Devil’s Lake

Fall 2015 Issue

Ishelle Payer: Made for TV

We’re side by side—Annie and me—in the bathroom mirror and one of the bulbs is burnt out. I can’t even see the floss in our reflections, just fists and teeth, and Annie’s telling me to be gentle but also to be firm. She’s telling me that teeth are like fingerprints, how sometimes the only way they can identify a person is by their teeth, and how neither of us wants to be identified as the kind of person who didn’t floss.

The television blinks Morse code onto the bedroom ceiling. Stayner’s picture is in the right-hand corner of the screen and the reporter looks nervous, like she can feel his eyes on the back of her head. Annie is holding almost two feet of wet floss limp in her hand; from the look on her face, you’d think it used to be attached to a balloon that got away. Turn it up, she says. The floss is bloodied in places.

At insanity plea, her nose scrunches. She is going through the list in her head, the reasons he will rattle off. Loveless parents. Voices. R-rated movies. Something in the water or the devil inside us all. The screen lights up with a picture of the park entrance, and another of Bridalveil Fall. Annie flicks the loose strand of floss onto the carpet and wilts against the foot of the bed; she tucks her knees to her chest.

That was 2001. We’d survived the Millennium, having spent the better part of ’99 discussing a time capsule we never made. There was just so much pressure to get each detail right. The only item we could agree on was a map of Yosemite with a warning that: Mountain lions live here. If you see a lion, do not run or crouch down. Instead shout, wave, and throw stones. Pick up children so that they look larger.When the world didn’t end, we took that map out back and stomped it into the dirt. We spent our borrowed time watching all the made for TV specials, like Evil in Paradise and Trail of Terror or simply The Yosemite Killer.

We’d never been to Yosemite, had found the map folded up inside a book on California history in the school library. I could reproduce that map from memory, I’m sure of it. There was a sunset vista printed on the reverse side, an image of Half Dome that we recognized from drugstore postcards—lain out over Annie’s bedspread, it was the first time that we’d seen it outside of its postcard frame. We wondered about the women and especially the girls, about the last beautiful thing that they saw. We made ourselves bigger, bigger, all the time, stood on one another’s shoulders, shouting, waving our arms, tried on poses in front of the mirror, trying to make it so that our bodies took up as much space as possible. That one deadened bulb finally tripped the circuit, and when it was fixed, we saw how dingy the tiles had become, how badly the towels needed bleaching.

ISHELLE PAYER is a graduate of the University of California at Davis Creative Writing Program. She is currently enrolled in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Oregon, where she is at work on a novel about a father and son’s obsession with the nuclear bomb. Her work has previously appeared in The Rumpus and Gigantic (Seizure State). More from this issue >