by Kayla Pongrac
Patricia lifted up the yellow bed skirt in a panic as I lay in bed, trying to think if I had any friends whose last names could be classified as verbs. A list of names ran through my head: John Rollest, Michele Tampore, Evan Trifick, Nick Adron, Jessica Amil, Corey Frankle. Just as I concluded that I didn’t have action-packed friends, Patricia began explaining that she put Randy in his plastic ball around midnight and the last time she saw him rolling around was when she went into the kitchen for a bag of hamburger buns.
Randy is Patricia’s chinchilla. He’s gray, white and soft, and his diet mainly consists of raisins and sunflower seeds. Patricia named Randy after Ralphie’s younger brother in A Christmas Story. When we moved into our apartment, Patricia insisted that Randy be given his own room, and I agreed by pointing to the closet in our bedroom. For a pet that small, I argued that the size of the closet was directly proportional to a normal-sized bedroom for a human being. Of course, I was only kidding—we couldn’t place a living thing in a dark closet, so Randy’s cage was placed in our living room instead. He’s been watching comedies on NetFlix with us ever since.
I knew that Patricia was feeling guilty when she tried to wiggle her chubby body under our bed frame to elongate her hand’s reach. I bet she was also feeling sorry about all those hamburger buns she ate last night. Ever since we moved in together, she has been falling asleep with a bag of hamburger buns under her arm. While some people cuddle with their childhood stuffed animals, my girlfriend cuddles with bakery-fresh bread and eats it at random intervals throughout the night. She tries not to wake me, but I always hear her swear at the twisty-tie prior to letting the plastic bag unravel so that she may help herself to a warm bun.
Patricia and I met during our second year of college. She sat beside me in a literature class and I laughed to myself when I noticed her staring at the palm of her hand as she pulled a yellow one-subject notebook from her bookbag. The second time this happened, I asked her if she was into the “sport” of palm-reading. Her first reaction was to give me a dirty look. It was enough to make me ask her to read my palm. Then I tried to tell her a joke: If the lines on your hand were considered tree branches, what kind of tree would it be? The answer was “palm tree,” and she didn’t laugh. I was convinced that she didn’t have a sense of humor until our seventh class. She needed to borrow my notes, so I handed her my notebook and she promised to drop it in my campus mailbox later that afternoon. When I checked my mailbox that night and quickly shuffled through the pages like a deck of cards, I noticed that she wrote me a little note. Purple ink. Sloppy handwriting. Letters slanted to the left. She explained that she had a bad habit of writing her To-Do List on her hand and accidentally washing it off after using the bathroom. The consequences resulted in her having to stare at her hand in an effort to remember what she was supposed to remember to do. What I didn’t know back in those days was that she has many other bad habits, but nowadays, I try to be at least one of her good ones.
We started dating a few months after she introduced me to her family. Her brother Josh and I became good friends once we began to exchange indie music and Blu-Ray movies. His bedroom turned into my own entertainment store; the only thing I didn’t have was a key. It was dusty and full of posters of girls in bikinis. I had a feeling he thought I was looking at them and getting turned on, but I was a lesbian who was attracted to girls with cellulite and an appetite. At least that was my motto. I always had this little fantasy about dating a girl who would order me a peanut butter ice cream cone on her way home from work and hold it the whole way home until it melted all over her left hand. Patricia did that for me just last month. She may have taken a few licks between the ice cream shop and our apartment (and it was vanilla, not peanut butter), but she didn’t know about this fantasy and when she walked through the door that day, she became mine. I wanted her more than ever—and I told her not to wash her hands because I just purchased Saliva Soap, and she knew exactly what I meant.
After no sign of Randy underneath our bed, Patricia walked into the kitchen and began opening the cupboards, the dishwasher, and the refrigerator. Apparently she thought that Randy grew a pair of wings and muscles and had intended to make some late-night macaroni and cheese. Meanwhile, I couldn’t get out of bed: my legs were stiff and I was queasy. I drank too much last night and my tongue was stained blue from those damned tropical drinks. I tried to remember if I accidentally kicked Randy’s chinchilla ball on my way through the door and back the hallway sometime in the early hours of the morning, but I knew that that was unlikely. Even when I played soccer back in grade school, the ball never came to me.
