09/23/2021

Joshua Hebburn ~ The Pervert

Jackie put her high tops, under­wear, and tank top in the freez­er under a bag of Tyson bread­ed chick­en ten­ders. An hour lat­er she took them out and put them all on. She didn’t wear socks in the high tops. She put on sun­glass­es. Then she walked to the 7–11. She bought a PBR tall-boy and a drum­stick and a bag­gie of sketchy as hell super ener­gy boost­ing vit­a­mins. She walked back home drink­ing the PBR from the bag, bit­ing the ice cream, and lis­ten­ing to MF Doom. By the time she was back at the gate of her apart­ment com­plex her feet were sweaty. She took the vit­a­mins with the last swig of beer. That was a dif­fi­cult swal­low. She almost gagged.

It was July in California. Jackie’s apart­ment was a sec­ond sto­ry cor­ner unit stuck by the sun on three sides. Jackie did­n’t have air con­di­tion­ing. Her air con­di­tion­ing was bro­ken, and she was fight­ing with her best friend, who did.  Jackie had real­ized one night out all her best friend’s jokes were not play­ful any­more, they were dis­re­spect­ful. They had a big drunk­en blowout and Jackie threw a drink on her. Jackie won­dered if her best friend had ever respect­ed her, and was anx­ious that she didn’t like her at all now. Jackie won­dered, too, if her friend was right about the things she made dis­re­spect­ful remarks inside of jokes about.

The new 7–11 employ­ee had had an adren­al gland, or, more like­ly, an eat­ing dis­or­der. Jackie stud­ied the new employ­ee while she walked around the store. The 7–11 was so cool in con­trast to the July-ied air that it was like slip­ping into a pool. Jackie’s apart­ment didn’t have a pool, it had a paved court­yard with an ovu­lar planter of frondy dark green plants and a shag­gy palm tak­ing up most of the mid­dle.  She came to the 7–11 almost every oth­er night to buy things for fun, and for the sen­sa­tion of slip­ping into the 7–11’s cool white light in the evening. It was fun in the same way dri­ving around aim­less­ly as a teenag­er had been fun for Jackie. She liked to be filled with mean­ing­less images, she sup­posed. That was why she did it instead of watch­ing shows or movies like most peo­ple did. When she didn’t go to the 7–11, she walked to the Pep Boys and looked at car stuff, smelled oil, though she had only ever bought one thing, an air pres­sure gauge. It was the only oth­er store in walk­ing dis­tance, every­thing else was sub­urbs. She felt for some rea­son the Pep Boys was infe­ri­or, maybe because the strangers were chat­ti­er, eager to help with some car prob­lem. The world was filled with prob­lem solvers.

There was no name badge on the new employ­ee girl’s shirt yet. It was the first time Jackie saw her work­ing there. The new girl was stock­ing the shelves from a dol­ly. The girl wore tight blue­jeans and a long sleeved shirt over a short sleeve but­ton up shirt. The girl’s biceps, fore­arms, thighs, and calves were all close in size. She had high, pro­nounced cheek­bones and brown eyes with slight eye­brows, maybe tweezed to death. Her head seemed large for her body, and her eyes too large for her face. She had a snub nose and the tip of her snub nose was tinged the same pink as her lips, which where lip­sticked and glossed. The new girl’s hair was part­ed around her ears and her ears were tipped in the same pink. The but­ton up she was wear­ing as her top lay­er was a sort of 7–11 col­ored bowl­ing shirt. Jackie thought it looked styl­ish in gen­er­al, and good on the girl. The girl had a lot of heavy look­ing straight blonde hair. Jackie noticed a lit­tle div­ot, a scar, in the girl’s ear­lobe where it had once prob­a­bly held a plug.

The new 7–11 employ­ee girl lived in the neigh­bor­ing apart­ment com­plex. The pre­vi­ous Sunday, from Jackie’s porch, Jackie had seen this girl cross to a laun­dry room. She was so strange look­ing in her lank pale­ness, exposed to the evening air by a tank top in shorts, her long heavy hair sway­ing. A cryp­tid, Jackie thought. Jackie often sat on her porch in the evening and looked at her phone, read con­spir­a­cies for fun, and lis­tened to music with big bright plas­tic padded over-the-ear head­phones that had a lot of bass. She lis­tened to hip hop, pop hits, elec­tron­ic dance music, and Elvis.

When Jackie thought of her apart­ment, she thought of it before he filled it with Ikea fur­ni­ture. The stu­dio had had cream-white paint and a brown car­pet with a looped pile. She thought of putting a thread through the loop with a nee­dle, and for some rea­son she imag­ined the thread to be the same blue as the pool in the neigh­bor­ing apart­ment com­plex. The wall in Jackie’s kitchen had earth­quake cracks that had been paint­ed over many times, until they were smooth. It made her think of National Geographic pic­tures of wind smoothed sand dunes with run­nels of dis­placed sand wav­ing down them. Her fam­i­ly had sub­scribed to National Geographic for Jackie’s entire life.

