- Matt Prater
A Girl's Best Friend: Matt Prater
We're bringing you the story about resentment, as Matt Prater explains, a resentment of the kind that stalls person's way of interacting with the world. "A Girl's Best Friend" allows an introspection into the circuits of broken communication letting the reader enjoy the interaction between the main character and the interesting voices that appear at the edge of the story.
Matt Prater's work has appeared in The Moth, Crannog, Munyori, and, The American Journal of Poetry, among other publications. Currently, he's an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech. He lives in Saltville, VA (US).
A Girl’s Best Friend
The very nice woman who said beverage with three syllables was circling every table, asking people how everything was tasting since the first time she’d asked, five minutes before. “Would you like me to refresh your bev-er-age?” she asked me. “No, ma’am, I’m fine,” I said, shorter than maybe I should have been, and though I was still a little thirsty. I wasn’t mad at her. And I shouldn’t have been mad at Ashley, either, though I was. She hadn’t meant anything by it. She wasn’t even saying anything patronizing, really, I don’t guess. “I always knew you were so smart,” she'd said, “you’ll get there.” And then she winked at me and brushed my arm. It was the weekend coming into Christmas; I was home from work, I'd told her. She was in from whatever city Kyron was hawking drivers in. Probably Dubai. I don’t know why I lied, except that when she’d walked in to pick up her takeout, I wasn’t ready or thin enough to see her again, and there was mustard on the seat of my sweatpants. I was eating my lunch in this place I used to go with people who are all now dead. It was a seafood house with laminated menus, where potatoes came one of two ways. There were plastic swordfish hung up on yellowed rope mats. The Lions Club mints at the checkout counter had been 40 cents for the last six presidencies. It was the only foreign thing in the place, and even they were just made in Australia. People who still went bowling came here, if that explains it. I was having the haddock. The clam strips, which came with everything, came too. As I waited for my meal, stirring carcinogenic lemonade out of the Sweet-N-Low (there was no Splenda), a thin retiree in a paisley blouse dipped her hush puppies in clarified butter. Maybe I should have wondered how this habit hadn’t gone to her thighs—there is something to be said about how thin every depression baby is, and still alive, though they don't every eat anything but fried fish and cole slaw—but all I could think of in that moment was my own grandmother, dead now almost twenty years, and the smell of her mustache Veet and the sound of her Alka-Seltzer fizzing up as she let me fall asleep beside her, the two of us watching Larry King ask Don Rickles about Daddy Dearest. I miss remembering her so much, with her shuck beans in the cool Spring air. And I was in there, thinking on that world, all a damn hell mess in my sweatpants; and my God, my God, but she comes walking in. Maybe it had been six years. And there I was, and there she was, looking like a woman made whole cloth out of Smartwaters, Powerbars, kale salads, and TED talks. She asked me what I had been up to. She asked me where I was living now. She asked me just about every question, I think, that would have reminded me why I only ever do my shopping at the Bristol Wal-Mart at 2 AM: I have to answer enough questions from everyone I've ever met when I'm at work. We had been friends in school, I suppose. Sometimes we would sit together at things and talk about how much we hated them. Then they put me in trade school, and she went to Honors Biology. Then she joined a sorority, and I stocked a Dollar General. Then she got a job in Atlanta, and I stocked a Dollar General. Then she starting dating Kyron, a golf pro from East Lake, and then Kyron got a job as a sales rep for Titleist. And now she was back home from a weekend at the Burj Al Arab or whatever, and now I was the assistant manager of a Dollar General. Anyway, I didn't mention that I’d somewhat kept up with her. Since interning at the Carter Center and shacking up with the golf pro, she had Instagrammed herself in a cocktail dress in Istanbul, in a sarong in Bali, in a Tahari ASL jacket at the bottom of the Living Shangri-La. Her handle was @southernpeachmovinonup. Her hashtag was #AHundredRomanNumerals. Yes, I had to admit it, she was tight. She had enviable, well, assets. She looked good. And she looked actually, actually, happy. That hadn’t always been the case. Whole last year of Emory she’d been skinny and sallow, half-dating some guy that’d been the hookup man for his fraternity. Said a lot of things about where she’d come from people didn’t take very kindly to, point people gossiped she was about to get rounded up in the next sweep and nobody really much cared. But I figured she’d had reason enough to say most of things she did; and hell, which one of us there hadn’t done at least a little bit of something, even if it was just the NOVA kids with their Aderall? So me and her got along well enough. In fact, word had got around once that I had got in bit of a shoving match once with this guy in a fraternity, who I had not known at the time had been that boyfriend, who'd walked in on me and her playing beer pong with the soccer team and called her a mudshark. Not a word I like to repeat, but I say it to say that there are plenty of people here worth nothing but throwing whatever you've got in their face. Why she would want to pop her booty out at them in X Pro II was totally understandable. Still, she asked me where I had been, and all I could say was here. One long weekend last year I went to Myrtle Beach. My last date wanted to go to an estate auction. They bought me an antique coffee grinder. So that was the life I had to tell her about: saving up to go to Myrtle Beach, and buying old utensils. Whatever that says.
