1 story

by D. Arthur

D. Arthur is a Buffalo, NY based fiction and humor writer. Her work has been featured in publications like McSweeney's Internet Tendency and Electric Literature. She is the co-founder of Virago Buffalo, a creative collective that hosts events empowering and celebrating women, queer and NB creatives in Buffalo, NY. More work can be found on her website.

E. Is For Entertainment

We pull french fries out of upside-down party hats, dip them in ranch, and stuff them into our mouths. Our fingers are greasy and our mouths are full by the time she comes in. When she exits without a word, we know to get back into our places. Let’s try this again.

     She billed it as a surprise party even though she planned it for herself. We were at work when we got the invite, or at home with our kids, or at the organic grocer softly palming stone fruits, squeezing for ripeness. She sent an e-vite. A gold envelope gif flashed in our inboxes and blinked open into a spray of digital confetti.

     It’s a Rape-A-Versary Party!!!! the text read in loops and curls. My rape is turning 10! Please, no gifts.

     Where: Chuck E. Cheese.

     When: 7:30 pm arrival / 8:00 pm surprise.

     Attire: Cocktail.

     We wear velvet jumpsuits. We wear jewel-toned tuxes. We get blowouts. We pay people to paint our nails in dusky silvers and grays. We are thankful that the place is empty as we tread in shiny, shiny, shiny faux leather heels, loafers, flats to traverse the geometric-patterned carpet stained with pizza sauce, orange soda, toddler vomit.  

     We climb onto the stage and crouch behind the animatronic animals. We swallow laughs as one of us and then all of us stick our arms under the pits of the mouse, the dog, and the hen, all dressed and grinning. We motion emphatically. We are their arms. We are their souls. Cowgirl, boy band, hip swing, drumbeat.   We pretend to play their instruments. We bring them to life in their awkward bulky glory. We aren’t sure if we’re supposed to be having fun.

     SURPRISE!!!!

     When she enters again, we don’t fuck up. She jumps with scared glee. She wears a gold sequined slip under a blush faux fur coat. You shouldn’t have, she says, wiping tears and snot with a pink fuzzy sleeve. You really shouldn’t have. We didn’t have a choice, but we wouldn’t have chosen anything else. We surround her in a hug, all hover-hands. We avoid too much pressure, too much touch.

     We do have fun. Violent fun. We smash the bobbing plastic heads of gophers emerging from plastic holes. We stomp adult feet onto kid-sized circular buttons sketched with spiders. We love the sound effects, the digital bleep-bloop music, the loud mechanical crunch. We watch sheets of gold coins pressed over ledges by robotic construction equipment. There is a metaphor for capitalism as we convert our quarters into fake gold currency—tonight, though, that’s not important.

     She plays a dancing game that is less like dancing and more like bringing your feet down so hard you can actually feel the bones in your legs vibrate. Her hair loosens from the knot at the nape of her neck. Her hair falls into her face in light strands, soft curls. She doesn’t let it stay there. She pushes the hair from her face. She lets her coat slip down to her elbows and, for a moment, we can see her smooth shoulders, smooth skin. She’s smiling. She’s laughing.

     There’s no cake to cut. Just pizza with words spelled out in toppings: pepperoni SURVIVOR, black olive #METOO. We pick at the toppings. We take small bites. Please, please don’t be shy, she says, pushing the pizza closer to us. Please, please have seconds. Please, she says, stifling a laugh, please, don’t be afraid to devour my pain.  

     We sing to the tune of Happy Birthday. She stomps and sings along.

     It’s time. She claps and stands. It’s time. Did anyone bring a lighter? We all shove our hands into our pockets, searching, eager to be the one to give her a light.

     We float out into the parking lot. We follow her into the quiet dark. She passes under the streetlamps like spots on a stage. She pauses in each glowing circle for a beat long enough to swan her neck and find her light before stopping in an unlit area near the center of the lot. We stop, too. We wait to see what she’s going to pull from a plastic Walgreen’s bag, somehow knowing that, whatever it is, she brought it here to burn—a ritual, a curse, a wish.

     Before we arrived, someone in the group chat guessed the outfit she was wearing when …, someone else guessed something with the name or likeness of …, someone else guessed a crisp cut-out out of the newspaper article about … Too many inches of space dedicated to her pain, somehow still not enough.

     She sticks her hand into the bag. We don’t realize that we are all holding our breath. She pulls out a box.

     Sparklers.

     Oh. Oh. Oh.

     The gold sparks light up her face. The air smells like sulfur and smoke. Her eyes are bright and her feet are light as she drags the glittering heels of her mules in small circles on the pavement. She hands us each a stick.

     We did not come here to destroy. We came here to make light.