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What The Boy Said
About the Author: Wynn Quon is a short-story writer, a playwright and filmmaker. He is a multiple winner of the Audrey Jessup Mystery Prize and has been published in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Phoebe’s pacing up and down. I see her looking at her watch and she’s pissed off because she doesn’t like people making her wait. I’m feeling chill because she gave me some pills earlier. She said she didn’t want me to get all twitchy at the meeting. Once the high goes, I am in trouble—I’ll feel like I want to crawl out of my own body. The insides of my teeth will hurt. My skin will be on fire. But hey, the good news is I got a couple pills left over in my purse. If all goes to plan, I’ll never feel that pain again.

It’s two o’clock. The Woman left us here in her fancy basement den and said she’d be back with the down payment twenty minutes ago. 

My right eye wanders a bit. I was born with that. Phoebe said I shouldn’t carry a gun. “I don’t want you shooting me in the back because of your crossed eyes,” she said. Anyhow, I usually keep my head down so people don’t see, it’s a habit I picked up getting through high school. But today I had my head up. I had to look at the Woman when she came in. She glanced at me, we locked eyes for a second. I saw a sadness there. She didn’t try to talk to me. I understood. It’s just as well.

She told Phoebe she wanted to hire us for a job. They talked and made a deal.

Phoebe once said that she saw a little craziness in me. You’re wrong, I thought at the time. But the way things are going maybe she was right after all. 

We don’t know shit about ourselves.

This is some big-ass house. I’ve seen some like it on Real Housewives of Orange County. You can’t see the neighbors’ houses; they’re hidden by a row of tall trees in the distance. The driveway is longer than the one that takes you off the main road into the Lohlan Penitentiary. This den is like the family cave. The Woman said it was also the “panic room.” A place for the family in emergencies. Rich people worry about stuff like that. God knows they had good reason.

There’s a row of bright overhead lights that give out a fake daylight. The air is fresh in here. How about that? I grew up in a basement place and I remember mold, cigarette smoke and the funky smell of food rotting in the garbage can. My mother couldn’t be bothered to empty it.

I’m sitting on the soft leather couch, my book in my hands, my purse beside me. A flatscreen TV covers up half a wall. I flick through the channels out of habit. I stop at an old Seinfeld episode. It’s the one where Elaine is doing the crazy dance. I loved this episode when I was a teen. Elaine doesn’t know she’s a crappy dancer. Her life gets messed up because of it and she doesn’t have a clue. Then someone finally tells her the truth. It hits me that I’m a crazy dancer too. Then I realize that the pills I got are called “Dance Fever.” Everything is connected to everything else.

I switch the TV off.

“You look like you’re dressed for a funeral,” says Phoebe. 

I am dressed good. Black pantsuit. I got it from the charity. Was supposed to help me get into the working world. This is a special occasion although I don’t expect a crowd. Once in a lifetime thing. 

She said “funeral.” Too funny.

“You reading again?” she asks, leaning over my shoulder. When something pisses her off, she takes it out on someone nearby which means me most of the time.

“It’s taking you a long time to finish that page.”

Yeah, I’m a slow reader. “Stop picking on me,” I say.

My voice is loud. I surprise both of us. Things are changing even if it’s late in the game. I never used to raise my voice to her because I knew she could hold back the stuff I needed.

The book is called How to Wake Up which is funny because I can’t sleep these past few weeks. Anyhow, that’s just what it’s called. It’s not about sleeping. The book is about Buddhism. How about that? It’s about waking up from suffering. It says we’re trapped by the ways we think of ourselves. Joanne, the librarian at the prison pointed the book out to me some years ago. I took it with me when they let me out. You can say it was a long-term loan. I’m going to be done with it soon so I wrote on the inside cover. “Please return to the Lohlan Penitentiary Reading Library. Joanne if you’re still there, thanks a lot this really helped me a lot.”

Then I realized I wrote “a lot” twice but it was too late because I did it in pen.

You do stuff wrong and you can’t go back and change it.

This story appears in our JAN 2024 Issue
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