I Touched a Dead Jellyfish

I’m not a rebel at heart—
I found it difficult to
swallow that salty air while glancing
around at all those people.

Revolutionaries, but somewhere back home they
all had books with their names printed on the
inside. They were careful enough to
use permanent marker, for goodness sake.

The girls hurled bikini bottoms over the
railing of their condo balconies and
men with crisped skin caught them
in tight fists, yelling, spitting, swearing.

Where was all that in Indiana?

The beaches were littered with glass, bottle caps,
cereal bar wrappers, broken umbrellas.
Dead jellyfish washed up on the shore.
They can still shock, even after death.

I waded into water so cold my
breath caught in my trachea,
a mouse drawn to a trap.
I never would have swum in water
that cold back home, but there’s
something about Panama City
that makes it alright to shiver, azure skin.

I pulled on the warmest pair of jeans I owned
in preparation for the long walk every night.
The strip went on for miles
and miles. Looking down the road
was like welcoming Christmas,
although the lights never faded.

I handed fourteen people a
pink Bible. One threw it down,
but he didn’t trample it.
His name was Sean.
Mike blew pot smoke into my face.
It tasted bitter, smelled sweet,
a disintegrating chocolate morsel.
Todd told me about his hunting
expeditions. We had that in common, you know.
My father shot a ten-point last season.
It hung in our garage for days,
fluids pooling like water to a shower
drain. Todd liked that. He had braces.
They hung on his teeth like a child dangling
from a tree branch.

He was a rebel at heart, much like my father.

I saw a gas station filled to the brim with
people buying soda drinks.
I saw three aisles full of liquor at a
convenience store.
Some of the bottles were blue, frozen.
I saw a woman vomit red slush onto the
floor of a van that didn’t belong to her.
I saw a man with scarred slices on his
forearms up to his elbows.
I saw three policemen stand guard
in a waffle house, hands poised on
their muddied holsters.
I saw my socks fill with water as I stood
by the ocean; the tide lapped at my
toes and the salt shriveled my skin.
I saw a red Miata swerve to miss
me in a parking lot filled with aluminum cans.
I saw a lone woman accept money
for sex outside a surf shop at midnight—
her eyes were fire engine red.
I saw a man with a Jesus tattoo
punch another man in the throat.
He bled from his lips and spat a tooth in the dirt.
I saw a longboard in a shop window,
the wheels twice the size of those
on a standard skateboard, my goofy stance.
I saw a candle shimmer in someone’s
apartment window—butter cream.

I talked three of my friends into walking
to the tattoo shop across the street from
our condo; there were swimming koi on the sign.
Orange and white, orange and white.

I looked both ways before crossing
and carefully read the credentials
scattered on the walls of the shop.

As soon as that man slid that hoop in my
nose, I felt the blood, hot as a cinnamon
stick, pour in droplets onto my sweatshirt pocket.
I always wanted that cinnamon stick
feeling, that Mountain Dew flowing
through my sugary veins.

I didn’t need a bronzed man to catch
my bikini bottoms at midnight.
My red-encrusted hoop on display…

To those girls on the balconies,
men sprinting on the streets,
pot smokers at the campground,
petrified shells in the sand,
reggae band playing at the night club…

It was like touching one of the dead
jellyfish on the beach, the jolt of a lifetime.

Kristin LaFollette has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature with a minor in creative writing and a Master of Arts degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. She enjoys writing poetry, flash fiction, and works of narrative collage. Kristin currently teaches English composition at Indiana University South Bend and lives in Mishawaka, Indiana, with her husband, Justin.

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