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Isla Vista

Story by Tayler Heuston (Read author interview) March 20, 2017

Art by Chanel Miller

You lived in a college town by the sea for two months: June and July. The whole place had a pulse. All day bass from pick-up trucks, bass in the pizza parlor at the edge of the neighborhood, bass from the boys living downstairs – one leased renter and four Irish squatters in town for the summer too. Silence was jarring.

The first week you were there, someone set fire to a couch at the end of your driveway. It happened all the time to abandoned furniture. You didn’t see the thing ablaze, you didn’t see the fire department put it out. But, when you went to check the mail, the smoldering wire frame was still hot. You lingered, waiting for someone to dare you to touch it.

There were rarely any letters for you. Sometimes you received bills and Women’s Health – a subscription the previous tenant forgot to cancel. Your ex-lover sent you a postcard from New York City. I’m enjoying myself here, hope you are too. The back was a collage of skyscrapers. The day it came, you regretted ever asking for it.

Twice a week, a ten-year-old girl walked from apartment to apartment, carrying a Styrofoam cooler filled with tamales. She caught you, one time, coming back from the beach. Your heels were tarred and you had sand in your shorts. You went up the wooden stairs to your front door together. You left the door open for her, but she stayed outside.

You said, “Do you need to use the restroom?”

She said no, then thank you.

When you were a girl, you and your little brother sold lemonade on the sidewalk in front of your two-story in Almaden Valley. You sold one or two cups a week. A teenage girl once stopped at your stand. She bought one cup for a dollar when the asking price was only a quarter. You mixed it fresh for her – water, a squeeze from a well-abused lemon wedge, and a half-cup of sugar. She thanked you and you thanked her. She drank the lemonade right there, without grimacing. She asked for another. You said on the house. It pleased you to say this. She paid you anyway. And the whole time, everyone pretended they couldn’t hear your mother and father inside the house going at it, again.

You asked the girl with her cooler of tamales how much.

“For one?” she said. “Two dollars.”

You bought ten.

That night, you sat on the floor of your apartment. The bass thrummed through the hardwood. It was like a heartbeat, it was like your heartbeat. You ate all of those tamales. You cried and coughed and blew your nose on the hem of your shirt. You went out to the patio, and threw up over the balcony. Ten tamales were too many.

From the balcony, you could see into the backyard. A boy and a girl were naked in your hot tub. He tweaked her nipple. She took him in her hand. Cans of rolling rock bobbed in the water around them.

Shooting stars were a dime a dozen in Isla Vista. They came in threes that night. You watched them fall. You didn’t make any wishes. Their light dissolved somewhere between space and sky and earth. You could not follow their trajectories, not the way a person can look up midday and still see the trail of exhaust from airplanes long after they’ve landed.

About the Author

Tayler Heuston, California-native and descendant of Mexican immigrants, holds an MFA from North Carolina State University. Her fiction has also appeared in Carve Magazine, At Length Magazine, Two Serious Ladies, and NANO Fiction. She lives in Raleigh, NC.

About the Artist

Chanel Miller is a former classmate of the author of Isla Vista and loves drawing, especially if it’s for friends. She lives and works in the Bay Area.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Five

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