Tessa Yang is a second-year MFA candidate at Indiana University where she serves as the Associate Editor of Indiana Review. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Clockhouse, Lunch Ticket, and R.kv.r.y Quarterly. When not reading and writing, Tessa enjoys playing Frisbee and counting down the remaining days until next year’s Shark Week. Follow her on Twitter: @ThePtessadactyl.
fiction - an excerpt
Erin said the trick was to take only things that wouldn’t be missed. An orange from an overcrowded fruit bowl. Two slices of bread from each loaf. A white nub of soap from the bathroom dish, a fresh bar already waiting to take its place.
That first house—a square brick home across from the middle school, ivy crawling over its face—I was jumpy and excited, thrilled by the ease with which the back door had given under my cousin’s touch. Hadville, New York was the type of town where the neighbors all knew the names of each other’s dogs and few people bothered with locks. It was so easy, strolling inside and helping ourselves to whatever we needed, that I imagined the house was a regular grocery store, except the owners loved us so much, they let us have everything for free.
I told Erin this and she laughed. The sound raised a pleasant tingle along my skin. Erin had never laughed much when her dad, my Uncle Roy, was around. Now that he’d gone, she’d become a light-hearted version of the brooding teenager whose cool looks used to freeze me in my place.
“Why, here, have some broccoli, Miss Louise,” she said, bowing to me and offering the head in both hands.
“Why thank you, Miss Erin,” I said, bowing back. “And would you like a can of our superb tomato soup?”
“Why thank you…”
We went on like that for a bit, until the noise of the house resettling scared us and we bolted. Then the long walk back to Uncle Roy’s truck, which Erin had parked on a side street four blocks away. She only had her learner’s permit, but she was the best driver I’d ever seen. In all ways, Erin seemed older than her sixteen years. I was in awe of her. Though she attended the high school across town, during the day I often imagined us bound together by an invisible line. When the teacher handed out the permission slip for the Geva Theatre field trip, I smiled, knowing how Erin would forge Uncle Roy’s signature with a flourish. When the other sixth graders snickered at my sloppy clothing and called me Hunchback and Dyke, I imagined Erin’s icy stare turning them to stone.
After we got back to Roy’s house, I heated up the tomato soup in two mugs and Erin boiled the broccoli until it was soft. We worked in the white glow of the little light under the microwave. Erin said we needed to conserve energy and make Roy’s money stretch as long as possible, so we tried to only have one lamp on at a time. We took two-minute showers. Sometimes we even lit candles. I loved those nights the most, when the flickering shadows blurred the edges of the room and I could pretend Erin and I were the last two people on earth.
Erin set the broccoli on the table. She handed me a steaming mug and raised her own into the air. In the semi-darkness she looked queenly, hair cascading around her shoulders, eyes brilliant, unblinking. Before Erin, I had never known brown eyes could carry so much light.
“To our freedom,” she said.
We clinked mugs and drank. The tomato soup scalded the roof of my mouth.
I moved in with Erin and Roy after my dad, Roy’s older brother, was killed by a delivery truck driver on the highway. There was a settlement, and some money stashed away for me once I turned eighteen.
At first it wasn’t surprising that my uncle had gone. Roy had disappeared before. Once when I was nine, and again last year before Christmas. He just ducked out, vanished for a day or two, and reappeared looking happy, or as happy as he ever did. [...]