“Where we going?” Beth asked. “We going to the blacktop?” That’s where they played, a tar-topped broken bottled parking lot outside their apartment building. Tall, climbable pines stood along the edge of the blacktop. Beth liked it there. She could hide in the trees.
Beth and Sara played barefoot, dodging glass shards and forming dark, hard patches on the pads of their feet. Sara said they had feet like animals, and Beth agreed.
“I’m a golden retriever,” Sara said. “Woof woof.”
Beth, a copy-cat, claimed kinship to a black Labrador. She rubbed the smooth, oily surface of her heel and felt very much like a faithful mutt. “Woof woof,” Beth said. She’d follow Sara anywhere, do whatever Sara wanted. She felt guilty for this, or envious, because a person, even a seven-year-old, should have her own desires. Beth just wanted whatever Sara wanted. Sara couldn’t say or do a thing without Beth following suit. They were walking home from school.
“I have a new friend,” Sara said, increasing the speed of her gait. “His name’s Milkyway, he’s imaginary, and I’m gonna hang out with him today.”
Beth had always feared the day Sara would ditch her, but Beth couldn’t catch the hint once it was dropped. She immediately concerned herself with the fabrication of her own imaginary friend. A clever, fitting response to this ‘Milkyway.’ Hers would have to be similar to Sara’s in most ways, but different enough not to draw suspicion. She knew Milkyways had something to do with outer space, though she also knew the name from drugstore checkouts and Halloween treats. Milkyways were candy bars, of course. Not her favorite, but good enough in a pinch. Eureka! Beth thought. Mine too will be a candy, a better candy though. The best she knew.
“I have an imaginary friend, too,” Beth huffed. “His name is Milkdud, and we’re hanging out right now.”
Beth was lying, but Sara believed her, or acted as though she believed her. She looked to Beth’s left and introduced herself to Milkdud. They shook hands, as did Beth and Milkyway.
“Pleasure to meet you, Milkdud,” Sara said.
“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Milkyway,” Beth mimicked.
Sara rolled her eyes and sighed at Beth’s attempts at conversation, and Beth mimicked these actions too, having no idea of the meaning behind them. It was nice having new company, however imaginary. Sara forgot all about ditching Beth, and instead the two carried on their formal and rather boring conversations with Milkdud and Milkyway.
Sara laughed. “You don’t say, Milkdud.” She turned to Beth. “Milkyway and Milkdud are old friends,” Sara claimed. “They both come from Cucamonga.” Sara liked funny sounding words, especially funny sounding geographical locations. She had a deep desire to visit Lake Titicaca, hike Mount Kilimanjaro and ride camels in Abu Dhabi. Beth found little humor in funny sounding words, but she too staked claims to exotically titled locations. Beth thought about arguing Milkdud’s origins, perhaps suggesting he come from Quinnipiac or Saskatchewan instead, which she believed were funny sounding in the way Sara liked. Sara interrupted before Beth could speak.
“We’re going to the blacktop,” Sara said. “Milkyway and Milkdud want to play house.” Sara extended both her arms to her sides to hold the imaginary hands of the imaginary friends. Beth followed behind them; there wasn’t enough room for all four to walk side by side.
“I’ll be the baby,” Beth offered.
Sara didn’t respond, and when they got to the blacktop Beth was forced to play the father.
“But I said I’ll be the baby,” Beth protested.
“Milkdud wants to be the baby,” Sara argued. “He called it before you did. And Milkyway’s the big sister, and I’m the mommy. So you have to be the daddy.”
“I guess,” Beth said. She was happy to do whatever Sara wanted.
Sara quickly made house within the pines. A chainlink fence stood behind the row of trees, separating their blacktop from the newly erected condo’s blacktop next door. Sara hung fallen branches and loose trash from the fence wiring as mock decoration and appliances. She found a large branch and began sweeping dirt and fussing over her imaginary kitchen. Beth instinctually found her own branch and swept behind Sara, and Sara once again wished she’d managed to ditch Beth on the way home from school. Sara sighed and huffed and groaned with exaggeration to let Beth know she was annoyed, but Beth wouldn’t back off. Sara moved to a separate clearing away from Beth, but again Beth followed, sweeping over Sara’s broom tracks. Sara, frustrated, finally dropped her broom all together and went looking for Milkyway.
