Presented by Jen Michalski, for PANK. For a description of this guest series, click here.
“Public Storage Available Now”
Inside the Queen’s Little Queen® — butter, a toy syringe. Her tender tissues burn as if bee-stung. Spread wider — the Queen lofts three Cheerios in the candlelight. Clot of red thread spirited from the Dowager’s tin sewing kit. A darning needle — the Queen’s Little Queen® bites back a gasp — blackened under a match’s sizzle then mon dieu withdrawn at the last second. Her thighs quake. Chub. Big baby at nearly thirteen. La petite ami since forever. All service. Stocked and restocked — a yellow button now for the Queen’s granny in the nuthouse. Errant dad, his newest hot-shit-in-waiting, their squelchy contortions accomplished to great fanfare in a downtown love-pad — why not this jumbo plug of orange-flavored Bonne Bell lip gloss? Holy merde. Above, cut-out mirrors from Versailles flare, camels and albino elephants from National G sway from safety pins affixed to the bed-sheet canopied along the ceiling. Rubies flicker. An armoire’s carvings of toucans and vines dip and swoop, monkeys chatter like teeth, rumors of an interior inlaid with tiny and tinier white ivory drawers, stuffed. La reine’s dominion laid in by the fistful, the pound. In one of those drawers, a Queen’s Little Queen® — all cunt.
Break time. Ascend the tower stairs to swig grape sodas in the dinky kitchen, where everything is thirty-years’-dated avocado — stove, fridge, high-gloss paint on the cabinets. Very barf. But the Dowager Mom’s money doesn’t grow on trees. Tough titty that she’s out wrapping raw steaks and chicken legs at Giant, tending shelves so she can return long past dark bearing pineapple juice in a can, Hamburger Helper, wormy-like hanks of shredded pink flesh. A carton of chocolate milk to wheedle into the little friend, who tries to refuse heartier sustenance. Things could suck worse than food on the table. Than stale crackers and Star Trek re-runs, up here and not down there. A dead ant. Liquid Plumber by the thimbleful. Love, always. The Little Friend. What her teachers call her. The Goer-Alonger, her mother used to carp, before she turned into a rat, a hunk of spoilt ham, before she turned dead. The Little Friend swirls the last of her soda in the can. Make it last. Please. But the Queen, apple blush on her cheeks, flips her empty into the sink. She claps her hands. Tu! Vite! A kingdom now for that milk. A kingdom, a child-soul, for a birthday soufflé whipped up by the Queen herself, tomorrow’s the big day. A cake. All those eggs, miracles. Girl can dream.
Hurts more this time. Raw knuckles, proliferating talons like newts in a spell. A headful of smoke. Tale of prayer for soft breeze. For doll needs help. Tale of no time to speak. For word buzz, thoughts a whole ball of wax thick as shit. Try beating that with a stick. The Queen, bless her poor thing, gets set to try. Prayer for later, shortcutting across the football field, its pasture of stars above. Below, tarry-night, mud-sky. Tale of what’s not upside down? A plane falls over Lockerbie, flies into the Sea of Japan, cargo screams like Friday afternoon’s football legions in gold and purple, pom-poms and cheers. Somewhere in Columbia ash ascends from a volcano like a squirt gun. The end.
A little bird told her. You’ll be late for your own funeral. Can’t hack it? C’merensaythat. Dirty little. Dead quiet now in her own house. She likes it like that, lives alone — the one trick up her sleeve. Banished rat-corpse mother. Banished father, brother with the cross-stitched mouth. Through the small entryway, busted kitchen, living-room mangle, leave the lights off. C’mere, mother’s ghost says. In the dark, Father’s too, pleading. In the dark, brother begs from his toy soldiers. Fat chance for any of that. Nearly all grown up. She plays Bang a Gong in her bedroom. Her AP English paper is due nine sharp the next morning. Get it on. C’merensaythat. She wields her magic pens. Dirty little. Paradise Lost, she writes then scratches out, a little bird told her. She writes, scratches out some more.
Time again. Always restless, she’s off. Middle of the night. Leaves skirl on the sharp wind. She unzips her jacket, bucks across the frost field. She craves bacon, toast. Ice water and tepid tea by the pitcherful. The stars swarm like burning bees in a dark meadow, like a swift black current hard to compass — but in her knapsack, magic pens, two pages of her essay to pave her path. By dawn she’s brewing a nice strong pot in the avocado kitchen, hot head finally cooling to Miltonic inversions, AP better believe, Miss Smarty-Pants, Smarty-merde. Dowager mom expresses tired surprise when she gets up. She stands in her nightie, grey curls mopped to one side of her crumpled-looking head, mug in hand. She sniffs the steam. Her sleepy eyes flutter. Her other hand reaches, bestows the chuck beneath the chin. Golden. Then exit the mom to her shower. Enter the Queen. Shit gets real. Happy birthday shots? Back of the freezer, vodka. When the mom’s gone for good for the day, down the stairs, where once more upon a time the Queen bends to her task. Time swells. Tale of third-period French then major doobage bien sur behind the portables with Alan and Soledad, the other friends, remember them? With their skin too dark, too fair, bulging smiley faces hiving, constellating a future the Queens’ Little Queen® at thirteen clearly, despite the alcohol, divines. Tale of splitsville, infinite envois. She swells. Massive stealth. Nearly misses when the Queen next withdraws her hand. What have we here? the Queen says. I mean, she says, like what the fuck?
The Queen’s Little Queen® — late bloomer, scrap, finally commencer of first menses — demurs. Nothing, she says. Nothing, she vows, that she will not go on to do. Empress. Lush heat roaring free.
Elise Levine is the author of the story collection Driving Men Mad and the novel Requests and Dedications. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including Blackbird, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and Best Canadian Stories. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Dickinson College and teaches in Chatham University’s low-residency MFA program.