Till Human Voices Wake Us

by Jay Malkin

Font CraftThey swam in the ocean at Jones Beach, three young girls. All three were at that stage, around fifteen or sixteen, when young girls, some of them anyway, really blossom into paragons of youthful beauty and become fully aware of their allure and sensuality.

One was blond, chiseled features, blue eyes, a real ice princess. Another looked South American, dark skin and full lips. The third was Asian, with silky black hair, a porcelain complexion and almond eyes. The three were messing around, bobbing about in the water just at the depth the waves began rising, their long hair trailing behind them. Sometimes, when the water ebbed, onlookers caught tantalizing glimpses of full breasts under their bikini tops and whittled waists.

Just about every man and boy above a certain age was aware of their presence.

Bob Fredicci, 54, twice married and twice divorced, was riding the waves and wondering if the girls had noticed him, as he slowly found himself swimming his way in their direction. He’d always been a ladies’ man, so why wouldn’t they notice him, and perhaps blush and giggle awkwardly as he worked his charm on them?

"Oh my gawd!" the blond girl gasped to her friends, motioning toward him. "Did you see that guy checking us out?"

"You mean the one with the pot belly?" giggled the dusky girl.

"Yeah, and hair on his back—yuck!"

"Gross me out!"

Bob shamefacedly paddled away.

Font CraftMike Mishnowski, 33, receding hairline, was body surfing. His wife was on the shore watching their two young children dig in the sand. But he was forgetting about them all, moving toward these dream girls. Maybe they’d be in awe of him, somehow knowing all he’d accomplished as logistics manager at his consumer packaged goods company. Maybe they liked the intellectual type.

The three girls formed a circle and started giggling. "What a dweeb! Ugh!" snickered the Asian girl.

"Talk about pale, looks like he’s been sitting at a computer all summer," said the dark girl. "And somebody should teach him about comb-overs!"

Mike turned away, trying to pretend he hadn’t heard their comments. He cursed himself for being such a sucker. This type of girl hadn’t gone for someone like him in high school or college, and they certainly wouldn’t now that he was no longer young. He had an urge to swim deeper and deeper into the ocean until pulled down to a watery death.

Becky Dorfman, eighteen and self-conscious of how even the bathing suit she’d picked out that was practically guaranteed to flatter the figures of women with big hips and long torsoes wasn’t working, was swimming with her friend Ashley O’Connell. "I wish someone would drown those girls," said Becky. "They are so bitchy."

"Yeah," said Ashley with little enthusiasm for the event actually occurring. Ashley knew that the sun would make her multitude of freckles even more multitudinous and was wondering if she should break up with her boyfriend, who seemed to mostly ignore her. "I hate girls like that."

The Asian girl held her nose and dunked under water. She came up, hair covering her face, then flipped her hair over her head. Her hair flaired out, catching the sun, flicking light-imbued drops of water, her body forming a perfect arc. You could almost hear every man on the beach breathe one audible sigh.

Jason Koons, sixteen, tote bag and oversized towel in hand, followed his parents and younger sisters as they trekked down the beach. "Gotta look for somewhere close to the water but not too close, you know," explained his father.

Jason didn’t care about finding the perfect spot as much as avoiding other kids his age as much as possible. He let his shaggy hair fall over his eyes so he could peer around, looking anxiously to see if anyone from his school was there to snub him. After spending most of his life as the dorky kid with reading problems who was in Special Ed, he’d learned to fear the taunts and ostracism of most of the "regular" kids, and aside from a few friends, spend most of his time alone.

"What about here?" asked his mom, and everyone began laying out their towels and beach paraphernalia. Jason pulled off his shirt, once more ducking under his hair to avoid the possible sight of anyone who might be snickering at his pudginess.

He did love the ocean, though. He made his way to the water, noticing sickly that there were three very attractive girls, just the sort to ridicule him. Luckily, he thought, he was far from the only chunky, doofy guy on the beach, and since he didn’t recognize these girls, hoped they would simply leave him alone.

Font CraftThe three girls started giggling and pushing each other around playfully. Suddenly they turned almost as one toward the shore and stared as if mesmerized as Jason waded into the water. Their raw youth seemed to fade, replaced with something timeless. Then they started to sing.

Their song insinuated itself into everyone’s minds as if they were each hearing it in their own dreams. The voices were so enticing. The men heard it and remembered their lost youth, their hopes and dreams and how they’d longed for finding that unearthly, beautiful woman who loves you just as you are, and they were filled with longing once again.

For the women, the song brought them back to when they were very young. It was a song about looking in the mirror and being entirely happy with what you saw and assuming that you’d grow up to have the face and figure of a fairy princess, or Barbie, or at the very least, a fashion model, and boys would be lined up to ask you to dances and proms. A time before you realized that you’d never be more than a plain, if not homely, woman settling for someone who was all too imperfectly human.

But for Jason the voices were calling to him and him alone, pleading with him, full of longing, to come with them, where he would be loved, where they would introduce him to such pleasures. They wanted him, were hungry for him, their hearts were breaking with love and desire.

The girls were moving out to sea, Jason with them, until a piercing noise shattered their song. The lifeguard, aware that the boy was swimming way past where he should be, had snapped himself together, fumblingly gathered his whistle to his mouth and blown. Jason blinked, the girls, or whatever they were, had gone, and had they ever even been there in the first place? He swam back to shore, bereft, but irrevocably changed.

He now saw himself as those girls had seen him, as someone whose pudginess had melted away when he’d shot up those extra inches over the past few months. That he was actually slim, broad-shouldered, and good-looking in that bewitching way that would enable him to turn girls’ hearts to jelly, that they found the way he had of hiding under his hair to be absolutely adorable. The girls at school would look at him and want him. And if they didn’t, plenty of other girls would. That this year would be different. In fact, the rest of his life would be a lot different.

Everyone else who had heard the song went home feeling oddly out of sorts, and not in a good way. They and their lives now seemed empty, devoid, maddeningly mediocre, and it would take many days for things to feel normal again.

—Jay Malkin lives on Long Island. His interests include birdwatching, yoga, and catching up on his sleep.

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