Anna had always imagined an ankle bracelet would look like an actual bracelet, like the cylindrical copper coil she’d bought one year at Burning Man.
But it didn’t. It was bulky and oddly medical, with a thick black attachment that reminded Anna of a garage door opener or an old-school drug dealer beeper. It chafed her ankle and banged against her other leg when she slept and made wardrobe choices so much harder than they had to be. That one slouchy pair of boots she thought would fit over it didn’t, and skirts were out, and leggings, and almost everything else except wide pants, and how many of those did she have?
This should be the least of her worries, her mother liked to remind her. She should be thanking God for home confinement. She could be making license plates in jail, her mother said. She could be picking up trash on the side of the road in an orange jumpsuit.
I like orange, Anna said, peeling a clementine and popping a segment into her mouth. Her mother frowned.
You know that’s 70 percent sugar?
Anna shrugged. She popped two more segments into her mouth. I like sugar, Anna said.
It wasn’t as if anyone was monitoring her weight. It wasn’t as if anyone ever saw her. She avoided leaving the house, even for “legitimate purposes of employment.” Anna had no employment. No one would hire her.
Instead her phone filled up with the numbers of every pizza and taco house that delivered, and she worked her way through entire Netflix categories she never knew existed. Witty Cerebral Comedies with Slightly Seedy British Actors. Anti-Establishment Movies with Strong Female Characters. Badly Dubbed Asian Grindhouse Movies from the mid-1970s.
She avoided watching her own movies, even though Netflix kept recommending them to her. Classic Teen Movies of the Early 2000s Starring Convicted Felons. Anna sat on the rug, propped against a green corduroy bolster her mother vocally hated, taking a perverse pleasure in her worn, floppy grey sweat pants. She thought of fourth grade, when she’d broken her ankle rollerblading and been out of school for a week. How she’d missed her friends at first, hated being stuck at home, but had come to appreciate the quiet after a few days. She’d rediscovered the disregarded and pushed-aside Christmas gifts of years past, the workhorse toys: crayons, Legos, Slinkies, books she hadn’t read, puzzles she’d never put together. All the comforts of solitude, of having no classes, no quizzes, no auditions to show up for, of having, like that song her mother always sang, no promises to keep; of being, for that one week, someone no one relied on for anything.
The next time one of Anna’s movies came on she let it play. It was the one she hated least, the one where she played Angry Skater Girl with purple streaks in her hair. Skater Girl, who dared to defy Perfect Blonde Girl, the wickedest witch of all. Only to find her, of course, not so wicked: only lonely and scared, like everybody else.
Somewhere that night, in Parsippany, New Jersey, in Vermillion, South Dakota, sleepovers full of 13-year-old girls were watching this same movie, not for the first time; were speaking the same lines along with Anna. Anna spoke them too.
I didn’t mean to crash and burn your life, she said. I didn’t mean it when I said I hate you. I guess … I guess I’m just a mess.
All across the country, in Keosauqua, Iowa, in Paris, Maine, sleepovers full of 13-year-old girls held their breath. Anna waited for them to tell her that it was all right, because she was their mess. She waited for them to tell her, we forgive you.
Kathryn Kulpa is the author of a flash fiction chapbook, Girls on Film (Paper Nautilus) and a short story collection, Pleasant Drugs (Mid-List Press). She is a flash fiction editor at Cleaver magazine and was a visiting writer at Wheaton College in fall 2017. You can read her work in Jellyfish Review, Atticus Review, Reservoir, and other journals.