Riviera Gothic

The fake palms shuddered in the breeze that rolled hotly through the dead end avenue, carrying on it the heavy salt musk of the Gulf and the Sound which buffeted it on either side.

That there girl, one of the squatting men, Old Willy, was saying. Summa oughta look out for her.

The morning was humid and already very hot. Sweat ran down the bare white-tufted chests of the men who lurked by the stone veranda, watching the dark haired teenage girl walk slowly down the middle of the street. Her skin, where it showed, was a persistent icy pale under the white sun. A vampiric glow lingered in the hollow of her slightly caved cheek. She smoked a cigarette which she held loosely between her ring and middle fingers. She could not have been more than 14.

night at ftwalton

The conference of squatting men did not entirely react to the man who had spoken. It was Wednesday morning and they were at their Wednesday morning post, which was just the same as their post on Thursday through Tuesday mornings. From the veranda in the courtyard of the apartment complex they could look out on the goings-on of the avenue, the condos with paint curdling in the acidic sun, the one-story hotel which with twilight would start to blink “N v c ncy,” the blonde coeds sunbathing by the door step, too lazy to walk the hundred feet to the sea. It was a scene forever in flux, snowbirds and spring breakers and the island’s itinerant natives switching places and postures with each setting sun, and yet nothing, in any important way, seemed to vary from each morning to the next. It was a consistency, a familiarity, which held them in near-stasis, paralyzed by sunshine and vaguely feeling forever as if they were waning away from some long-past idyll.

Still cain’t hardly believe she ain’t got no fambly outside Latimer, said Wind to the Gulf, scratching his armpit and swigging deeply from his beer.

That’s what I been saying, said Old Willy. Can you even imagine if your one and only hope on this earth was Latimer?

It was not the correct audience for this kind of talk but Old Willy knew not or cared not the types of ear upon which his words had fallen. It was a checkered audience, these men of the Gulf, all half dozen of whom resided in the apartments on the street, all but one of whom had not officially been employed within the past decade. The working man, a short and demanding character known as Napoloeon, was the apartment maintenance supervisor and had earned himself (and his cronies) lodgings there for his five hours a week replacing curtains and blinds.

Well she ain’t our fambly, said Wind to the Gulf.

A young filthy-looking man wearing a trucker’s cap, torn jeans, and a sleeveless plaid top had come out to the middle of the street to meet the girl. The girl continued her impossibly slow walk until they came within arm’s reach. Her eyes maintained a casual and perfectly disinterested focus on a spot between two nodes of wispy cirrus cloud bobbing somewhere out over the Gulf of Mexico, and she offered the shabby character a matching expressionless glance. He handed her four packs of cigarettes and a plastic baggie of marijuana and she handed him a folded wad of bills and then turned carelessly to walk away, as unconcerned as if she had bought a candy bar.

Where the hell is that sumbitch anyway? Old Willy persisted, when silence continued to greet him.

Old Willy was something of an anomaly in the group. Processes of movement and deliberation were the exception here; their true past-time, to a man, was to sit in the Florida sun and burn. Old Willy, however, spent his days canvassing the island for trash, holding his whiskey on the rocks in one hand and a cane with a trash- grabbing claw on the end of it in the other.

Peddlin bath salts last I heard, Napoleon grunted. Been months though. Mighta done run up with the wrong group ‘a folk.

The girl passed by close in front of them now, her cigarettes and marijuana in her purse, her lit cigarette seeming to float between her fingers. When she raised the cigarette to her mouth she did so like a practiced professional, with tremendous slackness, letting the smoke out not with a breath but merely by parting her lips, her icy pale forehead the stern which cleaved the swell. To the discerning eye she had remarkable features, though it was not immediately apparent; like a broken icicle at first glance may be just a cracked shape of frozen water but which becomes, upon closer inspection, a thing of impossibly detailed magnificence. And like an icicle there was that quality of ultimate delicateness, as though the awning on which she was frozen could loosen with the slightest provocation or applied heat and she would crash to the ground, shattering.

You don’t come from no kind of fambly if you’re related to Latimer, Wifetub put in pointedly, and her glasses rode the grease down her nose as she bore her eyes into the girl.

Say hey! Wind to the Gulf waved to the girl. What did the wind say to the Gulf?

The girl puffed and was silent, was still.

D’ya know? he pressed. Ha! Bet ya don’t. Crazy little goth girl like you. Old Latimer probably don’t know all that many belly-busters now do he? Anyway the wind said, check out this Sound! Get it, cause Santa Rosa Sound flows into the Gulf of Mexico…

The girl floated away. Wifetub was crocheting, and Napoleon was digging about the cooler for a beer. Only Old Willy threw him a sidelong glance, tinged with what was undoubtedly dissaproval, but which Wind to the Gulf would never see. He always sat at the front of the veranda and was too lazy to turn around.

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