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American

1

Katie happily pressed the send icon on her phone’s messaging app. She wouldn’t be seeing anyone that evening, let alone her friend Jessica. She’d already seen her twice in the last week, and that was plenty of Jessica. 

           She looked at the little bubble on the side of her phone’s screen. “Raincheck, already have plans tonight.”

           And, to be honest, that was true. She did already have plans. She’d found that she best way to ensure time to herself was to put it into her calendar. Plans with myself is what she called them. 

           “You locking up tonight?” A voice over her cubicle wall asked.

           “Nope, I’m just getting ready to leave.” She responded. 

           “Hey, before you go, can I get the key to the office supply closet? I need some staples and another red pen.”

           Katie went into the next cubicle. “Sure.” She took out her office keys. There were a bunch on a large keyring. She selected the one for the supply closet and held it out to him. “Just be quick about it. I want to leave in a few minutes.” She listened as the jingling keys walked away.

           “He’s gonna take forever, settle in.” Red sighed.

           “Quiet.” Katie responded.

           She looked at the time on her phone. Three minutes past four. 

           “You still have plenty of time. It’s not like you have a deadline.” Blue said. Katie didn’t respond. She was just anxiously excited for the evening to start.

           She heard the jingling keys returning. “Here you go.” He handed her a jumble of keys. 

           “Thanks, Brian.” She said and took the keys from him. She shoved everything into her purse and headed for the elevators. She looked at her phone one more time as she waited for the doors to open. Six minutes past four. She shoved her phone in her purse. Finally, she thought, a night alone.

           Of course, red and blue would be there, but they were always there. And, strictly speaking, they were more her than not her. 

           Katie took the empty elevator down to the parking garage. There weren’t assigned parking spots, but she found that everyone typically parked in the same spot anyway.

           “Another point that humans are sheep.” Red mused.

           “There’s nothing wrong with habit.” Blue responded. “Besides, nobody needs another thing to remember. It’s easier this way.”

           “Fine.” Red conceded. “Humans are still lazy, then.”

           Blue remained silent. “Nothing from you?” Katie asked blue expectantly.

           “I mean, she’s not wrong…” Blue laughed.

           Katie shook her head as she walked to where her car was always parked and glanced over to see Red grinning. She smiled to herself, climbed into the car, and made the short drive home in merciful silence. 

           2

           Katie entered the kitchen through the back door of her house and started the oven even before she put her purse down. She was ready. She had a plan. She’d arranged the whole evening for herself.

           She’d even go so far as laying out her pajamas on her bed. Her pipe was already packed on the counter as well. She was ready. 

           She took her pipe outside and sat down on a small folding chair in the grass. She had a small fenced in yard next to her garage. Katie pulled a lighter out of her pocket, held the pipe to her lips, lit the drugs, and inhaled. The hot smoke filled her lungs and she held her breath for a few long seconds and then exhaled. She repeated the process twice more until the contents of the bowl were spent.

           “Well, that’s better.” Red said in a more relaxed voice than normal.

           “No arguments here.” Blue said concurringly. 

           Katie remained silent watching the clouds drift by overhead. She needed this. She needed a break from…

           “Don’t forget to put the pizza in the oven.” Blue said.

           “Idiot.” Red added. Katie swatted at Red, but, of course, hit nothing. She went back into the kitchen and took a frozen pizza out of the freezer. She unwrapped it and popped it in the oven.

“Timer.” Blue said. Katie set the timer for fifteen minutes and then went upstairs. She was feeling the effects of the drugs now as she made her way up the stairs. She was noticing things more; the smooth grain of the handrail along the wall leading upstairs, the dust in the corner along the floorboards as her stairs turned and continued to the right, the chipped paint on the edges of her bedroom door.

On her bed, laid out, were a pair of light gray sweatpants and a light flannel shirt. She quickly changed and threw her work clothes in the hamper. One of her pant legs didn’t quite make it and was draped over the front edge. “Nice shot.” Red teased. Katie ignored the comment and went back downstairs thinking about the word hamper and where it came from. Hamper. She thought. Hamper. Hamper.  “Do either of you know where the word hamper comes from?” Katie asked.

“If you don’t, we don’t.” Blue answered.

“Why would you even ask us something like that? What do you think we are, your personal search engine?” Red added.

Katie rolled her eyes and opened her purse to get her phone. She sat down and unlocked the screen and saw she had fifteen unread text messages.

“Well, that’s ominous.” Red said looking over her shoulder.

“You should probably read them.” Blue said.

“Why?” Red responded. “It’s probably nothing.”

She opened the conversation and read the last few messages. They were from Brian, from work. “I need your help! Please!” Read the last one. The one above it said, “Please respond, I need them.”

“Scroll up. What’s going on?” Blue said. Katie flicked the screen to get to the beginning. “Hey, I accidentally gave you my personal keys instead of your work keys. Can you bring them to me? I’m still at the office. I’m locked out of my car. I feel so stupid.”

“You are stupid, Brian.” Red said.

