PUKE TRUCE IN AN IKEA PARKING LOT
There’s a crazy cat lady in my window. Been there a while. That one from The Simpsons, poised over the rearview, hucking plastic cats at me while I make rolling turns or cuss slow assholes in the left lane. I don’t even remember she’s there until Tyler mentions it. We’re stopped at a Super America off the I-35 and Cara is inside paying for gas. He leans against the car, frowning at the windshield while I pump.
“She weirds me out,” he says.
My spine tightens like I’m spoiling for a fight. He and Cara have been on the outs. “That thing,” he clarifies, pointing. “In your windshield.”
I duck to see what he’s talking about. “Oh, that.”
“Why the fuck.”
“My ex stole her from Walmart,” I shrug. “Came out all smug like I got something for you and planted her there. Thought it was funny.”
Cara comes out of the station, arms full of junk and energy drinks. Weird that Tyler doesn’t notice. He watches her closely, always. Instead he’s focused on my cat lady.
“Feels like a curse, you ask me,” he says.
Cara and I do these overnighters every three months or so. Seven hours over the border. Nobody bands in shithole bars. Blind drunk in a big city with your best friend; cheapest thrills you can afford. Tyler doesn’t trust these trips. He doesn’t understand. It’s like this: we are a cult of two and no one else is allowed in. But try convincing a boyfriend.
We’re trying today, I guess. Three of us rocketing down the interstate in my tiny hatchback, past screaming green fields and pro-life billboards. Cara rides shotgun. Tyler is unbuckled in the back, his forearms heavy on our seats.
“Got a theory,” I say, tapping a beat on the steering wheel. “Wanna prove it?”
Tyler leans forward. “Shoot.”
“Women are nice to everyone, ‘cause we’re raised to be,” I continue. “Men are only nice to women they wanna fuck.”
“Bullshit,” Cara huffs.
“You two met working at a bar, right?”
“She was a shit waitress,” Tyler laughs. She turns to slug him. “Hey—you were!”
“He cleaned up a lot,” she admits. I don’t have a/c, so the windows are cracked. Rushing wind catches her hair, obscuring her face. “I broke three pint glasses a shift.”
“Paid a lot of stiffed tabs,” he said.
She brushes her hair away. “You did that?”
“And you barely breathed in my direction.”
“How the fuck was I supposed to know?” she says. “I just thought you were being—”
“Nice,” I finish.
Tyler leans back. I can tell because the hairs on my neck aren’t standing anymore.
“But I’m nice to you, too,” he says. “Explain that.”
When they started dating, Tyler held a house party two floors and a backyard full. Slapped backs, tapped kegs, rutting basslines. Tyler poured dozens of shots. Every fifteen minutes we’d hold them aloft, roar AAAAAH SA-LUD! and down the hatch. In between, his buddies ate spoonfuls of cinnamon til they gagged.
“Why the fuck,” I asked Tyler.
“Some dumb internet shit,” he shrugged.
Three hours in, I’d had two tequilas, four spiced rums, three creme de menthe, two that smelled like Hawaiian Tropic, and one that might have been turpentine. Someone pressed a red cup into my hand. Tyler’s roommate inhaled his cinnamon, turned red, and horked a cloud of spice and phlegm. I watched it settle in my jungle juice.
“Got any food?”
Tyler shook his head.
I slammed my cup on the counter. “I need thirty—no. Forty chicken nuggets.”
We lurched up the road til fresh air gave way to fried. Stood between after-bar taxis in the drive-thru.
“It’s just that I love her,” he started. “Like, a lot.”
I said nothing. They always corner me and explain their jealous shit.
“She’s so pretty,” he continued. “Every guy’s looking—”
We staggered up to the speaker. He bent and shouted YES HI I NEED THIRTY MCNUGGETS.
“Look, man,” I said. “One day it’s like I’m so fucking in love and I say yes, yes the sun shines out his asshole. Next day it’s like he sucks I’ll fucking bury him and I say yes, yes here’s a shovel.”
SORRY, he hollered. MAKE THAT FORTY.
“And honey,” I added. “For dipping.”
He squinted at me in the headlights.