“How are you, Milkyway?” Sara asked. “Where’s your baby sister?”
Beth too, went looking for her imaginary friend. “She’s a good Milkdud,” Beth baby-talked, cradling her arms. “Goo goo.”
Sara watched Beth pucker her lips into a goo-goo face. The sight filled her with a hot and ugly rage. She’d had about all she could take. “You’re not even supposed to be in here,” Sara fumed. “You’re the daddy; you’re supposed to be at work.”
“What do I do?” Beth asked her.
“Give me Milkdud,” Sara said, “and you go over there.” She pointed across the parking lot and towards a stairwell which led to the apartment building’s basement. “You’re a maintenance man,” she told Beth.
Beth hung her head and walked to the basement stairs. She descended three steps and took a seat, where she could peer just above the cement foundation. She hadn’t a clue as to what a maintenance man was supposed to do. She watched Sara play happily without her. A pit formed in Beth’s chest and she wanted to cry. Beth watched Sara coddle Milkdud and goo and ga and sing nursery rhymes. Beth’s little heart was breaking. She sat on the basement steps for what felt like hours, watching Sara make house. From that distance, Beth tried to mimic Sara’s movements, but it wasn’t the same. She finally lifted her clumsy body from the stairs and went back to the trees.
“Me and Milkdud need to go home,” Beth said. “We have homework.”
“Fine,” Sara said.
Beth took Milkdud from Sara’s arms and walked towards her apartment building. Beth lived with her grandmother, her mother’s mother she was pretty sure. Her grandmother wasn’t all that old, but she was boring. She sat in the kitchen chain smoking cigarettes and drinking watered-down scotch. She never asked Beth about her day, and she didn’t even notice the very telling scowl which stretched across Beth’s face. Their apartment was small, but they had a television in every room, even the kitchen. Beth went to her bedroom after dinner and watched TV by herself, but she couldn’t keep her mind focused on any stories. She could only think of Sara. That night, when Beth was sleeping, she had a dream about Sara. It was a strange dream, and Beth herself was not in it, or rather she played the part of someone else. She was Sara, alone on the blacktop frolicking joyfully without a care in the world, leaping and bounding from end to end, when suddenly she broke free from the earth’s gravitational pull. She took flight. It was Beth’s first flying dream, and when she awoke she wasn’t sure if she had become Sara in her mind or if she had been no one at all. If she had ceased while sleeping.
Sara had a strange dream that night, too. She would later tell Beth about it, though not in great detail. Sara dreamt of Milkdud, not her own dear Milkyway. Mildud had taken on the personage of a Jonas Brother. Hers was a romantic dream, which included all the romantic acts Sara was familiar with, such as kissing and embracing and rolling around on beds. When she awoke she felt a slight pang of guilt, as though she’d done something terribly wrong, but she also felt incredibly alive and infinitely more intelligent than she’d felt the day before.
Beth noticed the change in Sara. Sara was all smiles, and she even allowed Beth to walk by her side. Beth synced up their footsteps and arm-swings so that they were walking in near perfect formation. Beth had never felt so right, and she thought that maybe Sara liked it too. Sara looked as though she liked it. She had stars in her eyes.
“I can’t wait to see Milkdud,” Sara blurted. “Do you think he’s waiting for us?”
“Sure,” Beth said. “He’s probably with Milkyway.”
Sara sighed. She seemed exasperated at the mention of Milkyway’s name. The way she often seemed exasperated with Beth. “You know, Beth,” Sara said. “Milkyway told me he thinks you’re real pretty.” She was bored, stirred to provocation.
