Authors: e. E. Charlton-Trujillo
“OK, prescription drugs aside. What do
think?” KC asked.
The moment was clear. There. Vulnerability. Trust. Fat Angie had discussed the topic with her therapist to some length.
“I don’t think people wanna see me,”
Fat Angie had said.
“I don’t think they understand me.”
The therapist had made a note:
Potential borderline personality disorder with inability to take risks.
“I don’t know what I think,” said Fat Angie. “I guess I think that I’m —”
Wang slammed into Fat Angie and knocked her off balance.
“Oops,” said Wang.
He sized up the sultry KC.
“Yo, hey.” Wang bit into an apple.
“Hey,” said KC.
“This is Wang,” said Angie. “My adopted brother.”
“So . . .” Wang said, grinning ear to big ear. “You’re the new girl.”
“It’s obvious, huh?” KC asked. “Well, I guess blending in wasn’t really an option.”
A horn honked. A woman waved at KC from a Toyota 4x4.
“Esther’s here. I gotta split. Nice to meet you, Angie’s brother,” KC said, tugging Fat Angie away from Wang. “You wanna hang tomorrow? Esther’s gonna be at the tattoo studio most of the day. We’d have the casa all to ourselves. I’ve got a stellar collection of indie rock on vinyl. It is absolute ultra.”
“Yeah?” said Fat Angie.
“Coolness?” said KC. “What time —”
“No . . . um . . .” said Fat Angie. “I can’t. I mean, I want to . . . but I have to go to this baby . . . shower thing party with my mom. It’s a required family appearance.”
“Sweet, I’m in,” said KC.
“You wanna come to a baby shower party thing with me?”
“Oh, yeah. They always have the weirdest food. And the games. Have you ever played those jacked-out games?” said KC.
Fat Angie shook her head.
“Well, Esther’s got four very fertile sisters. So baby showers are like Super Bowl parties. Absurd-weird fun.”
“OK,” Fat Angie said.
“Sweet, we’re there,” said KC. “Call me.”
The buses lined up as KC slid into the truck. She flashed her right hand with pinky and thumb extended in “call me” mode.
“Hey,” said Wang.
“I gotta get on the bus,” Fat Angie said. “Since you never give me a ride.”
“Anyway. What’s the KC story?” said Wang.
“Like I would tell you?”
He shook his head. “Tell me or I’ll stuff your toothpaste with Monistat again.”
“She’s new,” said Fat Angie flatly.
“Duh. But what’s her deal? Why is she so interested in you?”
“Because I’m a nice person,” Fat Angie said. “You used to remember that before you went jerkface to me at school.”
“Whatev . . .” He laughed. “Just remember, yo. No amount of new-girl cool is gonna make anyone forget your pep rally slash and thrash.”
“F you,” she said.
Another failed attempt at foul language. You’re such a
saint,” Wang said. “Fucking crazy saint just like —”
And before Wang could say their sister’s name, Fat Angie shoved him. Hard! So hard that he fell flat on his butt.
Fat Angie was aware of the unwanted audience.
She started counting in her head.
The bus driver called out to her.
Wang stood, straightening out the handprints she had left on his shirt. “You’re switch is flipped, and I’m telling Mom.”
“Wang, c’mon. I’m sorry — I didn’t meant to . . .”
“Get off me,” he said.
The bus driver closed the doors. Fat Angie froze in place as Wang walked to his Jeep Cherokee.
“She’ll never come back,” he said. “Never!”
His voice was swallowed between chatter and bus-engine hum. Fat Angie beat on the bus doors with her palm four times, and it opened. Still counting in her head, she plopped into her usual seat. The Duo of Geekdom continued their spitball target practice. She leaned her head against the seat. Maybe Wang was right. Maybe she did not know how to “belong” in the absence of her sister. That was exactly what she had thought the day she’d slit her wrist with a discount double-edged razor. The main chorus of “Free Fallin’ ”— the Tom Petty song her mother had played on repeat for days after the disappearance was first announced — had echoed in Fat Angie’s head as they lifted her into the ambulance.
She had told her therapist,
“I just couldn’t get the song outta my head. It was exactly how I felt.”
The therapist had made a note:
Music therapy not an option.
The bus was several stops in when Fat Angie realized she had never read KC’s note.
Each unfold of the note revealed a graffiti-esque layer of hearts on one side. On the other, written in red ink, was
Fat Angie entertained the possibility that perhaps she could be the daredevil, the girl against the grain she had hoped to be. Because she was most definitely seen by one new-cool-swell girl, KC Romance!
Fat Angie stood over the full sheet cake. She had been standing there for three minutes according to the precision timing of her Casio calculator watch. The watch had been her father’s when he was her age. Standing well within earshot, the Triple Threat spoke in cupped hand whispers. Fat Angie could feel their perfectly blue eyes boring a hole into the back of her skull. Their barrage of bubble-gum commentary shaped into a white noise balloon, encasing Fat Angie and the image of that cake. Then,
The piercing laughter of her mother burst the otherwise hypnotic moment.
“Oh, Debbie, that’s the best story,” said her mother in the voice she used only for social gatherings and Wang’s therapist. The voice made Fat Angie’s skin want to rip from the bone. She didn’t quite know why.
Her mother picked up a dessert plate and a pink plastic knife and fork.
“What are you doing?” said Fat Angie’s couldn’t-be-bothered mother. “People have been staring at you standing here. You promised to reel it in.”
“I can’t eat that,” Fat Angie said, her eyes still fixated on the cake.
“I said it was fine,” said Fat Angie’s mother. “You just have to skip dinner. Trust me, you will survive without one meal.”
” Fat Angie said, looking at her mother.
