piece bathing suits she had always worn before for a bikini. She immediately jumped into the water. When she surfaced, she made eye contact with me, blushed, smiled.

I was dumbfounded. I had lived next to Missy for my entire life. I had never thought much of her other than how you think about something that has always been there. Like air. Or the telephone pole outside your house.

Missy was as nice as anyone I knew. She had a tendency of looking you right in the eyes and laughing; it was clear she was always laughing with you, never laughing at you. I had never really seen her as a girl. The bikini changed that. It was just a simple black bikini—nothing skimpy or exotic—but all of a sudden, I realized she had a body. A female body. I noticed her dirty blonde hair—back in a ponytail, as always—and the freckles across her cheeks, as if for the first time. I looked away, worried I was staring. No one else seemed to notice and pretty soon they were playing our usual games. We played Marco Polo and had chicken fights in the shallow end. During the chicken fights Missy came over to get on my shoulders but I shook my head.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m getting tired,” I said. “I’m going to go lie down in the sun for a while.”

She shrugged and I ducked under the water to cool down.

The following weekend I slept over at Bill’s. We had sleepovers almost every week, but we never grew tired of it. We both felt that it was the best part of the week.

I couldn’t remember a time before Bill. He and his mom moved in next door when we were both two. We were like brothers in every way other than biology. Sometimes Bill and his mom would come home to find I had let myself in and was playing in his room. We shared everything.

We played D&D until we could be sure that everyone in the neighborhood was asleep, then we climbed out his window with two backpacks full of toilet paper. It was summer, the season for toilet-papering.

“Missy first, then Chad, then Nate,” Bill said.

“Maybe we should go straight to Chad,” I said.

“Why?” Bill asked, and I had no answer.

There were two trees in Missy’s front yard. Bill unraveled one toilet paper roll and then hurled it as high as he could. The roll unfurled in flight and left a long trail of toilet paper over the tree. He picked it up and threw it again. I paused, watching, until Bill motioned at me to get going, and so I set to work on the other tree. Missy was sleeping, right there, in that house.

“Hey, what did you think of that bathing suit?” I asked Bill, trying to sound casual, like bathing suits were our usual topic of conversation.

He looked at me like I was crazy, talking while toilet-papering. But I needed to know. I’d wanted to talk about it all week, but I couldn’t. Bill always laughed when people had crushes.

“What did you think of that bathing suit?” I whispered.

“What bathing suit?”

“Missy’s bikini.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. A bathing suit is a bathing suit.”

I wasn’t surprised that Bill didn’t notice. He didn’t give a shit about things like girls, clothes, and popularity. In our whole lives he had never given even one second’s thought to his appearance. In 5th grade, my mom made me start wearing jeans so that I would look older. But I don’t think Bill ever wore anything other than sweatpants in his life. It wasn’t a big deal in elementary school but in junior high he would have to try harder and be cooler, or the other kids would tease him. He should get jeans too.

But this wasn’t a question of fashion. It wasn’t about bikinis. It was about Missy. It was about the fact that she was suddenly a girl. No. More than that.

“But she’s never worn a bikini before. That’s the thing. She looks—“ I paused. Pretty, like a woman. “—different.”

He stopped tossing toilet paper and turned to me.

“Do you have a crush on Missy?” he asked me.

I forced a laugh. “God no. It’s Missy!”

He looked at me a moment, then he considered the matter. “I guess you’re right. She does look older this summer. She’s cute.”

We woke up late the next morning and found Missy outside, in a flower-print dress, pulling toilet paper down. We stood next to her and looked up.

“I have to clean this up before church,” she said. “Dad is sure it’s one of my friends. Was it you guys?”

We both shook our heads. The great thing about Missy is that she believed us.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Missy now. How could I get her attention? I couldn’t bring her flowers or take her to dinner. It would be years before I could drive. Still, I had to make my move soon, so we could spend the summer as a couple. I’d seen the older kids: they put their towels next to each other, lay there chatting in low, secret tones. But I didn’t know how to approach her. I really wanted to ask Bill’s advice, as I would in any other problem, but he knew nothing about girls and he loved to tease people about that stuff.

