Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Fall 2013    poetry    all issues


Slater Welte
What Made Us Leave

Heather Frese
The Coffee Table Book of Funeral Etiquette

Gibson Monk
The Cedar Orb

Bronwyn Berg
Try to Be Normal

Jessie Foley
Night Swimming

E. Ce Miller
A Shock to the System

Lucy Tan

Daniel C. Bryant
En route

Marc Burgett
Armed and Dangerous

Liz Cook
Why You Should Never Speak To Your First Love

Eileen Arthurs
Investing in Plastic

Barry Bergman
This Mascot Business

Katherine Enggass

Maria Hummer
The Person I Was Yesterday

Tony Burnett
Painting Over Stains

Karen Pullen
Something to Tell Henry

Catherine Bell
Getting Away

Steven Lee Beeber
The Box

Jessica Bagwell

Jodi Barnes
Six Days of Pritchett

Lucy Tan


The men we met at Cachito called us girls or sometimes ladies and also chickies, broads, biddies, moon-faces and jailbait, but not kids—never kids. We had to learn their speech to mask our ages.

Cut us a stoge, will you? We’ll give you a buck for a loosie.

We had a way with numbers. There were four of us. We stood outside the bar and let the men watch us pass their cigarettes from mouth to mouth to mouth to mouth and imagine what they would. Behind their backs we had names for them too: we called them “possibilities.”

Because it was not about the men at all. It was about seeing if they could take us to Caston City and back home again before morning. We lived in the driest part of the state where the air smelled like nothing (and not nothing as in “absence of” but nothing as in weeds sunned to death and the dust from loose rocks skipped downhill to nowhere). Cachito was about as far as we ever got from home. It lay at the intersection of three counties, just off a highway crossed by men from both coasts and all the pass-by states in between. We studied their license plates and cars’ emissions, disappointed that acrid breath smelled the same coming from anywhere—Virginia, or Texas, or Arkansas.

One night, at Cachito, we found a man leaned up against his car, peering down the interstate. He had a thin frame and hair slick as the back of a beetle. We liked that he was alone—it made us bold.

“Hey, nice hair,” Tammy said to him. “We like your car. You wanna buy us drinks? Wanna go inside?” He looked at each of us and then back at Mini, the prettiest.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Sixty-four.” That was how old we were combined.

The man was tall and timid. When he walked, his arms were like two wavering apologies. He held the door to the bar open for us Dad-style—propped up with one hand high so we could slip underneath. Once inside, three of us girls got into one end of a booth, and Tammy, the baddest of us, got in on the side of the man. She asked him for four screwdrivers, and he ordered in a voice that fell straight into his lap. For a while after the waitress left, he continued studying the menu, and then finally, pushed it aside to look out at the pinball machine and the beers on tap.

“You waiting on someone?” Tammy asked, tilting her head. She had a cute little chin like a spade, which she was used to using for leverage.

“No,” the man said. “Just looking.”

He rubbed his fingertips against each other while eyeing Mini again—the pretty one. She wasn’t even that pretty; we were all pretty. To the world we were one: best friends and interchangeable, with a unified stance on most things. We liked being close enough to love and hate each other in place of loving and hating ourselves.

“So what’s your name, anyway?” I asked, picking up the relay.

“Dave,” he said, still watching Mini.

“What are your plans tonight, Dave?”

“Goin’ to a party in Caston,” he said. “How ’bout yourselves?”

“Us too!” piped Tammy.

“Imagine that. Where abouts?”

Tammy did not have an answer to this, so she just dipped her chin and winked at him.

When our drinks came, the man looked at his as if he had forgotten he had ordered it. He swirled it, tasted, and then drank the whole thing at once. A pair of high beams flooded in from the parking lot, making the man angle his eyes. I saw then in the glare that he had thick knuckles and sausage-patterned skin. He was old, truly old—about forty-five. The other girls must have seen it too because everyone got quiet and sucked on their drinks. This was not the man we hassled in the parking lot. Something had fooled us out there.

“What are your names?” he asked us, suddenly friendly.

