3 INSTEAD OF E
My left foot kept spinning the pedals, a rattling, harsh percussion that cut through Hazel’s buzz. It was Wednesday, school was out because a senior had shot himself in front of his parents. Hazel kept sucking on the joint before giving out the little morsels of information that she had picked up.
‘He was wearing one of his mom’s dresses when he did it.‘
‘That’s fucked up,’ I said.
He should have transitioned. They would have given him the world.
Hazel blinked and offered the joint. I shook my head and Hazel shrugged her shoulders. I looked into her heavy-lidded eyes, platinum curls that fell around her face like a halo and fought the urge to tell her how pretty she was.
‘Sure is. Hey, I’m thinking of changing my name.’
I frowned and stopped kicking the pedals backwards. I set the bike down and sat on the kerb next to me. I had the prettier name, but in the mirror, stained skin, a lumpy nose that was a family inheritance, a stocky frame that would run to fat if I didn’t cycle everywhere.
‘What’s wrong with Hazel?’
Hazel exhaled and watched a Pontiac circling the lot without stopping. It reminded me of how a shark or a killer whale would swim around its prey but, then Hazel turned to me, and the thought evaporated.
‘I’m dropping the L.No surname.’
She nodded, grinning in the lazy way that made every boy in town goofy with lust.
‘Yeah, like Ke$ha or Madonna or Lady Gaga.’
Lady was an honorific.
‘That’s cool. You could substitute the e for a 3 when you wrote it out.’
Hazel stuck the joint in the corner of her mouth and pulled me in for a side-hug. I shut my eyes, committed the contact to memory and hugged her back. The soft crush of Hazel’s body thrilled me.
‘Damn, you’re so fucking smart.’
Being smart was not a gift. Intelligence was seldom kind and on balance, I would have traded with her in a hot minute.
‘So, are you still working on your songs?’
Hazel took a puff on the joint and pulled her phone from inside her bra. The shorts were too tight for pockets, and I envied that her legs were coltish and tan. She queued up the recording app and played me what she had been working on.
I looked down at my feet, hoping that Hazel would mistake it for contemplation, rather than discomfort. Hazel stopped the app and offered the joint to me.
I took it with a smile.
‘It’s great, you’ve got a magnificent voice.’
Hazel’s smile made it bearable and I took a slight drag on the joint, just to be polite. My head grew heavy on my shoulders and I wanted to tell her something heartfelt, something meaningful.
Which was when the Pontiac pulled up alongside us. The driver’s side window rolled down and a cloud of smoke drifted out. The driver stuck his head out and grinned with the teeth life had left available to him. His face was a blunt triangle turned upside down, patchy brown beard and a thick ring through his right eyebrow. The black tattoo on his neck looked like a burn. I swallowed, my skin tingling with nerves. The stereo throbbed with low, nasty rap, harsh voices and bass that resonated in the pit of my stomach.
‘Hey girls, what’s up?’
I passed the joint back to Hazel. She took a puff on it Norma Jean with me, but a boy would sweep into view and she would go full Marilyn.
‘Nothing. What’s up with you?’
Hazel had made her voice a touch breathier than before. My back teeth ached with an unnamed tension.
My knees drew up to my chest and I studied at the tarmac with an intensity that surprised me. I shut down, fearing that my life was one platonic loop of the same experiences. Haunting a parking lot as a ghost in a shroud of ugly, desperate meat.
I looked up. The car stood by Hazel.A pair of sunglasses glinted from the back seat. My heart pounded so hard that I registered it in her eardrums.
‘Are you in?’
Hazel’s eyes shone with expectation, her thumbs hooked into the loops of her shorts. I swallowed and gestured to her bicycle. She shook her head.
Hazel rolled her eyes and splayed her fingers.
‘Yeah, I mean, it’s cool.’
I wanted to plead with her, to stay here in the lot. We could go to mine, make brownies.. Little girl things and Hazel would have laughed at me.
She told me she would see me later. She meant it too.
She got in the back, her giggle rising like carbonate bubbles in soda.
The Pontiac sped off. I picked up my bicycle. It was a slow ride home, difficult to see through the tears.
After dinner when Hazel’s parents called.
Dark when the police arrived.
I told them they had left me in the parking lot. An adolescent girl gets in a car, it’s one thing that gets drilled into you but no one ever offers advice to the ugly girls.
You get to walk away.
I made sure that the reporters spelled her name with a 3.