I was driving southbound on Clementine towards the Whole Foods. December fifteenth and I was stopped at a red light. You were in the lane beside me with your friends in a powder blue Toyota and as you pulled up I noticed you were looking in at me. You were in a blue dress, red hair slightly curled and lightly touching your shoulders. I couldn’t help but feel like an animal in the zoo, a snake that is potentially venomous or a lion with one leg and no teeth. The kind that’s so hard to look at. The kind you can’t look away from. The kind that should be shot because that’s really the only humane thing to do.
But we lock eyes and it’s for more than a second so I’m sure we both feel weird about it. So I do this thing with my hand that looks like waving. A bit like a seizure, maybe, and I can see you laugh with your friends. I decide to turn forward and all of a sudden I don’t know how to sit or what to do with my arms. It feels like when there’s someone behind me watching me walk and I am worried about my walk looking strange to them and so in an attempt to normalize it, it appears labored and awkward. I drive away right as the light turns green and I sneak a glance back at you and you and all of your friends are still looking at me.
Then a lifetime runs through my mind where we had both pulled over and started talking. We keep talking every day and the talking never feels like my labored walk. That’s new for both of us so we steal your friend’s car and drive all the way up the coast of California robbing people with a little green squirt gun tucked in the pocket of your jacket. We use that cash for gas, food, and pills. Not in that order. We rent the shittiest rooms we can find and collapse next to each other like poorly supported children’s tents. We’re so glad we pulled over that day. That day seems like years ago.
We start getting more daring, more comfortable with each other and our ability to hurt everyone that isn’t us. So we fill our little green squirt gun with toilet cleaner and we spray it into the eyes of people that look at us like we’re scum. Even though we both know we are. At night in our room you pretend to pistol-whip me and we are happy, this time without the aid of someone else’s medication.
Then our son is born. We don’t ever stop doing what we’re doing so we leave him in the car with the windows rolled up when we go out with our little green squirt gun. It’s summertime and when we get back we notice that he’s either been sweating or crying or both.
Pretty soon the child’s crying makes you even more vicious than you’ve always been. We stand side by side in front of the motel mirror and it looks like a police line up. My eyes are weighed down by baggage, my face a mess of scars, lips shredded and just past them my teeth are falling out. Your hair’s been torn out in clumps and your eyes are bloodshot and your arms look like you bathed in safety pins. Your mouth shapes the words “fuck this” and you call up a friend and he brings you sulfuric acid.
You try to put it into our little green squirt gun so you can really do some damage but it melts away the plastic and most of your hand as well. You die in urgent care from an infection.
I’m left with the kid and he’s older now and doesn’t speak. He just cries a lot. So I put him up for adoption and hope that he has a life at least a little bit better than the one I could ever give him. Twenty years later I die from a heart attack on the sofa in my apartment and it’s the death I deserve. It’s quiet, undignified, and mostly unacknowledged.
Notes from Guest Reader Tia Clark
I love how the character’s fantasy spirals in such weird, surprising ways
that feel very true to the voice.