What’s in the Suitcase? — Christine Sneed



October 2

Dear Mallory,

I have been looking for your face among all the faces in this city, but it appears you aren’t here. When I was at Walgreens the other day buying wax paper (for cookie-baking, not art projects) and bubble bath, I did see one girl who had on a hat with a snake-like thingamabob coming out the top of it, very much like the hat your grandmother knitted for you, and for a while you wore all the time, even when it was warm outside. The girl at Walgreens who turned out not to be you was buying a king-size Hershey’s with almonds bar, and in line she smiled at me and said, “I need this like I need a hole in my head,” which was kind of a funny thing to say because we actually do need holes in our heads if we want to be able to eat or smell things (or see!)

Anyway, you told me you’d be back one day, but it’s now been about two years since you said that. I think you’re in a place called Kissimmee, Florida now, close to Disney World? Wherever you are, I wonder if they have the kind of dental floss in Kissimmee that you like, the minty type made from blue thread (I remember you using it once when you went as an ancient Roman tyrant for Halloween and tried to keep your sheet in place by tying the floss around your waist, but it kept falling down and eventually you had to tie it in knots over your shoulders). Do you still carry floss in your purse with a spare car key and raggedy Kleenexes and your fake stiletto knife (for scaring off robbers and freaks, you told me, if one ever approached us in a dark alley but we never went into dark alleys, not being dumbasses, for one)?

There are several reasons why I am writing to you, and one is that I am carving a great big pumpkin and wish you were here to help me. I am trying to carve the Eiffel Tower into it because I saw a pattern in a magazine and thought I could do it but holy cripes it is so hard and I stink at it and I don’t know, maybe I should have just chosen the usual pattern with the pumpkin face with only 2 or 3 teeth like he’s a meth addict. Sorry, I know your sister’s house was robbed by meth addicts—twice!—and I’m probably bringing you down. Well, you know the story better than I do so I’ll just stop right there.

Another reason I’m writing is that I want to know what you think about three-legged dogs. You told me once that you wanted to be a veterinarian but then changed your mind because you didn’t think you could ever do amputations or put dogs and cats to sleep, even if they were so sick they could barely open their eyes to tell you in their own silent language that they were ready to end it all. My neighbor across the street has two 3-legged dogs. One is a beagle and the other is some kind of terrier mix, she said. I think it’s kind of creepy to have two dogs like that, but she said they’re rescue dogs, and so, okay, it IS pretty nice of her to take them in, but where did they come from, do you think? Is there a pound specifically for 3-legged dogs and other animals? (Can you imagine a 3-legged gerbil or a 3-legged guinea pig? Ha, that would be so crazy, wouldn’t it?)

A third reason is that I heard you are getting married. I heard it from Steffie Peterson, who is now a manager at the Frootie-Patootie yogurt shop on Chicago Avenue, but she also bakes and decorates wedding cakes for extra money, and she was mad that you didn’t ask her to make your cake, but with you living in Florida now (which Steffie told me herself because you don’t answer my emails, and you have a new unlisted phone number, I guess, and anyway, that’s why I’m writing a regular letter which, if I find the nerve, I will send to your parents’ house), I asked her why she thought it made any sense for her to bake your wedding cake.

She said you could at least have asked her, just to be nice, but I think she was only in a bad mood and maybe she was jealous about you getting married when she’s still wasting her time with Jenny Fink’s dad, who is twenty-two years older than her and a cheapskate and completely bald now too and uses words like “knockers” in front of kids and old ladies, and once I think there was even a monk in the Frootie-Patootie shop when Fred stopped by to ogle Steffie in her tight uniform top. What he actually said was, “I love your knockers so much I’m going to buy a star from an astrology guy for your birthday and name it ‘Steffie’s knockers.’”

“That’s so sweet of you, Fred,” she said and blushed.

I could not believe she was actually flattered! Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but I couldn’t stop myself. “I think you mean an astronomy guy,” I said. “Not astrology.”

