Sara Krason pushed the button to bring the target to her. Once it came, she pulled it from the hanger to examine her marksmanship: from behind her protective goggles, she was able to see that she managed to get all but one of her bullets inside the innermost ring. She put another target up and pressed the button to send it to the end of the forty-yard lane. She put another magazine into her Glock twenty-six, nine-millimeter pistol. She raised her gun and fired at the center ring of the target. (The earmuffs she wore protected her from hearing the ear-splitting sounds of her shots.) She brought the target to her and was pleased that she managed to get all her shots in the innermost ring this time.
That was enough for today. It was almost four, and she still had to stop by Harold’s to get groceries for later on tonight. She wiped the sweat from her forehead with a hand towel.
On her way out, she stopped by her dad’s office. Her father, Marvin, owned this and two other gun ranges in Pennsylvania, including one in Philadelphia. He had gotten Sara involved with shooting and hunting about three years ago, after her mother had died. It was the only time they spent together, besides the occasional dinner. Marvin was a good man, and he tried to be a good father, but he and Sara had never been close, though he did try to make more of an effort after Sara had lost her mother.
“Hey, kiddo, you heading out?” he asked from behind his large wooden desk, his meaty palms resting in his lap.
“Yeah. I’m stopping by the store on the way home. Do you want me to grab you anything while I’m there?”
“Uh, no. I’ll have whatever you’re making.”
“Okay.” As she walked out, Sara turned her head and accidently caught a glimpse of her reflection in a mirror embedded in one of the walls. Horrified, she turned away immediately. She hated practically everything about her appearance, from her double chin to her cottage-cheese thighs. And then there were the mounds of flab drooping from her arms like straw on a scarecrow and the rolls of fat encasing her stomach like a donut with filling. The only thing Sara liked about her appearance was her long dark-red hair. It was the only physical attribute she had received from her mother. (Why couldn’t Sara look more like her? She had been as gorgeous as an oil painting before cancer had ravaged her.) She got her size and everything else from her dad.
Harold’s was a supermarket chain that populated the northeast. They had pretty much everything lining their shelves: food, clothing, electronics … Sara wasn’t sure, but it wouldn’t surprise her if they carried the proverbial missing kitchen sink.
The store was extremely busy, even for a Saturday afternoon. Sara filled her cart with hard taco shells, ground beef, lettuce, shredded cheese, tomatoes, green onions, taco sauce, and sour cream. She was lucky enough to meet an empty lane when she was ready to check out her groceries. She rushed to put her stuff on the conveyor belt before anyone else came along.
“Hello. How are you doing today?” the cashier greeted her.
“I’m fine and—” Sara stopped speaking when she saw that her cashier was Andy Abbott, one of the assholes she went to school with. Her first thought was to put her stuff back into her cart and go to one of the other lanes—even though it would require her waiting awhile to check out her groceries—but she stopped herself, refusing to let this jerk scare her off. She flattened her voice and did her best to remain cool, calm, and collected. “I’m fine.” She finished putting her food on the conveyor belt. While Andy was scanning her groceries, Sara demanded to have them double bagged.
“Sure thing.” He looked as though he was sniggering at her. Sara would have called him on it, but she could feel beads of sweat forming on her forehead, partly from the heat and partly from nervousness, and she wanted to get the hell out of there before the beads started to drip far more than she wanted to confront Andy. She had a phobia about sweating in front of other people: from kindergarten until she started high school, the kids she attended school with had taunted her for sweating through her clothes during the first couple of months of school—when the weather was still warm—and during the last couple of months—when the warm weather returned after winter hibernation—from doing absolutely nothing but sitting at a desk. A teacher had even gotten in on the fun once, remarking a few weeks into the beginning of the school year, “You got sweat all over this!” in a disgusted tone, after a thirteen-year-old Sara had handed in a worksheet dappled with perspiration. The entire class had howled with laughter, and Sara—shoulders up, head down—had lumbered back to her seat. She now carried a hand towel and a change of clothes at all times during the spring, summer, and fall, but she didn’t feel comfortable pulling her towel out at the moment: she didn’t like sweating in front of other people, but she didn’t like to wipe the sweat away in front of them, either; it only called more attention to her problem.
Andy handed her the last of her groceries before stating, “That’ll be thirty-two dollars, even.” Sara handed him two twenties, and he gave her back a five and three ones, along with her receipt. “Thank you, have a good day.”
Sara walked away without replying. She heard chuckling once she had gotten a few steps away.
The ground beef sizzled in the frying pan as Sara moved it around with the spatula. She pushed and flipped the meat until it was dark brown. She scooped it into the four hard taco shells she had on her plate and sprinkled the toppings she had gotten from the store on it.
Moving from the kitchen and into the living room, Sara set her plate and drink (Mexican Coke) on the coffee table. She pressed play on the remote control to the blu-ray player. The first horror film up was Scream, Sara’s favorite. It had been a tradition since sixth grade for her to watch horror films and pig out on Mexican food the weekend before school started. Her mom did it with her when she was alive, because Sara didn’t have any friends, and Sara had been doing it alone since then.
Her mom had passed three years ago on May twenty-first. Sara was about to graduate from junior high and would turn fourteen in a month. Her mother had been battling B-cell prolymphocytic leukemia for two years at that point, and she had suffered through chemotherapy and multiple trips to the hospital for drug administration before the illness finally took her. The morning of her mother’s passing, Sara had awoken early to make her mom’s favorite breakfast: blueberry pancakes with turkey sausage links and eggs over easy. Her dad, disheveled from the previous night’s sleep and distraught from his recent discovery, came into the kitchen while she was whipping the pancake batter and told her that her mother was gone.
Sara didn’t believe him at first; she couldn’t afford to. If her mom had truly passed, who would go with her to the mall and make her feel pretty while she tried on hideous plus-size clothing? Who would look at her artwork and praise it? Who would she talk to, as in, really talk to? Who would she admire and look up to? Who would be her friend?
By the time of her mother’s funeral, her mother’s death still hadn’t sunk in; Sara hadn’t even cried yet. She thought something was wrong with her. How could she not shed a single tear for her mother? How could she not shed a single tear for her only friend? It wasn’t until it came time to go back-to-school shopping that it hit her: She was trying on a pair of jeans in Lane Bryant, and she wanted to ask her mom whether they made her look like a hippo. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t because her mom was gone. She was gone and she was never coming back. Her tears had taken three months to come, and when they finally came, they came like a rushing flood, pelting down and visibly wetting the carpeted dressing-room floor.
Sara shook her head to clear her mind and focus on the movie. But the movie had already ended. And her plate was empty.
Thanks in advance.