I’ve only tried to kidnap one person, ever, and that was Lana’s mom. We met up how we usually do, me and Lana, in our jeans and gym shoes and way-too-big sweatshirts. We had the plan already. Not that it was a great plan or anything, just that it was ours. Our sweatshirts were both gray, with hoods, and they went all the way down to our knees. That’s what we usually dress like on Saturdays. My mom doesn’t really do much with my hair, just lets me blow-dry it myself with the blow-dryer while I sing at the top of my lungs. The blow-dryer is my music. And then my mom sprays me with the red bottle of hairspray, which is the detangler, so my hair doesn’t turn into a rat’s nest all day, which is what it sometimes does. Then I meet up with Lana and this is what I see: her hair is going down her head in two perfect, black French braids. And I remember how important the plan really is if I ever want to get my hair French-braided.
Lana is really pretty, same as her mom. She has brown skin and brown eyes because she’s Indian and Korean. We’re not best friends or anything. We only just started hanging out last year, when she moved onto my street. She’s tall and kind of tough. I don’t mean she’s tough like mean, just that she’s tough like she speaks her mind. Which is nice to be around because I hate trying to guess what people are thinking.
The sidewalk is crooked and gray. There’s six houses between my house and her house. So that’s six yards, too, six big squares of grass that we’re not supposed to walk around on. Those are other people’s yards. That’s their property.
I say, “Are you ready?” And she says yeah. She’s being kind of weird and I don’t blame her because I know I’m kind of giving her a bum trade. The trade is my mom for her mom. That’s what we decided.
“Take her,” Lana told me, back when we made the plan, straddling her bike, with her arms folded on the handlebars and her forehead on her arms. “If you like her so much, just take her.” Like her mom’s a bracelet she never wears.
Which is how I ended up here, at the bottom of Lana’s stairs to her house, with my hands in my big sweatshirt pocket, all balled up. And Lana’s over at my house, six doors down. And I think I know, I mean I kind of know, that we’re not going to pull this off. But Lana seems so sure, like she knows what she’s doing, like she’s pulling me along with her.
When I try to imagine Lana’s mom, I picture her wearing purple, and her dress isn’t wrinkly at all, and it has one of those nice belts around it. Her hair is always all twisted up and I don’t know how she does that. No nail polish or jewelry, but she has a wedding ring, I guess, and it’s silver and not gold like my mom’s.
When I first met her, she shook my hand like I was just like her, an adult, and her hands were pruny from washing all those dishes. They were still wet on the rack behind her, and she dried her hands on a clean, white towel. My mom doesn’t believe in white towels, she says they’re a mess waiting to happen, but Lana’s mom apparently doesn’t mind the mess. Me and Lana went upstairs and she didn’t even call up that much, except once to shout up their stairs, “Do you want milk for the cookies?” Which I did, so it was nice.
“Where’d you get these?” I said to Lana when I saw the plate of cookies, sitting up there. It’s tough to imagine cookies just waiting upstairs for you when you get to your room, but that’s what Lana’s house is like. So I was like, “Where’d you get these?” And she just glanced at them like they were always there, and they bothered her a little. “Oh,” she said, “my mom probably made a whole bunch.” A whole bunch! I imagined plates and plates of soft pumpkin cookies with white chocolate chips, on plates with the tiny flowers, the plates Lana’s mom has.
Lana’s mom files her nails into perfect, slivered ovals. Lana’s mom French-braids Lana’s hair, even in the morning, so she can wear it like that to school. Lana’s mom knows how to make real waffles, not toaster waffles, and they fold up into four syrupy triangles.
“I like Eggos though,” Lana told me, which made no sense. Seriously, none. I wish I had one to hold up, one holey yellow Eggo, to compare to those waffles.
