MR. PAPADAKIS TELLS US TO SMILE. He says, “Girls, here at Castaways, we’re not just selling Singapore Slings and Crab Rangoon. We’re selling fantasy. We’re giving a bunch of poor saps who’ve never been anywhere special a taste of tropical paradise right here on the Prairie. And you, young ladies, are key to the illusion. You’re the dusky jewels in Castaways’ crown ... Yes, Tina. Even you. So you can stop rolling your eyes. Now, where was I?”
“Dusky jewels,” I say, duct-taping my coconut bra into place.
“Oh yes, dusky jewels. Thank you, Amber.”
“Uh huh. Whatever.”
I fiddle with my bikini top. I gotta make sure “the girls” stay in place so there’s no more unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions like what happened last month in front of the Rotary Club.
“You’re the dusky jewels in Castaways’ crown,” Mr. Papadakis says. I test the duct tape by jumping up and down. Tina joins in. So does Janine, and my best friend, Enza. We bounce up and down, wiggle and jiggle like crazy, cuz being charged with public nudity ain’t as much fun as you’d think.
Mr. Papadakis turns beet red. He mops his forehead. “You ...you are ...you’re—”
“Delicate orchids,” we say. “The exotic blooms in Castaways’ floral lei.”
Talk about your total bull-crap. I mean, there’s nothing authentic or native about our South Seas Polynesian Revue. Like, Tina’s native, but you know not that kinda native. Janine’s fresh off the boat from some country that no longer exists. Enza’s frickin’ Italian. And me? I’m a Heinz 57. A little bit of everything and a whole lotta wasted potential, according to Mom.
Janine spritzes her hair with Sexi Hold Hairspray. Sexi Hold Hairspray promises to hold your hair like nobody’s business. So does Enza, as she bulldozes over a chair and puts Janine in a headlock.
“Bitch,” Enza says. “I told you to keep your hands off my shit.” “Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” Janine says.
Janine’s still learning English. Picks a lot of it up watching television. Tina’s all WWF, pacing the linoleum, totally psyched to get tagged. “Ow. Ow. Ow!” Janine says. “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin!” Janine drops the can.
I elbow Mr. Papadakis. Point at the clock.
He looks at the time, then claps his hands.
“Girls,” he says. “Places.”
Our grass skirts rustle on our race to the exit. Janine shoves right in front of me and I wind up last in line and the first girl Mr. Papadakis pinches on the ass tonight. FYI, we don’t call him Papa Dick behind his back for nothing. So thanks, Janine. Thanks a frickin’ lot.
At least the tips are good. Especially around this time of year. ‘Tis the season. Ho. Ho. Ho. And it beats plucking chickens at the Castle Brand processing plant, which is where most people wind up in this piece-ofcrap town. So when Papa Dick says, now get out there, girls, and shake what your mamas gave you, we do.
We shake it across the wooden bridge surrounded by koi ponds, artificial tropical plants and flaming bamboo torches. We shimmy beneath the night sky painted on the ceiling. Hula past the recirculating waterfall, the ginormous tiki statues belching smoke, and all the losers getting sloshed on Rum Rickies and Mai Tais.
We do the dance of the mysterious volcano god, the mysterious sea turtle, the mysterious coconut that just landed on our heads—and ya, you’re right, we just make shit up as we go along.
Halfway through our performance, Papa Dick takes centre stage. “And now,” he says, “Castaways’ exotic beauties would love to share some of their island, ehem, magic with a few lucky patrons.”
Customers laugh. There’s wolf-whistling. Man, I frickin’ hate audience participation time.
Me and the girls pass out cheap floral garlands made outta plastic. Some balding, middle-age jerk with bad breath grabs me around the waist and asks how much I charge for a lei— nudge nudge wink wink, like I haven’t heard that line like a bazillion times before. I pry loose, thinking if I hadda dollar for every drunk d-bag that tried that line on me, I’d be so loaded I wouldn’t have to work in this dump.
