Anna Lea Jancewicz
Tammy taught me to pinch my nipples so they would stand out under my t-shirt, and that purple shadow was best for my green eyes. She taught me that putting on a Pink Floyd record was a surefire way to get a boy to make out with you when your mom was still at work and you invited him over after school. Dark Side of the Moon she said dreamily, fingering her stiff wing of blonde bangs. Tammy knew a lot about guys; she said guys instead of boys.
She told me she had gone all the way with a guy from Sacred Heart, a guy named Scott who played drums and had hair that smelled like strawberry cream rinse. I wasn’t sure if she was telling the truth, but it definitely seemed possible. I didn’t know any kids from Sacred Heart. Catholic girls don’t put out Tammy said, rolling her eyes. Her eyes were brown, so she wore blue shadow.
One afternoon, she spread out her fingers dramatically on the plaid cushions of the sofa saying It happened right here. I nodded with due reverence. The blue creased as she widened her eyes. His dick was SO big. She jutted out her chin a little. It hurt. But now I’m a woman. I tried to imagine Tammy naked, there in the living room where we watched Eight Is Enough with her mom every Wednesday night. Tammy’s mom, Donna, had been best friends with my mom until they had a fight over Mitch. Mitch had been my mom’s boyfriend, and was now Tammy’s stepdad.
Mitch had a brand new Econoline van with velvet curtains in the windows. He was a plumber, so he made Good Money. My mom was still really mad about it. Whenever I came home from Tammy’s house she would grill me for information. I said as little as I could. I didn’t tell her that Mitch had given Donna a busted lip after he burned himself on her curling iron. She’d left it out on the sink to heat.
I got to know a lot of little things about Mitch but I kept them to myself. At first just to be mean, because I thought knowing would make my mom happy. Like, if she knew that when Mitch’s buddies came over to play Spades they called him Mitch the Bitch. But then there were other things, and I realized that if my mom knew about them she would forget all about hating Donna and really try to help her, and then Tammy would know that I told my mom, and Donna would know that Tammy told me.
Mitch was sure Donna was cheating on him, and he’d get all Kojak on her, trying to find clues and being tough. He started writing down the mileage from her Cutlass so he’d know how far she drove, if she went anywhere else than work or home. He stole her underwear to check for suspicious stains. One night he’d threatened Donna with a screwdriver to her neck. Sometimes he drank a lot. He would even miss work, but since he was the boss he said nobody could give him any grief.
Tammy said that most of the time he was really nice though. He bought Tammy a lot of records. On Friday nights they had dinner at the Steak & Ale.
Tammy said what happened was an accident.
Afterwards, when she and Donna were staying at the hotel, I went over with a few other friends from school, Misty and Danielle and Wanda. We brought them a card and brownies, and extra clothes. I gave Tammy my Steve Miller Band t-shirt, and it was my favorite. Tammy stood with us on the concrete next to the covered-over hotel pool and told us that she’d come home like usual, thrown her coat on the sofa, and went in her room. She shut the door and turned the music up loud.
It was a while before she smelled the smoke. She’d snubbed out half a cigarette that she’d lit after she got off the school bus, and shoved it in her coat pocket. Mitch was passed out in his bedroom. Tammy said I tried to wake him up, but he was dead to the world. Then she caught herself and half-laughed at the phrase, sheepish. She scraped the soles of her shoes against the concrete. By the time the firemen pulled Mitch out, he’d asphyxiated. Tammy stared at the limp maple leaves floating in the shallow water on top of the pool cover. She repeated the word. Asphyxiated.
Then she looked straight at me, and said It happened right there.
Anna Lea Jancewicz lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where she homeschools her children and haunts the public libraries. She is an editor for Cease, Cows, and her writing has appeared at the Barrelhouse blog, Hobart, Necessary Fiction, Sundog Lit, WhiskeyPaper, and many other venues. Her flash fiction “Marriage” was chosen for The Best Small Fictions 2015. Say it: Yahnt-SEV-ich. More at annajancewicz.com.