Story Nine – Trio

“You’re a fucking animal, Carlson,” she said mildly. The rest of the fries mushed against my fingers as I scooped them up from the dirty parking lot. Their edges split on my hands and I could feel all their mealy softness as their structure broke down. Hey, just like me. Very nice to look at. An appealing golden brown. But mealy inside, and generally disappointing the next day.

I grinned up at Antonia from the ground and felt big and wicked and wonderful. I held out the palmful of fries and made puppy sounds until she took off her flip flop and threw it out me. Rookie. I flung the fries down again and chased her with her own pink shoe, smacking any available skin. She fled, defeated, before my onslaught.

  Rachel came bursting out of the huge plastic burger bun-shaped doors. Her purse strap caught on one of the pickle slice door handles and it yanked her back like a cartoon character. We froze in a ludicrous tableau, Antonia covering her ass with both hands and me with the flip flop raised high. Rachel could be difficult when thwarted in small things. You never knew. She might absorb that small shame and move on, or she might light a fire with it and spend the rest of the night burning everyone around her .

  One of the plastic sesame seeds fell off. She looked down for a moment that felt long but wasn’t. Her fingers swooped like a crane, I could almost hear the air rushing through them, and she seized her prize, came up grinning and tucking the stupid sesame seed into her shiny purse.

  We burst into crazed giggles and our cartoon sped back into life. I got off a completely solid hit right on Antonia’s left butt cheek and her cry of outrage was enough to end the game.

  Rachel gathered us up with clucking and shooing, herding us back to the car. All the boys were still inside it but since Rachel had told them to stay there and left the windows up, we had forgotten them as soon as the doors thumped closed. They were resentful. We were having fun so utterly removed from them, so out of reference to their presence, that it was an insult. We didn’t mean it to be an insult, which made it worse. If we had wanted to hurt them, it would have meant they at least weighed a little something in our soft hands.

Antonia opened the front passenger door and let it fall against her hip. She stared down into the interior with a face like a dare, then ducked swiftly towards the floppy haired boy sitting in her spot. His mouth opened a little as she whispered in his ear and then he wiggled backwards and spread his knees for her. She perched between them and leaned back with a sigh, content against his bony chest.

Rachel, of course, wanted to drive. But we have rules. Rules keep my atoms together and I cannot start breaking small rules because they might set a bad example for the big ones. And the rule is, in my car, I drive.

  She flung the back door open with excessive force and waved the backseat boys up against the far door. They surged in response. Like she was the sorcerer’s apprentice and they were the waves in the well and all they could do was rise and fall with the rhythm of her manicure. I laughed a little but kept it inside my mouth so it tickled me and I had to cough. Antonia glanced at me.

  “Let’s go, bitch!” she cried.

“You got no couth.” I turned the car on, checked my lights, my mirrors, my seat placement. Antonia hated it, she always wanted to peel out of places, leave the yokels in her wake (surely anybody she left behind became a yokel), leave them gasping in wonder and disapproval. This orderly departure was anathema. She glared at me, twisting in the boy’s lap and pinching the skin on his wrists. He winced, in a confusion of sensation. I smiled pleasantly and accelerated safely and smoothly into the street. 

  “You have to get out,” came suddenly from the back. I squinted into the rearview. Rachel’s back was pressed against her door, her body canted towards them but her neck was twisted to meet my eyes in the mirror.

  “What?”

  “Stop, they have to get out.” There was a murmur, confusion from the boys.

  “Rachel, this isn’t anywhere near the park. I thought we were going to the park.”

  “Stop. Now.”

  I pulled over.

  The boys in the back slid out their side, complaining now but not really unhappy to be leaving the basilisk stare glowing at them out of the dark. 

  “All of them.”

  “Awww, Rachel, mine too?”

  “I said now.

  The floppy haired boy wiggled silently out from under Antonia. She pouted and made herself heavy, but there was no brooking that tone. Besides, I could tell he knew something was wrong. His arms and neck were all goosebumps. He closed the door carefully behind him and walked quickly away, in and out of streetlights until he was gone.

