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Round 2 finalist: “Offering” by Jessica Berger
It was a dare first. Corli shimmied up the high cemetery gate with a pair of shoelaces as her only gear and undid the latch we could not reach. Alex Prose had bet that she couldn’t do it, had insisted her legs were too short and the muscles of her arms undefined. It had nothing to do with her being a girl, Alex Prose had insisted one foot weighing down the edge of a beat up skateboard, it was that he couldn’t do it either. Corli could, though. Corli could do anything. She had pulled her sister’s flask from her satchel, taken a swig of the magic potion: all jungle juice and party fouls, whatever wouldn’t be missed from her parent’s liquor cabinet. Bad bourbon and Midori and Mike’s Hard and chocolate liquor, a pinch of cinnamon, a double dose of dissolved aspirin. The runoff dribbled from her chin, slick in the sickly glow of a heavy moon. She’d thrown herself at the gate, bleached-out hair looking bluish over here, yellow over there. We could only cheer her silently, we were sentries, eyes open for cops, cars, the usual neighborhood watch.
In the cemetery Corli locked us in and walked us to Tricia Lin’s grave. Tricia Lin, 1989-2006. Beloved daughter. Cheerleader. Would-be burnout. We all remembered people talking about the tangled wreckage of her sea green Charger, the way the twin racing stripes on the hood became a python’s unhinged jaw, wrapped around the trunk of a too-solid oak tree. Tricia Lin, survived by that tree, by a grieving single mother, by a boyfriend who’d had designs on knocking her up straight out of college. We knew she’d been beautiful, that girl. The type with glitter on her eyes to match the glitter of her platforms, the type with perfectly lined lips, the type with hair immortalized in dozens of teenage love poems.
Corli had told us about the things people left on Tricia Lin’s headstone; the collections of ceramic angels and plush toys, drying flowers, jars of candies, and plastic charms. Rumor had it her friends came by every so often to sprinkle glitter over the grave, to bedazzle it, but it was her boyfriend’s contribution that was most important. He brought cigarettes, a fresh pack of Marlboro Reds every Friday morning before first period. They sat there, rain or shine, an offering to Tricia Lin, to the spirit of a girl not destined to be knocked up. Corli sparked up a lighter and revealed them, a full pack, a little damp, a little busted looking, safe on the granite. Tricia Lin, 1989-2006. We pretend at a prayer. Corli tells us she would want us to have them, would want them to go to use, would want to know her dumb jock boyfriend wasn’t throwing away his hard-earned allowance. Alex Prose holds up the potion flask as Corli lights the first limp cigarette, as we all reach for our own, “To Tricia Lin,” he says, “who we never knew.”
Jessica Berger is fiction writer, editor of The Account, and PhD candidate in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Program for Writers. Her work has appeared in Pank, Metazen, Trnsfr, The &Now Awards, and elsewhere.