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.