A simple premise; a bold promise
To present one story per day, every day—
providing exceptional authors with exposure
and avid readers with first-rate fiction.

Today's Story by Julianne Pachico

Before entering the Shark Tank the security guard sniffed the contents of my Nalgene and poured the last of my Brazilian liquor out on the sidewalk.

Emergencies Only

Her feet in the sandals were bright red with cold. She was standing by the Walgreens entrance, staring at the rows of umbrellas on sale. I was heading towards the sliding glass doors when she spoke.

“I can’t tell how much these umbrellas cost,” she said. “It’s such a giant clusterfuck.”

Her name was Samantha and she spoke with a faint Irish accent. I learned later that she immigrated to New Jersey to live with a foster family when she was eight. She’d taken the bus down from Seattle to see a show by her favorite band, Naked Chicks Reading. “I never miss them. I go every two years, like clockwork. I’m contributing so much to their kids’ college funds.” Me and Kiara were doing that thing again where we would drunkenly pass out in the same bed and then go two weeks without texting, let alone speaking, so I technically had nothing to feel guilty about by asking Samantha out for a drink.

We met at the Tiger Bar downtown. The last time I was there, I’d met a man in his sixties carrying snowshoes that he said were for the prostitute he was taking up to Mt. Hood the next day. We’d drunk glass after glass of white wine together as we talked. “What’s her name?” I’d asked.

“The prostitute? Emily.”

“So you and Emily are going up to Mt. Hood?”

“Yeah yeah, me and the prostitute.”

At least the place was close to my apartment.

She showed up wearing a thin yellow sweater and took it off to reveal a tight blue halter-top that showed off the pale strip of her belly. Her outfit reminded me of something the seventh grade girls I tutored would wear during the summer. She also wore Uggs, so if nothing else her feet must have been warm.

“How was the show?” was my first question, and she was like, “well, the tambourine players were blocked by the giant onstage speakers so I only got to see them during the encore, when everybody rushed the stage.” I nodded along like I knew exactly what she was talking about but the truth is it took all of my strength to keep my eyes from drifting down to her belly. I’d been feeling pretty nervous earlier, so I’d taken some shots of Brazilian sugarcane liquor back at my apartment before walking over.

(Actually, I’ll be honest: what I really did was fill up my metallic Nalgene bottle with the licorice-smelling stuff and then sip it while walking the same block past Payless Shoe Source over and over again. It wasn’t the first time I had done this before, either—it always made me feel like a homeless person, drifting, like I had nowhere else to go.)

She ordered apple juice with rum and chewed on the straw while I had my usual, whiskey with two limes. “So when are you going back to Seattle?” was my next question, and she was like, “actually, I was thinking this morning about moving here. There are always advantages and disadvantages to every situation, you know? I was in this really bad car accident last week, for example, and my car got totaled, and just, well, I don’t want to be one of those ‘annoying’ people—” (she made bunny rabbit ears with her fingers when she said “annoying,” like she was going to put it in quotation marks, but then she never actually bent her fingers) “—who are always going on and on about their near death experiences and oh my god, how it really changed them and made them such better people and so much more appreciative of life—you know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I do.” I could hear the leftover liquor in the Nalgene sloshing around as I jiggled my leg.

“Bad things happen to good people all the time,” she said. “Like New Jersey, in my case. There’s no need to make such a fuss about it.”

We had two drinks each and then she said she wanted to go dancing. Before leaving she went to the bathroom for a really long time and I wondered if she was either throwing up like Kiara used to do when we first met in college or if she was snorting prescription ADD medication like I used to do back when I had really good health insurance. When she finally returned, she didn’t seem more or less smiley, just normal, and she linked her arm with mine as we walked out into the street. Guiding her around the giant puddles, I told her the snowshoe story and she laughed, a sound that made my heart rise in my chest. Oh, before we left the bar we had a shot of whiskey together—I should have mentioned that earlier.

I took her to a nightclub that used to be called Sweetheart and played all the really good trashy dance songs I was secretly embarrassed about liking. It was now called Shark Tank and had a Hawaiian tikki theme. The first thing Samantha did was ask the DJ if he could play some reggaeton. The next thing we did was order more shots.

Now, after this things get a bit hazy. Before entering the Shark Tank the security guard sniffed the contents of my Nalgene and poured the last of my Brazilian liquor out on the sidewalk—I should have mentioned that first. In the club, though—what happened? She went to the bathroom again and was gone for a really long time. While looking for her I somehow ended up in the kitchen, where she telling the manager about how she’d trained her pet guinea pigs for the circus as a child (I hadn’t heard this story in full yet, but I would soon). What else. While dancing we didn’t touch, but when we left she pressed herself against my arm and we both walked back to my apartment together without saying out loud that that’s where we were going.

I went to the bathroom to throw up in the sink and when I came back she was sitting at my desk heating a spoon with a lighter. The contents of her purse were spilled all over my tutoring syllabuses for next week.

“Have you ever seen anyone shoot up before?” she said, and I shook my head as I sat down on the edge of the bed. I tugged the comforter over a stain left by Kiara the last time she was here, when she was on her period. She pulled out a brown leather belt and wrapped it tightly around her arm, tucking the buckle under her butt.

That was my first date with Samantha. Believe me, I know what it looks like.

“I know what it looks like,” she said. “But it’s not what you think. It’s like when I had to buy potato chips at the Chinese food stand: for emergencies only.”

