By Elizabeth Maria Naranjo
I get lost counting pockmarks in the ceiling tiles. Under my pillow, the cell phone buzzes and I tap the snooze bar without looking. I can’t lose count. Fifty-three, fifty-four, zzzz, zzzz. Tap. I’m too heavy to get up.
What I mean is—there is this heavy magnetic center in me that pulls all my efforts through it. Like a black hole, although that’s such a lame metaphor. I wanted to be a poet once, but now I can’t imagine being anything; the future’s too much to think about. Like I know I have to go to school, but I’m caught up in what it takes getting there: climbing out of bed, brushing my teeth, taking a shower, washing my face, putting on makeup, combing my hair. Getting dressed. Fuck.
“Myrna.” My mother sweeps by the door, trailing silvery vapors of energy like some fairy tale. “You’re going to be late.”
I consider not getting up, period. But then I’ll have to listen to the weighty judgment of her silence all day long. She works evenings. She’ll be careful not to wake me, and then I’ll get thirsty enough at noon to roll out of bed and shuffle to the kitchen for orange juice, and her condescension will be marked on every surface like fingerprints only I can see.
She pokes her head in the doorway, and I get up. “Okay,” I say.
“Did you sleep good?”
Is she being sarcastic? Sincere? Either way I hate the tone of her voice. “Sure.”
She stiffens, her eyes shading over. “Fine.”
I grab a pair of jeans off the floor and pass her on the way to the bathroom, pretending not to hear her exasperated sigh. It makes my skin crawl, the way I know she’s thinking, How did I end up with such a lazy fucking daughter?
I’m not lazy. I’m just tired.
“Maybe you need to see a professional,” my friend Andy says, setting her lunch tray on the cold gray slab of the cafeteria table. “Get some meds or something.”
Andy sweeps her blonde sheet of hair over one shoulder. I used to be kind of jealous of her hair, but you can’t do anything with it; I’ve tried braiding it for her a hundred times, and the strands just slip through my fingers. When I curl it, no matter how much hair spray I use, her curls pull free within hours. I like my own hair; that is the one thing I do like. It’s thick and dark, and I get compliments on it all the time. But Andy has better boobs.
“Hey, do you remember when we used to have slumber parties?” I ask. “And we did that stupid exercise thing to make our boobs bigger?” I start to laugh, and Andy’s eyes get big and she looks around her, all nervous.
“Shut up! You’re so embarrassing. What made you think of that, anyway?” She rolls her eyes. “We were so weird.”
“I don’t know; I just thought of it.” I’m still laughing; I can’t help it. Andy’s stone face turns watery and her image drips away. I feel around the table for my napkin and dab at my cheeks. The muscles in my belly ache. “I miss when being weird was fun.”
Andy shrugs and picks the pepperoni off her pizza. She’s forever on some new diet. A few weeks ago she didn’t eat carbs. Now she’s cutting back on protein because she says it has more calories per gram, or something. She always looks the same to me—not skinny, not fat. When I told her this once she said, “Those are the kind of girls that get fat later.”
She tears off a piece of crust and nibbles at it. Then she shoves the tray aside and wraps her hands around her water bottle, clicking her perfectly manicured fuchsia nails on the plastic. “Meds,” she repeats. “Just tell someone you’re depressed, that you think about cutting yourself. They’ll give you some Paxil or Prozac or whatever.”
“I don’t think about cutting myself.”
“No, you just say that, and then you get the meds.”
“If they don’t fucking lock me up.”
“Whatever. I’ve gotta meet Joe.” She leaves and throws away her carton full of food. Joe’s her boyfriend. They’ve been together six months now, and she comes over less and less. I get it. She’s growing out of our friendship, and I’m growing out of the world.
At home I Google “depression” but the definitions don’t describe me. I’m not “blue.” Or “sad.” Or “down in the dumps.” I don’t feel anything definable at all.
“How can you live like this?” My mother is standing in the doorway, looking at my room with a pinched expression: like she’s staring into a toilet that’s flushing the wrong way. I try to see it the way she does, but what I see are piles of clothes, empty soda cans, bottles of lotion, school papers, stuffed animals, lots of books. I see myself, and my mother sees shit.
“Well?” she demands.
“I don’t know.”
Her eyes get dark and she looks like she’s made a decision about something. She storms in and grabs a crumpled bag of chips off the floor. She balls it up and shakes her fist at me, unleashing an arc of potato chip shrapnel. “This is ridiculous, Myrna. Your room is a pigsty. Is this how you want to live? What if you want to invite a boyfriend over? Think he’ll be impressed?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
Her shoulders slump and she tosses the bag in the garbage. “I meant later,” she says softly.
