Two bangs on the side of an abnormally shaped metal waste bin.
Huck: “I hereby call this meeting to order.”
Clementine: “Shut the fuck up, Huck.”
Saskia: “There’s an outlet in here right? Phone’s dead.”
Capricorn: “By the boarded window. Doubt the electric’s on.”
A quiet beep.
Saskia: “Nah, totally works.”
Clem: “God, we’re sitting next to a cell phone bomb.”
Baozhai: “You’d live, hun, you’re indestructible.” Her attention was devoted to her game of 2048. Sierra stood up, maneuvered past the crew to the back.
Oliver, flat on his back: “Fans. Next time we bring fans.”
Clem: “Yes, to plug into a socket that’s burned out at least once in a busted shack with a half-hearted do not enter sign leaned up against the front in soggy cardboard.”
The next three, at once.
Huck: “It’s a greenhouse.”
Navya: “Who’s paying the electric bill?”
Oliver: “How do you know about the socket?”
Clem: “Black around the prong-holes.”
Sierra returned with a tin pail of water. She set it at her side, dipped her fingertips in, and painted the sign of the cross on Oliver’s forehead.
Sierra: “Water is a blessing.”
Clem: “You’re not God.”
Bao: “Hun, you’re an atheist.”
Baozhai could feel Clementine. She looked up at her. Clem lay, wrists supporting her occipital bone, devoted to the study of the water damage to the left of her field of vision. Bao, after bookmarking the details of the rigged Democratic Primaries, set her phone face down on the entertainment set by her bean bag. She crawled across carpet over to Clem, kissing her elbow and then propping herself up with her own. The futon was the color of potato skins, and mixed with Clementine’s shirt would’ve made a lovely shade of coffee, two creams two sugars. Clem was aware of her, but had no intention of indicating so. Bony pink fingers draped across Clem’s forehead and moved down her cheek to her neck, one finger dragging along her clavicle, one palm resting at her sternum between the two ends of a crisp collar opened by two to three undone buttons below— her head tilted away from Baozhai with a soft exhale. Bao hesitated, suddenly unsure, until Clementine reached to undo the next button and left her hand resting on her breast. Baozhai kissed her way down Clem’s river of a belly, opened up as a drawbridge in a port city.
God, button-down shirts.
“What’s the capital of Iowa?”
Baozhai, at Clem’s belly button: “Des Moines.”
“Phnom Penh.” Pronounced left and a little down from the last.
“Of what political party was Alexander Hamilton?”
“Federalist.” A tongue back up to the chin.
“T-The Philippine president immediately after Ferdinand Marcos?”
“Corazon Aquino.” A quick kiss above where a heart ought to be.
“A- Ah, when a writer” a pause, “fucks up in a piece of historical fiction by mentioning something that has yet to exist.”
“A-na-chron-i-sm.” Breathed along a ribcage.
“Guy, shot, World War 1, very, very unlucky.”
“The Archduke,” forehead, “Franz Ferdinand,” lips.
Before Baozhai moved on: “What’s my name?” Eyes at lips.
“Tangerine.” Eyes at eyes. Teeth, grins. Baozhai dipped lower, moved slower, and then didn’t.
Clem tried to be quiet, but this was the one place she wasn’t in control.
“I’d say we’re well prepared for Saskia’s famous bar trivia night.”
“Who’s got story duty this week?”
Sierra: The Tall, Tall Trees
“A manifestation, two tall, tall trees, a bird and a half, a tire swing, a decision. From the windowpane, a face, an analog clock, a whistle for dinner time.” She whistled, long and clear between her fingers.
“A gasp.” A gasp. “A gathering of belongings, small, well-used. A run, muddy feet on the welcome mat, scratched. The front of a dress dropped, small, well-used belongings scattering lightly over a couch of plastic film, some bouncing to the carpet.”
She walked over to a window and pressed her face to the pane, a sharp rap of her knuckles by her left ear. Her face came off with a dusting of filth.
“The other side of the window. A heavy hand on a shoulder, a gentle but indisputable push, the sink, a bar of purple soap once in the shape of a starfish.” She wandered to the sink in the back and turned the faucet, let it run for seven seconds, then stopped it.
“A wooden chair, no cushion. Small hands with close-clipped nails, placed carefully on either side of an off-white plate. A doily in a different shade of white. Plastic, not lace. A hand reaching for a drumstick, slapped back, then folded together for prayer.” She’d used Oliver’s hand to slap her own.
“Prayer without prayer, a mother’s eyes, an Amen, a meal.” Sierra left the greenhouse, and then returned.