My boss called me on the way home with my schedule for January, and that didn’t help my mood any. Only 35 hours a week, and clopen shift every weekend. “Billy Joe needs to get trained for the new job up in Rural Retreat,” she said. What Billy Joe was was a first rate goofus, but apparently he must have been giving Stacy good head or something, cause nobody had ever mentioned any job in Rural Retreat to me. Not that it would have mattered. “You’ll get there,” Ashley’d said. I know I shouldn't think it, I thought, but what an outright bitch. Mom was stinking up the house with cabbage again when I got home. My mother only cooked what dead people ate—cabbage, soup beans, shelf pickles, hot water cornbread. Chow chow. Basically anything you had to go to the Amish store to get the stuff to make it. It was alright, I guess, but damn if the house didn’t stink, especially in winter with all the windows closed. And now she’d forgot to turn the kerosene heater off before it ran down. I walked into the place and almost gagged. “Can you not smell that stink?” I asked, kicking the thing off. “Well hello to you, too," she huffed. Oh, damn. Now it was the damned cell phone conversation again. “I had it off cause I was in the store where people where. I didn’t want to be rude.” “For three hours?” “Yes, for three hours.” “And were you not being rude to me? Well?” “Well, there’s not an emergency every single day of our lives.” “But when there is you’re not going to have your damned phone on.” I left her to her cabbage and let the dog out to pee and checked the mail. There was a water bill; there was a Harriet Carter catalog; there was a seed catalog and a free nickel from the World Wildlife Foundation. It had been just the two of us for a few years, but the seed catalogs still came to us with his name. Sometimes I would read them, and sometimes when I stocked up the Miracle-Gro and the hanging strawberry baskets I would think about making an order. But we had left the tiller in the basement so long it had rusted out, and we never really would get to it. Ashley and Kyron, I had seen, had planted a whole row of crepe myrtles around their veranda. “I don’t care where you’re going,” she started up later in the evening. “I just want to know where you’re going.” “OK, mother--I’m going to snort cocaine off a trucker’s butt.” “Are you going to keep your phone on when you do it?” “Yes, mother.” “So where are you going?” “I don’t know where I’m going yet.” The first time I ever drank it had been with Ashley. We were in the first year of community college. I was still planning to go to JMU then. We had had to go to some play for a lyceum. She had brought her daddy’s four door truck and me and her and a couple of girlfriends of hers I can’t remember now were with us. This was back when Four Locos were a thing, and we had snuck a pack of them under ice into the water cooler in the bed. After the show me and her had drove around everywhere, and we ended up at the lookout near the Iron Mountain Loop. We hadn’t known there was a meteor shower that night, or how late into the night we’d stayed out, but we ended up spending the rest of the night using each other for a pillow and getting tipsy to the Lyrids. “…a whole lot better off than the fools he left here…” I caught Ashley humming while I pretended not to be about to fall asleep. “Oh, I was just singing his royal badness,” she said. “Oh,” I laughed, “as much as that tells me.” A big one came lighting then right in a line towards 81, where it tipped away into the west. Ashley pulled the quilt around us and cuddled into me. “Where do you think you’ll end up when you go away from here?” she asked. “I hadn’t really ever thought about it.” And I hadn’t. “Well, whenever you figure it out, I wanna go wherever you are, buddy. It’ll be fun.” “Sure,” I’d said. But I really hadn’t ever really thought about it.
