May 1997

American Patrick

by Ammi Keller

There is a Laura Ashley in the shopping center on Main Street. It's next to a Gap, with the obligatory Gap Kids and Gap Shoes, and a Benatton. There's also a Body Shop, a Banana Republic, and a Florisam Shoes. A noose, gigantic and perfectly crafted, undulating harmlessly in the poker-faced July sky.

I go to the Woolworth's across the street whenever I need anything that can be bought there. There aren't any signs over the aisles, but that's fine with me. It's a good excuse for running around in circles in the air-conditioning. I go there with Anna and Tre, then try to lose them. I hide behind the peanut displays, the economy sized shampoo bottles, the little girl who turns out to be an oversized, two dimensional Barbie. I dart between the fat musicians in the speaker system, put my palms against the glass of the fish and bird tanks and stick out my lower lip in a gesture of solidarity.

One day a few months ago Anna caught up with me in between the sewing supplies and lingerie. She threw a yellow oval of yarn at me and I dodged it before she caught me with a pink one in the ribs. I tossed them up and laughed, rounding my throat to amplify the sound. They hit the cork ceiling, loosening a shower of asbestos dust as innocuous as fairy spittle. We shrieked then, hoping someone would notice and ask us to leave. But the employees, all young Haitian women with quick eyes and light steps or older Caucasian ladies with thick glasses and thicker steps, always pretend not to notice us. I told Anna we ought to break things. She handed me the jar of peanut butter she'd been planning to buy. No, I said. Not here. There, I pointed.

She understood and we walked out, pulling Tre along like a brush grasping lint or religious zealot making a collection. Outside, we stood in superhero formation, legs apart, arms crossed, feeling the sweat crawl around on our backs and inner thighs, feeling the crust of an idea with our incisors.

Two weeks later we condensed on the stairs behind Laura Ashley at 2:00 AM. It was a Thursday and the air was dense and wet, cool on my nose and my broiled fingers and slippery on Martin's .22 between them. The metal was slick with sweat and early dew but it felt hard and solid and I knew, right then, that we could do anything we set our minds to.

"So she was saying art ought to have ideas behind it when..." That was the code and Tre, who was keeping a watch from around the side of the building, said it well. He even put two index fingers to his chin for effect.

"...when we are pulled, from the boy about to hit the tennis ball as the train pulls away," I said as I strut past the shivering college-aged women locking the door. She was slim, had a blond Friend's haircut, looked exhausted.

"Hey Laura. How's life treating you?" I said as I sank my hands into the ashy mass. I yanked down hard and pressed the end of the gun into the soft pocket below her chin. The woman squeaked and dropped her handbag, her eyes bulging with pathetic sobriety.

"Open the door," I whispered as I struggled for a steady grip on the fat of her abdomen with my other hand. She nodded, fumbling with the keys. Her swollen eyes dripped down onto her cheeks and her throat vibrated in my hands as she swallowed over and over to keep from crying. I moved her into the darkened store as Tre guarded the door. Anna began pulling down racks of clothing. White linen shirts and pressed khaki slacks raked themselves through the slats in the vacuumed oak floor. I shoved the sniveling twenty-something to the register, breaking a few of her ribs against the high counter. Maybe.

"Open it." I said.

She did and then stepped back. I yelled to Anna and we jammed our hands into the register, probing the back edges of the plastic compartments with two fingers to make sure we had reached all the bills. Even without counting I could see it was very little money, mostly ones and fives.

"There's a safe," I told Laura. "Take me to it and open it," I breathed, putting the gun against the underside of her cheekbone. It took her a few minutes, but Laura eventually clawed open the metal box. I broke the cash inside into two parts, folded them, jammed them into the back pockets of my denim shorts.

"This is taking too long. This is taking way too long," Anna said. "We've got to go. Now." I nodded, frowning good-bye to the boxes of receipts, the folders and the ordered spread of a lipstick-stained blouse on the inner shelf of the circular counter. Then I kicked them away and bolted for the door. "Wait, Patty. What about her?" Anna said, bouncing in her high tops, pointing at Laura.

"I don't want to kill her," I said. Laura bleated. We ignored her. "Maybe we can just beat her up so bad she can't remember much."

"Sounds risky," Anna says.

"No, it could work. We could rape her, too. That way they'll be looking for the wrong sexual demographic of burglars," I said, referring to the fact that our party is 2/3 female. "Feeling up to it, Tre?" He shook his head. I didn't push it. Instead I sank my nails into Laura's chest, taking the bottom edge of her bra into my palm, and yanked with all my strength. She let herself be pulled into my frame of space and dragged like a pile of half-price accessories along the edge of the counter with only the back-edge of a whimper slipping through the navy oval of her mouth. The buttons on the front of her blouse popped off but her cream underwire refused to snap so I released it. It made a clapping sound as it collided with her breastbone.

"Please don't kill me. I won't tell the police anything. I won't. I swear. Please. I've suffered enough," Laura was full out sobbing by now, a fan of mascara burn-black on her inflated cheeks.

"What makes people rebel against suffering is not suffering itself, but the senselessness of suffering," Tre said in a low voice.

"But suffering isn't senseless!" I remembered with glee. Then I shot her in the face. I aimed for the nose but I don't know where the bullet hit because her whole face was overtaken by red after the shot. The body fell in folds on the ochre carpet, two streams of fluid snaking down along her neck towards the pale skin of her chest and the hot pink line of inflamed skin just below her bra. A spray of thick, ruddy purple covered the open register, the rack of satin baby-doll dresses and the neatly typed employee schedule. There were gray flecks in Laura's hair and on the cardboard receipt boxes. I felt very calm and brilliant, in the silence that followed my finger's path along the trigger, when I reviewed what I had done. I felt very passionate about all the ideas, just then, in the face of their ultimate ends.

"...go. We've got to go. Patty, we've got to get out of here," Anna was saying. A layer of sweat and tears made the hollows of her cheeks shiny in the half-light. Tre looked very small and solemn. His mouth was drawn in to a shy ellipse and his eyes were round and wise. I climbed over the counter and we broke through the door and into a quiet run. We raced in silence through the parking lot to the sidestreet where we'd left Anna's dad's car, the wads of money in my back pockets pulling the front of my jeans tight against the dish of my pelvis.

Anna drove to Tre's house and we hoisted each other in through his bedroom window by weaving our fingers to form solid steps. Then we counted and divided the money and I didn't get to bed until at least 4:00 AM.


Ammi just turned twenty. She enjoys writing fiction and poetry, and being on the Women's Wrestling Team at NYU.