“Well I’m Tammy. That’s Lisa. And Mini and Jean.”

Lisa and I motioned hello. Mini, though, was jabbing at the bottom of her glass with her straw.

When we were in the fourth grade, our class put on a play. Mini had stage fright, so Mrs. Woodruff cast the four of us as seasons, hoping that Mini would feel more comfortable performing with the three of us by her side. Tammy was Winter, Lisa was Spring, I was Summer, and Mini was Fall. When the time came, though, we still couldn’t get Mini to go out. The rest of us stood in a row, our heads all turned stage left to where she was standing. “Fall!” Mrs. Woodruff had urged from the wings. “Fall!”

“Well ladies, if we’re all goin’ in the same direction, why don’t I give you a ride? Would you like that?” When the man smiled, we could see one of his bottom teeth was darker than the rest, and I could feel Mini’s leg start to jiggle against mine.

“That’d be nice,” said Tammy. “I mean—thanks.”

“I guess any party in Caston has got to be better than this bar,” he said. “What do you think if we get on now?”

“That sounds okay to me,” Tammy said. She looked at Lisa and I and we nodded.

“I need to pee,” said Mini.

“Me too,” the rest of us agreed.

In Cachito’s bathroom, we could not tell if our faces were flushed or if it was because of the red, green, and yellow fiesta lanterns strung up around the sink. We wet paper towels and laid them on our faces, just in case they were.

“What now?” asked Lisa.

“He’s weird,” said Mini. “He looks at me weird.”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” I said.

Mini peeled the paper towel off her face and flung it at me. “You guys go. I’m not going to go.”

“If you were going to be scared, why did you come?” asked Tammy.

“I’m not scared. I’m just saying it’s weird.”

“What’s weird? There’s four of us and one of him.”

For a man’s car, it smelled surprising in there—not of cigarettes or old socks, but of antiseptic and canned fruit. Tammy got in first, then Lisa, then me. Mini was left to sit up front, where she kept her legs crossed, but the man didn’t even look over. He turned on the ignition and the radio and eased out of the parking lot, taking the wheel with one hand. Though old, he had on the kind of music we knew.

“Can we roll down the windows please?” Lisa asked. Dave understood right away. He not only lowered the windows, but turned up the radio so that it roared above the sound of the wind and just like that, nothing felt weird anymore. The three of us in the back seat started singing, and pretty soon Mini joined in too. Even the man had one arm out of his window, drumming his palm against the car door.

We didn’t know what kind of car it was, but it looked expensive. The dashboard shone like a new foal, and its dials blinked lightning bug green. “This is a nice car!” I yelled to him. “You make a lot of money, don’t you?”

“Naw,” Dave said, shaking his head, but you could tell he was happy to hear it.

“What’s your job?”

“I’m in business.”

“You must be good at business,” said Lisa.

He raised his shoulders, and then let them slowly drop. “I get by.”

The farther we got from home, the straighter and smoother the highway became, until it was hard to tell if we were moving or if things were just moving past us. For the first time that I could remember, I didn’t know where I was. There was little room for nerves or even excitement now that we were on our way to Caston. What I felt mostly was relief. Curiosity could only itch so long before it started to chafe.

In the front seat, the man was saying something, and Mini was laughing.

“See that field there?” he asked, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. We craned our necks to look. Below the overpass was a football field with grass so green it looked fake under the floodlights.

“St. Antony’s. Best football team in the nation and never better than when I was there.”

“You played college football?” asked Tammy.

“No,” he said, turning down the music. “But buddies of mine did. They traveled all over the country playing football. Some of ’em even went pro. We got so good my senior year, some of the players had their names engraved on the goalposts back there.”

We smiled at each other. How like our own fathers he seemed—how like most men we knew—to shrug off direct praise and associate with victories that had nothing to do with him.

Dave pulled us off the highway and down a long ramp, over which we could see lights coming up from the valley. Stores and bars lined either side of a long road, their signs flashing against the cars on the street.