“Two tall, tall trees. Remember the decision? A knit sweater, fuchsia, unwanted, wrapped around a tree trunk, an arm in each arm. A balancing act, (the tire swing), bare feet, scratched. Among the branches, a nest above, a climb, a peek, oh. Eggs! The bird is elsewhere, there will soon be other birds here. Birds. A higher climb, a wait, wind enough to shake but not blow.” She weaved between the members of their story circle. She was being the wind.
“A bird, a flurry, a sighting, a fall.” She sat down in the middle, cross-legged.
“A broken arm.”
>Hey Sam, can you get the mail before you come in, the rain made all the worms start jumping and I was just not up for that.
>On it, Sassy.
“Sure as a cigarette.”
Capricorn put two in his mouth and gestured around one as an offering.
“That’s not a thing.” She pinched at it, but he spit it through her fingers back into the box.
“You don’t smoke.”
Saskia shrugged, pulled a gas station purple plastic lighter from her bra, and struck it under his cigarette.
Navya had been quiet, absently emptying her pen of ink into the crease between pages 256 and 257 in a $155 rental textbook. Capricorn had been scooting his way over to her. He took her pen and drew a question mark on the back of her non-dominant hand.
“They deserve it, charging so much.”
“Mess with it enough and they’ll charge you more.”
Navya made her frustrated adolescent bear noise and moved to folding and unfolding the dog-eared corner of the page.
“Advanced fluid mechanics.”
“Yeah, so I can’t help you. Maybe ask Clem, I know she had something to do with aerospace engineering before.”
“I’m really not. She gets bored easy.”
“Bored. Of aerospace engineering. Because it comes easy to her.”
“She doesn’t like working.”
“and he found the sock on his staircase- right where she said he left it,”
A door opened. Baozhai, dazed, shuffled in and went straight for the fridge. She pulled out a Dos Equis bottle two-thirds gone and took a swig. Her upper lip twitched and her tongue stuck out a bit. She put the bottle back. She took the plastic two-liter of lemonade (Minute Maid) out of the door and took several large gulps, replaced the screw-on top, paused her hand, unscrewed the top again, and took one more sip before planting it back in the door and closing it as the bottle continued to rattle back into place. She looked at the fridge magnets for a moment before turning sharply and shuffling back to bed.
Clem waved it off as normal and motioned for Oliver to continue.
She adjusted her turtleneck.
Baozhai, naturally: “Translate:”
A kiss. A breath.
“In vino veritas.”
“In wine, there is truth.”
“Good. On to the golden ratio.”
“Phi, (a + b)/a = (a / b) = phi, Fibonacci, that uh, triangle,, oh, closer, closer—”
“Make a prediction.”
“Go on. What happens next?”
They had retreated under a highway overpass, where the cement slants. Earlier a storm was brewing, and now it had come.
“Huh?” Oliver accepted the black garbage bag Clementine had pulled from her messenger tote.
“A violent windy storm. Think Shakespeare. He wrote plays.”
“Did he really?” He followed Clem’s lead and poked his arms through the plastic, pulling it over himself to use as a makeshift poncho. Clementine tore him a head hole once he was inside the garbage bag for enough time that she knew he must’ve forgotten.
“It’s a good word.”
They’d all gotten notes in their shoes to meet at the local graveyard instead of the greenhouse.
Capricorn had something to say.
He’d stood under the Bethlehem’s Cemetery iron arch until they’d all gathered but Saskia, who’d texted that she’d be late.
Huck: “So, how ’bout a go-around for today. Navya?”
Navya: “She was sleeping there, under the big ol’ tree until the disturbance:”
Sierra: “Two squirrels, a disagreement, a very undiplomatic solution.”
Saskia: “A rock was not an adequate substitute for an acorn.”
Capricorn: “A rock was not enough to break the window.”
Baozhai: “The window was tall,”
Clementine: “as was the angry man shaking his fist behind it.”
Oliver: “Three pairs of skinned knees ran down the hill and settled side by side in the bushes. They did not see…”
Huck: “The angry man coming out after them with a garden hose, on the leaf-removal setting.”
Navya: “And so the girl tied her lanyard around her head so the keys would jangle between her eyes and she took off screaming up behind the angry man,”
Sierra: “Fright, pressurized water, a mistake, glasses in grass, pants around ankles.”
Saskia: “The girl chucked her keys into the bushes and ran home.”
Capricorn: “The three pairs of skinned knees ran after her.”
Bao: “Unlocked her front door.”
