HOT SAUCE GLOW by Jody Rae

Is it true we’ll spend the next nine months across worn-down Neapolitan-chocolate-brown carpet that we tell ourselves we’ll cover with a rug, but never do? The cinder block walls are painted dried vanilla ice cream on warm pavement. Like a wound that won’t heal, the thick drapes won’t close all the way and they bleed a strawberry sunset over Wide Open Spaces, an autumn-tinged campus and the regal-yet-defunct Boise train depot. 

For a split second, I think you are giving me the cold shoulder when I come home from class and you are asleep with your eyes open and, yes, it is creepy. We never get enough sleep. Like a toxic love affair, we fight sleep and we crave it and we wrestle it and we yearn for it and we abandon it, and when we succumb to its gentle arms we never want to leave it again. 

How many nights will we spend under this popcorn asbestos ceiling that we drove thumb tacks into to secure our twinkle lights, talking late and vowing to hold each other fiercely accountable for the lives we want? Powerless to the sparkle lurking between shadows, we will go astray, wander into intersections and stumble into gutters, eventually finding our way back to what we wanted all along.

Will we remember the wall-mounted phone with the spiral cord you deformed while twisting it around your fingers, drunk-dialing your crushes and defending your Scottish name in a rapidly fading Canadian accent. Grayg? Trayv? 

There is a long line of boys outside our door for you, but before you go out on weekends, you leave sticky notes for yourself on the phone: Don’t Call [Current Crush]. And when you come home from the parties, you rip off the sticky note and crumple it in your hand while dialing. 

Will you ever remember taking the trash out? There is a garbage shoot down the hall, and I think, seven floors high, what a ride. We are very bad at taking out the trash, but we’ll get much, much better. 

You eat tacos from the top-down as opposed to coming in from the side. While earnestly and sincerely discussing angels and ghost theology, there is Jack in the Box hot sauce staining the corners of your mouth in an upward arc. While you speak, leaning close to my face, I think of the Joker. Years from now, I’ll learn about the Black Dahlia murder, and I’ll know exactly what a Glasgow smile looks like. Well, you are Scottish, after all. I’ll recognize the description of the image without needing to look it up online (don’t Google it). It’s Jack in the Box hot sauce without a napkin.

While I neatly arrange items on my desk like a still life painting, your desk displays unfolded laundered underwear, a case of diet coke, stray spiral notebooks and highlighters, Kraft Easy Mac dinners, and text books that never move all semester (they don’t need to). You wake before dawn to run stadiums with your soccer team, then come home to write a Women’s Studies paper the night before it’s due. You’ll get an A.

We’ll tell each other a lot of things, but one thing I never tell you is that time I saw your crush at a party, cornered him on the beer-slick stairway, and threatened: “Heyyyyy, so good to see you, [Redacted]. Hey, listen if you ever Steal Her Sunshine I swear to god I’ll [redacted] and your mother will cry when she sees what I’ve done to you,” and his face went slack and, yes, it was creepy of me, but y’all hooked up anyway, and as far as I know he had zero power to steal your sunshine so, as far as I know, he remains intact to this day. 

One night, religious visitors three doors down come in to stage what looks like an intervention for our friend in the next room. They speak quietly, kneeling on the Neapolitan chocolate carpet, while we strain to listen over our homework. You twist your hair between your fingers, sigh, and open a package of Oreos. “Should I do it?” you ask. I nod, not knowing what “it” might be, but knowing you should absolutely do whatever “it” is. You scrape Oreo cream onto your fingers and step into the other room where our friend is being held hostage by prayer warriors. With a straight face and steady voice, you hold out your hand and say to our friend, “Um. Josh stopped by to say hi, and wanted to give you this.” 

I nearly pee myself. The prayer warriors think we’re on crack, that’s how hard we’re laughing. You fasten a bra over your eyes, blinding yourself, and hop like a cricket through the hallway, knocking the wall-mounted phone off the wall. “WE’RE NOT ON CRACK!” you yell. The prayer warriors leave soon after, tiptoeing past as we wheeze and writhe over the chocolate ice cream floor. Our friend comes over to our side and says, “You’re dead for that,” and snags an Oreo.

These will be the happiest nights of my first eighteen years of life — this pocket of acceptance I can come home to, in between classes and meals and study labs. You say you love my red Hurley hoodie, so I’ll ship it to you someday. I’ll sip hot cocoa in a navy waffle knit maxi-skirt, rolled low at my belly, and in that moment you’ll startle and say that I remind you of a beloved Aunt. I will wish for time travel again and again over the next decade, if only to go back to that dingy, cozy laugh haven.

At a toga party, we wear matching sheets covered in blue and gray stars over jeans and tshirts, and a stocky football player mistakes us for junior highers. “Fuck you! Fuck you!” you yell at the offensive lineman who will be accused of rape soon. I laugh hysterically because I can’t fathom becoming an adult, plus my mouth is filled with braces and my hair is braided. Let’s go, girls.

Spring break that year, you come home with me to Santa Cruz. My mom drives us all over, and we wind up in Carmel-by-the-Sea, where we shriek at $1500 tshirts and then pretend we already own one. At a drugstore, we wait in line to buy Advil or something when you sigh and ask me, “When does Daddy want the Jag back?”. I say five. It is 4:50. A smartly-dressed, gray-haired woman ushers us to the front of the line so we won’t get in trouble with our fake father. We quickly pay and race to the parking lot, ducking in our seats while yelling for my mom to “just drive” her Toyota Tercel like a getaway car. That night, we watch “Brokedown Palace”, and I, for shit and all glory, would one hundred percent sell myself out to release you from a Thai prison, no matter the charge or sentence. Later, my mom says, “She’s just so witty”. How does one become so witty?

This was your idea: We’re with Holly in the drive-thru line at a flagship JBX, remember that bullshit?. Boise is such a hot drive-thru market, we warrant a hipster analog Jack in the Box, I’m so sure. Yet here we are, waiting so long, creeping toward the speaker box like a car full of would-be “SAW” victims. “How many tacos? Hello? Hello!” You’re out cold, sound asleep, a serene smile plastered across your glowing face.

Is it true that I won’t laugh this hard for another eight years? Yes. 

You always wanted to have two little girls. You have their names picked out. I always wanted to read a newspaper in my writer’s bungalow among mature trees, with eclectic throw pillows and a large hanging star lantern. 

We are very good at manifesting.


Jody Rae's work appears in Phoebe Journal, The Avalon Literary Review, The Good Life Review, and From Whispers to Roars. She has pieces forthcoming in Sledgehammer Lit and RESURRECTION Magazine. Her work can be found at www.criminysakesalive.com.

Read Next: GRIEF IS AN EMPTY SHELL by Robert Julius