“You serious? I told her the party was going off at ten. She should have known.”
Shelly rummaged through a bag of tortilla chips on the kitchen counter, fumbling over crumbs and bits, searching for a piece substantial enough to scoop into the ravaged bowl of guacamole by the microwave, left over from the previous night. The bowl had smudges of green down all sides, and appeared to have been up-ended or knocked off the counter at some point during its service as a condiment vessel. Shelly’s vibrating youth was a welcomed contrast to the shambles that her apartment was in: the destructive wake of a collegiate kegger the night before. Between crunching on the salted chip-bits, she posed and answered questions to Amber, on the other line of the cordless phone.
“I know, I know. She’s been acting all weird lately. I swear, it’s like she’s been PMSing for the past two months or something.”
Half-empty cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon littered the counter, and empty red Solo cups blew in the wind outside the sliding patio door off the kitchen, mixed in with leaves and cigarette butts, circling the keg trashcan. Flies were making their rounds amongst the post-party wreckage. The kitchen floor had a film on it, like fly paper, and Shelly’s sandals shlacked and shtucked as she moved around on it, while she picked at various remnants from the retired festivities.
Finally, she settled in on the bag of tortilla chips, and thoughtfully chewed while listening/responding to Amber’s chatter.
“Yeah, I remember her saying something about that. She was all ‘I don’t feel like partying it up tonight, I have that real estate exam on Monday,’ but whatever. She’s depressed or something.”
As she continued to graze over the chips in the bag, she consistently missed a dead cockroach that had made its way into the bag at some point in the earlier hours of the morning and died. She touched and nudged the crispy carcass a number of times, but neglected to choose it due to its lack of guac-scooping surface area.
“Actually, I am starting to worry about her Amber. I mean, this is just not like Carrie to be so anti-social. She knew that Kev was going to be here last night. And she’s always been after him.”
She flipped the roach twice, half-considering it, still not looking at the bag. Her brunette hair was more of a light honey than cocoa, and it looked even lighter as the bright 3pm sun shown through the kitchen window above the hanging-fern sink. The fern had seen better days, and almost appeared to be trying to jump out of its basket and into the ever-moist sink. Through months of neglect, it had become brown in the center and greener over the edges. A victim of neglect.
The dead roach had apparently entered the bag, made not of the abundant food available there, and decided it was a pleasant place to raise a family. There was a ripe egg amongst the tortilla shards, being pushed about the depths of the bag by Shelly’s salty fingertips while she searched for usable pieces.
“No kidding? Shut! Up! You made out with Kevin? Whoa. Good thing she didn’t come then.”
As she paused to concentrate on Amber’s replay of events which led to her and Kevin’s late-night rendezvous in the upstairs bathroom, Shelly took in a deep breath of stale liquored air. She made a noxious face, and decided that the backed-up sink needed to be emptied of beer caps, fruit pieces, napkins, and stagnant whiskey water. The disposal would have to wait until after the conversation, as Amber was sensitive about phone etiquette. So she began to fish out the un-grind-able elements, placing them to the side of the sink, wincing with each successful pluck of party garbage.
Amber, Shelly and Carrie had been close since middle school, when they were all on the dance squad together. Go Wildcats, fight-fight-fight! They danced for the basketball team in their miniscule northern Mississippi town. There were too few boys available to make a full football team, but they managed to put together enough lads between 6th and 8th grade to participate in some barely-qualifies-as-a-school division for basketball. They played two other schools, and they routinely swapped players, as fairness required. This environment helped the girls become extremely close, but Amber often thought that it denied them the opportunity to “really see what’s out there”. Shelly never seemed to mind the quaint smallness of their hometown. She even appeared intent on returning there, after “seeing the world.” Carrie just seemed to follow the opinion of whomever she happened to be talking to at the moment. She was always apt to act as an emotional weather vane. Forming opinions never seemed a priority to Carrie.
But now, they were in Durham, trying to go to school. Shelly was taking a semester off to “get” herself “together.” This is the third such semester, peppered between below-average stints of education. Sometimes, she feels that she is only there to find a good man. She does not know what she wants to do, and does not believe that a degree in Marketing will help her discover her real desires. No one taught ambition back in their smallish hometown.
“You call her then. I don’t want it to seem like I’m harping on it, you know? Besides, she still has my Chapstick, and I’ve been hounding her about that. You know, that flavor isn’t available around here, and I’m soooo addicted to that stuff.”
Shelly needed Chapstick the same way that bull-riders need a thick leather glove to avoid cutting their palms on the reigns. In its absence, she felt vulnerable and unsightly. To not have it around was to run the risk of rawness, puffed-flakiness, and to wake up in the mornings with blood-cracks running down her chin. Of course this never actually happened to her… but she attributes the successful avoidance of such discomfort to her always having her strawberry wax-stick readily available. Hence the “addiction”.
CDs were strewn all over the coffee table, interspersed with wax drippings from candles that were allowed to burn all the way down to their anchors. The table finish is undoubtedly damaged as a result. During the course of the night, a bong was overturned a number of times, splashing its gritty, funky contents on the couch and on the well-worn pathway in front of the couch, behind the strewn coffee table. In what would be a very cliché way, the lamp next to the couch, in the corner of the two-bedroom town home, was missing the shade. But it was never removed by an over-zealous party-goer, for it was never there to begin with. Just like the rest of Shelly’s furniture, it was obviously “found” on a curb, or “abandoned” by some long-forgotten roommate. Nevertheless, it gave light, which is more than the overhead light could do. Shelly was never good with bulb replacement for ceiling lights. She claimed that she was afraid of getting shocked, or falling from a chair while stretching to delicately screw it in. But in reality, she was just plain lazy.