  The three of us watched him go. He was better game than the other two, who were absolute lightweights, just dandelions on the wind. I was actually a little upset.

  “What the fuck was that, Rachel?”

  “I feel sick.”

  I twisted around and looked at her. She was a sketch in the dark back there, all her fire and splutter shaded. I popped the dome light on. She looked sick. Pale green, sweating, ugly.

  “Do you think it was that nurse’s aide in the alley?”

  She nodded, gulping.

  “Drugs,” she whispered.

  “Shit. Aw shit. Okay. Let’s go to the beach and we’ll help you throw up, okay? And then we’ll get something real in your stomach.” She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the seat.

  I drove less carefully than usual getting there but Antonia couldn’t enjoy it. She kept turning in her seat to glance back. I could hear her skirt squeaking on the pleather every time she did it and it made me want to scream.

The lake parking lot loomed up on the right and I spun into it. Pay to park, but aren’t they all? I’m lucky when it comes to parking tickets. It’s a gift.

  Rachel rolled out of the back while the car was still moving and came to the ground on her knees. Her hands were white knuckled together across her belly. I rested my hands on the wheel for just a moment, to gather myself, and then I was out and beside her, bracing her lopsided weight and moving her towards the water’s edge.

  We sat her down in the sand and pulled off her shoes. She was crying now. I’d never seen Rachel cry. It made me feel desperate and loving. I rose onto my knees and picked her up under her thighs and behind her low back, scooting her forward her so that her feet dipped into the dark lake.

  She leaned over her legs and wheezed. Antonia had her rings off and scattered in the sand. She plunged her arms into the water up to the elbow and pulled them out immediately. Water poured blackly from them, more water than a surface holds, all the water wrung from a sponge.

  She closed her eyes and spread her fingers. They began to whiten and lengthen. They drooped from her hands like taffy and their ends fined into spider silk.

  “Look up, baby. It’ll be over soon.”

  Rachel moaned, but managed to lift her head. Blood vessels were bursting in her sclera, she was red and getting redder. She opened her mouth and the moon caught on her teeth for a moment.

  Antonia lifted her arms high and the rootling fingers skated across Rachel’s face and dipped, delicate, in her mouth. She lowered her hands slowly, with control. I could not see what was happening inside but I could tell when she hit the stomach because her whole body flinched as she began to absorb whatever poison the nurse’s aide had had in her system.

  “Feet in the water, Nia,” I whispered. She didn’t lift her feet but rather slid them back through the sand, keeping her weight even. She sighed as a wavelet licked up her heel and some of the strain in her face eased.

  The backs of her hands were starting to go pink by the time Rachel stopped crying. Antonia came back from somewhere and looked down, confused.

  “Oh. Is that enough?” Rachel blinked up at her, mouth filled with roots now fat and bulging with red. She tried to nod.

  Antonia grimaced. She took a step backwards but kept her weight canted forward so that she would have good control of the rate and draw her fingers smoothly and evenly from Rachel’s throat. Rachel gagged.

  The worst was over. They would both have bad hangovers tomorrow but death was not on the menu tonight. I fell back in the sand. The sky was so so high. Rachel gave a tiny burp. I sighed and rolled over to hold her, and Antonia came and clasped her from the other side. For a moment, I could feel the leaves shaking in our hair, the blood of honored sacrifices nourishing our roots, mountain sun on our bodies, mountain sage at our knees, blessings rolling out from us to a people who kissed us with their mouths and slept beneath us for true dreams.

Then it was gone and we were just tangled girls on a beach. And we were hungry again.

  

   

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Story Nine – Trio

Story 8 – A Day In The Life

There’s a white ibis begging for beignets at the table across from her. Its legs and the patch of skin around its eye are a nice tender pink, not raw looking at all, just pretty and blushing. It marches. It stalks. It eyes the clustered smokers with speculation. 