One time when I was sneaking in the attic I found a steel box of some of Granny’s old things. There had been seven brothers and sisters, and she was the baby, and the only one of them to stay home. The boys that hadn’t gone to college (and only one of them could afford to go to college) had all gone into the army and fought in Germany and Korea. So there was a nudie woman on a letter opener that had “Leipzig 45’” tapped on to her backside. And there were lyrics with chord changes written down for old “ballets” like “Pretty Saro”. And there were these letters from Panama, where granny’s first husband had been stationed. Up until I looked at the letters, I didn’t know my granny had had a first husband. He was a Marvett from Chilhowie (Ashley was a Marvett, too, but I didn’t ask her any questions). In the letters he’d talked to Granny about something to do with New Jersey, that he didn’t think she should go up there, that she should wait for him and there would be enough money when get got discharged. That he was going to go to VPI and get hired on at Westinghouse. That he had a cousin in the office at Westinghouse and that there would be more than enough money. That she shouldn’t go on to New Jersey. Granny never talked to me about New Jersey, or her first husband, or her second husband, who was my Paw Paw and died before I was born. Most of the men in my family had died young, some because of being in Leipzig in 45’; some because of being under Nitro and Welch for too long; some because of medicine; some because of liquor and lard. But the women in my family seemed to live forever, sometimes in spite of all of those things. Granny had died at 85, in fact, if not in the same house, on the same street she was born, stirring onion hash and making cornbread to send over to a neighbor’s funeral. If that explains anything, I don’t know. And I don’t know why I found myself driving where I was. Whenever I told my mother I was going somewhere, I was usually just going out driving. I would drive everywhere. I would drive places I had been with people years before. I didn’t go out with many people anymore. Some of them, like Ashley, had gone on to East Lake. Some of them had actually gone to New Jersey. Some of them had gone to jail. At least two of the girls I’d been in marching band with were dead. The rest of us had babies, or closed up Dollar Generals. We didn’t hang out much anymore. But the lights were pretty in this neighborhood. They would be up until Epiphany, and not a day after, in this neighborhood. In this neighborhood, all the lights were white. At Ashley's parents' house, their big reindeer-full yard there were searchlights reflecting back on the house. The front door had little columns. The white reindeer were dancing, and the white-lit hedges were even and perfectly square. I had seen Kyron in a few pictures, though I’d never met him. He had pretty eyelashes, I had to admit, and white teeth, and looked frustratingly unhatable. An infuriating teddy bear. In fact, as I found myself pounding on the door (lucky enough, I realize now, to just get him), he was the first man I’d ever actually seen come to a door in a velvet bathrobe (not, I was surprised, a Titleist: apparently underwear was the one thing golf companies didn’t make). “I want you to know that your wife is a right little bitch,” I told him. “Excuse me?” “You heard what I said. Yeah, yeah, you heard me. And fuck Titleist.” And with that, thinking, I guess, that I had given him the real what for, I slammed the screen door at him and headed off. Actually, thinking back now, I don't know what exactly I was thinking when I didn't. But he didn’t say anything; he didn’t follow me; he didn’t call the cops. And I don’t think he ever told Ashley about it, either, and if he had she never told me off about it. And there was no mention of anything on her pages (and I looked at all of them for days after); no mention of anything, in fact, until Epiphany, when it came up on her page that “on the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” a big fat engagement ring with the hashtag #ISaidYes! It was a Tiffany Platinum Soleste. You don’t want to look up the price.
There’s this man that comes into the store I work who’s always sneaking Chick Tracts in the bathrooms. He used to be a real bad drinker, but now he walks about eight miles every morning and makes the rounds to all of the gas stations in town to talk about motor oil. He wears the same green suit to First Baptist every week, and on his last birthday the preacher’s daughter sang him “Seven Sundays in a Row” (my mother’d happened to drag me in that week for Homecoming). But he’s too shy, I guess, to dish on the Papists or talk to folks about the Roman Road directly, so he just slips in his Chick Tracts when he poops. We know it’s him, though we’re not sure how exactly he gets them into the women’s stalls—and he does. Nobody thinks he’s trying to see anything other than us not burn in hell, though, so no one’s ever mentioned it to him. Everybody is too busy buying snow crap—milk, bread, Miller Lite, four dollar Starsky & Hutch DVDs. Kids are taking the best of their Christmas money to buy Sega Genesis emulators, and the last of their Christmas money to buy Kylo Ren dolls and fake vomit. Some pill head hasn’t taught her daughter how to use the bathroom by four yet, and I end up having to Zep the entire bathroom. “You’ll get there,” she told me. “You’ll get there.” Nobody has any time to consider the afterlife, myself included. But while I'm cleaning, for the hell of it, I find one of the man's tracts and pocket it. Back home, that night, the wife of the preacher who owns the local Christian channel is on in reruns, doing her “Daily Manna with Hannah” cooking show, teaching us how to turn leftover turkey breasts into a cheesy enchilada casserole. While Hannah folds in the Herdez, I leaf through “This Was Your Life” in the light of our flashing-rainbow post-Epiphany tree. Jack Chick was so metal, which he would hate me to think, which was all I could think while I read him. I guess my heart is hardened. All I could think about was how metal Jack Chick was, and how much I couldn’t stand Ashley’s Instagram, and how much I shouldn’t talk like that, and how many hours of work it would take me to pay up my way to a trucker’s license, and just how much I missed watching Cookin’ Cheap. While I drew mustaches on all the white angels, Hannah prayed over the cheesy turkey, the same prayer she would offer over the same casserole for another fifty years. Amen, I suppose. Amen.