So while he asked me a couple times over the next few days whether I liked Missy, I’d always laughed and said Hell no. Finally he shrugged and let it go.

Everyone was talking about E.T. that summer. Nate’s sister said she cried all night long after watching it. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a perfect opportunity. I would ask Missy to go to E.T. with me. She would love it and when it got sad she would cry on my shoulder. I knew it would work. I could already see Missy leaning into me, arms around my neck. It was as good as a memory.

I was quieter than usual at the pool the next day. I was in a state of quiet panic, trying to find the right moment, and the courage, to ask her out. I needed to be alone with her.

My chance came after about an hour. We were sitting at the edge of the pool with our feet in the water. Mike, Ann, me, Missy, then Bill. Bill was telling his bad jokes and Missy was giggling.

We were playing our favorite game. It was simple but we loved it. We would throw a rubber hopscotch puck called a hoppy taw anywhere in the pool and then take turns diving down to retrieve it.

The whole pool was tiled with small blue tiles that made the water feel fresh and tropical. At the deepest part of the pool, under the diving board, was a mosaic of a swordfish jumping and twisting. All the kids who ever swam at Mrs. Lusk’s pool had a deep fascination with that swordfish. It was a totem animal to us and we all felt it contained a certain power.

When the hoppy taw landed on the swordfish, it was a special challenge. You had to be able to swim with your eyes open underwater, hold your breath for a while, and power downwards against all your instincts of self-preservation. It was deep enough that the pressure hurt your ears. There were some kids who never retrieved a puck from the swordfish.

It was Bill’s turn and Missy threw the hoppy taw toward the swordfish. It slowly sank down. Bill wasn’t the strongest swimmer, and his eyesight was bad, so it often took him a couple tries, but he was stubborn. The kids on the diving board paused. When someone was swimming down to the swordfish, it was understood you stopped diving. Ann got bored watching Bill try to swim down, so she slipped into the pool and swam off.

And suddenly I was sitting alone with Missy. This was the moment. I felt like barfing.

“Hey Missy?” I said. I paused.

After a minute she looked at me expectantly.

“Have you seen E.T. yet?” I knew very well that she hadn’t.

“No. I can’t wait.”

“We should go this weekend.”

She smiled a big, excited smile.

“That’s a great idea!” she said.

And it was done. I had asked her. She had said yes. Everything would click into place now. I felt a surge of excitement rush through me. I could already feel her head on my shoulder.

Bill emerged from the deep end with the hoppy taw and climbed out of the pool to do an exaggerated victory dance, as if he were the first to make it down to the swordfish. Missy laughed. Ann and Nate swam back to us.

“Are you all coming to E.T. this weekend too?” Missy asked them.

I looked around, wide-eyed. Please say no. But of course they said yes. Everyone wanted to see E.T.; why would they have any idea that it was supposed to be a date? Missy clearly didn’t. Pretty soon there was a big group going to the movie at the mall the following weekend.

Bill sat there just as excited as everyone else. I tried to kill him with lasers from my eyes. This was his fault. He should have realized that I had set up a date and run interference. He should have been a better friend.

Eight of us went to the mall to see E.T. that Saturday. But just because there was a group of us didn’t mean that my plan was dead. I was still in good spirits..

It was our first time spending time alone at the mall. We tried to look cool but there was a nervous jumpiness running through the group. We filed into the movie theater and bought treats. I stayed close to Missy to ensure that I got a seat next to her. The eight of us were loud and rambunctious. Bill and I threw popcorn into one another’s mouths over Missy’s head while she told us we would never be elected president if we kept this up. We grew still when the lights dimmed. On the screen, the camera panned across the night sky down into the dark forest and E.T.’s spaceship. It wasn’t the explosive beginning of Star Wars, but I still ate it up. I believed E.T. was real. At the point when E.T. got sick, it was clear the whole movie theater felt the same way. I heard sniffles and muffled sobs coming from all around me. I had to blink back my own tears because I was sitting next to Missy. I noticed her brushing tears off her own cheeks.

