PERRY AND BABY GIRL were in the car they'd stolen not half an hour before. A red Mazda. Looked fancier than it was, had to use hand cranks to put the windows down. Perry gathered it probably belonged to someone who wanted to look fancy but couldn't squeeze enough out her sad rag of a paycheck. Like how for years Myra, her mother, kept a dinged-up Corvette because it was red and a two-door. Couldn't even get the tiny trunk open without a crowbar. Then Jim came along with his logic and calm and sense and had it scrapped. Myra drove a mint-green Tercel now. Four doors. No dings.
Perry knew the Mazda was a woman's car 'cause of all the butts in the ashtray, all tipped with lipstick. Baby Girl had lit one up first thing, held it between her teeth, squinting through the smoke, cranked down the window so she could rest an elbow. Baby Girl with her half-shaved head, her blond eyelashes, her freckled arm resting on the steering wheel. Fake-ass thug. Sometimes it seemed mean thoughts were all Perry had for Baby Girl, but when she caught sight of herself in the side mirror she saw she was doing all the same shit.
They'd turned onto the busted-up highway, Baby Girl swerving like they were in a go-kart so the Mazda wouldn't get a flat. The rising sun the color of a pineapple candy, no more than a fingernail at the horizon. Not a single other car to be seen.
Baby Girl was muttering along with the music meandering out of the speakers. You want some / you gonna have to take some / and I'ma get mine. This was her favorite line. Her motto. She tried to make it Perry's also but Perry was not into that shit.
Perry was annoyed. Tired. Felt like her skin was turning to dough. Her legs and arms and heart, all starting to give in. The clock said 6:25 a.m. Eight hours and twenty-five minutes past when Perry said she was going to bed. She'd have to explain herself to Jim and Myra when she got home. She hated explaining herself, 'cause most of it was stuff she'd have to make up.
She'd meant to do right. She'd meant to stay in bed and fall asleep like Jim wanted, 'cause she liked Jim. But she made the mistake of opening her window, hoping it would cool her room down. All it did was let more hot air in, let her hear the quiet outside her window, the stillness she could not stand. The windows in the nearby trailers were mostly dark but for the flicker of a television, and it was like she had to do something, something other than turning out the light and closing her eyes and letting the night pass on by, like Myra. She had to make something happen.
And plus she'd got that text from Baby Girl. Lets do this. They had no plan. Just a general desire, like always.
It was easy to creep out of the trailer. Perry didn't even ease her window shut like she usually did. She knew Myra wouldn't be able to hear over her program, and Jim had gone to work his night shift at the prison. Even if Myra did hear, it was unlikely she would do anything about it. Just keep sipping her beer and snuggle down tighter under the covers.
Baby Girl had been standing by the pay phone at the Circle K. Her arms moving in that fluid way, heavy and slow, like she was thrashing underwater. She had her music on. When she saw Perry she yelled, "Wadup wadup?"
Baby Girl didn't care how people saw her. In fact, she wanted them to be afraid. Like how people used to act around Charles, only worse. Once, the greeter at Walmart told them they had to leave if they were just going to stand by the doors acting a fool and not buying nothing. "Suck my dick," Baby Girl told her.
The greeter lady went red, she held her hand to her mouth and started crying. And Perry wished it was her who'd said it.
Baby Girl pulled her headphones down. Perry could hear a man yelling waka waka waka waka. "I think we should go get us a ride," Baby Girl said, turned so Perry could see the slim jim sticking out of her back pocket. Her brother, Charles, had made it out of a metal coat hanger before his accident. They'd stolen it from him after. Everything was before and after for Baby Girl now, Perry knew. Before the accident she'd talk about boys, and once Perry had walked in on her doing sit-ups next to her bed. After Charles's accident it was like Baby Girl did all she could to look hideous. Untouchable.
"Let's get a SUV this time," Perry said. She couldn't drive, knew it was up to Baby Girl to choose what kind of car to get, but she'd been wanting to sit up high like that.
"You are the show-offiest motherfucker I ever met," Baby Girl said, but Perry knew it was a challenge she wouldn't say no to.
They went into the Circle K to get the usual. Hot fries and a sweet tea for Baby Girl, Mountain Dew and Twizzlers for Perry. She liked her heart to go go go all night long.
"Where you girls headed tonight?" the man behind the counter asked. He was an Indian-looking man but he had an accent like theirs. Dark and syrupy, twang twang twang. His name tag said Patel.
"Why would we ever tell you that, Patel?" Baby Girl flicked her change, a nickel, across the counter. It hit the man in the zipper. "Oh shit!" Baby Girl exploded with laughter, holding her gut and pointing, like some of the boys did in the hallways at school. "That'll keep your ass honest!"
He shook his head, wiped at his pants like the nickel had left a stain. "You are a pretty girl," he said, chopping his hand at Perry. "You should be at home asleep in your bed with curlers in your hair."
