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Fiction Drama

Mayzie screeched her nightly serenade of Crazy Train, shook coins from the register for percussion, and waggled her golf pencil at Brian. The tradition started when he forbade her from playing Ozzy Osbourn in the store, despite how many of his sleeves hung on the dulled cyan walls.

Brian stopped at the register, expectant. Mayzie held his gaze and continued singing, keeping him hostage until the end of the verse.

“You’re already making me regret this,” Brain said.

As if against his own will, he explained Rad Record’s managerial training program up in New York.

“A great opportunity,” he shared the expression of every teacher who’d scribble fails to live up to her potential on a report card, “but you have to work on that attitude.”

 “Thanks,” Mayzie said, suppressing a snarky remark, and finished counting the change.

Kicked up against a wall outside, Mayzie scuffed the white-painted cinderblocks with the heel of her boot. She gazed into the dark parking lot: empty, aside from a group of underclassmen smoking by the dumpsters. Eddy’s late, as usual. She lit a Camel.

Her? A job in management? She needed to talk to her dad about it, and Eddy.

She pictured herself in a tweed pencil skirt and chuckled. She imagined scuffling between boxy buildings with glass sides, weaving between suited men with briefcases, through a cartoonish smog-grey world of adulthood. But her life wouldn’t start and end with work. New York was a dream—wasn’t it everyone’s? Certainly not the future she’d imagined for herself. 

She flicked ash into a bed of white and purple pansies and watched it die in the mulch.

What other future did she have at this point? To keep working as a cashier until Eddy graduates from Southeast Tech and gets a job as an electrician. He’ll make decent money, buy them a house, and maybe finally propose to her. Mayzie had half expected a ring on her finger by graduation. She fully expected to live with him by now.

A white, red-topped ’76 Monte Carlo rolled up.

Here they were, a year later, unmarried. Him picking her up outside the mall, like a couple of teenagers. Which, she supposed, they technically were.

Mayzie reached into the backseat, grabbed her leather jacket, and put it on over her mandatory Rad polo. Watching herself in the window's reflection, she popped her collar, took out her ponytail, and ruffled the constriction out of her curls.

“‘Sup, babe?” Eddy leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. He turned up the radio before she could respond. Which was fine, she hadn’t figured how to share what was up yet.

The opportunity didn’t feel real—like she would run up to Brian tomorrow, with starry eyes and dreams of the city, and accept the offer, and he’d laugh at her gullibility. Laugh at her for allowing herself to dream.

At Pizza Palace, Mayzie asked for a table. One of the round tables with white clothes and garden chairs that hurt to sit on for too long, but had intricate designs in their wire cross rails. The two usually sat at a booth, but without another couple attached at their backs, it’d be easier to talk.

They came here after work too frequently. Mayzie’s dad told her to enjoy that metabolism while it lasted. She did, ordering a 12-inch pan pizza to split between them, knowing they’d finish the whole thing.

“You? Management? Ha.”

Mayzie almost laughed, understanding that she too should mock the hypothetical tweeded, pin-haired version of herself. But she didn’t. “I’m serious, Eddy.” A stern plea for him to listen, a dare for him to not. But he didn’t look at her and instead watched the waitress return.

“What about our plan, huh?”

“You could find work in New York!”

The ceiling lights hung too low and shone too orange. The pizza arrived sunken into the pan, acting more as a bowl for the grease.

“I already got something lined up here maybe, Tony knows a guy. ‘Sides, no way we’d afford a house in New York.” He drank his pizza and spoke between shiny lip smacks, “Plus, I ain’t certified yet.”

“Since I’ll be working, I could get an apartment. You could finish school, then move into my place—"

I’m getting the job. I’m buying the house. I’m the one that’s gonna take care of you.” Eddy dropped his crust dramatically, but the sopping bread’s sploosh was less intimidating than he would have liked.

That was alright, he knew how to give his voice authority on its own. Grave, staccato, biting the consonants.

“You’re not takin’ that job.”

“The hell I’m not!” Mayzie flung her palms onto the table and pretended to not notice how sticky they instantly became. “I wasn’t asking your permission.” She realized that she had, in fact, been asking for his permission. But not now, now that she didn’t have it. She didn’t need it. She didn’t even want it. “I was askin’ if you were gonna join me.”

Eyes bore into her back. Eddy flicked between every head that had swiveled in their direction. Every person who watched Mayzie shoot up from the table and talk down to him. He buried a moment of embarrassment deep under the furrow of his brow, and turned deeply red instead of pale. He slammed his hands down and leaned to meet her halfway over the table.

Instead of recoiling, she anchored her body. Only her head flinched back, as she scrunched her eyes shut.

She knew it was coming, by the subtle shifts in the cloth: the table flew out from under her. A loud thud. Clinks of the salt, pepper, and parmesan shakers, whose glass was just thick enough to not shatter. The hot grease of the pizza splashed up her jeans.