I’m fifteen. She means now.
There’s a boy at school that’s okay; I catch him looking at me sometimes. His name’s Ken and his eyes are the color of smoked glass. Once he told me I have pretty hair. His face was bright red when he said it. I didn’t know what to say. That’s one problem: I never can think fast enough to talk to people. Except Andy, and like I said, she’s with Joe now.
My mom’s staring at me, waiting. She doesn’t look mad anymore, and I say, “I’ll clean my room later, okay? I have to go to work.”
I work at Burger Town. Go ahead and laugh. It’s a job. It pays money. I go in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, sometimes Saturday nights. The work’s okay, but Paula, the night manager, hates me. I have no idea why. She’s loud and brassy and wears a lot of sparkly makeup: glitter pink lip gloss, shimmering lime eye shadow, although she must be in her thirties. She talks to me in third person:
“Myrna’s here, oh boy. Let’s see if she remembers to punch in so I don’t have to write out another fucking time clock correction.”
“Myrna’s looking cheery as ever today. Better stick her in the back before she makes the rest of us look bad.”
Paula almost always makes me work the back because no one likes it, dipping the fryers and wrapping the burgers. I like it, though. That’s what she doesn’t know.
Today Paula’s not there; instead, standing behind the counter is Dean Fricks. Dean’s cool—we both like mystery novels and Burger Town’s original chocolate cheesecake pies. He was the night manager until his promotion last year, and I rarely see him anymore. But when we worked the same shift we traded Agatha Christies and Rita Mae Browns, and he sometimes called me SP, code for “Sneaky Pie,” because he says I’m sneaky like a cat and always steal his chocolate cheesecake pies. Which is kind of true about the pies. He’s tall and skinny and wears a white collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a tie. A tie to work at Burger Town! But somehow he makes that look like the most natural thing, and he never gets his clothes dirty. I glance down, suddenly conscious of my wrinkled uniform. When I look up again, he’s grinning.
“Myrna, hey there. I’ve got you on cashier duty.” He winks and hands me an apron.
“Keeping your grades up?”
I punch my code in the register and the evening is swallowed in pleasant beeps and rings and orders and the click of cards sliding through debit machines. It’s not bad facing so many people because I already know what to say; the phrases are in the employee handbook. For example, here comes a young mother with a baby on her hip, and I say:
“Hi, are you ready to order?”
“Mmmm.” She’s scanning the menu behind me and I make a funny face at the baby. His cheeks bunch up in a smile; what a smile! He coos and gurgles and waves his fat little fingers.
“I know— I’ll have that double burger deal, small, with a bottled water.”
“And a chocolate milk for my little guy.”
“I think he likes you.”
That throws me; after an awkward pause I say, “That’ll be $7.29, please,” and then, because it seems rude not to add something, I ask, “How old is he?”
She swipes her card. Click. “A year last week. He’s teething.”
“I can see that,” I say, stupidly.
At home, I twist on the shower and step in the hot water. I scrub my skin raw, until the scent of strawberry shampoo overtakes the thick yellow smell of French fries. My hands trail down and I rub wide circles on my abdomen and pretend it’s just a little swollen. I imagine what my baby will look like, one day. It’ll be a boy, and I’ll be such a good mother it won’t matter if I never do anything else right. He won’t care if I leave the laundry folded on the bed or leave the bed sheets wrinkled on the floor. He’ll love me just the way I am, always, and I’ll never have to pretend.
I Google “Baby Boy Names” and stay awake half the night looking for him. Aiden: Irish; little fire. Allen: Scottish; handsome. Anthony: Latin; priceless one. Sometime around 1:00 a.m. I decide on the name Matthew: gift of God, and then I remember there’s a history test. I text Andy, “Did u study 4 hist. test?” She texts back, “Are u fuckin crazee? Its middle of night!”
I fall asleep with my hand on my belly.
I flunk the history test, but on the way to lunch I run into Ken, and this time when he says, “Hey, Myrna,” I look right into his eyes and smile and say, “Hey,” back. The whole way to the cafeteria I have a hard time catching my breath.
In English I try to pay attention, but my mind keeps drifting. There’s a long pyramid of light projecting through the window and I’m sitting in its center. The warmth pulls my eyes closed; I prop an elbow on the desk and rest my head against my hand in a kind of droopy salute so the teacher won’t notice. In my dreams her voice is sand blowing in a desert and I’m sleeping in the cradle of a dune. I’m getting buried in the sand, but it’s warm and I don’t care. When she stops talking I wake up, and then the bell rings. I look around, keeping my hand pressed to the cheek I know is red and damp and creased from my sweater, but no one saw me sleeping, or no one cared.
