by Susan Henderson
in Alsop Review
Ban Roll-On sucks for two reasons. One,
it takes forever to dry. Two, it makes me smell like
While I'm standing at the bus stop with
my arms out like chicken wings and my biology book
between my knees, I figure something out: The bus
left before I even got here.
I keep my arms out so the wind can blow
through my sleeves and dry my armpits on the way to
school. I'm following the bus route. It's the long
way, but it beats getting lost. I hear the house key
tapping against the bottle of suntan lotion in my
purse, and the strap keeps slipping to my elbow. Actually,
it's my mom's purse. I spilled rum in mine and it's
drying behind our shed. Mom dumped the pill bottles
and wads of Kleenex from her purse and said I could
borrow it until I find mine. I reminded her to take
her pills then booked it to the bus stop, apparently
not fast enough. I stick out my thumb, but not very
I don't exactly like getting into a
stranger's car or talking to people, but it's easier
than getting up on time. It's also easier than telling
Dad I missed the bus again. He's a very busy man,
and he likes things to be done right. Some things,
he says, are like math problems. There's a right answer
and a wrong answer. Setting the alarm, standing up,
marching out the door on time -- those are things
a person really can't get wrong if they're paying
You can't prepare for everything. Once
some jerk said he'd give me a ride home, asked about
my day and acted all interested. Then he leaned over
and touched my mouth with his fingers. They smelled
like gasoline. He missed the turn to my house and
kept driving. I told him my dad works for the CIA
and holds grudges and to let me out. He did, but I
had no idea where I was. And after he drove off I
realized I'd kicked my Dr. Scholl's off in the car.
I got home just after my Dad did. He freaked out when
I came home without my shoes. People don't just lose
their shoes, he said.
The cars are passing fast where I need
to cross the street. I close my eyes and run hard
to the median strip. My heart's pounding as I trip
onto the curb and look back at the cars. I look each
driver in the eye and let out my first grin of the
The white Buick is pulling over. I can't
see the driver, but some lady's got her big tattooed
arm hanging out the passenger-side window, and her
hand is strangling the side view mirror.
"Spider Girl!" she yells.
"Spider Girl!" She says it
in a low voice then laughs like a smoker. Her eyes
are pulled tight like her hair's in a high ponytail,
but it isn't. She just has a weird looking face.
I speak to the driver. "Are you
going past the junior high?"
"Hop in," he says. He looks
pretty ordinary. Baseball cap, freckled skin, gut.
Younger than my dad, I think. He looks me in the eye
but not too much. I throw my purse and my book in
back, and climb in.
The car gets moving. I open my book right away and
skim the part about kidneys again, but it isn't sinking
in. Reading about science is not my favorite thing,
but my dad would like me to be good at it. It was
my idea to get a subscription to Scientific American.
I thought my dad would be impressed, but mostly he's
annoyed that I don't understand the articles.
I keep peeking out the window over my
book. Maybe we'll catch up to the bus and I can see
if anyone's sitting in my seat. I scratched LUCY into
one of the bus seats so everyone will know it's mine.
I always stretch my legs across the seat so it looks
like that's the reason no one will sit next to me.
There are words scratched on top of my name: Reject.
Stuck Up. Babe. I wrote that last one myself. I wrote
it in boy's handwriting so the others would wonder
which boy has a crush on me. It's a stretch to think
someone would be hot for a skinny girl who looks like
Mick Jagger. The boys on the bus say things like,
"Hey, fish lips" and "Don't blow away."
In the cold weather, there are tricks to making yourself
look thicker. I wear thermal underwear under my pants
and roll my socks down to my ankles. I usually have
on two shirts.
"Are we boring you, Spider Girl?"
Tattoo Woman is staring between the seats, tracing
her finger around the tattoos on her arm. They look
like she drew them on herself.
"Why do you call me that?"
"Don't know your name," she
I'm starting to believe only weirdos
will ever give me a ride.
"I killed my father," she
"I know karate," she says,
kneeling on her seat. "I just got sick of him
one day. Stuck my hand in right here and pulled his
throat out." She raises her thick fingers over
the headrest. She's got no fingernails.
"Why aren't you in jail?"
"I made it look like an accident,"
she says. "I poured alcohol in his mouth to look
like he was drunk. I'm not stupid."
"I didn't call you stupid,"
"I'd do it again if I could. I
went upstairs and told my mom 'Dad's dead.' She started
crying, so I went out and played basketball."
"You're kidding. You really did
"I got no reason to lie,"
she says. "I could kill you right now. Same way."
She turns back in her seat and looks out the window.
