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Triggers

April 3, 2017

Steam shot out of the black kettle along with a high-pitched squeal that echoed throughout the apartment. I saw the steam hitting the eggshell-white wall behind the stove and condense into droplets, then build, until they gathered and ran down in streaks. I stood there, my palm gripping the handle of the teakettle, my hip leaning against the counter. A French press with coffee grounds at the base lay ready in front. The scent of it leaked through the air amid the cigarette smoke and the smell of rain blowing in from the opened window. The squeal of the kettle cut through the air along with the steam it blew. It pierced my ears. It was the only noise in the world.

“Tabby!”

The sound of my name made me flinch like I heard a gunshot. Suddenly I took the kettle off the stove and held it in midair, while my fingers searched for the right knob to turn the fire out. “Dude, what?” I said over my shoulder.

“You were just standing there, and the sound was annoying. Were you thinking of something?”

I was, in fact, not thinking of anything at all; I was lost in space like time froze in my brain. “Yeah, of random stuff,” I lied.

Eve sat back down onto the old sofa with a green and peach floral print and continued channel surfing. She put the cigarette she held between her fingers in the corner of her mouth. She absentmindedly inhaled, puffed, then inhaled again. I then turned back to the stove; I reached back to the kettle, flicked off the nozzle with the end of my thumb, and poured the hot water into the glass pitcher of the press. I had just enough water. Brown foam bubbled at the top with the coffee grounds, and they were soon hidden as I fixed the lid onto the top.

“How long’s the coffee gonna take?” Eve called over.

I leaned back onto the counter with my elbow propped next to the press so I could face her. “A few more minutes.”

Eve’s a full-bodied, lean girl, with a happy face and I’ve known her since elementary school. She has blue eyes and long blonde hair that bounced when she walked. If she were a color, she’d probably be a light blue, like early morning skies. When she stopped growing in the ninth grade at the height of 5’5, she looked at my 5’9 and complained about her jealousy in my height. It’s probably the only time she’s ever been jealous of me. I’ve grown an inch since then.

After a while, I pushed the mesh strainer through the pitcher and carried the black coffee, two mugs, and a bottle of hazelnut creamer to the coffee table in the middle of the living room. They clattered against the glass, and I tried to ease them down softly. I poured some into one green mug, watching the thin stream of black with a brown highlight and hearing it trickle against the ceramic. Then I grabbed the blue one, poured coffee until there was about an inch of room at the top, and filled it the rest of the way with creamer. I studied the swirl of cream move in the coffee, watched it curl into a uniform color until Eve reached over and grasped the mug.

“Thanks!” She said cheerfully without looking away from the TV. She hovered over a rerun of Gossip Girl for a few minutes before flipping through more channels, until she settled for the seventh movie of Harry Potter playing on ABC family. She took the cigarette from her mouth and crushed it against the ashtray on the table beside the couch.

“I haven’t read Harry Potter in the longest time,” Eve said absentmindedly. “I remember when this book came out,” she nodded her head toward the screen.

Suddenly the summer of 2007 shot into mind: Maine, light humidity, and unkempt grass. An old TV. A disgruntled godmother. My brother lounging on an old couch, the seventh book in hand, with a blank expression as his eyes darted back and forth. That was the same couch our godmother’s husband died in, and both my brothers convinced me that the house was haunted by his ghost because we kept sitting on that couch. It made me too scared to close my eyes at night or stick my feet out from under the blanket. My mom yelled at me for sitting on the floor instead of the couch. “I remember that too,” I responded. “I was in Maine then.”

The movie rolled on. Eventually, we both finished our coffees and I picked up the mugs to set them in the sink. “I have absolutely nothing to do today,” I stated.

“Neither do I.” A moment passed. “Let’s go to the beach.”

I was silent.

“I’m serious,” she responded as if my silence were words.

“Like, now?”

“Yeah. Yeah! I’m actually really feeling this now that I said it. Let’s go to the beach!”