My mom can’t cook to save her life. At the table I’m usually looking at a sandwich like peanut butter and jelly, and there’s not even peanut butter going all the way to the crusts. We eat Chinese takeout sometimes, or we order pizza. I say “Gross” pretty much about whatever it is I’m eating for dinner, but my mom doesn’t care what I think is gross. She waves her hand at me, a one-two flap, like I’m buzzing around her head instead of sitting right there, at the table, saying, “Gross,” like a normal person.
I eat my dinner while I do my homework. I answer all the questions from my Social Studies book in a wide-rule notebook. I have an ugly pencil. I scratched the tip down instead of sharpening it and my notebook’s kind of coming apart with the spiral. My mom turns on the T.V. so we can watch The Office. I like The Office. Sometimes I laugh really hard. But at Lana’s house they sit quietly, and they talk about the food and their day, and they’re eating a feast while they do it.
So I just pace back and forth because I’m too scared, and then Lana’s mom comes out all on her own, before I even get the chance to ring the doorbell. She says, “Hey, Audrey. Lana already left to go to your house. You must’ve just missed each other.”
I take just one look at her, and I realize this isn’t going to work. And I almost decide not to do it. Almost. Lana’s mom is standing in the doorway, and she belongs in her own house, with her own daughter, which is Lana.
“Um, yeah. Lana’s at my house. Actually.” I try to look casual. I smile really big. “Actually, I wanted to talk to you.” I have no idea what I’m going to say. I kind of wish Lana’d given me some kind of script to go off of. Maybe if we’d practiced.
Lana’s mom backs up into the door and opens it backwards, then steps aside and holds it open for me. She tells me to come in. Right away she asks if I want a snack, and of course I do, so she says, “I just made biscuits.”
That word “biscuits” is magic. It snaps me right back into my plan for a second. Once again, I feel like I can do it. So I go into the kitchen and I ask her for a knife.
Whenever I go to bed, even if I’m really tired, my brain just switches on for no reason and I can’t go to sleep. I don’t like to look at my room when it’s dark. So I pull the covers up over my head but only with just enough room for me to breathe. I have to tilt my head up to breathe out of the breathing hole. My bed is in the middle of the room, but I always wish it was in a corner, on the floor. It would just feel safer.
Anyway, I get in bed, and pull the covers up how I do, and I curl my knees up to be more comfortable, and then Boom! Just like that my brain starts thinking, how it always does. And what I think about is always my day, and it’s like a movie where I have to watch parts over and over.
Sometimes I imagine stuff that never happened, like if I cut off my fingers. I just imagine my day like normal, and then slice—I cut them right off. Obviously, I know that would be pretty bloody, but it’s not when I imagine it. All of my pink fingertips, with their little pink nails, just pop right off onto the cutting board, where they roll around. No blood at all. I like my fingers just fine, that’s not the point. The point is that I imagine all sorts of weird stuff I usually wouldn’t do, and probably will never do.
The night before we made the plan, I was imagining Lana’s mom, with all her dishes piled up, and she dried her hands on the white dishtowel, and came over to me and shook my hand.
I imagined that when she shook my hand, I grabbed her by the wrist, and I took her right out the front door, and down the steps to the sidewalk, and then we took the sidewalk past the six yards, with the six houses, all the way back to my house. I showed her the kitchen and she got to work making me waffles, tons of waffles, and I covered them with syrup, and waited a minute until they were good and soggy, and then I ate it up. That’s what I imagined.
The next day is the day me and Lana are hanging out, which for us is mostly just walking around or standing on our bikes and talking. We don’t even really ride our bikes much. And when I tell Lana about my dream, about how much I love her mom, that’s when she says what she says. That’s when we make the plan.
“Take her,” Lana says, with her head on her arms, rocking slowly from side to side. “If you like her so much, just take her. I’m sick of her. I’d rather have your mom any day.” Which is what made me think about my other dreams. It made me think about knives.
“What do you need a knife for?”
“Cutting up my biscuits,” I tell her. Cutting off all my fingers, I think. Getting you to make me some waffles is what I know and that one’s the truth. So she hands me the butter knife on the counter, after she wipes it on a paper napkin. “Excuse me, do you have a bigger knife?” I ask as politely as I can.