The girls start pulling people up from the audience. Janine zeroes in on some salesman, in town for the night, from Winnipeg. Tina and Enza duke it out over a stud-muffin celebrating a birthday. Me? I’m attached. My boyfriend’s name is Kyle. So I drag up this elderly couple, try and convince them that doing the hula is actually pretty doable after hip replacement surgery.
I gotta say they’re a sad and sorry sight. Not even three hours of drink specials during Happy Hour’s enough to loosen them up. When my gran was alive, she’d say, white folks wouldn’t know rhythm if it
came and slapped them right upside the head. Said they’re all stiff and rigid cuz of that rod shoved up their ass. I loved Gran to bits, but she was like soooo prejudiced. Made me wonder, did she think the same about me, or at least about the half of me that’s white?
When the show’s over, we pose for photographs with customers. Split the profits 50-50 with Papa Dick, who acts as the photographer. You’d be surprised how many guys are willing to spend ten bucks just to have a photo taken with a couple of half-naked girls in hula outfits—or maybe not.
At the end of my shift, I punch out with $65 in tips and two phone numbers. The money I stuff in my purse. The phone numbers I give to Enza. They’ll wind up written in Sharpie on a half-dozen bathroom stalls around town. Added to Enza’s “great wall of douchebaggery.” Call Nico. Fred. Ted. Et cetera. Loves to cheat on wife. Girlfriend. Taxes...you get the picture.
“How many didja get tonight?” I say.
“Four d-bags for the wall,” Enza says. “And one for me. The hottie from table seven.”
“Bull-crap,” says Tina.
“Bitch, I know you ain’t calling me a liar,” says Enza.
“Bitch, I know you ain’t calling me a bitch,” Tina replies.
“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,” Janine says. Tina glares. “Shut up, Janine.”
So does Enza. “Ya, Janine. Zip it.”
Janine tears up. Grabs a bag of Cheezie Puffs from outta her knapsack. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” she says.
I dab on some of Enza’s patchouli oil and fetch my coat from the locker.
“Don’t forget,” I say to Enza. “The babysitter will have given SammyJo supper. So it’s just bath time and—”
“Snack, then a couple of books before bedtime,” Enza says.
Tina nods, tells me not to worry.
“You’re in good hands with Allstate,” Janine says. She gives me a thumbs-up. Her fingertips are Day-Glo orange.
Enza sighs. “You and Kyle are so rheumatic.”
“No kidding,” Tina says. “You’re like Romeo and Juliet. Cross-eyed lovers and shit.”
My family can’t stand Kyle. They think he’s a total loser. And I’m a little too tan for Kyle’s parents’ taste—if you catch my drift. They also think I’m a slut. That I got pregnant just to trap him. Which I most definitely did not.
I grab my things, tiptoe down the hall.
Papa Dick steps out of his office. “Mele Kalikimaka,” he says, and points at the plastic mistletoe tacked above his door.
“Merry Christmas,” I say, making a run for it.
Castaways is located in a stripmall across the street from a Petro-Can and a Motel 6. I wade through snowdrifts in the parking lot. The sound of snowplows echo in the distance like the last gasps of dinosaurs. Kyle’s waiting for me in his van. His van kicks ass. Has an air-brushed mural of Smaug wrapped around the sides.
The door’s locked.
“Open up,” I say. “It’s frickin’ freezing outside.”
Smaug lets loose a cloud of smoke as the passenger door opens. The van reeks of pot. Kyle’s eyes are bloodshot. Almost as red as Smaug’s. I climb in. Slam the door.
“You’re blitzed,” I say. “Again.”
“No shit,” Kyle says with a laugh.
I shake my head. “At this rate, we’ll never save up enough money to get a place of our own.”
“Aw, you know you love me.”
He’s right. I do. Regardless. In spite of. Which Mom says is proof positive that I don’t have the brains God gave a gerbil.
We play tonsil hockey for a little while and then head over to his place. Well, actually his parents’ place. They’re gone for the weekend. Went to visit the KKKs—Kyle’s sister, Kimberly, her husband Kevin and their six-month-old daughter, Kelly, over in the next town. No shit. That’s what they call themselves…the frickin’ KKKs, which I think, at a minimum, is kinda insensitive. Kyle says I’m taking things the wrong way. That his family’s not like that, that people aren’t like that here in the Great White North. I think, easy for him to say, cuz for people like me, unlike people like him, living in the Great White North ain’t always so great.
