Mary Ann was rinsing off her plate when she saw the three girls sitting by the stairs leading up to the Metra train tracks. She was, at first, lost in her mission to rinse the tuna fish juice from her plate. Her partner, Jo, hated the smell of tuna fish. It was a fugue state brought on by grief. It didn’t matter if she had filled the sinks, bathtubs, and the toilet with tuna juice because Jo had left her. Jo moved out right after she lost her admin job at the insurance company. Jo was always the employed one. She was the stable one. Mary Ann was the in-between jobs one. The unstable one. The clock read 11:48. Shouldn’t these girls be in school? It was about time for her soap to start. Today was the day that Justine would finally figure out that Jaden was sleeping with their neighbor, Ramone. They’d been teasing it out for some time now. And it was a Friday. Was it Friday? Then she saw one of the girls, who had on a shiny red puffer coat that matched her bright red hair shaved with a fade on the sides and a puffy pompadour on top, pull out an enormous blunt. Mary Ann squinted her eyes. She needed new glasses, but now that her job and Jo were gone, she couldn’t afford them. She reached for the binoculars that were sitting dusty on the windowsill. When she left, Jo took the good sheets that Mary Ann bought on sale at Macy’s. She took the good tea kettle, she took their cuddy cat Watson, and left the mean cat Eddie, and left binoculars. Jo’s fucking binoculars. She said they were for bird watching. They were for watching their neighbors. One time she happened to see their old neighbor, Beth, undressing, and then she bought a pair of $1300 Steiner Military Binoculars in drab olive green used by special services in the field. With according to the brochure, “Cylindrical eyecups shield the eyes from sun and wind, and they can be folded down for use with glasses.” Jo didn’t wear glasses, nor were her eyes ever exposed to wild windstorms or the bright desert sun. Finally, Mary Ann found a good use for them. She put them up to her eyes, and the girls were all fuzzy, so she had to play with the lenses to get them in focus. Then they were too focused. She could see the shadow of the other girl dressed in black head-to-toe with an oversized leather bomber jacket. Her hair was glossy black with touches of blue and purple. Mary Ann could see the shadow of the synthetic fibers from her fake eyelashes on her cheek. Finally, she was able to adjust the lenses just right. She sat there and watched them pass around a joint wrapped in brown paper like the kind that Bob Marley smoked. These girls couldn’t have been much more than fifteen. They should be in school. They shouldn’t be sitting on a curb smoking a Rasta-sized fat blunt without a care in the world. This couldn’t stand. This wouldn’t stand. Then Mary Ann asked herself the one question she’d been asking for the last thirteen years – What would Jo do? Without hesitation, Mary Ann picked up the avocado green phone attached to the wall and dialed 911. Was a trio of high school girls smoking pot a 911 emergency? She hung up. Jo had used the lamination machine at work to keep all their necessary numbers, like her mother’s landline, non-emergency police, and the vet right by the phone. She then taped it to the wall. The tape had become coated in grease and was peeling at the corners. The bottom left corner had lost most of its glue and had curled up like a ribbon. Mary Ann tried to press it back in place, back onto the wall. But it wouldn’t stick. She took the side of her fist and began pounding it in place. Soon she realized that she was getting off the mission. She needed to call the police and get those lost young women off the street and back to school where they belonged. Mary Ann punched the numbers into the phone. Then turned back to the window pulling the long plastic telephone cord taught. She picked up the binoculars and noticed that surrounding the girls–there were coats, sweatshirts, gym shorts, notebooks, pencil cases, backpacks, and iPhone cases. She assumed it was high school ephemera from the school’s lost and found because the t- shirts read “OPRF High School Athletics.” The girl with the shaved head with the joint hanging out of her mouth was weaving shoelaces together. “Oak Park Police, non-emergency,” a clipped voice brought Mary Ann back from her dissociative state. “Um, yeah.” The third girl was tiny with long brown and white braids; she had on an oversized sweatshirt with gray arms and an orange chest. She was gluing iPads, laptops, and iPhones to it to a large square cardboard box. The box had a KitchenAid logo and a picture of a dishwasher on it with large red arrows that said, “THIS SIDE UP.” “What’s your emergency ma'am?” “There are these girls. They should be...and they’re smoking...right outside my...” Right at that moment, the girl with the red hair came around the corner rolling two large propane tanks from the 7- Eleven and had a Twizzler hanging from her mouth. She was carrying bags filled with Monster Energy Drinks, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and Sour Patch Kids. “What’s your address?" “734...” “Ma'am, are you still there?” Mary Ann ran to the receiver and slammed the phone down. She took her light blue cardigan hanging on the back of the kitchen chair and put it on. Her Grammy had knitted it by hand, and the edges were frayed. To her surprise, it was too big, and it hung off her body. Jo was always complaining about her weight, and as it turned out, she just needed her to leave her to get skinny. She opened the sliding door leading out to the small concrete patio filled with dying plants, a near-empty bag of charcoal, and a rusty sliver Weber grill with chunky pieces of greasy barnacles hanging off the bottom. She pulled her sweater around her body and crossed her arms. Watching the girls, they reminded her of birds – a cardinal, a crow, and a robin. Now, all three of the girls were working together. They each had Flaming Hot Cheeto dust stuck to their glossy, light pink lips. They didn’t speak as they knitted together windbreakers, tee shirts, socks, and coats. Once, the cardboard box was covered – its sides and its bottom with electronics. It was sitting upright. The shoelaces were braided together like a thick rope and were laid out next to the box. There were four long ropes on the street tied to the propane. For Mary Ann, time had stopped. She forgot about her soap and whether or on Justine would soon learn the truth that Justin was, in fact, gay. She forgot about Jo. She forgot about her past-due rent. The girls took the ropes and fastened them to the round balloon envelope that they had crafted out of the clothes. They put the cardboard box on its side. It was the basket. The cardinal pulled out of her red puffer coat a drill and began drilling holes in the sides. When she was done, she threw the drill up and over the train tracks. The girls tied the shoelace ropes attached to the windbreaker clothing parachute. Then they stood back and admired their work. They had a problem. Mary Ann could see it all now. She looked at the broken-down rusty grill, grabbed it, and tossed it over the iron porch railing. She watched as it rolled down the street toward the girls. They picked it up and took off the top and set the propane tank inside it. They finally had their burner system. They affixed it to the envelope and turned the basket right side up. They jumped into it and turned on the flame. As the balloon was slowly filling with hot air, Mary Ann heard the woo-woo-woo-woo-woo wail of the police sirens.
About the Author Amelia Estelle Dellos is an MFA candidate in fiction and a writing professor at Columbia College Chicago. Her recent work has appeared in Grand Dame Literary Magazine, Highly Sensitive Refuge, and in an anthology titled Writing in Place: Stories from the Pandemic. Her forthcoming novel Delilah: Recovered, was published by Atmosphere Press. She is also a produced screenwriter and director. For more info, follow her on Instagram at @aedellos or visit her website ameliatellsstories.com.
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