“A bigger knife?”
“Yes. I’d really like one.” She doesn’t have a big knife holder on the counter like my mom does. I wonder from where she’ll pull it out. With all that cooking, she must have knives somewhere.
“Why don’t you use that knife, and sit right here at the table, and tell me what’s on your mind.” I pout at my butter knife, and the energy to kidnap someone drains back out of me again. What’s hard is, when you’re set on something, sometimes you still go back and forth a lot. But the biscuit looks good, it’s warm and straight from the oven, so I sit at the table.
Lana’s mom opens her fridge. Theirs is a big silver fridge and instead of two side-by-sides like my fridge has, at Lana’s house they have a freezer drawer that pulls out of the bottom. They definitely have a better fridge. She reaches inside the top part and pulls out a glass jar with a gold top.
“Blackberry jelly,” she says, twisting it open and setting it by my plate.
“Oh.” I take my butter knife and scoop a bunch of jelly right onto the biscuits, and then ask, “Where did you get this?” about the jelly because there was no label, no ingredients, no nothing.
“I made it,” she says, and my mouth drops open.
“How do you make jelly?” I wonder and she laughs. “No seriously. Where does the jelly part of it come from?”
“Well, first you take the blackberries—“
“What do you mean by black berries?”
“Just blackberries. Like the ones from the store.”
“I don’t know any black berries,” I say.
“Well, you can use any berry, strawberries if you want, raspberries…” And now I’m starting to get a picture of it. I imagine a special berry box filled with black strawberries. I squint at the jelly. Kind of purple. Maybe she means purple berries. And it doesn’t really matter anyway. I hold up one hand to stop her. “This isn’t about jelly,” I say.
“Alright,” she says. “What is it about?”
I just explain it as simply as possible: “I’m here to kidnap you.” Now her eyes bug out at me, but she’s still smiling, like she kind of likes that. I take a big bite of biscuit, and I say with my mouth full, “I’d like you to come to my house and cook for me.” I point to my biscuit: yum. I pat my stomach and lick my lips so she gets the idea. I feel like a hungry wolf in a cartoon.
“Is that what you needed the knife for? Getting me to come with you?”
“That’s not a very responsible use for a knife, is it?
I shake my head no, and take another big bite. Chewing is so good when you’re mouth is full of something you actually like. After I swallow, I try to explain that everything about their house is better than ours. I tell her that she’s better than my mom. “A million times better,” I say, “and it’s not about how you guys have a pool.” They do have a pool, and it’s really fun. “I don’t mind living in my house actually. What I mind is that my house just isn’t pretty and perfect like yours. I want you to make my house beautiful, like yours is.”
Lana’s kitchen even looks like Lana’s mom made it. It looks great. Half of everything is shiny silver, like the fridge and the dishwasher, and the rows of pots hanging over the sink. The other half is white, all the way white, with no crumbs or anything. There aren’t even crumbs on the floor. And it smells great in there, all the time, even when she’s washing the dishes. I don’t know how she does that.
“I just really like your waffles,” I say. I don’t know if she’ll even understand that my kitchen has a big Snoopy cookie holder. Most of what’s in it is crumbs. Maybe she’s never even seen crumbs, the way I’ve never seen any black berries. “Your waffles are really great,” I say, “and I wish that you lived with me because I like your waffles, and also I think you always look really nice, and you know how to make jelly yourself, and I think I’d rather have you for a mom.” I forgot to mention the French braids. I don’t think it mattered, honestly.
“Okay.” She says. She stands and puts one arm around my shoulders. And with one perfect hand, she tucks my hair behind one of my ears. It’s just like I imagined. Maybe I can stay with her after all.
“You know you already have a mom, right?” She breaks into my daydream and I nod into her stomach. “And your mom really loves you, right?” And suddenly, that’s one thing I don’t like about Lana’s mom. She’s a little mushy. Of course my mom loves me but we don’t have to talk about it. I pull away and flap my hand at her, one, two, and say, “Yeah, I know.”
