Mom thinks a pet would cure my melancholia. I’m not sure. Right now, we’re sitting in her car in the pet store parking lot. She won’t go in because my sister Becca’s ex, Brandon, works here. Becca ran off with her new boyfriend four weeks ago, and my imaginary friend St. Nicole came back, so Mom was all, “Pet! Pet!” And I was all, “What? A therapy iguana? Good call, Barbara.”
I get out of the car.
Goosebumps prick my arms when I walk into the store. I didn’t want to come so I didn’t even grab flip flops. I wander barefoot, chipped green nail polish standing out against my toes, slowly turning gray with dirt. One of my spaghetti straps falls off my shoulders, revealing my zebra-print bra strap. My bra is mostly decorative, but the other 8th grade girls wear them, so I do, too.
I left my phone at home, and I’m probably missing a bunch of snaps. I send pretend snaps in my head—the snake, with the caption, “Don’t squeeze, me, bro.” The mating rabbits, no caption needed.
St. Nicole helps me get out of bed in the morning, when I’m feeling the most bummed. She sings a song about it: “Feet on the floor. Stand up! Stand up!” to the tune of that Bob Marley song. Originally St. Catherine came to me because I’m writing my big 8th grade research paper about Joan of Arc, on whether she was schizophrenic or visited by God through these saints who would talk to her: St. Catherine, St. Michael, and St. Margaret. Now, St. Nicole visits because she’s the patron saint of lost family members.
I was thinking Joan was schizophrenic until Becca left. Now I don’t really have answers to anything.
Becca said she and Trey would wait for me and my boyfriend Victor to turn sixteen, so we could join them in an apartment in San Francisco and throw pottery all day. Turns out Becca is selfish. So maybe it’s better she’s gone. It’s just that I broke up with Victor, too, so I’m alone and totally lame now. Hence Snapchat, St. Catherine, St. Nicole, and Joan. Mom probably thinks she’ll find me in the backyard one of these nights, tied to a tree and burning.
Becca’s missing poster taped to the pet store counter curls at the edges. Some d-bag’s scrawled “Alissa was here” on it. We haven’t gotten any phone calls; the police haven’t checked in much. Beccas’s eighteen, and we know who she’s with, just not where. Mom paid Victor and me five bucks each to put up posters here and at the Walmart. Brandon looks at my bare feet, green polish and silver toe ring, and doesn’t send me out of the store.
“Sorry,” Brandon says.
Are you? Are you though?
He’s the one who ghosted Becca, so I’m skeptical.
The school counselor says its polite to acknowledge other people’s well-wishes, so I know I should say, that’s OK, thanks, but it’s not OK, so I don’t tell him it is. I let the moment get awkward, let a line form, just to mess with him. He broke Becca’s heart, and then she broke mine. I’m justified.
He has greasy hair, and he rubs the back of his neck, nervous, like he only talks to girls through the in-game chat on Overwatch. I don’t say anything. St. Nicole, standing beside me picking up neon dog collars from a plastic bin on the counter, gives me side-eye. And? I want to say.
“Spiders?” I ask.
Brandon leads me to the back, where the spiders crawl in cacti-and-rock-filled terrariums.
Hey, look, it’s my emotional state! I would have said to Victor if he were here. Instead, I’m afraid he’s been on his couch playing League of Legends since we broke up last week. We’d been fighting for a while about not having sex—he wanted to, I didn’t yet.
St. Nicole thinks Mom blames herself for Becca rebelling and running off with Trey. I’m not sure. St. Nicole says I should listen to her, because if there’s one thing saints know, it’s martyrdom.
I ask Brandon if I could hold one of the spiders and he lets me, though he mumbles about store policy and minors.
“My sister’s dead,” I tell him, even though she’s not. The spider crawls onto my palm, across my life line and fortune line. I laugh, more nervous than I want to reveal to Brandon. He puts his hand under mine to steady it. I see St. Nicole in the terrarium’s reflection, her face lit purple by a fish tank. She’s looking at a Beta, a fighting fish that will kill anything it shares a tank with.
“I lied. My sister ran off with her boyfriend.”
“You didn’t follow?” Brandon asks. He looks at me like he’s imagining me dancing in a short skirt at a crowded party, beer sloshing out of the plastic cup in my hand, foam running between my fingers, me reaching my mouth down to lick my hand clean.
I shake my head. Brandon pushes my spaghetti strap back onto my shoulder. The spider crawls up my arm. I don’t move, and Brandon rests his hand on my zebra-print bra strap. He tries to make eye contact with me. Skeazeball.
St. Nicole clicks her tongue. “Jesus.”
“I don’t want this,” I say, shaking my arm to get the spider off me. Brandon steps back and the spider keeps crawling up my arm. “I don’t want this.”
Brandon puts the spider back in the terrarium. I turn away; walk out of the store into the parking lot where Mom waits, the car still running. St. Nicole puts her arm around my waist. Mom frowns at me and I raise my empty hands to her. Yeah? And? If I had my phone, I would send a snap of her crumpled face. It looks like mine.
ALLISON PINKERTON was the 2017 Kathy Fish Fellow at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her work is forthcoming in Image and can be found online at Passages North, The Pinch, and elsewhere.