Ten cities. Four months. Marika never wanted to settle down, traveling the world has been her dream for as long as she could remember. When she was young, her father was never home, always jumping from city to city. Paris, London, Taiwan, Sydney; he had been everywhere—or so he had said. By age 15, Marika discovered her father’s lies. She grew familiar of the scent of alcohol he always came home with, but she wasn’t like him; she was going to travel the world, for real.
She walked into the cafe closest to the crusty motel she had stayed at the night before. The smell of fresh bread and coffee beans instantly surrounded her. She took a seat at the small table in the back corner and picked up the menu. With the menu open in front of her, she scanned the coffee shop. The only other people in the shop were a couple of college students and an employee who looked like a college student himself. The college students seemed as if they stayed up all night trying to finish an assignment due the next day with their hair muffled and their blood-shot eyes.
Marika stared aimlessly through the window of the cafe, taking note of the morning joggers with their dogs and the cars carrying rich business men of corrupt companies and corporations.
“Can I get you anything?” Marika gasped at the man suddenly standing beside her, she hadn’t noticed him before, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to scare you, miss.”
“You didn’t,” she glanced at the menu and ordered the first thing she saw, “Just coffee. Black.” The man wrote down her order on a small notepad; he looked tired like the other students in the shop.
“Okay, anything else?” he didn’t even glance at her.
“Just coffee,” she repeated herself, already irritated. He nodded, oblivious to her tone, and slipped behind the counter. She sighed and slipped out a slit of paper from her skinny jeans; there was an address scribbled on one side.
After one night, Marika was already anxious to leave this city. She dreamt of sleeping with soft silk sheets and a window view of the beach or the Eiffel Tower, not inside a motel that looks like it’s about to crumble at any moment.
It wasn’t her choice to come here, it was her mother’s. Her mother left her and her father when she was ten years old. She had grown tired of having to take care of him at 3am every morning, something Marika couldn’t understand ‘til five years later. Marika smoothed the crumpled paper against the table and let it lay there.
“Here’s your coffee, miss,” the man smiled as he carefully put the cup on the table in front of her, avoiding the slip of paper. She hadn’t noticed his short, brown hair gently combed to the left before or the way his collared work polo, with his name tag ‘Ben’, clung to his lean body.
“Thank you,” she murmured, looking back at the address.
“You new here?”
She looked up at him, alarmed, “Why?”
“It’s just nobody ever comes in here ever since the new pub opened next door,” he nodded to the right, where the pub was.
“I was looking for coffee, not beer.”
“They call themselves a pub, but they sell all sorts of drinks.”
“Are you trying to run out of business by selling all your customers to the new pub?” she asked, nodding towards the pub as he did.
He looked up at the ceiling and laughed, “I don’t know why I’m so bad at this.” Marika just nodded to the girl entering the cafe.
“Just one moment,” he said before leaving to wait on the girl.
Marika turned her attention back on the paper. It’s been eleven years since she last saw her mother; she didn’t even know if she was still alive. She didn’t know what she was going to do when she met her, or why she even wants to meet her. Marika hated her mother for leaving her with her father. Why didn’t she take me? Does she not like me? Am I the same as my father?
She took a sip of her coffee, burning her tongue. Ben had finished waiting on the girl and was behind the counter preparing her order. Marika looked back at the girl sitting two tables down and found her staring right back at her.
“Hello,” the girl had dirty blonde hair tied up in a bun. She offered a smile, but Marika didn’t return.
“Hi,” she said and stuffed the crumpled paper back into her pocket. She took another sip before slapping a couple bucks on the table and leaving the cafe.
Marika opened the door to her motel room. There wasn’t much inside, just a creaky bed, a wooden drawer, a television that only had one channel, and a bathroom with mold growing in the tub. She took her backpack from the drawer and pulled out her camera, a gift from Alex. He was her only friend; nobody wanted to know the girl whose mother left her and her abusive father. Alex was a good guy. Too good for me. He could’ve gone far if Marika didn’t keep him in their hometown. He could’ve been a journalist for the New York Times; it was Marika’s fault he’s barely holding a job in a broken town.
She shook her head. These thoughts were best left in the past, they have been since she decided to ditch the town and Alex.
It was barely 8am, but she needed a shower to get rid of the stench of the city and the thoughts of her father. She turned on the faucet and let the water fill up the tub before stepping inside.
Alex called Marika again; he’s called at least a hundred times already, if not more. He stares at the ocean while listening to the phone ring once, twice. The blonde boy counts eight rings before the call is forwarded to voicemail. He walks back into the surf shop and sits behind the counter.
“Excuse me, do you work here?” a small guy with big ears asks from across the room. Alex walks out from behind the counter and nods.
“What do you want?” he reflects his anger onto the customer.
“Chill, man. I just wanted to know how much this boogie board is.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“Yeah, don’t sweat it.”
“Uhh, that board is $22.50.”
“Do you take card?” the man grabs the board from the shelf.
“Yeah, come on over to the register. I can ring it up for you,” Alex walks back to the counter, “My name is Alex, by the way, if you needed anything else.”
“Thanks, I’m Dumbo,” he hands Alex his card.
“Wait, like the elephant? Is that your birth name?” Alex asks with a smile.
“Yes, like the elephant with the big ears,” he shrugs to emphasize his huge ears, “and no, it’s not my birth name. It’s just my name.” Alex laughs and hands Dumbo back his card.
“Thanks, man,” Dumbo stuffs his card back in his pocket before heading out of the shop.
It’s nearly 11 PM when Alex walks into the bar. Every night has been the same since Marika left: he’ll stumble into a bar late at night, after working long shifts at James’ Surf Shop; he’ll drink until he can’t remember his own name; then he’ll wake up somewhere between the bar and his apartment with a pounding headache.
