We pull in front of the half-lit Walmart sign, the first ‘A’ flashing like a strobe and the ‘L’ out entirely. There are abandoned shopping carts strewn haphazardly across the front entrance in the night breeze, lonely and forgotten by whatever poor employee got stuck with the night shift; my eyes shift to a homeless man as he inspects one, turning his head about to check for watchful eyes.
It’s barely a whisper coming from my right and I turn to see Missy, knees up to her chest, as she leans away from me into her seatbelt. Nineteen years old and reverting to how she behaved back in second grade when the boys teased her for her freckles.
‘What?’ I ask, shifting the car into park and turning it off with the quick push of a button. The air stretches out like putty into a thin length of silence before she repeats herself, her usually chirpy voice turned flat and dry.
‘Rico, the sign. It says Wa-mart.’
I glance up again at the missing L. ‘Yeah, I guess it does, doesn’t it?’ I turn and she greets me with a head of tangled ginger hair as she stays facing the passenger window, now absentmindedly tracing a frowny face into her breath-fogged glass.
The air in the car grows stale as we sit in the quiet of my Prius. A foreign discomfort clogging up and plugging the well of conversation that should come so easy to me. To us. I stare at the slow drips beginning to fall outside, something twisting, restless, in my stomach and I bite my lip to stop whatever emotion it is from freeing itself in the form of words. Instead, I lean over, unbuckle her seatbelt before my own, and push my foot down on the parking brake. ‘C’mon,’ I say, using the gentle voice that I reserve for her alone rather than my usual dull monotone, ‘let’s go get the special supplies for that asshole’s very special surprise.’ I can only see the corner of her lip quirk up, but it’s enough to soothe whatever hisses in my stomach, and the twisting feeling pauses.
When people think of a Walmart, the first word that comes to mind isn’t necessarily ‘lawn flamingo conservatorium’ but here we are. It’s practically built for housing the disgraceful things. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing in this country or pure insanity but somehow, they’ve stacked up the shelves like the last season sale on all of the ‘I Love Tacos’ shirts at Forever 21 nobody wanted.
I push the cart into the aisle as Missy starts grabbing armfuls of the birds, throwing them in our basket with her mascara-streaked eyes glinting in newfound resolve. The sound of the pink plastic hits the cart louder with each new addition of flamingos until they pile to the point of overflow. Then they do overflow and one beady-eyed pink bitch stares at me on its way down to the linoleum where it clatters loudly and bounces over to Missy.
There’s a split second where she stares at it in silence and I freeze as I watch her face contort and scrunch into itself. The flamingo flies across the aisle with the aid of her foot and to the sound of her shout,
‘Piece of shit!’
And she glares at the poor bird, lonely, lost, and abandoned in the sporting goods aisle on the other side of the store before turning back to the cart. I can’t decide if it’s amusing or sad.
She reaches back to the shelf to go for another one and I place a careful hand on her shoulder, squeezing as I turn to her, ‘Got enough yet?’
She looks up at me, eyes welling with a fresh wave of tears as she nods, and my jaw clenches tightly, screwing itself shut so nothing stupid comes out. Once again, I’m ready to kill him, but I know being angry won’t help the situation anymore, at least not right now. I force the tension flowing throughout my body to filter back down to the pool in my brain where all of my bad ideas come from. They’ve never led me to the best of places anyways − like the time when I thought it would be funny to staple Angelie Slater’s braids together, or when I thought the teacher wouldn’t notice my poetry assignments were forged from a fanfiction website (amazingly, she did).
My fingers instead find their way to her curly auburn hair, much different than my own − which is dark brown and ironed straight − and I unstick a few strands that have become stuck to her freckled wet face, tucking them away behind her ear. She closes her eyes at the touch, damp lashes softly brushing her lower lids and I can feel my breath hitch, stuck inside my throat. Do not, Rico. I tell myself. Do not. I clear the lodge forming larger by the second and force myself to take another breath.