“No, wait—dude—we can’t just go to the beach all of a sudden—”

“Um, yeah, we can. We’re adults, we have a car, we could do what we want, even if that means we drive for four hours just to have a few moments on the beach on a rainy day. I’ll ask Jonah if he’s willing to go, and maybe he could bring someone else too. Come on, let’s get ready so we can get there sooner.”

She was already on her feet, tugging at my forearm toward the direction of the hallway. “Alright, I got it, I’ll get ready.”

“Yaay. You don’t have to swim if you don’t want to, either.”

“I’ll bring a bathing suit.”

“Thank you!”
I was in my closed room, hunched over my beach bag on my bed. I stuffed its pockets as organized as I can with sunscreen, aloe, money, old towels, and cheap blankets; in my mind, I stuffed its corners and pockets with an answer to the question of “why do I need to pack this much for a small moment at the beach”. Then I heard the creak of the apartment door open and a shuffle of footsteps. “Hey, guys, we’re here!” I heard Jonah, Eve’s boyfriend, call through the walls.

“Hey, Jonah!” I heard Eve’s door open, her feet hurry past my closed door, and then I heard nothing. It was weird just hearing things and seeing nothing besides my white walls, so I put my stuff down, opened my door, and walked out into the hallway.

“Hey, Tabitha, what’s up?” He called from behind Eve.

“Hey man. Nothing much. Just getting ready for an unexpected beach trip. What’s up with you?”

“The same.”

Jonah’s tall, dark haired, square-faced, and is always wearing shorts, even in the winter. I openly judge him for that. He and Eve have been dating since sophomore year of high school, and they’ve always been inseparable. They mimic each other in attitude, spontaneity, and areas of sophistication. But where she often wears blue, he’d wear red. I’ve noticed that a lot. But I would consider him to be the exact same shade of blue that I think Eve is.

Someone peeked out from under the darkness of the doorway and from behind the mass of the inseparable couple.

“Hey, there’s a stranger here,” I stated.

“Oh yeah, hey, this is Noah. He’s my pot dealer.”

“Of course he is.”

“Dude, I do not deal you pot,” Noah said from behind Jonah. I couldn’t see him, other than the top his scruffy brown hair. “Hey,” and he stood on his toes to look over Jonah’s hulking shoulder. “We hang out sometimes. Usually after german class.” He’s tan, has a square forehead, and almond-shaped eyes. That’s about all I could see of him.

I looked back at Jonah. “You take german? Weird.”

“Hey, I take german too,” Noah said defensively. “Jonah, can you get out of my way?”

Jonah, and Eve, still in Jonah’s embrace, walked forward to allow Noah inside. He was lean and wore a white t-shirt and khaki shorts.

“Can we, like, leave now?” I asked passively.

“What?” Jonah groaned. “But we just got here. Can’t we sit or something?”

“You’re going to be sitting for the next four hours straight,” Eve reminded him.

“Yeah, let’s just get ready to go now, so we could get there sooner,” Noah concluded. Then he looked at me and asked, “do you need any help?”

“Eh, nah, I’m fine.” I waved my hand like I was brushing the sentence away from me in mid air. He was clearly just trying to be nice, which I was okay with.

“Let’s just hurry up,” Eve said, “Because I want to get there before sunset.”

I imagined what the sunset would look like over the horizon of the ocean until I remembered that we’re on the east coast.
Soft rain dropped against the windshield like pins and streaked against the windows diagonally, making the inside of the air-conditioned car tranquil, filled with gentle yawns and relaxed thoughts, in comparison to the chaotic weather we’re shielded against. The green trees lined against the lumpy gray sky looked warped through the watery windows, and it separated us further from the outside. I took my shoes off and reclined against my chair. I huddled underneath a blanket, tucking my knees under my chin and my feet onto the seat. We played soft music along with the sound of the rain. Jonah and Eve were talking about the next directions to take but then drifted back into a settled silence. Noah was on the other side of me, slumped in the seat, his eyes drifting off.

“Hey. Noah,” I said, bored.

“Hmm, what?” His voice sounded groggy.