We have a couple of beers in the kitchen. Make out a little, then head upstairs. There’s this huge gallery wall next to the staircase. Kyle and his family on vacation. At Christmas. Celebrating birthdays and graduations. Man, I’ve never seen so many pictures of people wearing cardigans in all my life. There’s not a hair out of place, not a single zit. They look like the model family photograph that comes in the frame when you buy it at the store. The one you pull out and replace with your own crappy snapshot from your own crappy life. There’s like a ton of pictures of the KKKs. Guess how many photos there are of me and Sammy-Jo? Zero. Nada. Squat.
Kyle’s room looks like a bomb went off.
I’m lying in bed, wearing my grass skirt from Castaways and nothing else.
Kyle’s naked, except for the Polaroid camera draped around his neck. He’s jumping on the mattress. His thing bobs up and down, like one of those dashboard ornaments. My tits are bouncing like crazy.
“Stop jumping,” I say.
Kyle straddles me. He points the camera in my direction. His youknow-what’s pointing too.
“Smile,” he says.
I do. I don’t mean it. I can’t stop thinking about that frickin’ gallery wall. How it’s like some stupid shrine to Kimberly’s baby.
There’s a whirr. A click. A chemical smell. The camera flash hurts my eyes. Kyle’s covered in spots. He dives into bed beside me. The comforter makes a whooshing sound as he lands. He watches the Polaroid develop. I watch his spots disappear.
“God, Amber,” Kyle says. “You’ve got great tits.”
I grab the photograph. The image is kinda grainy. I’m overexposed and the colour’s off. Story of my frickin’ life.
Kyle leans back. “Smile.”
I make a face at him instead.
He takes a picture anyways.
“You’re gonna get rid of them?” I say.
“Sure…at some point.”
“Whadda you mean, ‘at some point’?”
Kyle grabs the Polaroid. Takes one last look. “Babe, a guy’s got needs. It’s just a little something to remember you by when we’re apart.” He places the photographs in the drawer of his nightstand. He nestles against my side. Starts feeling me up.
“No glove. No love,” I tell him.
Kyle bitches. Grabs a rubber.
Too bad. So sad. But after having a kid at sixteen, I’d like to think that I’ve learned my lesson. So now he’s got to wear a raincoat or forget it. “You’re my Tahiti sweetie,” he says.
I turn away. “I told you to stop calling me that.”
He starts nibbling on my ear.
I can feel his hard-on pressed against my thigh.
“I swear to God, Kyle. Keep that frickin’ thing away from me.” “Fuck’s sake, Amber. What’s your problem?”
“I’m not in the mood.”
“Since right now.”
“You’re always in the mood.”
Not always. I’m not like a nympho or anything.
Kyle frowns. Lights a joint. “We finally get some alone time and this is how you want to spend it?”
Can’t help it. His parents want nothing to do with me? Fine. See if I care. But Sammy-Jo’s a different story. She’s three, and still hasn’t met them. Kyle says they need time to adjust. I gotta say they’re sure taking their sweet time about it.
We stare at the ceiling, the walls and each other for what feels like forever—and then go back to doing it.
Before I can get the key in the lock, Enza swings the door wide open. In the background there’s wailing, like someone’s killing a cat.
“I thought you’d be gone the whole weekend,” Enza says.
“What’s wrong?” I say. “Is Sammy-Jo okay?”
“Sammy-Jo’s fine. It’s you know who that’s the problem.”
“Way,” Enza says.
I take off my coat and boots.
Sammy-Jo waddles up, dragging my old doll. Poor Darling DollyWalks-A-Lot has really taken a beating over the years. What’s left of her blond hair is all chopped to shit. There’s permanent marker all over her face.
I pick Sammy-Jo up. Give her a hug. She’s the one thing me and Kyle got right.
“She’s baaack,” Sammy-Jo whispers in my ear.
