Sunbeams fillet the pink linoleum of my apartment floor. The rays bake my mattress. I lift my arms, pressing my fingertips to the warmth of my headboard—the shopfront glass of what was once Stewart’s—Jackson, Mississippi’s foremost ladies’ boutique in the 80s. But the neon-hued ghosts of its former inhabitants, shoulder-padded women in Lycra leg warmers, still prowl for deals—haunting my dreams. Misty backcombs her bleached hair until it meets the clouds, and her body splits into shards of lightning. Tiffany cries and tries on lace wedding dresses that hang on her frame, all skin and bones. Heather is the shopgirl with frequent nosebleeds; she marks down prices with a purple Sharpie while moonwalking, high on cocaine.
They visited last night as a summer storm came and left the streets rainbow speckled with oil-slicked puddles. And it is them that I wake thinking of as a boy’s voice oscillates through the pane of my window.
“Bitch, you phony bitch!” his words ricochet down Gallatin Street.
Turning now, my knees sink into the down of my pillows. The onyx stain of my mascara reveals itself on my pillow below, a Rorschach on ivory cotton.
The kid’s head bobs back and forth in front of the dark windows of Z’s Vinyl. His fist smacks into his palm, a slender bolt of lightning sparking up and down off his boney, sunburnt chest in a steady thrum of rage, “Bitch,” he says, “that mother f’in bitch better have my mother f’in money!”
The skeleton of a dandelion, all seed-pod and air, langurs between two sidewalk slabs. The plant seems to taunt the kid. “Bitch,” he thunders, kicking off its fluffy head. The weed shatters to umbrellas of floating bits; the vagabond seeds drift into the air.
“Mother f’in bitch,” dimples sink into his cheeks with the flash of his smile. “Wait!” His sharply angled limbs, like a bird that’s just learned to fly, take off hesitantly. “I see you, you hipster bitch!”
Then his arms are swinging to full momentum, and he’s jumping over a fire hydrant. He could go around it. But he’s jumped instead, running until he cuts out of my peripheral vision.
Then I hear a man’s velvety voice layer over the boy’s, belting out a plea—icing over a shout from the boy.
I pull on some ripped jeans, slip on an Elvis T-shirt. Phone. Keys. Sunglasses—bought from a truck stop. I fill my glass bottle with water from the tap and leave for the show.
The standoff is barbed with sweat, and a torrent flow of swear words is sloshing between them. The man, I know. Kind of. He’s Zeb, owner of Z’s Vinyl. A couple of years older than me, a sort of troubled genius, I think. MIT drop-out. Sweat drips from his creased brow down to his white tank top. He holds his thick, Buddy Holly glasses to his open mouth, fogging them over, pulling his shirt up to wipe away the condensation.
The little boy rants about interest rates, “I told you, a fucking dollar a fucking day! That’s 63 dollars, man.”
I ask Zeb what the problem is; he looks up at me, saying nothing but staring down at a crate of records sitting by his feet. The kid answers for him, saying he’d sold Zeb a glass of lemonade and two chocolate chip cookies on credit because the business owner didn’t have any cash. This was two months and two days ago.
“I told him I’d Venmo it to him,” Zeb heaves the words out.
“And I told him I don’t have a bank account,” the kid retorts.
“I then told him I’d give him Bitcoin.”
“And I said that Bitcoin’s not going to be worth shit in two years.”
I watch the conversation continue to ping pong between them and drink my water.
“Write a check to his parents,” I suggest.
“He says he doesn’t trust his parents.”
“Trust no bitch,” the boy announces, as though reciting a line of ancient poetry, like Ovid or something.
Stooping over Zeb’s carton, I leaf through his newest inventory. A lot of punk. The Clash. Dead Kennedys. The kid kicks another dead dandelion. Seed pods twirl around us in a sudden shot of wind from the west.
“Can’t you take it from your store’s till?” I ask Zeb.
“My store doesn’t have a till. We’re card only.”
“He’s got some issues,” the kid, his freckle-cast cheeks glowing with anger, spits out the words and then a loogie. The syrupy wad almost hits Zeb’s high top.
“Opie fuckin’ Taylor,” Zeb leans back against the glass of his storefront, “you’re a damn trip.”
“If I’m Opie Taylor, then you’re the young one from Sanford and Son—your truck always loaded with shit like it’s about to tip over.”
“Lamont,” Zeb says, “OK. I collect scrap metal on the weekends—what of it?”
“Nothing,” Opie takes a gulp of air and asks if I’ve heard any of Zeb’s academic sob stories. “Oh, I’d be so rich if,” the boy chirps out in a whiny voice, “so and so hadn’t stolen my differential Chaos Theory equation. A butterfly flaps its wings. All that shit.”
I sit on the curb. Opie does too.
