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  • Anne Kuster

Time to Burn

By my fifth afternoon in Pattaya City sunshine has tattooed the exposed layers of my skin. Shadows created by metallic hotels and palm fronds extend only so far over the sand. I want to let my feet bathe, so I move beyond the shade. The beach is rocky beneath my toes. I am stung by shells and soothed by sea foam in opposite breaths.

I walk through the waves all the way to Siladon Spa. I have a massage appointment for the same day that my ex is traveling to the midwestern U.S. The spa is meant to be a distraction but I can’t help but compare my Thai afternoon to what I’m missing in Indiana. He’ll freeze out of obligation until he leaves our university’s football game at halftime (if he makes it that long). I am drowning in saltwater: sweat, tears, and the sea.

I choose the aloe scrub with cucumber.

“You okay?”

The attendant giggles as she traces the red borderlands of my back. My sunburn maps the path I took this morning. My left arm is bright red where light bounced off the water and settled on me. The attendant clucks as she spreads lotion past my elbow.

“Hot in Thailand,” she says knowingly.

I’m at the point of this breakup where everything feels like a metaphor. As her small fists pound my back I realize this is what healing is: excavating each of the knots he tied underneath my skin; kneading them back to flat through kind advice or tragic rewrites; enduring pointed pain today for the promise of peace tomorrow.

We went to an open-air bar last night. My co-workers each brought significant others, a “guy I’m seeing” and a newlywed. In their infant joy I saw a past version of us. I know two ways to fall in love - slowly (like beer on the dance floor) or all at once (like tequila and lime). I used to think there was no wrong option, but yesterday I gripped my Singha like a lifeline.

I had wanted to share Pattaya with him. Tequila shots and aloe vera. I would’ve bought sunscreen if he’d come, justifying the expensive purchase by protecting two bodies instead of sacrificing only my own.

If not for the breakup I would have been on a flight to Chicago at 1:30 pm Thai time, racing from sunshine to snowstorms so I could spend an extra night cradled in his arms. There wouldn’t have been any time for this massage.

There might not even have been time to burn.


Annie Kuster‘s creative nonfiction and poetry has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Nowhere Magazine, What Rough Beast and other journals. She lives in Washington D.C. and works full-time in global health. You can find her at @anniekuster_ on Instagram.

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