“She’s had it for the past week. When you call her, mention it, will you? Seriously. I am so not kidding.”
The roach had been fingered back and forth, front and back through the bag. She touched it more and more often as her dipping options were being exhausted.
“Oh, and did you see when Chuck punched that townie last night? It really turned me on. I mean, the guy totally deserved it for grabbing my ass like that. What an asshole. I am so lucky Chuck is still my boyfriend. I mean, if that guy had been bigger, I still would have lost my shit on him the same way. Some guys just think that hip huggers are an invitation or something. Anyway, like I was saying, Chuck knocked him out cold!”
Shelly was rearranging all the bags of chips from around the kitchen, consolidating what she could, making room on the counter to sit. She came across a bag of mesquite smoked barbeque chips, and placed it to the side by itself.
“I don’t know what happened to him Amber. I guess his friends carried him out or something. I don’t care. Asshole. I just found a bag of Chuck’s favorite chips. Awww, he must have been too sick last night to eat it all. Half a bag left.”
She picked it up and dropped it a couple of times, delicately, playfully, being careful not to crush any whole chips that may still be inside (she was already struggling with chip rubble within her bag of Tostidos).
“That was kinda strange huh? Yeah, he just got sick I guess. He came over to me and was like, ‘gotta go honey, I think I’m gonna spew. Joseph was makin’ me do shots…’ and then he burped a wet one. Joseph is like, evil or something. When Chuck and I get married, he will be banned from Jo. No ‘Jo’ time for my man!” Then she giggled, half at the idea of barring Chuck from doing something, and half at the dream of marriage. In a poorly lit corner of her mind, a little light flickered when she had the thought of marriage. Her dress, the flowers, the way the sun would shine, the happiness, the faceless but perfectly shaped body of him, and the absolute perfection of that day… Oh, and Chuck too.
She pried open the bag of barbeque chips, and removed a greasy and heavily powdered specimen. After scooping it into the guacamole, listening intently to Amber chatter, she leveled it to her mouth and shoveled it in. Squinting in disappointment, she folded the barbeque bag back up and moved back over to the bag inhabited by the dead roach and egg, still neglecting to inspect the contents.
“No, he was definitely not feeling good. I could tell. He might have already hurled in the backyard. I’ll probably find his pile over by the hose where I saw Jeremy and his date screwing… yeah, on that broken picnic table… I know! She better be on the pill, girl!”
Shelly picked the chopstick out of her hair, letting the strands drop down to her shoulders. She tossed it behind her and bent over to pick up a tuna can from the floor, bits of tuna dropping from it as she tossed it into the corner where the Jenga-filled trashcan sat, emitting flies.
“Yeah, Kevin’s cute I guess. That’s between you and her. I am totally staying clear of that one.”
She slipped her smallish hand back into the tortilla chip bag, re-fondled every piece of chip dirt, and the roach. She then moved back over to the barbeque bag, opened it and removed a sizable piece and bit half of it, looking focused on Amber’s high-pitched voice squeak things of little importance. She eyed the guacamole bowl as she reached back into the bag, and made a face of disgust. Then, she sparked upright and bounced just slightly.
“Oh, oh, oh. Wait, don’t call her for a bit. Chuck is taking her to the doctor today. Remember? She’s probably going to get back on the pill… I know. That’s probably what has her so jacked up. She said she needed to borrow my car for a visit to her doctor, and Chuck offered to drive her so I could have my car so I won’t be late to work today. Such a sweetie. If he knew it was her gyno he probably would have said ‘hell no!’ but I didn’t tell him that. I hope he isn’t too sick to do it. I’ll call his cell in a minute to make sure. I can drop her off on my way to Bennigan’s. God, I hate that fucking job.”
Amber and Shelly knew that Carrie needed to be on the pill. Her monthly movements were especially rough, and she always got migraines as a result. It was curious that she decided to vacate the pill for the past four months, but her friends never questioned that decision.
“Me too, I hope that gets her back into it. Yeah, maybe that’s all she needs.”
Shelly reached over to the barbeque bag, fished around for a bit and with a disturbed look on her face, removed a small tube of strawberry Chapstick. She held it up at eye level, inspecting it, turning it around and around in her grease-slicked fingers.
“Holy shit Amber! My Chapstick was in Chuck’s bag of chips! Awesome.” A quizzed look fell over her face for a moment, and then relaxed itself away. Her left hand drew up to converge with her right on the little plastic tube. She twisted it open and applied a thick layer of strawberry flavor no. 4 wax to her salted lips.
“I know, who would have thought. Weird, I guess I don’t need to ask her for to give me back what’s mine then… I know, crazy, huh?”
She reached over to the bag of tortilla bits, pursed the opening closed, and rolled it all the way down, compressing the crumbled contents. As she was shtuck-shtucking her way across the sticky floor toward the tower of refuse to deposit the chip remnants amongst other soon-to-be-forgotten garbage, the egg hatched…
Hundreds of baby roaches poured from the shell and began making their way in the world, like many things surrounding Shelly: with her help, but certainly not her permission. Life, as Shelly had grown to know it, continued to occur around her. It almost always occurred with her help.
But certainly not with her permission.