ISSUE #71 GUEST EDITOR Amanda Bullock is the director of public programming at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a nonprofit bookstore, cafe, and event space in downtown NYC where she runs the public events and social media. She is the co-creator and co-organizer of Moby-Dick Marathon NYC, the co-organizer of the Downtown Literary Festival, and in at least two book clubs at any given time.
AMBULANCE OF BOYS
by Edan Lepucki
August, two weeks in, was popsicles-for-breakfast hot. Sweat soaked the cleavage I didn't have, and my ponytail hung woolen on my neck. Mara and I lay on our bedroom floors, hers or mine, it didn't matter which, both were stifling. We were fifteen. The world had to be ending.
We’d invented a game called Fake Phrases; the words meant nothing, that was the point, but they might in another, better place, one we were headed for.
“Blood headband,” Mara said.
“Ambulance of boys,” I said.
She rolled over and smirked.
Issue #71 soundtrack: Lady Lamb the Beekeeper "The Nothing Part II"
“Come on,” I said. “It’s your turn.”
Mara raised an eyebrow.
“What is it?” I asked. “Penciled wattage.”
“I’ve got another dare,” she said.
The Dares. We’d been at them all summer: making each other do stuff, alone or together, just for the fun of it. Girls like us, with high GPAs and not a single boy looking our way, needed a little danger to get us through the summer.
“Finally,” I said. “What is it?”
“Breaking and entering. Tom’s place.”
The dare was her idea, but we both wanted it. To sneak into the apartment of my sister’s boyfriend, count the piles of records and books, the few sad T-shirts in the closet. It wasn't just anyone’s place we were breaking into, but a man’s: here is where he slept, and undressed, and was alone—unless he was with my sister. My sister: 23 and wild, her beauty the thing everyone mentioned. She never let me in her bedroom.
On a night that Tom was working at the bar—the bar where he’d met my sister, bought her a drink and choked it with extra cherries because she’d asked too sweetly for him to deny her—we’d stay up late and walk over: he didn't live far. We’d copy his address from his driver’s license, and steal the spare key my sister kept in the zippered compartment of her purse.
“We have to fuck with him, rearrange his stuff,” Mara said. “He’ll feel weird, but he won’t know why. And we’ll steal something.”
“Mint noose,” I said. The heat was making me woozy.
“Ink helmet,” she said.
A few nights later, we stole across the city in silence. We passed a gay bar pulsing with voices, two men talking in the doorway. We passed a hillside of dead plants, and a man asleep beneath a payphone. The sky was greenish. There were no stars. The setting sun had brought some relief from the heat, but L.A. still felt muggier than usual, as if a weight were pushing against the air.
As we turned onto his street, Mara grabbed my hand. Tom’s building was a stucco box not far from the corner. A streetlamp hummed in front, and I wondered if the light shined into Tom’s bedroom window.
Like a game show host, I said, “Door number two,” and we headed upstairs.
The key turned so easily, like I lived there.
Of course there was no bedroom. Tom lived in a studio, a catch-all space with a bathroom and kitchen sprouting off one end. The place was stuffy, nearly empty. A sleeping bag lay like a body below two large windows (the lamp outside would stream over Tom’s head, I realized, hitting the bathroom door). The room smelled like a gym, sweat and sneakers, but also like cinnamon. Everything looked exactly as I thought it would, and I felt both disappointment and relief.
Mara poked around the room as I headed for the kitchen. Tom had a cheap fold- out table, but the cabinets were nearly empty. In the sink, a single plate, freckled with crumbs, waited to be washed.
I went to look in the fridge, but stopped before opening it. There was a photo on the freezer door, held up by some pizza parlor magnet. My breath shortened and, to calm myself, I thought of all the places that were parlors: pizza, beauty, tattoo, massage, ice cream, funeral.
It was a picture of my sister. She looked about thirteen or fourteen, before she’d learned to calm the frizz in her hair, when her boobs were only hypothesis and potential. The picture stopped at her shoulders, but I recognized the straps of her old lavender-colored bathing suit. She’d worn it every summer afternoon until it lost all elasticity and pilled at the butt and across the back. My mother threw it out in the middle of the night. In the photo, my sister stood in front of a wall of ivy, and her smile suppressed a laugh, as if once the camera clicked she’d be open-mouthed with hysterics. I didn't recognize the ivy, and I could tell by her expression that my mother and I hadn't been there. Her eyes were too unguarded.
Who had taken this, I wondered.
I wanted this to be what we stole from the apartment, but Tom would notice immediately. After all, my sister must have searched through her old pictures to find it, and had probably presented it to him as a gift. “Here I was,” she might have said, as a way of telling him, “Here I am.” But still I wanted the photo. I’d known her at that age. Tom hadn't.
I was too scared to take it, and I didn't want to show it to Mara anyway—it seemed so private. From the living room she said, “Hurry. It’s fucking hot in here.”
She was right. Tom had left the windows closed, and the heat crowded us.
“What do we take?” she said.
A broom leaned against the wall. “Here’s this,” I said, joining her in the living room.
“A broom?” Mara whispered. “Please.”
I shook my head.
“What then?” Mara asked.
I knocked the handle hard against the window pane. It broke cleanly. A wind blew through, and I pretended it could cool me.
“Jesus!” Mara hissed.
I picked up a piece of glass, held it up like a prize.
“I’ll take this,” I said.
Edan Lepucki is a staff writer for The Millions and the author of the novella If You're Not Yet Like Me. Her first novel, California, will be published next year by Little, Brown. Find her online at edanlepucki.com.
Regina Mamou is a Chicago-based visual artist working at the intersection of photography, writing, and research practices. In 2009 she received a 15-month Fulbright Fellowship to Jordan to explore navigational methods and memory in Amman. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Visit her online at reginamamou.com.
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is the musical moniker of Aly Spaltro. Spaltro began her music career writing and recording songs in a DVD rental store in Brunswick, Maine, using the store as her studio after finishing her midnight shift at the cash register. She anonymously gave out free samples of her first demo CD under the name Lady Lamb The Beekeeper, and quickly gained local popularity. Her debut record Ripely Pine is out now on Ba Da Bing Records. For more, visit ladylambthebeekeeper.com.