Micah Piero Salmon Champagne
by Cara Dempsey
I.The Angel Gossips
My guardian angel is so hung up on trashy magazines.
She’s a sucker for celebrity divorces and baby names. They crack her up. You know the ones. Those A-lister babies with names like Micah. Piero. Salmon. Champagne.
She loves reading about all the big murders too, the grizzly ones especially. The other night she showed up at 3:47 in the morning to tell me about how the Golden State Killer and the Zodiac might have both been part of the Catholic mafia. Also, she says, poking my shoulder, she got these new lipsticks sent to her in the mail and they’re absolutely fucking disgusting on her, but would I like them? If I don’t want them, she’ll just throw them away or send them straight to hell.
At 4:55, she asks me to name which celebrity babies I think could grow up to be murderers in order from least likely to most likely. She says that she thinks little Kanye has trustworthy eyes, but could I find a picture just to make sure? I grab my phone off of the nightstand. Its blue light burns my eyes back awake.
At 5:15, my alarm goes off. I change my panties, tie my hair back, and pull a wrinkled pair of slacks off of my desk chair. While I shimmy them up my thighs, the angel settles into my place in bed, one finger still holding a spot in her magazine as she waves goodbye.
II.The Angel Delivers Her First And Most Terrible Warning
First time my guardian angel came to me was the night before the seventh grade dance. This was back when mom and I were sleeping on Aunt B’s pull out sofa.
“Yo,” she said, her whisper just a tickle in the shell of my ear. My eyes blinked open and there she was, peeling her black zip hoodie off of her shoulders and tying it around her waist. She bent over me and her wings stretched wide over mom and I. “I know you don’t know me”, she went on, “but you cannot go to that dance.”
“If you go,” she explained, “she’s gonna take off while you’re out.”
She pointed at my mother with her face half sunk in a throw pillow. I looked over at her. I remember that was the same week mom decided to chop most of her hair off. I could see her hairline for the first time and my eyes followed it like a map around her head and neck. Suddenly I realized that there were probably many more things about her that I had never seen.
“What do you think she’s dreaming about?” I asked the angel.
“It’s that guy. Remember? The manager. He called her last week. Something about California. Anyways, just don’t go out. Stick around tomorrow night instead and act all sad. Show her how much you still need her. No way she’ll leave then.”
The problem was that my angel had chosen the exactly wrong moment to try to give me advice. I mean, I was thirteen. I had only just found out that smoking cigarettes wouldn’t get me sent to jail. I had just stolen a sip of Aunt B’s Jamison for the first time and, to my surprise, hadn’t passed out and woken up in the hospital. Terrible things, I’d gotten to thinking, always took so much time. No way did I believe that anything so bad could happen in just a few hours.
Here’s the other thing: Two nights before the dance, Aunt B drove my cousin Annie and I to the mall. She bought Annie and I different colored versions of the same outfit: a short, colored bubble skirt with pockets and a black top with straps thin enough to show off that our training bras had polkadots. My skirt was blue. Hers was purple. Annie had wanted blue, but I called it first. I knew that if I didn’t go, Annie and my blue skirt would twirl around all night long, take pictures with our friends, and leave me stuck at home with her ugly purple one stiff and hung in the closet.
You probably already guessed the rest, but I’ll tell it anyway.
The next night, as Annie, our neighbor, and I piled into Aunt B’s station wagon, the angel reappeared, leaning against the passenger side door. She wore a blue bubble skirt, a black top and bigger, better tits than mine.
“Live your life, kid,” my angel said. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The dance ended at ten. Annie and I walked out the double doors at nine to go smoke with Shaun from math and his older brother. We got as far as the steps before we spotted the station wagon parked right in front with its lights off and Aunt B’s weak, drooping bobble head behind the steering wheel.
Annie said fuck and asked if I thought Aunt B found the condom under her bed. I shook my head. I already knew.
Aunt B caught sight of us and said, It’s time to head home. I asked her where my mom was, and when she wouldn’t tell me, I said that I was gonna walk home. When she told me to get in the car, I said it again. I’m gonna walk home.
Then she was like, “Just please get the fuck in.” That’s when I kicked off my rhinestone ballet flats and threw them at the hood of her car.
It turned into this whole scene. Shaun’s brother whispered something to Shaun and they both backed off. Annie was yelling at me to cut it the fuck out. B was all pissed at both of us because we were cursing and all the other kids who’d been hanging around started to wander over to watch the show. Then B really started screaming at me and I realized she was crying. For a second, I remembered that mom had been hers too.
