FICTION || Formals & Fingers by Margaret Elysia Garcia

We borrowed Cathy’s mom’s Dodge Dart and my grandmother’s Broadway credit card and headed to the mall afterschool to buy junior league formals. Half-way down the boulevard, the sky boom cracked, exploded like an earthquake shaking us or a bomb going off.

“What the hell? You think that’s an earthquake?”, Cathy yelled and looked in the rear view, the side mirrors and out the driver’s window all at once.  She fluffed up her hair in the rear view till her bangs felt high enough and frowned at the ring of coloured mousse on her white collar. It didn’t feel like an earthquake to me. They rumble quickly and set off sirens on used cars that no one wants to steal.

“It sounds more like a bomb,” I offered.

“Okay, army brat. Everything is always bombs with you.” Whatever. I knew the difference. When a bomb goes off you are startled and silenced by its horrific beauty, its sound barrier boom that comes on at once and goes away just as fast. You are left with fire and orange and then the gray smoke of aftermath.

“But it probably is.”

“Well, Mariesella, I’m FROM here.” I was from here too. But I was also from everywhere not there too. Nobody at school seemed to get that. I know in earthquakes that the sky goes silent and the birds leave and that everyone prays it won’t be the big one.

Cathy drove on and we started to hear people screaming, so I turned up the radio louder and we sang along to Duran Duran’s Wild Boys and I told her how Nick Taylor was going to be mine someday.

The air started to get smoky as we passed Alondra. On the boulevard in front of us were bloody clumps, like a run down rodent but fleshy like human skin and no tire marks.

“Oh my god,” Cathy said, “what is on the windshield of that truck?

“Oh gross. Oh god. It’s someone’s shoe —with part of their leg and foot still in it.”

“Ewwww!” We said in unison.  Cathy ejected the Duran Duran tape and started fiddling with the radio to get a news station on. But I put the tape back in.

“We gotta find out what happened, weirdo!” Cathy said ejecting the tape again.

“WE gotta get dresses in the next few days or forget about the dance.”

Cathy stuck the tape back in and played it loud. We sang along to Girls on Film.

 

Only a mile from the mall and it had rained fingers and shoes on the boulevard. We knew those things and yet did not know those things the way we saw them now, so my girlfriend and I just drove on.  A house to the side of the boulevard caught fire and there was smoke and I saw sneakers strewn on telephone wire like the kind bullies steal from the weak and string up out of reach. Only there were still feet in them.

Sixteen and we turned off the boulevard in the opposite direction of the fire and took side streets away from the sirens. Sixteen and we drove on a parallel street and kept the tape deck with Nick, John, and Simon to keep us company instead of the news. Sixteen and we kept the windows rolled up so as not to smell that eerie new smell of ill-prepared meat loaded on a grill and burned plastic. Ash. Electrical wire.

Parts of the boulevard were roped off now as well as some side streets. We drove passed the auto dealerships and then parked in front of where we knew the Charlotte Russe was on the other side of the high concrete walls of the mall. My formal was to be a pink and silver spaghetti strapped dress that twirled and glittered when I danced. Cathy’s would be a strapless lavender taffeta with dyed matching pumps. We hoped the guys would make an effort to match our dresses and we took business cards from the tuxedo shop to help them with that.

“Like, there’s like no one here!” I said.

“Great! No one to bug us shopping,” Cathy said.

“Total perfect day to shop,” I said. She nodded and pointed to an acid wash mini-skirt with a silver-studded belt . We walked through the mall like we owned the place. Like when celebrities rent out something for a couple of hours just so they can do it. Like Michael Jackson did with Disneyland. We found a pay phone and called Cathy’s mom after an older saleslady yelled at us.

“Don’t you girls know what just happened?” The lady bellowed.  We told her mother we were at the other mall across town. We didn’t tell mine anything.

In the mall, the stores got emptier and emptier. We stopped for Orange Julius’ and the zit faced boy made them almost too fast and kept trying to talk with us.

“Did you guys hear what happened? A private Cessna crashed into an Aeromexico jet. Decapitated the Cessna people!” He said it with that glee that nerds get when they finally get to talk to girls and the girls almost pay attention.

We started to wonder if there was another way home. A mall cop said yeah, but it was through a bad neighborhood. There were Mexicans in it. Possibly some black people too. Cathy was half-black and I was half-Mexican so we thought we’d take our chances.

The billboards took a turn for Spanish. The street corners at the stop lights became full of black boys with white t-shirts and loose pants. We stopped for gas nervous and excited. I stared at the cigarette butts in the gutter while Cathy pumped gas. Men watched us, not high school boys; we felt it. Cathy and I grinned at each other over the hood of her car as she pumped the gas and I went to get the squeegee to wash the windshield. We smiled back at those young men.

“We could have any of those guys we wanted,” Cathy whispered to me out the corner of her mouth and I knew she was right.  I dipped the squeegee deep into the solution. I pulled back the wipers and stuck out my chest and felt their approval and heard the hmmm…mmmm of them. I breathed in. The air still smelled of orange fire ball and gray ash.

Cathy shrieked and pointed to the windshield. She shook her head no and hid her head in her arms so that only her giant bangs seemed to stick out from her head. I heard her gulp and she grabbed paper towels from the dispenser and handed them to me with a look that said you do it.  I picked up the finger stuck in the grate with the paper towels and felt through the paper towel to the piece of bone stuck out a bit in the middle. I didn’t look real, none of it did. It had the most beautifully manicured rosy nail.

We threw it in the trash. I heard it grip the side of the can like pasta being thrown to see if it’s ready. We shuddered and drove on.      

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