The Younger Katz Daughter
BY JULIA AIZUSS
Dr. Katz gripes about the effects of the new healthcare on his practice (“Remember, girls: socially liberal, fiscally conservative”) but you, his younger daughter, cannot help feeling rich—too rich, obnoxiously rich, weighed down by the embarrassment all this wealth brings you. As a classmate said to you in fifth grade: “What do you mean, you’re not rich? You go to Hawaii, like, five times a year!” Once, really, every winter, but it would be foolish to receive no exaggeration from a child in elementary school. The Katz family goes to a resort in the balmy islands of Hawaii during winter break every year; the Katz daughters are reminded to rub in sunscreen everywhere, even their earlobes, as the grass grows sodden with rain at home; a vacation dinner can feasibly cost four hundred dollars.
You like only two aspects of your annual stay in Hawaii: the breakfasts and the sand. The moment the saltwater sidles up to your waist gently, teasingly, you run, your feet weighed down by water, out of its grasp, and when a stray piece of coral scratches your ankle your imagination fills with sharks. So you remain in the sand, where the ocean can only reach imploringly at your toes before being dragged back to form another wave. You do not join the legions of women on their stomachs who flip pages of thick paperbacks meant only for idle beach reading while tanning but instead walk by the sea, from hotel beachfront to hotel beachfront. While your feet sink into water-cooled, waterlogged sand, you study your fellow vacationers, dodge scurrying children, barely flinch at the occasional spray of water flung your way. Of course, you are not the only one who would rather walk along the water than venture into it—their footprints, not always washed away, betray their journeys.
You amuse yourself with these footprints—often you spend most of your walks not going where you please but attempting to trace the paths of those who came before you, fitting your foot into the indentation made by others. It marvels you, the way your foot fits so poorly into every other footprint, the way no matter how carefully you step, you can not walk with the same distance between your feet or lean as heavily on your heel or toes; how, no matter the force of your intent, you cannot slip into even the feet of another person.
“What are you doing?” your sister, the older Katz daughter, asked you once, a rare occasion where she decides to take a walk as well. Your awkward, concentrated gait is immediately noticed—“Nothing,” you replied with a shrug, your favorite response to questions of all sorts.
“You’re walking really weirdly,” your sister said, but apparently not in a way that invited an answer, as you did not reply to this remark but instead pressed one foot into your sister’s footprint. Your sister walked on ahead and you stopped, chewing your lip at the results of your efforts: not footprints in footprints, but mutations—extra toes on one, a conglomeration of heels in another, too wide a sole in a third.
When not walking, you people-watch—you are not just interested in but fascinated by people, by their quotidian habits, by the way they willfully waste days of their lives with trivial matters and pursuits—you can’t read while a woman sitting a few feet away from you berates a server of some sort for giving her too much pineapple in her fruit salad.
You have decided everyone looks bad in a bathing suit. Busty women suddenly look droopy, petite women with skinny legs appear to have a bit too much thigh, men of average weight acquire a bit of a paunch. Someone you might admire as beautiful in normal dress can appear repulsive to you in a bikini, and yet you cannot figure out why. Constantly on the search for a woman beautiful in swimwear, no one escapes your curious scrutiny. This is the excuse you use to stare at women in bathing suits, inspecting the curve of a breast with a critical eye. Then you will look away because it is beyond the realm of possibility for you to be pleased by the kind of gender that will don bikinis in loud tropical florals and outstretch toes painted in a lurid hot pink.
The woman with the pink toenails once more catches your eye when you think you’ve found your escape in yet another walk on the beach. She is right there in front of you, the gaudily colored flowers on her swimsuit as loud as ever, walking with a man who appears to be her boyfriend. You swallow and halt, watching the couple walk beyond you; when they are a good distance away from you, you place a foot in the smaller of the two adjacent footprints, walking the way the woman with the pink toenails did, taking the path in the sand the woman with the pink toenails consciously decided to walk. This woman has large feet and yet your own land far outside the footprints each time, landing perfectly inside just once or twice on what seems to be the whim of a being separate from yourself.
The enterprise wastes enough time that you soon see the couple returning, walking so close their shoulders touch. The lips of the man’s mouth are too small and too pink for his face and yet he is smiling, aware of but fine with his flaws—possibly he struggled with this feminine imperfection as a teenager, grinning submissively as cooler guys mocked him, but now he has grown to accept himself, is fine with who he is, what people recognize him by, what he thinks of himself, with the immutable characteristics he was born with—and you cup some ocean water and splash it onto your face, so as not to sense the appearance of another, more out-of-place, salty liquid. As the couple passes you, you think: Those pink toenails really are revolting. (You will not look up from the sand.)
You, the younger Katz daughter, had walked down from your family’s cabana to the beach to take an afternoon walk when you saw a couple laying down on towels in the sand, sleeping, sunbathing. One was quite obviously a man, swim trunks to his knees, creased cheeks that needed a shave. You gaze at the other one from a few feet away, studying the exposed breasts and nipples, unsure whether to classify the bottoms as a man’s Speedo or a woman’s bikini bottom. The hair is curly, sun-bleached, and cropped short. A woman, you think at once, but a few moments later, with a more hopeful air: a man. Still unsure, you continue your walk, and when you come back, you see the topless person standing with ankles in the water, now clothed with a bikini top—a woman. Now you can identify as meager breasts what you earlier thought might have been a man’s flab. The vague pleasure you had felt earlier at seeing the couple together dissipates, overtaken by a disappointment, the reason of which you can’t place. You dismiss the woman with pink toenails from your mind before the image even appears.
Your father, Dr. Katz, claims he needs to come to Hawaii each year for relaxation and preservation of his well-being. I love it here, he has said—a rare statement for him. Paradise, he said once. Hardly, you, the younger Katz daughter, think. Not a paradise when you’re surrounded by all these disgustingly wealthy people, surrounded by all these bratty kids, surrounded by all these women on display—in this paradise it rains every day, at four o’clock precisely.
Julia Aizuss resides in southern California, where she spends much of her time attaining a high school education and wishing for autumnal weather. She has previously been published in Polyphony HS, and was the recipient of a 2011 Fine Arts Award for Fiction from Interlochen Center for the Arts.