As a kid, I had a recurring dream where my identical twin sister and I flew matching Wonder Woman jets up to the stars. Nothing could stop us in those dreams. Pure freedom. Pure power. I had the dream again about a month ago, but this time I was flying alone towards a distant planet. As I got closer, the massive orb turned, and I realized I had made a mistake. It wasn’t a planet at all, but a giant balloon with my father’s face on it.
I did the only thing I could.
I blew it up.
And Luke thought he had daddy issues.
“Little Bremy, do you have my rent, or will I cut off your fingers and wrap them in pastries like those little…what is the English name?”
“Pigs in a blanket?”
“Yes! The little piggies,” the thickly accented voice sounded through my phone. “You are so helpful, little Bremy.”
There are some conversations you never imagine yourself having.
This was one of them.
“Please, call me Mischa.”
“Um, right, Mr. Pushkin, you see the thing is—”
“Oh Bremy. Oh no. Do not tell me this you see the thing is. I hate the you see the thing is. The only thing is money. You agree, yes?”
Hard not to given my upbringing.
I did have some money. In fact, I had nine hundred dollars. Unfortunately, I owed Mr. Pushkin a thousand. Not that far off, right? I mean, what’s a hundred dollars? But in the brief time I had known Mr. Pushkin, I had learned a few things. One, he had six fingers on his right hand. Two, his brother dug out his left eyeball with a fork when they were kids—a custom-made marble now rolled around in his head. But the most important thing I had learned about Mr. Pushkin? He did not have a reasonable bone in his body.
Maybe his brother dug that out too.
“Mr. Pushkin, it’s just—”
“Just! Just! This is another English word I hate. Mafia business is tough business. If I let all of the little girls get away with just, what would the other tough guys think? No, no, Bremy.”
“Well, you don’t have to cut off my fingers,” I said trying not to sound as panicked as I felt. “You could just kick me out.”
The words escaped before I could stop them. Even if my apartment most closely resembled a walk-in closet, and I knocked my head on the side of the toilet every time I rolled over in bed, I needed this place. Then again, I also needed my fingers.
I looked to my bedside clock. Seven in the morning. Why did bad days always start so early?
Didn’t tough guys sleep in? I could have sworn I caught a whiff of last night’s vodka coming through the phone.
“There is no fun in this kicking out. Then all of those dirty street rats think they can use my establishments as squattings. A month here, a month there, and they still have all their fingers? No.
This does not work.” He sighed heavily. “Where are you from, little Bremy?”
“Never mind, it doesn’t matter. You see, you remind me of the children of the ice plains not far from my home.”
“Oh, um, thanks. But Mr.—”
“No thanks. You would be dead before you could walk. Frozen. A little blue popsicle-child. You see the thing is you have to find your way in this disgusting pool of filth. This city, it is broken, rotten,” he said, voice growing louder. “It hums like huge, black juggernaut, and you, little Bremy, will be crushed in teeth of its giant wheels. The dust of your bones will scatter over the streets then collect in gutter with other human garbage.”
“That was very poetic, but—”
“Yes, in my homeland we are raised on books size of three dictionaries, not stories of boy witches.”
“I see. Now about the money—”
“Do you have a job, little Bremy?”
“Not at the moment. I—”
“I have friend. He owns club. Maybe you see it? It has funny pink sign of animal in the neon. What is it called?”
“Yes, the beaver. I do not understand this. Some girls at club have no teeth, but not big teeth that eat tree. The beaver is not an animal for the sexy.”
My jaw dropped. No amount of money or threat of bodily harm would get me to explain that one.
“A nice, pretty girl like you would make the money, even with your small beebies.”
“Yes, boobies. Such a helpful girl.”
“Oh thank you, but—”
“Do you have my money?”
“Um, yes, but—”
“Okay. Now we can do the business. I come by at four o’clock. I have to go to court.”
Please be for unpaid parking tickets. Please be for unpaid parking tickets.
“A misunderstanding…with a machete,” he said. “My machete fell on a man’s wrist and took off his hand. A misunderstanding—this man, he says so himself—but police, they have nothing better to do in this city than bother legitimate businessmen. Anyway, that business should be done by two, then after I go to plastic surgeon.”
Please be for Botox. Please be for Botox.
“For Botox…and to have my tattoos removed.”
“Oh,” I said, definitely not in the form of a question. “Well then—”
“You see, I have little tattoos on each knuckle finger, all eleven, for every man I kill back home.
You know, the kid stuff.”
“Now you be a good girl, Bremy, and have my money. I don’t want to get new set of tattoos for little girls who don’t want to show beebies to pay rent.”
“Okay,” I said trying not to choke on the gulp making its way down my throat. “I—”
He hung up with a beep.
I collapsed back into the little cot I called a bed and yanked the thin quilt over my face. Sadly, I could still see blue popsicles and finger-shaped wieners in my head.
I hurried down the street under the steely clouds gathering overhead as the smell of exhaust and rotten vegetables filled my nose. I hated walking in the city.
