July 18th, 2017
They had not sold anything in the two hours they were there and it was enough to make them look into the sky and beg for a falling anvil. The sun was oppressive, though hidden, lurking in the gray waves of clouds like an invisible ray beam pointed directly to the back of their heads. Their brains were frying. Slow. Burning, slow. Their tired eyes wobbled underneath their strained necks. They were small and as such, constantly looked up to the grimaced faces of customers. They were in a parking lot, made into a pseudo-swap and meet. But there was no one to meet, or at least, no one who wanted to meet with them. The stragglers wandered past them. The littered streets were empty and only kept the company of plastic bags, like ghosts in white sheets.
The frugal were at home, the frightened were at home, the murderers too, must have been at home, Sophie presumed, safe in their little houses.
“Let’s go. My feet hurt.” Pip said. Sophie looked at him. Her eyes went first before her heavy skull followed. She felt sticky with sweat and rubbed her arm against her overalls to dry them. Looking at Pip’s slick, dripping, bald head only made the humidity worse.
“This is all your fault. You know that?” Sophie said.
“I told you I was sorry. I didn’t think the chocolate would melt.” He said. She wafted through a carton box of chocolates by her feet and felt the clay-like substance of melting chocolate between two fingertips. Like turds. Like the sewer was laid and sprawled in that little box. She looked down to the jar of money next to the plastic table they borrowed (from Pip’s mother, Sophie didn’t own these types of things). The money jar doubling as cashier register was empty. She could see the bottom of the glass and raised it to her eye to magnify the broken, black pavement.
“I’m not talking about the chocolate.” She continued. His head lowered. He rubbed his legs against each themselves as if eager for the restroom.
“I’m suspended. My grandpaw gave it to me last night in a phone call,” She said. “Had to hangup midway just to avoid the headache.”
“And I said I’m sorry.” His voice was high pitched, and his body shook with tension.
She too, felt her stomach knot up.
“What’s sorry going to do for me?” She slapped the glass down.
“I don’t know.” He said.
“You never know, do you.” She said. “I wonder if there’s even a brain in there.”
He put fingers into the holes of his shirt. Stretching his shirt out, ripping the red and blue stripes lengthwise across him. It ripped, the threads popped out. It was just a goodwill shirt anyhow, wasn’t worth much. And talking to Sophie made him realize, she made him feel like he wasn’t worth much.
“Why do you always talk to me that way?” He asked. Sophie stared, shocked.
A homeless man wandered with a scarf dragging through the dirty floor. The wheels of his cart whistled. A local baker in the corner of her eye picked his nose. He was supposed to be sweeping leaves and grass into the dry street gutters.
She fixed her shock, closed her mouth and swallowed her spit.
“Why do you always mess everything up?” She asked.
“Why are you so mean?” He asked.
“Why are you such a coward?” She asked.
“Why are you a bitch?”
“Why are you a p****?”
Their voices, going on and on, until they both synchronized and melted into common rage.
She pushed him. He pushed her. She pulled his hair and with one great shove between the two of them, they split. Five feet apart, staring at each other.
He was silent. His gaunt face looked out to the street where the pickup trucks were roaming in their low hum that sounded more like a bee than an engine. It was the mild buzz of the city, like white noise, a television channel that no longer worked.
“You never cared about being in trouble before! You never cared about getting into fights. But now you’re worked up? Why? Because it was my fault? I never asked you to help me.” He said.
She went quiet. Pip opened his mouth, but paused in contemplation, then with his raised fist, shouted again. “No. I don’t think you’re mad at me. I think you’re just mad because your momma doesn’t love you.”
Her right eye twitched, and she felt her hair split, and her arms tingle as if ants crawled all along her pale flesh. These small sensations came to her neck, a part of a long wave that stretched across her body until all of her tingled and quaked and harmonized with anger. She kicked one of the table stands. That made Pip afraid. Courage left his legs, his body. His nimble, tall legs, like weak tree branches. Crows above squawked, sitting by the edge of a rooftop. They heard the noise, stretched their wings and dropped half-eaten cigarette buds on the floor below, like black rain. A crowd gathered, or rather, a collecting of voyeurs and sullen eyes behind the many windows of the apartments and stores watched.
