Lottie by Harford Hopson

Editor Sarah Orizaga, Fiction, April 10th, 2019

" I could never stand the sun because it always made people see stuff they couldn’t usually see."

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Fiction by Harford Hopson

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          I looked in the mirror, and brushed my hair in a circular motion like my Ma showed me how. Coats of grease all on my hands. The sticky hugged my fingers. I spread the curls, pulled them to the ceiling then let them bounce. The petroleum stink sat on top of me while I picked at the dandruff. Flake after flake after flake, the white never went away. The crumbs settled inside the zinc along with the loose curls of hair raked out from combing. My hair was the bomb. But it was never right like the other boys. Ma liked to joke that one day she wouldn’t recognize me anymore.

          Outside, giggles and screams, the good kind like from an amusement park, came through the walls. The patter of shoe soles came after. Miranda. The butterflies scratched my stomach.

          Then the song grew.

          If you got quiet and closed your eyes, you could hear it from almost anywhere.

          It was the ice cream man, singing his song. My favorite song.

          I charged out of the bathroom, raced through the foyer and finally shoved the front door wide open. Into the burning heat I went. The bright rain had just stopped and I was sunned. Hot jumped into my mouth as if I ate Chapstick. I could never stand the sun because it always made people see stuff they couldn’t usually see.

          The ice cream man was parked on our side of the street. He wore shades and was bent out of the window the way ice cream men do, at the waist, waiting for all the kids to come look up at him.

          Then he seemed to notice me. I thought I’d smile to make a good first impression.

          I dug inside my pocket down to my knee for change and squeezed the coins so tight that I ripped my pocket when I pulled what I had from my shorts but alas when I looked up the ice cream man was gone up the street.

          The engine gurgle disappeared fast.

          The jingle faded.

          Out of sight. That wasn’t my ice cream truck and it sure wasn’t my song. Black smoke spread the air and the rubber roast barbecued my face as I dragged myself slowly past Miranda.

          She sat pretzel-style, on top of the electrical box, hammering away at a SpongeBob Popsicle in her fist. I found myself in the patch of grass where the dogs pooed. I stepped in poo here waiting for the bus once. Now I could’ve rolled in it for all I cared.

          Me and Miranda both lived in Deer Run. It was pleasant. I hardly knew anything else. When I first moved here a couple years ago Miranda was the first person I ever met. It happened on the bus, the first day of school. I climbed into the bus when I found her wiggling her fingers inside the ripped upholstery, tickling the cotton under the butt part. It repulsed me. I knew then, that there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t touch. All the other seats were full of eyes, so many eyes from the older kids in the back that my ears started to blaze hot as the bus hummed quietly, so I hesitated where she sat, thinking she would notice me. Miranda looked up, slid to make room and said, “I never sat nexta anybody likou buhfore.”

          The compliment made me feel as though I was the only boy in the whole wide world.

          Of course, she was my friend after that.

          From day one she electrified me.

          Miranda stood there beating the Popsicle to death in her left hand. The wrapper was peeled down banana-style, as if she were puppetting the paper.

          “Ice creamman says I got good form,” she said as she caught a chunk of sponge on her chin and scooped it into her mouth.

          “…What?”

          “Yeor juss jealous,” Miranda said. “He said he was gonna turn my life into ice creamland and gimme all the whipped cream I wanted! His name is Mr. Dingaling. But I’m keepin it secret cus he said to!”

          She was a tattle. A snitch. My dandruff issue became a thing of the past.

          “Well his name can’t really be Mr. Ding-a-Ling. That’s nobody’s name.”

          “How wouldjoo know, you didn getta Popsicle?”

          The words and melted ice cream gargled between her lips as she spoke. I never saw anything so nasty come from anyone’s mouth. SpongeBob’s eye was somehow stuck to Miranda’s cheek. Red and yellow foam slid in globs down her mouth. Gunk drizzled between her butt chin. She’d clearly never eaten ice cream before.

          “I really don’t know why he didn’t wait for me,” I said, lifelessly. “That never ever happened to me before.”

          “Maybe he’s juss jaundiced,” she said, slurping away.

          “What’s that mean?”

          “Like when you dohn’t like somebody cus they got bad skin.”

          “I don’t think that’s right.”

          She stopped for a quick second, daydream like.

          “So when yeor awl jaundiced you see people with bad skin, mhm, my uncle said alotuv people in Blare got it. Arsh Calflicks.”