Katie ignored her and kept reading.

“Are you getting these? I really need my keys. I’m supposed to pick up my sister’s kids from soccer. Please, I’m sorry for so many texts. I’ll make it up do you. Katie? You there? Hello? Please respond. I need your help! Please!”

She looked at the word bubbles. They seemed to be popping off the screen. There was a third dimension to them. She could see shadows underneath. Then, at once, her eyes continued down, underneath the final text from Brian. Read 5:01pm.

Red started laughing. “You dumbass! You’ve got your read receipts on!” Her laughter was maniacal. “Now what are you gonna do? Not get him his keys? He knows you read them!”

“He’s typing another message.” Blue said nervously. Katie glanced and saw the three flickering dots. They disappeared and another message popped up. 

“Oh thank god you’re finally seeing these. I’m so sorry. I’m still at work. Can you bring my keys over? You’re a lifesaver!”

“How are you going to get over there? You’re high as a kite.” Blue said.

“Who said we’re going over there?” Red responded. “It’s his fault he’s an idiot.”

“We all make mistakes.” Blue argued.

“Yea but we shouldn’t have to fix someone else’s mistakes. That’s not fair.” Red said.

Katie stared at the phone. Why her? Why tonight? She exhaled, then pulled up the keyboard on her screen. The letters were floating. “I’ll be there soon.” She managed to type.

“And just how do you think you’re going to do that?” Red asked.

“You can’t drive in your condition.” Blue said.

“I’ll take my bike.”

“You think biking is safer?” Red said.

“Aren’t you the one usually goading me into taking more risks?”

“Yea, but not when those risks involve brain damage. I don’t want to deal with that.”

“How thoughtful of you.” Blue said. “But I’m with Red on this one, this is a terrible idea. You’re going to get hurt.”

“I’ll be ok. Don’t you two remember how many stoned bike rides we used to go on?”

“That was fifteen years ago!” Red yelled.

Katie was headed out the back door when Blue yelled, “Keys!”

She’d almost forgotten the whole reason she was leaving. She grabbed her purse and rifled through it and found the keys inside. She slung the purse over her shoulder, slipped on some shoes, and went through her yard and into her garage. Her bike was there and she pulled it out into the driveway. The sun was still high enough in the sky that she shouldn’t have to worry about riding in the dark even on the way back. 

“Helmet.” Red said.

“Look at you! Looking out for my wellbeing.” Katie mused.

“More like looking out for my wellbeing.  Again, I’d like to submit, for the record, my objection to this little adventure.”

“Noted.” Katie said and fastened her helmet. She climbed on her bike and set off down the driveway. She focused on the tree at the end of it, along the street. It was an old tree. A large maple. It was one of the things she liked most about her house.

As she pulled past her fence and out onto the street, a car was headed right at her. She yanked the handlebars left and the car swerved around her, honking. She stopped and looked back as the car continued on down the street.”

“We’re gonna die.” Red said.

3

Katie had managed to orient herself down the street towards her office. It was a ten minute drive, but that was going around the community college. She thought she could save some time cutting through campus on her bike.

Her vision wasn’t blurry, but it wasn’t clear either. Things looked similar and different. More vivid and more abstract.

“Oh my god you’re so high right now.” Red said.

“Be quiet.” Blue snapped.  “She needs to focus.” Blue was correct. She did need to keep focused. Every building she passed, she started to imagine the classes that went on there. What were the lectures about? Were the students paying attention? And then Blue would calmly tell her, “focus” to bring her attention back to the ride. 

She passed a dozen students leaving what looked like a big library. They stared at her as she passed. “They know you’re high.” Red said. “They’re going to call the police.”

“They’re college kids. They’re probably high themselves!” Katie responded. She kept her focus on the sidewalk in front of her. She was thirsty. Her mouth was incredibly dry and so were her eyes. She needed water. The wind in her face was making things exponentially worse.

To her right was a practice football field and some tennis courts. “There should be a water fountain somewhere nearby.” Blue said.

“You’re really going to stop somewhere? Just keep going.” Red said.

“I’m so thirsty. I’m going to die without water.”

“You’re being dramatic.” Red said, irritated.

Katie rode past the football field, but there was no sign of a water fountain. It probably doesn’t make sense to have a water fountain there. They probably bring those big containers out to the field. The ones that they dump on coaches when they win a big game. Who started that? Whose idea was it to soak the coach like that? Now, sure, I mean, people know what it is. But what would it have been like for that first coach, the first one to get soaked? He probably had no idea what the heck was happening! Yay, we won the game! Hooray! What? What’s happening? Why am I wet? Am I supposed to be enjoying this?

           “LOOK OUT!!” Red and blue both yelled in unison. Katie’s attention snapped back to see the chain link fence quickly approaching her. No. She was approaching it. She hit the brakes but it was way too late. She went wheel first into the fence and flew over the top of her handlebars. The fence stopped her from flying too far and the bike jumped up and hit her back as well. She crumpled down onto the ground with the bike on top of her. 