Matthew will have dark hair and green eyes. Maybe blue. I can picture him perfectly, clearer than my own face. Walking home, I press my folder over my belly and pretend he’s already there. But of course that’s impossible. I’ve only had sex once, seven months ago with Chris Freedman in the back of his car in some parking lot, and how sad is that, that I don’t even know which parking lot. I didn’t realize how close we were getting until he pressed my shoulders back and gave me this sweaty look and said, “Are you ready?” and I said, “Okay,” because it was easier than saying, “No.” And then the push and the pain and I bit my fist until I tasted blood, and then it was over. He was nice enough. I’m sure there were people he told, but no one’s ever said anything about it to me. He’s with Marcia Garcia now, and it’s not like I liked him all that much anyway.
At home I stand in the doorway of my room like my mother did the day before. For some reason I think of Dean Fricks, and his ironed shirt and his tie, and then I start sorting through the clothes on the floor. The careless heaps of fabric remind me of Andy and how we used to play dress up in this room, wobbling around in my mother’s heels and smearing lipstick on each other. Back when we were both a little awkward–third graders pretending to be adults. She always was better at it than I was. She never smudged her mascara.
I stuff my dirty clothes in the tattered butterfly hamper, stack my movies and pile the stacks on shelves, collect my scattering of books: under the bed, behind the dresser, on the dresser, in the dresser, and file them neatly on my closet shelf, from biggest to smallest, knowing they’ll never stay that way but why not. I pick gum wrappers and hair ties off the floor, vacuum the carpet and spritz vanilla spice body mist in the air and text Andy: “u shd come over?? Bring J. if u wnt.” But she never texts back and I fall asleep holding my phone in one hand and my iPod in the other.
When my mom comes home I listen, half awake, to the sounds: the garage door opening, the car’s engine winding down, the garage door shutting, the deadbolt snapping, the door clicking quietly shut. I hear her footfalls and then the heavy silence at my door. There’s this sudden violent sadness and my nose burns, my throat swells; I hear the footfalls cross my room and the mattress sinks; her perfume slips over me as her soft hands stroke my hair. I start crying into my pillow, and she smoothes my hair away from my face and tucks it behind my ear. I open my eyes but she’s not there. The last thing that felt real was her presence at my doorway, where she must have walked away. I flip my pillow and slip inside another dream.
“You want front or back, SP?” asks Dean: white shirt, rolled sleeves, black slacks, green tie. No Paula two shifts in a row—hallelujah. I tie my apron on.
“Atta girl. Break at seven? Cheesecake’s on me.”
I look at him and smile. “Sure.”
Dean’s staring at me.
“You look different today,” he says. “Did you do something different?”
I did. I curled my hair and put on a little make-up, but guys don’t need to know all that.
“Not really,” I say.
“Hmmm. Well, whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” He pats my shoulder and walks off sideways, and for a minute everything is right in the world.
“Welcome to Burger Town, may I help you?”
“Sure, take your time!”
“That’s a pretty jacket.” This last phrase comes out of nowhere, and I wonder if it’s the mascara that’s helping. When I smile it feels genuine, not like a plaster mold on the verge of cracking.
At seven I head for the break room and Dean’s waiting at the rickety table with two plates of cheesecake and a carton of fries. He grins at me and motions to the chair across from him.
“Hey, I brought you something,” he says, and hands me a paperback. “Have you read this one yet?”
It’s an Agatha Christie and I have read it. Twice. “No, I haven’t read it,” I say. “Thanks.”
He tugs the rolled cuffs of his sleeves over his elbows, and then reaches for a French fry. “So school’s going good? We never get to talk anymore. Are you keeping the boys at bay?”
I think about that while I spear my fork through the soft cream cheese, punch through the crust, and try to balance the whole quivering glob of chocolate to my mouth. Dean says nothing, giving me time to think, which I wish everybody did. “I still like books better than boys,” I say, and he laughs hard at that, and then I’m laughing, and then the glob of cheesecake shivers off my fork and falls to the plate with a plop, and then we both just lose it.
Mario, who’s working the drive-thru, hollers from around the corner: “Hey, Dean! Customer wants to talk to you, man.”
Dean gives me a look, then shrugs. “That’s what they pay me the big bucks for, right? I’ll be back, so don’t even think about stealing my cheesecake.”