          Miranda plucked SpongeBob’s eye from her cheek and reached out to give it to me. She waited there. The black dye from the gumball rinsed away to the white like bone and a spit lake huddled in the middle of her palm.

          “You’re a hot mess,” I said.

          “Maybe Mr. Dingaling didn unnerstandjoo were friends with me,” she continued.

          I took the gumball. I never ate off anyone before. I couldn’t help but watch the gunk webbing both corners of her mouth as I chewed slowly, trying not to throw up.

          Miranda’s teeth weren’t great at all. They were jagged to smithereens, sharp and stained red from the Popsicle. She had hobo pearlies and smiled anyway. She was a particular kind of girl.

          Miranda stood up, dragging her bruised neon shoes as they grunted and squealed across the electrical box. She stretched to her tippy toes and her bony ankles cracked. Next thing I knew, she leapt off the box, projecting into the sky like a magenta acrobat. She mashed into a patch of buttercups and when she landed, fat raindrops flew up from the hot puddles, her hair rowdy just like the splashing water. The earth skipped still. The flowers seemed to bloom and curl around her light-up shoes.

          “Wer playin dressup!” she shouted as she whipped around.

          “What’s dress up?”

          “Like when you put onna costume and perten!”

          “Like a dress?”

          “Peraps,” she said, “if we can find one!”

          “I don’t know,” I said, holding a buttercup under my chin. “I don’t know if boys put on dresses.”

          “But yer a man! Arn’t ya?”

          “That’s not—”

          “Smatter with you!” she cried out, rushing up to me and grabbing my neck and chin to inspect. “You dohn’t like butter!”

          “Uh…why not?” I asked, while she planted and peeled her hands all over my face.

          “Cus, cus if you didjer skin would turn yellow, peraps.  And thirdly, yeor chin is still brown.”

          I knew better. She couldn’t count, but Miranda sounded right.

          “I probably just have different genes or something,” I said.

          “Wull duh, yer icky,” she said, wiping her hands on her shorts as if I was some crime she was trying to wipe off. “You icky man.”

          “Now I don’t know if I really like butter anymore. I coulda swore I did.”

          “Let’s godo my house and figer out!”

          “I’m not supposed to go over anybody’s house when my parents are gone,” I whispered to her. “My Ma said there’s always somebody watching.”

          “I got popsicles inna fridgerator, I promise!”

          We travelled up the hill. Me and Miranda both lived on Jeannette Way, on the same side. The parking spaces in front of each house were all empty mostly. All the parents were at work. From the looks of it there were no witnesses.

          We got to Miranda’s house, turning onto her walkway when I hesitated.

          She went ahead to the steps, prancing to just before the door.

          “Cmoooooooooooooon,” she whispered enormously from the top step.

          I stood where I was, shook my head, and simply pointed at a praying mantis at the top step with the pinchers curled. I didn’t like that thing staring at me.

          The thing was, I knew it was probably scared of me. Yeah well it scared me too. That’s how most things were. And now Miranda was going to know I was scared. So much for being a man.

          Miranda bent down and pinched the neck of the mantis. Its limbs stretched out to reach for anything, probably wanting to just die if Miranda wasn’t going to let go. It was a frightening circus act and I could not take my eyes off her. She shrieked but stayed calm as the mantis flapped and buzzed against her hand.

          She tossed it underhand, it dipped for a second, and then it took flight. I watched the mantis fly all the way until I couldn’t see it anymore, then I ran the pathway and jumped up the steps toward Miranda.

          “Hurry!” I cried out.

          “Fraidy cat,” she said, rolling her eyes. “That thing never did nun to you.”

          She spread her fingers around the doorknob. Next to that, a police sticker was glued on the screen door. I peered into the darkness through the fog fingerprints on the glass.

          “Your dad’s a cop?” I asked.

          “Yeah.”

          “In Baltimore?”

          “No. Balmer Cownee pleece.”

          “What if he arrests me for coming in?”

          Before I knew it, Miranda was in the orange haze and shadow of her house.

          “Come on,” she whispered again from the mysterious portal.

          The cool air dragged me in. Pimples rose like a thousand suns all over my shoulders. The carpet was white. Lint lollygagged around the air. The yellow sun honey light beamed in the family room in blocks cut by the windows and Miranda turned to honey, too. Yup, jaundiced, just like she talked about. Something about coming in felt inviting, even though it was forbidden.

