June 3, 2024 Flash Fiction

Walking the Gulf Stream

Walking the Gulf Stream Artwork by DALL·E

I like to walk fast and imagine minutes falling away on the other side of whatever journey is unfolding. I might not always know where I’m going, but I’m going to get there fast. It’s fun to push my legs like this - faster, faster, further. I like the shape of my hamstrings when they’ve been trained in this way. I like the non-shape of my inner thighs. I never wanted to hurt anyone.

We took a trip to Barcelona in November. Have you ever been to Barcelona in November? The streets are crowded with faces you will never know. In the Gothic Quarter, a cathedral clock chimes loudly every fifteen minutes. At 2:45 in the morning, between the notes of its song, it says: you cannot find rest, and you never will. I don’t sleep well in Europe. Try again, my boyfriend says, without sounding like an asshole. I’m jet-lagged when I cross the world in this direction. I’m an insomniac to start. The wind pulls me west, all the way to the Santa Anas. I punch back east, then lay awake through endless twilights made by my own folly.

All the overground trains in London were out for the bank weekend, so I walked the city end to end. Like I said, I was sick and crazy. Did I say that? Sometimes it feels untrue. In other moments, it’s all I know. I walked the city end to end, and it took all day, even in my style (faster, faster, further). I did the same in Paris, crossing back and forth across the Seine. I liked the look of each bridge until my feet hit them one by one. Then they no longer held my interest. I got lost in the Marais, mislaying my trail amid pigeons and museums and big European chain stores. I asked for a decaf coffee at a cafe by the Eiffel Tower. When the mustachioed waiter replied they were all out, I ordered a glass of champagne instead, and let the carbonation bubble up into my head. Sometimes the confusion brings about a kind of clarity.

In Athens six years ago, I walked the city with my family, in and out of the ancient agora, everything crumbling around us. My mother was cross with me over the sliver of stomach that had crept out below my cropped shirt, floating above my pants. Showing your midriff in a foreign country? she said, and asked me to fold my arms in front of it. She sometimes used words like “trashy” or “skanky.” Both adjectives came to mind from the way she looked at me. Stray cats were everywhere. At sunset, we reached a hilly part of the city, where a teenage boy selling roses tried to give one to my sister. My father intercepted it, causing her to cry of embarrassment until dinner. Or maybe she wept right through it.

We traveled to a small Greek island later that week, nearly in Turkey. Have you ever swam in the Aegean Sea in late May? The water will be warm and light blue, and you will find a great happiness, one that you can see slipping through your fingers, one that you will not be able to locate again for a very long time. On the Agia Anna beach, you may walk until you find the nude section. So many tanned limbs, the balmy air on exposed backs and abdomens. But I’ll let you in on a secret. There’s nothing much to see there. Sanctioned nudity removes all eroticism from the body. Here I felt that my youth was caressed in the least sexual way of all. A fact without subjectivity. At nineteen, I had seen my sex reflected back at me constantly for years. As the warm blue waves slapped our bare calves, we were all, for once, anonymous.