Our Lady of Lasers

by Allison Pinkerton Read author interview June 19, 2017

The AC’s broken in Mom’s car. It’s July; it’s Florida; I want to kill myself. Smarter kids in my class might compare it to Fahrenheit 451, which they assigned last year in 8th. I don’t know; I didn’t read it. The back of my tank top is soaked when I sit forward to get closer to the air vent. Wishful thinking—no air circulates. I smell like lavender, my deodorant working overtime.

Three stoplights until we reach the pet store. I’m not sure my mom and I can survive each other that long. The leather steering wheel is so hot she touches it with the tips of her fingers. She won’t let me drive, even though she learned when she was fourteen. She taught Becca when Becca was fourteen, and then Becca fucking drove away in the middle of the night with her boyfriend four weeks ago.

Mom wants me to get a pet because she thinks I’m lonely. Really, she is—Becca was her girl. #squaddaughter.

I told Mom you can’t be lonely if you have Twitter, but she doesn’t believe me. A dog, she thinks. I’d rather get a spider, a chinchilla. A pangolin, like in that Facebook video. It’s like an anorexic armadillo, and I love it for its strangeness—I feel strange now, without Becca. Without her, I can’t report to anyone when Mom stuffs tear-soaked Kleenex down the garbage disposal. And, Mom pays too much attention to me—she asks what I had for lunch. Tacos, I tell her. Every damn day.

Mom turns up the music at the first of the three final stoplights. She rolls down the windows and sings pop-country: pick-up trucks, bonfires, Solo cups. An old man in the next lane looks over and nods his approval. I pray for deliverance.

“How about The Smiths?” I ask.

She frowns.

“A pupper would make you feel better,” Mom says. She uses internet language when she tries to connect with me, because Becca spoke internet. I roll down my window and stick my head out. Hot air hits my face. “Maybe a loaf,” she says louder.

A loaf is internet for Corgi, and a Corgi would make me feel old and British and no less sad.

Also, what is she doing? She was Becca’s friend, not mine.

“Matching unicorn hair?” I ask. “Is that next, Barbara?”

She hates when I call her that.

“Evelyn Elizabeth,” she says. I put my bare feet on the dashboard, green toenail polish neon in the sun. The heat blisters my heels, but I don’t move them.

“Pretending to be Becca won’t bring her back,” I say.

Cool air unexpectedly surges from the vents, giving me goosebumps. I should apologize. I don’t. #moraldilemma. #Idontknowhowtotalktopeople.

The light turns green, and Mom floors it. I study her face through the side mirror, to see how much groveling I’m in for. She’s got new wrinkles, wine-stained lips from her 2 a.m. ritual glass of red. I heard her pop the cork last night when I was sitting on the stairs drawing my new superhero—the Virgin Mary with a laser gun.

She drinks, she prays, I put it on Snapchat. She used to pray with Becca. Now she drinks on Tuesday nights.

I don’t want to talk about Becca, but I should. If I don’t tell Mom what I know (Becca was empty—not angry—when she left) I’ll feel guilty. Last Thursday, Mom bought seventeen copies of A Handmaid’s Tale to mail to our senator. If I had known what Becca’s leaving would do, I would have done more to stop her.

“It wasn’t you,” I say.

Mom’s eyes well up. I would get out of the car if we weren’t moving. The girls at school are bitches, I tell her. Hags.

Mom runs the second stoplight. People lay on their horns and a boy on the back of a motorcycle flips us off. A pedestrian steps back onto the curb. I look for cops.

“Those girls say pupper,” I say. “So, please don’t.”

Mom’s clueless, and doesn’t realize the flaw in Becca’s logic—that no one can get away from the internet. Maybe Becca thought those girls would move on if she wasn’t around.

We stop suddenly at the third light. Mom flings her arm out across my chest to protect me. She untwists the strap of my tank top and says nothing about the zebra-print bra I wear with thin white shirts just to annoy her. We turn into the pet store parking lot, the bottom of the car scrapes the gutter. Mom cuts the ignition.

“I’m going to stay in here for a minute,” she says.

She’s got 2 a.m. wine voice—quiet, helpless in an embarrassing way that makes me feel awful for being awful.

I get brown eyeliner out of my purse and take Mom’s hand, my fingers pressing her palm.

She tenses and starts to pull away. I hold her hand tighter.

Quickly, I sketch my superhero—Mary’s flowing mantle, the halo around her head, the sunglasses to protect her eyes from the laser gun she fires—beams pinging out across Mom’s knuckles.

After I finish, I hold her hand.

Mom looks at my drawing. She touches my hair and then stares out the window. Mary wiggles as Mom’s hands shake on the steering wheel.

She’s fragile. Even though I know I shouldn’t leave, I can’t even right now, so I get out of the car and walk into the store alone. The pavement burns the soles of my feet. I look back. She’s resting her head on the steering wheel. Mary shines in the sun through the windshield. Look up. Please. I’m sorry. I smile to show her we’re good. I’ll stand here until she looks up. I’ll wait.

About the Author:

Allison Pinkerton is the 2017 Kathy Fish fellow at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her work is forthcoming in Image, and has been published online at Monkeybicycle, The Pinch, and elsewhere.