Beth blushed. No one had ever called her pretty before. As far back as she could remember Sara had never paid her a compliment. There had been a change in Sara indeed. Beth beamed; she wanted to return Sara’s kind words. “Milkdud thinks you’re real pretty, too,” Beth said.
Sara stopped in her tracks. She grabbed Beth by the arm and looked at her wide-eyed. “Did he really say that?” Sara asked.
“Sure did,” Beth said.
“Well, I think Milkyway wants to marry you,” Sara said.
Beth got the queerest feeling along her thighs and in her tummy. Marriage? So soon? “Oh jeez,” Beth said. “I think Milkdud wants to marry you, too.” Why not?
“Oh, wow,” Sara said. “Oh, wow wee wow!” Sara couldn’t contain her elation. She took off running as fast as she could for the blacktop.
Beth watched Sara run, worrying this was all too good to be true, that a strong gale was on its way, primed to lift her friend into the clouds. Beth ran after her. It was as though all the negativity and tension that had passed between them never existed. Beth was relieved. More than that, Beth was suddenly in love, engaged. She thought things were finally going her way. She was wrong.
“What do you mean, we live in separate houses?” Beth asked.
“Well,” Sara explained. “I’m married to Milkdud and you’re married to Milkyway, and now we’re both honeymooning.”
“Ok,” Beth said. She reluctantly walked a few trees over and took a seat in the dirt. “I guess this is home.” Beth’s imaginary house seemed melancholy and dusty compared to Sara’s. And her relationship to Milkyway did not take the same shape as Sara’s to Milkdud. Beth was confused by the love she had for her husband. It didn’t feel like love at all. In fact, his presence bothered her. Milkyway’s company was just as boring as her grandmother’s. Worse even, because he creeped her out. She did not think he was handsome in the least. Her mind’s eye hadn’t given him human features. He was instead an animated candybar. Beth believed herself to be the type who could look past the superficial, and perceive a person’s inner beauty. Milkyway, as far as she could tell, had no inner beauty. She could sense there was something inside him that made him unpredictable, perhaps violent. She didn’t love him, and right away she knew she’d made a terrible mistake. She watched Sara and Milkdud a few trees over. They were having the time of their lives. They danced, sang, extolled each other’s virtues.
“Oh, my Milky-dud,” Sara cooed. “Oh my sexy Milk-duddly.”
Beth tried faking it with Milkyway, wrapping her arms around his chocolate shoulders, kissing his licorice lips, but she didn’t feel the spark Sara so obviously felt for Milkdud. Before long, Beth had given up and sat idly by her eerily silent companion, mournfully watching Sara through the pines. She’d been married less than twenty minutes, but Beth already missed her single days.
Sara loved the married life. Couldn’t get enough of it, it seemed to Beth. She’d gotten down on the dirt and laid flat on her stomach. She was playing bedtime with Milkdud. She played bedtime often with Milkdud. Sara rolled and twisted on the dirt; she moaned and whispered loving words which Beth could just barely make out. Beth had never seen anything like it. She knew Sara’s actions were somehow grown-up and mysterious and far beyond her own understanding. Beth had the impulse to run and tell on Sara, maybe tell her grandmother, who would tell Sara’s grandmother, and maybe in the chaos all this mystery would be revealed to her. She couldn’t take her eyes off Sara’s bedtime choreography, couldn’t find the will to run and tattle. Sara’s moans became louder, and her gyrations more frantic, and soon Beth’s curiosity turned to horror. She thought she could see Milkdud’s white-gloved hand go where it shouldn’t, and she thought she saw Sara twitch with adult knowing, and this all filled Beth with the most dreadful feeling. She felt as though she’d witnessed a grotesque crime.
“What the heck are you doing?” Beth shouted.
Sara was sweaty and flushed. Dirt had collected on her forehead and she had a dumb and distant expression on her face. “We’re playing bedtime,” she said. “Isn’t it fun?”
“I’m telling,” Beth said.
“What’d I do?” Sara shouted.