‘Hey, it’s okay, you’re gonna be okay,’ I say, wiping off a tear from under her eye, loathing when I feel my pulse flutter again. I swallow hard, forcing every bit of it down, locking it back in its insufferable cage − I’m insufferable. She’s just had her heart broken and all I can think of is—
She opens her eyes, light green standing out from the rest of the red puffiness surrounding them. I kind of think that I really want to hold her, just enough so she stops crying, and I kind of think of how warm her face is against my palm, and how I’m three inches taller than her and that’s a cute height difference—
I swallow again, murdering the thought and burying its ugly body as I step away from her. The brain fog clears as I do, and I make a mental note not to stand too close.
‘Now let’s go make him pay.’
It’s like I’ve lit a match. The rage returns to her eyes, engulfing the rest of her pale freckled face in flame. She nods again and marches over to the cart, grabbing it by the handles as we walk to checkout.
The cashier doesn’t blink. We let the homeless man steal the shopping cart, and we walk back to my car.
The streetlight above us blinks out every few minutes or so as we sit down the block in the car. Missy turns to look into the backseat at the flamingos as well as the other groceries we’d picked up: toilet paper, eggs, instant mashed potatoes and cheap tuna fish cans.
‘Do you think it’ll work?’ she asks, lifting up her hood and tucking the unruly strands of hair beneath it. We’d both agreed to stick to basics, me in a black hoodie, her in my old blue one. She refused to buy one, preferring what had to be the world’s largest collection of knit cardigans to any other sweater. When I’d mentioned it as a dead giveaway for this evening, she’d simply stuck her hand out with a grabbing motion to insinuate I should give her my own. Damn her.
I’d cut my long, dark, eye-matching hair to shoulder length in December with a set of dull kitchen scissors, so rather than tuck away my own hair, I just place a few clips in order to hold it back. ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Yeah, I do.’
I think about the smell of fish rot that’ll linger in his car for weeks. It brings back the energy I need to get through the night and I press my lips together to fight a budding smile. We step out of the car into the drizzling night air and grab the bags from the back of the car before making our way down the block. Missy reaches for my hand and I’m hyperaware of the way I nearly drop the bag in an effort to catch it. I’m the most stupid, helpless girl ever; two bags dangle on one wrist just so I can hold her hand, the flamingos threatening to fall out any moment because of my refusal to hold them properly.
It’s even worse, I think, when I know it’s not because she feels the way I do about her, but because she wants her friend’s comfort. And the aching tension and sting of self-loathing grips me once more before I remind myself to be who she needs me to be and not what I want her to be.
Her hand pulls away and I return from my thoughts to see his house looming above us. Its large arched windows and the porch (that you have to climb stairs to get to) looking down at us like a challenge. He did do a lot of looking down on me, and her, and everyone actually. My eyes settle on a window up on the second story that I imagine to be his and I let my lip curl in disgust as I set down the bags at my sides. The blistering heat of anger trickles into my chest, warming my body. I feel my eyes narrow as I look at the sight.
‘Okay, now can I be pissed?’
I turn stiffly to look at her, green eyes browner in the darkness and filled with steel-melting rage. Her hands are balled into fists at her sides, nails jabbing into her skin and she reaches into the bag to take out the egg carton. She loads an egg up into her hand and my eyes widen as I scramble over and reach out to stop it, my fingers wrapping over hers before she can throw it.
‘Um, maybe start with the less noisy stuff?’
She turns back to face me, warring emotion flickering across her brows and through her eyes before she gives me a stiff nod and puts the egg back in the carton. I give a halfhearted sigh and pull out a flamingo, marching over to the lawn and skewering the bird in. I give it a pat on the back before straightening with a thumbs up.
‘Let the flamingo-ing begin.’
