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My Mother Calls Her a Head-Case Convict

Story by Kaya Dierks (Read author interview) October 25, 2021

Photograph by David Clarke

But here I am anyway, in the CVS on Perkins and Sixteenth, allowing her to turn me criminal. Like this. Don’t be, like, obvious. See? When she slides a lipstick into her palm, it’s so delicate, you’d think she was lifting a bird. At the counter, three Maybelline butter glosses jammed into the waistband of her jeans, she buys us a six-pack of Budweiser beer from a cashier with adult Invisalign. Her ID says she is twenty-five and from Nebraska, but we are fifteen and from Milwaukee. The trick is, you gotta buy it and be cocky. Like, believe it. Believe you’re from Nebraska. Thirty minutes later and we’re outside under a blank sun, making our brains loose with beer. She gives me a cigarette, which hassles my lungs. I rattle up smoke, and she taps a beat into my right shoulder and hands me a half-gone Budweiser, its mouth open and slick.

She tells me then that the cigarettes aren’t hers. They are stolen property, larcened out of the lockbox in her stepfather’s Honda Civic. She took them because she wanted him to notice they were gone. She tells me this as victory, not confession. And he usually notices. Something in the way she says it tugs me. So I tell her about this theory I have, which is that the saddest human beings on earth are the children left alone in the bucket seats of grocery store carts, fat legs four feet above floor. I look into her face, the aluminum of her eyes, and I tell her that if I saw the kid in the cart I would take him, snatch him clean out of Walmart, even if his mother ran after me with a cop and a turkey baster and a vanilla sheet cake dripping vanilla. I wait for her to grin, but she doesn’t. She looks at me narrowly. Her eyes are the glass bulbs shoved into light sockets and screwed.

Later, in her busted, duct-taped sedan, we share the three stolen lipsticks and one more cigarette, our mouths just homes for our teeth, passing tubes back and forth until a freeway runs between our tongues.

About the Author

Kaya Dierks is a Korean-American writer from San Francisco. A rising freshman at Yale, her work appears in The Adroit Journal, GASHER Journal, and elsewhere.

About the Artist

David Clarke is a photographer form Melbourne, Australia.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Three

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The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

Deadline November 15!

The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.