           For a moment she laid there, confused. Then she carefully untangled herself from her bike and stood up. She actually didn’t seem to be in terrible shape. She felt at her face. There was a little blood coming from her cheek where she’d scraped the fence, but other than that, she didn’t think anything was broken or torn. She picked up her bike. The handlebars were a little askew, but she figured she could fix that. She propped the bike against the fence and looked around. Nobody was nearby. Nobody saw her. That was probably for the best. 

           “You ok?” Blue asked.

           “I think so.” Katie said glancing down at herself.

           “Well look at that.” Red marveled. She pointed to Katie’s right, to a slender green water fountain.

           Katie slowly walked over to it and drank angrily. She took big slurping gulps until she felt full and then stood up. She wiped the water and blood from her face with her sleeve. She felt better. She felt more with it, more in control of her mind. “I think I’m good. Let’s get this over with.”

           She went back to her bike and straddled the front wheel with her legs. Then she twisted the handlebars to straighten them out. “Good as new.” She spoke.

           “You’re delusional.” Red replied.

           “Let’s go.” Blue added.

           Katie agreed and she got back on her bike. She rode slower this time and made it off campus. From there it was just a few more blocks to her office building. 

           She rode down the sidewalk until she got to the first big intersection. She stopped and waited for the cars to pass, and then she continued. Down the next block, she waited again, and then crossed when it was safe to do so. She’d calmed down from the fall. She felt good again. She also felt high again.

           At the third intersection, she stopped again. She looked to her left and saw the don’t walk hand up, so she stayed. “Why are you stopping?” Red asked.

           “I don’t have the light.” Katie responded.

           “Yes, you do. You’re going that way.” Red pointed in the direction she’d been heading. There was a flashing orange hand now.

           Katie blushed a bit. “Sorry.”

           “No need to blush. I’m as embarrassed as you are.” Red said as she crossed the street. 

           Finally, she approached her office building. She saw Brian waiting outside.

           “Oh my god Katie, thank you so much.” As she got closer, he saw her face. “Woah. Are you ok?” He asked.

           “Did you get hit by a car?” Brian’s dark one asked. 

“Are you ok?” His light one added.

           “No. I crashed. I’m fine. It’s fine.” She rummaged through her purse and found the keys. “Here.” Katie reached out and Brian saw the blood drying on her hand.

           “Can I take you somewhere? The hospital maybe?”

           “No. Really, I’m fine.”

           “SUPER high right now.” Red said.

           “Hey!” Katie yelled at her.

           “What, you’re always telling me that I should be more honest.” Red smirked.

           “Oh god, really? And you rode your bike here?” Brian asked.

           “I’m surprised you didn’t die.” Brian’s dark one said.

           “That’s what I said!” Red responded.

           “Really, I’m fine.” Katie said.

           “Can I at least drive you home? You can put your bike in my car.”

           “No, really, I’ll be ok.” 

           Blue interrupted, “a ride would be great, thanks.”

           Katie gave Blue a look that said how could you do this to me? But Blue ignored it. 

           “I’ll take your bike.” Brian said. “And we don’t have to talk. I’ve…been there…where you are.” He continued. “Way too high to be out of the house.”

           Katie smiled. They walked to Brian’s car, loaded up, and he drove her home.

           4

           Brian pulled his car into Katie’s driveway and helped get the bike out of the back seat. He walked it to her garage and then, before he turned, said, “see you on Monday.” He walked back to his car and left.

           Katie exhaled. Home. Finally. And it was still light out. Still, plenty of time for a movie and…

           “Oh shit the pizza!” Red yelled. Katie ran up the back steps and through open the door. She heard beeping. She smelled burning.

           “Is that the smoke alarm?” Blue yelled. It wasn’t. It was the oven timer. She looked at the clock on the stove. 6:03. She opened the oven door and a big cloud of black smoke came billowing out. Now there was more beeping.

           “That’s the smoke alarm.” Red said, blandly. Smoke was billowing up off the pizza in the oven. She grabbed a plate and an oven mitt and slid the smoldering pizza onto the plate. She didn’t know what to do with it, so she tossed it into the sink and ran water over it. Now there was more smoke. The smoke alarm was still going off. It was getting hard to breathe in the kitchen.

           Katie ran around opening windows all over the house. The smoke alarm finally stopped as the kitchen cleared.

           “It’s probably going to smell for a while.” Blue said.

           “Idiot.” Red added.

           Katie sat down on a couch and leaned her head back. She just wanted one night by herself. Her housemate was gone for the evening, she had no other plans. 

           “Why?” Blue asked.

           “Why what?” Katie returning the question.

           “Why do you want a night alone so badly?”

           “Because it’s hard. It’s hard to be on all the time. It’s hard to manufacture a personality constantly, to be someone constantly. I just want some time where I don’t have to be on. Where I can be nothing.”

           “That’s dumb.” Red said, but Katie could tell that she didn’t mean it. Red agreed. They all did. They were, of course, all her.

July 29, 2021 15:19

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