The cat we killed on accident. We were high from huffing spray paint out of a blue-splattered paper bag, my head scraped light and clean and floating somewhere to the left of me. Lola laughing, too loud—I slapped at her mouth, trying to create a seal. Smiley rose bitemarks ridged the skin along my fingers. I didn’t feel it—or I did but the pain was something I sorted and put away for later. I caressed her cheek with my spitty palm. You can’t tell me that anyone ever loved like we loved each other.
Lola wasn’t her real name. She changed it from Lisa two years ago and we threatened anyone besides her parents who didn’t use it. We couldn’t do anything—we weren’t fighters—but we liked to pretend, curled up on the pale purple carpet in Lola’s bedroom. We flipped sticky magazine pages, our fingers dark from the cheap ink, and talked about the ways we would hurt if we could. “I would stab their eyes,” Lola said. She was always about the eyes. I liked the idea of poison—a delicate slip of the wrist, no one knowing a thing.
We planned to get married to rich men and then murder them and take their millions. Those were the kind of women we wanted to be. “And then we’ll move in together,” I said, but Lola said no. “We’ll have matching mansions next door. And a pool that connects. Then I can swim over to you when I’m feeling lonely.” She mimed swimming on her carpet, bellyfirst, wiggling close to my ankle. Her smile had gone soft. We had taken pills from Lola’s mother’s medicine cabinet. We were always taking something, our days worthless if they couldn’t be stretched or colored with some new beautiful thing to swallow.
“Why would you feel lonely if we’re neighbors?”
“Because people are always lonely,” she said, which is how I knew the drugs were taking a turn. Times like that the best thing to do was to curl up behind her and wrap my arms tight, let my breathing flow into hers. We fell asleep like that most sleepover nights, woke with sore muscles from clinging to each other like shipwreck victims.
We didn’t mean to leave the front door open. We didn’t see Marmalade dart out. We just wanted to feel the grass under our bare toes. It didn’t work. The part of Wyoming where we lived was always in the middle of a drought, the grass stripped yellow and lifeless. Neither of our families had the money or desire to keep up neat lawns. Beneath our feet the yard was hard dirt and prickling stickers. Silent—even the bugs had moved on. We danced anyway. Lola and me, we’re good about making the best of things.
On the weekends we went out with whoever would take us. Boys liked Lola better because she was prettier in that way they prefer, thin-boned and pale, but I let them put their hands all over me, so we were rarely alone. Jesse was nineteen and lived down the block from us in the trailer at the end, the one with the cropped-ear pitbull, Meatball, always barking his head off in the yard. Lola sat up front with him and I sat in the back with his fat cousin, Robert, utterly silent, possibly stupid. Crushed beneath our feet were grease-spotty pizza boxes from the Dominos where Jesse worked weekday nights, though mostly he made his money selling weed he grew out of his closet. The weed was the main reason we liked him.
After an hour of driving around, the pot working in the back of my skull, I realized Robert had draped his thick arm around my shoulder. That’s usually how it was—things were always in the middle of happening, their fingers somewhere on me. I didn’t mind the weight. I always liked the feeling of being held down when I was high. I sat and met eyes with Lola in the rearview mirror and pretended that I didn’t notice Robert’s fingers tapping along the exposed upper curve of my tit. You have to give something to get something, Lola says.
Jesse had a friend who had some mushrooms, or acid—“Something real strong.” Of course we said yes.
“You girls got to be careful.” Jesse held the cigarette in one hand, steering with his wrist. The other he draped over Lola’s bare thigh. “We’re okay, but you can’t trust everybody. You get fucked up on everything and somebody’s going to take advantage of you.”
Boys were always telling on themselves. Lola goggled her eyes in the mirror. Her whites were blood-webbed, the pupils round black disks. My cheeks hurt from grinning—we both were, we looked insane. “It’s okay,” Lola said. “We’re tough.”
Jesse laughed. He squeezed Lola’s thigh. His hand almost fit entirely around it. His fingers bit into her flesh but my girl didn’t wince, didn’t change her face at all. Robert’s fingers slipped down farther, running along the underside of my bra lightly, pretending to ask permission. I wasn’t yet high enough that I didn’t care but I was getting there, my spine curved heavy against the seat.
“We are,” I said. “We’ve got super powers.”
Invisibility or future vision—that wasn’t for us. We wanted flash. We talked about laser eyes and super strength and poison saliva until Jesse got sick of it. “Shut the fuck up. Jesus. You girls are nuts.”