          A cross was nailed to the wall near the front door above the console. Ma always told me we were Baptist and I never took it seriously. I never felt very Baptist. For some reason seeing this cross made me believe that God really was here.

          At once Miranda spun around and raced for the kitchen.

          I started to chase her there until I slid on the carpet.

          I stopped.

          I looked down on the ground. Mud bunched the bottom of my shoe. Crooked grass branched out from the brown around the sole, all on this clean carpet.

          Miranda’s parents would kill me.

          I took my shoes off, threw them in the corner near the door and ran toward the kitchen. Miranda wouldn’t tell on me. There was no time to believe she wouldn’t.

          I froze where the carpet turned into kitchen floor. I sunk into the staples, looking in awe. My feet stung. Locked on her tippy toes, Miranda stretched up to the sink to wash her hands, humming while she did it. She scrubbed them dead. The bones in her back moved violently like the devil banging the walls of a blown bubble.

          Maybe she wasn’t a hot mess at all. I looked down at my feet again. Maybe I was the mess.

          Then she was at the fridge, yanking open the freezer with all her weight. Thick tubs of frozen black cherry sherbet jam-packed every shelf inside. She reached in and ripped them all out and they hammered the linoleum around her feet. Had she ever felt pain? I winced. Her toes would’ve purpled from the pails.

          I carried one of them up to the counter, trying to tear the top off with both hands until the plastic dug to bone and I couldn’t take it anymore. A man would’ve been able to do it.

          “Dohn’t opennat!” Miranda cried out. “That’s pig blud silly.”

          Suddenly being here seemed dangerous. More, please.

          “What?” I asked, walking toward her.

          “My pap, he guts dem pig at his farm up Jarrettsville and we take the blud and make sassages from it, blud sassages,” Miranda said impatiently. “Gettin the blud is a whole event and my family all gathers round to see the pig hangin there kilt. Pap lemme get the jugaler once. You juss gotta work it in the heart and pump betweena shoulder and neck.’ Cus affer the neck the pig aingot no more lefta give. The muscles wiggled alot inna beginning. Everyfink stayed quiet wholl it screamed and suffered. It was so scared cus it knew it was gonna die. Then it gave up.”

          The whole thing sounded gross, but then again I had Miranda’s soggy gum in my mouth.

          “Did you feel bad?”

          “It couldna been worse than that piggy had to go through.”

          Would I ever get to kill a pig?

          No.

          Not ever.

          I put the blood down and wiped the frost on my shorts. I went over to the kitchen table, climbing up the wobbly stool.

          A faded, little cream TV sat on the kitchen table. Dust scattered the screen. Some kind of boring news was on. Dried up Old Bay browned the Sun papers laid out all over the table. I wondered how they ate in these conditions.

          “Juss push the noosepapers out the way.” Miranda said. “You want some butter?”

          “No thanks.”

          “I knew it was true,” she said, pausing to shake her head. I twisted back toward the TV.

          “Are there foxes in animal crackers?” I asked.

          “No!” Miranda cried out. “Cus you can’t catcha fox. There special sneaky!”

          “Who’re your parents voting for?”

          “Bushes!” she said, whipping around away from the freezer. She fluttered her eyes. “And how bout yeors?”

          “Kerry.”

          Miranda’s eyes bloomed up fear.

          “If you dohn’t vohte for Bushes you dohn’t got morals! And Kerry dohn’t got morals. Only branch managers and sissies vohte for Kerry, yup. Specially sissies.”

          She swung the freezer shut and her sticky feet tore from the floor. She ran upstairs, leaving me with this mess. If I stayed there eventually it’d be my fault.

          So, I followed her.

          From the hallway I heard drawers shuffling inside Miranda’s room. That dull squeal they like to make. A warm flurry of blood spaghettied all down my insides. My heart was finally beating.

          It would’ve popped if not for Miranda.

          I went in and looked around the blind black. Burgundy curtains spilled down the walls. They made the room seem kind of bloody.

          This wasn’t what I thought Miranda’s room would look like at all. I didn’t know anyone else my age with an ironing board. I guess she was mature.

          Miranda’s arms submerged inside the dresser against the wall, fingers scraping the wood, elbow deep in the mashed potato clothes like she was helping make dinner.

          “What’re you looking for in there,” I whispered.