“I told him, I said: mathematical ideas cannot be owned,” the kid says, looking into my eyes with his artic blue stare. “Don’t you agree?” he asks.
“Math’s not my strong side of the brain,” I tell him.
“Left brain, right brain: you know that’s all bullshit, right? It takes two fucking hemispheres to be logical or creative,” Opie informs me.
Zeb sits on the curb now too. Our sweat drips down to the grate of a storm drain into the liquid black darkness beneath.
“I don’t have any cash,” I exhale.
“Of course you don’t,” Opie says.
“And my ATM card is frozen for possible fraud,” I say.
The boy sighs.
“Zeb, why don’t you go to buy something and get cash back?” I ask.
“I’m not getting bullied by him into buying shit.”
“Why don’t you go to the bank and make a withdrawal?” I ask.
“Bank’s closed. It’s Sunday,” Zeb answers.
“He’s been telling me that he's going to the bank for two months. He’s got some kind of phobia. Chrometophobia: a fear of money,” Opie says languidly, the heat beating across his squinting eyes.
The circular song of a far-off ice cream truck melts into the troubled confection of our group’s silence.
Zeb stands, lifts his crate. Opie follows him into the cavernous tunnel of Z’s Vinyl, a re-purposed Quonset Hut.
I follow as somehow I feel dedicated to helping find a resolution for this transactional dispute.
Opie flips glumly through a stack of records, stopping only once to stare at Dolly Parton's Odd Jobs. Dolly drags a typewriter by a tape measure, gripping a paint roller and carrying boots, a yard ho, a lunch box, and rolled-up architectural prints. A silvery purse dangles from her sharply manicured hand. At her stilettoed feet, her briefcase spills out: papers, lipstick, and a bomb-pop.
Opie carries the glossy record to the listening chamber in the back of the store, a vintage British phone booth. He sinks the booth’s heavy headphones over his ears, swinging his legs above the floor.
The ice cream truck song sunders down on us now, the driver decelerating in front of the store to a crawl.
“He does that on purpose, slows down like that,” Zeb looks into my eyes, holds his gaze there.
“Yeah, he’s trying to sell ice cream,” I say as Zeb drops “Money” by Pink Floyd onto the store’s record player. The clanging of coins seeps out, followed by a ringing cash register, paper ripping and a till slamming in a seven-beat loop until a couple of plucky strings take over.
“No. He does it because I went all ethnomusicologist on him earlier this summer. I told him that the songs ice cream trucks play are racist.” Zeb walks out from behind the counter and leans back against it. “Did you know ice cream parlors played minstrel show music in the 1920s?”
“They did. And then when the ice cream trucks came about in the 1950s, they chose to drum up nostalgia for the past for ignorant white people—no offense, Kate.”
“None taken,” I say.
“So that’s why they play the same shit to this day: “Jimmy Crack Corn,” “Dixie,”
“Turkey in the Straw” . . . “Camptown Races.”
Zeb turns up the Pink Floyd. The song brays against, “Oh Susanna!” as the ice cream man gets out of his truck, shaking a pack of cigarettes against his palm.
“I don’t know what I thought would happen,” Zeb shakes his head, “it’s like the guy gets a kick out of blaring the shit even louder now.”
“Money” rounds out its capitalist chorus as I tell Zeb I’m going to go outside, make the ice cream truck guy stop, make him leave. But Zeb shakes his head ‘no’ and extends his hand to me, thin fingers—uncalloused. Math hands. I take it and let him pull me in, then twirl me out.
His palm is cold, sweaty. I look to the booth; Opie sways his head back and forth to Dolly.
Zeb takes my other hand in his; a few electrostatic snaps crack between our skin. He brings me in close, and it is in this moment, as simple as a page-turning, that the world in front of me slips from legible to not. A cacophonous boom pierces my ears drums; we turn to carbon copies, a blanket of smoke pouring down, monsoon-like, over our bodies as we drop to the floor. Plumes of gray waft through the store’s open door. I feel a heavy arm around my waist—Zeb pulling me toward him through this braying darkness, vibrations of this debris lifting like a dying pulse. Through the baritone beat of my heart, I hear hinges scraping together as Opie leaves the booth with headphones on. It looks like he is muttering the lyrics of “9 to 5,” the song stuck on a continuous loop across his thin lips.
A pillowy sheet of dust snaps crisply between us, hangs there, twisting in this storm of debris. Snowy bits of pink insulation waft in the store’s open windows. I reach out for the puff. It’s brittlely sharp: fiberglass. An acrid sweetness mists over us in hazy plumes as a solid warmth envelopes my hand. It is Zeb’s hand, pulling me up. I hear the crackle of fire from somewhere I can’t place and see that Opie is running toward us. Zeb scoops him up in his arms.