“Alex, no more tabs. I need my money now. If this bar doesn’t start making income, it’s gonna close down,” the bartender says, firmly.
“Claire, just one. Please, it’s been a long day.”
“It’s been a long day for months. Bar policy—can’t keep tabs for more than a month. I can’t hold out for you anymore.”
“Okay, okay. How much do I owe you?”
“No, that’s a mistake,” Alex says in disbelief, he couldn’t have drank that much, “I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Well, you better have it by the end of the week. ‘Til then, I can’t serve you anymore.”
Alex groans and puts his head in his hands, “Okay, I can just take a loan. I’ll be back, I promise.” He walked out of the bar looking more confident than he felt. This is bad. How am I going to pay off a loan?
“Alex?” the man with big ears comes up to his side.
“Oh, hey Dumbo.”
“What’s up? You don’t look too good. You didn’t at the shop earlier today either.”
“It’s nothing. It’s personal, actually,” Alex breathed out slowly, watching the heat of his breath mix with the cold air.
“Did you just have a drink? I’d advise against that, intoxicating yourself won’t solve your problems. It’s actually healthy to keep yourself busy in other ways. You know, focus on activities instead of your emotional problems. I would recommend surfing since we’re so close to the beach. Plus, it’ll keep you in shape for girls...or guys, if that’s what you like.”
“Listen, Dumbo, I don’t want to come off as mean or anything, but I’m just gonna go home. Now’s not a really good time for me,” Alex ran his hand through his hair, pulling it to the side.
“Of course, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to, you know.”
“Maybe we can go for drinks next time. And by the way, I’m already in shape. For girls,” Dumbo gives a deep laugh and waves him off.
Before stepping into his apartment, Alex gives Marika another call. She hadn’t given him any indication that she would leave this town—much less that she would leave over night without even saying goodbye. But she didn’t have to tell him. He knew she wanted to erase her past; he just didn’t know that he was part of that past.
The call is forwarded to voicemail and he sighs, unlocking the front door. I won’t call her anymore. I can’t keep clinging to the past. He swings the door wide open, accidentally sending boxes of articles and stories tumbling on the floor. The wood floor was already littered with thousands of past articles. He had won many writing contests and even been featured on the New York Times once, but that didn’t matter. Look where it got him: working at a surf shop.
He picked up some random pages on the floor and began reading. The first was a fluff article he wrote in 2012 about the world ending. It was back when he had a job with the local newspaper. He quit after Marika left; he just couldn’t write anymore. She was his anchor, keeping him from floating away from himself. Without her he doesn’t even know who he is.
Before he knows it, he’s sitting in front of his laptop, surrounded by piles of poems and articles from long ago. He hasn’t written anything in months, but tonight’s different. Tonight he’s sober and brave and everything he was when he was with Marika.
Laid out in front of him were some of his favorite articles from his ‘golden years’; he was hoping they would remind him how to write. He took a deep breath and began typing.
“Where are you going?” Ben just walked out of the cafe wearing a different shirt than this morning. After her bath, Marika looked though the pictures on her camera. There were many photos of the scenery she had seen, when hopping from town to town, as well as photos of strangers walking down the street or eating. She loved watching people doing their daily activities and watching their reaction to others’ actions.
She took one foot off the pedal of her bike and steadied herself on the ground, “To the mountains,” she pointed towards the woods just a few miles away.
“Do you mind if I come with?”
“I’d like to be alone right now. Next time.”
Ben nods, “Okay, I’m holding you to that promise.”
“It wasn’t a promise.”
Marika rides to the woods and follows the trails for a couple meters before chaining her bike to a tree. Only one person in sight on the trail. Does nobody appreciate the view? She pulls her camera out of her backpack before setting the pack back on her shoulders. It’s quiet save for the leaves brushing against each other above her head and the birds chirping.
She begins hiking up the mountain—passing the other person who’s just hiding behind a tree smoking—occasionally stopping to take pictures. Just before reaching the top she finds an area on the edge over-looking the entire town. She drops her backpack on the floor and sits on the edge, hanging her feet over the cliff. My mother is down there somewhere. Finally, after all these years.
She takes a deep breath smelling the ferns and spring air. She loved the fresh air and smell of dirt and trees; it had always been her home. Many nights, after her father came home drunk, she would escape into the woods with cuts and bruises. She wouldn’t dare walk back into the house ‘till morning and even then she would creep in silently, praying her father wasn’t still drunk.
While flipping through the photos in her camera, she comes across dark trees lit up by the moon. She had took those the nights she slept in the woods. They were dark and mysterious, almost like an apparition.
Looking at these photos, she remembers every single detail of those nights with her father. The smell of spring suddenly turns into the smell of smokes and alcohol. The sunny sky morphs into the old shack her and her father had lived in. Her father standing right in front of her. “Bitch! Don’t leave me! Don’t you ever leave me, bitch!” His words never leave her mind.
She flinches subconsciously and waits for the attack with her eyes closed. Pinch, slap, punch, kick. When she opens her eyes, she’s back on the ledge, knuckles white from gripping the rock. She lets go of the ledge and wipes her sweaty palms against her pants. Bitch!
She grabs her phone from her backpack and scrolls through the contacts until it reaches Alex. He hasn’t called in two days.
She didn’t know why she left him without a word or never answered his calls. He was her best friend and she loved him with all her heart, or at least with as much of her heart she had. Her father and her mother and that town had poisoned her view of him. She knew him since she could remember and because of that she had to leave him. He was in her roots and she couldn’t tear herself away without tearing him apart.
It’s been four months, but she gives up and taps on Alex’s name before putting the phone to her ear.