He blinked and looked like a total dipshit. Steffie shot me a mean look, but anyway, I got out of there pretty fast after that. She has a nice rack, okay sure, but I really don’t think Fred needs to brag about it in front of everyone. Is he trying to get her fired? What if the old ladies or that monk complained to her boss?

See what you’ve been missing by being somewhere else?

But seriously, what do you think of three-legged dogs? I really am curious. I hope you’ll write me back if I do send you this letter. I suppose you want to continue forgetting me for good because of that one time I kidnapped your cat from the backyard for a few hours and put a skunk in its place and you got sprayed. I was sorry to make you so mad, but now that it’s been so long since it happened, you can see it was pretty funny, can’t you?

Love, Joanie

PS My brother says hi – we’re finally speaking again, as of a few months ago. He probably still has a crush on you too, but I haven’t asked him.
 
 
 
 
October 5

Hi again, Mallory,

I have so much to tell you, and I hope you understand that when we stopped being best friends, it wasn’t like suddenly I had nothing to say to you anymore. Granted, I do have other friends, and Steffie is probably the one I talk to the most, but we’re not that close, which you could probably guess from what I said about Fred in my last letter. It also didn’t help things when she tried to set me up with Fred’s cousin Benny, who is even more pervy than Fred, if you can believe it, though at least he is only 12 years older than me. He was having some problems the night we went out though, as in his stomach kept making these very loud noises. I know he was sorry and embarrassed and wanted to go out with me again, but I said I had to think about it because I was considering going to work for a high class escort service and didn’t know if I’d have time to see other guys on top of those who were paying big bucks to see me. (This was a lie, obviously, but he believed it.)

When Steffie found out about my lie, she was pissed, but I told her she was a wackjob in the first place to think I’d want to be set up with someone who aside from his stomach issues, was in jail for two years because he was arrested for being a peeping Tom (not kidding), which she swears she didn’t know about before I told her (he confessed when he was driving me home from our so-called date, but he’d never told Steffie. Fred must have known, but he hadn’t bothered to tell her either). This took the hot air right out of her sails, and thank God she isn’t trying to set me up with anyone else right now via Fred who sometimes I’ve caught looking at my rack too, if truth be told. If he thinks he can get us to do a three-way, he’s got another thing coming—like a big boot up his ass, for one, even if he offers to pay us. Not for a million bucks would I want to have sex with that dude, with or without Steffie.

Another problem is that Steffie refuses to believe that I like women more than men, in all senses. I know you already know about that, which might be another reason why you won’t give me some sign of life. I suppose I understand, but I do wish you’d at least tell me you think about me once in a while (and not just in a bad way, if possible).

Regarding the skunk, I swear to God that I didn’t really put him in your yard. I think he lived under a bush by your house, or by one of your neighbors’ houses (I’d seen it out at night a couple times when I was dropping you off after aerobics class). My plan was only to kidnap Juju for the night, but when you went outside to call for him, well, you know what happened. The skunk and you had your big meeting of the minds, which wasn’t at all what I expected to happen. Very bad luck. I only wanted to have Juju, just for a little while, because I couldn’t have you.

Love, Joanie
 
 
 
 
October 13

Dear Mallory,

Steffie said she got an email from you this morning. I am so jealous. Might as well just admit it, I guess. You always said no one can read someone else’s mind so we have to be upfront about our thoughts and feelings, except, maybe, when they’re about something illegal such as stealing your neighbor’s mail or his watering can, which I did once, but that effer deserved it because he kept dumping his ashtray on our front lawn (and is still doing it) – I know it’s him too because I caught him in the act one night when I was looking out my bedroom window, waiting to see if any skunks were walking around down there (ha ha, just kidding) and I’ve been trying to catch him in the act a second time, but so far no dice.

Sorry for the tangent, but that loser makes me so MAD.