Baby Girl laughed, a grinding dry kind of sound like she was pushing something out her throat. Something else she got from the boys at school. They were almost outside when he yelled, "Ain't nothing open past one a.m. but legs!"
Baby Girl laughed hard at that, too, but once they were outside her laughter got all swallowed up by the quiet of the night and then what was the point. Baby Girl put her headphones back on. They walked along the road, Baby Girl's arms moving fast, pointing, punching, hands forming signs only she knew the meaning to. Perry stepped on every crack she could see in the dark yellow of the streetlamps, something that felt like her own way of saying fuck you to no one.
The night was warm as a mouth. "I think we should hit up the Estates again," Baby Girl shouted. Her voice quieted the cicadas, but only for a second. Perry gave her the A-OK sign. Wanted to say, Keep it down, dumb-ass, but didn't.
The Estates was a ritzy-ass neighborhood with a gate at the front and open sidewalks on either side. Perry and Baby Girl had hit the neighborhood before, strolled right in. Those sidewalks were an invitation: Come on in, and steal some stuff while you're at it. Perry had started to think if rich people weren't afraid of their stuff being taken, they wouldn't feel so rich.
The last time they were at the Estates, they'd tried doors until they found one unlocked. It was a brick house with a duck wearing a dress next to the mailbox. The first floor was a maze, every room connected to the next. They'd walked around and around, losing and finding each other. There was a picture of an old man and woman holding hands at the beach. Another picture of the same couple in front of the house. Baby Girl took the gold napkin rings she found in a drawer. Perry almost took an old pair of baby shoes frozen in bronze, but then she saw the iron poker next to the fireplace and took that instead, kept it in a dresser drawer, under some T-shirts. Perry took it out once, aimed, brought it through the air like it was a sword. Tried not to feel stupid. Lately it was like Perry could feel stupid faster than she could feel afraid.
When they got to the gate, Baby Girl pulled her headphones down, turned off her music. Took a deep breath, like she was about to say something, but the chimes in Perry's phone sounded. "Turn that shit off!" Baby Girl hissed.
It was a text message from Jamey. Perry, girlie, where are u? Im online. Perry turned the ringer off, stuffed the phone back in her pocket.
"Okay," Baby Girl said. "Let's make a left at the stop sign instead of a right this time. And let's take the first SUV we see. These motherfuckers all have two-car garages but someone's bound to have a third car stuck out in the driveway that we can gank."
She was right. In front of a yellow house with a rock garden instead of grass, there was a huge black Suburban. Baby Girl pointed up. Blue light gently flickered behind the white curtains in an upstairs window. Someone was awake watching TV, or had fallen asleep while watching it.
"It's on," Baby Girl whispered. She pulled the slim jim out, worked it into the door. The lock went with a soft pop. For Perry, that pop was an exploding cosmos of possibility. White tails of glitter shooting out. It felt like she and Baby Girl were mirrors reflecting the light from the streetlamps back and forth a million times. They were light. They could do anything, go anywhere. They were light. Tomorrow Perry would be tired, wrung out like Jim would say, but this was why it was worth it. Who else was out at this hour, doing what they were doing, marking every moment, trying to live? No one else. Wake up! she wanted to shout at the white curtains, at all the windows in this neighborhood. Wake the fuck up.
Baby Girl hot-wired the car, backed out of the driveway. And it was just like Perry thought being that high up would be. She felt as tall as a tree.
THE SUV WAS A STUPID IDEA. Too obvious. Baby Girl had read in one of her brother's old books how you had to build up your tolerance for fear until it became part of you, as natural and unassuming as your own hand. And how often did you think about your own hand? Not often. That's where you had to get with fear. But even so, building up a tolerance didn't have to mean doing dumb shit over and over.
"We should ditch soon," she said to Perry. "Don't you think any cop could drive by and wonder, 'Hey, why is this baldheaded bitch driving a truck that clearly don't belong to her?'"
"Whatever," Perry said. In the beginning she'd say stuff like You ain't ugly when Baby Girl said mean shit about herself. Now it was mostly Whatever.
"They'll probably accuse me of kidnapping you, too, since no pretty girl in her right mind would be associated with—"
"Fine, we can ditch. Okay? Let's ditch."
Baby Girl knew she'd ruined it for Perry. She was over there feeling like a queen high up in her seat and Baby Girl had broken the spell. She almost laughed, it felt like such a triumph. She wasn't as pretty as Perry, but she was meaner.
After Charles came out of his coma he was different. Sweeter. Not interested in going out once it got dark. His edges were dulled. It was sad to see. So Baby Girl took up where he left off. Went from Dayna to Baby Girl, Charles's nickname for her before his accident. Shaved half her head. Took his CDs, even some of his clothes, not that he seemed to care. After the accident he just wanted to wear basketball shorts, probably because of the elastic waistband. Lately Baby Girl had been considering carving a scar into the bald part of her head like the one her brother had from his stitches, jagged and mean-looking, like a child had practiced writing an S there. Baby Girl wanted her outside to look like how she felt on the inside. Which was Fuck you.
