For two nights, everything went the way it was supposed to, Rivière-du-Loups and then a wharf in Mirimachi where there were public toilets and designated places for RV parking and a couple walking their pet pig, and then we were in Saint-Edouard-de-Kent, a town just south of Mirimichi, and nothing was how it was supposed to be.
Our free campsite app had told us there was a quiet boat launch right on the beach and that we’d be safe there, but the reviews were written in the spring and fall and not on a Saturday night in the middle of summer in the middle of a heat wave.
We arrived at an overflowing parking lot full of scarecrow people who stared at us with mouths full of bullets, and it was that first scene in a horror movie where the audience looks back and says I told you so as the heroes are being peeled to death.
“We’re just being paranoid,” Em said.
“Right,” I said, and a man stepped close to our bus and stared at me through the window. I smiled at him, and he kept staring, and I waved and he kept staring, and then I just stared back until I couldn’t anymore. It was like the man was taking something out of me that he’d keep in a shiny wood box on his bedside table until he didn’t want it anymore.
Em and I had spent the day at the beach, and we were hot and we were tired, and we wanted to sit in our bus and rest and stay quiet, but a different man with eyes like pennies and skin made of safety pins had his face too close to the window now, and Em and I were starting to wonder if we were exotic birds or lewdly dressed or if we were just strange because we were strangers in a town where everything is always the same.
We closed our curtains and left our bus, just to put some space between us and the hulking purple vehicle with mountains on the side.
There was nowhere to go but the beach, and so we sat there baking, the full sun crisping our skin and drying our brains while everyone else stared at us with wide blank eyes and open mouths. We were the least interesting exhibit in the zoo but the only one open due to ongoing facility upgrades, and I was pretty sure I could cut my heart out of my chest and eat it just then, and everyone else would just sit there watching with this blank hostility scraped across their faces.
The sun set and still we waited because it seemed no one else had anywhere to go or anything to do but stare at the two women who had arrived on their beach from outer space for all they knew or cared, and when we couldn’t take it anymore, we snuck back into or bus like thieves.
We ate a cold dinner in the dark and changed into our pajamas in the dark and crawled into bed in the dark, and all I could see were Em’s white teeth beside me, and all I could hear was music blasting from somewhere down the beach and waves and talking and the sound of teens across the parking lot.
I was awake or I was asleep and somewhere around there, I heard one of the teens read Camp Lovesick off the front of our bus and then say other things, rude things or cruel things, their voice coming to us like smoke and everyone laughing.
It was laughter and then taunting and then feet. It was a fist on our bus door, feet running away and then laughing again.
Em was there, and I was there, and we looked at each other in the darkness, and we didn’t move.
“It’s just kids,” Em said, and then there was a fist again, and the feeling that we were trapped, the smell of the ocean and gasoline, a beer being opened and the bottle cap pinging against our windshield.
“They’ll get bored soon,” Em said, and I didn’t say anything. It was too hot to hold each other, so we lay apart in the spiraling darkness, our middle-school bullies all over again and the night white bones about to break.
There was another fist on our door and then another, and then maybe time went by and then maybe it didn’t, the kids drifting away at some point, but soon to be replaced by others, older this time, and more dangerous still. How many hours are there in a single night and how much can happen?
It was the weight of two bodies pressed against the side of our bus, shifting us out of our thin sleep. It was hot breath in the hot night, and then later, the sound of a lighter over and over again, the silence of needles. It was someone telling someone else to hold still and then morning.
The day came came in grey like it had been washed too many times, inching its way into the horizon and showing us a parking lot without cars, an empty beach with garbage across it, and this feeling like air coming in where there was nothing before.
It was the sound of waves and then nothing, the smell of salt and gasoline again and a new day starting, better maybe than the one before.