A GIRL reaches a finger inside a bottle and drags a little football-shaped pill out. She doesn't notice the hiss of the bathroom's fluorescent light. The cap of the pill bottle makes a swallowing sound as she screws it on. The aspirin-like bitterness spreads quickly. A clean, clink reverberates as she lifts the glass from the porcelain sink. The tap water fizzes in the glass; she's stopped asking herself, why? She ignores her image in the mirror when she swallows the pill—swallows a lifetime of pills after that first night with a man. She lost her virginity without enthusiasm or reluctance. Black and white linoleum squares checker the floor. The shower curtain is white vinyl; the walls are white. With people, she uses words like normal or standard to describe her house. With herself, she uses the word commercial. She feels adolescent in her t-shirt and imprinted cotton panties. Glancing at herself in the mirror, she knows she is much older than the breast points under her shirt indicate. Today, her shoulder length hair is raven-black, and Asian-straight. A pair of slightly oversized black-rimmed glasses matches her finger nails. Her hands have retained a child-like chubbiness and flexibility. Her face, too, has remained angelic and unblemished. She opens the mirror and returns the rattling bottle of pills. From the glass shelves she grabs her toothpaste. The mirror remains open as she paces the room—toothbrush whirring in her mouth. A dozen anime comic books are stacked atop her toilet. Bar soap, shampoo, and conditioner are all that line the window sill. Water drains from her cupped hands as she raises them to her mouth. White walls and right angles pan around as she closes the mirror. Her wet, pouty lips draw little attention before she dries them and flicks the switch.
Colors pour out of the half-opened bedroom door. The whiteness of the living room draws her eyes deeper towards her vivid room. Every square inch of the door is collaged with images of Japan. Androgynous punk bands, fantasy landscapes, cartoons, anime, and dark mythical characters introduce a room that is simple by comparison. The pale-green walls seem canvas-like in their nakedness. She swings the door behind her and removes her shirt. Floating above her are three black and white posters tacked to the ceiling. Kurt Cobain, Elliot Smith, and Matsumoto "Hide" Hideto all droop in the center where nothing supports them. Faintly, she smells calendula as she applies her deodorant. Without the cover of her over-sized t-shirt she looks down on her body. She runs her hands down her abdomen to just under her panty line and massages the points of her hip bone. She pulls her underwear down slightly to look. When she was younger she could see her hip bones. Her thumbs slide along the leg openings of her Hello Kitty underwear as she crouches slightly. Flipping the little bow on her panties to the front she turns towards the closet. Black and red clothing spills from the opened drawers of her oak dresser. She sinks her hand into the dark mass, nearly up to her elbow, and pulls out an orange polo shirt. Again, she probes her arm through a lower drawer and retrieves a conspicuous pair of blue jeans. She has one leg through her jeans when she notices her twin roommates silently standing at the door.
We're going to work, Sacha.
She struggles with the other leg—stepping on the fabric between her one-legged hops. Her pale back and protruding bottom faces the twins. Calmly she reaches for her shirt—she doesn't want to seem self-conscious in her nakedness.
We're having a big sale today. You can come by after work if you want to.
I don't think I can, Jeanne. I've got class tonight.
Sorry, I can't see through this shirt.
That's OK. If you change your mind about class, the mall closes at nine. We can give you an employee discount. And we've been telling that guy Matt about you, and he'll be there too.
The bedroom door stays open after the sisters leave. As the front door opens, the air of the house shifts. Through the compressed and indistinct noises of rush hour traffic Sacha hears the sisters laughing. Just as the door closes she hears the word "kitty." When Sacha first moved in, the twins eagerly asked her about her clothes. She told them, "gothic Lolita." Kate asked what gothic meant so that Jeanne could ask about Lolita. That way neither one had to feel embarrassed—their brains were often synchronized that way. Sacha puts on a pair of tennis shoes and goes into Jeanne's bedroom. Pieces of notebook paper with "Jeanne" stenciled in bright colors litter the walls. Close up, they all say "from Kate." A stockpile of denim hangs in the closet. The masses of white shirts, filling multiple laundry baskets, complete Jeanne's usual look. Sacha uses the full length mirror to see what others see—The Home Depot, and that she's forgotten her bra.
The sounds of consumption reverberate between the concrete floor and steel roof of the big-box. Shopping carts, checkout scanners, and the clap of lumber rise above the faceless background noise of a hundred anonymous shoppers. Above the din, a voice comes on over the PA to announce a sale in kitchen furnishings. Sacha reaches into her orange apron and takes out a little notepad. She takes the pencil from her ear and writes, reverberates with the sounds of American consumption. From behind the customer service counter Sacha sees three boys enter the store. The leader, a ruddy pimply-faced kid, asks where the plumbing aisle is. She puts her pad down and points to the massive banner with her pencil. Two men approach her—one speaks with a lisp. She points to the lighting and fans banner. A woman with a stroller asks where the painting department is. Sacha points. An older man dressed in golfing clothes enters the store—she thinks, leaf-blowers, and points before he can finish asking. Sacha writes a little more and looks over at Chris. He's removing the plastic cover on his keyboard. Using his middle and index fingers, he enters the PLU's from a stack of returned items.
Why do you always take the cover off?
Cause it sounds better.