That’s always how it was—girls, the both of you. We were one thing, tied together—even our teachers thought so. Neither of us liked Jesse much but since Marmalade died, Lola’s mother was depressed and her father was in one of his dark moods, and I didn’t want to be home either. My mom worked late hours at a retail call center and delivered papers in the early morning. She was gone when I woke up. When she was home she was a lump of pulled blankets, words scribbled on the fridge. There was a new boyfriend, Patrick, who collected samurai swords and old guns. Lately he was home even when my mom wasn’t, a pair of eyes watching from the couch, footsteps outside the bathroom door.
Lola and I talked about what we would do if he tried anything. “We’ll use his swords,” I said.
She agreed. “We’ll start with his ears first.” She mimed two sword strokes. “Snip, snip.”
Cheyenne’s streets died around ten, no cars or lights on anywhere. Sometimes Jesse or someone would drive us out to the railroads tracks near the east edge of town where there was hardly anything around. We wanted to do that tonight—to race around, arms out, heads tipped up towards the stars. “It will look so cool,” Lola said, though we didn’t know—we had never tried psychedelics. We’d taken things that made our muscles turn to soup, that made our hearts spasm, our stomachs cramp, that gave us nightmares—or worse, that did nothing. We wanted to see the stars fuzzed and colored strange. We were going to go where there was no backwash of light to block the sky. Last time we realized that you had to go farther than we thought to get away from all these people, to find a place open and empty of everything.
We waited in the car while Robert and Jesse went inside to get the stuff. We were on a side of town we hardly went to, north of the viaduct. Our street was all glass-bitten dirt and sloping trailer homes, but here everything was lush and green, the roads paved new. Lola crawled into the backseat with me and draped her legs over mine, our heads touching. Her thigh was already beginning to bruise where Jesse grabbed her. Lola had always bruised easily. My skin never showed a thing.
“Jesse’s an asshole,” she said.
“I know. We should rob him.”
“Maybe the drugs will make him sleepy. Then you can seduce Robert. When he’s out—bam!”
We always got so stupid on weed. We laughed quietly in the dark of the backseat. “No. I’ll just knock him out, too. Then we’ll steal their car and go to California.” We had never robbed anyone. We had never really done anything wrong, other than to ourselves. We were all talk, but it was a thing we loved, the imagining—us as women with white coats and hoods fringed with fur, spiked nails painted red, cigarettes that we got other people to light for us. We were not college-bound. We knew the kind of lives we had ahead, the kind of lives all the girls in our neighborhood had—early pregnancies and diapers to change and boyfriends who beat us. Dull jobs scanning items at the checkout counter, a boss who liked to sniff our hair.
When Jesse and Robert got back, Lola crawled into the front again. It was part of the deal. I was so high that Robert had to shove me before I remembered to move over. Lola reached for the plastic baggy in Jesse’s hand. He jerked it away. “Not here, for fuck’s sake.”
I leaned forward. “Come on. Please?” I batted my eyelashes, widening them, tilting my head, pouting. Sometimes I could put on an act, I could be funny. Sober and I was shy, I only spoke to Lola, but lit up with something and I didn’t care what anyone thought.
Jesse allowed himself to grin, a little. Boys were easier if you could make them laugh—they felt safer, they looked you in the eyes.
“Puh-please?” Lola and I pasted our cheeks together, smiling, acting it up.
Jesse rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine, but just one.”
Our hands darted for the bag. Of course we took more than one—we were always clawing for more than our share. Jesse tore the bag away and we put the shrooms in our mouths, chewing quickly. They tasted like the dirty wet end of a mop. Robert gave me a drink of his Mountain Dew to help get them down. His hand was around my waist now, I realized, palming the soft fat of my stomach.
“You did too much,” Jesse said, peering in the bag. Lola and I caught eyes again, our grins flinty.
“There’s enough left over,” I said, but really, who cared?
We held a funeral, just Lola and me. She couldn’t stand the sight of Marmalade’s body, what the car had done to him, so it was my job to put him in the box. We sealed it up with his favorite fluffed pink blanket. We walked far out into the fields surrounding our homes, the knee-high grass causing Lola’s allergies to act up, the tip of her nose glowing red, her sleeve snotty. We took turns holding up the barbed wire so the other could bellycrawl through to the other side. Above us the clouds were lazy and low-dipped, no shapes in them that we could find. I nicked my shoulder and by the time we got to a place Lola decided was good enough, I’d bled through my shirt. We were wincing, ducked-head things—mole people brought out to light, pale and hungover. When I touched my fingers to the skin of my temples I could feel my pulse beating.
