#whocares — A Short Story
I’ve done some digging through the archives lately, and have decided to publish a bit more of my fiction that’s been previously published in print but is no longer available online.
This story, “#whocares”, was written back in 2011 and initially published (in print) by Problem Child Magazine.
Looking back on it, I feel it might capture a particular point in time culturally that was coming-of-age, but now is in full swing.
Regardless, I hope you enjoy!
It was dark out, and a particular kind-of cold.
The air was damper than usual, and the moon was scattered among the clouds, making it altogether a dreary evening. But this didn’t matter much to her — she probably wouldn’t have even been paying attention if it were any different.
“Yeah. So I just need to stop by my apartment to pick up the booze for tonight,” Becca said, in her slow but excited voice, interrupted by cigarette puffs. “My sister picked it up for me yesterday, and I hid it under the bed so Henry wouldn’t steal it for his own vile uses.”
“Is that cool?”
“Cool. Afterwards we can go over to Vinnie’s and get schwasted-faced all night.”
Today was Mildred’s twentieth birthday. Her parents called while she was in class, but she didn’t leave to answer. She didn’t even call her voicemail yet to see what they said. It wasn’t an issue of primary concern.
She was disappointed Becca didn’t make more of a big deal about it when she mentioned her birthday earlier, but then again she knew why. They were throwing a surprise party tonight for her, and she probably didn’t want make it seem like she thought it was a big deal, or something like that.
She hadn’t told Becca about it yet, probably because she would feel bad if she did. When she imagined it though, telling her didn’t seem like a big deal. Either way, it was probably a good idea not to mention it. Mildred found out about the whole thing because when she was with Henry the other night, she saw the decorations under the bed. She wanted to mention something, but didn’t think Henry would appreciate it then, and didn’t want to tell anyone how she found out. It’s just whatever.
They were about 20 minutes away from Becca’s apartment, and the streetlights had been on for a few hours already. The ground made a weird ‘swishing’ sound with each step, but she wasn’t sure if the source was her boots or her leather jacket she picked up a few nights ago from a friend. Both squeaked.
“So how are things going with that boy?”
Becca was in the process of pulling out another cigarette and trying to get a light while still moving.
“You know, that greasy-haired one from the bar.”
Mildred gave her a blank look.
“The one in that band. Who was wearing that top-hat? Blue pants?”
“Oh, Ryan?” Mildred nodded.
“Yeah, Ryan. How are things with him?”
“They’re going okay,” Mildred looked down to avoid a small gap in the sidewalk, as well as an earthworm that found its way to the pavement. “He text me a few times this week, but we haven’t hung out or anything.”
“Ah, cool. Well, it sounded like you guys were having fun last Saturday in the bathroom,” Becca said with a smirk.
Mildred slapped her arm, lightly and playfully.
“Shut up! You heard that?”
“The whole bar could hear it. You realize there’s a hole at the top of the men’s room, right? If you can hear a guy take a dump you can definitely hear when two people are humping each other.”
They smiled and turned the corner, narrowly missing a pack of frat brothers on their way out for a night on the town. They were already trashed, and one guy was spanking the other.
Must be pledge week, Mildred thought.
She reached for her pocket, but found nothing. Fucking jeans.
“Hey, do you mind if we stop at the CVS real quick? I lost my cigs.”
“You can have some of mine.”
“You know I hate menthol.”
“Yeah,” Becca pulled her phone out of her purse slightly, looked at it, and let it slip back in. “Yeah, for sure. I thought you quit anyway.”
“Yeah, that didn’t work out. It was a long two days.”
The store was mostly empty, with the exception of an older lady in the back looking for eggs and a drunk kid looking anxiously through the chocolate rack. The fluorescent lights were annoyingly bright like always, and waiting at the counter was someone she most definitely didn’t feel like running into.
“Hey there,” he said, in a voice that irritated the elderly. “How are you Mildred? I haven’t heard from you in a while.”
Mildred straightened herself out and found an itch on her arm that wasn’t there before.
“Yeah. You didn’t get my text?”
“No,” he said, looking sad. “You sent one?”
“Yeah. Either that or on twitter.”
“How are you?”
They shared a few moments of silence before he realized he had to do what he was getting paid for.
“What can I get you? Pack of Spirits?” He turned around slowly looking at the choices, picking out a pack. “Black ones, right?”
He turned around to the register and typed into the machine. A long moment passed.
“Do you have your CVS card with you today?” His tone was painful.
“Okay. It’ll be $4.33 then.”
She pulled out a crumbled five and handed it over to him, holding it in her fingers like an old sock. She put on a fake smile.
He took it, smiled without showing his teeth, and got her change.
“67 cents is your change then,” he said as he put out his held the change in his clenched fist.
She put her hand under his, collected the change, and shot another fake smile at him.
She turned around and walked towards the door where Becca was waiting for her.
“See you, Mildred. Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” she said, as she waved without looking on her way out the door.
“Who was that?”
Becca was walking fast, swooping her black hair out of her eyes.
Mildred didn’t respond.
“Who was that?” she asked again.
“Oh, sorry. Roger.” Mildred’s voice sounded bored and tired.
“Anything else? Any other details?”
Mildred didn’t always feel comfortable talking to her friends about things. In a way, it was all she really cared about — she wanted everyone to like her, to look up to her as a leader of the pack or something like that. She hated the idea but knew it was true. But at the same time, she felt like they didn’t care. At least not about her, or anyone else for that matter. Every question was filled to the brim with some sort of rational self-interest, and any piece of information you let slip that made you seem vulnerable was a mistake. They’d shit-storm you until you forced yourself to laugh about it, even if it hurt when you did.
Becca, however she put herself out there, probably wasn’t any different then the rest of them.
They were already at Becca’s apartment building when it started raining hard.
“Thank God we missed that,” Becca said, adding a ‘whew’ in there for good measure.
“Yeah, thank God.”
“I don’t feel like putting more mascara on. Shit’s a bitch.”
They pushed the door to get inside, and walked to the scratched-up elevator. Drunks have been carving their names into this piece of metal since before I was alive, Mildred thought, feeling a certain crushing feeling in her chest.
Becca pushed the button, than pulled her cell phone out of her purse again, looking at it before letting it slip back in.
Mildred looked over to Becca.
“I know about the party.”
Becca just looked at her, not knowing what to say.
“Well, shit,” she said. “Who told you?”
The elevator door opened, and they walked in, kicking a Keystone Light box out of the way before hitting Becca’s floor number.
“No one did. I figured it out myself.”
The elevator doors closed slowly and screechingly.
“Well, that’s great.”
The floor jerked up, starting its ascent towards Becca’s apartment.
A few moments passed.
Mildred looked over to Becca.
“Hey. Thanks for this,” Mildred said aloud, staring at the ground in front of Becca’s feet.
“No, really,” she looked at Becca’s eyes. “Seriously. Thank you.”
“Hold on, I just got to text them to be quiet now so they think they surprised you.”
Becca texted for a few seconds as the elevator grinded to a halt. Mildred could hear the ‘shh’s from the hallway as they approached.
Before they were about to walk in, Becca stopped and turned towards Mildred.
“Hey, just so you know, they’re going to yell ‘Who Cares’ when you walk in.”
“Yeah. They think it’s funny joke, and that you’ll appreciate it,” Becca said with a slight smile as she swooped her black hair out of her eyes. “Regardless, happy birthday.”
She put her hand on the doorknob and turned, feeling it’s cool and rusted brass, ready to feel something new.