“I don’t know where you ladies are heading,” said Dave, “but if you don’t mind I’d like to swing by my place real quick to get a bottle of something to take to my party. Then I can drive you where you need to go.”

Mini spoke for us this time—I didn’t even hear what she said. The light changed, and we turned off the main street, into a tunnel of trees that mothered the side streets.

His house looked how I thought a normal Caston house might look—small but dignified, with a roof that fell away on either side under the weight of maple branches. He parked in the driveway and pulled the keys out of the ignition.

“You guys want to come in or what?”

“We’ll wait here,” said Mini.

He said, “Suit yourself. Won’t be a minute,” and got out, leaving the car door open. We watched until he let himself inside the house before getting out ourselves.

The air in the valley was different; it didn’t smell like nothing. It smelled like motor oil and wood-things and the sweet scent of cold barbecue. I squeezed Lisa’s hand, which was still sticky from the screwdriver, and we followed Tammy and Mini, who led the way down the street. A few blocks later, we stopped at a house with no lights on. Its lawn was dark green and evenly mowed, and we lay down to feel the grass behind our heads and needled beneath our ears and against the backs of our legs. It was like riding on the neck of a giant, and suddenly, I saw this city for what it was: a mighty conveyor of opportunity and magic. “We could never go home,” I said. “Let’s never go home.”

My words gathered weight in silence, and I realized the other girls were waiting for Tammy to speak.

“We’d need money,” she said, finally.

“We could find money. Besides, we just left that guy. How would we get home anyway?”

Across the street, an American flag thumped over someone’s garage.

“I know where we can get money,” said Lisa. “The guy left his wallet in the car.” Her eyes searched out Tammy’s in the dark, and they were saying to her what deep down, Lisa and I knew we were always trying to say above each other: You might be the baddest, but I can be bad too.

“Should we get it?” Tammy sat up. “How much do you think is in there?”

“Probably enough for a cab home, at least,” Lisa said.

Back on Dave’s street, his car doors stood open, as we’d left them. Tammy slipped into the driver’s seat and found the wallet just where Lisa had said it would be, resting in the console. There was a lonely twenty tucked into one end of the billfold.

“Better than nothing,” Tammy said, sticking it into her purse. “But you know what would be even better? Screw the money. We should just take the car.”

Lisa and I looked at each other. Here’s the other thing we knew deep down: the baddest girls weren’t really bad—they were mad.

“I’m pretty sure that’s a felony.”

“Who’s gonna report us? I’m pretty sure that guy won’t want to explain how he got his car stolen by four teenage girls. If nothing else, we could say he was coming on to us, and we needed the car to escape.”

“That’s messed up,” Mini whispered.

“It’s not going to get to that point, is what I’m saying.”

The screen door opened, and Dave’s head poked out. In one hand, he was carrying a cordless phone. “Come on in!” he yelled. “I gotta take care of something.” I noticed that he’d changed into a T-shirt too wide for his narrow shoulders, and the bones of his chest jutted through. He didn’t seem surprised to find Tammy behind the wheel of his car. The four of us exchanged glances.

“Well?” asked Tammy.

“I can’t tell if you’re joking about the car,” I said.

She smiled, dropped the wallet back into the console, and opened the door. “Why don’t we just see?”

Our shadows stretched ahead of us as we walked up to the front stoop of his house, one behind the other behind the other behind the other. The exaggerated lengths of our legs seemed almost threatening. Dave stood at the top of the steps, holding the door open with one hand and a beer in the other. He had his phone wedged under his chin and couldn’t smile at us without almost dropping it.

The living room’s rust-colored carpeting was faded in one section beneath a window with drawn shades. There were low bookshelves, a couch, and a coffee table with newspapers stacked neatly in its cubbyhole. On top of the newspapers was a videogame console with its wired tails wrapped around and tucked underneath. We took off our shoes and sat on the couch while Dave put the TV on for us. “Uh huh,” he was saying into the telephone. After some time pacing around, he took his conversation upstairs.

“The keys have to be around here somewhere,” Tammy said, the second he was gone. But after five minutes of looking around we came up with nothing. “We’ll have to wait. They’re probably in his pocket.”