“I don’t know,” Beth said. “But I’m telling my Nana.” Beth ran home, nearly crying. She found her grandmother in the kitchen, drinking and watching daytime TV.
“Nana,” Beth whispered. “I think Sara is having ess e ex.”
Beth’s grandmother was already drunk and cock-eyed. She squinted, trying to make out her granddaughter. “Who’s Sara, Honey?”
“My friend, Nana,” Beth said.
“Oh, Sweety,” Nana said. “She’s too young to have ess e ex.” Nana turned towards the TV and chuckled, muttering something to herself about being too old.
“That’s why I’m telling,” Beth explained. “She shouldn’t do that.”
Beth’s grandmother pulled away from the TV, narrowed her eyes. “Oh Jesus. You’re serious,” she said. “Who touched her, Honey? You have to tell me.” She swung back the rest of her scotch and lit a cigarette. Her hand shook. “Nobody touched you, did they Honey?”
“No, Nana, it was just me and Sara,” Beth explained.
“Well, who touched your friend, then?” Nana asked.
“There wasn’t anyone else, Nana,” Beth cried. “But I know she was doing something bad.”
“Did Sara put her hands on you?” Nana asked.
“No,” Beth said.
“Did you put your hands on Sara?”
“No,” Beth said.
Nana took a long drag from her cigarette and exhaled a gray plume. “I think you’re confused, Sweety.”
“You sure?” Beth asked.
“I’m pretty sure,” Nana said. Nana raised the volume on her television set. A ratty looking furniture salesman squawked about dinette sets. “We should talk about this tomorrow.”
Tomorrow came and went, and Nana never mentioned ess e ex again. Beth hoped a new day would bring new beginnings, and the business between Sara and Milkdud would be over. She was sorely disappointed. Nighttime seemed to have provided Sara with new dreams, and new desires. Sara pined over Milkdud all day during school, and then ran to the blacktop after school to play some more at bedtime. Beth followed behind bitterly, knowing she’d be stuck with creepy old Milkyway, for whom she had no passion. During the early days of their marriage Beth was tolerant, indifferent towards her husband, but the drabness of her house coupled with the company of lame old Milkyway had become too much to bear. Beth fell into a deep depression. She blamed Milkyway for her sadness, and their relationship suffered. Beth became adversarial, nitpicking and criticizing every little misstep her husband made, while Milkyway became less and less present, sinking into himself, letting his hostility build and build until he was rigged up and loaded. A loose cannon. Beth knew the heavy acrimony between them was dangerous, would likely end in disaster. Despite her resentment, she knew her husband well, better than anyone really. She knew what he was capable of, but she couldn’t keep herself from antagonizing him. It was as though she wanted him to snap.
Two trees down, Sara and Milkdud were just settling into their new life together. Milkdud was a true gentleman. He brought flowers and candy to Sara when he came home from work, and the two never once argued. Beth watched with envy as Milkdud and Sara kissed and cooed.
Beth turned to Milkyway. “Why can’t you be more like him,” she said.
“Why can’t you be more like her,” Milkyway countered.
Beth had wondered this herself. Why couldn’t she be more like Sara? In the days that followed, Sara and Milkdud became more and more lovey dovey, and Beth and Milkyway more and more estranged. Beth felt trapped and alone. She’d tried confiding in Sara.
“I can’t stand him,” she said. “He stinks up the whole house.”
Sara could barely feign interest. “I love the way Milkdud smells,” she said. “He’s so effing cute.”
“Milkyway is a monster,” Beth said. “I’m afraid of him.”
“Maybe the two of you should try getting away from it all,” Sara flippantly suggested.
“And go where?” Beth asked.
“Well,” Sara said, eying her most recent imaginary manicure. “Yesterday, Milkdud and I traveled to Hong Kong, it was lovely.”
“We can’t afford to go to Hong Kong on Milkyway’s salary,” Beth whined. She knew she’d become pitiful, and all she could manage now were complaints. Somewhere she’d taken a wrong turn, she’d made bad choices. She knew this, but Beth hadn’t any idea how to change. All she could do was look on at Sara’s life enviously. She grew obsessed.
