Donna had her period after gym in the showers. It was freshman year and the girls were cruel. The sad part was that it wasn’t even her first time, and she was usually pretty regular. Somehow, she had just forgotten. Donna spent too much time looking down at the small pool of diluted blood trying to make up her mind about what to do, and of course, some of the girls noticed. Donna later said that they only realized because they all secretly stared at her naked, but she knew it must have been the look of terror on her face.
Tiffany saw first and started whispering to another girl, who looked at Donna. A few more caught on and Donna tried to slip out of the shower despite the fact that she hadn’t washed the soap out of her armpits. Kelly, the big girl that Tiffany recruited as some sort of group bouncer, stepped in front of her on the way out.
“Whatcha up to, Donna?”
The girls turned to look at the two of them. Even the ones who were usually self-conscious dropped their arms to their hips and stared.
“Needing to do my makeup before third.”
“Third what, period?”
Giggles, quick and sporadic, silenced when Donna looked around. Some of those girls in that room were her friends. She thought she heard Alice’s wheeze and her eyes started to water. They had a sleepover planned that weekend.
“Oh, ha-ha, very funny.”
“Geez, lay off. You sure seem crabby. Is it your time of the month or something?”
More laughter. Donna thought about what she heard about being cornered by animals. Some of them, when you played dead, would still eat you. She thought that Kelly might be that type. Eat me, bitch. That’s what Donna told people she said later, after the fact. What she really said was “Just let me out” and her voice sounded shrill and panicky. She stepped closer, hoping that her nakedness would make Kelly move out of the way. She stood staunchly, however.
Some animals could be frightened into submission if another showed greater dominance.
“Kelly, you don’t want to mess with me. I can guarantee it.”
Kelly pushed Donna and the girls collectively inhaled, but Kelly was too stupid to realize that it was the sound of a prank gone too far, not astonishment or wonder. She pushed Donna again and Donna lost her balance and fell.
Sometimes, there was no other way to solve things in the animal kingdom save a fight. Some small part of her knew that there was no way to come back from this anyway. She stuck her palms flat on the pinkish-tinged shower floor and then with as much speed as she could muster, sprang up and began wiping blood all over Kelly’s face. Kelly screamed as did most of the others and Donna could hear the metallic clang of Coach running down the stairs into the locker room. Donna tackled Kelly to the ground and climbed on top of her and began beating her face while Kelly screamed and held her flabby arms up in a poor attempt at defense. By the time Coach pulled them off each other, there was blood on Donna’s knuckles, blood on Kelly’s face, and blood on the inside of Donna’s thighs and the outside of Kelly’s. Coach, a woman who had spent time in the army previous to becoming a gym teacher, screamed that this was the most sickening thing she had seen in her whole life.
The principal called it sexual assault, an unproportionate response to teasing.
Donna’s mother called it embarrassing.
Donna’s father called it disturbing.
The teachers at her new school, Masie’s Alternative School for Young Women called it nothing worth writing home about. That’s how Patsy, her school counselor phrased it. Patsy didn’t seem to mind that Donna fought too much, or that she started drinking at a young age. In fact, until Patsy was arrested, she was the closest thing Donna had to a friend, even if she kissed her a little too often to be comfortable, and even if she had slept with a few of the other girls. When Patsy was gone, Donna dropped out. She figured that too was nothing worth writing home about.
Donna got a job at the trash company hauling every morning at five am. She worked with a guy named Mike.
He showed her how to climb onto the truck and hold on tight, even on the coldest of days when fingers would cramp up so bad they seemed to be frozen. He taught her how to lift the heavier sacks quickly and use momentum and gravity to propel them into the truck before they ripped. He would have her switch sides during the day some so she didn’t wind up lopsided with all the lifting. He only touched her butt a couple times, and sometimes when she needed a break, when it was too hot or too cold, he would let her ride in the cabin, which had nudie mags in the glove compartment for no real reason. When she was 17 and had broken up with her fifth boyfriend, Donna and Mike had sex during lunch and she had to admit that besides the smell, it was the most romantic sex she ever had.
One day, a guy was moving his new TV into the house. They were on one of their last stops when they saw the box out on his lawn, a nice 54” Toshiba. Mike whistled. “I’d like me one of them in my apartment.”