“I won’t.” I say that, but as soon as he leaves I slide his plate over. Just for laughs.
While I’m waiting for him I text Andy: “hey whatcha doing? Im at work Come by!”
She texts back: “wth J at prk. Call me ltr! Dwn 8 pds!”
I text back: “LOL! Ur NOT fat!?”
She texts me a selfie—sticking her tongue out and crossing her eyes. I text her back a picture of me with my tongue rolled like a hot dog bun.
“What the fuck is Myrna doing?” Paula’s voice drawls. Her laughter drizzles over the words like honey. Before I can even register that yes, she really is here, I didn’t just wake up in some nightmare, she’s strutting through the break room in a miniskirt and tank top. She shoves herself against the table and leans toward me, squinting. Then she laughs, a great big puff of breath in my face, and I can smell the alcohol. “Oh, sweetie,” she says, “nice try, but you need some lessons in cosmetics.” She presses her thumb to the corner of my eye and swipes upward, hard enough to hurt. “Your mascara’s smudged,” she says, smiling. Then she pushes out the back door where employees go to smoke.
Shaking, I put my phone away, take my plate to the sink, and wash my hands. Only when I’m back at the cash register do the words come, popping over my head like a speech bubble: “Don’t you have anything better to do on your day off?” Better is in italics. But of course it’s too late to say anything.
There’s a line snaking back to the soda machine, and at the front is a dad crouched next to his toddler. He’s speaking in hushed tones to the little boy, and the customers behind him shuffle their feet, steal glances at the clock overhead.
“Tell the nice lady what you want, honey.”
The boy wrinkles his forehead and hides his face in his dad’s shoulder and the dad murmurs in his ear, glances at me and holds up a finger. It pisses me off. I want to yell at the man, “Would you just fucking order?” When the boy finally squeaks out his order he says, “Chicken nuggets, please,” which should be cute, right? But here’s what I picture: I reach over the counter, grab the boy, shake him and scream in his face, “Can you order something off the fucking menu?” That’s when I realize I don’t even like kids, and I should probably never be a mother or I’ll be shitty at that too, and I wonder what I have to look forward to, ever. I tell Dean I’m sick, and I leave without clocking out.
This time when my mom comes home (garage door opens, engine dies, garage door closes, deadbolt snaps, door clicks shut) I am wide awake, under the covers. I listen as she puts down her keys and takes off her coat. I hear the shuffle of her slacks as she approaches my room. I wait. She’s there, I know, staring at the dark mound of covers, watching me breathe. Then she walks down the hall and the bathroom door snicks closed.
I doze, wrapped in the sour heat of my breath. My chest feels crushed, like the bones are constricting around my heart. Suddenly I’m alert again, remembering the time a few weeks ago, in the car with her, when I had a vision. We were driving on the freeway and I had this powerful urge to unsnap my belt, open the door and jump. I saw it happen, felt my bones snap and my skin burn off, heard my mother’s scream lost in the screeching of tires and then BAM! the impact as I’m struck by one car, and then another. And then nothing. It’s not like I want that to happen. I just pictured it is all, and knew that it could happen, if I chose. It would only take a second.
I throw the covers off and sit up, and before I can stop myself I’m walking. I walk down the hall and into her room, where she’s asleep. I crawl into bed and turn my back stiffly away from her. She stirs, and there’s a moment where nothing in the world moves.
“Myrna?” Her hand hovers over my arm. I can’t say anything. “Are you okay, honey?”
“Yeah.” My voice is thick and shaky. I feel so stupid. I start to get up, and her hand snaps down, grips my arm and pulls me back. I curl into a ball and start to cry.
“Oh, Myrna.” She wraps her arms around me, says my name again, in a whisper.
Ask me what’s wrong. Ask me.
What’s the matter, honey?”
I can’t talk. I can’t talk. I can’t talk.
“Myrna,” she says.
There’s something wrong with me. And I can’t talk.
“Myrna,” she says, and holds me tighter, strokes my hair. “It’s okay, honey. You can tell me. I’m listening.”
YARN Editors’ Note: If you are reading this story and struggling with depression, we want you to know that that it is a real and serious medical condition and you are not alone–and there is hope and help available. Two places you might want to start: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has a teen page), and the APA (American Psychological Association).
Elizabeth Maria Naranjo lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her husband and two children. Her debut novel, “The Fourth Wall,” was released by WiDo Publishing in June 2014. Find more of Elizabeth’s short stories on her website: www.elizabethmarianaranjo.com.