Shell wakes up with a bad migraine and decides to be vegan. She thinks veganism will help her overcome her life problems. This mindset lasts twelve minutes because she needs to eat a tub of raw cookie dough in the back of the refrigerator. It expires tomorrow. Shell googles “Salmonella” and sticks her fingers down her throat, but nothing happens. The cookie dough cements itself to her insides, probably damaging her large intestine, small intestine, and her pancreas. Shell doesn’t have a gag reflex, which gave her a brief taste of popularity among college athletes. Her grandmother died of pancreatic cancer when she was in the sixth grade. She still gets nauseous when she sees bluebirds. Or birds in general, really.
Because Shell is going to die, she plays Euchre online with a bunch of foreign strangers and thinks about getting close to someone, anyone, it wouldn’t matter who. She thinks of a tall man with a pointy hat but can’t remember where she saw him. Or when. At the grocery. On the subway. In the park. She can’t remember. She burns her toast black and decides against having a personal relationship with someone other than herself because everything dies, even chairs and tables and metal spoons. Sometimes, Shell wishes she were shower water so she could cover every inch of a person’s skin. She licks Cheetos crumbs off her fingers and pretends it’s fairy dust. She wishes for nothing because there’s nothing to wish for anymore. On her Euchre app, Shell calls herself Hoosierlady01. She likes it when the other players refer to her as Hoosier Lady. They have no idea how old she is or where she went to high school or what time she wakes up or what she does for a living. As Hoosierlady01, Shell is anyone and everyone within state lines.
After winning two games of Euchre in a row, Shell decides to deprive herself of fresh things, like fruits and vegetables. She’ll live off processed foods and never have a home-cooked meal again. This is more realistic than being vegan because Shell lives alone and likes the idea of punishing herself by holding back tears while chopping onions. Sometimes, she goes to the bowling alley down the street and uses the bumpers even though she doesn’t need them. She bowls until her fingers get stuck in the holes and she’s outstayed her welcome. The staff knows her. They know she likes fried pickles and beer on tap. It doesn’t matter what kind. They would call the police if she didn’t show up for a couple of days. They would worry about her. They would. Shell knows this. Not because they’re her friends but because they say, “Hi, Shell!” with a smile whenever she walks in, and they mean it. They give her free arcade tickets when it’s slow and sometimes watch her bowl a game of strikes.
Shell wasn’t always afraid to go outside. She used to go lots of places. The mall, the movie theatre, concerts, sushi restaurants, clubs with strobe lights, museums, tennis courts. But then she read about all the people who have died in a 100-mile radius of her apartment and stopped going outside. She was afraid of getting caught in the middle of a mass shooting and didn’t want her picture to be on a victim website or maximized on primetime television. She isn’t photogenic. She hates her nose. She has the side profile of a cartoon horse. It’s easier for her to stay inside like a hermit and become Hoosierlady01. Hoosierlady01 isn’t afraid to go outside. The bowling alley is safe though.
Shell’s new coworker, Marv, is coming over for dinner to give her their company’s welcome packet. She didn’t want to get a corporate job, but her mother’s life insurance is running out and she doesn’t want to move into a different apartment. The job is risk-free and remote, so all Shell has to do is order a better router, plug it into her wall, and cross her fingers that it works so she can assist people who are unsatisfied with their latest appliance purchase. She will spend most of her time playing Euchre and thinking about her mother or dying her armpit hair hot pink. And only sometimes will she think about her job, which is actually just a glorified problem solver for inconvenienced housewives. Shell hasn’t had dinner with a male in two years. Males make her say weird things, things she normally wouldn’t say.
When Marv knocks on her apartment door—three slow knocks, just like she asked—she checks that it’s really him and not some ax-murderer pretending to be Marv. It’s him. Marv. He wears white tennis shoes with mud tattooed to the bottoms and his pants: sky high. He reminds her of the tall burglar from Home Alone. Shell loves Home Alone, like in a religious way. In the same way people spend hours watching golf or sell their worldly possessions to feed their poker addictions. Shell feels that she’s forged a special connection with Kevin McCallister because she too made her family disappear and now guards her apartment with an old golf club and dollar-store mace and a 6-6-6 poem she found outside an abandoned tarot card shop. Marv’s belt buckle is brown, and his facial hair is as black as his t-shirt. Shell asked Marv to describe his outfit, so she would know it’s him. The description matches, but he could be anyone in jeans and a t-shirt and dirty white tennis shoes. Shell unlocks the deadbolt and the knob lock and the hatch. There’s a batch of pizza rolls in the oven. It’s the only thing she knows how to make. Marv brings a gust of wind with him. It’s enough to knock Shell over.
Gabrielle McAree is from Fishers, IN. She studied Theatre and Writing at Long Island University Post. Her work appears or is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Berkeley Fiction Review, Reflex Press, Reckon Review, and elsewhere. She’s on Twitter @gmcaree_.