Slansky
Paradise Lost
by R. H. Slansky

i

We’re not the sort of girls
that slather themselves in baby oil
and bake on the sand for their tans.
In our sporty one-piece swimsuits
we wade into the chilly brine,
seeking the place where sun makes church glass
of the green cobra curving above us,
then turning to brace and feel it break
upon our backs, lifting us off our feet and carrying us
toward shore to run, laughing, back for more.

Again and again, and when
I plant in the sand too close to Lisa,
her joyful out-flung arm connects, too solid,
with my face. The sea does not
stop surging for me as the sting
in my nose brings tears,
and precious moments pass
before I realize it isn’t the spray
on the lenses of my glasses
that obscures my vision,
but the absence of them at all.

I look down.
All I can see
Is a vague and roiling blur
of white and tan
streaming around my knees.

Whatever has been holding me buoyant
capsizes. A sour shock in my ribcage
flips me from fizzy to futile and foolish.
One day, I will recognize
this familiar feeling is not sadness,
but the collapsed paper lantern of anger
flaring fast from fire to ash,
then taking to the wind.

Lisa, her attention split by saying
sorry, sorry, so sorry, to me
puts her 20/20 vision to work. The lantern coals
smolder when my father tells me,
don’t just stand there, look! But
how can I, if I can’t see?

I know why Dad’s patience is short.
Insurance covers one pair every two years.
Glasses lost are money thrown away.

Tomorrow is the first day of summer camp
and I will walk blind into paradise.

ii

Two days into my camp stay
and I am going cross-eyed
from the miss-matched prescription
of an old pair of Mom’s glasses.

Glasses off now, I play mermaids with Lisa,
finding her by the sound of her voice
and the colors of her fuzzy shape
in the cold water of the crowded pool
at the edge of the meadow
where the solar heating panels
only see sun at high noon.

I come up for air to the sound
of my name. Outside
the chain-link fence that surrounds
the pool are two anomalous blurs,
one tall, one short.
From the sun glinting off
the copper cloud of her hair,
I know them both at once.

Here are my parents.
They have done the impossible,
the unaffordable— rushed
a new pair of glasses into existence, made
the drive that seemed
so endless by school bus— all
to restore my sight in time
to enjoy the rest of the week
unburdened with the headaches
inflicted by Mom’s old loaner pair.
They know how much this place means
to me, they bear the gift of the restoration
of the time that still remains.

Here they are.
So excited to surprise me
in the only place that is only mine,
not knowing that the sight of them
would set that lantern aflame again
and send me back below the water
to disappear them, or me.

PHOTO: At left, the author at Cannon Beach, Oregon, with a new pair of glasses secured by a cord. Also pictured is the girl that unintentionally sent her squinting to summer camp. Though the two are still close today, distance, time zones, and lack of photo ops make it difficult for them to continue to coordinate their outfits.

Slansky_2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: R. H. Slansky, a six-time 3-Day Novel Contest entrant, two-time short-lister, and 2013 winner, has been featured in the Silver Birch Press ME, IN FICTION SAME NAME, and MY MANE MEMORIES, and LEARNING TO RIDE Series, Geist literary magazine, theotherpress.ca, and the Literary Press Group of Canada’s website All Lit Up. Vancouver-based Anvil Press released her novella, Moss-Haired Girl, the Confessions of a Circus Performer in 2015. Raised in Oregon, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.