So we stood around the kitchen drinking the things we found in his fridge and cabinets—beers, mostly, and a bottle of scotch that circled us once before coming to rest in Tammy’s hands, where its horizon quickly sank below the paper label. Then we went back to the living room to watch TV, which was showing mostly dated sitcoms and infomercials.

By the time the man came back into the room, Tammy had fallen asleep. He seemed surprised to find us still there, and after pausing a moment, sat down on one end of the couch and draped his arm around the back cushion so that Mini was close enough to smell the crooks of him. She had taken off her socks along with her shoes, and the man stared at her toes. They were small and round with worn crescents of blue nail polish. The toes sensed him looking and curled beneath the balls of Mini’s feet.

“Everything okay?” I asked the man.

“Yeah,” he said, shifting his body toward me with a look of sudden focus. It was as if we’d all been sitting in a darkened basement and I’d suddenly turned on a light bulb over my head.

“You find your bottle?” I asked.

He smiled, and the folds above his eyelids pitched up in smiles of their own.

“Yeah. Thing is, the party called, and it said it’s not until later.”

“How can a party call before it’s happening?”

Dave gave a loud “HA!” and raised his beer to me. He twiddled it by its neck before he drank. The skin beneath his chin hung loose and furred with stubble, except for where the sharp knob in his throat rose and sank.

“You’re a smart one, aren’t you?” he asked. He started doing that thing with his fingers again, where the tips traced each other in circles.

“Actually, she is,” Mini put in. “Smartest one in our school.”

It was just commentary, but it was more about us than we’d meant to say. One look at Dave told me he felt the same. The light above my head went out. He blinked and stared down at his beer.

“You come to the city a lot,” he said, his voice touched with sarcasm. “Right? Regular night on the town.”

The pinkness that had winged his cheeks was gone; he was getting sober. It’s a terrible thing to watch, an old man sobering up. You see him lose so much all at once—humor and arrogance and sundry hopes. You figure this is how he must look when he’s about to die.

“Christ,” he breathed, when none of us answered. He leaned forward, bringing his palms to his temples and said to no one in particular: “I mean, you never told me where you wanted to go.”

Then the doorbell rang. It was a girly kind of ring, with at least five notes.

“Who’s that?” Lisa asked.

Dave neither answered her, nor moved. Moments passed and another string of notes sounded.

“You gonna get that?” Lisa asked again.

It rang a third time.

“It’s probably his mother or something,” Mini whispered to me. “He’s scared to have people find us here.”

Two rings, one after another, the second cutting into the first like a bad record.

Abruptly, Lisa got up and left the living room.

“Hey,” the man called, when he realized where she was going. It was too late; we could hear the door opening and voices outside. Moments later, Lisa returned, followed by three men.

“David!” the first one said. He was lightly bearded all the way down his neck, underneath his sleeveless shirt, over his shoulders and across the backs of his hands. “Lookit the party you’ve got going on here. Sure took you a minute t’ git to the door, huh?”

The man stared back at the men and said nothing.

“’Sa matter with you, son? Chipper a minute ago. ’Scuse Dave’s manners, ladies. My name is Larry. With me here I got Chris and Jon.”

“Tammy,” I said. “Tammy.” She was too far from me to shove awake.

The men were bringing in chairs from the kitchen because the couch was too small. They did not talk or look at one another. For eight people sitting there, the sound of the TV was too soft, and the main thing I heard was Lisa’s tongue ring going off against her teeth like gunfire. We sat in silence for a few seconds before I asked, “Where’s your bathroom?”

All four of them looked at me a while before the biggest one spoke. “It’s upstairs. Down the hall and to the right.”

Lisa and I stood, and Mini stared up at us.

“Mini,” I said, and the men all turned their heads toward her.

Mini looked at Tammy, whose eyes had not even opened once. “I’ll go after you,” she said.

