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issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii 

Useless People

Kate Rowberry | prose

It was the last day we sat together by the pool. You were home from college for the summer, but I wasn’t because I dropped out last spring. We were in bathing suits and our skin shone with a thin layer of sunscreen, but you never got in the water because you could not wetten the stitches in your head, acquired from a failed biking stunt last week. 

I gently tousled your hair—genuine blond, not bleached like mine, but maybe turning green because of the pool’s chlorination. Every other day this summer, and last summer, and the summer before, we had coaxed each other into the water. Daily. A decade-old tradition. 

My argument in favor of your participation today was that your head could remain completely dry in the pool, even if the water went up to your shoulders. Your counterargument was that the stitches would get wet somehow anyway. 

When I teased you for being a chicken, you changed the topic by strumming on your ukulele, fingers dancing, fluttering. You offered to teach me how to play. “I know you can do it,” you added. “Maybe learning an instrument will make you more cultured.”


“I am cultured.” 

“Eating Chinese takeout doesn’t make you cultured. Come on, try it. The ukulele is fun.”


“I’m not so sure about that.” 

Grinning, you dropped the instrument into my lap and pointed out how to position my hands. I cradled the ukulele awkwardly like a first-time mother with her newborn. My fingers tangled as I clutched the fretboard and plucked meekly at the strings. “Nope. Can’t do it.” Forehead creased, you silently took back the instrument. 

After the brief music lesson, I encouraged you to at least dip your toes in the water. I was fully intending to push you in deeper. However, you were always talented at detecting my ulterior motives, so you pushed right back at me, a little too hard. I tripped on a lounge chair and fell backwards onto the frying pan concrete. Blood trickled from my left elbow as I dazedly righted myself, face flushing from the heat and the embarrassment of it all. 

You apologized as you helped me up. “Can you get me a Band-Aid?” I asked, rubbing the red splotch on my arm. 

“Get it yourself.” 

“I’m not sure where they are.” 

So you led me inside and showed me where to find a type of waterproof Band-Aid I didn’t even know my family owned. When you handed it to me so I could patch up my scrape, I didn’t bother to say thank you because no one says you’re welcome anymore, right? 

Injuries aside, I was determined to be an entertaining host, and I chose to do so by making a mockery of your reason for staying on land. Would you turn into a merman if you touched water? Were you some iteration of the Wicked Witch of the West? Were you a cat? 

I dug a Canada Goose snow jacket out of the coat closet and brought it to the patio. I put it on and cannonballed into the pool as you beamed at me, displaying your newscaster teeth. The water got choppy as I sloshed. Wet fabric flapped around me and clung to my skin. Mini tsunamis curled over the edge of the pool and sizzled on the concrete. One splash extended especially far and almost touched you. The horror.

Rubbing water out of my stinging eyes, I emerged from the pool, shrugged off the coat, and spread it over the metal fence surrounding the pool so it could dry. 

It’s still there. 

I halted my antics briefly so we could have lunch, because suddenly my stomach felt as empty as my savings account. We spread an array of snacks on the patio table and pretended we weren’t going to eat all of them. All the food was from the pantry because you hated to cook and my mother never taught me how to. You crammed Oreos down your throat, watching to make sure I didn’t eat any, because they were yours. I honored that rule; I never touched them. 

Back then, I thought the key to health was eating junk food and compensating for it by taking loads of dietary supplements. Thus, while you gorged yourself on cookies, I crunched some potato chips and rolled a few multivitamins around in my hand before downing them with soda. 

My hair, saturated with pool water and clumping into strands, was dripping all over the patio furniture. Even as I shivered, the cold beads of water that beaded on my lotioned skin quickly evaporated and were replaced by sweat. You gazed thoughtfully at something in the sky while I gazed thoughtfully at you. I would consider you naturally handsome, but today your expression mirrored that of someone who was just informed that their favorite designer merchandise is fake. 

“Do you ever feel that this lifestyle is, like, a resurgence of the Gilded Age?” you asked. “Snobby. Kind of vapid and disappointing.” 

“Nothing’s disappointing about relaxation,” I said. “Stop taking philosophy classes.” After our hunger was abated, we draped ourselves over the flaky white lounge chairs. I envisioned ripples of sand underneath me instead of concrete. Maybe Hawaii. Our conversation waned as we dozed off, bored by ourselves. We both woke up when my older sister, the one who loves plastic surgery, materialized in the noisy Mercedes her boyfriend bought her. I still see that car driving around town in the glittery traffic, but my sister is never in the driver’s seat anymore. 

Upon her arrival, I’m sure my sister pounded on the front door, carefully balling her fist as to not break her red lacquered nails and sorely regretting the loss of her key to our childhood home—and my current adulthood home, if that’s a thing. 

When nobody answered the door, she wobbled around back and tried to get our attention. She grasped the fence’s pickets and rattled them to announce her arrival. Her boyfriend stood to the side, a stoic Ken doll. I pretended to stay asleep. You politely greeted them, and she woke me up with loud, curt words and a stab to my poor left arm with her high heel, wielded viciously in her hand. “Give me back that dress. I need it for a business party tonight,” she demanded. 