She explained it to me while I lay with my head tucked under her chin, my knees looped under her legs like we were shoelaces trying to clumsily tie ourselves closer together. One of her New Year’s Resolutions was to give up potato chips. “There’s nothing wrong with them per se—it’s just that I’m always eating them. They’re my default snack food.” On the ride down from Seattle, the bus stopped for a forty-minute delay in Vancouver at four in the morning. Desperate with hunger, she’d approached the Chinese food stand, the only place still open in the entire station. She’d made her decision immediately, buying one packet of Lays and three of Doritos, and ate them right there in the lobby, one after another. I found some crumbs on her pants the next morning, but even if I hadn’t I would have still known she was telling the truth.

As we were lying there together and she was telling me this, the strangest feeling came over me. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to put it into words, but I’ll try. I had the feeling like the mattress underneath us was a raft, and the crumpled white sheets pushing up against our elbows and hips was the water streaming past us, carrying the raft away. We might have been getting pulled towards a waterfall, or a whirlpool, or out into the great expanses of the ocean, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that for a moment, I had the feeling like we had to try to hold onto each others bodies as tightly as possible, because that was the only way to prevent each other from getting swept away. But just as soon as the feeling came over me, it was gone, and I was left with Samantha’s calm, soft voice lapping against me, talking about her guinea pigs and how she’d trained them to walk across tightropes, and the faraway blue and red flashes of a police car reflected in the raindrops on the window.

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I remember is waking up with that jumpy feeling you get when you’re in a strange place and not sure where you are. My tongue tasted terrible and I sucked at the empty bottle of water on the bedside table until its plastic walls caved in. Then the bathroom door opened and Samantha came out, wiping her mouth. “Where are my shoes?” she asked. “My bus leaves at nine-thirty.”

We couldn’t find her sweater either. Looking for them was so overwhelming that I crawled back into bed in a fetal position and she lay down next to me, tucking her legs over mine. Her feet were so cold that just being near them gave me goosebumps all over. Don’t go, I wanted to say, stay, but I didn’t. All of a sudden I could see my head resting in her lap, a needle sticking out of my arm and our eyes closed together in pure junkie bliss. It would have been so easy to just open my mouth and ask. It was like there was a staircase in front of me and all I had to do was put my foot down, place my shoe upon the very first step, but at the very last moment I wavered and backed away—I couldn’t do it. The words hung in my mouth like a thin string I could trip over; I was a guinea pig that couldn’t balance.

“I’m going to miss my bus,” she said. I turned my head and we kissed each other on the lips once, like we were tasting something. “What was your name again?” she asked.

I almost said Emily but instead I told her that my nickname in college had been Clitoris, a practice started by Kiara (although I didn’t mention that, of course). People called me that partly because it rhymed with my real name, and partly because of other reasons. I wanted the “other reasons” part to make her laugh but it didn’t. Instead she just lay there without moving, her fingers drumming against my lower back, and my heart sank in my chest.

“I have to go,” she said again. “How did we get home last night?” I couldn’t tell her. The last thing I remembered was the warm vomit spewing through my fingers in the bathroom, which reminded me that I hadn’t turned the faucet on, and that Samantha had just been in there. All these thoughts coming one after another like that were making my body feel like a giant helium balloon blowing up with shame. Things can’t keep going on like this, I wanted to say, but of course I didn’t. Things can’t continue the way they’ve been.

I walked her down to my apartment building’s exit. “Aw!” Samantha said as we passed a potted plant in the hallway. I followed her gaze and saw a tiny pair of children’s shoes there on the floor. When she picked them up I saw that they were no bigger than the palm of my hand.

“Wow!” I said. It sounds crazy, but at the moment it seemed like a miracle that something could be that small and still be whole: toes, nails, the works. For a brief second hot tears sprung to my eyes.

“Wait!” I said when she was unbuckling her purse. I held out my hand like I was giving her something, but she didn’t hesitate, immediately dropping the shoes into my palm. I held them for a second, just enough to feel how light they were, before letting them fall back onto the floor.

“Too bad they wouldn’t fit me,” she said, and it was only then I noticed that she was wearing the sandals again. Where they came from, I have no idea; she must have pulled them out of her purse—maybe she kept them tightly wrapped up in there with the belt.

“Bye Clitoris,” she said, kissing me on the cheek. “Make sure you look for my sweater, okay?” I just stood there without moving, the sliding doors bouncing on and off my shoulders, uncommitted to being either in or out. I was starting to feel the hangover for real now, and I knew I was going to spend yet another day throwing up into a bucket next to my bed. Just like that, another weekend would be gone from me, slipped from my fingers. And just like that she was gone, walking down the street. I watched the backs of her arms retreat. They were streaked with thin red lines, as though she’d been scratching herself, or maybe they were faint scars: flying glass from a car wreck, a knife held in New Jersey,  emergency numbers dialed long ago.

There were lots of things I had to do that weekend that I didn’t do, like call my health insurance, work on my tutoring syllabuses and go to this charity pancake breakfast. I remember what I did first, though. I went for a walk around the block, and I ended up right back at Walgreens, standing in front of those umbrellas. I picked one covered in thin black sequins, like it was made of tiny jewels, and took it up to the cash register. I chose that particular one because I liked the way it sparkled, and because it reminded me of something that I couldn’t remember, like something from my childhood that I couldn’t put into words. It was the Somali man’s shift that morning and he scanned it for me so that I could see how much it cost.

“Not a bad idea,” he said as he took my debit card. “It never hurts to be prepared.” I looked right back at him like I knew exactly what he meant, but I didn’t really. You see, I never learn.


Julianne Pachico lives in Norwich, England and tries to blog at never-stop-reading.com. She has been published in VoiceCatcher, Halfway Down the Stairs, Line Zero and the Mad Scientist Journal.


To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page