Steffie said you wrote to apologize for not having her make your wedding cake and she was very happy that you were thinking about her feelings. She said the best year of her life was the year the three of us lived together in that cruddy apartment on Halsted with the frat boy rejects below us, which was maybe the best year of my life too (except for those pervy frat guys). I’m still trying to figure this out though. I had a pretty good year when I was 7, I guess—my parents were still married and Dad bought me a gigantic blue teddy bear for Christmas and Mom bought me a hot pink bikini that matched hers, but then in the summer, Dad wouldn’t let me wear it and they got in some bad fights about this and some other things like why she cut off her hair and started smoking joints all the time while he was suddenly going to church three days a week and getting a boner for God instead of for her (that’s an actual quote – she was so pissed about Dad never putting out for her too, which I really didn’t want to know about – then or ever).

Mitch also got drunk on peppermint schnapps the Christmas of the blue teddy bear and hot pink bikini and barfed all over our white sofa and it was never the same after that. He was only 9 and already an alkie! Holy shit, so sad.

Okay, so maybe not the best year ever.

Steffie said your fiancé’s name is Dooley. What kind of name is that? Is that his last name? Dooley sounds like a video game or some other kind of toy, like Pokemon or TeleTubbies. Dooley Re, Dooley Mi, Dooley Fa, Dooley So, Dooley La, Dooley Ti, Dooley Doh.

Or is it “Do” instead of “Doh”?

I keep writing these letters and maybe will send them all to you soon because (brace yourself, as if you didn’t already know) I want to see you again. I want to see your face, even if it’s only for a few minutes and you hardly say a word to me. Then I will be okay and get on with my life, which is what you kept telling me to do before you got a new phone number down in Florida and started ignoring my emails (do they go right to spam or do you read them before you hit delete?). But I haven’t sent any to you in at least four months, believe it or not.

I know I can’t come down to where you are, but could we have a Skype call? Would you be okay with that? Just once (I promise I won’t ask for more than one time).

Why am I thinking about you so much right now, you might be wondering. Your birthday is coming up. And now your wedding. But I think about you a lot anyway, like I think about getting a speeding ticket every time I get in the car or how I shouldn’t eat so much sugar.

Wow, this is a depressing letter! I think I’d better stop here.

Love, Joanie
 
 
 
 
November 1

Happy birthday, Mallory!

What are you and Dooley Doh doing to celebrate another year of you being on the planet?

Steffie said that D. Doh is a vet tech and so I realized the other day that HE must have an opinion about 3-legged dogs, even if you don’t. I think maybe I have figured out why these kind of dogs (and 3-legged horses and gerbils too) are in my head sometimes – if I lost a leg, I don’t know if I could get used to walking with only one. It’s just a fear that I have, like my fear of being killed accidentally after eating bread I didn’t know was moldy because I ate it in the dark (which I almost never do, unless I’m really desperate and the power is out) or backing into a fire hydrant and accidentally drowning a bunch of squirrels or baby rabbits or chipmunks (which live underground – did you know that?) Some of what scares me is not being able to control the effects of my actions, something my mom pointed out the last time I talked to her, which was a while ago, Easter! But she doesn’t have a phone right now.

As far as having only one leg, Mom’s explanation doesn’t really work, but it could be that I’m afraid of losing things that are important to me. Who isn’t though, I suppose. Here’s a question – if you had to choose, would you rather lose all your teeth or one of your legs?

Would you rather lose your eyebrows or your eyelashes?

Your thumbs or your big toes?

I know that’s kind of messed up, but anyway, it makes you think, doesn’t it.

Happy birthday again, Mal!

Love always, Joanie

PS What did you do on Halloween? I stayed in and tried to carve a Leaning Tower of Pisa pumpkin but screwed up that one too. I saw my brother because he showed up at the house and threw candy corns at my bedroom window and at Dad’s window at one-thirty in the morning. I was sound asleep, and the noise scared me half to death when I woke up. Dad was in his bedroom watching The Exorcist on his computer (like a friggin bonehead – by himself?) and Mitch scared the shit out of him too because I heard Dad scream down the hall and yell at Mitch that he was going to beat his ass, but Mitch only laughed like a maniac and shouted up to Dad to unlock the front door because the imbecile brother had lost his keys again. It was so lame and half the dogs in the neighborhood (2 of them the 3-legged ones across the street, probably) were barking and howling by the time Dad went downstairs and let Mitch in.
 
