Home > Emergency Contact(17)

Emergency Contact(17)
Author: Mary H.K. Choi

EMERGENCY PENNY

Today 6:01 PM

Would you read a short story on zombie food

Or nah?

Is this a legitimate concern of yours?

Maraschino cherries

are the undead

OK

Riveted

Please continue

Perfectly healthy stone fruit are

drowned in calcium chloride

+ sulfur dioxide

BOOM

Total ghost food

It’s how come they’re see-through

Hmm . . .

I admit my interest is waning

They gave me one

on my pudding

Get it off

It’s so gross

I can’t touch it

Today 9:12 PM

Hey

?

What about a doc on a guy who’s sick?

What kind of sick?

Terminal disease

YES!!

YES!!?

Sounds depressing af

Into it lol

Healthcare is so messed up

Sam wondered if Penny was super political or something. If she was aware of what was going on in the world outside her dorm. Sam was bad at politics the same way he was bad at sports. It was all made up. The more yelling there was about it, the more it seemed like a distraction from what was really going on in the world.

Totally

Sam Googled “American healthcare system” to brush up.

It makes me sick

NO PUN INTENDED

It’s sad

We criminalize the poor

Everything is broken

OK calm down

Don’t tell me to calm down

I regret typing it

I’m sorry

I know girls hate that

EVERYONE hates CALM DOWN

Not just women (don’t say girls)

OK

I’m sorry

Anyway

Healthcare

What if the guy took matters into his own hands

drives to Mexico for drugs

Go on

He meets this other sick dude

They start a drug ring

And . . .

They sell it to poor people/downtrodden/no healthcare

OMG

Is this the plot to Dallas

Buyers Club?

Sam laughed in real life.

Today 1:45 AM

Top 5 fav things in the world

don’t think about it just type

Isn’t it a little late to be texting?

Shit were you asleep?

No

But I could have been

I can’t sleep for shit lately

Me neither

OK

Top 5…

This feels like a trap

It’s not

I promise

No judgments

I don’t know your life

Your struggles

YOUR JOURNEY

Sam had been thinking about his favorites in bed. He loved the smell of the air before a thunderstorm. Or how Texas weather was so crazy and the landscape so flat that you could see the driving rain in a clean, straight sheet when everything that lay ahead of it was sunny.

Pringles

Pringles?

Sorry I’m eating Pringles

They’re so good

When’s the last time you had a Pringle

I forgot about them

I’d miss them when I’m dead

You’d miss Pringles when you’re dead?

You said no judgment

Wow

Well?

I guess it’s too late for texting

But not for Pringles

It’s never too late for Pringles

Then Sam texted Lorraine. Five weeks late and counting.

Last time they’d talked she promised to get a blood test and that was almost a week ago. She’d been flaky when they were together, but he couldn’t believe she’d leave him hanging about such a huge deal. This was literally life or death. Bad enough that Lorraine often said literally when she meant figuratively.

Sam stared at the screen, willing a bubble to appear.

Zip.

PENNY.

“Is this sheer?” Penny stood in front of the mirror in a white, knee-length cotton dress.

“Only when you’re backlit.”

“Is it slutty?”

Jude scoffed. An odd sound between a bleat and a laugh. “I don’t think you’re capable of slutty,” she said, sitting up in bed. “I mean,” she continued, “you’re wearing virginal white.”

Penny had chosen a summery sheath for her first date back with Mark. She wanted him to see her in color. Not that white was a color necessarily, but black extra-wasn’t, and she didn’t want to appear too funereal. If she was going to break up with the guy, she wanted to look good. Maybe her best. Humans were garbage like that.

“Is an official breakup necessary?” asked Jude. “I mean, you’re in college; he’s not. Everybody knows what that means.” Jude jokingly jerked off the air and mimed spraying the result into the sky.

“Ew,” said Penny, screwing her face.

“Listen, no shade,” Jude continued, laughing. “I don’t know your Tinder habits.” Her roommate nodded pointedly at the phone in Penny’s hand.

Penny smiled tightly.

Right then she and Sam were locked in a contest of who could capture the most boringly predictable Instagram photo. He’d just sent the most glorious sunset (#nofilter). Penny was dying to send back one taken from her car of someone posing in front of the “Hi, How Are You” frog mural on Twenty-First Street while wearing a “Hi, How Are You” frog mural T-shirt. It was meta and brilliant and a surefire winner except she first had to bumble through this awkward date with Mark first to feel proper triumph. Penny couldn’t wait for it to be over.