Beth walked into her imaginary kitchen, finding Milkyway passed out drunk on the living room floor. She spat in disgust.
“You’re such a loser,” Beth shouted.
“You’re no prize,” Milkyway slurred.
Time dragged on like this, with only their fights and squabbles to break the monotony of existence. Life felt like one endless, dreadful day.
“You hear Milkdud got a promotion,” Beth asked. They’d been wading between two long and angry silences. “He went and bought Sara a brand new stretch limousine.”
Milkyway knew this was a meant as a slight against his manhood. “What the heck do you want from me, Beth? You want blood? I’m only a maintenance man!”
“If only you had blood to give,” Beth muttered under her breath. “If only.”
It wasn’t just that Milkyway couldn’t provide the way Milkdud did. Beth could no longer stand the sight of him. His large cartoonish eyes that hardly blinked, his lumpy chocolate flesh. The way he blistered in the sun. The good life was impossible with a man like him. Beth sat on her imaginary couch and waited for the clock on her curfew to run out. Even Nana’s company was better than this.
The worse things got at her house, the better life seemed for Sara and Milkdud. Everything Beth had was weighed up against what Sara had, and none of it was good enough. Beth stared at Sara and Milkdud through the pines. “Look at them,” Beth said. “They’re so happy. Isn’t it disgusting?”
“It really is,” Milkyway said. It was the one thing they could agree on.
More days came and went in similar fashion. All Beth could do was hope that the novelty of Milkdud would pass and she could have her friend back. Meanwhile, she’d figured out a way to keep the peace in her own house. Rather than berate Milkyway for being a lesser man, Beth instead found flaws in Sara and Milkdud’s happiness. Their limo was tacky, their new addition was lopsided, their pet dinosaur was lazy. And the worst part was that the two of them were too stupid to even notice how ridiculous they were.
“They’re so bourgeois,” Milkyway said.
“Don’t use words you don’t understand,” Beth said. She couldn’t help it. “You sound like him.” Milkdud actually had an extensive vocabulary. He’d gone to Bunker Hill community college. Studied marine biology.
Some afternoons, when Beth and Milkyway were feeling something close to affection for one another, they would fantasize about the better life they’d have if given the same opportunities as Sara and Milkdud. They would take more luxurious vacations, wear fancier clothes, and drive cooler cars. Though Beth was truly envious of Sara’s life and her imaginary possessions, she mostly viewed these conversations with Milkyway as a playful pastime. She couldn’t actually imagine herself having more than she did, being anyone but who she was. Milkyway could though. He wanted more, whatever that meant, and these conversations with Beth stirred him, stoked the ambers of his latent ambitions. His own envy towards Milkdud swelled inside his nougat lined interior. He wanted more, and why shouldn’t he have it? He began to wonder why he couldn’t just take from Milkdud and Sara. Why should they have so much and he so little? He thought of stealing, and confided in his wife.
“Absolutely not,” Beth said. “Sara’s my best friend. I would never steal from her.”
“If she’s such a good friend,” Milkyway surmised, “why is it she never comes to visit anymore?”
“Don’t go there, Milkyway,” Beth shouted. “I swear to God, don’t even go there.”
Milkyway dropped the subject, but he’d planted a seed. Beth lay in bed that night and thought long and hard about Milkyway’s proposition. Perhaps he was right, maybe they should just take what they wanted, but Beth couldn’t pinpoint any one thing she wanted to steal from Sara. It wasn’t as though she went without, and none of Sara’s things seemed all that interesting to Beth. Anyway, it was Sara’s company Beth wanted, not Sara’s things, and it was this silly pretend life with Milkdud that was keeping Sara from Beth. It was Milkdud’s very existence that prevented Beth from any semblance of joy. And just like that, Beth conjured her own sinister plot. What if Beth were to get rid of Milkdud somehow? Couldn’t she manage some accident, some terrible catastrophe that would put Milkdud in peril? This whole world was make-believe after all, filled with yet unimagined horrors. They’d been playing Sara’s game for far too long. She knew the plot was evil and cruel, but her home life on the blacktop had become unbearably bleak. Beth would have Milkyway do it. His anger was strong and his moral character weak. Convincing him would be easy enough.
