If Cousin Ray thinks I’m a child because I like rubber ducks, then why did he fight with me? It’s July fourth and Mamma brought him with us to Sandy Shores, a hotel on the beach in Corpus Christi. The sand is right on the back patio, and from there you can see the beach. Huge waves splash where people wade and plop and ride tiny boards. Closer up, other people are laid out on towels, some beneath umbrellas. There’s girls in bright bikinis. I try not to let Mamma catch me looking, but Cousin Ray, he goes right up to a girl. She has braces, long, curly hair, and they’re headed to dive off the pier, where people take pictures and fish.
If they know a child’s gonna be in the room, the hotel puts a rubber duck in the bathtub. It’s yellow and squeaky and floats anywhere—in the pool and ocean and, of course, in the tub. Earlier, Cousin Ray called me a baby for wanting the duck, yet he didn’t say no when Mamma offered to call down and have them bring up another one. I take mine out into the water, make it dive, watch it surface and float, until it’s night, time to go in. Ray’s coming back, and the girl’s with him, some of her friends too. Two boys and another girl. Ray’s the only one with a towel not wrapped around him. His shirt’s slung over his shoulders.
I walk up to Ray. I say, “Hey, here’s your duck.”
His eyes dart out towards the water, his mouth opens like there’s a shark out there.
I say, “Hey, didn’t you want this duck?”
The girl touches her mouth. “Aw, your little brother’s sweet.”
“I’m not his brother,” I say. “I’m his cousin. He was mad that there wasn’t a duck for him in the hotel, so I’m giving him my duck.”
While Cousin Ray’s new friends are laughing, he takes the duck and throws it out into the water so far it disappears. Then he knocks me down, and Mamma runs over and slaps his behind and says it’s time to go in. We’re quiet in the elevator—everyone’s got their arms crossed—and before Mamma goes to her room, next door to ours, she tells us to order room service. In our room, while I’m flipping through the menu, the other duck squeaks against my head.
“I was gonna give it to my girl back home,” he said. “But you can have it.”
I run out to the balcony, toss it over. Someone yells, “Watch it, fucknut!”
That makes us laugh and for the rest of the night, we say fucknut. We call our grilled cheese sandwiches fucknuts and our Pay-Per-View movie fucknuts, and even when we go to the beach to watch firecrackers, we say fucknuts, our voices buried beneath the snaps and crackles.
Everything is a fucknut, the coolers, the shirtless men drinking from them, the camping chairs, and especially the girl from earlier who comes and takes Ray’s hand, leading him away, leaving me alone, lost and screaming for Mamma beneath bright splinters of every color, falling from the sky.
Bernard Grant lives in Washington State. He is an MFA candidate at the Rainier Writing Workshop, and his work has been published in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Barely South Review, Blue Lyra Review, and elsewhere.