Heavy Lifting


Do you ever look back on everything you did in a day and feel heavy as a river rock, unmoved by the current? Water flowed over me as I tried to stand. It didn’t care that I couldn’t make it to my feet. We’re lying in the same bed tonight and our legs are pulsing with bruises. I think back on the day at the river while Abigail kicks the blankets off of her legs. I think about the man with the biceps, big as my entire body. How he touched my arm with two fingers, moved me forward, so he could see my ass. My hands are so dry.

Do your hands ever shake from all the heavy lifting?

I thought back on every dinner I ever sat through, ever forked down, while I threw up an entire bag of jalapeño chips into the Clackamas. I told myself I was looking for stories. I told myself I’d get into character, I’d make friends with one of the groups of people out there on the river; their tattoos from the walls of parlors that don’t allow women, or weakness. Stories.

A man standing in the road next to his car yelled, “I told them, next time, if you’re gonna short me on somethin’, short me somethin’ off the dollar menu. Not the Big Mac, man. Come on. That one’s real money. If I gotta come back inside ‘cause you shorted me somethin’, don’t make it the Big Mac.”

Abigail sat in the front seat of the car holding the raft still while I stood in the road and held the air pump to the hole in the raft. The man in the road had a tattoo on the back of his calf of a sun and moon. The crescent shaped moon fit tightly against the sun, hugging it, both of them in hot and cold neon colors. Both the sun and moon had faces on them, with serious, eyebrows furrowed expressions; no pupils in the eyes. The tattoo was old and faded, I assumed from years of coming out to the river.

A teenage girl, maybe the man's daughter, was chewing on the straw of a chocolate milkshake. She tipped the cup and straw down towards her younger brother and the boy took a sip. As he swished around the thick chocolate drink in his mouth, the girl said, “Good huh?” She pushed her sunglasses over her hair and adjusted her bikini top over her breasts, like she was still getting used to them. The boy nodded his head. “You’ve got good taste, kid.” The man looked up from his raft, “Oh what, he’s got good taste ‘cause he likes what you like?” Shot down, the girl lifted her milkshake back to her lips, if only to keep herself from talking back.

While I watched I lost hold of the pump. “Hey, hey! You have to hold it,” Abigail yelled. I repositioned the air pump as I watched the man and his family walk away. His family. The words sound so strange, inaccurate. I wondered why he brought them all the way out there, to the river, to hike down to the water and float around all day. Considering he seemed to hate every word they spoke.

Are you judgmental like I am? Can you imagine the moment God laughed, pulled up a chair, and directed the current to a man with pink, erect nipples, who so easily said, “Y’all smoke weed?”

The standing fan is on tonight, pointed right at us. I haven’t been sober since the afternoon, yesterday. I had almost forgotten what it felt like. I’ve got wet laundry just sitting there, in the washer downstairs. I’ve got an itch to go get it. Abigail rolls over, all sweating and sunburnt.

I’ve got work tomorrow.

I told myself at the river and I’ll say it again: This is for a story. If you think about your life, do your arms hurt? Do you have to think about it?

I told myself at the river and I’ll say it again: this is for a story. If you think about your life, do your arms hurt? Do you have to think about it?

Today we bought sandwiches. The pre-made kind from the grocery store. They had salami and cheese and tomato on them. “Italian Sandwich,” they said. And we said, “Okay sure.” We bought sandwiches thinking we’d drink too much, but then we’d eat those and they’d soak up the alcohol. But when we reached for them with bellies full of poison and our spines floating somewhere behind us, we found plastic wrapped river water, some bread and meat, soft and disintegrating inside. We threw the sandwiches into the river.

We threw a used tampon into the river. We left cans behind in the river. I threw up into the river. Not for a story this time, but for survival, to get rid of anything holding us back. There are just some things you can’t take with you out of the water. And just some things you have to leave behind, for the fish to deal with, later. I don’t make the rules.

We brought flasks of gin to the river. I didn’t have to drink my entire flask, I didn’t have to drink Abigail's. When we approached a shore on the side of the water where hundreds of people were collected, music playing through waterproof speakers, smoke in the air, we didn’t have to stop. But I wanted to find something to write about. This is what I told myself, this is what I told Abigail. “Do you think anyone will give us some weed?” I asked her as we pulled our rafts to the rocky, moss covered shore. “It’s Oregon,” she said as she dropped the raft. “There are some good stories here,” I said as I smiled a mischievous smile at Abigail. She looked at the ground as she smiled and shook her head.