“Why’re you taking a day trip to the beach with two people you don’t know, and one you’ve only hung out with a few times? I’m just wondering.”

“Hmm? I kind of just felt like it. Refusing a beach trip is no way to live.”

I nodded. “Cool. I don’t think like that enough.”

He hummed in agreement. “Your name’s Tabby, right?” He asked.

“Just call me Tabitha. I don’t like Tabby. Eve’s just calls me that because it annoyed me when we were younger, and it sort of stuck.”

“That’s kind of an old person’s name.”

“Well, I was named after an old person.”

“I mean, it’s a cool name.”

“You can’t take it back, you already said it’s for old people,” I said with a smile.

“I mean,” he began, a small smile spreading over his face as well, “I’m named after a guy who rode a boat for forty days and got drunk a lot.”

“You could say that about all our names. Eve walked around naked and talking to snakes, and Jonah was swallowed by a whale.”

Eve mumbled something about not doing drugs, and Jonah looked back at me, confused. “I’ve never been with a fat girl,” he said.

“Not what I meant, but okay.” I sighed. “Could I play some music?”

Eve didn’t answer back right away, but then said, “Hmm? Go ahead. Jonah, could you hand her the aux cord?”

He took her phone from the cup holder beside him, unplugged the white cord from its end, and reached over to hand me the small bit. It didn’t reach very far, so after I started playing a song, I set my phone down in a cup holder adjacent to the front seats.

Half of what I say is meaningless;

But I say it just to reach you,

“What song’s this?” Eve asked. She’s always been polite and asked about the songs I play.

“Julia, by the Beatles,” I said.

“I could’ve guessed, probably.”

“John Lennon wrote it for his mom.”

“Nice. It’s really calm, like a lullaby. I can see it being a mom’s song.”

Seashell eyes,

Windy smile,

Calls me,

“I need to learn the guitar,” Jonah said, not looking up from the GPS on his phone. “If I learn the guitar, I could become a rockstar and afford anything.”

Suddenly I pictured my oldest brother, back when I lived in the house, hunched over his bass guitar for years on end, almost unmoving, his fingers soon gliding over the metallic strings almost effortlessly and vibrating them at a pulse. I remember feeling the individual strums from the basement crawl up the walls, into my room. It prevented me from thinking of anything. It disturbed my thoughts so profoundly, it was like each deep resonating note shook not only the walls of my house but of my mind too and I couldn’t think ever and it would go on for hours on end and he never moved from that spot, not for years.

“Really? I thought you might just want to play music,” Eve said.

“Oh, yeah, I could do that too,” Jonah replied.

Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering

In the sun,

“I want to learn the drums,” Noah, said. He yawned, “they look awesome.”

I pulled out a book and held it close to the light of the window. “Do you guys think it’ll ever stop raining?” I said. Now I don’t want to think.

Morning moon,

“It’s supposed to let up by four,” Jonah responded, looking at the weather on his phone. “And at Bethany Beach, there’s no rain, to begin with. It’s still cloudy there, though, but I think we’ll live.”

Eve flicked the turning signal on and pulled the car over in through an exit. “There’s a Dunkin Donuts; anybody else up for food?”

“Huh?” Jonah muttered, just looking up and noticing his environment. He gasped. “Nooo, don’t take a detour, I just memorized our route perfectly, noo.”

“I wanna try their ice cream iced coffee,” I whined.

“Who cares about that,” Jonah complained. “What about my memorization of the routes…”

“I’m up for some ice cream ice coffee,” Noah said.

“But the routes….”

And we stopped by a Dunkin Donuts and Eve pulled out a cigarette from a smashed carton held in her back pocket.

“Jeez,” Jonah complained, “When’re you gonna stop smoking?”

“Not today, unfortunately,” Eve said, frowning at the stick between her fingers. “I’ll stop soon enough. Going outside a bunch of times a day just to stand by myself for a few minutes, and looking forward to it, is really annoying. Plus the smell bothers people.”

