national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014

A Sunny Place for Shady People

Lindsey Skillen  • 
University of Florida

The house where Bradford grew up has been turned into a sex colony and he doesn’t feel too good about it, so now we have to go check things out. The only reason I’m going is because I’ve been in love with him for the past three years but we’re about to break up. And I’m a little bit curious about the whole thing, honestly.

It looked normal from the outside, like an old plantation house, or a smaller imitation of one. It was nestled back into swampy trees, branches hung heavy with Florida moss.

Bradford pointed out the porch around back where he took his first steps. And the basketball hoop his dad put up above the garage was still there. We pulled into the driveway to turn around, but I guess they were expecting someone, because they came right out and beckoned us in.

The thing about these colonies is that the people who go naked are always the ones who shouldn’t.

I had trouble figuring out just how many people there were and distinguishing between them because I was trying so hard not to look at anybody dead on, but I think it was a naked older woman who said, “No need to be shy! Newcomers are always welcome!”

As we approached the front door I caught a glimpse of a sign that read: Florida–A Sunny Place for Shady People. I wanted to point it out to Bradford, but I was worried he wouldn’t laugh.

A naked man said, “We’ll give you a mini-tour and some pamphlets to look over. You can stay as long as you like.” He sounded hopeful.

Someone else whispered, “I can’t even imagine how hot it gets in all those layers.”

I flipped to the pamphlet’s Table of Contents: Swingers…page 3, Being in the Closet in a Closet…page 4, The More the Merrier…page 5, Dress-up/Role Play/Costumes/Furry with Friends…page 6, Package Deals and Packaged Meals…page 7. The small print at the bottom of the page said something about STD testing and cleanliness and not being held liable in case of anything.

Most people have nightmares about showing up to work with no clothes on. Everyone else is dressed and they’re the only ones who forgot that day. The tour through the house was the opposite of that.

In this place bodies were bare but the walls were not. Perhaps it had something to do with so many people living under one roof, but there was clutter everywhere. Dirty, wet towels sat coiled on the floors. Posters of genitalia masked the floral wallpaper. My favorite said, “Don’t be a pussy.”

After the tour of the living room (orgy room), kitchen (storage for lubes and hallucinogenic substances), and formal dining room (currently being used for nightly pornographic screenings), we were given penis-shaped lollipops and told we were free to explore the rest of the house ourselves. We didn’t want to be rude, so we ate the penis pops.

I have what I call Familial Amnesia, which means I can’t remember anything related to my family. But Bradford remembers everything related to his.

“Here’s where I used to swim in the bathtub with my betta fish,” he said, in the bathroom.

“Here’s where I chipped my tooth against the banister,” he said, at the top of the stairs.

“Here’s where I would hide when my brother and I played hide-and-seek,” he said, outside the linen closet, now a closet for people in the closet.

The door to his old bedroom was locked so we didn’t get to see it. I said it was probably for the best. He said nothing.

I couldn’t help but notice how the lollipop resembled a pacifier in Bradford’s mouth. I imagined that I was with the baby Bradford, the one who grew up here. And it was my job to shield him from seeing too much.

It was already getting dark and most of the nudists, furries, and alter egos were in the backyard garden sipping strong teas under twinkle lights. We were told to sit down and then told even more without asking.

“I overcame cancer, obesity, and diversity. Life’s not easy for a white man in America these days.”

“I was the Kevin Bacon of the Honolulu airport before I came here.”

“We were married just long enough to piss off the kids.”

“I’m a two-beer queer.”

We were eventually brought stale cookies on fine china. Bradford said he recognized the plates. His mom had left the porcelain in the house when they’d moved because it had belonged to his dad’s first wife.

As we sat there, I wondered if we made a good couple to the sex colonists. I was positive that Bradford wasn’t thinking anything about us, not because he was engrossed in the conversation, but because he doesn’t think about things like that.

Two stiff blow-up dolls sat next to us in the corner, staring straight ahead.

We were invited to stay for “erotic mouse movies,” but Bradford made up some fake children who needed us at home.


I felt as if a crusty layer of mold was coating my body as I climbed back into the car and I wished that I could scrape it all off with a cheese grater and start over. I couldn’t wait to get as far away from the house as possible, but Bradford wasn’t backing up the car.

“When we were kids, my mom used to play a game with us on our way back from soccer practice. It was called the ‘Will Daddy Be Home’ game. We would all take bets on whether or not Dad would be back from work yet. I always said he would because I always hoped he would. I can still remember how good it felt to turn the corner and see his car in the driveway.” I could tell Bradford was crying a little, even though he wouldn’t have wanted me to know.

We released just enough air from our stiff blow-up bodies to reach over and hold hands, but not enough to hold each other. I felt as though Bradford could float away out the car window at any moment and leave me slowly deflating in the passenger seat.