She pulled her bathing suit off the shower curtain bar and stepped into it, rolling the damp cloth over her belly and shouldering the thick straps with a grunt. The neckline sagged, exposing her newly heavy breasts, and she smeared sun block over as many exposed spots as she could reach, the motion only re-exciting the itch of the mosquito bites that stippled her from stem to stern. It had been a bad summer for them—worse because the rental house, which she had reserved in a last-minute pang of nostalgia, was sound side instead of ocean side. Worse, too, because she had been trying to stick to the DEET-free insect repellent, and the organic stuff just didn't work.
The trip had been a miscalculation. She had imagined a pleasant last hurrah with her husband and their two closest friends, lots of time spent reading and napping under an umbrella, a restorative before her October due date, when she and Jimmy would begin the next, more grown-up phase of their lives. But she had not thought about the misery of walking across Highway 12 and down the long rutted path to the beach, sand grinding between her swollen toes, stumbling to keep her center of gravity on that steep, final climb over the dunes. She had not thought about making that same long trip back once, twice, a third time to use the toilet, so that at last she had just called Jimmy on his cell phone to say that she was done with the beach for the day, to have fun with Charles and Rhonda, stay as long as he wanted, that she just needed a nap and some time out of the sun and a cool drink. She had not realized the extent to which the fun of their previous beach vacations, seven years' worth now, had depended on alcohol, and she found herself at a loss when all she had in front of her was a book and the eternal crashing of waves, and the rest of them were as pink-cheeked and blearily cheerful as they'd ever been, their Coronas sweating into the cup holders on their folding chairs. "Just have one," Rhonda had said, but no—Jen wouldn't have been able to enjoy it, bracing herself for the dirty looks people would give her, any more than she could heed her husband's encouragement to "just go in the water" when the press of her bladder became excruciating. [End Page 498]
"Look at the cutie pie," Jen had tried to say to Jimmy that afternoon, pointing at a toddler in a pink bathing suit with ruffles across the bottom. The little girl was digging in the sand with a plastic shovel, blond hair glinting white, limbs plump and golden.
"Yep," Jimmy had said. He tilted his bottle and not his head, so that his lower lip jutted out, ape-like. "Cute."
Now she was back at the house. She had changed into her pajamas, watched television for an hour, and napped for a while on the wicker sofa in the living room, where the ceiling fan could blow on her. The cushions on it kept shifting around, jostling her before she could sleep deeply enough to dream, and her lower back twinged in almost every way she positioned it. The bedroom, hers and Jimmy's, was small and gloomy, the bed hard, the door perpendicular to the flow of the house's one air-conditioning unit. So she stayed on the couch until she could not take it anymore, and then she decided that she could at least get up and go wade in the sound until the rest of the group came home. She didn't like the sound much, really. The shoreline was the dirty gray of cat litter, the water greenish and lukewarm, and it had always disturbed her how you could walk thirty or forty feet out and still only be wading hip deep. But it was something to do.
She scrawled a quick note and pinned it to the refrigerator with a magnet. Then she packed a...