Jackie went up to her apart­ment. She went out on her porch in an old zip up American Apparel hood­ie she’d put in the fridge. She wore it with­out a shirt. The air was hot. She wore only Victoria Secret silk boyshorts. Some men with their bel­lies and chest push­ing out of t‑shirts looked up from the apart­ment com­plex park­ing lot and flashed smiles or waved hands at her, offered that friend­ly hand and/or mouth to her like a per­son on the street would show you a stolen watch or some­thing they were try­ing to get you to buy. Some of them said things but she couldn’t hear them through the head­phones so she just nod­ded and they looked dis­ap­point­ed. If they didn’t say any­thing she didn’t acknowl­edge them beyond what­ev­er showed unin­ten­tion­al­ly in her eyes. After about a half hour of sit­ting she noticed a rest­less nau­seous euphor­ic feel­ing like the one she got from drink­ing cold brew very fast, which she sup­posed was from one of the vit­a­mins, which had like­ly been a caf­feine pill instead of a vit­a­min. She wor­ried for a moment about going to her job, an office job with a 401k and ben­e­fits, hav­ing to juice her­self into an even­tu­al headache with more caf­feine so she could be perky and com­pe­tent. Then she stopped think­ing of it. There was move­ment in the air as a car passed and Jackie felt the heat in the air. Jackie thought of putting her paja­mas under the Tyson chick­en in the freez­er. She won­dered what col­or her pee would be after tak­ing the vit­a­mins, if it would be bright green like it had been one time she’d tak­en some an ex-boyfriend had giv­en her when she com­plained of feel­ing some way.

Some time lat­er she saw the new 7–11 employ­ee with a laun­dry ham­per again after it had got­ten dark. She stood up on her porch. The girl looked over at her. She was hav­ing some dif­fi­cul­ty with the ham­per, which wasn’t large or full. Jackie raised her phone up, expos­ing the screen, which was white with text. The girl stopped and put the ham­per down and looked up again at Jackie, and it was clear that she was notic­ing. Jackie waved the phone. She gave the girl a thumbs up. The girl took out her own phone, tapped at it, and raised it up. The screen was a cheer­ful yel­low. Jackie laughed a lit­tle. Jackie brought her own phone down and Googled teal. She found a square of col­or on Google and raised a teal phone screen up to the girl. They waved col­ors at one anoth­er for a sec­ond.  The 7–11 girl laughed, Jackie thought from the move­ment of that girl’s shoul­ders. Jackie had no idea why either of them were going this. Maybe she was encour­ag­ing the girl in her strug­gle with the ham­per, and her eat­ing or adren­al gland dis­or­der, and job at 7–11, and the dif­fi­cul­ty of life in gen­er­al, or some­thing, or just try­ing to say hel­lo. Maybe she was lone­ly, though she had oth­er friends, had a rela­tion­ship with her fam­i­ly, and talked to peo­ple all day. The new 7–11 employ­ee girl yelled some­thing out but Jackie didn’t under­stand it. Jackie start­ed laugh­ing again.

The girl dipped her strange lithe body, this time in a bag­gy sleeve­less Pink Floyd t‑shirt and yoga pants, in nod that took all of her shoul­ders for­ward a kind of bow. Her heavy hair cur­tained for­ward. Jackie also did a kind of bow nod. The girl strug­gled across the rest of the pool area to the laun­dry room, look­ing up once. Jackie sat back down and pre­tend­ed to look at her phone. She didn’t want to make the 7–11 girl uncom­fort­able. In fif­teen min­utes or so, the 7–11 girl came back out and waved again at Jackie and Jackie waved back. The girl went back to her apartment.

Jackie stood up. Jackie thought of going over to the laun­dry room and meet­ing the girl there, or, maybe, open­ing up the laun­dry machine and tak­ing out the girl’s 7–11 bowl­ing shirt and putting it on and stand­ing there on the bal­cony. Jackie thought of how lift­ing all the clothes out of the wash­ing machine she would smell what the strange skin­ny 7–11 girl’s body smelled like, all the soil of a day. She imag­ined putting her nose to a long sleeve undershirt’s yel­lowed armpit. She imag­ined the girl’s hor­ri­fied face if she saw Jackie stand­ing there, in the laun­dry room, or on her own porch wear­ing the miss­ing shirt when she came out of the laun­dry room, look­ing around for the cul­prit she knew in advance she wouldn’t find, but sur­prise. Maybe the girl would laugh, though, about the stand­ing on the porch thing, if only out of con­fu­sion. Jackie nev­er went to the 7–11 again. Having a con­ver­sa­tion would be awk­ward, would ruin it in some way, too. Jackie did keep watch­ing the 7–11 girl in a less intend­ed, sched­uled way, from this dis­tance. She made up with her best friend for unre­lat­ed rea­sons. But before that she stood on her porch know­ing her own thoughts and her actions were strange, which came as an immense relief. She was being a real per­vert. It was nine o’clock.

~

Joshua Hebburn edits fic­tion for Hobart. He lives in Los Angeles and @joshuahebburn. He rec­om­mends Larry French from the New World Writing archives.