“Ya, I’m not dealing with it,” Enza says. “You deal with it.”
“Good luck!” Tina shouts from the living-room. “You’re gonna need it!”
Tina’s vegging on the couch with Janine, who’s halfway through a container of ice cream. They’re both in pjs, watching Sesame Street.
“It’s not easy being green,” Janine says.
I follow the sound of wailing down the hallway. Sammy-Jo trails behind. I knock on the bathroom door, tell my sister I’m coming in.
Donna’s cross-legged on the floor. She’s bawling. Got mascara and blue kohl eye shadow running down her face. She looks a whole lot worse than poor Darling Dolly-Walks-A-Lot.
“I...hate...them,” Donna says through tears. “I’m not...going back. You...can’t...make me.”
I nudge Sammy-Jo. “Auntie needs a hug.”
Sammy-Jo looks at Donna, lets out a scream and takes off. There’s this kathunk kathunk kathunk from Dolly’s head banging on the floor. “What’re you...doing home?” Donna says.
“Change of plans.”
I tell Donna his parents came home early. I don’t mention how Kyle frickin’ kicked me out of bed and snuck me out the window. I hand Donna a tissue. She blows her nose, gives me some advice.
“Amber, you’re not doing yourself any favours. You gotta dump that loser.”
Like she should talk. Donna’s got a thing for trouble. Me? I got a thing for Kyle. Her social worker says it’s cuz we both suffer from low
self-esteem, which Mom says is garbage. She figures the only thing we’re suffering from is a severe case of stupid.
The phone rings.
Enza shouts my name.
Donna lights a smoke. “If that’s Mom, you tell that bitch I’m not talking to her.”
Ya, well you’re not the only one—not that it matters. I head for the kitchen and the wall-mounted telephone, next to the refrigerator.
Enza holds out the receiver. Rolls her eyes.
There’s this squawk on the line.
My mom can’t stand Enza. Thinks she’s a bad influence, as if juvenile delinquency was catchy like a case of influenza.
When me and Kyle met, a few years back, it was at a wedding social for one of Enza’s cousins. I was sitting at a table with a fake ID and Enza. Kyle was there with friends. He was staring at me real hard. I thought he was cute. He thought I was Italian. “Take a picture,” I said. “It’ll last longer.” Kyle pretended to do just that. The rest, as they say, is history—or my downward slide into damnation, depending on who you ask. “Mom...Mom!”
I wrap the phone cord around my neck, pretend to strangle myself. “Amber? Is that you?”
I untangle the cord.
“You tell that Enza she’s going straight to Hell.”
I shake my head. Mom’s been this way ever since she found religion through Reverend Ray.
“Donna’s bawling her eyes out in my bathroom. What’s going on?” I hear my stepdad preaching in the background.
Dad took off when we were little and we haven’t seen him since. Mom was at a loss, raising two kids on her own. Until the Reverend Ray showed up and married her, and took us under his wing. Mom calls him her “personal Ray of sunshine.” He calls her naïve for having married outside her race, calls us ungrateful brats, a couple of coloured Whores of Babylon.
“Mom, tell Ray to shut the fuck up.”
“Language,” she says. “You know the Reverend doesn’t mean anything by it. He only has your best interests at heart.”
“Sure...whatever you say.”
“The Reverend says he’s praying for both you girls.”
“When you coming by to pick up Donna...Hello? Hello?”
Waikiki Wednesdays suck. Seriously, they blow. But renting a cute little bungalow won’t come cheap, so it doesn’t matter if Waikiki Wednesdays suck, which they totally do, or that I’m under the weather with a severe case of stupid, which may or may not be accurate. “The show,” as they say, “must go on.”
At least that’s what Papa Dick said right after firing Janine. The show must go on, which is how I got the extra hours. Poor Janine. She was getting kinda chunky around the middle. And Papa Dick says we cater to a certain clientele. Respectable businessmen who work hard for their money and don’t want to be staring at jelly bellies while they’re eating their poi poi platters and drinking Hawaiian Sunsets. If jelly bellies is what they wanted they’d go home to their wives after work.