Is that why you always hit the keys so hard—cause you like the sound?
Chris rarely works on the sales floor. The floor boss often secrets Sacha, as well. She remembers, from high school, the rumors that spread about Chris's expulsion and the death of his parents. He stares intensely at the screen. On his orange apron he wears the compulsory pin with his name and hometown. Employees are encouraged to wear another pin that shows their personality. His pin has a bee on it. The sound of the key-taps continues as Sacha looks down at her nametag.
Why don't you use the scanner?
Because…just listen to the sound. My dad was a writer. He used to say, "hit the fucking keys!"
Does anyone ask you about your pin?
Chris alternates his grey, brooding eyes between a handwritten list of numbers and the ancient computer monitor. His heavy eyebrows match his thick pelt of hair. Both are an unnamed shade of brown. He is smoothly and leanly muscled but slightly hunched at the same time. Sacha studies the wick of his mouth—the way it faintly dimples his cheek. She smiles.
Sacha stands against an endless backdrop of cinderblocks. Her freckles emerge in the sun. From the pocket of her apron she extracts a cigarette from its pack and lights it with a silver Mossimo zippo. She returns her hands to the pockets of the apron and fidgets with the various items. The cigarette hangs dangerously low from her pursed lips. Across the parking lot is an abandoned building—another big-box. Smoke rolls up her cheek and hits her eyes—she's new at her habit. The exit door makes a smashing mechanical sound as it swings open. Rich, the floor boss, leans his torso out while holding the bar with his hand.
Have you seen Chris?
Ya, he's in customer service today.
He's not there right now.
She takes a good drag and shrugs her shoulders as the door closes. Across the parking lot she sees the ruddy faced teenager and his friends walking with a clear piece of hose and a funnel. The door opens again. Chris's hair becomes flax-like in the sun. He squints at Sacha and leans against the wall with her.
Rich is looking for you.
Chris puts the sole of his boot against the beige cinderblock.
Sacha opens and closes the zippo in her pocket. Turning to Chris, she pulls the cigarette from her mouth and holds it like a pencil.
Can I ask you something?
What did you do after you got kicked out of high school?
I went to Washington and got a job as a park ranger.
Why did you come back?
Cause I was running away.
Don't you kinda miss Washington, I mean, compared to working here?
Chris looks over at Sacha with his ready smirk.
College wasn't that much fun if you've ever wondered. I thought I was going to do a lot more than work at Home Depot after I graduated. In fact, Home Depot was about the last place I ever wanted to end up.
Because, It's like, we've only got so much time to find out who we really are
before the world conditions us.
What was your major?
Sacha brings the cigarette to the center of her mouth. The dampness of the paper just clings to her slightly parched lips. She folds her arms and looks out. On the other side of the asphalt plain, rising through the waves of heat, is the abandoned building. The front has been stripped of the letters that once hung above the entrance. The name remains—bleached into the concrete by the sun. On the side of the building, the great expanse of bricks is pocked by a single, black door. Beside it rests an upended shopping cart. Mismatched paint covers sections of the wall. Sacha's graffiti on the useless old door—Ain't got no how whatchamacallit—is still there. The vision is interrupted as the exit door next to Chris crashes open.
Chris, what are you doing?
Taking a break, Rich.
Well you've already had your break so we need you back in here. Some
people are waiting at the counter.
So let them wait.
What did you say? I think you'd better get your ass in here right now.
I quit, then.
Sacha watches Chris's relaxed posture as Rich's grip on the door's bar tightens.
Fine. Pack your shit up and get the fuck out of here, then!
Chris asks Sacha for her cigarette which she interprets as, a cigarette. Her head drops as she searches through her apron with jittery hands. From the corner of her eye she sees the movement of a hand. He draws the cigarette from her mouth with his modeled hand and smothers it below his boot. His cheeks dimple at the ends of his smile. Sacha watches her friend walk down the immense length of cinderblocks. His height against the wall—a lesson in perspective.
The room where the graduate class is held smells like cheese. When Sacha was an undergraduate it smelled like cheese. At twenty-five, she still feels the panic and loss of self from the first day of class. The familiarity of the desks and the pre-class silence punctuate the loss of freedom. A lanky and gray-haired figure enters the room. He shuffles towards the unfinished desk by the window. He carries neither papers nor books in his hand. Sacha retrieves her little notepad and writes, the bells of junior high never change. The professor takes his place and begins.
This dais used to be on top of a two-foot wooden platform. People knew how to do things back then. Now, let me spare y'all any suspense. None of you is going to be able to write anything original. So don't bother your little minds with that one. And secondly, if you don't suffer, your writing won't be worth shit. You there, what is that you're reading?
The student with the iPod headphones slung around his neck like a scarf produced the faded paperback.
Why are you reading that?
I don't know, because it was lying around the house.
Well, I lie around the house and nobody reads me.
Sacha draws a double line and writes, a girl reaches a finger inside a bottle and drags a little football-shaped pill out, then excuses herself to the restroom. The linoleum tiles of the hallway are checkered black and white. Above the water fountain is a clock encaged in steel. Orange light from the outside-night fills the square glass of the double doors. Sacha steps on white squares, only. She leaves the little notepad on the Formica desk on her way past the restrooms.