Her brows knit and that same rage that I saw when she kicked the bird in the aisle returns. It’s as if I’ve fired the blank at a race, the way every bit of everything she has felt in the past twelve hours since she found out about him cheating has leaped up from the starting line and engaged in a full sprint towards the finish. Whatever that finish may be. She stomps back and forth between the aggressively large lawn and the grocery bags, scattering the birds on the entirety of the field, and kicking them about whenever she feels another strong wave of hatred overtake her.
I’m open-mouthed as I stand on the sidewalk, observing the flamingo festival of fury before me; waiting a moment to join, not wanting to get in the way of her foot that seems keener on smashing the birds to bits that it does leaving them on his lawn in one piece. Though, I suppose it’s all more of a mess for him to clean up; not our problem.
I can’t see her face in the darkness but it doesn’t matter. I know what it looks like. I know that her hair is threatening to spill out from behind her hood, untamed curly chaos begging to be freed; I know that her eyes are singeing the tips of the grass with her gaze; I know that her lips are pressed into the thinnest, pinkest line I’ve ever seen, and her breath is like a dragon’s, blowing a pale cloud into the night air.
And I know that she looks terrifyingly beautiful in the storm that she’s created.
I reach down to grab the instant mashed potatoes bags from the ground and rip them open, a smile tearing across my face in mirthful revenge.
‘Take this, you prick!’ I whisper-shout as I run past Missy and shake the potato powder out in a cloud around me. It paints the air with a starchy scent as I spin in a circle and it swirls around me, settling on the damp ground. I drop the trash of the emptied bag on the ground and start on the next one, sprinting across the field, a trail of powder floating like smoke behind me.
The cold whips against my face as a gleeful vengeance overtakes my face in the form of a toothy grin, overpowering the anger inside of me as I spin, spit, and throw handfuls of mashed potato powder about the cold, damp air. I see Missy from the corner of my eye as she finishes up with the flamingos and grabs the tuna fish can from the bag. She cracks it open and meanders over to his car to go pour the oil from the can into the plastic strip just under the outside window of his car.
I throw the second bag onto the ground and run over to meet her at his car and begin dumping the third bag on his windshield.
‘Here comes the bride!’ I sing off-key, ‘dressed all in light!’ and I reach into the bag to throw out the potatoes as if they were flower petals. I can hear Missy snicker from where she pours oil into the windows which serve to fuel me further. ‘Radiant and lovely!’ I let out a fake sob as I throw another handful ‘she shines in his sight.’
Missy finishes up with the oil, looking up to give me the biggest grin I’ve seen from her all night. The full-bodied, full-forced, Missy Stanton grin. It shuts me up, and I know I’m staring, I can feel my mouth gaping. She holds my gaze there with her own, flickering, free, and unafraid for just a moment more before she throws the can on the ground and turns on her heel, skipping over to the shopping bag and grabbing the egg carton.
She loads up one in each hand,
She throws one at the stairs to the front porch,
She’s shouting as she sends another one at his car,
‘Some fucking protein,’
She lets this one hit the ground,
‘With your potatoes!’
It turns into an assault as she begins to throw out every egg in the carton. I finish with the car before returning to help empty the carton into his sorry home just as she reaches for the second one. A manic giggle escapes from between her lips as we finish off that one too. It’s medicinal, I think, to listen to her laugh. The next carton gets finished off more quickly as I fully relish in the satisfaction of slimy, unfertilised chicken fetuses dripping happily down the side of his custom paint job. It’s only halfway through the fourth carton when the drizzle finally gives in and becomes a full-blown rainstorm at the same time the porch light clicks on.
My muscles turn to ice as the rush of adrenaline that had been keeping me warm leaves my body in one sudden, foggy breath. It escapes into the night air like steam, and all I can feel is the temperature setting in as if the rain has seeped all the way through my skin and crystallised in my bloodstream; in the wake of the cold, I can feel the grin skid off my face and shatter into a thousand pieces on the ground. I’m left holding an egg in one hand and Missy’s wrist in another, the rain pounding against both our bodies as the door creaks open.