  She can never smoke when it’s hot and bright like this. It seems like homeopathy gone wrong. In Korea, she knows, they eat fiercely hot soups in summer, treating fire with fire, but smoking in the sun leaves her dizzy and sinful feeling. After dusk, then it’s okay. Everything is padded with shadows and if you bump up against a bit of sin, well, it won’t hardly leave a mark. 

  She’s tired of stories where everyone’s unhappy and nobody does anything about it. She’s tired of sitting. She stands and gathers her things, sunglasses, keys, quarters.

  What’s the point if there’s no magic? She stands on the edge of the path and stares unseeing up into the Spanish moss. What’s the point if you have to shoehorn it in yourself? Parents being the magic for their kids until they’re old enough to have it destroyed. Girls in lakes pretending to be mermaids at night for the pique of the insomniacs. Churches hedging the little bit of magic they do have all around with coffee klatches and sexual abuse and bureaucracy and bullshit so it’s all tainted.

  Magical realism was the hope of her childhood, Peter S. Beagle and Francesca Lia Block and Diana Wynne Jones and Neil Gaiman and Emma Bull. Somehow they’ve made it worse though: the reassurance that in this empty bowl somewhere you will happen upon the wonderful. Well, it’s just not true, is it? They’ve set her up for failure. They were just protecting themselves from the desolation, reassuring themselves, shoehorning it in just like everybody else.

  When she talked to her guidance counselor about it, when she said just the very edge of the truth, she got a variation of her parents’ “the world just isn’t like that” speech with a side of pity and a palate cleanser of impatience. It seemed that other kids had real problems, hunger, drugs, drunk parents. Not just that there weren’t any fairies in the park.

  But it was a problem that there weren’t any fairies in the park. For her, it was a serious problem. A life or death problem. She couldn’t say that, she knew people would get upset and then it would be even worse. You can’t walk up to your grandma and say, “If there isn’t any magic, I don’t want to be alive.” She will take it amiss. People object to other people wanting to be dead, it makes them nervous about their own lives. They worry that they’re missing something.   

  Somehow she cannot stand the idea of playacting. It used to appeal. It used to ease things a little. But now the idea of some city elf with blue plastic sparkles on her lips and silicone ears coming home at night to her apartment to make macaroni and cheese and go online makes her so hurt and angry that she feels like she’s been gutpunched. She knows it’s not fair to be mad at the Ren Faire people, the convention people, the cosplayers, festival followers, ravers. They’re all trying to scrape up magic. But she is mad at them. She’s humiliated for them and for herself. Pretending. Telling these soft pointless stories about something fierce and foreign and devastating.

She used to do rituals in the sandbox at night. Digging holes and cutting her finger into them, spitting in them, whispering the words that felt most right to seal it and then covering them over. Trying to make magic wake up and pay attention to her. Trying to open a door.

  It worked once. She tries not to think about that. It went…very badly. Not at all like she expected. But that was the point. It wouldn’t fit inside her moral parameters. It was not moral in the way that she was. It was too big.

  Did it change anything, that it worked that one time? It should have. It made her more scared. It stopped her doing rituals. But it didn’t stop the longing. It didn’t stop the feeling that there should be more, that something was missing and stuck and needed help to fill out all the empty Spaces.

  It doesn’t feel so bad in wild places. Not so thin.

  She can feel her fingers losing purchase on the day. She takes a deep breath and walks to her car, rolls down the windows and drives out to Jean LaFitte to look at the alligators. Alligators are magic all on their own. And so is the pink footed ibis. So are the butterflies in her backyard. So is anything given to her that she has not earned because they have no notion of her deserving or not deserving.

  There’s magic in Barataria. It’s not the kind she wants. It’s not flamboyant, it has no set story to lull her. There’s no witches framed against the moon, or hipster cool elf tweens eating the viscera of a fox on the path, or huge ancient shacky houses rising dripping from the swamp with calliope music coming from dark windows. It’s just wild things living their lives. It’s not what she wants. But it helps.

Story 8 – A Day In The Life