Beth spent the greater part of the school day fantasizing about Milkdud’s death. Sara wouldn’t even see it coming. The two girls walked home, towards the blacktop, both beaming with private anticipation. Sara had intentions of bedtiming some more. There was talk of trying for a baby soon. Beth listened to Sara gloat. “He’s gonna make such a wonderful daddy.”
It was a good thing Beth decided to act today, before a child was involved. The girls went to their separate homes when they arrived at the blacktop. Milkdud welcomed Sara with open arms and kisses. Milkyway hadn’t gotten out of bed all day, and Beth was greeted by a sink full of dishes and a clogged toilet. She felt like screaming, but she controlled herself. She couldn’t afford a fight with Milkyway today, she needed his help.
They stood in the pines, concealed by the dense needled branches. They were predators stalking their prey. Sara and Milkdud didn’t even notice them. Beth’s plan wasn’t complicated; they would wait as long as it took to get Milkdud alone. Then Milkyway would kill him. Beth overheard Sara say she’d be taking the dinosaur for a walk around the block. This was their chance. Unawares, Sara leashed her dinosaur and strolled blissfully up the blacktop and around the apartment complex. Beth could barely contain her excitement.
“Now!” She shouted. “Now, Milkyway!”
Milkyway shot through the trees, his body a brown streak of lightning. Beth felt a tickle inside, not quite love, but his obedience loosened something in her. He forced his way into Sara’s house, found Milkdud standing over the stove preparing a surprise dinner for Sara while she was away. Milkyway towered over Milkdud. He heaved, perspired.
“What’s got into you?” Milkdud said.
Milkyway couldn’t bother with words. He was all brawn, all stiff dark chocolate. He grabbed Milkdud, his former friend, and pulled him out of his house. Milkyway held Milkdud’s tubular white arms behind his back and ushered him toward the blacktop.
“What the heck, dude?” Milkdud protested.
Milkyway remained mute. Beth stayed in the trees, ringing her hands in nervous excitement. Milkyway led Milkdud toward the path of an oncoming car.
“What are you doing, man?” Milkdud pleaded.
Milkdud pulled and pulled, trying to get free of Milkyway’s grasp. The car fast approached. Milkyway seemed to be counting. He smiled, waited, and then released Milkdud from his hold. Milkdud went flying. His bulbous body rolled, he couldn’t gain control. Milkyway stepped forward, but hesitated. He looked as though he was reconsidering, but he was a beat too slow. Milkyway’s expression suddenly reminded Beth of stories she’d heard about people who jumped from bridges. Unable to avoid the car, Milkdud was squashed like a bug. It was a mess. Beth watched from the pines as Milkyway examined Milkdud’s body. He checked his pulse.
“He’s gone,” Milkyway said. “I can’t believe it, he’s really gone. I killed my friend.”
“Don’t be a baby,” Beth whispered. “We’ve got to make it look like an accident.”
Milkyway did as he was told, but he was not as clear-headed as Beth. He was filled with unexpected remorse. Milkyway retrieved a flask of whiskey from his work shirt pocket. He drank. He began to cry.
“That’s good, that’s good,” Beth encouraged. “We have to act sad.” Beth wailed lugubriously from the pines. “Oh Milkdud!” she screamed, “Oh Milkdud’s dead!”
Sara came running from the other side of the apartment building. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “What’s happened to Milkdud?”
Beth stood to embrace her friend. “It was an accident,” Beth cried. “He’s dead.”
“Where is he?” Sara asked. “I need to see him.”
The engine cut and a man stepped out of the car. “Everything all right, girls?” he asked.