But then I remember something pretty important. “Oh, no, Lana!” I say, and Lana’s mom straightens her back up.
“What? Where’s Lana?”
I stand. “I told her I’d trade!”
“What?” Lana’s mom isn’t smiling anymore.
“Trade her for you. She likes my mom better too, because she likes pop tarts and frozen pizza and stuff, plus she’s sick of you, I guess, and she says my mom’s more fun. So we decided to trade.” Lana’s mom’s face goes straight blank. I have no idea what she’s thinking and she’s not being nice or talking anymore, she just stands and gets her keys and bolts. I follow her out.
Obviously the deal is off, I want to reassure her, but we’re walking kind of fast and it’s a little chilly out so I’m holding my breath, like I do sometimes when I’m cold. So we just walk down the sidewalk together, and Lana’s mom stays pretty quiet, and it’s just like in my imagination, except nobody’s happy, and nobody’s getting any waffles.
My house is mostly yellow and I don’t mean on the outside (because it’s brown) I mean on the inside because that’s the color my mom always picks. At least for the main rooms. My room is teal because I wanted an underwater theme. My mom bought me fish stickers that you can put anywhere on the walls which I love to do. I can’t put them on my dresser or my night stand, obviously, because it might hurt the wood. Also the radiator because of the heat. Radiators are probably my favorite things ever because if I lean my back against it, my whole back will get burning hot. And I just love that. So my room is the fish room, and it’s pretty good.
All the rest of the rooms my mom decides on, and usually she picks yellow because she likes every room to be sunny. We don’t have curtains, but what she does is she turns the stick on the blinds, and that makes it so the sunshine looks like stripes. Usually just on the carpet, but after school sometimes they stripe all the way up the wall, almost to where the clock is. It’s so cool looking. I really like that. And the other thing I like is my cozy slipper-socks, which are black and fuzzy, and the bottom has gluey dots that keep you from sliding around too much in them. And that’s it. That’s all the good stuff about my house. And I’m not sure if there’s anything good about my mom. She’s just normal, how she always is.
When we get back to my house, Lana’s mom doesn’t wait for me to get the door, which I think is kind of rude. She just lets her own self in and shouts, “Lana!”
I hear my mom’s voice, “We’re in here,” and she sounds pretty strained. Our kitchen is yellow, like I said, and all the towels have stains and pictures of weird stuff on them. Like a whole bunch have dogs on them. We don’t have a dog. I don’t know why my mom picked them out. One has a baby picture of me on it and I hate that one. There’s always a pile of dirt and crumbs over by the garbage can, which is where the broom stands, too. My mom never gets rid of the pile. I’m so embarrassed for Lana’s mom to see that. And my mom has a whole wall where she sticks postcards, some of them don’t even make any sense. The TV is right on the counter, in the way of everything.
When we get in, my mom is standing back against the counter with her hands holding onto the edge kind of backwards. And it looks like Lana did get a knife after all. She’s hanging onto the brown handle with both hands, sitting at the kitchen table, and here’s something I’ve never seen her do: she’s crying.
Lana’s mom says, “Come on, Lana. Let go of the knife. Let’s go home.”
Lana shakes her head no.
Lana’s mom says, “Lana” again. And then Lana shouts, “I’m not going home! I’m staying right here!” and she waves the knife with both hands a little, and all three of us pull back. It’s freaky that she really got her hands on a knife, and I’m a little jealous, but of course mostly just scared.
Lana’s mom starts crying, too. She doesn’t even try to hide it. “Lana. You already have a mom, I’m your mom. Please come home with me.”
Lana goes, “No!”
“Lana, please put down the knife. That’s not a very responsible use for a knife, is it?”
“I’m staying here in the fun house.” For a second I think maybe Lana stabbed her mother, the way she flinches when Lana calls our house the fun house. And I want to tell Lana, don’t you know how nuts it is that your mom knows how to make her own jelly out of special berries? Because if that’s not a fun house, I don’t know what is.
