The older girl carries the plastic ashtrays to the trashcan one at a time, empties them, bends to blow a dusting of ashes from the coffee table onto the worn Oriental carpet, grinds them in with her pale, bare toes. She crushes Budweiser cans (she is a big girl and strong enough) and walks them in two’s to the trash can, returns to crush, transport, crush, transport. She curls her fingers through the glass ring on the gallon jug of white zinfandel, bumps it on her thigh, sloshes the contents, carries it to the kitchen. Neither girl will be able to stomach white zinfandel as adults.
The younger girl sits on the couch with last night’s popcorn bowl in her lap, dragging the scant popped kernels through a quagmire of salt and congealed butter, eating them one at a time. She bites single unpopped kernels, chews ferociously, digs them out of her teeth, runs her freckled fingers through the leavings, licks away the detritus of Friday night. She sets aside the prized half-popped kernels, watches the oldest wipe the coffee table.
The older girl turns on cartoons, volume muted, sits beside her sister. They share the half-popped kernels. Both girls will favor these as adults, but they will not remember why.
Later, the girls stand in front of the open refrigerator, slightly feral: slices of cheese torn from plastic, pickles from the jar, a swig of Hershey’s syrup, jelly scooped out with a finger. They wipe their hands and faces on their nightgowns.
The girls look nothing alike, save for matching purple circles under their eyes. The mother, when asked about her not-feral children, will quickly, indignantly interject, “Of course, they have the same father!” Different fathers, how brazen to even ask this. She is not that kind of woman.
T.J. Butler lives on a sailboat with her husband and dog. She writes fiction that is not all fun and games. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a contributor to Tiny House Magazine. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Tahoma Literary Review, Ghost City Review, Barren, Riggwelter, Drunk Monkey, and others. She is currently working on a short story collection.
Cover photo by Thanos V