We took turns digging the hole. The dry dirt was impossible, hard-packed with rocks, boulders. “Good enough,” Lola decided when we’d dug barely a foot down. Her body was shaking, damp shadows under her armpits. The shovel had created and then torn open blisters on my palm and I had my hand in my mouth, sucking the rawest part. Marmalade’s shoebox didn’t quite fit, not straight. We placed him in and swept the dirt back over and pretended the jutting cardboard corner was another rock. We used the boulders we uncovered to weigh down the top. “That should keep the animals away,” I said, though I figured it probably wouldn’t, and I suspected then that we would never, ever come back out to this spot in case we found the earth opened, a scrap of blanket, a bone.
I waited for Lola to say some words. When we were kids, she found a baby bird that had fallen from its nest and we’d tried to raise it. Like we were kids in some Disney movie. It died overnight, of course. We buried it in her backyard. Lola wrote a poem which she buried with it. That was the way we were when we were alone together, the way Lola was unpeeled—soft, all the way down. But after a couple of minutes of staring, Lola said, “Let’s go back. It’s too fucking hot.” So we left.
We went to my house, locking the bedroom door against Patrick, and lay on my narrow bed. I couldn’t wait for her parents to get over Marmalade so we could go back to the way things were, back to Lola’s house where the curtains were drawn back to let in the light, where we didn’t have to creep, careful and soundless.
“Dad’s moving past it. He’s started talking about getting a dog. Now that’s Marmalade’s gone. He said we could get like a rottweiler or something.”
“What about your mom?”
“She’s still not talking to me,” Lola said. “But she’s always sad about something.”
We drove into nothing, the darkness feeding us a few feet of road at a time. Jesse’s headlights were dim, one flickering every time we hit a bump. I didn’t recognize anything around me, but there wasn’t anything to recognize—nothing but fields around us, the darkness shapeless and unbroken. Jesse played harsh music turned low while he talked about his dog, Meatball, and the things he was training him to do. I sat in the back gulping big, wet breaths. When I got too high my lungs always forgot their purpose. Lola knew how to calm me down—her fingernails along the back of my neck, ticklish-light. Scratchy-scratchy, we called it, but Jesse’s arm was draped across the front and she couldn’t get back to me.
Jesse’s knee kept us on a waving line on the road while he dug into his pocket for the plastic bag. He shook half the contents into his mouth and then passed it back to Robert, who unwound his hand from wherever it was on me to take some for himself.
There were videos online, Jesse said, of pitbulls bow-legged and muscular. They leapt off walls. They dove through safety glass windows. If something was dangled in the air they would jump six feet to get it, to lock on, to shake until given the release word. The dogs ate nothing but raw hamburger and liver and slick white bones, still stringy with meat. They had no ears or tails. Their necks were spiked. Jesse and Robert were planning to take videos of Meatball as soon as they got a proper camera. “You can make so much money off YouTube,” Jesse said. He was going to make his own dog food someday, his own channel. “Dogs like that, you can train them to do anything if you do it right.”
“Where are we going?” Lola asked. I wished Robert would get his arm off me so I could breathe better. I missed home—not my dead house or Lola’s, but the field around it where we wandered at night sometimes, too messed up on something to sleep but high enough not to feel afraid. We scratched our bare shins on weeds as we played explorers, we found garter snakes and wound them around our wrists like jewelry. We trilled our tongues to scare off any darting shapes and used the lights from our phones to guide us when we had gone too far. Someday we planned to disappear forever out there. “We’ll become legends,” Lola said. I said, “We’ll eat bugs and learn to hunt with spears, and we’ll kill anyone who tries to find us.” Of course people would try. We dreamed of posters with our faces on them. We dreamed of being missed.
“It’s all about dominance,” Jesse was saying. “You have to let them know who’s boss. They’re like wolves—they need an alpha. When Meatball was a puppy, I would hold him down on his back whenever he was being a shit. I stared at his eyes. Dogs hate that, it freaks them out. He pissed himself. That’s what dogs do to show submission.”
When we were getting ready for tonight, Lola sprayed her pits with my mom’s perfume and then twirled in the mirror. Earlier Lola’s dad had come home and found the house a mess and her mom still in bed. He dragged her mom to the kitchen and made her watch while he pulled their cereal boxes down from the shelf one-by-one, carpeting the floor with flakes. “I just want to have fun tonight,” Lola said. She added some of my mom’s lipstick, a cheap, waxy red.
