Devil in the Details: hot pink suitcase

It’s in the little things.

It’s in the stark, hot-pink suitcase blazing beneath the sun’s harsh afternoon rays. Embattled by strife – you can see the bumps and bruises, bulges and dents, the little concavity in the top right-hand corner from when the ground crew had let it tumble off the chute from the airliner to the trolley, and onto the tarmac of the taxiway below – the trip to Ibiza, she thought fondly.

Middle of the night, though night was day here. Tripping over their feet, sloshing through fountains for the hell of it. Fishing out the pennies but leaving the quarters. Now, they weren’t penniless! A patch of tattered cobblestones, dug up and scattered with debris. It looked like hopscotch, so they played hopscotch. A man was holding some little blue things. He approached with a five-toothed grin and welcomed the gringos. What were gringos? They didn’t know, but they didn’t care. Those little blue things looked like magic. Heaven, maybe. They both believed in heaven and hell. But they couldn’t remember the difference.

The jagged, lightning bolt-shaped scar just above the front, right wheel, extending perhaps two and a half inches or so vertically, from when he’d kicked it off the landing at the top of the stairs, and he’d been hollering and banging about and pounding the wall with his fist and her with it too, so she hadn’t heard the deafening squeal of the baluster’s base, when it’d struck the pink, plastic thing. And there was the fist-sized indent in the center of it, too, from when they’d underestimated the sheer quantity of stuff they owned, and hadn’t gotten enough cardboard boxes from their Walmart run.

But they’d made a New Year’s Resolution – on their little balcony, watching the ball drop at Times Square from fifteen or so miles to the south where you could make out the gnat-sized twinkle if you squinted just hard enough and took a sip or two more – It looks like Mars. She’d said. Like Mars, falling out of the sky! – and the resolution they’d settled on was to stay in more, with each other. But stay in translated to save on gas. They both knew it. Neither said it. It was back when oil prices were bad, and hospital bills were worse.

And they hadn’t seen the point in an extra trip – they could fit everything in these boxes and their suitcases. For sure. So they’d stuffed and crammed, cajoled and pounded, and she’d laid on top of the hot pink plastic thing and dug her elbows into it, sat on it and hopped up and down like she did on her hot pink exercise ball, and tossed it to the ground, where she kicked it in with her heel. A heel-sized dent, dead-center, but the thing finally zipped. They could buy a new one when they got to where they were going.

There were a hundred other little pockmarks and scratches, dents and blisters from a hundred other little mishaps, but those were the ones she remembered.

It was in the stark, hot-pink suitcase, over which she was folding clothes. They were hodgepodge things – thrift shop gold, she called them. He hadn’t agreed at the beginning – stop that. But she’d found that old sewing machine with the sticky latch that cut a half-moon into her thumb every time she flipped it on – the one her mother had given her as an engagement gift – and cut up a few scarves, some blue-jeans, a button-up or two. And she’d sewn them back together, the zebra scarves as a collar, the blue-jeans as a jacket, the blouse as pockets, the buttons as studs for the pockets. She’d sold it at the flea market the following Saturday. She never heard him say stop that again. Not for this, at least.

She was folding up some cheetah-print shawl, a wispy little slip of fabric. Every time she folded it once in half, the wind caught it, and the folds fluttered out, flapping like little ducktails over the curb. She didn’t mind. She folded it again.

It was in the stark, hot-pink suitcase on the sidewalk, just to the left and in front of the Target shopping cart she was leaning against. That, she’d parked at an angle on the cement, haphazard, blocking the way though she didn’t care. They could walk around it. That, which held the rest of her things. Mostly clothes – they’re the first things she’d thought to stuff in boxes to be stuffed in the cart. And he’d helped her with that, hauled a few dozen hangers from her closet and, on the top landing to the stairs, hurled them to the ground with enough force so that a few hangers had ricocheted off the wood, scattered on either side of the threshold, half in and half out. He’d been hollering and banging about and pounding the wall with his fist and her with it too, so she hadn’t had the chance to thank him for his help until a little later.

It was in the stark, hot-pink suitcase, in front of a woman, standing on the curb, in the broad, blazing daylight of mid-afternoon, at the corner of a four-lane, four-way intersection two blocks north of Sunset Boulevard, two blocks north of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and three blocks west of him.

She was a detached little thing, thin as a stick and spindly as one, too. She played with the handle to the suitcase, idly. Sometimes she reached for a blouse or a scarf or a camisole off the top of the shopping cart’s mound – if it happened to be a pair of jeans that she’d grabbed, she’d shove them to the bottom of the pile and pick up something else – and she’d fold them, idly, like she used to fold laundry at the foot of the bed on Sunday mornings. Sometimes, she’d whistle. She didn’t know why she’d whistle. She’d never been particularly good at it. But she felt like whistling, so she did it. Whatever tune came to mind, though it was never one she recognized.

She stood with her right hip jutting out into the intersection. Don’t fuck with me, it said, but it was her hip talking, and not her. She had the curliest black hair, a pretty little afro though it wasn’t little at all. She’d gone through a phase, a year or two back when he’d been between jobs, so if she asked him for something – if she asked him nicely, and five or so times in a row – he’d do it, when she’d have him brush it out nightly for her. He didn’t mind, because it relaxed her, and when she was relaxed, she was amenable. She’d asked him for a hundred strokes or so, because that’s what it took to get the knots out, but he’d always lose count and give her more than she’d asked. Sometimes, when she was curious, she’d count. Two hundred and forty-seven. That was his record.

But things had gotten to be as things were, and she hadn’t brushed her hair – besides the occasional comb-through – in longer than she could remember. It stood at angles, roughed-up with that same JGFL look that could double for JGRL or JGBL too. It was either of the latter this time around. The ends were a bit sheered, a bit fuzzy-hazy, like an out-of-focus photograph, a bit plump and puffed like those dust bunnies beneath the sofa, or the feathers of that dying hummingbird she’d seen keel over in the mulch at the park the other day. You look like a goat, he’d said. A goat? She’d asked. He’d shaken his head. No, the ones with the fur. Sheep. That’s what you look like.

It was in the stark, hot-pink suitcase, three or so feet below a pretty pair of sad, empty eyes. She wore the emptiness, and she wore it prettily. She stood on the outskirts of the sidewalk, butting up against the curb, on the corner of two roads she barely knew the names of – they hadn’t had a chance to pick up a car here, yet. She stood on the outskirts of the sidewalk, in front of a megalithic Target shopping cart – one of the super-sized ones from those Super Targets where everything was super – that held all of the personal belongings she’d collected over the past, what was it, twenty-seven years?  Minus a few dozen or so. She’d been in a rush at the time. She stood on the outskirts of the sidewalk, with a pretty pair of empty eyes and a jutting hip that hadn’t seemed to stop jutting since that one afternoon in middle school when the bald, egghead boy and the boy who stole the placards off their teachers’ desks had followed her to the bus stop after school, and hair more like a sheep today than most days. She stood on the outskirts of the sidewalk, in front of a stark, hot-pink suitcase.

That’s the first thing and the only thing I noticed, when I saw her for the split second that I did. In the time between when the light blazed blood-red, and we trailed to a stop across from her curb, and when just as quickly the light blazed lime-green, and we sped off.

I saw a stark, hot-pink suitcase, and that’s all I saw.

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