No lights were on in the rest of the house that we could see. At the staircase, Lisa and I felt our way to the second floor where a thick rug covered floorboards that felt loose underneath our steps. I groped until I found a wall that was cool and tiled, with a light switch. In the bluish light of the bathroom, we could make everything out very clearly: a linoleum floor, strewn shirts, stained toilet, and old-fashioned sink. We stepped inside, and I closed the door as best as I could. Its frame had either shrunk, or the door engorged with humidity, but the one didn’t fit into the other. Lisa lowered the toilet seat and her skirt and sat there with nothing coming out of her.

“Oh God,” she said, looking at the floor. “Where the fuck are we?”

Downstairs, the TV volume went way up, and Lisa raised her head, startled. Her hair clung to the sides of her neck.

“Shut up,” I said, before she could say anything else.

“Oh God,” said Lisa again, and then really did start to pee.

After she finished, we turned off the light so we could feel our way back down the stairs very slowly. When we got to the bottom step we saw that the door to the living room was closed.

“Fuck,” said Lisa. “Shit fuck. What do we do?”

For a moment, we stood at the landing, looking around. A hallway led from the living room door to the front door. It was a straight shot—twelve feet, maybe.

I took a breath, turned toward the living room, and knocked.

“Tammy? Mini!” I couldn’t hear anything but the TV, so after a few knocks I stopped, just stood there holding Lisa’s hand, my own going cold, and one of us was sweating.

“We gotta go in,” I said. “Okay?” Her face had never been so still.

Just as I touched the knob, the door opened and the biggest man, the one who had given us directions to the bathroom, stepped outside. He was too big to see around, and he pulled the door shut behind him.

“Hey girls,” he said, taking us each under an arm. “Let’s get me a drink.”

“Um,” I said, as we were walked toward the kitchen. “What—”

“Nothin’ to worry about,” he said. When we reached the kitchen he dropped his arms from our shoulders and opened the fridge. “My friends are not bad people. They’re just lookin’ for a little bit of fun. Everybody’s lookin’ for a little bit. Everybody’s having a good time. You’ll see. You want one?”

He held a beer in one hand and pointed at it with the other.

I shook my head no, and looked back at Lisa, who had stopped short of the door.

“It’s going to be alright,” he said, popping the top on his bottle. “You’re big girls. I’m sure it’s nothing you haven’t done before.”

Then his arms were around us again, and he steered us out of the kitchen, back toward the living room.

“Wait,” said Lisa, pulling back.


Her eyes dropped. I saw that her thumb was hooked around the hem of her dress, pulling on it in the way I’d seen her do when she was little.

“I—I do want a beer.”

A smile spread across the man’s face. Just then, the living room door opened, and there stood Mini, with the bright overhead light spilling out from behind her.

“Tammy threw up,” she said in a small voice, and then, to the big man, “Can you get her some water?”

He looked her up and down, sighed, and headed back to the kitchen. From inside the room, someone said, “Fuckin’ nasty,” and someone else started laughing. Mini pulled Tammy out into the hallway and closed the living room door. I felt her nails in my arm and her mouth against my hair.

Get out.”

We opened the front door with a soft click, and then the screen door. Mini dashed for the car, fishing keys from the pocket of her shorts. She said, “Don’t slam the door!” just as the rest of us got in and slammed all the doors.

In that moment I was more scared than I’d ever been. The three of us were watching the windows to see if anyone was coming for us, but Mini had her eyes turned to the rearview mirror. I looked around and saw that a second car on the driveway—the one the other men must have come in—was blocking our way to the street.


Dave’s head and shoulders appeared through the doorway.

Mini reversed hard and rocked the front bumper of the car behind us, at the same time slamming my face up against her headrest. Pain started in my nose and mapped its way around to the back of my head. When I could see again, what I saw was Dave reaching in through Mini’s open window and making a fist around the perfect circle of her arm. The raised veins in his grip glistened.

“Get off!” she screamed.

It was as if her voice produced an electric shock. He pulled his arm back and the hard lines of him disappeared. He almost didn’t have enough in him to step out of the way as Mini lurched us across the lawn. Twin globes of light swept across grass, the car’s stunted vision leading us away from the house, the man, and the men.

