Mouth-Breather

Edgar Chaparro

Kim and I lived and worked in the suburbs of Los Angeles – the Valley. We had met one year ago when we were both hired as receptionists at an optometric practice two months apart. We were 26, and our shared love for dicking around bonded us quickly. We didn’t dick around constantly, but we knew how to make the most out of our days. Our boss, Dr. Larry Short, had been on our shit list for some time. We struggled to figure out what would be the best way to get back at him – somehow eating his BLT sub sandwich out of the office’s mini fridge never felt like enough after the last swallow.

Dr. Short never stood up for his staff. Even when Kim and I were being taken advantage of, he always sided with the patients. Kim accepted it, but it lingered with me. The first few instances were trivial, things like patients getting upset since they had to wait because Dr. Short moved at a glacial pace, not being open on Sundays, and the fact that all payment for services had to be rendered by the end of their appointment. But when his patient, Don Samer, threw his Visa card at me because the fees were too high, something unhinged within. His sharp flick of the wrist caused the credit card to hit my chest, ricochet off, and land on the carpet. I marched my ass back into Dr. Short’s office. His desk was nothing more than a collapsible table with a walnut melamine finish. Most of the papers on his desk had coffee ring accents, and patient charts were lopsided on its edge. He sat there and stared as I spoke, and brought his coffee mug up to his thin lips. The steam from his Nescafé fogged the lenses in his metal glasses.

“Give him twenty percent off,” he said. He placed his mug down and shuffled papers around his desk. “Don’t keep him waiting.”

Kim and I sat on the stairs inside the parking structure adjacent to the office after work that day. Chewing her gum, she rationalized the whole situation.

“His focus is on customer service, Sonia.” She blew a small orange bubble and popped it. “All he cares about is keeping paying customers.”

“It’s not right,” I said. “Remember when he made us stay an hour after closing and then got upset the next pay period because we had overtime?”

“I do,” she said.

“He can’t treat us like this.”

“There isn’t anything we can do about it,” she said.

I looked through the concrete cutout behind Kim, and at the graffiti on the wall next door. “What does that say?”

She turned her head and gave the stucco wall outside the parking structure’s window a double look. “I don’t know. I don’t speak gang.”

We both laughed and got up to look closer.

“That must be a bitch to clean,” she said. She put her hand against the structure’s wall and cocked her head to the left. “It’ll probably still show after a few paint jobs.”

I watched Kim try to figure out what it said, waiting until she caught my gaze.

“That’s it,” I said.

“What’s it?” she asked.

“Tonight, we’re hitting his house.”

“What the hell does that mean?” she asked.

“It means we’re spray painting his house.”

“Like hell we are.” She chewed harder and took turns looking into both my eyes. “Sonia if we get caught, we’re going to jail. And neither of us would flourish there either.”

“Relax,” I said. I put my palms on her shoulders and looked at her. “We won’t get caught.”

We got into my silver Volkswagen Jetta and headed toward Sears. I rolled my window down and looked at the sunset; the sun was sinking slowly, and there was red in the sky. I pushed side one of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow into my cassette player, and turned the volume up.

“She Has Funny Cars” blared through the stock speakers, rattling the cloth seats at red lights.

“Why Sears? Why can’t we go to Benetton or something?” Kim asked. Her hands rubbed up and down her slacks slowly.

“We need masks, and we need to buy them at a place we normally don’t shop at.”

“I don’t know about this, Sonia,” she said.

“Will you just trust me?”

I pulled into Sears’s parking lot so fast that the underside of the car scraped against its concrete driveway. “Okay, let’s go.”

We walked through the revolving door, and a young man greeted us, catching us off guard. He was doughy, and his blue polo shirt had a nametag on it that was crooked.

“Where are your nylons?” I asked.

He turned around and used his hands to motion that they were housed at the end of the row, and then to the left.

I gave him a double pat on his chest. “Thanks.”

“Wasn’t that a bit forward?” Kim asked while walking. “You don’t even know him.”

I turned to her, closing my eyes for a few seconds then opening them again.

“I mean you were kind of rude, right?” Kim asked. “He has to work at this dump and get treated poorly?”

“Can we just press on?” I said. “I’ll apologize to your boyfriend before we leave.”

Kim rolled her eyes and exhaled.

The nylons were stacked on shelves. Some had been opened, their contents spilling out. Others were placed neatly in rows, but out of order in color.

“Why can’t we just get one of those ski masks with its eyes and mouth cut out?” Kim asked.

“Because we’re not murdering anyone.”

She let out a laugh. “Well, which nylons should we get?”

I stood looking at all of them. “Let’s try control-top, black.”

We walked into the door-less room that had FITTING ROOM spelled out in pink neon lights above its frame. The space was cold, deserted. We piled into the handicap room.

“Here,” Kim said. She opened the package and handed the nylon to me as if it were a ball.

I shook it out and stretched the waistband as far as I could and placed it over my head while looking into the mirror. The nylon smashed my nose to the side, and made my two eyebrows into one.

Kim threw her head back and laughed uncontrollably. “You look like Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona! ‘Son, you’ve got a panty on your head!’”

I fell against the wall and let out a roar of laughter. Kim’s face turned pink and she clutched her chest.

“Can you even breathe in that thing?” Kim asked. She walked toward me and touched my face. “It’s so glossy, too.”

“I can breathe, but it feels strange.”