Anyway, that’s right about when I bolted toward the soccer field. I kept going until I got to the line of trees where the school grounds met the woods. I was sweating through my party clothes and my hair and tights felt suction cupped to my skin. I could hear Annie somewhere behind me, calling my name over and over.
Suddenly, the angel reappeared.
“I know it feels like you could have done something to stop all of this from happening,” she told me, “and that’s true, but another true thing is that you really have no fucking clue about anything. That’s why I’m here. So next time I say jump, jump! Capiche?”
III. The Angel Steals Lipsticks So You Don’t Have To
The bins, boxes, closets and drawers in my apartment are like mass graves for random shit. That’s where the angel keeps her collections: Marbles. Empty spiral notepads in assorted colors and decorated with various bible quotes. Tiny bottles of hot sauce and mustard from overnight trips. Half finished packs of M&Ms all rolled up so she can save them for later. Many different skincare products covered in tiny print that promise all kinds of things. And lipsticks.
Ruby Warhead is a bright red that comes in a dried up bullet. It was stolen from a department store’s tester rack. The “T” sticker is still partially stuck on. She says Ruby Warhead makes most people look like a mean, French vampire, but makes me look like Mrs. Potato Head. On rainy days, she has me put it on just for shits and laughs.
Bearskin is brownish red like a brick instead of brownish brown like a bear or bare skin. It’s slick, wet and stamps itself everywhere. It leaves dark little mouths on my towels and the collars of my shirts. I find mouths places I don’t remember being or wanting to be. This one looks like your mom, the angel is always saying. You look just like her in that one.
The angel is always looking for a color pinker than the pinks she’s collected, but browner than the browns. She is sometimes looking for a color she does not have a name for. She says she was sent from God to fix my sad fucking face.
After work, we run into the drugstore so I can pick up tampons and she winks at me, spreading her wings over the makeup aisle.
“What I do, I do for you,” she reminds me, pocketing another and another and another.
IV. The Angel Eats At Night
By the time I make it home from the supermarket, it’s already dark outside. I had made a list of what I needed at work but lost it by the time I got to the store. Rice? Bananas? Instead, I pick up two boxes of microwave popcorn, a frozen pizza, the kind of peanut butter that tastes like candy and comes in plastic tubes like toothpaste, a bag of tortilla chips, a glowing, golden jar of nacho cheese and one lonely apple.
The bag of tortilla chips is only half full by the time I get it inside. I started on it in the store and kept at it on the drive home, handful after handful. Each one disappeared into the next. This is how it goes. Every bite will be like the last bite never happened until I’m feeling a pain like a knife in my gut.
Angels don’t eat, not even little bird bites, but mine loves to watch. She always cozies up on the couch next to me, turns the light off, and brings her face close to mine. If you saw us, you might think that she was trying to start something funny, but she says it’s just to smell the food.
Other times she sits with me while I go to work on a bag of chips or whatever and just rubs the back of her hand all over my stomach, my spongy thighs, my fat ass, or the batwing part that hangs under my pits.
Tonight’s no different. She flicks the switch down and my living room all but disappears except for the tiny bit of floor lit up by my TV. I feel her wings like an old blanket around me and wiggle my arms out of their hold so I can reach over and open the jar of cheese.
She says, “Hollywood Murders is on 81,” so I flick. Tonight is Sharon Tate.
“Good one,” she says, watching me go. I bite at the cheese goo left cemented under my fingernails after I dip into the jar. She grabs me by my wrist, takes my sticky hand in hers, brings it up to her face, and inhales slowly.
It takes about fifteen minutes before the show starts getting into the bloody stuff and then she really perks up.
She’s like, “You should see the spot in hell they saved for Manson.” She’s like, “Which cult leader do you think is most fuckable?” She’s like, “Where do you think your mom is these days anyways?”
V. The Angel Already Knows About What Shaun’s Brother’s Friend Did To You When You Were Fourteen, So Don’t Bother Lying
“Doesn’t he remind you of someone?” She asks when I come home from my date.
She’s embarrassed for saying anything at all. She doesn’t want to ruin my fun. It’s just she’s surprised I don’t see it. But no one at all? Not a single man alive? Am I sure?
I take out my phone to show her a photo of him from a different angle in better lighting. She just shakes her head at me.
“You really don’t think he looks just like him? Come on. Of course you do. You’re such a liar.”
VI. The Angel Saves Your Fucking Life
It’s nice to have someone looking out for you. I know that this is something to be grateful for.
