Seaside Gothic

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The Encausting

The Encausting by Christi Nogle

I came to the seaside to find myself, to finally become the person I was meant to be.

I work wornings in a stuffy little gift shop just off the boardwalk and nights in the Crafter’s Mall. It’s scary to clean in there at night, but it feels good to be scared. I feel alive, like I just woke up.

Appetite’s better than ever. The food-court pumps out Thai food and fish and chips and thin-crust pizza. Indian food, Mexican, everything fresh and hot. There’s a gelato stall, a stall that sells nothing but macarons.

I’d never eaten a macaron before I came here, not to mention tiramisu, sushi, crabmeat.

I’m making friends. Not at the gift shop but at the mall. They’ll eat with me if I’m not too hidden away in a book. They’ll persuade me to go to a bar and we’ll complain about our lives. It’s fun, I guess.

The Jeep’s still running, still getting me through the tourist traffic. The cars make last-second turns and brake hard. Pedestrians cross like ducks in tie-dye, staring at their phones on the middle of the road.

But days off are what I live for. I lie on a blanket on the beach reading trashy used paperbacks and dozing in and out. I walk for hours, pick uo my things on the way back.

I bought maroon sheets, and there are soapy flakes on them in the mornings, like when you peel a sunburn, only I haven’t gotten a sunburn.

One morning Sam, the guy from the fish and chips stall, is in my bed with a sour look on his face.

‘What is all of this?’ he says.

‘Sunburn,’ I say, but he must see it can’t be.

Work soon, so I rush to the shower. I step out and begin drying, but the wax balls up, ropes up, sticks to the towel. I sigh, start a hot bath, dig under the sink for salt scrub and a loofah.

Sam comes to kiss me goodbye, and on impulse, I throw off my towel and back him into the bedroom. While it’s going on, I feel the wax just flowing out of me. Sam doesn’t ask, but he sees. He feels it on him. He won’t be back here.

The crafter’s mall ought to have been torn down long ago, but things seem to get left alone out here.

I stack the chairs and wash the main hall floor and do the first-floor bathrooms, which are a nightmare. Wind whistles through unseen cracks. The floor feels unsteady, upstairs and down. I work fast and come out into a dark, empty street, hoping the Jeep will start.

I have too much fear, and I think about what it might signify. I always expect something to jump out at me, but what? Am I guilty at being so selfish, coming out here? Expecting punishment?

It’s a rush to get something to eat and some sleep, shower and find something decent to wear to the gift shop. It’s exhausting to watch the shoppers, put the little glass baubles back in place. It’s exhausting to smile for four or five hours, and then the day feels ruined after that.

If I have the morning off, I sleep in and when I wake, all of my skin is tight and greasy. It creases and flakes. When I wrench myself into a sitting position, the surface of it breaks off my hips and knees. I take a piece of it in my fingers. The skin where it’s broken off is red and mottled.

My pores are clogged, too. I get a magnifying mirror hoping I can push out the plugs before I break out even more. I’m crying while I cake on my foundation.

It’s getting worse, coming faster.

I learn to dissolve the wax in olive oil and scrape it off, as the Greek athletes used to do. They’d squeegee the oil off their bodies, and old ladies would use it because it was full of their youth and virility.

One morning it’s thick enough to peel. The little vellus hairs on my jaw come off with a searing flash of pain, and my scalp is held in a tight wax cap. I pour olive oil on it and scrub like I’m shampooing, eye on the clock because I’m supposed to be at work. The oil and wax on my scalp make such a pulpy mess I cry.

I shampoo with the oil until I have no more oil. I follow up with dandruff shampoo, rinse, repeat. I make it to work with wet hair, but that I have to quit the gift shop. It’s too hard to get presentable.

I keep cleaning for a while after that, holding my face as far back as I can in my sweatshirt hood. The wax is building up in the daytime now, and the people all avoid me—or I avoid them. I can’t say which.

I can’t say for sure that I raise my eyes to theirs, ever.

It takes a week to finally pry away from the crafter’s mall. After they stop calling, I feel better again for a time. Three or four times a day I drive to the little apartment. I remove the greatest part of the wax, drive back out to the beach. And then I start bringing my bottle of oil and spatula to the beach. You can de-wax just as well in a bathroom stall.

And then I stop driving home to sleep.

And then I run out of oil.

The Jeep was ticketed sometime. It was towed sometime later while I wasn’t watching. I’m not watching anything anymore. The wax has filled in around my eyes. It doesn’t hurt. It feels safe. Like a wrapping. It feels right. I want to stop making it crack, and so I must be still. I lie on my blanket and let be what will be.