I feel like a traitor but Janine understands. Mom and Ray gave Donna the boot. So now, on top of everything, my fifteen-year-old sister’s my responsibility.
The hostess stand is too close to the door. I got goosebumps in places I oughta not have them. I think my lips are turning blue. Have they turned blue? I pucker up. Change my mind, cuz the guys from Castle Brand’s head office are piling in, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression.
I’m freezing. Seriously, like in or out. But close the frickin’ door already. I wish I had a parka, or a sweater. Man, I’d even settle for a scarf and a pair of garbage gloves. But rules are rules. Gotta follow the script.
“Welcome to Castaways. We’d love to get you lei’d.”
There are two malls in town. The good mall and the bad mall. The good mall’s shiny and clean. Harte’s Portrait Studio’s located in the good mall. The good mall’s in the better part of town, unlike the bad mall, which’s in the worst. Guess where you’ll find Castaways? If you picked the good mall, you might wanna guess again.
Kyle was supposed to drive us, but something came up. So, he’s going to meet us at Harte’s. The good mall’s packed. Christmas carols play over the loudspeakers. Everyone’s in a shopping frenzy.
“You better stick to me like glue,” I tell Donna.
“But I wanna look at stuff,” she says.
“What good’s coming to the mall if I can’t even buy stuff?”
“You got any money?”
“Then end of discussion.”
I gotta get Sammy-Jo outta her snowsuit without her taking a hissyfit. Donna wanders off. So does Sammy-Jo.
“Get back here,” I say, and they both start whining.
I unzip zippers, unbuckle buckles, stuff Sammy-Jo’s toque and scarf into the sleeves of her snowsuit. She’s got hat head. And what the frick
happened to her green barrettes? The ones matching her velvet dress that cost me a week in tips.
In the middle of the mall is Santa’s Village. There’s an oversized rocking chair in front of a fake log cabin covered in polyester rolls of artificial snow and mini-lights.
“I wanna see Santa,” Sammy-Jo says.
There’s a winding lineup of parents and kids, being herded like cattle.
“Later,” I tell her.
By the time we get to the portrait studio, Sammy-Jo’s in tears cuz she hasn’t seen Santa, Donna’s pockets are crammed with five-finger discounts, I’ve got a frickin’ headache and Kyle’s nowhere in sight.
Harte’s is real professional-looking. Lots of pictures of happy families.
Sammy-Jo drops to the floor, starts kicking and screaming for Santa and a candy cane and a unicorn and whatever else pops into her head.
“Every moment is precious,” some guy named Franklin says from behind the counter. “Shouldn’t your portraits be too?”
I’m wearing a little black dress. I think I look hot. And I told Kyle, to make up for sneaking me outta the window, he’d better show up in a suit and tie. Which reminds me. Where the frick is he? I say we have an appointment. Tell Sammy-Jo, enough already. Search my purse for the Harte’s Holidaze Coupon I cut outta the flyer.
Franklin hauls out a binder. “You have a choice of photographic backgrounds.”
Mom tried for years to get a decent family portrait of us. But it never worked out. One year me and Donna got chicken pox. The next year it was the mumps. Year after that, Mom shipped us back to Truro to live with Gran. And so it went. It wasn’t intentional or anything. Just like me getting knocked up at fifteen. No way was I having my picture taken. I wound up looking like a frickin’ beached whale. Besides, Mom and Ray kicked me out once they found out I was pregnant, so getting a family portrait was kinda moot.
I find my coupon, but can’t decide on the backdrop. I ask Donna what she thinks, but she couldn’t care less. Sammy-Jo’s busy with her tantrum. And Kyle’s still not here to offer an opinion.
I nix the tropical beach. Decide on a winter scene with a sled.
“Good choice,” Franklin says, and leaves to set things up.
Donna bribes Sammy-Jo off the floor with lip gloss.
“Don’t put that crap on her face.”
“Take a chill pill,” Donna says. “Pucker up, Buttercup.”
She pretends to add lip gloss. Sammy-Jo smacks her lips. “Everything’s ready,” Franklin says. “If you’ll please come this way.”