“Doesn’t bother me,” I said. It actually comforted me a little. We started walking toward Dunkin Donuts through the rain and walked inside as a group as soon as Eve snuffed out the end of her half-finished cigarette. The iced coffees condensed on the chilled plastic cups and left a ring of water when we set them down onto the table we sat at. We huddled around at the booth, unwilling to step back out in the rain, the poking pins—so we sat there, laughing at each other and telling bad jokes and drinking overly sweet iced coffees under fluorescent lights in a nearly empty Dunkin Donuts. But soon enough, someone took the first step outside, and everyone else followed. The rain was lighter than it looked anyway; it barely touched me on the way back to the car.

“Okay—now we’re driving straight through to the beach,” Jonah commanded.

“But what if we have to pee?” Noah asked.

“Pee out the window.”

No one’s peeing out the window,” Eve said, “but we are going straight to the beach now. No more stops.”

Everyone agreed. It was already four o’clock, and we still had another hour or so of driving.
“We made it!” Noah shouted. “We actually made it! We’re here! I can’t actually believe it!”

We stood on the sandy pavement of the parking lot at six forty-five p.m., with the sun threatening its last bow in the direction of the horizon behind us. Shades of pink and orange colored the now scattering clouds over the land, leaving the long stretch of water reflecting a dark blue of oncoming night. We saw it as soon as we walked over a few steps and through an aisle between light foliage to the long stretch of beach, empty as if it were waiting for our company.

“Jesus Noah, “Jonah laughed, “why you got to sound so doubtful of us?”

“We got lost three times, and I honestly thought we were gonna turn back. But we didn’t! And look!” He pointed towards a pile of long ribbons of dark green. “Seaweed.”

Jonah laughed, “yo, let’s go play with seaweed!” Then he ran, leaving Eve’s side, to join Noah as they pranced towards the giant pile of seaweed.

“This is the most animated I’ve seen Noah all day,” I murmured to a slightly stunned Eve, who just lost her boyfriend to seaweed. Noah’s eyes were wide and his movements stirred with an air of exhilaration. Suddenly his words were louder and more spontaneous, and whatever wall he’d built in front of us, as strangers, was slowly being torn down and falling along with the coming of events. As he joked around boyishly with Jonah while playing around like a kid, I saw the evoked thoughts that shot out before his eyes with the sight, touch or maybe smell of his triggered memory. I honestly don’t care whatsoever about seaweed, but something he knew previously or something that happened to him with it brought about this sudden animation, and it tore through those walls like guns.

I walked up to the two of them—suddenly, Noah threw sandy seaweed into my hair. My hands shot up in front of me and I cringed away. “Hey!” I shouted.

“Haha, sorry, “ he said. He sounded apologetic enough, so I forgave him.

“Hey,” I began, “why’d you like seaweed that much?”

“Huh? Uh, I donno, I used to live in Virginia Beach when I was younger, and I and my older brother and sister would come to the beach a lot, because, it was like, twenty minutes away. So we’d go there a lot, and we’d have this one little spot we’d come to every time, and the way we’d always know it was the same spot was because we one time tried to collect as much seaweed as possible, and pile them up into this one spot; we collected so much, like the pile was huge—maybe ten feet wide—that it was still there a month later. So every time we’d go, we’d collect as much seaweed as we can, just to maintain that spot. And we’d always mess around with the seaweed too because it’s awesome. There was, like, no reason to actually keep the spot—the spot kind of sucked a little, because there were a lot of rocks and seagulls would come all the time. But we’d do that anyway, up till some stuff happened and we couldn’t go anymore. So yeah. Seaweed’s tight,” he ended lamely. He then looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back, and I wondered what would’ve prevented him from going to the beach suddenly, but decided not to ask it.

I listened to the foaming waves like they were sighing into stillness after its gentle crash. They continued their joking, and I carried on a conversation with Eve about how stupid they are. But then the sound of the waves, and our isolation on the beach, and the gray light, and the exhausting car ride caused my energy to dwindle.

