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by Tao Lin >

Go To the Beach

Dana and I come home from groceries; my mother—a surprise—is asleep on the sofa. It’s Thanksgiving. A few weeks pass.

“I feel afraid,” Dana says in bed.

“You are quieter than before,” I say, “The last couple of weeks you’ve gotten quieter, more depressed, and I think more nervous.”

“I’m tired,” she says.

“Your head feels warm,” I think and say at the same time.

My mother buys a 50-gallon fish tank—snails, crabs, suckers; no real fish—after New Year’s loses interest, and flies back to California.

It’s Summer, Sunday morning; the phone is ringing.

“Get it,” Dana shouts from the TV room. “I’m not moving.”

“I’m coming to Tampa International Airport,” says my mother on the answering machine. “The wrong airport. I know. I don’t know. I’m here. Gate 84, Delta. See you soon, because I need you to pick me up. If you don’t I’ll fly back, since I don’t like Florida, which you know.”

Dana comes in the bedroom; I push the delete button.

“You just deleted a message so that I wouldn’t hear it,” she says. “That’s bad.”

“My mom is at Tampa International Airport,” I say.

“We live in Orlando,” Dana says.

I stand up.

I stare at a wall for a very long time without thinking anything, feeling anything, or blinking. Then I notice Dana standing in the doorway with a steak knife—blade tucked behind her wrist. She raises it, like to stab, and walks toward me; I side step, turn around; she stabs the knife into the wall behind me.

“I’m serious,” she says. “I will kill everyone. It doesn’t matter.”

With Dana listening on the line in the TV room, I call my mother’s cell phone.

“How’s Dana?” my mother says.

“Good,” I say.

“Can you be more specific?”

“Pretty good.”

We say bye; my mother hangs up; I stay on.

“Dana,” I say.

“I’m depressed,” she says. “Hold me. I am very depressed.”

“You are a person,” I say.

“I want a sugar cookie,” she says. “I want a sugar cookie. I want a sugar cookie. I want a sugar cookie. I want a sugar cookie. I want a sugar cookie. I want a sugar cookie. I want a sugar cookie.”

“Remember what your father said about dogs?” says my mother in the car on the way home from the airport.

“He said dogs are people too,” she says.

“Then stop eating animals,” I say.

“I should not fly here like this,” she says. “It’s crazy. I am insane. Not because of this. I just feel insane all the time. Do you believe me?”

“No you don’t,” I say.

There is a Radisson Hotel.

“Radisson Hotel,” I say.

“McDonald’s,” I say.

At a stoplight a man in the adjacent car uses both hands to eat from a large bag of chips. “I really, really approve of that,” I think. I make my window go down. Then I make my window go up.

My mother quickly goes into the guest room. I carry in her luggage; she’s on the bed with her eyes closed.

Dana is lying on her side on the carpet in our bedroom.

She stares at me.

I walk there—staring at her—lie facing her on the floor, and stare at her.

“What are you doing?” she says.

“Let’s see a movie,” I say.

The movie theatre is inside a mall. There’s apathy about which movie to see; finally Dana quietly says the name of a movie aloud—by accident I think—and I say I want to see it.

We have thirty minutes; we pick a direction and walk.

“I feel strange,” I say.

“I feel like a beach monster,” says Dana.

“Beach monster,” says my mother. “What’s that? A fat person?”

“I saw it in a book,” I say. “We saw it in a book.”

At the entrance to Sears we turn around.

A few stores later my mother taps my shoulder; we make eye contact. “Uh, do you want ice cream?” I say. She does. I ask Dana; she also wants ice cream. We get ice cream.

During the trailers my mother leans over. “I feel deranged,” she says. “Test me. Ask me what were the last five presidents.”

“I don’t know the answer to that,” I say.

“Ask me something pragmatic,” she says.

“After the interminably melodramatic Hollywood movie,” I think.

“After the movie,” I say.

For some reason we are sitting in the front row; during dialogue I move my neck to see who is speaking. Dana laughs at things that I cannot be sure are actually funny, since I also cannot, anymore, at this time in my life, actually comprehend the things that are happening, outside, in the world. My mother sleeps; except once she wakes, listens to a one-liner, laughs—when she laughs I laugh too—and goes back to sleep, smiling a little.

I start worrying about things. Different things. I don’t know. I can’t focus on anything to worry about it. This worries me. Where do I work? What do I do for money? I can’t remember. I feel good. I feel great.

The movie ends; my mother goes in the bathroom.

Dana and I hold each other.

I think she is saying something.

“Did you just say something?” I say.

“Did I just say something?” she says. “Probably.”

“Maybe,” I say.

“Your mom is taking a long time,” she says. “Fuck your mom.”

“I’m bored,” I say. “Are you bored of me?”

She holds my hand, starts walking; there’s an unmanned concession counter where it’s dark and quiet, and Dana takes us there; we climb over the counter, go through a door, then climb a ladder onto the roof.

We are on the roof.

“I want these motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane,” I say.

It’s something I read off the Internet.