By Emily Costa
Remember how at school dances they would sell tiny glow sticks for a dollar and you’d all buy them and hide in the sea of bodies slow dancing to Sixpence None the Richer and crack the glow sticks with your fingers and then your molars, careful not to spill, and drip the glow in star-shapes on your arms? Remember when you thought the boys would notice that, would think how cool you all were as the luminosity enhanced your gooped-on body glitter? And remember the girl who took it too far, who was at the fringe of your group, who was maybe looking for any fissure to squeeze into? Remember how she put the whole glow stick in her mouth and cracked it open, let it bleed neon inside her, her tongue glowing toxic-waste green? Remember how you all looked horrified, how you avoided her at school the next week? What ever happened to her? Last you heard she hadn’t died of exposure to mysterious glowing chemicals. Last you heard she worked at the Freihofer’s Bakery Outlet scanning discounted bread. Last you heard she met her husband there, killing time while his car was getting serviced at the Jiffy Lube across the street. Last you heard they were closing down the Freihofer’s Bakery Outlet. Your mom told you this, and you were sad because you used to get these brown boxes of chocolate chip cookies there as a kid. You were sad, but you didn’t do anything about it, didn’t drive down there and buy some English muffins just for old time’s sake. You were sad because you’d thought it would always exist, that there was still time. But the last time you stepped foot in there was years ago. You were with your mom, and you ran into Tina who used to live two houses down from you, who used to play Barbies with you. Tina had her baby with her, round and drooling. Happy. Your mom gave you a look like, why not you. The last time you’d seen Tina was right before she moved after her house caught fire. The fire didn’t spread, the men got to it quickly, but Tina’s house was char. Unlivable. That was the second big fire that spring. The first was that eighth grader’s house where the whole school collected food and clothes for the family, and then a rumor got started that the eighth grader had started the fire himself, and everybody regretted giving the food and clothes but no one could prove anything. The kid was always slightly off. You remember a sharpness to his face that looked too adult. He could have been a preteen arsonist, maybe now a full adult arsonist or whatever full adult arsonists turn into. But whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it quietly. You heard he was in the army now. This, too, from your mom. This, too, from Ex-PTA. She ran the PTA your whole time at school, and when you graduated, she couldn’t let it go. She didn’t have a purpose, she said. It was like camp ending. So now she gets together with the other moms for Ex-PTA, to drink wine and eat the Italian cookies someone always brings, which you eat later over her sink. And that’s how you know what everyone’s doing. That’s how you hear that the quiet girl from class robbed Stop & Shop. That’s how you hear about weddings, about jobs and successes but also suicides and affairs and overdoses—the stuff you couldn’t find online, couldn’t read in obituaries. That’s how you heard, too, that Glow Stick Girl’s going to nursing school, that she has two kids and lives in a split-level in the nice neighborhood behind Target. You sit in your mom’s kitchen and drink coffee and eat stale Italian cookies and she tells you these things, and you wonder what she tells them about you—do they know you flunked out of college after a year? Do they know you work at the Bath & Body Works forty-five minutes away even though there’s one at the mall down the street? Do they know you do this to avoid bumping into people you know, or used to know? Do they know you get a decent discount? Do they know that discount’s why your mom gets them all mini gift baskets for Christmas? Do they know how badly you want that to be enough? Do you know what went so wrong? Do you think that maybe, instead of dreaming about boys putting their hands on you at school dances, you should’ve been working on the ability to ingest little poisons, to soak them in, make your insides glow?
Emily Costa teaches freshmen at Southern Connecticut State University, where she received her MFA. Her writing can be found in Hobart, Atticus Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Barrelhouse, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. You can follow her on twitter @emilylauracosta.
Art by Michelle Johnsen, art editor
Michelle Johnsen is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine, EcoWatch.com, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by AP, weather.com, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at] gmail.com.