A breakup made sense. Anthropologically she and Mark were incompatible. When they were dating they only ever hung out one-on-one at each other’s houses to watch TV and make out. It was more a middle-school relationship than a real thing, and when he went to parties with his friends it was understood she wouldn’t accompany him. It suited them both most of the time. If anything, Penny was grateful he wasn’t big on conversation. She didn’t even know how to explain their arrangement to herself.

The plan was to drive home, see Mark, end it, and drive back. Celeste she’d deal with another time. Penny wasn’t in the mood to bond and chin-wag about boys and console her mother under the pretense of commiseration. This was between her and Mark.

Penny wondered if she was nervous and promptly yawned. Just as she cried when she was mad, she needed a nap when faced with anxiety. It wasn’t that she was disinterested. It’s that she became overwhelmed, went into overdrive, and shut down. Thing is, Penny hadn’t meant to blow everyone off. And she would have passed a polygraph when asked about it. She’d been meaning to go home the first weekend or else the second. Undoubtedly the third. By now, more than a month later, the natives were restless and thinking about it made Penny sleepy.

In the short while she’d been at college—a seemingly negligible sliver of time—her brain reset. The routine rhythms of her old life were booted from her operating system. Sure she missed having kimchi in the fridge or a Costco stash of triple-ply toilet paper stored above a washer and dryer you could operate for free, but whenever her mother texted or when Mark called, the interruption was staggering. Mind-blowing. She may as well have been getting messages from the spirit world. It was inconceivable that both college and home operated on the same space-time.

Exhibit A, from Celeste:

OMG P, I saw this girl on the street who I thought was u but she was way fatter!

What are you supposed to say to that, thanks?

Exhibit B, from Mark:

I got Rutherford for biz calc

Isn’t Rutherford the only BC teacher?

Yeah. Sucks

Yeah

Sucks

Sucks

Or this phone call from Mark:

“Baby, I missed you today.”

“Me too.”

“He missed you too.”

“Who?”

“. . .”

“Oh . . .”

Mark talked about his penis in the third person. It struck Penny as the least romantic way to broach the subject, and every time “he” came up, Penny pictured a penis wearing sunglasses and a fedora with a little jacket. It’s not as if Penny could blame him. Mark was a red-blooded male in a committed relationship with a college girl. Hence: sext to initiate sex. College people had sex. Especially people who had been dating for however many months they’d been dating. Penny counted back on her hands—it was seven. Seven whole months. Seven times longer than how long she’d been gone.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t want to have sex. She did. In theory. She’d tried going through with it once, with Mark, pretty early on, because honestly, why else would Mark go for Penny if not to have regular relationship sex?

In the end she’d gotten as far as getting naked with some fumbling third-base action. Until the dread came. A sticky inkiness that crept up her neck and swallowed her head whole. They’d maneuvered into a facilitating position and Penny started crying silently, which she didn’t realize she was doing until it scared him and he stopped. She fell asleep soon after.

And get this: They never talked about it.

Penny had braced herself for a confrontation, but it simply never happened.

Through the summer, however, he’d been coming up more frequently.

Penny pulled up at Jim’s, a diner with a red roof, cheap coffee, and surprisingly good soup. She was grateful most of the Saturday-morning crowd had cleared out. Mark kept hinting that they could go back to his house after lunch except that Penny was pretty sure they wouldn’t be seeing a movie after their talk. God. Unless they did. Penny could actually imagine amicably watching the new Avengers movie after the breakup and then heading home.

Mark was already seated when she arrived. The way his eyes lit up as she opened the door sent a small wave of revulsion through her.

“Hi, baby.” He stood from the booth, hugged her, and—horror—handed her a single red rose. It was wrapped in cellophane. And it appeared as if it had spent some time living in a Circle K.

Penny smiled, took the flower—hesitated—then drew her nose to it.

It smelled of printer cartridges.

“It’s stupid,” said Mark tenderly. He was wearing a powder-blue dress shirt and silver basketball shorts with flip-flops. “But I wanted to get you something.”

   
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