The dress she referred to was one I borrowed three months ago: silver, sequined, homecoming-style. I wore it to dinner with you once, but I never bothered to return it to my sister because I supposed she had forgotten about it. With my half-awake wittiness, I asked, “Why would you want to go to a party dressed like the disco ball?” She asked me why I didn’t shut up and find a job, then let herself and her boyfriend into the house through the back door.

When I looked in my closet the next day, every item of clothing I owned was gone, and my sister wouldn’t answer my calls. I bet the clothes are still hanging in that expansive walk-in closet in her apartment. Organized by color. 

While the two thieving visitors were inside, you and I snuck through the house. I could hear rattling and thuds coming from my room, sounds someone might hear during the ransacking of an Egyptian tomb, but at the time I thought they were just looking for the dress. I might have shoved it where she wouldn’t think to look, like in my pajama drawer or perhaps under my socks. You and I went out onto the driveway to admire the Mercedes. Ooh. Aah. Shiny. “Remember the time we took it for a joyride?” I asked. 

Grimacing, you stepped away from the car. “I’d rather not.” 

Neither of us could believe that my sister’s boyfriend had never noticed the small dent in the driver’s side door. 

When we ducked back inside to shortcut through the house, my sister, with that grating, high-pitched voice of hers, was arguing with her boyfriend. I halted, tugging on your arm to stop you. You might have been too good for eavesdropping, but I was not. 

“I warned you weeks ago,” she rasped. 

Her boyfriend laughed. “Then give the car back. Debt is debt, darlin’.” 

“I’m not giving it back! You can’t ask for someone to return a gift.” 

“I just did.” 

Imagine us being such a quarrelsome couple. We would get along if we were dating. We always get along. 

You inched in the direction of the patio door, chewing on the inside of your cheek. Relenting, I followed you outside. We slouched on the patio couch and gossiped about some couple generated by one of those dramatic TV productions. The sun began drooping in the sky, so I switched on the outdoor lights as our conversations grew accordingly dimmer. The Mercedes rumbled away in the background. 

Finally, they’re gone,” I said. “We should go inside to watch an episode of that one show.” 

“Reality television: one of our many worthwhile pastimes,” you joked. “You would be a good candidate for that type of thing.” 

Giggling, I twisted the hem of my surf tee cover-up around my finger. “But you’re only person I ever wanted to kiss.” 

I slid my arm over your shoulders, and your body went statuesque. Our eyes locked, but before our lips did, you sagged back onto the couch. I pretended not to see you quickly swipe the back of your hand across your mouth. A mosquito orbited your head as your gaze brushed across the pool and settled on the horizon. You reached for the ukulele and began to pick out a tune, slow and smooth, and then you stopped mid-chord and set it on the table again. 

“I can’t stand this,” you said. Above, the patio lights buzzed and blinked, teasing a blackout. Too many air conditioners blowing in this city. 

My smile entirely slipped away. “Stand what?”

“I’m just not interested anymore.” 

My world wobbled on its axis. “In what?” 

“In you. You’re so lazy and self-absorbed.” 

Your words burned, overbaked like hot sand. My shoulders hunched as I mumbled, “No, I’m not.” 

“You have to work for some things. Not everything is going to come to you so easily. You think I’m just another constant variable in your mathematically perfect, unambitious life, and I’m not sure if you understand—” 

“Understand what?” I spluttered, touching the bandage on my arm. “Your life is just like mine! And how is it my fault life is easy?” 

The back door creaked open and slammed shut behind us, causing the lights to wink again. You jumped at the unexpected sound. 

“Can one of you useless people help me get home?” my sister asked. “That idiot took off without me, and I cannot be late tonight. I’m supposed to close a deal.” 

My sister had not left in the Mercedes. She was standing right behind us, arms akimbo, and would have appeared to be furious if her face were able to display any discernible emotion. “Well, I’m not letting you use my car,” I scoffed. Then you suggested you could give her a ride home, and my face glitched a little at this betrayal. 

My sister thanked you, then glanced at me with shifty eyes and told you she had to go immediately. So you went inside with her, carrying the half-empty package of Oreos. I suppose you helped her take armfuls of my clothes to the garage, where I let you park your car so the black interior wouldn’t get too hot, and loaded my stuff into your trunk. 

Then you drove off. 

You left your ukulele on the table, so I turned off the patio lights, took the uke inside, and looked up tutorials to learn how to play. And I guess you don’t care that my sister’s face is botched. Last I saw on Instagram, the two of you went snorkeling together in Hawaii.


I hope your stitches heal well.


Survivor's Guilt

content warnings: mentions of alcohol, driving under the influence
Kate Rowberry | poetry
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Kate Rowberry is a Californian writer. Her work has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and Bow Seat, and it is published or forthcoming in Paper Crane Journal, Occulum, The Louisville Review, and others. Besides writing, reading is one of her favorite activities, but she is somewhat guilty of tsundoku.

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