“Liz, do you want to help me search for Randy? I seriously can’t find him anywhere,” Patricia said, tapping the edge of her purple clipboard with her manicured fingernails.
“Is that a clipboard?”
I knew that it was a clipboard, but the question was warranted. I wanted Liz to talk because talking was a wonderfully disguised breathing exercise.
“Yes, it’s a clipboard. And this is a map. I’m trying to map out the possible routes that Randy could’ve traveled through our apartment last night.”
Patricia was still in her pajamas. They had panda bears on them and they made her look cute and comfortable. My friend Evan once asked me to compare my girlfriend to any animal in the world. I picked the panda because Patricia sneezes like one and besides, there’s that whole alliteration thing going on, and Evan was an English major who could appreciate that.
“Oh. Well, the good news is that our apartment is small, so he couldn’t have gone that far,” I said, browsing through the media market on my cell phone to see if I could find an app called Chinchilla Chaser, or something like that.
“That’s true, but wherever he went . . . he didn’t come back,” Patricia replied. I handed her a tissue. Just like last night, I knew that this wasn’t going to be a dry time.
Patricia and I split up and searched the apartment, even though we didn’t have a lot of space to cover. But we rarely complain about our living space. The rent is cheap and we decorated well. Patricia was determined to have a rubber ducky-themed bathroom. I was just adamant about having enough shelf space for my music and DVD collections (and that includes both borrowed and owned media). Our living room contains a few picture frames and a flatscreen TV. There is plenty of leg room between the couch and the coffee table, and I like that. Our bedroom is decorated in a sea theme simply because Patricia went to a yard sale where a middle-aged woman gave her a good deal on “barely used” lamps shaped like lighthouses. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I wake up and feel seasick. Patricia claims that she’s never had this problem. It must be the bread.
I had no idea where Randy could be. That furry macho man rolls around in that little ball like a maniac; if our carpets were paved roads, he would be breaking the speed limit like nobody’s business. I wanted to find Randy as much as Patricia did—he was my buddy. I loved watching his little hands curl around the sunflower seeds I would feed him everyday after work. Crack, nibble, discard. That was Randy’s sunflower routine. Search, find, rejoice. That was my rescue plan.
Patricia was looking in and under things. I knew that I needed to look behind things. Perhaps that is why we get along so well–because we compliment each other and have different hide-and-seek strategies. I remember playing hide-and-seek with my sister when I was little. Claire always picked the most obvious places: in the bathtub and under the staircase. Patricia reminded me of her, but they had yet to meet. I knew that that would come in time. All I knew in that moment was that Randy’s time in hiding was up, so I made my way to his cage. I needed to make sure that he wasn’t in there, just in case. He wasn’t.
Turns out he was stuck: not in the snow like A Christmas Story Randy, but behind our sofa. That was the second place that I thought to look, and there he was. Success! I picked up the plastic ball and looked at Randy. His thin, white whiskers moved from left to right as he sniffed my hands through the tiny airholes. I knew he was happy to see me. He probably didn’t want to stare at the back of the sofa anymore. Besides, there was nothing to see. When he was running free in our apartment, he was a tourist, taking advantage of the opportunity to admire our old books, colorful underwear, acoustic guitars and my large coin jar. I took Randy out of his plastic ball and carefully returned him to his cage.
“I found him,” I yelled toward the bedroom.
Between the time it took for Patricia to run from our bedroom to our living room, I had decided to empty my coin jar. I was going to count my coins, cash them in, and buy Randy a bigger ball, along with a frame for the scribbled apartment map that Patricia drew. And then I was going to use the rest of the money to fill my gas tank. Patricia needed to meet my sister.
Kayla Pongrac is an avid writer, reader, tea drinker, and vinyl record spinner. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in theNewerYork, Split Lip Magazine, Oblong, The Bohemyth, HOOT, DUM DUM Zine, and Nat. Brut, among others. When she’s not writing creatively, she’s writing professionally—for two newspapers and a few magazines in her hometown of Johnstown, PA. To read more of Kayla’s work, visitwww.kaylapongrac.com or follow her on Twitter @KP_the_Promisee.