“You have to be tough or they won’t respect you. It’s kinder in the end—they love you afterwards,” Jesse said. “It’s like with kids. You don’t want them to turn out spoiled or soft.”
Lola’s fingers moved around and around her mouth, as if she had something in the corner that she was trying to wipe away. “I don’t think these mushrooms are doing shit.” And: “Where are we going?”
When we fought, Lola was all sharp-knuckled jabs and barred teeth. She tucked her elbows close to her body like a boxer, eyes squinting over the ridge of her fists. My body was solid, shorter. I threw myself around; I didn’t care how I landed. Unwilling to punch, I wrestled, pinning Lola to the ground while she scrabbled, jawing for my shoulder, my earlobe. It made us laugh, how bad we were at it. “Hit me,” I said, and when I was numb I let her without raising my hands. I didn’t flinch. Her knuckles a glancing brush along my cheeks. “Hold me. Grab me like you’re trying to kill me.” Lola would latch on from behind, her fingernails digging into my shoulders. A hug. We wanted to learn how to fight but it got us nowhere to practice on each other. Our hurts happened carelessly, on accident. We could never bring ourselves to aim and strike.
Jesse pulled off onto a narrow dirt road. He stopped in a field far from the highway. It was the kind of place where pieces of bodies turned up long after they were lost, scattered by coyotes and vultures. The wild yellow grass brushed our knees. The field was full of things that jumped, chirruped, a rattling somewhere. Robert wouldn’t move from the car, eyeing the ground for snakes. Lola and I linked arms and ran in circles, stretching our legs. I felt high but not any kind of special high like I was expecting. Just stoned. The stars were out but we could hardly see them, navy clouds blocking their view. The only light was from Jesse’s car. Yellow-tinged headlights illuminated a riot of dust and papery moths.
He found a coarse burgundy blanket in his trunk and spread it out on the grass. Lola and I stretched across it, flattening the grass beneath with our bodies. We stared up at the sky and I waited for anything at all to happen. My high was changing, smoothing out. I felt tired and I didn’t want to, I wanted to run around, to stir up bugs. I wanted to have fun.
Jesse sat cross-legged at our feet, a cigarette jutting from the corner of his mouth. The glow from his phone lit up his face. Gnats, attracted to the light, swarmed his eyes and Jesse blew smoke through his teeth to scatter them. Insects flitted along my skin, tasting my sweat. Beside me, Lola was starting to shiver.
“Here, this is what I was talking about,” Jesse said. A video played on his phone. The sound of a dog barking.
Neither of us looked. I didn’t care about the videos and Lola was watching the sky, hands stretched towards it.
“Look,” Jesse said, but no one looked.
“Where are we?” I asked.
Jesse grabbed Lola’s ankle and shook. “Hey. Fucking pay attention. I’m talking to you.”
Lola jerked out of his reach. She stood up and twirled in place, a wobbly ballerina. Jesse’s eyes glittered in the light from his phone, pupils wide and watchful. He inhaled deep and let the smoke stream from his nostrils. Patchy stubble grew from his jaw. He was good-looking, but we knew things about him, Lola and me: We heard about the girlfriend with the fucked-up eye, the little brother sent to live with an aunt, the firecrackers thrown at kids and cats. It was part of the reason Marmalade wasn’t allowed to be outside. That and the nearby road. Marmalade was too old; his eyesight was bad. He was too trusting. He would come if you called, tail high in the air, no matter who you were.
“How do you make money off of videos?” I asked. I didn’t like the way he was watching Lola, the fix of his stare, unblinking.
“Ads. Clicks. The more you get, the more money you make. And then you develop products.”
Lola stumbled. She fell to her hands and knees, giggling. I got up to help her stand. She used her teeth to pluck the stickers from her palms. She spit them out but badly, a mess of wet glistening on her chin. Her lipstick was almost entirely rubbed away, an animal red flare around her mouth.
“I taught my cat to roll over. When I got home from school he would run to this spot on the carpet and show me his belly. I taught him to go the rest of the way with this toy ribbon he liked. Then he would do it whenever I asked—long as I had treats. He knew his worth.”
Jesse pinched off the lit end of his cigarette and tossed the filter away. He spit in the grass. His eyes were all pupil—an insectile black.
I watched the far-off highway, or at least where I thought it was. I wanted to count the seconds between cars, or the minutes, but for as long as I watched there was no one.