"Stop here, Hammer." She straightens up.
Tattoo Woman opens the door. "Wait
here," she says. She stomps toward the Mini Mart.
Her sweat pants are hiked above her tube socks and
she's really swinging her arms. I wonder if she's
going to rob the store. Or maybe she's going to buy
a bag of Cheetos to eat after she kills me.
"I'm Hammer," says the driver.
He offers his hand for a shake.
"Hi. I'm Spider Girl," I say,
taking his hand. "Was that your girlfriend?"
"Nah. I drive her to St. Elizabeth's
"She's not all right?"
"Not completely," he says.
"Don't let her scare you."
"I wasn't scared."
"Of course not. You're too tough
"Don't tease me."
"You're the tough kid who goes
home and cries every night."
"You don't know me."
I look out the window. He doesn't know
I'd rather sit here with him than drive in with someone
"Hey, I didn't mean to offend.
Really." He pulls a white pill from his shirt
pocket. "Want one?"
"Sure," I say, and swallow
"Ever ask people what they're giving
you before you take it?"
"Shouldn't roll your eyes at people.
"Maybe you shouldn't give advice
to someone you don't know," I say. "You'll
sound stupid. And I like the black pills best."
I had one on Saturday. That's the night
a bunch of us snuck into a horror movie and a girl
was selling them for two dollars. Everyone was laughing
and screaming in the dark. They passed a bottle of
Jim Beam around and we all drank and got warm. Almost
everyone was kissing and the guys were winking at
each other whenever they got their hand in a good
Sometimes I get kissed, but mostly not.
That night, Charlie Hilt asked if he could kiss me.
No one ever asked before. It never occurred
to me I could say no. I fell in love with him right
there. I said, "No" before I could even
think. He was my hero.
I ended up kissing the one who didn't
ask. Ronnie Dolgin. He shook the ice out of his soda
then put his tongue in my mouth. It was cold, and
I held my breath and waited till he took it out. After
a while he went for another soda. I saw Charlie look
over and then he looked back at the movie screen.
"I think you're going to get a
kick out of school today." It's Hammer.
"School? I think it'll be a good
day for you."
"You're still planning to take
me there? That's good. I wasn't in the mood to get
abducted or anything."
Getting kidnapped can't feel much worse
than getting stranded. After the horror movie, my
friends ran off. I stood outside the building, staring
into headlights in the parking lot. Finally a car
pulled up and honked. I walked up to the locked doors,
looked into the faces of my friends. I jiggled the
handle of the front door and then the back door. I
could see them laughing. Then they sped off.
I waited a long time for them to come
back. Finally, I called my mom for a ride. She's always
up at night. "Just come and get me," I said.
"Just please come and get me."
My mom's not supposed to drive unless
my dad's in the car with her, which means never anymore.
"I'll be right there," she
said. "You're my best friend."
Mom hit the curb twice trying to pull
up to the theater. She rolled down the window.
"I'm so glad you called, Lucy.
It reminded me to take my pills. Proud of me?"
Mom hit the wipers instead of the blinkers,
and we were off.
"You're doing great, Mom,"
Dad's always in bed by 10, so I didn't
have to hear how I disappointed him again. Mom and
I headed for the den, where she usually sleeps. The
TV was still on. I brushed her hair until she fell
asleep. She was nervous from the drive, and her medication
makes her tired. I almost told Mom about the boy I
like, but we just talked about her. She calls me her
little therapist because she can tell me anything
and I don't say she's dumb. At some point my dad looked
in and said, "Thanks for looking after her, Lucy.
But time for bed."
Hammer laughs, and I try to remember
what I said that was so funny. His laugh is friendly.
Maybe I trust him. Anyway, the worst these two can
do is kill me.
"Did your mother name you Hammer?"
"Nah. My real name's Jack."
"Anyone ever call you Hammie?"
"Girls I like, sometimes."
Hammer smiles. "Hey, you got a boyfriend?"
"Charlie." I say it real fast
so he doesn't kiss me. I know he probably won't talk
to me today. On the weekend, guys will take what they
can get, but during school, they only like the pretty
girls with boobs and curling irons and Papagala purses
with interchangeable cloth covers. Girls whose pants
can stay up without a belt. "He can twirl his
gun like a baton," I say, unzipping my purse.
"He's pretty crazy about me." I pull the
bottle of suntan lotion from my bag. "Want some
"Ladies first," he says. He
pulls off his baseball cap, holds it over his heart
and makes a little bow.