“We can’t. My boyfriend’s not here yet.”
“Kyle’s not here,” Donna says. “Surprise. Surprise.”
“Kyle’s a dick,” Sammy-Jo says.
My kid starts running in circles. “Kyle’s a dick. Kyle’s a dick.” Donna’s in tears, she’s laughing so hard.
“Stop encouraging her. Sammy-Jo, don’t talk like that about your father.”
“Maybe he should act like one,” Donna says.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be teaching Sammy-Jo to call her father a dick.”
Franklin clears his throat. “Every moment is precious. But I really don’t have time for this.”
“He’ll be here any minute,” I say.
“Really,” Franklin says. “I’d like to accommodate you but—”
“Any minute.” And I flop into a chair.
Donna reads to Sammy-Jo. I watch the clock, flip through magazines. I catch up on celebrity gossip. Pick up tips on how to get the most kissable lips. Although, it’s not like Kyle’s gonna benefit cuz by now I’m totally pissed. I check out flyers. Give Sammy-Jo a juice box.
Donna yawns. “Ten bucks Kyle’s a no show.”
“He’ll be here,” I say.
I give Donna an evil look. And a half-hour later, ten one-dollar bills.
On Friday, two women from the Ladies’Auxiliary of the Immaculate Deception show up at our door. One’s sprouted green felt antlers with bells and a flashing red nose. The other’s wearing Spock ears and is dressed like Mrs. Claus. Both are carrying baskets filled to the brim with Christian charity.
“Merry Christmas,” says Mrs. Claus.
“Joyeux Noël,” says Rudolph.
“Who’s there?” Tina shouts from the kitchen.
“It’s freaks bearing gifts!”
Mrs. Claus gives me this look. Uh oh. I think I just got put on the naughty list.
Rudolph frowns, whispers to Mrs. Claus, “I thought this would be a lot more fun.”
Tina rushes to the door. She looks forward to their visit every year. Gives her a chance to talk about religion, now that the Jehovah’s Witnesses stay clear of our place.
“Come in,” Tina says. “Please excuse the mess.”
Mess. What mess? We’ve been scrubbing the place for days, used so much liquid disinfectant that the house reeks of pine and we don’t even have a tree up yet.
I step aside to let them in.
The Ladies’Auxiliary of the Immaculate Deception show up every year around this time. They come bringing frozen turkeys, boxes of instant mashed potatoes, expired pudding pie mix and the promise of salvation. Every year, it’s like the Island of Misfit Toys under the Christmas tree.
“There’s more out in the car,” Rudolph says.
I grab my coat, slip on boots. I hate having to rely on the kindness of strangers. I wish Kyle would step up, frickin’ show up for a change. I don’t want Sammy-Jo growing up with slunkys instead of slinkys under the Christmas tree, pamphlets about fire and brimstone stuffed in her stocking.
The driveway’s slippery. I wipe out beside their car.
The voice belongs to a sexy elf with bleached-blonde hair. She’s holding a turkey. There’s something vaguely familiar. Not about the turkey but the elf. Oh shit. It’s you know frickin’ who. I stand and brush myself off. I grab a box from the trunk, hoping she doesn’t recognize me.
“You sure you’re alright?”
We head towards the house.
“Don’t we know one another?” she says.
“I don’t think so.”
We drop off the turkey and a box of hand-me-downs. Enza and Janine are singing carols with Mrs. Claus. Tina’s debating with Rudolph the likelihood of some virgin giving birth in a manger. We head back to the car.
“I’ve got it. You went to JHC. I never forget a face. Or a name. It’s Amethyst, right?”
Quartz? Bitch, seriously?
“Amber... That’s it. I knew it was something different. It’s me. Karen Russell. Don’t you remember? We had a couple of Grade Ten classes together. I mean, we did, until you disappeared second semester. Weren’t you going out with Kyle Reimer back then?”
“I was. I still am.”
“Huh... You don’t say.”
I do say. Like fuck off, bitch.
“Say what?” Donna asks.
Donna’s holding a saw in one hand, the trunk of a Christmas tree in the other. She’s covered in pine needles. So’s the sidewalk.