“Lana,” I say firmly, “the deal is off.” Because I’m definitely not going to let her have both our moms.
And then Lana screams. Really screams. I’ve never seen anybody really scream except for fun. She closes both of her eyes, and her face is so red and wet from tears, and then her mouth opens all the way wide, so it takes up her whole face. She bangs the back of the knife into the table. A real scream.
I think that I’ve probably felt like that. I’ve just never done that. And then I know something new about Lana. Lana actually does the weird stuff in her head. It’s the scariest thing I can think of.
So all of the rest of us are just frozen, until my mom starts talking. She’s probably just as uncomfortable as I am with all the knives and crying and carrying on. She sits up straight and gives everybody a big smile. She says in the calmest voice I’ve ever heard, “Well, as long as you’re staying, I should make dinner. I have frozen pizza. Lana, you like just plain cheese, right?” Lana is shaking. But she sniffs and nods very seriously.
“And Michelle,” turning to Lana’s mom, “would you like to stay for dinner?” Lana’s mom takes her hand and wipes away her tears, even though her face is all red and blotchy now, like she can fake that she’s happy, and says “I’d love some cheese pizza. Is it okay if I stay, Lana?” Lana just nods again. It’s like there’s no knife in the room at all.
“Okay!” My mom says that like it’s going to be the best dinner party ever. “So I’m going to go to the freezer, and then I’m gonna make it, okay?” She turns to me. “Audrey, come sit over here, across from your friend.” I can see that Lana can’t reach me with the knife across the table, and all of a sudden, I love my mom like crazy for being so smart, and for knowing how to handle this messed up day.
My mom says, “Oooookey dokey” real slow like that, and goes to the freezer, and starts making the pizza. “Only ten minutes in the toaster oven,” she brags cheerfully, ripping open the plastic with her fingernails and sliding it right onto the rack. I blush thinking how dumb that must sound to Lana’s mom. But it is nice that we don’t have to wait for it too long because the silence is pretty awkward.
Lana’s mom says, “You don’t think I’m any fun?” to Lana, and I look at my mom, and my mom looks at the ceiling, while Lana shakes her head no.
Lana’s mom isn’t like my mom, who will tell this story at work tomorrow and say, “Kids!” maybe, or joke that her food is so bad her kid tried to move in with somebody else’s mom yesterday. Lana’s mom doesn’t think it’s funny even a little bit. She looks sad, and kind of tired. It’s probably all that cooking that has her so stressed out.
When the pizza dings, after about a million years have passed, we’re all relieved. My mom takes it out of the toaster oven with tongs, sliding it back onto the brown cardboard circle, and she says, “Hey, can I borrow that to cut the pizza?” to Lana, and just like that Lana hands the knife over. Seriously. Just like that. And now we’re just a weird bunch of mothers and daughters about to eat pizza together.
I want to apologize, and decide I should just blurt it out. “I’m sorry for having this idea,” I say. My mom just winks at me. She takes her hand and flaps it in the air, one-two, like my apology is buzzing around her head.
“Michelle,” she says to Lana’s mom, “should we leave the girls alone and eat in the living room?” I can tell that it’s both of our jobs now to make sure that Lana and Lana’s mom leave the house feeling okay. My mom can be really good at cheering people up when she tries to be. So after they leave, I turn to Lana, who’s digging into her pizza now, like that’ll help, even though she’s still shaking from everything.
I feel like I want to tell her a million things. Like about how people aren’t yours. Even if I knew deep down that we couldn’t trade moms, not really, I didn’t know the other thing. I didn’t know that we don’t really belong to them, either. But I don’t have it all straightened out in my own head yet.
So instead I start, “Lana. You really have the best mom in the whole world. Trust me.”
Amy Giacalone is a fiction writer and playwright living in Chicago. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia College. Her play Better was staged by Bartleby Productions in 2012, and her fiction has appeared in Hair Trigger 36.