Beth pointed to the parked car. An oozing puddle of chocolate and caramel bubbled and burped. “He’s right there,” Beth said. “Milkdud’s under the tire.”
Sara ran to Milkdud, pulled him from the tire and cradled his body in her arms. The man eyed Sara curiously as she rocked back and forth and wept.
“Should I get your Nana?” the man asked Beth.
Beth had never seen her friend so upset. “We’re just playing,” she said.
“Okey dokey,” the man said. He shut the car door and walked towards the apartments.
“My poor, precious Milkdud,” Sara cried. “My sweet baby!”
Sara’s despair proved more demonstrative than Beth had anticipated. The crying wouldn’t cease. She grew louder. Beth thought the sadness would never end. She’d merely hoped to rid herself of the Milkdud game so that they could start up on a new game in its place, a game that involved more interaction between her and her friend. Sara began to sniffle, and the tears did cease. Beth thought the deluge was ending, but she was wrong. Sara crawled to the curb and sat with her head in her hands, languishing with less intense despair, but mourning nonetheless.
Beth was bored. Things were not going as planned. It had been a long time since she’d indulged in any fun. She searched her mind for ways to cheer her friend up, to cheer herself up really. She suddenly had a thought that, to her, seemed viciously funny. She walked towards the death scene and crouched down to Milkdud’s limp body. She reached into the pile of goop, lifted a chunk of his cracked chocolate shell, and began eating.
“Mmmm,” Beth hummed. “So good.”
Sara lifted her head form her hands. She rubbed her eyes, wiped away the tears. She gasped. “What the hell are you doing?” Sara shouted.
“I’m eating Milkdud,” Beth explained. “He’s delicious.”
Sara looked on with horror as Beth ate. Beth couldn’t see what her friend could see. Sara grimaced as Beth gnawed on the severed arm of a Jonas. Blood, not caramel, trickled down Beth’s chin. She laughed maniacally and took another bite. “What?” Beth asked. “Don’t you want to try?”
Sara backed away from Beth, terrified, disgusted. “How could you?” she cried. “How could you?”
“It wasn’t me,” Beth said, mouth dripping. “It was an accident.” She couldn’t believe Sara wasn’t laughing.
“How could you,” Sara cried. “How could you do this?”
“It wasn’t me,” Beth said. “It was Milkyway, I swear.”
“It was you,” Sara screamed. “I can see you! You’re a monster!” Sara stood and ran down the blacktop, past the pines. She stopped when she reached the far end. She cupped her mouth with her hands, a makeshift megaphone. “I never want to play with you again,” she shouted. “Jerk!”
Beth sat beside Milkdud’s body, dumbfounded, covered in goo. She couldn’t understand what had happened, that her plan had backfired, that Sara couldn’t see the humor. She assessed her options. She remembered Milkyway. Poor Milkyway, she’d thought. I’ve been so cruel to him, and he was so loyal to me. Beth, sullen and defeated, made her way back to her imaginary house, her tail between her legs. She was going to let him know, she now saw the error in her ways.
Beth entered the house. She found Milkyway crying and packing in the bedroom.
“What are you doing?” Beth asked.
“I’m gonna go stay at my mom’s for a little while,” Milkyway said. “Maybe enroll in computer school.”
“I don’t understand,” Beth said.
“I’m leaving you, Beth,” Milkyway said. “I’m not coming back.”
Beth sat on the edge of her imaginary bed and watched as her husband packed his suitcase. Was it really too late? I’m too young, she thought. Much too young for a divorce. How had she let things get so out of hand? She’d believed her marriage to Milkyway was such a lonely experience, the loneliest, but his leaving her felt much lonelier. She didn’t know what to do, or who she was without him, without Sara. The world suddenly felt like an enormous, terrifying place. It seemed to double in size, leaving her feeling small, vulnerable like a fly before the swatter.
“Here, let me help you.” Beth grabbed a pile of imaginary t-shirts and began folding. She muffled back tears. “It’s probably for the best.”