The cake had an ultrasound picture on it. Fat Angie stared at its oddly shaped parts once again.
“It’s an ultrasound of a baby,” said her mother, annoyed. “And your aunt is very proud of it, so quit being so strange. People will never love you if you keep being so strange. Isn’t that what your therapist told you?”
“Not in so many words,” Fat Angie said.
“I see your eccentric new friend is enjoying herself,” said Fat Angie’s mother.
KC double dipped celery from the veggie platter while playing a baby-name game.
“Where did you say she was from?” asked her mother, sampling a cookie.
“I didn’t,” said Fat Angie, her eyes fixed on the motionless baby legs. “That really doesn’t bother you? Baby legs waiting to be devoured?”
“It’s a cake,” said her mother. “I know you loathe my side of the family. But sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.”
“Why are you talking to me like I’m five?”
“To be honest, I don’t know how else to talk to you,” said her mother. “You wanted to know.”
KC plowed in, hanging over Fat Angie’s shoulder. She smelled of Cherry Coke and vanilla-scented candles. “Game’s over. They’re doing karaoke in fifteen. I already put us in to sing . . .” KC tilted her head at the cake. “Is that a . . . ?”
“A fetus?” Fat Angie finished.
“It’s not a fetus,” her mother said in a mother-hush voice.
“WOW!” KC reached for her cell phone. “A fetus — on a cake!” She framed the picture with precision.
Fat Angie’s couldn’t-be-bothered mother reeked of incredibly bothered. She stared at KC and sized her up, just as she had when they’d picked her up. KC’s fitted long-sleeved T-shirt with a feminist fist of empowerment on the front and
stamped in red on the back had forced the room of pastels and pearls into fake hellos and queries of “Where did you get that lovely shirt?” (The one exception was a distant relative who harvested cage-free eggs. She absolutely loved the shirt.)
“Look,” KC said, holding her cell screen to Angie. “Tell me that is not going to go viral.”
Fat Angie’s mother leaned into Fat Angie and whispered, “What is she doing?”
“Being normal,” said Fat Angie.
Her mother cleared her throat and switched back to party voice. “KC, why did you say you moved here?”
“I didn’t,” said KC. “Say why. Guess there’s no real super reason. Esther knew a guy in L.A. whose son bought in to a shop out here and they were looking for artists.”
“Esther?” asked Fat Angie’s mother.
Fat Angie began to sweat.
“My mom,” said KC. “She works at Raise the Ink Tattoos on Hamilton. Across from Four Feathers Chicken and Daddy Low Records. She’s wicked great.” KC leaned in to Fat Angie’s mother and pointed to her neck. “I had to
her to do this though.”
“That’s a real tattoo?” said Fat Angie’s mother, her voice losing its magic fakeness.
“M-hmm,” said KC. “It was a massive pain. Literally. But it was like it was always there. The needle just sort of revealed it.”
cool,” said Fat Angie, a super massive grin in full spinout.
Connie, Fat Angie’s mother, shifted her weight from her right foot to her left. Fat Angie noticed this gesture because it was the stance Connie took when preparing to berate or belittle something or someone.
“Well, not everyone has to come from a traditional family,” said Connie.
Fat Angie witnessed the gears readying in her couldn’t-be-bothered mother’s eyes. Connie’s lips parted when —
“Actually, we’re pretty snore-traditional,” said KC. “Jiffy Pop popcorn and Turner Classic Movies on Friday nights and family dinner
night. Esther thinks family dinner is important to my emotional growth or something Dr. Phil like.”
“She’s not really home for dinner much,” blurted out Fat Angie about her mother. She had no conscious awareness of how absolutely out of order she had been until her mother hooked on to her arm and reeled her in for an ear chat.
“I told you not to talk about our personal lives,” said Fat Angie’s mother.
“What’s personal about you never being home?” said Fat Angie.
“Connie,” said a party guest, leaning in to Fat Angie’s mother. “Everything OK?”
“Absolutely. Mother-daughter whispers,” said Fat Angie’s mother.
“Emily and I are the same way,” said the woman, clearly a little tipsy on the shower sangria. “When I can get the iBud thingies out of her ears.”
“Everyone over here,” announced Fat Angie’s bursting-pregnant aunt, Meghan.
Connie nudged Angie toward the table.
“Angie, what do you think about the cake?” asked Aunt Meghan.
Fat Angie’s mother’s eyes cut to her. Her pretend smile clearly conveyed that Fat Angie was not to say what she thought. The Triple Threat descended on the table, along with other guests.
“It’s a fetus?” Fat Angie said.
“I know!” said her aunt. “It’s absolutely amazing, isn’t it?”
“Connie.” Meghan held out the cake cutter. “As godmother of this new baby boy, will you cut the cake?”
Connie’s face stretched to new lengths of fake smile. So much so that her right cheek shook ever so slightly.
And so Fat Angie’s mother cut into the cake, dismembering the feet. Fat Angie flinched. Arms and legs . . . torso and toes. Fat Angie and KC backed away from the food table as women lined up, barbaric, cutting piece after piece, smiling and laughing, their mouths chewing on fetus image.
“Give me your plate,” said Angie’s mother.
Fat Angie reluctantly held her plate up. Part of a leg and foot stared back at her.
“Come sign up for karaoke,” Meghan said to Connie. “We’ll do a duet.”
“Be right there,” said Fat Angie’s mother. Then, to Fat Angie, she said, “Eat the cake. Pretend to be interested in what someone else needs.”
Fat Angie stood there as her mother reentered the posh-posh gathering of matching plates and cups. Why could Angie not simply play along? Be as her mother suggested — normal.
“Your mom’s kinda different,” said KC.