Through the wafting smoke, it is the humidity that tells me when we’ve made it outside. A fire hydrant, smashed open by the ice cream truck—a vehicle which is now cracked open and on its side—sprays our sooty clothes. Still, the music of the tipped truck plays. “Turkey in the Straw” pieces itself together in the air. Shrapnel bits of my apartment building: bricks, plaster, and broken glass litter the street while flames engulf the foundation where suddenly there is no building.
The ice cream truck man crawls out of the window he could be delivering cones through—not his bleeding body.
Opie, hoisted like a sack of potatoes over Zeb’s shoulder, extends his hand for the man to hold as he climbs down the side of his truck.
The storm sewer flows with a swirling mix of flavors: Neopolitan and blue cotton candy. Bits of chipwiches line the path away from the store. Chocolate dipped sprinkle waffle cones crack beneath my ballet flats. My eyes burn from the smoke.
It’s only minutes before flashing red and blue lights cast their shadows over the shrapnel of my apartment. Torn bits of my clothing seem to stick to the bottoms of everyone’s shoes. An EMT kneels in front of Opie; he grips the Dolly Parton record like a stuffed animal.
“Squeeze my hand if you can hear me,” the EMT, her face blanching in the glare of the ambulance, reaches out to hold Opie’s hand. He lets her for a moment, and then a smile breaks across his face. Dollar bills, sticky with melting ice cream, float through the air.
“Cool story, bro,” Opie tells the EMT before standing and beginning to dart after the money, his limbs as bird-like as before.
“Cool story, bro,” Zeb mimics, staring at the ice cream man who is now being treated inside the ambulance for his abrasions. Zeb’s eyes look as though he’s peering into the abyss of an interstellar constellation.
Opie picks up the cash, licking bits of ice cream off the bills. He stuffs his wallet until there are no bills left to collect.
The fire department finds the source of a gas leak after Opie departs, running off with his sticky money as suddenly as he appeared. The ice cream man limps into a cab as his truck is towed away.
“You got lucky that you weren’t in your apartment. And you got even luckier that you were in a military-grade build,” an officer with a handlebar mustache tells us in the cool refuge of Zeb’s apartment down the street. They interview us about the explosion we know nothing of.
Yes, the ice cream man had been smoking. No, I didn’t see him through the butt.
Zeb’s given me his old college tracksuit, and I sit there, looking like I’m about to sprint for somewhere. But I don’t. I stay. And we don’t talk about why, why it is I’m not calling a friend or my parents, who live two towns further south.
I sleep at Zeb’s. But we don’t kiss, not yet. We don’t do anything, and when the girls from Stewart’s visit in the dead of night, this time they tell us to pick out our futures. Zeb and I.
We can have anything.
It’s a rhythm he and I fall into—a symphony we conduct each day. We talk about who we could have been, who we would have been if time had not spun itself into a web just so in that splintering heat on the day of the explosion. But we can’t come up with anything.
He spins records and holds me as we watch the fireflies light up the yard. Most mornings, I’m talking to Zeb as he wakes, and he’s talking to me as I fall asleep. He tells me about logistics, describes processes that evolve through time, how the quantity of x is determined by what’s on its right.
“I’m on your right,” I say to him.
“Exactly,” he pauses, “and you are my chosen constant.” “Math is a game,” I say.
“It’s chaotic behavior, sensitive to initial conditions. Like us.”
“A butterfly flaps its wings, all that bullshit.”
He smiles, knowing that it is Opie Taylor that I am quoting.
At night, my ghosts still haunt me. Misty, Tiffany, and Heather arrive and float around Zeb’s place, now our place, like butterflies, powdery with rouge. They flutter incessantly, tidying up to the ticking soundtrack of our air conditioning in the stillness of a quarter moon.
On their final visit, they gather by my side. I ask them why they're here. I ask them to account for their chaotic behavior and what has led them to me time and time again.
“Who else would sew the threads of your life?” Misty asks, beginning to tease up my bangs.
“Moirai,” Tiffany tells me with tears running down her pink cheeks, “like it or not—”
“We are the goddesses of your fate,” Heather whispers, wiping blood from her nose and letting the droplets morph to rain.
Jordan Faber is a writer based out of Chicago, IL. Jordan has received a Best Small Fictions and several Pushcart Prize nominations. Her fiction has most recently appeared in: Monologging, Ligeia, Honest Ulsterman, Waxing & Waning, Construction, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Bleached Butterfly, The Vitni Review, The Windhover, Parhelion, Chaleur Magazine, K’in, Prometheus Dreaming, NUNUM, The Esthetic Apostle, FIVE:2:ONE’s #thesideshow, Deluge [Radioactive Moat Press], Bull & Cross, Dream Pop Journal, Lunch Ticket, and TIMBER. Jordan majored in creative writing at Knox College and received an MFA from Northwestern University.