Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2017    poetry    all issues


Cover Marija Zaric

Mary Lucille Hays
Tribute in Black, White, and Gray

Anne McMillan

Faith Shearin

James Hanna
Tower Duty

Nektaria Petrou
Black Lace

Rebecca May Hope
Coyotes from Kazakhstan

John Maki
There Are No Angels Singing

Lisa Michelle
A Happy Birthday

Alison Turner
Actresses Auditioning

Brian Beard
Problems in Poultry Farming

Liz Bender
The Hypnotist

William C-F Long
Pet Hive

Wendy Dolber
Charlotte's Plan

Emily Holland
Something Cool

Emily Holland

Something Cool

(homage to June Christy)

Angela heard the swoosh and thwack of a sliding glass door opening and closing, slicing off a blast of television ambiance from inside the condo next door. A man stepped out onto the building’s back deck, right beside hers. She was seated there on a grimy plastic adirondack chair, with a towel hung over the back to dry. Ahead of them, beyond a row of villas, the ocean roared. It was night, half past one o’clock.

She resented him; now she was not alone. Rather: she was alone as ever, but now she had another presence to contend with; she had to be self conscious in her loneliness. She didn’t even have the deck light on, and she was sitting there by herself, drinking. Her sister and brother-in-law were in bed, as were their children. She had stayed awake reading and reading, losing her place over and over, until she at last drug out the bottle of mango white rum she had brought along with her, and tempered it with some of the children’s orange juice. A previous condo guest had left a bottle of grenadine to molder in the fridge. Angela had had no compunction about twisting open the crusty top and letting a few drops bloom throughout her rum drink. She supposed the cool thing in its frosted starfish glass was some kind of sunrise.

Now the man was sitting down as well, and she heard the rasp of a match, detected the glow in her peripheral vision of a cigarette. He hadn’t turned on the light on his deck, either, but the morphing bluish haze from the nattering television inside spilled in front of where he sat. Angela wasn’t sure if she should look over, if he would regard it as some sort of invitation or perhaps feel just as uneasy as she did. The ice cubes tinkled in her glass; she took another sip. She got up and put the man behind her, walking to the deck rail to look at the beach entry, the villas and packed golf carts, the moon. She could only barely see the ocean from where she stood, but it was just as present as anything else, hushing and reprimanding and throwing its white surf against the shore.

“What are you drinking?” the man said, and his voice startled her. She turned around slowly and looked across at the other deck, to make sure he wasn’t talking to anyone else. She walked closer, around a sandy glass-topped table, and stopped when she could smell the acrid smoke.

“It’s a kind of sunrise,” she said, lifting the glass as if he could tell what was in it. “OJ, mango rum, grenadine. Tropical.”

“Ah,” he said. She took in his appearance: late 50’s maybe, hadn’t shaved in several days, oversized Boston Red Sox shirt, hand curled around a tumbler that held dark liquid and one rock.

“Bourbon,” he said, tilting his head toward the glass. “Good for what ails you.”

He didn’t say anything else, electing to take a drag of his cigarette. Angela crossed back to the chair and sat down. So that was it. He was just curious. Being neighborly. She tried to remember if she had seen him around before, but she had honestly paid very little attention to who was living next door, being so wrapped up in getting Kelly and Ethan from place to place, out of bed and fed and to the beach and back from the beach and cleaned up and in bed then up for dinner and so forth and so on . . .

How Mike and Allison managed daily without her was a mystery.

She had never felt farther away from her younger sister, and yet Allison had never been sweeter or more grateful, drowning in her children’s incessant needs while trying to enjoy, trying to record and manufacture what was supposed to be a memorable family vacation. Of course Angela had known all along that was half the reason her sister and brother-in-law had invited her; they had made it quite clear—insisting that they pay for the condo, mentioning tactfully but emphatically that they wanted a night or two off, et cetera.

“How long you been out here?” He sallied forth again.

“Oh, I—” Angela said, jolted off her train of thought. “Not long, I don’t think. Haven’t been keeping track.”

“And you’re staying just this week?”

“Mmhm.” The condos were Saturday to Saturday rentals; it was Wednesday.

She paused a moment, then gave in. She supposed she ought to ask him about himself.


“Yeah, the wife and I are staying here with some friends, then next week we’re going down to Myrtle. We’ve got some other friends who live there year-round.”

“That’s a long beach vacation.”

“We’re retired. Life’s a vacation, now.” Whether he was being facetious she couldn’t tell.

“I guess so.”

An ocean breeze brought the cigarette smoke across to Angela.

“Those kids yours?” He walked over and leaned on the side of his deck toward hers.

“No,” she laughed. “Do you think I’d be out here like this if they were?” She took a large swig of her drink.

“Hell, I sure was. All the time, even when my kids were little. Should’ve been tired, but I’ve never been able to sleep so well.”