“You heard me.” His voice cracked. “Your momma doesn’t love you.”
“Don’t you talk about my mom.” She pointed to Pip.
She grabbed his wrist. His muscles were tense. However, he did not blink or was really, even surprised. He closed his eyes and got ready for it. She got ready for it. He took a deep breath and waited, patiently, what felt like a century for her to c*** her arm back. He tightened his face, and someone put his arm on his shoulder.
He opened his eyes to see the man who had grabbed Sophie by the hand. He was imposing, his bodies shadow covering them completely.
“Don’t fight now.” This stranger said. It was a man, wearing too tight of a suit, a black undershirt, and a red tie. His brown shoes did not match his belt, and that was the first thing he noticed as he looked up to this great presence. His bald head was spotted brown like leopard skin, but the rest of him was pallid and ashy and cracked, like a corroded canyon. A sign fell over. It was the advertisement, “SOPHYES FAMUS CANDYES, TASTE U-CAN TRUST.”
They pulled away from each other, then from the man.
“I don’t think it’s right for a boy and a girl to fight” He smiled.
They backed away from him.
“I was hoping to get something for my wife and kids at home,” He said, smiling.
They wiped their faces. Sophie snapped at Pip. Pip grunted at her.
“I’m not selling anything.” Sophie closed the box of chocolates.
“Well that isn’t good business, is it? You just found yourself a customer, and here you are, kicking him right out. Well, that ain’t any good, is it?” He said.
He wondered if his face hurt from all the smiling.
“We’re closed.” Sophie worked on putting her things away, quiet and gentle.
“You’re closed. I’m not.” Pip clutched a bar from her hands as she put away the box. She glared at him, eyes like daggers.
“You know what?” She said.
“I don’t think we can be friends anymore.” She said. “If you don’t listen to me, we’re done. Do you hear me?”
“Why would I care? All you’ve done is got me into trouble all these years. What do I care what you do?” He said.
She turned, defiantly and threw the backpack over her shoulders. Pip’s eyes were swelling, and he wiped fresh tears with his sleeve. Damp stains were left on his shirt, on his arms, on his chest.
“F*** you.” He walked away, towards the bakery, knocking over a plastic chair. Then apologizing, and holding his bruised leg. He must have tripped ten more chairs by the time he was around the corner. It suit him, these kinds of awkward goodbyes.
“Oh, friends shouldn’t fight.” The bald man stood looking at Pip’s direction. His eyes were dead. Discolored. Gray.
“Hey, you,” She said. He turned down. “We’re – I’m not doing business. You can leave now.”
“Oh, won’t you sell me one. Sweat heart?” He undid a button on his coat. His stomach rolled out. “They’re famous sweets, aren’t they?”
She looked up at him. His teeth were small, there was more fleshy, pink gum in his smile than ivory.
“I don’t like you, mister.” She said. The baker, the citizens looked at him, perhaps compelled to and by, this jolly, eerie fellow.
“Why’s that?” His bare, chinless neck rustled up and down with fat. His mouth twitched.
“You’re weird.” She stepped back. She repeated, louder, so everyone else could hear. “You’re a weirdo, mister.”
“That’s cruel, girl.” He raised his hand, fedora in hand and covered his spotted scalp. “We’re all a little weird. And shouldn’t weird people stick together?”
She kept backing. He approached her. And by an act of God perhaps. Or random happen-chance, a car drove by. People exited their apartments. A few strangers walked, here and there to remind them both that civilization was still here.
He stopped pressing her.
“Well then.” He flashed his half-smile. “I guess we won’t be getting along, little girl. Have a nice day,”
He started to walk.
“And make sure you apologize. It’s not good to lose a friend.”
He walked, steady, at a slow gait before gaining speed and traction as he turned the corner. He held his hat the whole way there.
When she saw him disappear, she felt a drop in her stomach like a needle had fallen down her esophagus and poked her. But in the heat of it, with her face flushed red with anger and with the noises of coming footsteps and engines a-roaring, she could not make sense of her feelings. She wanted to get home. She wanted to hate Pip. She wanted to get away from the man.
She reached for her box of melted chocolates and gripped it. She felt the black, ooze onto her fingers and through the cracks in her clenched fist.
It felt like mud.