It makes me laugh. He laughs, too. He
looks better with his hat on. I open the pink top
and squirt a stream of rum into my mouth. And then
another. The sun is on my face and I feel good. I
can taste some lotion mixed in.
Charlie doesn't seem like the type who
would laugh at my mom for always being in her pajamas
with dirty plates stacked on her bookshelf. He seems
like the type who'd just read the titles of the books
and think we're all smart. Too bad I can't invite
people over. Dad says people don't understand how
to deal with Mom and not to complicate things.
"You going to pass me some or not?"
I pass him the bottle and lean against
The car is so comfortable, I don't know
if I ever want to stand up again.
Tattoo Woman returns with a pencil and
a handful of paper napkins with mashed edges. "Watch
me draw," she says and turns to me. "I'm
an artist. What do you want me to draw?"
Hammer pulls the Buick back onto the
"Draw me," I say.
"I can draw you easy. I can draw
anything," she says, smoothing out the paper.
"I could draw you but I don't like to stare.
I'm not gay." She licks the lead tip of her pencil,
then grips it near the point. The pencil tears through
the napkin and she breaks her pencil in half.
"Here." I hand her my felt
tip pen. "So why'd you call me Spider Girl?"
"You got that long hair,"
she says. "You could wrap flies in it."
Why was I thinking she'd say spiders
are puny but powerful?
I look out the window. She sees what
all the kids at my school see. A skinny freak with
messy hair. "Hey, you better slow down. This
is where I get out."
She balls up the napkin and throws it
at me. I try to unfold it, but my fingers feel like
"Want us to wait here to see if
you get in okay?" Hammer asks.
"You don't have to," I say.
I grab the handle of the door and turn toward Tattoo
Woman. "You probably ought to hang low for a
while. Seeing as you just pulled your dad's throat
She reaches into the back seat and slaps
me on the arm. "You're a cool bitch," she
Going down the empty halls of my school,
I don't have a clue which door has my class behind
it. I don't even remember what classes I'm taking.
Only the bathroom door looks familiar.
I've got a good buzz going. My head
feels way above my body, like it's going to bump the
top of the door frame. The door feels so heavy it
takes my whole body pressing against it to open. There's
a sweaty napkin in my hand.
The air is stuffy in the bathroom. The
heat's always on way too high. I go straight to the
window, grab the latch and give the glass a push.
My mom's purse slides off my arm. My soggy palmprint
turns up on the trees and the parking lot outside.
Finger by finger, my handprint disappears until all
that's left is the parking lot.
Then I hear all the honking.
Hammer's standing beside the white Buick
looking at the school. Tattoo Woman puts the top half
of her body out the window and is flipping the pages
of some big book.
But wait a minute, it's my book.
If they keep up the noise, someone will
go over there to shut them up and they'll read my
name in the book. I know they were nice to me, but
the only thing worse than someone catching Tattoo
Woman studying the larynx with my book would be someone
thinking she's my friend.
My head feels hot. I just think, "Go
away. Go away. Take my book and leave me alone."
Dad will freak when I tell him I lost my book, but
I don't care this time. I know I blew it.
I hear my forehead tap the corner of
the window frame.
"Go to class, Moron," someone
shouts into the bathroom, then lets the door swing
closed again. It's all blurry.
I stumble into one of the stalls and
try to lock the door but I can't get it to hold, and
the sweaty napkin is hanging off my hand like it's
My mom would say, "If you feel
sick, just come home and watch TV with me."
The seat has a crack in it but no drops
of pee. On the stall wall is scribbled: Babe. I sit
on the floor beside the toilet bowl-- me, some shredded
toilet paper and a coin. Normally, I wouldn't even
sit on the seat, I kind of squat over it, but my head
feels heavy and I go ahead and rest my face against
it. The cold feels good.
My hair slips into the toilet bowl but
doesn't touch the water. I hold my hair back with
one hand and lose the napkin in the toilet. I watch
I can hardly focus my eyes. The toilet
water soaks the napkin, smearing the ink even more
and tearing it apart until you can't tell there was
even a picture. My teeth are chattering, making my
face shake against the seat. I can't tell if I'm crying
or just about to puke.
I'm sweating and I smell Dad here beside
me. I know it's only my deodorant, but I pretend he's
here ready to take me home.
About the Author
Susan Henderson's work has appeared
in Oakland Review's 25th Anniversary Anthology, Zoetrope:
All-Story Extra, here
Parent, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Happy,
The MacGuffin, Eyeshot, Alsop
and Hobart, as well as in a number of pamphlets and
training manuals used at Pittsburgh Action Against
Rape. New fiction will appear in an upcoming issue
of Word Riot.