| Catapult Alumni
Fiction Excerpt from ‘Always the Gulf Always’
This novel excerpt was written by Emily Dziuban in A. E. Osworth’s 12-Month Novel Generator.
Straight people (and some queer people) ask “ How do you do that? ” when they learn that RonMarie’s current girlfriend is Pope, who is the best friend of RonMarie’s first girlfriend Beck, who is the current girlfriend of Bailey, who was the first girlfriend of Pope. “ Swapped partners after two had an affair? And stayed friends? Who vacation? ” They did and they do and it was hard and everything’s better now; except . . . RonMarie struggles.
In 2020, the four return to their annual timeshare week—bought thirty years ago when real estate deeds were the closest gay people could get to marriage licenses—on a Florida Gulf Coast barrier island. Exhausted by the pandemic, RonMarie desperately needs to feel peaceful and resolved about the Beck/Bailey affair that led their queer, chosen family to be broken apart and rearranged. But then Beck proposes to Bailey, something she promised RonMarie she’d never do, and RonMarie learns at the worst possible moment that her parents, who told her not to come home when she came out, are intubated and could die. The wedding is set for the end of the week and RonMarie is forced to the very edges of the gulf inside her, alone with the seemingly impossible choice of staying on familiar shores or going off to sea.
Told across two timelines, past and present, RonMarie’s story bears the weight of the group’s thirty-year history colliding. The light changes on the sand and the undulating sea grass; pelicans roost, manatees mate, and RonMarie realizes she’s been avoiding looking at the clock. Always the Gulf Always is a tightly plotted and lyrical debut from a writer to watch. With an intimate understanding of the ecology of Florida’s coast and of queer communities, Emily Dziuban offers a view into how social isolation hides abuse, the consequences of avoiding choice in the face of conflicting desires, and how people participate in the history of place over the course of their departures and returns.
Nowhere to go on the island, RonMarie sat on the landing at the staircase’s switchback, watching a brown lizard hunt bugs in a tiny light’s orange glow. If RonMarie looked up, she saw the door to the timeshare she owned with Beck where all three of them were what, still drinking? Getting stories straight? If RonMarie looked down, she saw the door to Pope’s timeshare, with no one inside.
Not one of the three, not one, not one of the three, not her own girlfriend, not her girlfriend’s best friend, not her own best friend of more than a decade, and not even the one she thought of as a sister opened the door to check on her.
The landing, though, felt like a friend. Had she sat on it her whole life? Had she always been on this landing, ever since her parents told her to protect her sister by staying away? Had she ever actually left this hard, wooden platform, the home of lizards and bugs?
A door opened and RonMarie had a split second to rehearse refusing to come back inside. But the voice came from a direction other than the two doors she was trying not to watch.
“Shit finally going down?” Cherish said, the woman who owned the second downstairs timeshare. “You wanna hide out in here and make them wonder?”
“I love you,” RonMarie said, standing, amazed at how clearly and quickly Cherish understood the landscape. She hopped down the few steps and took a turn to the left where she never had before.
The timeshare units were all the same in every way—size, furnishings, coffee pots, two beach chairs hanging from wooden pegs—except in two ways: ceiling height and orientation. Being in someone else’s timeshare was an exercise in dissociative association, not unlike living queer; everything simultaneously deeply familiar and deeply strange. I know that chair. No, you don’t. I’ve slept under that white-on-blue sea-shelled comforter. No, you haven’t. This person is your girlfriend. No, she’s not.
The lights were off in Cherish’s kitchen, yet RonMarie could see empty wine bottles standing on the counters, arranged carefully and beautifully as if they were trees in a forest. The week was four days gone; the bottles numbered a dozen.
“Balcony or couch?” Cherish said. “Balcony means we can hear them if they are out on theirs. And they can hear us. But fuck ‘em. Cheaters.”
RonMarie flinched at the word. “They aren’t cheaters. They are my family.”
“Ah. I see. That’s where we are. Not even fully into stage one. Still velveteen. ”
“You aren’t real yet.” Cherish opened a box carved into small squares and grabbed a bottle’s neck.
“You aren’t making any sense,” RonMarie said. She stood, not touching anything.
A corkscrew magicked into Cherish’s other hand. “You aren’t ready for sense. For truth.”
RonMarie stiffened. “You know nothing.” The lights were also off in the main room. A single rectangle of light escaped a bedroom doorway. “You sit in the dark and get drunk.”
RonMarie regretted this arrow the moment she’d loosed it. Shame sat her on the couch where she mollusked herself as far into her shell as she could, except she had no shell, so she just looked like a soft thing trying to make itself small.
Cherish smiled and slowly turned the corkscrew. “True story. I sit in the dark and get drunk.” She said this calmly, unemotional.
“What?” RonMarie said on the couch. Where was the knock at the door? Where was the concerned calling of her name? RonMarie ’ s ankles were awkwardly arranged and in pain. She could feel heat in her face and salt water gathering in her eyes. She was now a fish puffing and expanding under threat.
“ Fucking what ?” RonMarie screamed, loud enough for her people upstairs to hear if they were even trying to. The tears crashed down her red face.
“You are not going to be able to hear what I would say to you,” Cherish said. Cherish waited. Sipped.
Feeling the near-panic of the near-drowned, RonMarie said, “Tell me anyway.”