This was my time. If I was going to console her, this was the moment. All I had to do was reach out and touch her hand. My body shimmered with trepidation. I glanced over to find her hands.

Since that moment, many things have happened to me. I have made friends and lost friends. I have graduated from high school and from university. I’ve held jobs and been fired from jobs. I’ve dated, broken up, gotten married, had kids, gotten divorced. My parents have died. Friends have died. Pets have died. I’ve bought a house, lost a house, and moved twelve times. I’ve had much more serious relationships than those in sixth grade.


In 1982, at age twelve, we didn’t question anything. We didn’t question whether we should be walking alone to Mrs. Lusk’s. We didn’t question whether we should be scrambling through gullies all day. We didn’t question whether our parents should be at home when we got back from school or even if they should know where we were. We just did.

We develop, our whole lives, towards complexity and ambiguity. This is neither a good thing nor a bad. It’s just the way of life. At twelve, there was simplicity in every action. Every friendship. Even love, no matter how naïve and silly. You never have that simplicity again. I will love many people in my life. But not like that. I had known Missy my entire life; I had loved Missy my entire life. I just didn’t know it at the time.

I saw Missy’s hand in her lap but something was wrong. It took a few seconds in the dark to realize that her fingers were entwined with Bill’s. She was holding hands with Bill. Bill. Bill in his sweatpants. Bill with his big thick glasses. Bill with his complete aversion for fashion or any proper behavior. No one could love Bill. He was the Han Solo to my Luke Skywalker; he was the sidekick. I didn’t know then that everyone always loves Han Solo first. I didn’t understand how true it was when Leia said “I love you” at the end of Empire Strikes Back and Han Solo responded, “I know.”

And worse, how could Bill do this to me? Yes, I never admitted my feelings about Missy—in fact I had consistently mocked the idea when he brought it up—but he should have known. He was my best friend.

I was frozen in my seat. I stared at the movie so I wouldn’t look to the side, but I couldn’t pay attention. I didn’t care that E.T. lived, even though everyone around me cheered when Elliot saw the flower come to life. I would have normally lived for the bike chase scene and soared with everyone in the theater when the bikes took off into the sky, but I was anchored by my fury.

When we left, I positioned myself with all of our friends between us, shoved my hands into my pockets, and stared down at the ground until the bus came. My shirt felt too big, my jeans felt too uncool, my hair felt all wrong. I went home and closed myself in my room and stayed in there all Sunday, ignoring the doorbell.

At the pool, on Monday, everything was the same and everything was different. Bill and Missy weren’t holding hands, but they sat next to each other and let their shoulders touch. No one else cared. All my friends were sitting on the pool’s edge, taking turns diving after the hoppy taw.

I lay off to the side, on my towel. The weather was in the mid-90s and soon I was baking in the dry sun. I had no desire to join everyone, so I stood in line at the diving board. It felt good to jump in and let the water cool off my overheated body and mind. I tried to make enough of a splash for it to reach where they were seated.

I got back in line and did another cannonball.

The next time I was on the board, Bill was diving for the hoppy taw. Jamie had thrown it right down onto the swordfish, just where Bill liked it. He had tried for it twice already.

Bill smiled and tensed at the side of the pool. He drew a big breath. He looked over at Missy.

My fists clenched so hard I could feel my nails in my palm. At that moment I hated him more than I had hated anyone in my twelve years.

He launched away from the wall, toward the swordfish. Normally I would wait until everyone was out from under the diving board before jumping. But I wanted to give him a scare. So I waited until he had grabbed the hoppy taw and was headed up to the surface.

And I jumped.

