The Boiler

Jillian Quinn

POSTCARD ETIQUETTE (WHAT NOT TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS
WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD)

You find out the hard way that there are things you can’t tell your friends back home, while travelling abroad. Post pictures online, send postcards back home, but not your dissatisfactions, your twinging failures, the soreness in your spine that keeps you up at night in your hostel bunk bed. Friends will ask if you are having a good time, if you are grateful. You will say yes and fiercely mean it. But you’re in a position of privilege, and you discover there are things no one wants you to admit, experiences they don’t want to bear witness to – some unspoken, watery contract.

So do yourself a favor and don’t tell your friends about how there are sounds your tongue can’t take the shape of. You’re 23 and in Sicily where your mother and her mother were born. Half of your blood might run from this country, but you quickly learn that you don’t belong here. You clobber the language, and your skin is too white for a Sicilian’s. Bronzed men missing teeth catcall, “Bianca!” when you walk down the road, your pale legs glinting like fish scales below your shorts.

Don’t tell people that you are shit at taking things as they come, at gathering wildflowers nurturingly. You pluck them before they’re ready, impatient to have the world figured out.

Don’t mention that you fancy yourself a traveler, but you’re starting to wonder if your identity is vain hope. You think of those people who say they can play the guitar when all they can do is pluck the riff to “Smoke on the Water” on the top E string.

Don’t admit that, though you’re in an endless, rapturous current of beauty and human history, you are scared. Some days you kind of just want to go back home where you know how the toilets work, and how your lover likes to be touched, and what time of year the sea turtles hatch out of their eggs on the beach near your house in Florida.

Don’t tell your friends that you feel small in measure and in time. How many people walked this land before you? Beneath the place where you are staying in Sicily are the split stones of ancient cities, the split bones of kings. The world moved on and built an apartment complex on top of them. Even if you could tell your friends this, there isn’t a word in English to describe the feeling. You wonder if there is a word for it in any language living or ancient. Maybe the dead people buried far below your bed knew the name of it, but not you.

Above all, do not tell your friends that in the pre-dawn sky, all mauve and silver, there are silky, nebulous shapes that ripple in front of your bedroom window. There isn’t an explanation for this, but you don’t believe in ghosts. It must be some kind of trick of the light, however, you have to admit that it looks as if someone is waving to you, welcoming you to a world that no longer exists and isn’t theirs to give.

You don’t tell your friends this, but sometimes you wave back. Just in case.

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Jillian Quinn graduated from Florida State University’s creative writing program and live in Oregon where she works as a freelance writer and editor. She has been previously published in the Pacifica Literary Review.