“Just stop snooping her phone, fuckssake,” I said. “She’s too lazy to cheat.”
When we get to the city Tyler whips out his credit card. Hotel, food, whatever. Holds doors, carries our bags. Flips channels patiently while we lace our heels and swipe lipstick in the bathroom. Guilty perfect gentleman shit. He is trying really hard because of last weekend’s blowout.
When we get to the venue he stands in line at the bar. Cara and I lean against the stage, waiting for the band.
“Sorry,” she says. “I know it’s weird.”
“It’s fine,” I say. “Nothing to hide.”
“I dunno.” She tracks him under her lashes as he parts the crowd, fingers pinching three plastic cups. “He’ll just say we’re on our best behaviour.”
Tyler slips a hand around Cara’s waist, scans the bar. Sizing the competition. He thinks the way we dress is an invitation, but really it’s a barrier. Heels high enough, skirt tight enough, lip red enough, and no man will approach you. That’s the honest-to-Christ truth. When you look like too much work, they leave you alone.
“Gonna get laid tonight?” he asks me.
“It’s not really like that,” I say. “We’re a cult of two.”
“All your secret meetings,” he says pointedly.
He’s talking about last weekend. Every weekend, really. It starts with an imagined offense: Cara laughed too hard at some guy’s joke. Hugged another a beat too long. Bought someone a birthday shot. Tyler stacks the evidence, forms arguments. It ends with me and Cara on a curb, in a bathroom stall, in Cara’s car. Mounting her defense. Crying not guilty, not guilty, not guilty.
“Aren’t you sick of this?” she asked.
It’s like this, with a best friend. You will have some version of this conversation until you don’t. You don’t get to decide the limit. You will sing for the sun, or hand her the shovel.
“Aren’t you?” I said.
Cara wants to hit IKEA this morning, before we go home. I am still drunk, so I ask her to drive. She hands the keys to Tyler, who gets us to Mall of America. He drops her off and circles the parking lot til I holler. I tumble out of the car and retch between rows of minivans and SUVs. Parents hurry their kids away. He finds me crouched next to a Dodge Caravan with a Jesus fish and a stick figure family in the window.
“Happy Sunday,” I joke, slapping the bumper. “Gonna spoil this baby for spite.”
He sits on the hot pavement while I dry heave. Whips my keys round and round his index finger.
“Thanks for being cool.”
I wave a puke-stained hand like don’t mention it.
“Just imagined it different, is all. Rowdier.”
“This is pretty much it,” I say. “Usually I make it to the IKEA bathroom.”
The keys land in his palm with a smack. He tightens his fist around them. “I mean, eighth grade. Shit. You know her better than anyone.”
This is why I didn’t bother explaining, before. He already knows why he plays nice with me. They all do, when it comes to Cara. They think I have a say. Like she’s some unknowable, blinding force, and me her faithful prophet. Guarding her secrets. Keeping her holy. Keith Richards had the same problem. Jagger’s women came crying to him one after the other. And they ask me what to do! Keef griped. How the hell do I know? I don’t fuck him!
I want to say: she’s not Mick.
I want to say: fucking relax.
Instead I brace myself against the Caravan and deposit another bilIous whiskey sour into the wheel well.
“I’ve figured out why you’re still single,” Tyler says.
My spine straightens like I’m spoiling for a fight.
Instead, he offers me a truce.
He pulls my crazy cat lady from his pocket. I blink at it stupidly. He rises and we shuffle down the length of the Caravan. I hold my breath while he tucks the figurine solemnly under the wiper blade. Proud of himself, kinda. Like he’s done me some kind of favour. I’m not the one with curses that need ridding, and I want to correct him. But it’s one hundred million degrees in the IKEA parking lot and my insides are liquid and boyfriends cannot be convinced of anything, ever. He scans the parking lot, then smiles real big. First one, maybe, since he and Cara have been on the outs.
RUN! he screams.
Kirsti MacKenzie (she/her) has published in Rejection Letters, JAKE, and Funicular. She studied creative writing at Humber College and Memorial University but learned the most from bathroom graffiti in dive bars. She lives in Ottawa and can be found perpetually on her bullshit: @KeersteeMack.