I intended to jump right next to him, to splash him and surprise him. I pulled my legs up to my chest. I was in the air for a few seconds. I don’t know if I miscalculated where he would come up or whether he changed direction as he swam, but I landed on him, not next to him. He had been underwater a while, so he didn’t have much air in his lungs; what air was there was driven out by the impact and replaced with water. His arms flailed, panicked. My weight pushed him down into the water. Then he stopped moving.

With my high school reunion coming up, I’ve been thinking about high school and junior high. I’ve been thinking about the kids I knew and comparing them with my own daughters. It was a different world back then. I would never let my daughters roam the neighborhood alone with a pack of friends at the age of eight. They would never spend an entire afternoon exploring the gulley and building a fort without me knowing exactly where they were. They wouldn’t ride their bikes alone to a store all the way across town, on a major road moreover, without a helmet. They would never walk down to 7-11 and buy whatever candy they could afford.

No one would ever let all the neighborhood kids swim in their pool. I can’t imagine anyone being generous enough, or patient enough, to let so many kids into her home. But much more than that, I can’t imagine someone willing to accept the liability. We would worry about getting sued.

Because of the reunion, I’ve been hearing little trickles of information about people. Mike has a big family—six kids—and owns a plant-watering company. Nate is a lawyer who never really managed to make a relationship work full-time. Ann lives in Boston and is a powerful investment banker.

Missy, I hear, has two kids. She had breast cancer a few years back and almost died. I’ve seen pictures of her online and she doesn’t quite look like herself—gaunt, lined—but I can recognize her smile.

And Bill.

I felt as his body went slack. Without air in his lungs, Bill sank straight down. I was tangled with him and I grabbed his hand. I remember the feel of his fingers in mine. I was trying to pull Bill up toward the surface but I had no leverage. We were right above the swordfish.

Bill touched down on the tiles. We were so deep. My ears hurt. I stared at the swordfish for ages. I had been here so many times over so many summers. I felt like I was looking into its eye, like we were old friends. I told the swordfish that Bill was going to die. Please.

The swordfish twisted. The swordfish flipped its tail. The swordfish pushed up, infinitely strong in the water. It got under Bill and lifted. I lay there, underwater, calm as a starfish, watching it carry Bill up and away from me.

It’s what it was there for, to protect us.

I finally pushed up, after four decades underwater. When I broke the surface, it was Mrs. Lusk who was lifting Bill, limp and lifeless, from the pool. I had never seen Mrs. Lusk get in the pool. Other kids were grabbing him and pulling him onto the hot cement, laying him flat in case he had a broken neck. A boy scout was performing CPR. He was unconscious and he was unconscious and he was unconscious. Then he coughed up water and breathed and I was treading water in the pool and, thank God, no one was watching me.

I only meant to land next to him.

I think.

It took Bill a long time to recover. He had been underwater for several minutes. He didn’t have permanent brain damage, but he wasn’t exactly normal either. For a while it felt like he was in slow motion, like Han Solo after being released from carbonite. He’s done okay. He’s a manager at an electronics store now. He’s good with computers.

He didn’t blame me for what happened, but I couldn’t act normal around him for a while. I couldn’t make eye contact with him. We were still friends, we still played AD&D together, but there was a distance between us. I wasn’t Han. I wasn’t even Luke. I was Vader. I knew it, and I think he knew it too.

But he had Missy. She was there for him. She was nice. She’d always been nice. She spent hours and hours at the side of his bed, reading The Sword of Shannara to him. I couldn’t help but think that it could have been me. She could have been reading to me. No one, in the thirty-six years since, has read to me like that.

Jeffrey S. Chapman is a fiction writer and graphic novelist living just north of Detroit. He is an associate professor of creative writing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He is working on a graphic novel and his short stories and comics have been published in journals including South Dakota Review, Black Warrior Review, The Florida Review, and Cutbank. He is a recent recipient of a Kresge Artist Fellowship and a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award.

Dotted Line