A woman knocked, her pointy black shoes visible through the open space under the door.

“How’s everything going in there?”

“We’re fine!” we blurted out in unison.

She walked away, and I took off the nylon and we grabbed two unopened packages, leaving the rest behind on the floor.

We found spray paint near the entrance of the store, and Kim shook three colors of Krylon before settling on Italian Olive and Summer Periwinkle shades with a satin finish.

“What time is this all going down?” she asked.

I looked at the store’s giant clock by the registers. “It’s almost nine now, so we can drive over and watch the house for movement.”

The cashier was an older woman, and she wore a cream vest. Her gray hair was pulled up in a banana clip, and she had what looked like Lee Press-On red nails on every finger except her left index.

“Cash or charge, hon?”

I gave her a twenty, but she had to go to another register to make change.

“Hey, if you wear these everyday for a month, I’ll give you a hundred bucks.” Kim stood by a rotating rack of sunglasses and held up what looked like men’s white ski shades that had two-tone orange lenses. “Come on, do it!”

I waved her off and turned around to laugh.

The cashier walked back and handed me change. “Here you go, hon.”

I followed Kim out to the car, where she stared at the stars before getting in.

“How do you even know where he lives anyway?” she asked.

“Remember that time when I had to take him to the airport? I had to pick him up at his house.” I opened the car door and hung my arm over its frame. “I remember making a wish on an eyelash that the airline lose his luggage while I waited for him to come out.”

Kim laughed and climbed onto the front seat. “I’m only doing this for you.”

I adjusted my rearview mirror and looked into it. “No, we’re doing this for us.”

We drove to Studio City and took a left onto Colfax. I cut the lights when I turned onto Sycamore – Dr. Short’s street, but the street lamplights entered the car as jaundiced rectangles, and they rose from our knees up to our laps as we drove forward. The car cruised passed his house slowly, and we saw the lights were off. He had a long driveway that stretched up to two glass windows, and his lawn was vibrant green.

“Look at that lawn,” Kim said.

I hung my left arm over the steering wheel and looked. “Asshole. He probably waters every day. Everyone else has drought-tolerant landscaping on this block.”

I pulled the car around and parked it beneath a leafy elm tree.

“What if he can tell it’s us by our clothes?” Kim asked.

“We don’t wear all black at the office. We’re fine.”

We pulled our blonde hair back into low buns and opened the nylon packages. I grabbed two pairs of sunglasses from the glove compartment and a mini switchblade that had a keychain ring.

“What’s the knife for?” Kim shrieked.

“Keep your voice down,” I said. “Relax, I’m just going to cut his hose.”

“His hose?” Kim asked.

“Yes, he likes plants,” I said. “I usually tune him out, but after I forgot to water the planter on his desk while he was on vacation, plant care was all I heard about for weeks.”

“And the sunglasses?” She reached for the cat eye pair. “Are these the Dior’s from the office display case?”

“Yes, I stole them a few days ago. Put them on first, then your nylon.”

I unlocked the door and grabbed for the Krylon in Summer Periwinkle. I shook it and it sounded like marbles moving around in a jar. “I’m going to spray paint his driveway, and you get his plants.”

I left the car door cracked, and ran to the base of his driveway and dropped to my knees. I pressed the white tip of the can, and it hissed as I wrote FUCK YOU, MOUTH-BREATHER in soft purple. The color looked faded in the streetlamp light, but I knew the Los Angeles sun would showcase its neon-pastel undertones in a few hours.

I ran with my torso hunched over my knees to the green, coiled hose that rested at the top of the lawn. I flung the switchblade open, and ran it back and forth against the thick plastic. A burst of water shot out, knocking me off my knees, and water droplets beaded on the nylon’s spandex fabric.

“Get the roses!” I whisper-yelled. I saw Kim a few feet beside me. “Get the roses!”

Kim layered coat after coat of Italian Olive Krylon over the white, lush roses that lined the start of the house to the base of the driveway. The color looked shit-brown in the light.

“Let’s go!” I whisper-yelled again.

We ran back to the car, elbow to elbow. I threw the nylon halfway over my head, and hit the gas.

“I can’t believe we just did that!” Kim said. She ripped the nylon off, but kept the sunglasses on. “What a rush.”

“Fuck him,” I said. I pulled off the nylon and undid my hair. I rolled down the window and let the breeze fly through my strands.

I picked Kim up the next day, and we threw away our cans and nylons in the alley dumpster behind the office.

“Remember, act normal,” I said.

We walked in and sat down at our desks. Dr. Short walked up from his back office. His cheap wingtip knock-offs barreled up the hallway.

He dropped one wrist on the counter in front of Kim, and moved the other frantically. “I was vandalized last night,” he said. His tone was hyper. “Someone came to my home and vandalized it by cutting my hose and spray painting the property!”

Kim scrunched her eyebrows together and then raised them. “What?”

“I woke up this morning to water my lawn, and I found my hose severed and my roses defaced by spray paint!”

I got up and placed my palms on the counter. “Severed?”

He shook his head up and down quickly. “Yes! Severed! And the roses!”

Kim stood up and propped her arm on her hip. “And spray paint? Well, at least they didn’t write anything. That’d be far worse than the roses.”

I locked eyes with Kim. “She’s right.”

His eyes shifted down and he got quiet, but his lips didn’t close. They stayed slightly ajar, and his breath escaped through them every time he exhaled. TC mark

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