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Whimper Bang MAG
Wisps of smoke curled on themselves to form overdrawn punctuation over people’s heads. Catey frowned at Julia and said, “Put that out. You know I hate the smell of cigarettes.”
Julia used her free hand to flick her brown hair out of her face and exhaled, smoke streaming from her mouth. “They’re cloves,” she explained. “Come on, Catey, live a little.”
Catey snorted and waved away the sickly smell. Julia talked like she was the new kid in town, grungy from the big city. But she was really the one who grew up here knowing every parent of every child within a two-year margin; Catey was the slightly dirty one from somewhere with a Starbucks.
“Catey,” Julia had said when they met. “C-A-T-E-Y. God, isn’t there a plain Katie around anymore? With a K and an I?” Catey had shrugged and then asked for Julia’s name, which was spelled the conventional way. Julia had looked like she resented Catey’s orthographic abnormality.
“I want to start a revolution,” Julia resolved suddenly. For dramatic effect, she stuck the butt in her mouth and drawled again, “I want to start a revolution,” breathing over Catey’s plate of mashed potatoes.
Catey noticed that Julia didn’t have any food. “You spend extra money on cloves, which are worse for your health than normal cigarettes and smell almost as bad. Don’t tell me that’s not revolting.” She poked Julia’s bony shoulder. “Eat.”
Julia inhaled once more, holding her breath. “You know you like it,” she exhaled. “You wouldn’t have dragged me here if you didn’t. But I refuse to eat with the congregation just because you’re a good daughter.” Catey’s mother directed the choir of their church. It had monthly dinners, and occasionally Catey liked to guilt herself into going.
“Then what do you want to do?”
“Start a revolution.” A woman whose son went to high school with Julia sat down next to them. Julia smiled at her, asked after the unnamed child, and slid further down the bench, pressing herself against Catey to prevent any further attempts at conversation.
Catey sighed. “Get a tattoo, then.”
Julia snorted. “What about the pitchforks and the flaming torches and the angry mothers calling us scum and wanting nothing to do with us?” She tilted her head and appeared to listen to the walls of noise around them, accents falling up and down in a pattern that she knew too well. Closing her eyes, she said, “It’s not a revolution until there’s protests and editorial wars in the paper.”
“Ah,” Catey said. “What you want is a rebellion.”
“Rebellion, revolution.” Julia waved her hand. “Semantics. What’s the difference?”
Catey rolled her neck around to look at Julia, whose green eyes were still hidden from the rest of the world. “It all depends on which side you’re on. Good or bad.”
Julia opened her eyes. “Which side is good?” she asked. “Isn’t it subjective?” The butt lay limply in her fingers, forgotten; she wasn’t as addicted as she pretended to be.
“No,” Catey replied. “The good side is the one that wins.” She tried to meet Julia’s eyes, but eyelids got in the way again. Giving up, she said, “We won’t win.”
“Probably not.” Julia paused. “You said we.”
“You said we. We won’t win.” She smiled. With her eyes closed, she looked almost peaceful. “You never say we. I say we.”
Catey turned her head. “Why are we talking about this?” she asked the rest of the picnic tables.
“What else is there to talk about?”
“Things.” Catey turned back to see Julia peering at her with one eye open. “Get a job.”
“Oh, what’s the fun in that?” Remembering her clove, Julia relit it.
“I hate it when you smoke,” Catey said. She coughed for effect. Julia’s former classmate’s mother laughed too loud at something, and Catey looked for her own mother because, suddenly, she wanted to know where everyone was. She tilted her head and imitated Julia’s earlier position, trying to find in the buzzing crowd what Julia had heard.
“You won’t do anything,” she muttered.
Julia rubbed her thin arms, bare to the cooling June afternoon. “Yes, I will,” she said.
“You won’t,” Catey contended. “You talk about starting a revolution all the time, but you won’t ever do it. What are you revolutionizing? How are you gonna do it? You don’t know. You just talk.”
Julia looked at her, unblinking.
“What if you end up starting a rebellion? Then where would you go?” Catey asked, because Julia didn’t say anything. “We’re stuck here. I know, I know, college. But where are we going after we graduate? We’re stuck. We’re stuck in exile together until the end of the world. You know that. You said that, once. And what are we going to do when we get sick of each other?”
Julia put both elbows resolutely on the table and curved her hands around them. Putting her weight on her arms, she leaned forward and moved her face closer, almost daring Catey to say more. Something snapped in her eyes, but maybe Catey had just imagined it.
“Do you ever think …,” Catey rambled. “Don’t you ever think that maybe we’re friends because we’re both self-destructive?” She wanted to get up, but then Julia blinked.
Julia leaned over and put her mouth against Catey’s, interrupting a new sentence. Clove-laced breath crossed Catey’s lips and tasted bitter against the palate of mashed potatoes. Some of Julia’s air entered Catey’s nostrils and told her sweet and spicy instead of bitter, and then the law of kisses closed her eyes, even though Julia’s hazy green irises stayed open to everyone. Maybe Julia didn’t want the law to apply to her.
Their noses bumped, and Julia rested back on her elbows. Catey followed her lips for an instant, stopped, and opened her eyes. They looked at each other, intensely aware that the blanket of noise that had cloaked their revolutionary discussion had been whipped away. Silence was only the lack of sound; what closed over them now smothered and deafened them. Catey realized what Julia had found under the layers of verbose dinner conversations.
“Yes,” said Julia. She took a deep breath, and Catey almost wished that Julia still had that clove.
Catey swallowed and focused past Julia to see the over-laughing mother staring at her. She blinked. “This is getting too intellectual,” said Catey. Everyone else trapped the words in their suddenly deprived eardrums, trying to make sense of it all.
“Well, we’re the self-destructive ones.” Julia patted her jeans pockets, even though she knew she didn’t have any more cloves. She stood. Catey put her hands on the table, ready to push herself up, but made the mistake of looking at the crowd. Pausing in a half-rise, she caught the eye of some adult who probably knew Julia but maybe not sweet Julia’s friend. She tried to curve her lips up but failed.
“Um,” she said. In an over-exaggerated motion, she straightened and stepped around the bench.
Julia closed one eye. “You know we’ll lose,” she pointed out, eschewing all her previous notions of revolution. Catey shrugged like she did when they’d first met.
“Come on. Let’s make a dramatic exit,” Julia said.
As they left the vicinity of the dining area, someone in the crowd said something that ended with an exclamation point. Overdrawn punctuation bent around various vocal chords. Someone went to find Catey’s mother.
“It didn’t exactly come out right. It’s not how it’s supposed to happen. It’s supposed to be love,” Julia explained later, leaning against Catey’s legs on a sloping hill.
“No, but it’s what you wanted. Angry mothers, editorials, some rotten eggs.”
“Rotten eggs weren’t mentioned earlier.”
“Maybe the mob will forget them.”
“I thought we were the mob.”
“Hmm?” Catey squinted in the dusk.
“I thought we were the mob.”
“No,” said Catey. “We’re the kids who don’t know what we just picked up, only that we set it off.”
“I thought that was a mob.”
“Don’t you ever wish you were a plain Katie, with a K and an I?”
Crickets chirped too loudly, drilling into Catey’s brain and pushing Julia’s words out. She tried to think. “No,” she said, and realized it was her usual answer to Julia’s questions.
Julia tilted her head so it rested on Catey’s knees and rolled her eyes up to look at her. “Good.”