The thing is, most of the guys that I go out with don’t have jobs or else they have jobs so great that I have to feel like a real shit pile about mine. The ones with normal jobs usually love their mothers too much or have these great family traditions that they want to talk about but can’t because I won’t ask about them. The guys with normal jobs and healthy attachments to their mom’s Sunday pot roast usually get fed up by the way I jerk away when they touch my knee or tear up when they try to take my clothes off.
Dan, that date, was different. He had described the exactly right kind of tedious job and pleasant relationship with his coworkers that made me feel relaxed around a man. Plus, get this, his parents were both dead, so he didn’t ask a single question about my family the entire night. In the car on the way home, he showed me a picture of his cat and I thought, damn, now there’s a person who remembers to give things food, water, and shelter.
So after this big, Cinderella night out, my angel had to go and bring up all of that ancient shit from when I was a kid. Of course it pissed me off. I’m not proud, but I really ended up losing it. I tore a few of her magazines and kicked over the trash can before I told her that she could go eat a million you-know-whats and choke on them. She wasn’t sticking around for any of that. Before I knew it, it was just me left in my messy kitchen, picking torn crap up off the floor.
After work on Friday, I head home to change before Dan picks me up. I tear the ticket from the waistband of a new, black skirt and step into it. This would normally be the moment when my angel would ask, “Are you sure about that? Do you want to try the other black skirt? Don’t you think the other black skirt might make you look less like a dump truck?” She hasn’t showed up in a week. I leave the TV on in the other room just so there’s some noise.
We end up at his apartment after he decides that the bar is too crowded. I feel silly for putting on a skirt just to go sit on some guy’s futon and drink cans of Coors Light, but he takes the time to pour them into glasses, so I try to tell myself that I made the right choice.
He starts getting closer to me on the couch and getting all tight-shouldered the way guys do when they’re about to start something. He puts his glass on the coffee table stares at mine for a second while he tells a story about his coworker. It hits me that as soon as I put my glass down, something will happen. This is all fine and perfectly normal. Who knows? Maybe he’s great at all of the sex stuff. Maybe he also occasionally tears up when people make him take his clothes off. I remind myself that this is a world full of wonderful possibilities just like these but I still can’t bring myself to put the glass down.
Where’s the cat? I ask. He shrugs.
“The cat is always hiding somewhere.” Then he smiles, grabs the drink out of my hand with three fingers, places it somewhere to the side of us and closes in.
Suddenly, my angel’s voice rings in my head like a bell.
“He’s lying,” she says. “Oh god! He never had a cat at all! If he did, he must have killed it. Were those beers from the fridge? I think I saw the fucking cat in the fridge! He’s a fucking liar. They all are. Every fucking Dan, Shaun, Jim, Bill, Micah, Piero, Salmon, Champagne. They’re all killers. Fuck. Babe, this is so bad. Oh God, why didn’t I try to stop you from coming? I’m so sorry. I should have known!”
His hands are clammy and he leaves a little trail of sweat up my lower back when he reaches for my bra’s hook.
“Listen,” she carries on, her voice is cracking and frantic like I’ve never heard it before. “We can still make it out of this one alive,” she tells me. “Don’t make him angry. If you try and stop him now or slow him down, you’ll make him angry and then where will be? In the cat fridge, that’s where!”
“Just let it happen. Play dead, possum. Just let him do it. It won’t be so bad. He’ll let us go after that. I’ll get you through this,” she promises. “Listen, just focus on something. Hear that car alarm outside? Just close your eyes and listen to it. Count how many times it honks. I swear It’ll all be over before it can honk 100 more times.”
So I listen and count, and he lifts my shirt over my head, and I count, and he fidgets under my skirt, and I count. It’s over just around 100.
Afterwards, I pull all of my clothes back on as fast as I can. I tell him I’ve got to head out.
“Religious thing,” I try to explain, “so I can’t stay over.”
He offers to drive me and I tell him that I’ll walk home instead. He stares at me like I’m some real freakshow. He lives on the third floor of his building and I tear ass out of there so fast that I practically fall and die down the stairs.
My angel walks a sidewalk square behind me the whole time way home. I don’t say a thing. She’s all, Phew! Close one! She’s all, I just saved your goddamn life. She’s all, You’re welcome!
We walk half the night away in a direction I’m only maybe sure will get me home.
Cara Dempsey is a teacher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been featured in places like Monkey Bicycle, Hobart, and Paper Darts among other publications.