“Wife about killed me. I’d come back to bed at three smelling like I’d just left a bar.” Angela raised her eyebrows.

“Went to the doctor’s, eventually. Now I take pills. When it’s important that I sleep, that is.” He paused to look out over the vista of beachfront. “I’m off the clock, now. It’s nice to have a few nights with my old self.”

Angela looked idly at his cigarette and thought about all the people she’d seen smoking on the beach. Some older, like the man, bronzed and beer-gutted. Some younger, without children to look after. She wondered how they stood it, that strong flavor in the heat.

“Who do they belong to, then?” He was back at it. “That boy and girl I’ve seen running around.”

“My sister,” Angela said brightly and nodded. “She’s younger than me by nine years, but she’s the one all grown up.”

“Who says?”

Angela looked away and smiled. “Maybe not.”

“How old are you?” said the man.


“Still a baby.” He grinned.

“Does that make my sister an infant?”

“As far as I’m concerned.”

The sunrise was dipping lower and lower in the glass; Angela was warmer and warmer; there was no chill at all in the breezy night air.

“You know, I saw my first gray hair today.”

The man burst out laughing. He stretched out his glass, and she walked over to the deck rail to give it a clink.

“To many more.”

“And I lied today—” she continued. “Just to see what it was like.”

“What, you’ve never lied before?”

“Many times.” She leaned against the deck rail, closer to him. “But I lied, earlier, about having those kids, just to see what it was like to say it.”

He gave her a blank look.

“I told someone they were mine.”

“Ah.” He drank some bourbon.

“My sister and brother-in-law were taking a walk, and I was watching the babies. Some other kids came up and helped them build their sand castle, and the mother started talking to me. It was surreal.”

He looked at her cannily.

“It felt good?”

“No, just surreal. I was partially afraid of being found out, partially guilty, and I couldn’t quite enjoy saying those things because I knew they weren’t true. I had just thought, maybe, for once, that I would find out what it felt like to tell someone I was married with kids. The only thing I got out of it, I think, was how the other woman seemed willing to relate to me, immediately, in a way she probably wouldn’t have if I had told the truth.”

The man grunted.

“There’s an age,” he said, “after which it’s pretty much all couples, and my buddies are a temporary escape hatch from my marriage, and her friends are a support group for all the shit she puts up with from me, and the kids, et cetera. I know people get married later now, I don’t know if you’ve gotten to that age yet. I guess maybe you have. But the settled-down life is not all that. Don’t think you’re missing out, or you’re less than. It is what it is—Christ, I feel like I’m talking to my daughter—” he grinned again. “You’ll find your way.”

“How old are you?” Angela asked.

“Fifty-nine,” the man said. “About old enough to be your Pa.”

He walked back to the table on his deck to retrieve his matches and light another cigarette. Angela was about finished her drink, and she wondered now if she’d ever be able to go back inside and fall asleep. She thought about taking a walk on the beach; she thought about the soft sand at the beach entrance cool rather than burning between her toes, she wondered if she’d see anyone else on her walk (probably drunk kids or late night fishermen). She thought about asking the man to take a walk with her—no, she remembered to herself, he was married, and that would be forward and absurd. Although she would ask him with no ulterior motives, just glad for his easy companionship. She remembered that she didn’t even know his name.

She asked for it as he stood in the center of his deck smoking again, the last of the bourbon on his table, watered down from the ice.

“Gary,” he said. He walked over to the rail of his deck again, and Angela told him her name as they shook.

“You know, I’m thinking of taking a walk on the beach,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get to sleep.”

“Atta girl,” Gary said. “Glad I’m not the only insomniac around here.”

“I was wondering,” she continued, tentatively, “if you might like to come.”

She could tell even in the dark that he was studying her closely, trying to get a handle on her motives. They were innocent, Angela was telling herself, but of course Gary had no way of knowing. She was trying to get a sense of him; she wondered if he had ever had an affair.

He blew out a curling eddy of smoke.

“It’s all right,” he said. “I think I’m going to try to turn in before long. You go on ahead.”

And then she was left standing there, glass still in hand, deciding whether—without him—she really wanted to go for a walk at all. She turned briefly and surveyed the deck: broken shells littering the glass-top table, a mishmash line of flip-flops by the sliding door, towels hung over chairs blowing in the breeze. She smiled again at Gary, who seemed already to have forgotten she was there. She put down the glass empty of sunrise and began to walk down the wood-plank stairs.

Emily Holland is a writer and arts nonprofit professional living in Frederick, Maryland (come visit, it’s great!). She is a 2014 graduate of the University of Chicago, and has been published twice previously in Atticus Review and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Her future writing winnings are earmarked for gabardine dresses from the 1940s. If you set up another coffee shop in her hometown, she will personally ensure that your business stays open.

Dotted Line