Emily Claire Utley
Marina sat on the curb and crushed ants with the toe of her Walmart tennis shoes. The neat line of insects broke, and black specs scattered. The students who had watched her pummel Brittany at lunch had done the same thing; high schoolers knew self preservation like they knew Starbucks and sexting. Mr. Myers hauled her off the bitch just after Marina felt the girl's nose break. Blood spurted everywhere. Marina wanted to smear it in circles on the cracked linoleum, a mural of vengeance and violence. She had never hit someone before––really hit them. There had been more power behind her fist than she anticipated, and Brittany's jaw had snapped back like a flicked bobble head.
Marina looked up and down the empty street. Their house––small, square, and unoriginal––in no way compared to the large Victorians lining the small historical district of Cherry Street. The immaculate pastels and black shuttered windows made their beige box look like the bastard child of the neighborhood––and it was. The house on their lot had burned down. The land fell into her mother's hands, because the Historical Society hadn't had any legal standing not to sell it to her. Her mother had replaced the beautiful mansion with a two bedroom, two bathroom vinyl box with fake potted plants in the windows and dead patchy grass surrounding a cracked concrete sidewalk.
The front door opened, and Marina's mother stepped out, a toddler balanced on her pudgy hip. Sammy had the head of a plastic GI Joe shoved into his mouth and a few cheerios stuck in his hair. One of his small fists wrapped itself in her mother's sandy-brown, lifeless hair.
"There is no way you are going to sit around for two weeks. This isn't a vacation. You were suspended. Two months before graduation, I might add."
Marina shrugged, an act of physical apathy her mother hated more than Weight Watcher's microwavable meals. Marina had been so angry, she hadn't thought about graduation. Shit.
"I'm studying the natural environment of Camponotus consobrinus for environmental biology."
"The natural environment of what?" Her mother picked at the cheerios stuck in Sammy's hair.
"Ants. I'm studying ants." Marina began crushing them with her thumb, minuscule ant guts smearing on her skin. Maybe she should paint a new senior piece with animal guts; college art programs would call her edgy, damaged, unique.
"Brittany's mother called."
"And?" Marina looked over her shoulder. Her mother's pasty skin almost matched the side paneling on the house. She wondered if, instead of dying, her mother would one day just become a part of the house she so loved. Her father had already disappeared, molding himself into a job instead of a family, a paycheck instead of a father. He still came to the house once or twice a month. He brought trinkets from the airport, kissed them on the head, and apologized he couldn't be around more. Textbook workaholic. The apology wasn't real and the trinkets often broke after two or three days. Marina's mother was smart enough not to divorce the man paying the mortgage, but she knew there was a girl who answered the hotel phone sometimes. Marina thought her name was Cindy. She didn't blame either of them. She had become equally adept at molding herself into art, populating her life with paintbrushes instead of people. It was better that way.
"You broke her nose," her mother said, sounding disappointed. Her mother was a professional at letting others disappoint her.
"I know," Marina said.
"Did breaking her nose fix your painting?"
"No." Marina turned back around and etched an X into the neat, rounded ant hill. Brittany figured out the faceless figures in Marina's piece were the posse of bloodsucking socialites that ran the senior class; a depiction of vanity and social spite. She spray painted an X over each face. Marina had been working on that art piece all year. She had saved all of her summer babysitting money for the canvas and convinced her mother to buy the paint for an early birthday present. Pratt remained possible with the rest of her portfolio, but the project Brittany had destroyed was scholarship material.
"Come inside and help me clean up. I'm going to put Sammy down for a nap."
"No," Marina said.
Her mother humphed and pursed her thin colorless lips. "Now."
"I'll be in when I feel like it."
Her mother growled in frustration and opened the door. Before going inside she said, "You can always paint something new. You can't take back what you did today."
The door shut. Marina lay back and began pulling fistfuls of dead grass from the dirt.
A car turned into their block. Mrs. Harrington's black BMW sedan peeled down the empty street and parallel-parked across the street from Marina. The window rolled down and Mrs. Harrington's face appeared, cigarette dangling from plump red lips. She checked her reflection in the rear-view mirror, her face like a blank canvas with eyes, nose, and lips drawn on with care.
"Hi, Mrs. Harrington," Marina said. She stood up and wiped her hands on the thighs of her jeans. Mrs. Harrington took off her sunglasses. Her tweezed eyebrows pinched together. She hung her slender white arm out the car door.
"What the hell are you doing home?"
The smallest hint of a smile––satisfaction. Mrs. Harrington tapped her cigarette on the window and ash descended to dead leaves on the street. "For what?"
"I punched a girl for ruining my senior painting."
"Which girl?" Mrs. Harrington's daughter was a senior at the same high school. Stephanie had been a figure in the painting, hand clenched around a dead mouse.
Mrs. Harrington cocked her head. "Did you break her nose? She just had it done."
"Good. She's a bitch. And so is her mother." Mrs. Harrington flicked her cigarette onto the pavement and leaned into the horn again. She looked past Marina to the small house and its plastic garden. "Your mother happy you're applying to art schools?" She placed emphasis on art, making the word sound dirty.
"Yeah." Marina crossed her arms.
Mrs. Harrington scoffed and pulled out a tube of lipstick. She reapplied the deep shade of red and popped her lips. "Well, good luck with that." She smiled, showing straight white teeth that matched the pearls lying on her neck. Marina saw the image on a canvas, smeared with ash and dirt.
Mr. Harrington appeared at the top of the drive, throwing on a black blazer and talking on his cell phone.
"Hurry up!" Mrs. Harrington yelled, voice shrill.
"Would you mind if I did a painting of you, Mrs. Harrington?"
Emotion––vain curiosity––crinkled into her forehead.
"Like, you want me to sit for you?" she asked.
"Or you could give me a photograph."
Mrs. Harrington smoothed away the frown with the tip of her finger and smirked. Marina took this for her version of a genuine smile.
"I suppose I could find a photo for you. Check your mailbox tomorrow."
Mr. Harrington reached the car and threw himself in, harried.
"About time," Mrs. Harrington said, and peeled away.
Marina watched them go and then retreated into the house. Sammy lay on his stomach on the wide living room couch, thumb planted in his mouth and eyes half closed. Marina's mother sat next to him, rubbing his back in a circular, clockwise motion. The lines etched into her pale face made Marina want to reach out and follow them with the tip of her paint brush.
About the author:
Emily Claire Utley is currently earning her MFA in Creative Writing from Carlow University in Pittsburgh, PA. She currently lives and works in North Carolina, towing the line between hard working medical receptionist and hermit cat loving writer.