Clem: “Played Guitar Hero until sundown.”
Oliver: “The girl was the only one who could handle the difficulty set to expert.”
Huck: “The girl turned into a pumpkin overnight.”
Sierra: “No, a jack-o-lantern.”
Navya: “She really liked Halloween.”
“Oh my god.!”
“H-he just killed that dog.” On the edge of an exhale.
“I, oh, no I don’t want to upset you— he couldn’t have done anything he just ran right out— man.”
“Don’t Sass, just don’t.”
Her neck bent to his shoulder.
Capricorn entered, late.
“Where’re the tall ones?”
“Kitchen, picking pine needles from Saskia’s hair.”
“Yeah. That sounds appropriate.”
A walk into the next room.
A hand on a shoulder.
“So I heard you had a run in with the tree.”
“I will eat your leftover pumpkin pie.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
He drove her around, sticking her head out the top of the sun roof licking a McDonalds ice cream cone. She was sobbing. He was patient. He parked near an overhang and they sat on top of the car, legs bent through the hole of the sun roof, kicking.
Navya: “This view is terrible.”
Oliver: “I know.”
Navya: SOS, need a reading— it’s like something’s trying to kill me.
Sierra: Was it the road again?
Capricorn: Worse than the desk chair?
Navya: A tire. Middle of the road, not the side. We’re going like 70 and guy in front of me swerves around it and I swerve around it and guy behind me does not swerve around it— hits it and it flies back into guy behind him and they all crash.
Capricorn: Checking cards now.
Sierra: I’ll bring tea.
Saskia closed the door behind her, saw Capricorn reading on the couch with one of the cats on the armrest pawing at his shoes.
He looked up. “Oh, yes. I am in your house. Homebase got a little loud, they’re playing Twister. Falling on purpose to take more shots. My horoscope called for “a day of serenity” so I used the spare key in the bottom of the motorcycle mama gnome.”
“Hey, you okay?” He moved into a sitting position, folding the book around the unopened junk mail left on the coffee table and setting it down.
The sobs started then.
“The, the car in front my me and my brother, it killed a dog and and he said it couldn’t have gotten out of the way or whatever and I mean I didn’t see it or anything I wasn’t paying atten- o— looking and I don’t know, and I wanted to tell him to stop and help it but he sounded so sure that it was— and I I can’t what if it’s owner—? I I don’t i can’t what how did he know how big was it was there any— no I”
She screams into her hands, bites down on the meaty part of her thumb.
“The poor thing god it didn’t know it didn’t know what was going on what if he just got excited or or i don’t know and we just left them there and and an—”
She couldn’t speak through it anymore.
He pulled her into his lap.
“See, I told you he could eat an entire chicken.”
Baozhai tapped out a caption for her Snapchat update.
Navya was wide-eyed impressed.
“Look at your plate, man.”
He did. He was mortified. He was proud.
“You know, I could probably eat more.”
Oliver opened the fridge.
Baozhai raised her phone.
And that’s why Huck’s home sick today.
After Sunday Brunch, Saskia came home to a dog.
(Her cats had mixed feelings).
“I went down to the shelter this morning and found this big guy! His name is Meaty don’t you love him!!!???” Sam had this big goofy grin, and so did the big old orange and white pit bull wagging his butt next to him.
The dog: happy red-pink face like his allergies had him constantly wiping his poor nose raw with rough tissues, but still smiling.
“He’s perfect.” She pats the side of his face, gets licks in return.
“But no more animals, okay?”
“Sassy, all those cats are yours.”
Saskia walks to the fridge for a beer, removed with a tilt and held in three fingers.
Huck slips it from her hand. “Where’re you going?”
She turns to him at the counter opposite swinging a pink freebie keychain from a bank’s “fabulous finance” seminar. “Bottle opener.”
A pop, and he’s holding the top between finger and thumb. “Twist off.” He offers the bottle. She drops the keychain and cracks a smile. Reaching, “thanks-”
He pulls it back for a sip, then lets her keep it.
He shrugs, pulls three more from the fridge. “We’ve got company.”
The doorbell rang.
“You forgot to unlock the door.”
“They’ll get over it.”
“Fuck the past, all it’s good for is stories.”
Alexis Diano Sikorski is a polyamorous Filipino-American studying English and Psychology at Texas Woman's University. Her work has appeared in Pour Vida Zine, Mistress, and Sea Foam Magazine. She likes dogs, looking out of windows on airplanes, and caffeine. She is the goddess of whistling. She was probably a sailor in a past life. @sikorskidear