He watched us talking and drinking by our rafts for what felt like an eternity before he offered us a good time. Abigail is not convinced that he had anything other than weed in that pipe. I took the almost empty, crystal bottle of Black Crown Royal from a man with only half of each front teeth. The syrupy liquid didn’t even burn. It doesn’t really burn anymore. A woman approached me coughing and laughing. She rested her hand on my sunburnt shoulder. I winced.

She said, “Fuck me, I haven’t smoked a cigarette in forever.” Her bleach blonde hair was brighter than the sun, it was all my eyes could see. The man we had latched onto for drugs and good times turned to the coughing woman and said, “No-fuckin’-way. Listen, I only smoke two things: weed and meth.”

All the indigo, all the evergreen, all the rocks knocking against one another; everything swished in and out of focus. My eyes opened now and again, for seconds at a time. My head resting against its will, on the side of my raft. Neither cold not warm, my eyes would open sometimes and I’d see my dead fingers, trailing behind me in the water. Fish swimming underneath me waiting for the thumping of my heart to go completely quiet, to fade into the current sounds, so they could make food of me. Homes of me.

Sitting on the soft bench of the shuttle I listened to Abigail talk to the driver about where to drop us off. With my head between my knees, I spat on the floor of the shuttle. I remember thinking, “This driver is a nice man.” And he was. He took us back to our car which was out of the way of his route. He listened when Abigail said, “See that man there, walking towards the shuttle? I think he drugged my friend.” He listened to her and he drove away with only me and Abigail on the shuttle. I spat on the floor and I felt guilty.


Do you ever meet someone nice, someone good, and you realize that everything you do after that moment is going to be wrong? Do you ever ask God why he brings these people into your life just so you can fucking embarrass yourself? Would I have to tell Abigail now, that maybe, I might have had something to drink before we even drove out to the river? That I haven’t had a drop of water in days. That I haven’t found a single goddamn story anywhere.

“Take care a’ yourself now,” the driver said as Abigail helped me off the shuttle, our rafts dragging along the asphalt. He hadn’t yet realized that Abigail shorted him on the fare. We had given up most of our money earlier, to the man with the muscles and the drugs. It costs a lot to be a woman on the river.

In the car Abigail told me to lie down so the cops wouldn’t see me. I laid the seat all the way down and rolled over onto my side. Gagged once or twice. I apologized and told her, “It’s for a story.” With her eyes on the road she said, “I know.” She said, “It’s all okay.”

Do you ever recap the day with someone and quietly to yourself, you know that you’re both tweaking the truth, just changing it a little, so that it’s easier for everyone to swallow?

I can’t fall asleep. I’m thinking back on every time I cleaned my old apartment, every time I cleaned the floors and did the dishes. Every time I’ve cleaned our new house. I’m thinking back on the hike down from the parking lot to the river, rafts and cooler in hand. How my arms shook and the handles of everything dug into my skin.

Do you ever close your eyes and feign sleep?

Can you feel the river now, still, moving beneath you?

With our rafts safely and finally in the water, Abigail reached into the cooler. She pulled out a flask and handed it to me, she took her own. As I held the flask to my lips my hand was shaking, making the liquid inside the flask swish and slosh around. “Look, Abigail, look,” I said, holding my hand out in the open. She watched my hand shaking in the air. My chipped blue nail polish bouncing off the blue sky, and she took a drink. Abigail looked away from me, moving her gaze out over the evergreens that surrounded us, the water humming its sweet rushing water-song. I watched my hand shake a moment longer, and before taking my first drink I said, “It must be from all the heavy lifting.”

Abigail sits up in bed and leans over to turn off the standing fan. Once it’s off the room is silent. I turn onto my side and feel my stomach shift with the motion. I think I’ll get up now and switch the laundry. I have to work tomorrow. My hands are so dry.

The floor creaks as I sneak out of the room. 

Sunshine Barbito-crop.jpg

Mythology, history, her favorite movies and books, these all inspired Sunshine (19) to move to Portland from the central coast of California, to pursue writing. Sunshine has always felt like she was a misfit. She has used music, writing, and art to try and find places where her voice fits, where it’s alive and vital. Sunshine workshops at Corporeal Writing and with a group called The Lie Factory. Sunshine is also a student at Portland Community College. She hopes to make writing her life, because there are so many stories that need to be told.

Sunshine Barbito