Tonight she was wearing a pair of Charles's jeans, so huge on her that she had to cuff the bottoms three times, and what used to be his favorite black T-shirt. Sports bra to tamp those fuckers down. Work boots she'd stolen from Payless. Kicked them, box and all, out the door while the saleslady was in the kids' aisle. Pretended to consider the shoelaces for a while, then went on her way.
She always tried to feel a glimmer of regret. It was so easy to take advantage. Why did she have to be the type to take advantage? Well, she wanted those boots. That was the main thing when you got right down to it.
Plus lip liner and gloss. That completed her look.
Baby Girl's prettiest feature was her lips: plump and pink. She had watched tons of YouTubes featuring women who knew about makeup demonstrating what to do with lips like hers and had settled on the liner-and-gloss method. It called them into focus while maintaining their natural color. And it made her look like a tough bitch.
Perry looked like some kind of garden fairy, only tall. Bright green eyes, black eyelashes, blond hair. Tanned legs. Smallish boobs. Baby Girl was grateful that Perry wasn't entirely perfect: she had a widish nose, a fang on one side of her mouth, and way back, a gray molar. Fixable problems but only if you had the money for it. And Perry didn't. But neither did Baby Girl. Which was an important level to share.
Tonight Perry wore her usual ponytail, the same shorts from yesterday, a yellow T-shirt. Sandals. Each toe with a chipped remnant of polish. Perry came off like she didn't give a fuck about stuff like that. Baby Girl had learned that that was usually the way with pretty girls.
They drove, windows down. Somehow this Suburban didn't have a CD player, or if it did, Baby Girl didn't know where.
"Let's get something to drink," Perry said, which meant she wasn't so pissed about ditching anymore. Baby Girl knew she meant something they could get shitty on. That meant going to the other Circle K, the one with the guy who sold to anyone.
"Okay," Baby Girl said, "but after that we got to dump this thing."
"Oh hell yeah," Perry said, attempting one of Baby Girl's signs.
"You can be a real fuckin' hillbilly sometimes," Baby Girl told her.
"Oh well," Perry said. Her other favorite comeback lately.
Baby Girl made a U-turn. Up ahead, she could see flashing lights. She gripped the steering wheel. Her heart thudded like bass turned way up.
But it was just a tow truck. In her headlights she saw a man with his hands to his head, a jagged spill down his shirt. The tow truck driver seemed to be ignoring him. "Yo, that guy is wasted," Baby Girl said as they passed.
Perry leaned up, pulled her phone out of her back pocket, studied it. She made a quiet noise, something like a snort, then put her phone back in her pocket. "Who keeps blowing your shit up?" Baby Girl asked.
"Just this guy," Perry said. "I don't even know him."
Perry's stepdad, Jim, was a prison guard. A quiet guy who seemed as big as a standing bear. Perry loved him, Baby Girl knew, but she also seemed dead set on making sure he had a heart attack. Once he saw Perry's phone bill he'd want to know who this guy was. Happened every time. It seemed like a luxury to Baby Girl, toying with that kind of love and concern. But she knew better than to say shit about it to Perry.
She waited until Perry was looking out her window again, then pressed the button on her phone to check for texts. Nothing. She had gotten used to something waiting there for her nearly every time she checked, but in the past couple of days, nothing. She had gone too far, of course she had. Quickly, she texted, Hey, sorry if I acted like a stupid bitch. Miss talking to u. The u was her way of speaking his language, reaching out. Corny-ass text speak that no one she knew used, except for him. Jamey. Thinking his name made her feel like she had to pee. That always happened when she felt excited. Or scared. She pressed SEND, pushed the phone way down into her pocket, so she couldn't easily get it out to check again in the next thirty seconds.
There was a small woman behind the counter at Circle K, not the usual stoner who'd sell to them, so Perry and Baby Girl wiped down the Suburban and left it there and walked into the neighborhood next to it. This time, Baby Girl wanted a car with a CD player. These nights weren't hardly worth it without a way to listen to her music. The few times Charles had taken her out at night, he'd turned up the music so loud she could feel it in her teeth. Windows rolled all the way down, which meant lots of nasty looks from old ladies, but they had it wrong. Charles wasn't trying to annoy no one. He was trying to share it with them. Share that feeling. Windows down, the hot night breezing in and out of the car carrying the scent of gasoline, orange blossoms, garlic, exhaust. Music saying exactly what was in his heart, and what was in Baby Girl's heart, too, which went beyond anything you could say with words, but if she had to try it'd be Yes. And that's why you could have it loud. No one needed to say a thing. So she'd be damn sure the next car she and Perry got had that CD player. Perry would probably pout since Baby Girl's music wasn't her kind of music. But she wouldn't say nothing, because she knew it wasn't up for discussion, and because Baby Girl wouldn't be able to hear her anyway.
Copyright © 2014 by Lindsay Hunter