Somebody steps out from the door onto the front porch, starting as just a shadowy blob from the inside of the house and emerging as the antichrist himself. Parker. I feel Missy turn into stone beneath my hand and imagine how we must look like the ultimate products of Medusa’s wrath right now. He steps out further into the light and I can see his blonde hair glinting in it despite a shadow cast across his face, blocking out his features. It doesn’t matter, I still know who he is and I know that Missy does too.
‘Hello?’ Parker calls out into the rain. I can hardly breathe, the frosty wind numbing my lungs. It’s only when he shouts again, ‘Is anybody out there?’ that I feel the slightest bit of warmth return to my bones. He can’t see us.
A tiny snort sounds from my left and I allow my eyes to dart from the front porch to Missy quickly enough to see the tiniest smirk etched across her lips. ‘He doesn’t have his glasses, Rico,’ she hisses, barely audible, ‘he left them in my car before he decided to lie about his pastimes.’ The humour of it pricks at my lungs like a burning match and I can feel the ice start to thaw even further as I wrestle down a chuckle.
‘Hello?!’ He calls again, this time louder. It sobers up my amusement as the situation clicks back to real-time and the reality of it snaps me back into place; I tug Missy’s wrist and start slowly moving back the way we came, her still snickering as she follows my lead. I can hear the hollow steps thudding as he begins to make his way down the stairs.
‘Okay I think it’s time to retreat,’ I whisper, ‘eggs technically count as property damage, and if my mom has to pick me up from a holding cell, today’s gonna be the last day I live.’ My pace quickens as I creep across the edge of the sidewalk and I can feel my heart thumping as Missy starts to oblige. We make it a few more hurried steps, almost away from the front of the house and I can taste the victory before her feet slow and stumble to a stop. I open my mouth to start protesting but she cuts me off with a shush.
‘I want to watch.’
I don’t have enough time to tell her that it’s a horrible idea and that we should leave right now because we’re drenched, covered in powdered mashed potatoes, and just committed multiple crimes before she heaves my arm and in one pull sends us both diving into the neighbour’s bushes.
The sharp twigs scrape across my face and body through my hoodie; astray and crooked thorns tearing at the flesh below my eyes and across my cheeks like hangnails as the force from the pull sends me tumbling hard face-first into the packed dirt. I suck in a harsh breath through my teeth as stinging pain follows up, a secondary punch to the initial wound. Shoving my hands into the dirt I curse under my breath as I squeeze my eyes shut in pain. A loud click sounds from his house and I feel a hand on my arm pulling me upright into a sitting position.
‘Are you kidding me?’ I spit, wiping off the dirt − now mud − off of my hands onto my wet jeans as I grit my teeth and wait for the pain to subside.
‘I didn’t realise they were thorny,’ she whispers sheepishly, ‘I’m sorry, just, look!’ She points a grimy finger towards the house and I look only to squint into a newfound brightness. The floodlights to the house have been turned on and he walks out in front of it, along the pathway across his lawn. As my eyes adjust to the light I can see the full extent of my plan and even I have to admit, I did brilliantly. The harsh rain has drenched the instant mashed potatoes, allowing them to swell up and create a snow of sticky starch across his lawn. The yolks are garishly yellow as they drip on the white paint, wood and, of course, his car. And the flamingos, the bright pink flamingos, they’ve churned up the lawn from where Missy kicked them around. Some are cracked in half, some are whole, some the paint’s rubbed off exposing white plastic below. It’s like the aftermath of a flamingo battlefront and Parker’s standing right in the middle of it.
I smile, forgetting the pain on my face as a bubbling joy works its way up through me, and I turn to Missy. To see the light that’s been missing all evening burst into her eyes as her face splits in half with a smile. Maybe we’ll get caught, maybe there’s blood from the cuts on my face, maybe I used the last fifty dollars in my bank account to buy the supplies, but it’s worth it.
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