“Are you serious?” I heard someone shout from a distance. “Are you fucking serious?” It was the man who had led us to the kitchen. He and the two others were trundling down the steps. They paid no attention to the man, who was still standing on the lawn, with his hand held up to stop them. That hand stayed in the air even after the men stopped chasing.

I faced front then and didn’t look back.

Turn after turn brought us to the main road, but not any stretch of it that I remembered. The bars were empty now, except for the legs of upturned stools framed in darkened windows. We expected Mini to stop at any second, to pull over so we could talk it over, reassess, but she didn’t. Her bare feet barely reached the pedals. We left Caston in time to see the mountains appear on the horizon, their outlines still purple and vague with sleep, and only then could I tell we were heading east. We got onto the interstate, driving back the way we came. We passed towns we couldn’t name, and then those we could. We passed the football stadium where Dave had stood when he was younger, watching men bigger than him win games he never played. Finally, we passed by the exit to Cachito and our town, and kept on going. I wasn’t sure if we were still driving to get away or in chase of something else.

An hour later, when Mini signaled to turn into a rest stop, we all straightened up in our seats. She rounded the entrance and parked outside of a Roy Rogers, even though what we really needed was gas.

We sat there in quiet until I said, “You guys are okay, right?”

Mini caught my gaze in the rearview mirror, her jaw sharp. One of her eyes was still lined and the other wiped almost entirely of makeup.

Tammy exhaled and brought her knees up to her chin. “Goddamn,” she said quietly. “That was sloppy as hell.”

Sloppy: she had her own way of saying.

“Mini?” I said, when I saw her still looking at me. “You could have come to the bathroom.”

“No, I couldn’t,” she said. “I couldn’t leave Tammy alone. And then it wasn’t four anymore. It was two and two.”

Though her voice was steady, I saw that she was about to cry, so I looked away at the highway on which we’d come. Its median stretched farther than I could see, one concrete barrier linked to the next, like vertebra on a spine. After a while, Mini and Tammy got out of the car. The two of them walked around the side of the restaurant and disappeared, an odd, shoeless pair.

“Some people are just better at knowing,” Lisa said to me, or to herself. “Mini didn’t know what was going to happen, or she would have done the same thing we did.”

“None of us knew what was going to happen,” I said.

“Didn’t we?”

“Don’t say that shit, Lisa. It doesn’t matter.”

But it did matter. It mattered in a way that could not be said if we tried.

Sloppy, Tammy had called it. If I had to call it anything, I’d say the feeling that stayed with me the longest was abandon. Forget what we had done to Mini and Tammy—this is the kind of abandon that’s felt when you realize you don’t even have yourself by your side. Your self could be someone completely different from who you thought you were. She could get up and walk clear out of the room.

But it wasn’t just me. There were new sides to the other girls, too. Years later, I would look back and remember Lisa’s stillness as we stood outside the living room, and Tammy’s slumped body on the couch, and the set of Mini’s jaw. These strangers in us had made strangers of us. In knowing what it meant to belong to the outside world, we did not belong to one another. Not anymore.

That morning, though, I wasn’t thinking of all the things we lost at that man’s house. For once, life had outpaced what I could imagine. I opened the car door and stepped outside, where the heat met me like an anxious parent. It felt good to be touched that way. Next to the gas station was a convenience store whose light had just come on. I thought about buying a map, but wasn’t sure what good it would do us. What about food? Cigarettes? I pictured walking in and asking for a pack of Marlboros. “How old are you?” the cashier might ask. “What happened to your shoes?”

“Sixteen,” I could say. “Take it or leave it.”

Instead, I walked toward a shaded corner of the parking lot. Kicking aside paper cups and the wax husks of take-out food, I sat down on the curb to watch the morning traffic. Truckers drove in and out of the rest stop, carrying who-knows-what from one side of the country to the next. They nodded at each other, grown men of a union. They signaled left, or right, and drove off to all the places we’d been trying to go.

Lucy Tan lives and writes in New York City.

Dotted Line