Kristy’s mother bought the supermarket checkout magazines, the ones you’d pick up, maybe, if the line was moving slowly enough. Top 10 Tips to Get Summer Skinny!, they would say, or some ancient scandal with Elvis or Marilyn Monroe and NOW IT CAN BE TOLD! I picked them up but always put them back, like the packets of M & Ms and Reese’s they also had at the checkout; I’d imagine myself eating them, bright primary colors of red and blue and yellow melting on my tongue, leaving rainbow remnants, and I would tell myself that imaginary candy was enough. That wanting was better than having. What did I want that summer? What did we all want? To be desired. To be a cool girl. A riot grrl, a Spice Girl. To be the girl in the chartreuse bikini in the issue of Sports Illustrated our school librarian kept behind the counter, and you had to sign a special form to take it out.
What do you think the form says? I asked Kristy.
I solemnly swear that I will not beat off to this magazine, she said, and then we saw Brian Thibault go up to the counter and we half coughed, half snorted, trying so hard not to laugh out loud, and But he lies, I whispered, and then the laughter did come and Brian stared at us and Mrs. Carmody kicked us out because You two are always trying to start something, and that was true, we stood there sparking like the wheel of a cigarette lighter but no one in our sleepy town ever caught the fire, and we’d just wander home and look at Kristy’s mother’s checkout magazines and read about slain child beauty queens and fading-blonde sitcom stars who were learning to love again, and how was that fair when we hadn’t even loved once, and then fuck fuck fuck Kristy would say, her mother’s car pulling into the driveway and the dishes not put away and table not set and I’d try to last-minute help her, hoping I’d get that dinner invitation even though it would mean walking home in the dark, because nobody cared what time I came home or if I did, I was that girl, the girl with clothes from the church jumble sale and no visible father, walking those empty streets full of shadows because every other streetlight was out, our town trying to save money or “go green” or whatever they called it that year of our youth, that year when I walked home in snow and rain and burned, burned for something I couldn’t articulate, my heels kicking up blue sparks on the crumbly asphalt street as I looked up at every approaching headlight, watched every passing car thinking Are you the one, the one who will start my life? Or end it?
Kathryn Kulpa was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her chapbook Girls on Film. She is a flash fiction editor at Cleaver magazine and has stories in Atlas and Alice, Milk Candy Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and Wigleaf. Her work was chosen for Best Microfiction 2020 and 2021.