Sit on the dock before sunrise. Watch Peter dump lobster traps off the stern of his boat. Before the sky brightens (before he can see you), sneak back up to the hotel to start your shift in the kitchen.
Try to forget about the night you fell in love. Forget about the wedding reception you both crashed on the front lawn of the hotel. Forget how he loaded champagne into a water pistol and shot it into your mouth during the Electric Slide, and later, on Fish Beach, how he lit for you the first cigarette of your life.
Wash, with extra detergent, the tank top you wore the night he took your virginity, a week after you crashed the wedding. Throw out your purple bra—the last thing he saw you in before he snuck out of your room and never looked you in the eye again.
Try to forget that you are just a dishwasher, the lowest on the food chain of hotel employees, that you signed a contract to stay on this island until late August, binding you almost by law to see him every day, either in the harbor or in his pickup truck as he barrels down the one dirt road.
At night, instead of going to keg parties up by the lighthouse, or boxed-wine parties on Fish Beach with the other workers, sit Indian-style on your cot and pray that Peter falls overboard and gets eaten by a shark, or that a twenty-pound lobster pinches his dick off.
When the kitchen manager tells you, while you are up to your elbows in suds and salad dressing, that your dishes aren’t clean enough, that your plate stacks are crooked—run. Stand on the dock and leap into the ocean, still wearing your white button-down shirt, your grey slacks, and your apron. Scream on the way down. (Try to do this during low tide: the fall is longer.) Dry off and apologize to your boss, because this will not be about him or about washing dishes.
Ignore the concern and advice from Ola, another dishwasher, who you accidentally confided in over the breakfast dishes. When she says, “Guys are so stupid! You deserve better!” don’t trust her—she’s sleeping with Peter’s best friend.
Listen (but appear indifferent), when, in late July, you overhear the line cooks talking about the accident. Inch closer to their conversation, the jumbled stories of how maybe Peter was strangled by the rope of a lobster trap, or maybe he flipped off the stern and, weighed down by his foulies, was unable to swim. Believe whichever version you want—it doesn’t matter, either way, he’s dead now.
Go to the funeral (sit in back with the other workers; sit on your hands so that you don’t chew your cuticles and make them more bloody than they already are), but not to the reception at his parents’ house. Instead, while everyone is busy wearing black and eating plates of brie and beef Wellington, sit on the dock. Fill a water pistol with champagne and shoot down into the harbor. Watch the droplets fall; lean over and watch your own tears drip into the sea. This is how you say goodbye.
In August, be the best dishwasher you can be. Smile at the servers. Say good morning to the line cooks. Introduce yourself, for the first time, to the surly sous-chef. Scrub mashed sweet potatoes, grilled halibut, and honeyed sea scallops off fine China plates, like you’re trying to scrub away his memory (but it won’t really help; that shit cakes on and never washes away).
Do small, real-person things. Wear your retainer at night. Pluck your eyebrows. Change your sheets once a week. Become friends with Josh, the hotel maintenance man with only one ear, who hasn’t left the island in five years. When he tells you that Peter had always been an asshole, his whole life—smile, because you won’t be bitter anymore.
When you finally leave the island, just after Labor Day, start dating the opposite of Peter. Do everything differently. Don’t let him shoot champagne on you. Keep your clothes on this time.
Carolyn Mainardi, a graduate of Boston University, lives and writes all around New England. Her short fiction appears in Danse Macabre and fiftywordstories.com, and is forthcoming in Burn Magazine and Crack the Spine.