The Girls at the Kaiulani Resort
Lori Sambol Brody
The girls at the resort prefer to watch the sea. At night, in shorts and halter tops, they walk the pathway at the cliff’s edge. They post photos on Snapchat. They wind past the tranquil pool, the garden labeled and planted with unfamiliar native plants. Below, dark waves crash against volcanic rocks, rocks that were once liquid and ran hot into the ocean. Lights from boats glimmer in the waves. At least the girls at the resort believe they are boats. The lifeguard at the resort’s pool knows better. They are will-o’-the-wisps, spook lights, luring girls into the deep water.
The girls at the resort order liliquoi smoothies from the poolside bar. One of the girls sips the thick liquid, says I’m gonna name my daughter Liliquoi. The girl who leads the pack rolls her eyes. Liliquoi is passion fruit. You wanna name your kid Passion? The girls look at their feet, in Locals or barefooted with chipped pink polish. They imagine the sweet tartness of liliquoi reflects the sweetness of passion. So sweet their teeth hurt. They blush with ignorance, with yearning.
After sunset, the girls at the resort sneak into a cabana, pull the curtains closed against the darkness. The cabana is a ship roiling on a secret sea, a Bedouin’s tent in a desert of red dunes, a yurt on the edge of endless steppes. One girl pretends she knows everything and teaches the girls how to kiss. They practice on the backs of their hands, openmouthed, sucking, tongues licking skin salted by the sea. In the onshore breeze, the cabana’s curtains furl like a sail. Their lovers are outside, hands outstretched to pull back billowing fabric. The girls at the resort never get to the part of the story where the lovers draw back the curtains and reveal their faces.
The girls at the resort lay out in the harsh sun on the hotel’s dun-striped beach towels. Their bathing suits are the colors of exotic flowers: plumeria, gardenia, hibiscus. Sunglasses shield their eyes. They spy through dark lenses. The lifeguard’s chiseled cheekbones, so sharp the skin will cut their tongues. A young father’s tattoos of damselflies and grape vines cover his arm, a muscled chest; when he flexes, the vines grow, entangle the delicate insect wings, encase his torso in a vined jungle, a jungle so wild the girls would have to machete the foliage to cut an escape.
The girls at the resort watch their little sisters become mermaids in the shallow end of the pool. The sisters in ruffled bikini tops over flat chests, their stomachs rounded with baby fat. Their smooth tails with no hint of genitals slap on calm water. They are mermaids like Ariel, mermaids without voices, mermaids who want to please. The girls at the resort want to be sharp-toothed mermaids luring sailors to their death.
The girls at the resort say hi to the lifeguard. But they giggle when the lifeguard says hi back. The bold girls ask about the Polynesian tattoos circling his biceps, the black discs in his earlobes. The quiet girls imagine their lips on the bold black designs, his hand on their thighs. The lifeguard has seen many groups of girls at the resort come together, run in packs, then disperse into rented cars and taxis to the airport. He knows not to get cocky at the attention.
At night, the girls at the resort snorkel with giant manta rays. In rough waves, they grip a circular raft with a light beaming in the center to attract plankton, the ray’s food. It’s a lure. They already know the importance of a lure: a coy smile, a meeting of a boy’s eyes, a finger touching lips. Their feet in awkward flippers, lips puckered around the mouthpiece of a snorkel. When they look down, their feet are shadows against the light; the current threatens to carry them away. The manta rays swoop below them. Their fins are great wings. Fleshy. Like labia. The girls’ breath steams up their masks.
The lifeguard knows that sometimes girls come to the resort to drown. To follow the bright lights. To become something else. Their arms and legs fusing into great wings, body flattening, hair shedding to the ocean floor like kelp. Their ears and noses turn into gills. They are all strength, are great butterflies of flesh.
The lifeguard does not issue warnings.
The girls at the resort hang onto the raft, the manta rays darting in and out of the column of light. Decades later, the girls will remember this, after they have lost touch with each other on Snapchat, when hard-drive crashes destroy vacation photos, when they pause at their computers or make love with their spouses or yell at their daughters: the manta rays below, their white-knuckled grip on the raft’s edge. How they fought not to be swept away, not get lost in the sea below and beyond.
How much they wanted to let go.
Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, The Rumpus, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and chosen for the Longform fiction pick-of-the-week. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody, and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com