“Then go ahead and get it.”
Mike laughed and so did Donna. When Mike was about to drive away, Donna jumped off the back of the truck. She had got this itch, and it was almost the end of autumn so she was feeling a bit depressed anyway. Patsy said she had seasonal affective disorder real bad, but Donna never really wanted to talk about it. Not much good when the only relief was doing something about it.
She sprinted across the lawn to the box and Mike just laughed like she was making some big joke. Then, she grabbed the box and ran it over like it was just one of the sacks of shit she got rid of every day. She tossed it into the cabin, or at least tried to, but Mike wasn’t having it.
“Donna, you gone crazy? We can’t take that!”
“You fucking said you wanted it! You said!”
Mike was pushing it out and Donna was pushing it back in and she thought about how that was just about the opposite of losing her virginity. That made her laugh and cry and, pretty soon, Mike was getting pissed and a little freaked out, so he shoved Donna back hard and the TV crashed down on her and she felt the screen split on her stomach and heard the crack. Mike shut the cabin door and drove away.
That meant she got caught red handed by the guy who was replacing his TV. He yelled at Donna for five or so minutes before she could get a word in, and she was sitting on the ground crying it out before she started talking anyway. When it was all done, she explained to the guy that she thought the box was empty trash and she had accidentally misjudged the weight and tipped it over on herself upon learning it wasn’t actually garbage. He bought it.
When she managed to bus back to the dump so she could pick up her car and go home, she felt decent about the whole thing. The guy had paid for the warranty and was gonna tell Target it came broken. When she tried to clock out though, her manager cornered her. Apparently, Mike was a fucking snitch.
Donna decided she wasn’t really that upset about being let go. Her apartment was too nice to be smelling like trash, and that scent didn’t really wash out even though she showered at the employee locker rooms before coming home. It was ruining the carpet. She was getting tired of freezing her ass off anyway, and she was 21; officially ready to start something big and get on with her life. She started job hunting after a while, like three months, and turned down a couple positions at McDonald’s before getting desperate. The apartment was starting to look like a hoarder lived there, with piles of old ramen and two cats that pissed on everything. Plus, she couldn’t find a clean glass and didn’t know how long it had been since she left her house. So, Donna took to the streets. The eviction notice on her door one morning demanded it.
It was frigid out, middle of winter and she wasn’t used to being so cold. Being off work had made her soft. She felt her thighs rubbing together now too, and thought that was strange. She never had that before when she was hauling. She was happy she wore a semi-clean pair of dress slacks rather than a skirt. Her shirt, though, had a large rip on the side that she noticed belatedly. She thought about turning back home, but remembered that if she didn’t figure something out pronto, she would be without a home entirely.
Donna went into a coffeehouse to ask if they were hiring, but the girl behind the counter looked her over once and said “No.” The bar had a sign on it that said, “NO help needed” and the other offices on the block told her very politely that she could inquire via their website, which all had provisions that she be a high school graduate.
“Fuck this noise,” she yelled and went out for a drink.
At Katrina’s, she ordered a Bloody Mary because she was feeling a bit hungry. She gave the bartender her credit card, the only one she thought she hadn’t maxed out yet, and proceeded to watch some shitty college basketball game that it seemed like nobody else cared about either. The bar was packed and Donna was starting to wish that she had worn that skirt after all. There were some sexy men in there. Maybe all she needed to turn her life around was a sugar daddy. She grabbed her drink and relocated further down the bar towards a man with a bushy beard.
“Not much of a game, huh?” she asked.
He grunted and shifted away from her. Donne figured she must smell something terrible. She took a covert sniff. Then she sat down at the recently vacated seat and drank her way through the rest of the first half. She was just about to pack it in and head home when Kelly, fucking Kelly walked through the door, and she looked like hell. She was fat, her hair was limp and stringy, she had grown one hell of a fantastic mustache, and she looked like she could have taken a bullet in the head right there and been just fine with it.
Donna laughed. Then she drained the rest of her drink and lifted a finger to the bartender for another. “Kelly, nice to see you’ve done well for yourself.”
