Rodney and Chelsea have decided this is the day. They are sixteen
years old and they are in love. Neither of them has ever done it,
though Rodney has come close, with a girl he worked with at Dairy
Queen who smelled like French fries and who had perfect, melon-sized
breasts. Chelsea’s breasts are more the size of tangerines, but he
likes them. He likes that she smells like Fruit Loops and that her
front teeth overlap slightly. Her mouth is glossed. He slips his
"Rodney's an old man’s name," Chelsea’s mom says and calls him
Rascal instead. It makes Rodney feel like a Labrador.
Chelsea’s mom believes that life is a celebration and that people
should live in the Now. Chelsea has an older brother named Royal.
Nobody knows where the hell he is. He ran away from the halfway
house downtown, the place Chelsea’s mom said was his best chance and
hope. He has a behavior disorder which involves beating people up.
He doesn’t know his own strength is what Chelsea’s mom says. He has
a bear spirit. He is unruinable.
last guy he beat up now walks with a cane.
Chelsea’s father left when Royal was ten and Chelsea was a newborn.
Every Easter, he sends Chelsea a six foot Easter bunny and now she
has sixteen huge Easter bunnies and there are no more places to sit
in Chelsea’s house. Sometimes people sit on the bunnies’ laps or
sometimes they just stand, looking around or sometimes they sit on
first date, Rodney plucked a daffodil from Chelsea's garden and
presented it to her at the door. And Chelsea's mom gave them Boone's
Farm, mixed with a splash of 7 Up. All three of them got a little
drunk, sitting on the porch watching the sun go down and a full moon
rise. Chelsea's mom insisted on driving Rodney home. Before he got
out of the car, she pulled his face to hers and kissed him, hard.
About Rodney's Parents...
Rodney doesn’t have any siblings. He feels lucky, given the
circumstances. His mother died of cancer when he was five. He
remembers standing on tip-toe to reach a cookie off a plate on the
counter and her hand slapping it away. He tries to really see that
hand, to see something about it that is especially hers, but it
always ends up being just a hand.
Rodney’s father is a podiatrist who is working on his overall
fitness. Every day at dawn, he walks the perimeter of the
cul-de-sac, gripping fifty pound dumbbells in each hand. In warm
weather he goes without a shirt, his burgeoning muscles gleaming. He
makes three trips around, bobs his chin to Chelsea’s mom who watches
from her kitchen window, and lays the dumbbells on the porch in the
special box. He consumes nothing but protein: lamb chops, sausages,
steaks as thick as two hands clamped together. He will never love
another woman, he promises Rodney, who really doesn't care if he
does or not. Rodney only wants his father to be happy, which his
father assures him he is.
bunnies sit in opposite corners of Chelsea's bedroom. One is missing
an eye and one’s polka-dotted ear is nearly torn off. Rodney and
Chelsea undress in a clinical manner, and fold their clothes, as if
they have decided to join the Army together. Rodney has seen parts
of Chelsea but never the whole and now he stands before her and
reaches out to touch one tangerine breast. Unsure of what to do with
her own hands, Chelsea simply places them on Rodney’s shoulders.
afraid to get closer because his thing is standing up. She digs her
toes into the pink shag rug and closes her eyes. The breeze through
the window is making the shutters flap against the window frame and
Rodney's breath smells like oatmeal and grape jelly.
this moment Chelsea's dad is getting fired from his job selling
tires in Terre Haute and her mom is hunched over a patient, scraping
plaque in an office downtown, thinking of that kiss and Royal's
getting the shit kicked out of him in a bar in Tucson. At this
moment, Rodney's dad's outside on the curb, sweating, coughing,
turning blue, as Rodney kisses Chelsea. Like howling into her mouth.
Lon's tired and cranky,
like a child, even rubbing his eyes with a curled fist. A shock of
hair stands up in the back of his head and he doesn't want to be at
the mall anymore, but in front of his tv, drinking a beer. He asks
me what I want for Christmas and I tell him a black and white
kitten, but I notice we have not visited any pet stores.
I try to tell him I hadn't gotten the administrative assistant job I
was vying for. I thought I was a shoo in for it. He says, somebody
else will take you, and and rubs at his eyes. People are moving
slowly like they've been shopping for a hundred years and they can't
find the exit. I want a pretzel and something cold to drink. Lon
stops dead in the middle of the mall and a sea of loping shoppers
part around him. He appears to be watching their feet.
say, "Somebody else will
me? Lon, do you realize how awful that sounds? You're making me feel
"You know, people say it's the beautiful things
that break the heart: verdant hillsides, placid, melty sunsets over
the ocean, the impossible delicate fingers of newborns. That's
wrong-headed. Those things are a blessing. And your disappointment
is just a disappointment."
"I love you, Lon, but god
it." I leave him standing there and purchase my snack, debate
mentally whether to go back or to just go straight out to the
parking lot. But Lon looks haggard and I am his ride home, so I go
back. I show him my enormous pretzel. He makes a face. "I know," I
say. "Oink." Traffic moves in both directions on either side of us.
A woman pushing one of those double strollers mutters as she passes
by. I can smell the Greek chicken from the food court and wish I'd
gotten that instead.
Lon's not moving. I ask him if
we're done shopping. I pick a penny up off the floor. Tails. Shit.
If he got me the kitten, I would name it Rousseau because it sounds
cool and elevated, like from another realm.
"You want to
know what breaks my heart?" He says. "It's perfectly white
cushioned-soled running shoes on the feet of 80 year old men. The
kind meant for marathons. Oh Christ. Get me a gun." Lon's eyes have
an uncertain, glazey look to them. He's 40 but old for his age, with
some kidney complaint he won't talk about. I loop my arm around his
baggy shoulders, drip some mustard sauce on his sleeve. I tell him
it's okay, that he's right, and that I will set my sights on
something else, something less stellar, but that the fingers of
babies do break my heart, beautiful as they are. And he's nodding,
going okay, okay.
stories may be found at Indiana Review, Denver Quarterly,
Keyhole Magazine, Quick Fiction and elsewhere. A
collection of her work is available from Rose Metal Press in a book
entitled A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of
Short Short Fiction by Four Women.