Exactly one month ago, my life was perfect. Well, a lot of imperfect, horrible, evil stuff was going on behind the scenes, but I didn’t know that—so to me, it was perfect. I lived in my pick of mansions, I had a horse for every day of the week, and my identical twin sister Jenny and I spent our days by an Olympic-sized swimming pool, drinking experimental margaritas, and planning our classes for the upcoming semester.
Now I spent my days scuttling around puddles of urine in inappropriate footwear, trying to find a job to pay my rent.
Still, no good would come from cowering in my bed by the toilet. I had a hundred dollars to make appear out of thin air, and I had to do it by myself. Something I didn’t have much practice at.
Right on cue, my pay-as-you-go phone chimed. Jenny. I didn’t even have to look at it. She knew I was thinking about her. Stupid twin powers.
Where are you?
Please talk to me.
She sent me the same message every morning. I thumbed in my same reply, ignoring the pain in my chest.
I need a little more time.
Please trust me.
A second later, my phone chimed again.
I smiled. People didn’t expect Jenny to say things like douche. When they saw her wheelchair or heard the robotic voice that speaks what she types, they somehow just assumed she didn’t have a personality. She handled it better than I ever could.
I picked up my pace.
If for no other reason, I would make this work for Jenny. I had taken too much from her already.
“How do I go about getting a hundred dollar loan?”
A teller with faded red hair stared at me from underneath droopy eyelids. I was pretty sure her expression would have stayed the same if a stray cat jumped on the counter and puked on her keyboard.
“You want a hundred dollar loan,” she finally answered, revealing a bit of purple lipstick smeared across her teeth.
“Actually, two hundred would be better.”
“We don’t give out loans for two hundred dollars.”
“Why not?” I asked a little too loudly, sending my words echoing up the bank’s marble columns.
A few people turned to look.
“Because that’s stupid,” she replied disinterestedly.
Huh, she obviously never had a mobster for a landlord. “Okay, well, what does one do in these types of situations?”
“Don’t you have a credit card?”
Oh, at one time I had enough credit cards to fill a private jet. I used credit cards for bookmarks. I, I…
“No, but can I get one?”
She tiredly reached for a form underneath her desk and began to slide it across the imitation wood counter. She got halfway when her hand froze. “Do you have a job?”
The hand slid back, and the form disappeared.
“Then you can’t have a credit card.”
“Isn’t that discrimination?”
“Yes, against the stupid.”
“I’m starting to hate you.”
“My heart’s breaking.”
I handed her my bankcard. “Okay. In that case, I would like to take out the balance of my account.”
I watched her purple nails fly over the stained keyboard of the computer at her desk. “Wait a minute,” she said, almost showing a flicker of interest. “Your name is Brianna St. James?”
“Yeah, I’m not that Brianna St. James.”
Actually, I was that Brianna St. James. The media always used my nickname, Bremy, though. As kids, Jenny and I had trouble figuring out where one of us began and the other ended. Jenny mixed with Brianna got us Bremy, but somehow the nickname only stuck to me.
“Didn’t think so,” she said, attacking the lipstick on her teeth with her tongue. “She would have more than nine hundred dollars in her account.” Then she made a noise, which sounded something like the dead relative of a laugh. “She’s better looking too.”
We stared at each other for a moment while her coffee and cigarette laced breath wafted over the partition.
“You want the entire nine hundred dollars?”
“It would probably be better for you to write a check to whoever you owe. I don’t feel right giving you that kind of money in cash.” She shook her head. “I would feel better giving that kind of money to a gerbil.”
“Mean with a conscience. That’s an interesting mix.”
She half-shrugged her rounded shoulders.
“Well, how do I get checks?”
“Normally it costs twenty-five dollars, but you can get ten free sample checks.”
“Fine. Sign me up. But give me the balance too.”
She looked skeptical but began typing away. I doubted that Mr. Pushkin would take a check, but if he did, not only would it buy me a few days, but maybe the overdraft would save me a couple of fingers. If he didn’t, I would still have most of the cash to throw at him before running away.
Suddenly the teller’s computer began making music. Her hands stopped, fingers hovering over the keys.
“What is it?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Our monthly draw for opening a checking account.” She moved to count out bills.
“That sounds exciting. What do I get?” I asked. “I’m hoping for service with a smile.”
“A hundred dollars.”
My brain slammed into a brick wall. A hundred dollars. That couldn’t be right. That was the exact amount of money I needed. And that couldn’t be right because the universe had been spitting all over me for the last thirty days without so much as offering an umbrella. It just couldn’t be right.
“Did you say a hundred dollars?”
“Yeah, the irony of it all is making me weepy.” She scratched at the hairs on her chin. “I suppose you want the hundred in cash too.”
“Uh huh,” I said holding out my hand, making the universal gimme-gimme gesture.
A warm tingly sensation came over me. The universe was still on the side of Bremy St. James after all. Karma. I had done the right thing a month ago, and now I could collect my hundred dollar reward.
A party kicked off in my head. Champagne bottles exploded. Balloons popped. Bells clanged.
“I think you had better get down,” I heard the teller say, which was funny, because she had suddenly disappeared.
Then I realized the bells weren’t just in my head.
Alarms rang frantically from every wall.
“Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls! The show’s about to begin!”