Kelly squinted her small, red eyes. “Do I know you?”
“I know you know me. Donna, from high school. We had gym together. I kicked your ass once.”
“Sorry, but I’m still not sure that you’ve got the right girl. What school?”
Donna felt like her head had detached from her body and was floating above the scene. She could just barely feel the blood shooting through her veins, and she thought for a moment that she was so angry, she might have a stroke. The whole world compacted and Donna dumped the rest of her drink straight on Kelly before running out of the bar.
Two blocks later, she puked on a parking meter and tried to wipe off the reader with the sleeve of her shirt before hailing a taxi.
The first one took a look at her and wrinkled his nose before driving away. So, she took off her stinky shirt and tossed it by the meter. It was frigid in just her bra and she was uncomfortably aware of how loose her stomach had become. She flexed her abdominal muscles and watched her gut protrude. She sucked it back in, and pushed it back out. Her skin looked greasy in the moonlight.
The next taxi picked her up. The guy in there looked like a serial killer, Donna thought. She wasn’t going to say that though because she didn’t want to wait any longer for someone else to come by. He seemed nice, too. He asked Donna if she was cold, and when she said no, he cranked the heat up anyway. Soon, Donna was dangerously close to falling asleep or throwing up again and she had to roll down the window.
“Rough night?” he asked.
“Yeah, stuff’s been going really bad for me lately.”
“Drinking won’t help, kiddo.” He said “kiddo” as “keedo.”
“Whatchu know about it?”
“I know you are cold and sick and sad. What are you so sad for? You look like you had a bad breakup. You fight with your man?”
Donna thought about Mike, who she hadn’t seen since she got fired. “Sorta.”
“You need to either get back with him, or get back at him. Then, get a dog.”
That was decent advice, she thought. “Wanna take me to the city landfill? That’s where he is.”
“Yep. Works nights.” She leaned out the window and puked and some of it got on the door, but the driver didn’t seem to care. She liked him. Decent people were hard to find. After throwing up, she thought she might be sobering up.
At the dump, he let her out. “I stay here, okay? In case you need a ride home.”
“Oh, I don’t think I’ll be needing a ride again tonight.”
The driver gave her a thumbs-up. He drove away without even asking for payment. Donna slid onto the grass outside the fence and breathed in the sickening air. She hadn’t missed it.
Donna knew that Mike wouldn’t be there. Donna knew that nobody important would be there at all. It wasn’t as if she could ask for her job back. She looked around and felt the alcohol wearing thin, which made her even colder and depressed. She thought about building a fire and just camping there until the boss showed up. Maybe she could bribe him. Maybe she could get Mike to realize she was what he wanted all along and she could move out of her place and into his, not have to worry about any of this. There were too many obstacles and variables and no way to create a decent contingency plan.
Donna climbed the fence and started towards the trucks, hoping that one would be unlocked so she could sleep the rest of her drink off. She wandered through the parking lot on the periphery of the dump. She checked the doors and they were all locked. She decided that a fire was the way to go and dug around the repair garage’s exterior, full of scrap metal and rusted tools until she found a small hose and a screw driver. Prying the gas flap open on one of the trucks, she siphoned out about a gallon into the bucket and splashed it on some nearby detritus before flicking open a pack of matches. She lit herself a cigarette, which she pulled from her bra, and tossed the still lit match into the gas. The immediate roar of the fire was astounding, and the smell was sickening, but the brilliant wave of heat was miraculous. Donna sat by the edge and watched as the landfill lit up. Donna wished that Mike was here to see it. When she was warm, she laid down on the grass and looked up at the smoky sky. There were no stars that night. She looked at her phone and saw that it was already four in the morning. Almost time for people to go to work.
Hannah Kludy is an MFA candidate at Creighton University and a graduate of Northwest Missouri State University where she earned her BA in Creative Writing & Publishing. She has work published in the Northwest Missourian, Medium Weight Forks, The Sucarnochee Review, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Broad Magazine, The Red Mud Review, Progenitor, Five on the Fifth, Drunken Monkeys, Adanna Literary Journal, and Unlikely Stories. She is the winner of the 2016 Fiction Contest for Cardinal Sins Journal.