Excerpt: ‘Claudia and Beth, Outside Target’, by Colin Winnette


Image by Mike Mozart. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Beth was cross-legged on one of the big red balls. Claudia was fishing Hawaiian BBQ out of a styrofoam clamshell someone had left in one of the parking lanes.

“Mom is dead,” said Beth, counting on her fingers.

Claudia held out some macaroni in her palm, offering it to Beth. Beth shook her head.

“And Mary is dead,” said Beth.

She was getting skinny. She looked a little sick.

“You need to eat,” said Claudia.

“I know,” said Beth. “Did you know we’re going to war?”

“Who with?” said Claudia.

“With ourselves,” said Beth. “I saw it in a movie.”

“I’d like to see that movie,” said Claudia.

“It was good,” said Beth.

The Target was closed. It had been for three days. It was wrapped in police tape. Claudia kept putting her face against the glass and trying to see in.

“I think I can see something,” said Claudia.

They were wearing new tops from the dumpsters out back. The shirts were tanks for plus-sized children, but they also fit the girls.

“And Dad is dying,” said Beth.

“Dead,” said Claudia. “More or less.”

“No. Brain dead,” said Beth, “and there’s a difference.”

Claudia dug a cigarette butt from the cracks between two sidewalk tiles. She lit it and coughed a handful of times before dropping it.

“You don’t smoke,” said Beth.

Claudia shrugged.

“No one smokes anymore,” said Beth.

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She slid off the red ball and greased her hair back with her palms.

“We’ve got to find a way to live a little better,” said Beth.

“We live fine,” said Claudia.

“No we don’t,” said Beth.

Claudia picked up a handful of wood chips from a ground-level gutter running the length of the building. She threw them up in the air and they fell back down to the ground. She scooped another handful and threw them at Beth. Most of them arced away from her in the wind but a few flakes stuck to her lap.

“I’m having a baby,” said Beth.

“You’ve never fucked,” said Claudia.

“It is the child of God,” said Beth.

“We don’t believe in God,” said Claudia.

“But we believe in ghosts,” said Beth.

“Because someone is putting on that light in the middle of the night,” said Claudia, “and it isn’t me and it isn’t you.”

“So it is the child of a ghost then,” said Beth.

“Spooky,” said Claudia.

“Anyway, we can’t afford a baby,” said Claudia. “Not even a ghost baby.”

“Everything will work out in the end,” said Beth.

“No,” said Claudia. “Everything is already over. And this is how it worked out.”

She was squatting against the stucco, pissing into a ground-level gutter.

“Have you ever fucked?” said Beth.

“All the time,” said Claudia.

“Anyone I know?” said Beth.

“Lots of people you know,” said Claudia.

“Any ghosts?” said Beth.

“Lots of ghosts,” said Claudia.

She rose and righted herself.

A seagull approached the styrofoam clamshell smeared with teriyaki sauce. It pecked it and lifted it and shook it.

“There’s nothing for him there,” said Claudia. “Idiot bird.”

“We’re miles from any ocean,” said Beth.

“He’s lost and stupid,” said Claudia.

The seagull broke off a piece of styrofoam and choked it down.

“Uh oh,” said Claudia.

It broke off another piece and took that in too.

A van stopped in front of them and the backdoor slid open to reveal Michael.

“Can I help you?” said Beth.

“Is this place still closed?” said Michael.

“Still covered in tape, isn’t it?” said Beth.

“You can get in there if you have a shimmy,” said Claudia.

“I’m all shimmy,” said Michael.

He stepped out of the van, which stayed running. He approached the sliding doors with a green canvas bag in his right hand. He withdrew a long, thin piece of shining metal and set to work at the space between the doors.

“There’ll be an alarm or something,” said Beth.

The doors slid open about half a foot or so and Michael was able to step in sideways.

There was no alarm.

The van kept running.

There was someone else in the front seat. Beth couldn’t make him out from where she was standing. She tried to move past Claudia, toward the front of the van to get a better look, but then Michael came out, panting and carrying three plastic barrels of cheese-puffs.

“There’s no one in there,” said Michael, dropping the loot. “It’s a free-for-all.”

“It’s a crime scene,” said Claudia.

“I know what it is,” said Michael, and he vanished again.

Claudia and Beth set to work on the first plastic barrel of cheese-puffs. Beth kept checking over her shoulder to see if the person in the front seat was going to get out and either join them or get onto them for taking advantage while the other was inside.

The corner of a slim, white cardboard box broke the space between the sliding doors. It wobbled and nearly fell. It was an ultra thin TV, followed by Michael. He set the TV down, propping it against one of the big red balls, and went back in.

Beth and Claudia were eating cheese puffs by the handful and starting to feel sick.

Beth watched the van. She thought she saw a shadow, but it might have been something on the other side. A bird or a tree or whatever.

Michael kept on bringing stuff out from between the crack in the doors: appliances, electronics, baby clothes. He piled it all on the concrete in front of Target.

He went in and Beth pocketed one of the shirts from the pile.

He came out with two bundles of firewood, which he brought straight to the car.

“Help me load all of this stuff,” he said.

“No way,” said Claudia.

“You owe me,” he said, “for the cheese puffs.”

“What about your partner?” said Beth.

“I’ll give you these,” he said, “if you help me.”

He pulled a green bag of sour Skittles from his jacket pocket.

“All of them?” said Claudia.

Michael nodded.

Claudia picked up a handful of iPhone cables and animal print socks. She threw them into the van. There were no seats in it. There was a wall between the empty back and where the driver sat.

“You guys do this a lot?” said Claudia.

“Not really,” said Michael.

They loaded the van until it was nearly full. The loot was piled high. Bundles of clothes for men, women, and children. One large television. Some workout mats and synthetic cables. A car battery booster. Three HP printers. Plastic barrels of pretzel bites and cheese puffs and party mix. A bag of apples. Forty-eight rolls of toilet paper bound together.

“What’ll you two do with all this stuff?” said Beth.

“Give it to charity, probably,” said Michael. “Want to ride with us?”

“Hell no,” said Claudia.

“It’ll be fun,” said Michael.

“To where?” said Beth.

“The ocean,” said Michael.

“To do what?” said Beth.

“I don’t know,” said Michael. He looked to the road. No one was coming. A black letter was dangling from a roadside movie marquee. “Sit around and eat?”

“Okay,” said Beth.

“What?” said Claudia.

“I’m hungry,” said Beth.

“We’ve got the BBQ,” said Claudia.

Beth shook her head. “It’s all gone.”

“I’m staying put,” said Claudia.

“What’s your name?” said Beth.

“Michael,” said Michael.

“Like the angel,” said Beth.

“Not at all like that,” said Michael.

He helped her into the van. An empty cup approached, rolling on its side in the wind, and Claudia kicked it into the street.

“God damn it wait,” she said. “I’ll go.”

This piece appears in full in The Lifted Brow #33. Get your copy here.

Colin Winnette is the author of several books. His latest, The Job of the Wasp, is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press. He lives in San Francisco.