“Karen made fun of me in high school.”
Karen shakes her head. Bells jingle. “I don’t think so.”
“Ya, you did. You used to call me halfro, watermelon bum.”
“Is she the one?” Donna asks.
“You’re mistaken,” Karen says.
“Whoreo Cookie,” me and Donna say together.
“Look...I’m just in town for the holidays. I’m only trying to help my mother spread a little Christmas cheer.”
“Is that what they’re calling the clap nowadays?” Donna says. I laugh.
Karen glares, starts using words no respectable elf would say. “Where’s the beef?” Janine shouts from the stoop.
Karen stomps towards the front door.
“Where’d the tree come from?” I say to Donna.
“Do you really want to know?” she says.
My mom’s such a know-it-all. Tells me Kyle’s never gonna buy the cow when he can get the milk for free. So not only am I a slut but I’m a stupid slut. Which is why Donna’s the mastermind, Janine’s the driver, Enza and Tina are on lookout, and I’m on the fence. We’re parked a few houses down from Kyle’s place. It’s late at night. The lights are off at the house and there’s no vehicles in the driveway.
“I dunno. I still think this is a bad idea.”
Donna shakes her head.
“Oh my God,” she says. “Will you grow a pair already?”
“What if we get caught?”
“We’re not going to get caught.”
“We’re on a mission,” Janine says. “A mission from God.”
Enza nods. “Ain’t that the mother-fucking truth.”
Tina high-fives Janine, and she smiles. It’s good to see Janine smile again. She’s been kinda depressed lately, thanks to her new job executing chickens for Castle Brand, and the vegetarian diet she’s gone on to get her job back at Castaways.
“He’s gonna know it was me,” I say. “What if he goes to the cops?” “Go to the cops?” Enza says. “And what’s he gonna tell ’em?”
“No kidding,” Tina says. “Excuse me, officer, but my ex stole the stash of nudie pics I took of her.”
Donna’s getting restless in the front seat. “We doing this or what?” “Maybe he got rid of them like he promised.”
“Sure,” Donna says. “Cuz, if there’s one thing we know about Kyle, is he’s the kinda guy who keeps his word.”
“Nobody puts baby in the corner,” Janine says.
Kyle was supposed to go with me to my staff Christmas party. Instead, he cancelled and went on a ski trip with his family. Said he needed a break cuz I’m too demanding. I told him to fuck off. That the only thing I needed from him were the Polaroids back.
“Keep the engine running,” I say.
Me and Donna get out of the car. I’m wearing a low-cut sparkly cocktail dress under my coat. I can’t stop shivering. It’s cold. Plus, I’m frickin’ nervous about this whole B and E situation.
Donna weaves her way towards the house. I try and keep up but I’m kinda at a disadvantage. I’m wearing four-inch heels and I downed way more B-52s than she did.
Donna falls into a snowbank.
I stumble over.
“Holy crap. Are you okay?”
My sister laughs. “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
She starts making a snow angel.
I yank her to her feet.
“What about footprints?” I say, pointing at the trail behind us.
“I’ve got an idea,” Donna says, and we walk single file, backwards, into the yard.
The spare key’s right where it always is, in the gazebo above the doorjamb. I got butterflies in my stomach. I unlock the door. Feel like I’m gonna barf a little. We step inside. Donna turns on a flashlight. I turn off the alarm.
“Lead the way,” Donna says, shining the flashlight. We head down the hall. Halfway up the winding staircase, she comes to a halt.
“Man,” Donna says. “Now, that’s what I call a crime scene.” “Motherfucker,” I say.
There’s a ginormous new portrait hanging on the wall. Kyle and his family wearing identical holiday sweaters.
“It looks like Christmas fucking threw up all over them,” Donna says.
We get to the top of the stairs.
We head for Kyle’s bedroom. Step inside.
Donna sits on the edge of the bed. “So this is where the magic happens,” she says, dropping a pair of Kyle’s boxers onto the floor.
“Ha,” I say. “Very funny.”
