The girl sneezed as she slammed the door to the van. She had a vision of how things were to go, and the vision involved the color yellow. Yellow, of course, is the color of divination. Yellow, behind the walls of the thing.
She had been walking through Davis Square, craving a cigarette – she saw a group of guys, at a table, smoking, and had introduced herself. She bummed a smoke. Jackabean introduced himself and his three friends (Jason, Ben, David) – these four guys laughing, drinking from flasks, smoking. She played the part, the shy cute girl, blue-eyed smiley and looking up. They invited her to a bar. She went. They all shouted, smiled, over the bar noise. She batted her eyelashes. She told Jason he was wily. Just behind her face sat so many tears.
The group of them drove to Jackabean's house. Jason and Ben drove in her blue van. Jack and David in David's Volkswagen. Jackabean had a roommate named Chloe. Didn't seem like she'd left the apartment in a week. She lay sprawled on the futon. Dark smudges under her eyes, listening to The Cure and playing Mario Kart, baking banana bread. The six of them smoked pot and drank beer.
Jason had claimed the girl's left knee. His large hand was on it. She didn't mind. Jason asked if she wanted to take a walk. She said sure. They were both high. They walked, in a dark green midnight, down to the lake's lip, and he kissed her. He said they should skinny dip. She said No. He said the water was holy. She kissed him again, and turned her toe in the dirt, and said they should go back to their friends. He slapped her ass and said okay. Then he stuck his hand in the back pocket of her corduroys. They walked that way back up the hill to the house. “You are beautiful” he whispered right into her ear.
She had Jason over to her apartment once after that. They kissed. He held her. He had a beard. She never saw him after that time.
The girl and Jackabean became friends. Jackabean was funny. They hung out every couple weeks, or so. Jackabean had once told her that in a past life he had been a ninja, a zen ninja in the 15th century. The girl told him that once she had been an encyclopedia salesman – which she knew because, in this past lifetime, which was in Tennessee in the 1950's, she had memorized the entire tome of F. It had taken her thirty-five years, at which point she died in a car crash. And in this lifetime she still remembered everything that started with the letter F.
Jackabean had looked at her in disbelief. Okay – what does the entry on Ferdinand say? I don't know, she told him. I only remember the book in my sleep. That's lame, said Jackson. She laughed. You're lame, she said. What did you do as a ninja? I fought samurai, he said. I was the best.
She believed him. The angle of the jaw, the way he held his head, looked and sounded like a sword.
The rain beat down harder. The girl scurried into the gas station. She had her hands above her head, which did absolutely nothing to keep the rain from her head, her hair, her frizzing hair. She had red hair. She had a yellow barrette. She had a heart-shaped face. “What do you do,” they would ask her. “Nothing,” she wanted to say. “I'm a bleeding heart.”
At this point, she actually did do nothing, she didn't do anything at all. She drove.
In the gas station, her hair dripped with water; water dripped from her chin. She wandered to the beverage fridge, and got a six-pack of Guinness. She got a pack of peanut M&Ms. Mostly because the package was yellow, a very particular yellow – the yellow of hello. She also got an Arizona Iced Green Tea for 99 cents. And a long Slim Jim beef jerky.
The yellow of what is next.
She lingered in front of the beef jerkys, dripping onto the tiles. There were a number of brands. And different flavors, or whatever. She bought a jumbo foot-long Slim Jim, because of the nostalgia. Mum used to put them in her lunches. She bought it because, one must wonder, what kind of animal is a Slim Jim? She bought it because she chose not to care about animals and factory farming. Likening to letting the shower run far longer than necessary, because it's fun to waste. Likening to: I know of the terror in Sudan and I do nothing.
This was what she thought, in line. Sudan. Sudan. Me! The old woman in front of her was buying Kleenex. Gum. Remember when we used to eat gum? Juicy Fruit. She picked up a yellow pack of Juicy Fruit, and a pack of Big Red. Remember Big League Chew? Remember Six Feet of Bubble Tape? Remember the pieces of gum in packs of baseball cards?