 
 
 
November 12

Dear Mallory,

I think Mitch might have found these letters in my desk drawer (I’m sure he was looking for pot money), which I’m still trying to decide if I have the guts to send to you (five of them now, including this one – all those teachers who said I sucked at writing would have to eat crow if they knew about this. I even keep a diary now. It’s on my computer, and I use a password so Mitch can’t read that, at least I don’t think he can).

Anyway, I know someone read them, and it was him or Dad because they’re the only other people who are here on a regular basis. The effing snoop left a chocolate thumbprint on the October 2 letter, so I’m not just being paranoid, like you and Steffie used to razz me about when we still lived on Halsted and I once thought the frat boys broke into our apartment and stole my Oreos and new box of Captain Crunch and my two favorite bras.

Well, guess what, the thief turned out to be Steffie, which you probably already know. I wasn’t being paranoid just for the fun of it and I felt defibrillated. (Just kidding—I know that’s not the right word. I can look things up on my phone, which is much easier than finding a dictionary in my dad’s rat’s nest study—I’m not supposed to go in there anyway). But sometimes my heart does feel like it needs to be defibrillated. I miss you so much.

Do you ever think of me, Mallory? In a nice way, wishing that I was there to do things with you like comb the snarls out of your hair after riding in a convertible, like we did when your uncle Piers was in town and he took us up Lake Shore Drive and bought us dinner at that Italian place with the huge meatballs?

When you caught me in your room that one afternoon, trying on your nightgown and slipper socks without your permission, it was only because I wanted to feel something you’d had close to your skin. Didn’t you know by then that I was in love with you?

If you didn’t, I suppose you realized it after I found out you’d had sex with Mitch (how could you let yourself get so wasted and let him do that to you?), after I went into your closet and packed a suitcase with four of your sweaters and your two favorite pairs of shoes and dropped them off at the Goodwill. It was only because I was so hurt I couldn’t think straight.

We were 20 and idiots, but God! I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes wishing I hadn’t done that to you, and even after I gave you money to buy new sweaters and shoes, you were never the same with me again.

Did Steffie ever tell you this part? She was standing in the kitchen as I was leaving to go to Goodwill, and she said, “What’s in the suitcase?” and I said, “Body parts.”

She believed me because her face got very strange and then serious, and she said, “Can I see them?”

I stared at her, just as serious, and said, “No. But maybe next time.”

Is that what you and she really thought of me, that I’d cut off someone’s arms or feet and stick them in a suitcase like that psychotic weirdo in Milwaukee Jeffrey Dahmer did to those poor dumb guys he had sex with?

You realize as you get older that probably the hardest thing in the world is to get other people to understand you. It’s harder even than getting them to love you.

What do you and Dooley talk about late at night when you can’t sleep? Did you know the earth is full of tunnels and holes made by animals like chipmunks, moles, rabbits, and maybe woodchucks too? Bees, or maybe they’re hornets, also build their nests in the ground. Please be careful if you’re walking around barefoot down there in Florida. I hope you always are and that Dooley knows what color your eyes are. If you and he were on The Newlywed Game, would he get all the answers right about you?

Love, Joanie

P.S. I think I’m finally going to send these letters to you now. Mitch might steal them and throw them away if I don’t because as you know, he’s always wanted you for himself. (Please don’t ever let him get to you again though – you deserve so much better, and I’m really hoping Dooley is). I don’t expect you to write me back. I just wanted you to know these things.


***


Christine Sneed is the author of two story collections, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry and The Virginity of Famous Men, and two novels, Little Known Facts and Paris, He Said. Some of her stories have appeared in O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, The Southern Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Massachusetts Review, and Best New Stories from the Midwest. She teaches part-time for Northwestern University and CalArts.