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Mold - Nicole Stroh

She was pissed. Livid. Though the tang of salty air kept her at bay, and quite literally. Inhaling sea-breeze, feeling the air circulating through her nostrils and back out reminded her that she’s here because she likes to be. Haleiwa had become her settlement. But he spoke, and her anger gradually built back to high tide.

The bar tender said, “So sorry, Aro, we do not have any more pineapple juice. May I offer you a Rio Tropical?”

Arolina tightened her jaw and bit her tongue through clenched teeth. Rio Tropicals are made with pineapple gum juice, not fresh juice. She didn’t want to be spoiled, but gum juice and fresh juice are different tastes entirely and are mixed with an excruciatingly different set of ingredients. This wasn’t fair. She had one yesterday, and it was a Tuesday afternoon, the slowest day at the Tiki bar. She could not possibly have had the last one. The bar tender seemed to always be the only one working there, didn’t he know to stock up? Yanking her Auburn hair out of a bun, she scoffed and sharply folded her slender arms across her chest.

“You’re joking, Marley.”

He frowned. “I’m so sorry.” He knew this was her regular drink, but never understood her intense dedication to it. “I know you are a very loyal customer and I look to keep my loyals satisfied. Rio Tropical is the closest I can make you to a Piña Colada, unless there is something else that interests you?” he offered through a raspy smoker’s voice.

She looked around, swallowing huffs of impatience, hesitant, as her eyes started to sting and her throat began to swell. Piña Coladas were the only thing she drank, for the exclusive reason that it was the only part of her sister left to grasp. Sierra was gone, and so was her voice, her hugs, her brightness, her energy, and her support. But the drink could bring back a sliver of what- used-to-be, and Arolina felt her heart crack deeper at the rejection she faced. She pulled up one of the bamboo bar stools and sat down with a heavy sigh.

“It’s okay, Marley, I know it’s not your fault. And thanks for the offer, but I’ll just take a water instead.”

“Sure thing, no problem.” He hesitated. “Why is this drink so important to you anyway? I can tell you’re clearly very upset about not having one – sorry, again – and I’ve never had a customer so passionate about a beverage.”

This made her get lost in thought. Empty benches and crumpled up picnic blankets on the boardwalk left memories of Sierra as silhouettes. It was too painful, these shadowed pieces of her past, and she started to burst with colorful anger to protect her vulnerability. It was so much easier to be angry than hurt. She had moved from Boulder to Haleiwa to be with Sierra again, not to be abandoned and left to take care of rent on her own. The absence of her drink, in the moment where silhouettes took life, was overwhelmingly inconvenient.

“Just something I used to have with an old friend,” she sighed, forcing down her frustration, and her palm contracted to remind her that she had been suffocating her silver helmet buckle. She swung it back over matted strands and tangles. “When do you get your next shipment in?”

The sunset reminded her it was time to head back home. She glanced at her watch, which read well past seven and she remembered that Indigo needed to be fed. Her bike tires thudded against the unsteady boardwalk wood as the metal clanks of the chains echoed off shops’ closed doors. Such a wide, busy, empty boardwalk. Crowds don’t come out on a Tuesday evening.

She flicked down the kick stand with her foot and locked it up to the rack. A rattling pain shot up her leg after whacking the metal stick with her ankle, and she yelped. A dog in the distance barked in response. But when she snapped her head up to look around, there was still the empty boardwalk, with empty benches and crumpled up blankets. Her chest burned when she sighed and turned to go inside.

For dinner she made dry toast. Her cat crunched on his dinner next to her and Arolina wrapped her favorite afghan blanket around her lap. Evening wind rushed through the balcony door, and the diamond-pattern stitching let the breeze through green and white fabric, and prickled Arolina’s legs. Her stomach rumbled.

The last time her sister was around, Sierra had promised to make their favorite pasta dish, topped with store-bought alfredo sauce. The store-bought sauce was necessary to compliment her sister’s beautifully fresh homemade pasta. When they were little, and their mother would be passed out on the couch with needles, cooking dinner was left to Sierra. Warm carbohydrates settling in the pits of their stomachs was a sense of comfort. Being too full for dessert was a feeling they did not experience often, and now, the alfredo sauce container in her fridge grew moldier every week.

Arolina reminisced about different memories of Sierra almost every evening. The evening of the denied-sacred-drink brought about the first time Sierra showed her their grandmother’s hickory-wood pastry wheel.

This is how grandma used to cook for mom when she was our age, Arolina. Do you know what genetics are? Genetics are pieces of us that we get from our family members that came before us. I bet our hands are the same size as grandma’s hands were… see? They fit perfectly on the pastry wheel!

Before Arolina could fully understand what the concept of genetics was, she assumed she got her hazel eyes from Sierra. Although her sister’s eyes were a light brown, Arolina didn’t think she could have gotten her eye color from anyone else. Their mother’s eyes were blue, and they never knew what color eyes their father had.

She bit down on the unbuttered bread as her appetite depleted. The clock ticked just past three a.m., and Indigo let out a small meow before jumping into his owner’s lap. The rhythm of his purrs made Arolina start to fall asleep in her chair. Before she slipped into a dreamless sleep, echoes of Sierra’s sneakers hitting the boardwalk floor as she ran to get them two more drinks pounded her eardrums. That was the last Arolina had heard her voice. Abruptly, she sat up and sobbed.

The next morning, a bright sun peered through an overcast sky. As she blinked her face awake, she recalled her interaction with Marley, when he asked her why she was so crazed over her regular beverage. The thought hadn’t occurred to her before; she just knew it was something she felt and never cared if there was more there might be to this habit. Sipping on nostalgia was a way of bringing Sierra back around, even momentarily.

She thudded down the stairs after giving Indigo another scoop of food. There was a sharp pain up her shin, stemming from the large purple bruise that fleshed itself out overnight from the bike stand attack. But this didn’t stop her from peddling her usual route down the shoreline and back to Marley’s Tiki bar stand.

“Just in time!” he called out. “Truck dropped off for me to restock this morning. The second I saw that turquoise bike, I made your drink and popped it in the fridge; I’ll go grab it! I saw how upset you were yesterday, so don’t worry – this one’s on the house.”

Arolina hopped off her bike and thanked Marley with an embarrassed smile. Beads of condensation clung to the glass cup. There was a sense of urgency that came from the vibrant swirls of orange and yellow. Without even the first sip, Arolina could taste the sweet and tangy combination – and yet something was different this time. She had never considered the leverage she placed on this drink until Marley had asked her why. Anxiety crept up, as if drinking the same drink was suddenly going to be different.

For the first time, it was. No nostalgia came back. No old feelings of comfort came back. She asked Marley if they had changed the brand of pineapple juice regularly used – he said no. Arolina realized she felt still just as empty as every second she wasn’t drinking a Piña Colada. But there wasn’t anger, frustration, betrayal, or much of a wistfulness this time, either.

This time, there was a hint of acceptance. She suddenly remembered the moldy alfredo sauce container in the fridge and thought that maybe it was time to get rid of it.


Nicole Stroh is an aspiring writer from Northern New Jersey. She is earning a minor in creative writing from William Paterson University and intends to continue on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in writing in the future.


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