“I wanna sleep,” I announced. I really do want to sleep. the sound is so real. the crashing is loud and gentle at the same time. And the breeze is slightly cold after all the rain. I want to sleep. I want to lie down.

“Here,” Eve said She was carrying her bag, and mine, which I forgot in the car. “You have blankets, right?”

“Thanks, pal.” I took the bag from her and walked a little away from the playing group so not to bother them or be bothered by them. I took a thin, faded peach-colored blanket from the bag, and grabbed two ends of it and tossed it into the air. A gust of cool wind helped guide it back down to the ground, where it settled softly and formed to the lumps of the cool sand. I shook the sand off each foot before stepping onto the blanket, and I sat down cross-legged. I pulled another blanket from the bag and tossed it over myself, and I then spread my legs out from underneath it and drifted down onto the lumps under the blanket. I closed my eyes, and the sound of the waves, as well as the sounds of distant laughter, comforted me until I dozed off.
“Hey. Tabitha,” I vaguely heard.

“Hmm?” I didn’t open my eyes.

“D’you care if I sit by you?”

“Hmm? Yeah, sure,” I said groggily. I opened my eyes and saw a darkening sky, and and the silhouette of Noah crawling onto the blanket in the soft blue light.

I inhaled deeply and sat up. “How long have I been asleep?”

“About two hours.”

“Two hours?” I exclaimed. “Why didn’t anybody wake me up?”

“Well, I just did. Jonah and Eve just went off somewhere, and I kind of don’t want to follow them.”

“Well, I can understand you there.”

“Yeah. So I took a really long walk, just hanging out with myself, and I decided to double back after a while and here I am. I’m just surprised that you’re still sleeping.”

Suddenly I remembered an event of hanging out with my brother. His statuesque existence decided to become so in stillness, and a day when the strong vibrations stopped coming was a day he hung out and stayed in that spot for hours on end as I sat there and looked and didn’t move but did eventually unlike his unmoving self in more ways than one.

“Why’d you stop going to the beach when you were younger?” I asked. I was looking up at the darkening blue sky, which encompassed almost all my vision. The sky’s really big. I don’t look at it enough.

“Eh. Some stuff happened.”

“Do you mind me asking what stuff?”

“Nah. It’s just some people get bothered by it..” He shrugged. “My sister drowned,” he stated like it was a tired old excuse he’s said a million times.

“Oh.” I paused. A moment went by. “Sorry. I didn’t think it was something like that.”

“It’s okay, I don’t mind. It happened a while ago. I wasn’t really all that close to her anyway since she was seven years older than me. But yeah, it sucked.”

“Did the seaweed stuff trigger some memories of your only times with her or something?”

“Yeah. Those were some nice times. I mean, they’re nice to look back on. It didn’t feel all that special at the moment.”

“Yeah, I got you.” Another moment went by, and I asked, “d’you mind if I say something a little personal?”

“Go ahead.”

“A few years back, when I still lived with my parents, my brother hung himself in the basement. I was the one who found him.”

“Jesus,” he muttered. “That’s not….Jesus.”

“Yeah, it felt like that for a while. It wasn’t all that fun. sometimes I still feel like that; like something triggers those feelings I had, and I go back to those thoughts and feelings I had. So I could understand where you come from; sometimes the memories are nice, but sometimes, I’d rather not think them.”

“Yeah! They range, pretty much. They’re different.” He paused, listening to the sound of a large wave crashing into the shore, washing the earth, turning its stones into indistinguishable dust. “But they kind of still exist in that way. Just a feeling, or a word or something, could kind of invoke that impression they’ve left on the world.” He paused again. “I dunno. People just are that way, no matter how close to you. They pass through, and leave the biggest impressions on everything outside of yourself.”

The sky was getting darker. I couldn’t look away; it was so mesmerizing. I didn’t want to leave. And soon enough, I stayed unmoving in my mind, not thinking of anything, and just feeling the cool, running breeze of the summer night; hearing Noah breathing beside me, and the distant crashing of the waves. They were the only things in the world.

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