by Kelsey Robbins Lauder
A small-time internet scammer is shaken from her somewhat safe new life when an investigator arrives with questions to do with her erstwhile "period of moral decline" — specifically, the whereabouts of a young woman whose brief, bright friendship nearly steered her from the stability she now craves.
I TAKE THE SCENIC route even though I'm already fifteen minutes late. A stretch of wetland along Highway 101, south of my home, contains pearlescent-grey tree trunks. Their branches are broken away, none taller than a few metres. Tops jagged and broken. They fascinated me as a kid—still do, but without the mystery. I thought the trees petrified, perhaps turned to stone long ago. I realize now the colour comes from years of exposure to sea salt air and recognize the ghostly hue in the driftwood piled on the beach, but still those trees are granite in my mind, the water that runs through the marsh diseased.
Even now I slow my car as I pass, allow a pile of irritated drivers to crowd behind me. Unchanged. Perhaps it is not a poisoned place but a moment out of time, an error in the universe’s expansion.
Ten minutes later, I reach the outskirts of Depoe Bay and pull into Tidal Raves. It’s off season, still gloomy, so the restaurant’s parking lot is empty. This town is a small dip in highway speed limit, insignificant except for the countless summer rental houses and the stone wall that protects the main strip of shops from battered Pacific waves. It is a neutral ground.
I check the mirror before I get out. My eyeliner has smudged, and the bobby pins to keep my hair intact have fallen out. I rearrange a few and grab the sunglasses my boyfriend, Luke, left in the glove compartment. Cheap tactics run out, and I go inside.
IF I STOOD IN front of my peers, no doubt would they find me innocent of any wrongdoing, though guilty of criminal activity. People don’t mind when you scam insurance companies or steal from the corporate giants that slit our throats Monday through Friday. It’s when you hurt poor, innocent grannies that people burn you. I keep to the Robin Hood side, but truth be told it's too easy. Email some old lady, tell her you're in Mexico, she's already won a grand prize, say a yacht. A week after she pays the so-called border fees, a model boat appears in her mailbox. That's not me, but one piece of advice for anyone: there are bad guys everywhere. Doesn’t matter what it says on their passports.
In fact, I learned how to hustle from a Spaniard. A girl called Alba who came from Barcelona to study. I was in a period of moral decline: broke from a drug habit an ex-boyfriend dumped me with and carrying too much dead weight to clean my life up and maybe find a real job. Alba lived in the pantry of the old farmhouse we rented on the outskirts of Eugene. She would sit on the handlebars of my bike every morning we woke in time for class. We grew close in an instant, I charmed by her European exoticism and lack of sentimentality, she enraptured by my heavy sarcasm and eagerness to jump at anything shady.
The first time we ran the luggage scam, Alba ran point. I thought we should try both legs, but Alba warned subtlety and patience are the only saints of scam artistry. We begged a little cash out of our parents and took separate non-stop flights from PDX to John Wayne for spring break. With brand new credit cards, we shopped luxury names: clothes only, electronics are useless. The next day we’d return the coat or shoes or dress—not without a little heartbreak—but keep the receipt. The rest of the time we snorted lines off surfboards and rode beach cruisers in bikinis through sandy streets lined with million-dollar McMansions. The good life brushed against my fingertips, waiting for me to take hold.
about the author
KELSEY ROBBINS LAUDER is a writer from the Oregon Coast now pursuing her MFA at the University of Victoria. She also has published or forthcoming short fiction in EVENT and Little Fiction, and has served as an intern on the fiction board at The Malahat Review since 2013. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. She can be found on Twitter at @krlaudr.
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