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She Returns to Gloat
She steps out of her car, into the searing afternoon sun, tucking her lone key into a pocket. Standing, squinting, she looks around. She thinks, listens, and remembers, smiles. Walks into the shop.
There isn’t anyone there. This room is different—the vault is tucked into the corner near the bathroom. The mirror is no longer on the door of the bathroom, but in the bathroom. The wicker chair holds no dummy. She smiles again, ruefully. The fish tank and phone books have also been purged from this room. The bookshelf is now backed against the wall, in the corner, by the keys. The two desks, with all their surface contents, were pushed like a box against the wall in front of the keys and book-shelf.
She steps forward, a little, almost afraid to be caught. She smiles to herself as she sees two books—just two—under a few of the framed photos. She feels an odd tingle, seeing the pictures of the shop-keeper’s family. She knows them all, except for the small child…. “Hello?” she calls, starting in earnest toward the door to the garage entrance. Both entrances, from the lot and the garage, open at the same time. From outside comes a Mexican man; from the repair room comes another man.
Her brow furrows at the vaguely familiar face, “Alex?”
“Is there something I can help you with?”
“Is Brittney here?”
“Um,” he hesitates just a little, “she’s away on business.” As if he’s not sure it’s information to be divulged.
“Oh, I was hoping she might help me pimp out the ‘pimpermobile.’” The woman smiles despite herself, as if it’s some ancient password from a childhood game…
Then the phone rings. He answers it. The other customer waits patiently. “C. Jr’s Auto Sales?” he listens. “Should I come get you?” he nods. “Okay. There’s someone here to see you. How long will it take?” he pauses. “Alright, love you babe. ’Bye.” He returns the phone to its charger and looks back to his customer. “If you can wait, or come back in an hour and a half, she should be back.”
The woman smiles mischievously, returning to the searing bright summer day, and the cool interior of her car. She cruises back into the town she once (grudgingly) called home. She parks in the mall, hooking up her computer to her car stereo system. If only this place had looked like this then. It speaks in a familiar voice, telling her most coveted works from her childhood. Then, she goes cruising. She can hardly remember this place—it’s grown so much since she left.
Her computer blips—‘you have mail!’—and the story pauses itself. “Can you read it for me?” she orders.
BM Edwards @ cjrs_online.wir says: ‘Pimpermobile? Come on.’ At the stoplight, she shuts down the system and calls her boyfriend, the one guilty of persuading her to return here. “Shawn? Can you meet me at the mall, in the parking lot?”
“Should I get you anything?”
She silently wonders if he’s been there all day. “I need a hair-pen.”
“You grabbed one this morning.”
She silently brushes her hand back and it stops on a pen. “Alright, uuuuhm, just a pretzel—mild cheese. Kisses.” Back at the mall, they exchange keys and a kiss with him. “I don’t know when I’ll be finished, but I’ll need a ride.”
“You know how to call me,” he teases.
“I know! I’m just saying!” she hops up behind the first set of wheels she was ever put in charge of. She feels a little foreboding. It would take another, like, trillion years before it would qualify once again as a collector’s. She’d driven this hunk of toxic waste through almost-blizzards and almost-deserts. She shook her head to herself, climbing into the driver’s seat. She slams the door and together, she and her oldest driving companion chug down to Big Foot, to the car-lot.
Her blond-haired friend is waiting in the shelter of the garage. She parks her bus near the fence and looks across at the strange woman, then crosses to her. As she approaches the woman, she recognizes the signs of a post-pregnancy body. I knew it.
Neither speaks for a moment, then the blond one speaks: “it’s true?”
“What? That I came here to tell you specially that I’m pregnant?” she grins, “Are you kidding? I just wanted to tell you that I wanna pimp out the pimpermobile.”
“I just wanted to see what your rates were first. See, what I really want to do is standardize it. I don’t have to, because I registered it as a collector’s, but it really wears on my conscience. Do you guys do that sort of thing?”
“Sure, but it’s expensive.”
“Nothing’s too expensive.”
“Five hundred thousand?”
“It’ll take a week to order in the parts and about two weeks to install.”
“If I bought the stuff on my own, what would that bring the price to?”
Our friend shrugs. Still, she’d heard worse—one idiot had tried to charge her full price. “Easy.”
“Yeah! Where’d that creepy dummy go?” she smirks.
“In the back room.”
“Are you angry?”
“Could you guys widen the whole thing, as well? You know, so the tuna-top isn’t, you know…”
“So, enough business. How’re Mark and Char?”
“They’re fine. They moved to Texas.”
The visitor chuckled. “Rodeo Girl,” she shook her head.
“Scribbler. Do you ever see anyone from Walworth?”
“Most of them stayed here. I’m just visiting.”
“Is it true that you have five vacation homes?”
She scoffs. “You know me. What could I possibly do with all that space?”
The other woman smiles, in a strained way. “You could rent them out. Or just give one to me.” They laugh and, for a moment, they were teens again.
“What about Alex’s place? The way it sounded, that place is huge! For us, it’s just the two of us.”
“Maybe we could go out sometime.”
“I’ve got something in Madison, but I’ll be back for the reunion,” she offers.
“So that’s why you’re here,” the other woman pretends to scowl.
“Yeah. My boyfriend…. Anyway, I’ll see you in…two weeks?”
“Alright.” She digs in her pocket and pulls out all its contents—a phone and old business card. She squints at the card and pulls her pen out of her hair, scribbling down her contact number. “Okay, here’s the key—the bus is pretty heavy, and here’s my number. Call if you guys finish early or anything.” She handed over both to her ex-friend, turning and walking to the highway. She dialed Shawn as she went. “Hey, love. Yeah, we’re finished…. No,” she smiles, “I’d just get in the way and I’ve never done anything major like that…. Alright, I’ll be just off State Line. You’ll look on the right corner, in front of an old, grey house…. Okay, ’bye.”
She put her phone away and walked along the length of road where she had walked once before, practically in another life, a confident, rebellious teen with her cocky companion.
It had been a sour end between them, in high school. Brittney had slowly detached herself from her middle school ‘gang,’ to join a group of friends more like her, whatever that was. She tried not to dwell on it….