          She rammed the drawers shut and vanished off into the closet. The black inside took her. All the stuff sitting on the drawer wiggled long after she was gone, until the stampede of miniature horse figurines finally rattled over on their sides.

          I made the right choice to sit them upright, perfectly how they were.

          No way I was getting arrested now.

          The closet light was turned on. I pushed my head through the door cranny. Kerosene smell. I peered around the door to find Miranda buried in clothes up to the hip, head, arms and hands peaking at the top like pus. We weren’t in her room at all.

          She cackled. She ripped shirts off the hangers. Broken plastic flew everywhere. I shouldered the door and shot inside the closet, falling into a sleeve swamp. My fingers swam the silky guts. I realized how serious it was for me to be in her parents’ closet. People’s clothes could tell you a lot.

          “What’s your Ma do?” I asked.

          “She’s a treasure! She holds awl the secret treasures inner offiss buildin!”

          “Whoa,” I whispered. “What’s her name?”

          “Charlotte—Lottie fer short. She said she’s invisible…sometimes I believer.”

          I shook away from the pile of clothes immediately and started to quiver.

          The mud downstairs…the food on the floor.

          Maybe Ms. Charlotte already knew about all of it. I realized I was completely inside the closet. In a trap. I thought about that pig, how it knew it was going to die.

          “Why didn’t you tell me she was invisible before we came all the way up here?!” I whispered. “I could be killed!”

          “Perfick!” Miranda said, sliding two shirts apart on the rack. “The swing set!”

          With a jump and a tug, a rope came dropping down to the floor from the clothesline. All that was left hanging were two towering, spotless robes in the middle, with snow cone hats connected to them.

          And just then I remembered…I’d never gotten my Popsicle.

          I gave up on that promise.

          “My parents got married innese before I was born,” Miranda said. “My mom said the masks was for when people cried so nobody would get embarrassed.”

          “That makes sense,” I said.

          “Wanna get married right now?”

          “I dunno if I’m ready.” I didn’t know I was gonna cry.

          “Boy yeor fraid of everyfink.”

          I was a boy again.

          She lunged at one of the robes and when she yanked it the hanger bent. It finally gave and the robe snapped off, with Miranda falling backward over the hill of clothes, cheesing the whole way.

          I laughed at her.

          She bubbled underneath the robe, giggling. She seemed to be wrestling a marshmallow. Wrestling herself. I followed her lead, pulling the other robe down and the whole thing fell over me too. It was mine now. It moved down my body, brightening me, the static hugging me, electrifying me just like Miranda did the first day we met. I wasn’t terrified anymore. I don’t know if I ever was.

          My Ma definitely wouldn’t recognize me now.

          I exhaled once I got my head through and it was girly to think, but the robe sparkled forever. I’d never seen anything so clean before.

          “We don’t have the church guy,” I whispered. “Or a vest either.”

          “We dohn’t need no church. My parents didit inna barn.”

          “We don’t have rings either,” I said.

          “I got sum for us both.”

          She dug into the mounds of clothes beside us. She removed two Capri Suns. Tropical Blast. We snapped the straws off the juicies. She took my pouch and stabbed the straw in. Then I did hers. We sipped them together.

          “By the power vested in me,” I said, “I protest us husband and wife.”

          In our robes, giant like glaciers, we plopped down next to each other on the pile of clothes. She turned and led with her butt chin, pecking me on the cheek. Miranda dug into my hair and twirled her icy fingers in the greasy loops.

          “Yeor hair is goopy,” she said. “Didjoo even look inna meer this mornin?”

          I hoped she wouldn’t be able to see my white flakes.

          I think she did.

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Header image courtesy of Brett Amory. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

Harford Hopson is a writer from Baltimore, Maryland. In his formative years he was uprooted and displaced to Pennsylvania, where he was force-fed hog maw by Quakers and made to watch Steelers football. He is the author of the crime drama novel, Amusement Only and his other work has appeared in Your Impossible Voice and End of 83.
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Sarah Orizaga

Sarah is a fiction writer living in Portland, OR with her wife and cat. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University and a BA in International Development from Portland State University. Sarah is new to the NAILED team and is excited to read fiction that serves the soul through a unique view of the everyday. She is constantly on the lookout for new and emerging voices that explore culture and identity in fresh, positive ways. When she's not reading, writing, or editing you can find her watching true crime series and anything narrated by David Attenborough.