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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Brian Costello

The Buncha Fuckin Shit Girls plodded along the bike path encircling Sand Lake in black Reebok high-tops wet from early morning dew. They wore acid-washed Guess jeans and faded black concert tees stolen from their older sisters. Stringy hair, still damp from blow-dryer impatience, split-ended down their bony backs. Huffing and puffing middle-aged joggers hopped off the narrow path, squishing over the muddy beginnings of lake swampland, avoiding the wall made by these three fourteen year olds coughing cigarette smoke from their excessively lip-glossed mouths while talking nonstop and five times louder than necessary en route to the bus stop on the corner of Dartmouth Lane and Wekiva Cove Road.

"Mrs. Maxwell says if I don't start doing my homework I'm gonna fail pre-algebra but I don't care cause it's alla buncha fuckin shit anyway," Tiffany said, holding nothing but the smoked-out nub of a Marlboro Light in her right hand while tossing the curly blond bangs out of her thin face with her left. A torn light black "Cinderella Night Songs World Tour '86" three-quarter sleeve tour shirt barely hung on her emaciated frame. She was the only native Floridian of the three. She was proud of this, and it gave her a fair amount of bike path cred. That's why she walked in the middle.

To their left, the sun colored the sky purple, pink, and orange, peeking over the new manufactured homes from the $150s and the few sandpine canopies spared from the central Florida jungle that was now the Wekiva Cove subdivision.

"My Mom don't care if I do my homework," Becky said, pinching randomly around the edges of her teased-out hair in quick crablike spasms with her free right hand while carrying a thin purple folder, with the Iron Maiden logo carved into it with eraser marks, and a brown pre-algebra book cradled in her right arm like an unloved infant. She stepped behind Tiffany and grabbed Nikki's purple backpack with the rainbow-colored shoulder straps and said, "But you gotta do homework, ya fuckin shit!"

Nikki stepped back from the force of Becky's grab and freed herself with a violent yank, spinning her forward and off the path into the sticky swamp mud. "Fuckin bitch!" Nikki yelled. "It ain't my fault my fuckin parents make me. Homework sucks." Why couldn't Nikki's fuckin parents be as cool as her friends' parents? Fuckin...shit! She wore a sleeveless black tee that read "The Ultimate Ozzy" in flaming yellow letters that would have hung down to her knees if she hadn't tucked it into her jeans with the self-inflicted holes cut up and down the legs in uniform slashes. Her hair was blond, short in the back, and puffed up in the front from hairspray.

"What do you care?" Tiffany said, laughing. "You don't even gotta do homework. You're a brain."

Becky laughed. "I am not," Nikki pleaded, wishing she too had a Mom who didn't give a fuck, wishing she wasn't smart, but her report cards were full of A's, and she didn't even try. But who cares? It's just school. It's alla buncha fuckin shit anyway, right? They want me to go to college and shit, but I can fuckaround in high school? Go to Seminole Community College for two years? Do good there? Then I can go anywhere I want. Even Harvard, if I fuckin wanted to.

The waves washed into the marshland ten feet to their right. Ducks quacked and flapped. The Buncha Fuckin Shit Girls took a left at the next bike path, away from the lake and up towards Wekiva Cove Road. Up a slight incline and to their right was the bus stop, kids standing around it in three isolated clusters. Booty bass from a 2 Live Crew song thundered by from the massive woofers in the covered cab of a white low-rider truck driven by some lucky senior cause fuckin seniors get to drive to school while everybody else takes the fuckin bus or has to get rides from their fuckin parents.

"I wish we were fuckin seniors," Becky said, pulling her book and folder into her Faster Pussycat T-shirt.

"Yeah, I wish I was fuckin a senior," Tiffany laughed, flicking her cigarette butt into a sideyard. "At least they know what they're doin." Becky and Nikki laughed as the Buncha Fuckin Shit Girls marched onto Wekiva Cove Road.

Nikki's family moved to Unincorporated Seminole County Florida from Toledo. On her first full day at Teague Middle School, the space shuttle Challenger blew up. It was announced by Principal Morse at the conclusion of first period chemistry.

Between classes, Nikki walked outside from the Science Pod to the Main Building. The air was cool, not cold, and the sky was blue and bright, not gray and dark. Straight ahead in all that pale cloudless blue, a far-off line of white smoke vertically bisected the horizon, high above everything else, topped with a slight bulge like the head of a snake, with several smaller smoke lines arcing downward. Nikki watched this, transfixed by its near beauty as Donnie Langford, a redheaded and freckled boy in her chemistry class, pointed at the explosion's aftermath and said to his toadyish friends, "Check it out! Ka-BOOM!" His friends laughed. Donnie continued, "Man, I wish that was my parents up there. I wouldn't care if they blew up in that space shuttle. That would be fuckin' killer!"

Inside, the school classrooms' TVs were turned on and the explosion was replayed every five seconds. When the O-Rings of the Challenger gave out and the flames overtook the fuselages, then the shuttle itself, kids cheered with wonder like baseball fans in some neighborhood bar cheering a sudden strikeout of a homerun leader.