She peeked at Eddy ripping his jacket off the back of his chair. She turned slowly to watch him storm past her, out of the Palace—past the stunned diners, frozen mid-chew—past the poor young waitress, with her arms in the air, who definitely did not get paid enough to deal with this.

Silence swallowed the doorbell’s delicate chime. It wasn’t until the Monte Carlo squealed away that everyone collectively let out their breath.

Mayzie didn’t take Eddy back when he apologized at the bus stop—if you could even call it an apology. It consisted more of half-hearted appeals: “Babe, come on,” and, “Think about this,” as if she hadn’t. She raised her chin higher and craned her neck further from him at every plea. When she couldn’t stretch any farther, she pointedly asked how his uncle felt about paying damages to Pizza Palace.

She was a stupid bitch, and he didn’t need her. She’d regret this and come back crawling.

He would have endlessly spit names and scenarios at her, if he hadn’t been worn down by a pair of old women on the bus stop bench, who giggled at the young lover’s failed begs. He left long before the bus arrived, but Mayzie still took satisfaction in flicking him off through the window as they drove away.

Then Eddy was truly gone. And she was gone. Alone, only an empty seat with a water-stained cushion beside her—hopefully it was water. A faint sour undertone in the musty air challenged that.

Mayzie picked at the peeling S + H carved into the plastic back of the bus seat before her.

The fire burning in her chest left a lot of empty space behind.

What was she doing this for? She used to have a steady plan laid out and threw that away. Gave it all up, for what? A managerial position. Not even—managerial training.

“A great opportunity,” Mayzie muttered to herself.

A contagious giggle sprung from the seats in front of her. A pair of curly greys bobbed behind the headrests. Mayzie couldn’t help but smile.

She used to have a future planned out: to contort and twist and fit herself into what was expected of her.

This new future depended on her, not Eddy. She could shape it into anything. She could finish training, and get a job, and buy a house, all by herself.

Free, self-sufficient.

Though, Mayzie wasn’t entirely alone in New York. Raquel came from the eastern Delaware branch of Rad Records. Raquel, with an opalescent septum ring and fiery hair dip-dyed pink. Raquel, with a stick-and-poke tattoo of a dripping smiley face that she gave herself.

The two met at orientation and pooled together to rent a studio apartment. They lived like sardines, but eventually found comfort in being squished together. They’d often escape their tiny, tinny apartment to soak up the city.

Raquel would grab Mayzie by the wrist and lead her through the streets lined with colorful advertisements, the mile-high mini-movies, playing above the smell of vendor’s fried doughs—weaving her between fiddling, singing buskers, and pants-less cowboys wearing sparkling silver hats. There was no smog to choke their lungs or blot out the sun.

Even without Raquel, even alone, Mayzie’s life didn’t begin or end with work. During her off-hours, she could visit every touristy attraction and monument, or find hole-in-the-wall bars and other hidden gems. She could go to the underground acts of no-name comedians, and see Broadway shows. Or, she could have taken acting classes, joined an improv group—maybe she could’ve auditioned for Broadway.

Except she didn’t go to New York.

“You’re not takin’ that job.”

As Eddy’s anger rose, and his voice took up more space, Mayzie shrunk herself down to give it the room it demanded.

When she couldn’t respond, he still drove off without her. The table remained upright. And Mayzie did her best not to topple.

Things were fine. This was the plan all along—so really, nothing had changed or been missed. She and Eddy would stay together, and he would graduate from Southeast Tech, get a job, buy a house, and they would have a family.

“You should be glad I stayed,” Mayzie said, answering to the disappointment in Elliot’s eyes. He looked up at his mom as she rolled the top of his bed sheets, folding them neatly under his chin. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had you,” she gently swiped his nose with her index finger. “So, things worked out perfectly. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” She kissed him on the forehead, ignoring his pout.

It wasn’t until then, until Elliot wasn’t convinced, that Mayzie realized she was lying.

She stood, turned, and hit the lights, shrinking as soon as the darkness swallowed her. Before the door closed, Elliot watched the silhouette’s shoulders slouch and its back hunch with fatigue.

He swore he saw shame gleam in his mom’s eyes, caught by the hint of his nightlight.

He laid and wondered about it, until it exhausted his little mind, and he nearly drifted off to sleep—but his rapid heart pulled his body up with its leaping, reacting to a slam from the kitchen.

A loud thud. The clinks of glass scattering.

Elliot curled his pillow around the back of his head and smashed it against his ears. The thumps, another something breaking, the loud rumble of his father’s voice—all syncopated with the beating of his heart, which he focused on until it slowed and lulled.

That night he dreamt of a girl who wasn’t more afraid of tweed than of Eddy. She was free, she played with her best friend, she sang and danced.

And he wonders if she would have been happy.

May 05, 2023 22:04

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1 comment

Catherine Hudson
23:55 May 13, 2023

I really like this. I love how it ends with how her little boy feels.


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