Back in the cave my left foot falls asleep and a skeletal bottle blonde in short shorts tiptoes into the dark parts on the edges of her puffy white sneakers. She doesn’t look like she belongs in this weird cave filled with echoes, where everyone looks like they could own a crystal bookshop, or like they could be my mother. The stone is wet and dirty and I can feel it seeping through my shorts. I fidget with my notebook, longing to leave. I’m really only here so we can go swimming after — I’ve heard there are great swimming holes around here. Finally we leave and I call every man Jerry Garcia as I ask them where’s the nearest swimming hole. They all look like deadheads to me — fat and bushy and nice, like they would grill perfect hamburgers and hand them to me on a plate with just the right amount of ketchup, as “Sugar Magnolia” played out into the dark upstate night, rolling in the dark, music like crickets. We’re spread on the grass next to the GTO and people walk by staring at us, the bad kids in the grass. I ask all the Jerry Garcias where I can swim.
The Jerry Garcias don’t care about my legs, they don’t care about Kayla’s red lipstick or push-up bra, visible under her tight leopard top. They don’t care that I got my hair done two days ago. They slow down and their eyes track the sun along the shiny black paint, lingering on the chrome and looking away, the opposite of shy — hungry. They see the red interior and long to approach, to touch. To feel the leather around the steering wheel, to feel the rumble of the engine. They imagine it would feel electric, powerful, fast. They approach licking their lips. Noah signs and says, “no, it’s my dads” the same way I say, “actually, I have a boyfriend” to the men in bars who see my body and lick their lips, lingering and then looking away, the opposite of shy — hungry. This car belongs to another man, he tells them. This body belongs to another man, I tell them. As we left the house in Hastings, Kayla said “get ready to get eye-fucked all day, but they won’t be eye fucking you.” The car turns all men into street hollerers, into dicks with brains, barely. Noah sighs — he was out late last night, doesn’t want to deal with the men. Now you know how it feels, dude.
Finally one tells me to go to High Falls so we do, driving fast through a town with another Indian import shop, some cafes, a little flea market where we ask how to get to the swimming hole. These aren’t Jerry Garcias — they all seem unfriendly, weary of the kids asking them where the swimming hole is, weary of the passing through. We park the GTO on the side of the road and tramp down a path, following some built up teenagers with towels wrapped around their necks and too-long swim shorts with extraneous pockets. The falls come in two tiers and I duck into the woods before we get to them to put on my bathing suit. I try to spot poison oak and then wonder if this is the kind of place people secretly grow pot plants. I pull the zig zag rainbow bikini up, over my knees.