Cha-Ching! She set down her things – the beer, the tea, the M&Ms (hello), the Slim Jim, and the Gum. The small woman behind the counter scanned her items. “Oh, wait, I want some coffee too,” said the girl. She went back and got a medium coffee, with 5 creamers. She went back to the check-out. The cashier woman had bagged her things. There was a man waiting behind her. He said to the girl, “Hey Gorgeous.” She turned around. “I'm buying a lottery ticket. Do you play the lottery?”
The girl paid with a twenty, and got her bag of snacks and coffee. She shook her head. “No.”
“Why not, Gorgeous?” said the man. “I dunno,” she said, turning around, startled that this conversation would continue. “Do you have a lucky number?” asked the guy. “Care to bestow some luck upon this poor truck driver, lady luck?”
The man grinned into an impossibly wide grin, with impossibly white shiny teeth. “Do I have a lucky number?” repeated the girl.
(Fact was, she hadn't spoken to a soul in 8 days. Fact is, he was hot in a grungy way. How? His limbs were lanky and tan and sinewed. He looked like a bad man. She'd spoken to no one for so long, except for the cashiers and hotel people. And now this one.)
The man grinned wider. His grin was impossibly white, like a movie star's. The girl found herself staring at his teeth. “Um. I like the number 22?” she said. She looked up at his eyes. His eyes were small and round and pupils black. The man wrote down the number 22. “OK, I need 2 more numbers.”
The girl thought of being coy. “If you win, I get half of the winnings.” She wished she had the bravery to say this. But the words would skip around inside her mouth, so that all that would come out was a “flurgy” and a terribly awkward shaky smile. And god knows last time she brushed her teeth.
The man continued to look at her. He seemed to be studying her. “2 more numbers, Gorgeous,” he said. He grinned again. This time, the right side of his mouth went up higher than the right side; also, his left eye winked. The man wore a leather jacket, and a button (yellow) that said RAILROAD CROSSING, DANGER.
2 more numbers. “Um,” said the girl. “17 and 3.”
“Okey dokie, Lady Luck. Can I have a kiss on the cheek for Luck, Miss Lady?”
The girl blushed. The man leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek. It was the most tender of kisses. Like a warm peach at a picnic under a tree.
Lady Luck, blushing, took her bag of things, and her medium coffee with 5 creamers, and left. She listened to the bell ring as the door shut. She got back into her car. The rain had cleared, although the sky was still wet. The sky, like the asphalt, was still wet. Hello leather. Yellow feather.
The girl put her bag of things in the passenger seat, and her medium coffee with 5 creamers in the cup holder. She slammed the door. She put her forehead on the steering wheel, and wanted to cry – no, she didn't want to cry, she wanted to sob. She shook her head, against the leather wheel, and made a noise in her throat.
In the old movies, when the women swooned they needed smelling salts. Where are the smelling salts? Do they still sell smelling salts?
The girl actually did get dizzy then, thinking about the smelling salts, but it passed and the world righted itself. She unwrapped a stick of Juicy Fruit, unpeeled the aluminum, and stuck the gum in her mouth. Huh. She put her sunglasses on properly, looked in the dashboard mirror and appraised herself – she looked pale. She put on bright red lipstick. She tied her head kerchief tighter. She turned on the engine and was backing out, and there was Mister Grin. He waved at her to roll down her window. She did so. She put her elbow on the window and leaned out. “Yeah?” said the girl.
“Thanks for the numbers,” he said. “If I win, I'll e-mail you and we can split the winnings, eh?”
“That would involve me giving you my e-mail address.”
“That would be true,” he said, and smiled.
She scribbled her yahoo account address on a Post-it and gave it to him. “It's like that movie, with Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue,” she said.
“You mean Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda.”
He knocked his fist on the hood of the car, and smiled. “It could happen to you. Later, Lady.”
She didn't know anyone anymore. No one. How things were to go? How things were to go?? “Bye,” she said, and turned on the wipers and headlights and drove, as the rain started down again. Very suddenly, it started again, until it was like the car was in a swimming pool, driving through a wall of water. She turned on her brights and the radio. It was 6:37pm. In a couple hours, she'd stop at another motel. Her wipers went as fast as they could. They looked like they were psycho. Flip flip flip flip flip. The radio played “Sweet Home Alabama,” almost without static. She started to cry.
Laura Ballou lives in Chicago. She graduated from Roosevelt University in May of 2015, and is currently working on her second novella.