Ash Witherell

Plato is smoking a blunt. 

Plato is smoking an indica blunt and trying to reach the landline to dial the number at the same time and Socrates is doing her acrylics and complaining about how some guy called her oreo in the parking lot of Cracker Barrel last Wednesday and a thug today like it was no big deal. 

I’m either an oreo or a thug, Socrates says. Make up your mind. 

Plato fumbles the phone and has to bend down to pick it up. 

Socrates is sitting on the worn-out couch in the corner without a shirt, painting her nails. The bottle is the singular red that nail polish companies use when they want to scream nail polish. It has a name that’s trying too hard— ‘individualist’ or ‘broken-brick beat’ or ‘double shot’ or ‘dressed to the wines.’ 

Listen, Socrates says, I got no problem with either. The thing is you gotta commit. I’m either smart or I’m stupid, you know? But I guess my heels said one thing and my mouth said another. 

Plato dials the number and listens to the ring. 

I, says Socrates, smearing nail polish across her wrist in an ‘X’, am a nobody. 

The landline rings again. 

A fucking nothing. What people see is what they know, got it? 

Plato gets the smooth oil-voice of the man working the desk. 

Hello, she says. My name is Plato. I’m calling about an opening. It’s been a whole week now and they said they’d let me know in two to three business days—

I’m sorry, sir, the desk clerk said. It isn’t showing up. 

Plato thinks she should say ma’am and correct him but she’s already trying to fight one battle and she doesn’t want to add another. The other day she corrected the girl who worked the register down at the Dollar Store and her heart was pounding in her head for twenty minutes afterwards. 

Of course, she says. Let me just check again. Sorry about that. 

She hangs up, her own nail polish is coming off at the thumb and she resists the temptation to chew at it. Bad germs, her mom always said. 

Last week Plato went down to the department store to buy high heels for the thirteenth job interview. She hated buying heels, because she didn’t fit into many, and the pretty ones were always too small, but she had to get out of dodge somehow and there was nothing to it but to do it. She would have gone with Socrates but Socrates was off somewhere and the truth was standing next to her in a department store made Plato feel even worse. 

Socrates walked everywhere in heels— she made them look effortless. 

In the store everyone was staring at Plato. She hid by herself in the corner, but they could see her shadow, long and towering out from behind the rows of shoeboxes. There was a woman yelling at her kid and the kid was crying. There was a man singing by himself in the corner— Toreador to an invisible Carmen— but everyone stared at Plato instead. 

The more Plato tried to hide, the more her shadow seemed to grow. 

The woman hit her son over the head. No one seemed to care. 

You are not what you are supposed to be, the people were saying. 

Plato left the department store. 

She says she’s sorry that happened to Socrates to pacify the thunderstorm brewing in the living room. Plato grew up white trailer trash in some little bumfuck town she’d rather die than go back to and she’s doing her best and she loves Socrates very much but she doesn’t always know what to say to her. She hopes sorry is enough. 

It isn’t. Socrates turns away and crosses her arms. 

Why on earth, she says, does it seem like I’m the only one who knows how fucking stupid I am. 

Plato disagrees. Hey, that guy’s the stupid one. 

We’re all the stupid one, Socrates says. 

Well then, you’re not stupid because you know you’re stupid so it cancels out, Plato shoots back. Or maybe it doubles up and you’re multiplied stupid, stupid-times-two, and that’s why you hang out with me. 

Socrates doesn’t turn around, but she uncrosses her arms to shake the polish dry, and Plato knows she’s forgiven. 

Hang out with you? Socrates asks. We’re not hanging out. You’re a fat cockroach and you eat my scraps out of the trash. 

At least I have an ass, Plato says. 

At least I have a pussy, Socrates says. 

They both laugh and the thunderstorm dissipates. 

Socrates has tears beading in her eyes— whether from the Cracker Barrel story or from laughter is impossible to tell. She can’t touch her face so she’s fanning it with both hands, and her nail polish gleams in the light. 

Plato braces herself against the couch to keep from falling over. 

When they found each other Plato was addicted to oxy and Socrates was addicted to bad men and both their shadows were deep as sin. Plato came from trailers where they held whiskey-weddings and all the preachers spoke in tongues and she had nothing. Socrates came from foster care where she’d spent eighteen years as a placemat on the dinner table and she had nothing. They met in a women’s shelter and shared a cheap vanilla cupcake, the icing hard and cardboard-esque. It was the closest thing to kindness either of them had felt in a long time. Plato, never wanting to make anyone uncomfortable, had stood up to leave when it was gone. 

Hey, hey, Socrates said. I’m not finished with you yet. 

Plato sat back down. 

Can you watch my shit while I head to the ladies? Socrates asked. 

Plato nodded. It was the first bit of trust she’d received and she was sure as hell not gonna let it go. Truth is, she never stopped guarding that backpack. 

Socrates poses at the edge of the couch, arching her back and sticking one leg out. She holds up her nail-polished hands for Plato’s inspection. 

What’s the vibe? 

Bitch with something to prove. 

Perfect. I got lots of shit to prove, Socrates says. I’m proving more shit in a day than Einstein did in a lifetime. I gotta prove I’m the girl who can take calls, bun yanking her hair out, all day no sweat. I gotta prove I’m the girl who’ll beat you bloody in two seconds if you follow me down a dark alley. I gotta prove I’m better than everyone else and don’t think so— humbler than everyone else and don’t think so— smarter than everyone else and don’t think so— sexier than everyone else and don’t think so. I’m the theory of a relative woman. 

Men will cower, Plato says. 

They’d better. I don’t work this hard for nothing, Socrates mutters. 

She examines herself in the mirror. Her hair is braided high on her head and the light of the lamp turns her skin to black silk. 

You do a damn good job, Plato says. 

Socrates inclines her head and clenches her jaw. 

God’s gonna cry for what he did to me, she says. Her voice has dropped low in the back of the throat.

Plato goes silent. 

God’s gonna fucking cry, Socrates says. 

She looks herself in the eye and brings her manicured hands up to her neck. The red fingertips frame the curve of her face. 

I’m so tired, she says. 

Plato almost tells her. Plato almost says, Socrates, one of my interviews went through and they want me to start in two weeks. They say I should move out of town to that rich-kid-lane and make triple. They say I should wear all those nice white blouses with the pencil skirts you hate so much. Nobody knows about shadows over there. There are streetlights in every corner and the sun never sets. Nobody dies in the gutter. 

They say I have to leave you.

She doesn’t. 

She gets up instead, opens her mouth. 

We should go out tonight and cause trouble, Plato says. 

Socrates looks over at her, smiles. 

No arguing with that, she says, because there really isn’t. 

Ash Witherell is something resembling a writer, if you squint. They’re a student at Southern Oregon University, where they love to explore old ideas through new unconventional lenses and embrace change. They would like to thank Professors Craig Wright and Kasey Mohommad for putting up with them, and the editors of Angel Rust for taking a chance.