I head for the nightstand. Open the drawer. Inside, there’s a pile of mismatched socks, a stash of rubbers and some rolling papers.
“They’re not here,” I say. “What am I doing? This is stupid. What if he got rid of them like he promised?”
“This is Kyle we’re talking about. Remember?”
She gets up, starts rifling through his dresser.
I trade places and lie down.
“Nope,” Donna says.
I get bed spins. Turn on my side.
Donna searches Kyle’s closet, tossing clothes onto the floor. It reminds me of when we were little. Mom started drinking after Dad left. Like, a lot. After she’d pass out, me and Donna would comb the house for hidden bottles. Dump the contents of whatever we found down the sink. Mom was good at hiding her booze, but my sister was better at finding it. “Up,” Donna says.
I get off the bed. Lean against the wall cuz I’m feeling a little woozy. Donna gropes along the mattress edge, looks under the bed. Finds nothing but dust bunnies and clothes way overdue for laundry.
“Give me a hand.”
I help lift the mattress.
“Hurry up,” I say. “This thing weighs a ton.”
“Jackpot,” Donna says.
She grabs an envelope from between the mattress and box-spring. I drop the mattress and take the envelope from Donna. “Motherfucker,” I say. “Kyle frickin’ swore he got rid of them.”
The envelope’s worn around the edges and wrapped with an elastic. I remove the rubber band. Donna shines the flashlight and I peek inside. “I’m gonna be sick,” I say.
I run to the can. Puke in the toilet.
“You okay?” Donna says, as I rinse my mouth with water from the tap.
“No. Not really.”
I give her the envelope. Seems I’m not the only one Kyle’s been playing dress-up with.
Donna starts flipping through snapshots.
“What a Grade A douche-bag,” Donna says. “Isn’t that?”
Looks like Karen Russell still fits her cheerleading outfit from JHC. “I wanna go home.”
“Not yet,” Donna says, and drags me back to Kyle’s bedroom. I watch her poke holes in Kyle’s condoms. Pocket his hash pipe and rolling papers. She starts trashing the bedroom.
“Come on,” Donna says. “It’ll make you feel better.”
I do. But it doesn’t.
Kyle’s camera’s on the floor, next to the bed. Donna picks it up.
“Say cheese,” she says.
I do. I also double-flip the bird.
There’s a whir. A click. A chemical smell.
Once the photo’s developed, I tuck it under Kyle’s mattress.
“Merry Christmas,” I say, making a run for it.
I’m almost outta tears and the gas tank’s close to empty. So we stop at a filling station on the way home.
Janine gets out to pump gas.
It’s snowing. Looks pretty against the streetlights. It’s like we’re trapped inside a snow globe that’s been turned upside down and shaken. “I’m gonna be sick.”
I stumble outta the back seat. Stagger towards the can.
“Wait up,” Tina says.
Enza and Donna chase after me. Tina’s close behind.
Inside the filling station, it smells like rubber tires and old hot dogs. “Merry Christmas, Enza,” the clerk says from behind the counter. “Merry Christmas, Jimmy,” Enza says.
The can’s disgusting. But beggars can’t be choosers. Enza holds my hair while I woof my cookies into the toilet.
“She okay?” Donna asks.
“She will be,” Tina says.
When I’m done, Enza flushes the toilet and helps me clean up in front of the sink.
The mirror’s got this crack down the middle. Throws off my reflection.
“I’m soooo frickin’ stupid.”
“Fuck him,” Enza says.
“Ya, to Hell with him,” Tina says, leaning against sink. “It’s his loss. Not yours.”
Enza pulls out a Sharpie. She writes the letter K on the bathroom wall as Donna pulls a pack of Export As from outta her purse.
Donna lights a smoke. Takes a drag.
Enza adds the rest of Kyle’s name to the graffiti-covered wall.
“Can I borrow your Bic?” I say.
My sister passes me her lighter. I grab the Polaroids from my coat pocket. Toss them into the sink as Janine walks into the can.
“This message will self-destruct in thirty-seven seconds,” Janine says.
I set the Polaroids on fire. And under harsh fluorescent lights, we huddle together and watch them burn.