“Can I be in your videos?”
“I’m not putting your cat in my videos.”
“My cat is dead,” Lola said. She lifted her arms and then dropped them. “We buried him and everything. I meant me.”
The ground felt soupy. I lifted my foot, one then the other, careful not to let my weight settle for too long. Hey, something is starting to happen, I wanted to say. My heart was too large. There wasn’t enough room for it to kick blood through me, to all the places it needed to be.
“My videos are going to be about dogs. Didn’t you hear me? Are you a fucking dog?”
“I don’t know.”
Lola, I tried to say. Look. The thought didn’t connect to action. She was suddenly too far away, the path between us beginning to bend.
“Let’s see.” Jesse lifted his phone. The flashlight aimed at Lola. Her pupils reflected a milky light. “Be a good dog. Roll over.”
Lola twisted in the air, then shook her head. Her mouth was pulling strangely in the corner. Smile-like.
“Hey,” I said, or maybe I didn’t. No one looked at me.
“I want treats. No treats, no tricks.”
She laughed, the sound too high and sharp—glass shattering. I stretched my arm towards her. I needed to be near her, I needed her next to me. The ground wouldn’t stop trying to swallow me and my arm had curved, the hair sticking up, an iridescent and lovely blur all along the edge of me.
“I gave you treats already. Now be good. Bark for me.”
She thought it was a game until he stood up. He grabbed her arm. His hand was so large that his fingers overlapped her bicep. He squeezed. Her skin puffed between his fingers like raw dough.
“Bark,” Jesse said.
Lola’s mouth stretched. All of her teeth were showing, pink-smeared with lipstick. She tried to jerk out of Jesse’s grasp but he didn’t let go. “Stop,” she said, and then she said it again. “Jesse, seriously. Stop. Let me go. Jesse.”
The strain of his grip flexed the veins in his forearm. Lola’s fingers dangled limp and bloodless. A line flickered between her pale, pale eyebrows. I watched it for too long, staring. Her eyes darted around until they found me.
“Come on. We’re just fucking around. Just do it. Be a good dog.”
Her fingers were swelling, plum-flushed. Lola tried to move again and made a sound deep in her throat, a sound she didn’t want to make. She hated to cry. Even when we were alone she turned her face away, and I let her, petting her hair while she buried her face against the wall. After Marmalade’s funeral I stroked her back while she tore her fingernails bloody with her teeth and made sounds I pretended not to hear, would never admit the relief in hearing.
“Jesse, come on,” Robert said. I’d forgotten about him, unmoving from inside the car. This is all he would do—say something so later he could think himself the hero for trying.
Jesse lifted Lola’s arm at an angle. I found myself moving across the sucking ground. My fingers light on his wrist. “Jesse, please. Please.”
What I had to give away with that please. It was everything.
Jesse held his phone in his free hand. He aimed it at us and I wondered how we looked on screen—small against the blackness behind. Nothing anywhere. Just us, the two of us, looking back.
“Bark,” Jesse said, and he lifted again and Lola inhaled and I knew he would break her arm. I would have to watch him break her arm. I would stand here, hands out,
and hear the snap of it. Jesse’s eyes, the flickering vein in his neck, his knuckles flashing white. I imagined my hands as claws, as fists, my eyes as lasers.
“I just want to have fun,” Lola said. “I just miss my cat. I want to have fun.”
“I’ll do it,” I said. Lola cut her eyes at me—a warning.
“Bark,” Jesse said.
“I have to pee.”
“Me too,” I said. “We’ll do it after.”
Jesse relaxed his grip. He let go. Lola’s hand dropped and swayed as if it wasn’t a part of her.
“Fine,” Jesse said. He kept the camera aimed towards us.
Lola and I walked away from the car. She took my hand. Her fingers were cold.
When there were enough yards between us, her hand pulled at mine and we ran. Jesse shouted after us but we didn’t stop until we crested the top of a hill. We looked down at the shadow of him. I thought he would chase us but he stayed by the car and the light there, shouting. Lola tipped back her head and to the stars she yipped, barking awful and high and loud. After he gave up and drove away we would realize we were stranded, lost, but now we ran. Colors streamed from our fingertips. We laughed and ran and stretched our throats to the sky. We howled. We were wolves, wild things. I wanted to run forever. Our need, all that we wanted—you can’t imagine.
Laura Perkins lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Her work has appeared or is upcoming in Cutbank, Cagibi, The Mighty Line, and Sky Island Journal.