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**PRINT: MIXTAPE: THE2NDHAND’s 29th issue builds on a concept we introduced to the Chicago reading/performance scene in July 2007 -- the Mixtape reading, wherein several writers cast short-short stories inspired by pop songs. The concept evolved after several incarnations of its live component to include a published series here at the2ndhand.com and, now, a broadsheet. This latest includes 2008 Birmingham Artwalk contest winners Nadria Tucker and Emily Self, both past contributors to THE2NDHAND and both writing from Birmingham, and a story by Zach Plague, author of the art-school satire/adventure novel Boring boring boring..., out now from Chicago’s Featherproof Books. Tracklist: Leaving Batesville, Night Moves, Carousel...

**WEB: MIXTAPE: WARSAW Michael Tesney
STAND Lauren Pretnar
HERMAN: PART 2 Stanley Holditch

Lauren Pretnar

It is a summer month and hot even in the maddeningly mild Bay area. July, maybe August, and so Isa has just had her third May birthday and stands with me on the beach now a solid three years old. Both of us in our bikinis, we watch parents frolic lightly in the water with their infants, ourselves stuck on shore kneading the sand with impatient toes. We are waiting for the lifeguard to blow his whistle and let us back into the weedy, murky, wonderful lake.

"But why?" she says for the dozenth time.

"I just told you," I mimic. "Because kids are crazy."

"They're loud," she says.

"Loud and wild," I say.

"They splash," she adds.


"And babies don't like to be splashed."

"No, they don't. Neither do grown-ups."

"But you don't mind."

Hers is a statement well grounded in experience, something she has come to believe for good reason, since I've spent the last eight months trying to win her affection and trust in part by spoiling her. I am an unusually good playmate, but in truth I rarely enjoy being splashed. I lift the damp pale hair from her neck and twist it into a sloppy knot with one finger.

"Sometimes I mind," I say.

"But not most of the time," she says.

"Maybe I mind but I let you do it anyway," I suggest.

"Because I'm a kid?"

"Because you're my favorite kid."

She tilts her head back and smiles up at me, squinting against the sun. "Because I'm your kid," she says.

There is no stopping how happy this makes me. I bend and kiss her bright face but manage to say nothing. Isa looks back to the water and I rest my hands on her small, pale shoulders. We hold very still for a few moments before I feel her restless weight shift from one foot to the other, then back again, then she is filling her lungs for what I know will be a long dramatic sigh followed by the question.

I head her off at the pass. "How much longer?" I say.

She switches gears seamlessly. Her childish sigh of complaint becomes an exasperated response to my question and she shakes her head in mock-adult mystification. "I just don't know," she says. She shoots a look of unamused impatience in the direction of the lifeguard, who breaks the spell by smiling and waving to her. Consumed by shyness, Isa shrinks back in horror, throws her arms around my leg, and buries her face against my skin.

"Oh, come on, little ostrich," I say. "He's just saying hi." She only grips my leg more tightly so I wave back to the lifeguard for her, shrugging an apology. He returns my shrug, then holds up ten fingers. I flash the OK sign and tap Isa on the head. "Hey, kid," I say. "Ten more minutes." She ignores me. I tighten the knot of yellow fabric at the base of her neck, wrap an arm around my new appendage, and go back to watching the water.

There is a woman in the shallows clutching a doughy infant boy beneath the arms. His diaper sags past his knees, waterlogged, doubling his size. He is too young to stand in the water on his own but he's thrilled, over-stimulated and bouncing with excitement. As I watch, the woman loses her grip on his wet skin and in that moment he pitches forward, tumbling sweetly through the surface to his chin. Before this small trauma has time to register, she has swept him up onto her hip and is wiping the water from his face with one hand, cooing until he takes her cue and shrieks with joy at the adventure. I laugh out loud to see this well-worn mother's trick work once again and Isa snaps to attention, wanting to know.

"What?" she demands. "What are you laughing at?"

I crouch down so our heads are level and pull her close. Automatically, she drapes an arm across my shoulders. I point to the woman and her baby and Isa presses her cheek against mine to better follow my line of sight. "See that little boy and his mama?" I say. "She was holding him up but he slipped and fell into the water."

Her jaw tightens at the idea. "But is he OK?"

"He's fine," I say. "I was laughing because he looked a little scared for a second, but then he realized he was safe."

Isa snickers, smug with three-year-old wisdom. "Because he's just a little baby," she says. "He's too small to stand on his own so his mama has to help him." She turns to me. "Right?"

"Right," I say.

"When I was a little baby," she continues, "you had to hold me up in the water and even on the ground. You had to help me walk!" She nods in agreement with herself. "But now I'm three. I'm not a baby anymore, I'm a kid. I can run and swim..."

And she goes on but I lose track of her words. I'm thinking about the first time I met her in the airport parking lot when she was two and a half. She sat in the trunk with the hatchback open, eating dried mango her father handed to her piece by piece as he waited for me to arrive. She refused to talk to me that day as we drove from the airport to her mother's house to drop her off, a total of twenty minutes in the car together, she hiding her face the whole way, me terrified of the implications, her father and I waiting until after the exchange to touch one another for fear of traumatizing his small daughter. I did not know her as a little baby. I did not hold her up so she could walk and I am thrilled that she assumes I did.

The lifeguard blows his whistle and I'm in ankle-deep before I realize Isa is not with me. She has found some kid's green plastic shovel and is burrowing into the beach. I shout to her from the water but she just looks up, waves in a placating way, and returns to her work. I swim by myself for a few minutes before the kids resume their maniacal splashing and I flee for the shore.

Isa proceeds to bury me. She has dug a good-size hole and I hunker down into it as best I can, collapsing my shoulders like a grown man trying to submerge in a bathtub. She instructs me not to move and sets to work filling in the empty space around my body. I close my eyes and try to keep my breathing shallow so as not to crack the surface of her work and make her scowl. I think about how when I stand up my bikini will be full of sand, how I won't be able to rinse it out nearly enough in the shallow lake. I think about the fact that I haven't brought a change of clothes and I'll be stuck in my sandy, irritating bathing suit throughout the trip to the ice cream shop I've promised her. I realize that I've definitely turned into an adult if these are my thoughts while being buried in sand. I open my eyes to the glaring everything; the lake, the shore, the grass; the parents with their kids; kids with their buckets and suntans and branches of cool, sandy grapes; families upon families upon families. Isa has me up to my neck in no time.