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Hills to Die On - Madison Robinson

It was Nat’s first time being anywhere between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. Humid salinity. Drink bar. Squishy mucky sand. Hippy prayer beads looped up the arm. Fake prayer flags, everywhere, even though they were nowhere near Tibet. Nat took off her sunhat, the one with the big white bow, and stared at Matt from across the table.

He held up two fingers in the air. “Dos cervezas,” he requested.

A waitress materialized from behind a bead curtain. It sounded like a sudden downpour of rain. She responded in English: “Big ones? Tall?”

“Yes, big.”

Nat kicked him under the table. “I can’t drink. Remember?”

He ignored her. The waitress brought out two foamy beers, condensation droplets thick as the clattering beads. Nat made a show of not even touching it, instead focusing on the wet sandbar behind them, the clash of the waves on the beach.

Matt sipped his beer, observed her. “One won’t kill you.”

“You asked for talls.” It was like he had made up his mind for her.

“She offered. A little fetal alcohol syndrome doesn’t hurt.” He winked. “Look at me, I turned out fine.”

“I don’t want to look at you.”

“Oh, cut it out,” he said. “We’re on vacation. These are my only two weeks. Let’s focus on something else.”

“I was,” Nat said. “I was focusing on the beach, and the sunshine, and the kids playing in the sand.” Little pudgy arms, waterwings like rubber ducklings. Nails digging gritty moats for the castles. “The kids. Unless you don’t care for them.”

Fleeting pity on his face. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I’m not arguing with you.”

“No, I mean raise, like, seventeen kids. It’s 2020. Your mother wouldn’t ever know. You don’t even go to church anymore, Nat.”

“What’s that have to do with it?”

“Your mother would never know.”

The steeple of a child’s sandcastle crumbled like brown sugar. The toddler sat down in the wet sandbar and started bawling. Nat looked away.

“It’s covered by insurance. And you don’t have to worry about me telling anyone.”

“I wasn’t worried until you started talking.”

“Well then I’ll stop.”


Natalie got the sense the waitress on the other side was eavesdropping, planning to write out their conversation later in a gossipy online post. Trying to decode what they were thinking behind the clattering beads.

“You know, it makes no difference to me. Like it’s not a big deal. Or anything. Ruth

Bader Ginsberg, I’m a fan. You know how I feel about most feminist shit but this is different.”

“Let it go.”

“Once this is over everything will go back to normal. My sister did it. Twice, actually. No biggie, guy got her knocked up at a frat party–”

“Matt, stop.”

At a table near them, an elderly man reading The Old Man and the Sea looked over his spectacles at the rising spectacle.

“It’s the type of thing where they – poof – no biggie.”

Nat said: “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”

“What? You don’t want to talk about it?”

“Not like this.” She sniffed. “What is this, the 1920’s? You can’t even say it. Abortion.” Now that got people’s attention. Behind the beaded curtain, murmured conversations stopped.

“It’s like you don’t know how to communicate in subtext,” she continued. “Matt. This changes things. I want it. It’s over. This conversation is done.”

Beyond, children on the beach eavesdropped on words they didn’t understand, like seagulls picking at trash they couldn’t digest. Parents looked appalled. The elderly man placed his Hemingway down, rubbing his chin. And the one child with the sandcastle ruins seemed relieved that the argument ended. Making weird toddler connections. Like his castle fell because of sound waves, not beach waves, because of something they said.

A moment of silence between them.

“So,” Matt hedged. “You want that beer?”

“I need to get out of here. Next flight out.”

“No flights.”

“Train, then.” Nat leaned back on her seating. Picked up her sunhat, fiddled with its rounded curve, the loops of the bow on the back floppy and soft like disregarded white elephant ears.


Maddy Fay Robinson is a baker, pianist, rain enthusiast, and speeding ticket connoisseur. She is also a writer who has been published in NōD magazine and Cauldron Anthology. She lives in Calgary, AB, Canada - at least most of the time.


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