She met the other Buncha Fuckin Shit Girls at the Wekiva Cove neighborhood pool. She played Marco Polo with some kids she had met at school through her membership in the Teague Study Buddies, an incentive program created by the school that gave its 3.5 GPA or better students fluorescent green passes that let them get off the bus early so they could hang out in the library instead of simmer with the lowly C average rabble waiting for school to start. Each of these kids bobbed around the pool in monochromatic and unrevealing bathing suits that somehow spoke volumes about both their still-unbloomed sexual development and their strict home lives.

Tiffany and Becky sat in the grass between the fenced-off pool area and the concrete basketball court, smoking and watching the older kids play Horse. Nikki got out of the pool and dried off with a red Mickey Mouse towel, a little bored with Marco Polo. She stood behind and over Tiffany and Becky, leaning against the fence.

Tiffany wore an old white W.A.S.P. shirt pulled over her knees. She turned around, looked up at Nikki, and said, "Do you live in the Cove?"

"Uh-huh," Nikki said.

"Why do you play that Marco Polo shit?" Becky asked, also turning around. "That shit's boring."

"Yeah," Tiffany said, then tilted around Nikki towards the pool and yelled in a whiny mocking voice, "Mar-co! Po-lo! Fish outta waaaater!" This last remark made the boy who yelled "Marco!" open his eyes.

Nikki looked over at the kids in the pool, then back to Tiffany and Becky. She shrugged. "I don't know. Bored, I guess."

"Ya wanna walk around with us?" Tiffany asked, standing up and brushing the mulch off her jeans.

"OK." And with that one word, Nikki was made an official Buncha Fuckin Shit Girl. Her former friends just floated in the pool, goggled and swim-capped heads bobbing and staring, before returning to the game.

They were inseparable -- walked around, watched MTV, slept over at each other's houses, snuck out in the middle of the night and walked around the nearby golf course, smoked cigarettes, smoked pot (except Nikki, who wasn't ready to cross that line), snuck into their parents' liquor cabinets, and walked together to and from the bus stop. None of it was like Toledo. Tiffany and Becky were alright though. They made it all a little less overwhelming, a little less boring.

When The Buncha Fuckin Shit Girls arrived at the bus stop, Jason, a tall punkish Junior, shook the devil lock off his face with a sideways neck twitch, held out his hand and said, "Hey Tiffany. Gimme a cigarette."

"No fuckin' way!" Tiffany said, shifting her hips and arms away from Jason's reach, damp blond hair flapping with the motion. "Your everlovin ass already owes me a carton for all the cigarettes I gave you."

"Is it alla buncha fuckin shit anyway?" Jason sarcastically asked, kicking at the palmetto grass with his right combat boot, suspenders vibrating over his white "Holiday Inn Cambodia -- Dead Kennedys" T-shirt. It was Jason who christened them "The Buncha Fuckin Shit Girls."

"Fuck you, asshole!" Becky said, punching Jason in the arm lightly while smiling.

Nikki stood back, unsure of what to say that hadn't already been said. Not even the first cigarette of the day (although really, she only smoked three each school day: one in the morning, one at lunch in the girl's room, and one walking home from school back down the bike path) could wake her up and make her wanna talk a lot, like Tiffany, Becky, and Jason.

And there was Courtney. Fuckin weirdo, listenin to that gay Cure shit. Headphones on so loud you can hear the synth drums pounding and that pussy whining about boys don't cry or whateverthefuck. She just sat on the corner of the street in her black T-shirt with Siouxsie Sioux's face magnified to five times its size. Courtney's face was pale and her hair was whitish blond and her black lipstick looked so gross. Fuckin weirdo. But she was friends with Jason, and like Jason, she was a junior, and like Jason, she sat in the back of the bus. The back of the bus. The other bus stop kids just stood there in silence, clutching small black trumpet cases or volcanic science projects, pensive and apprehensive, hoping they can just get to school without any trouble.

"Fuck cigarettes anyway," Tiffany said. "I'd rather get stoned right now."

"I got some," Jason said, pointing to a spare side pocket in his olive drab army surplus pants. "Y'all wanna go take a walk?"

"Shit yeah man!" Becky said, followed immediately by Tiffany's "You know it!" They starting walking down the Dartmouth Lane cul-de-sac. Jason turned around and said, "What about your friend, what's her name again?"

"She's Nikki," Tiffany said. "She don't smoke. Yet." Then, she laughed, and so did Becky.

"Hey Courtney," Jason said. "Give a yell when the bus is comin," and off they went to find a nice quiet and unbustable place to get high.

Courtney took off her headphones and shrugged. She reached into her black purse and took out a black compact and inspected the black lipstick on her blackened lips. She briefly turned to Nikki and said, "Why do you hang out with them?" and then resumed her compact primping.

"What do you mean?" Nikki looked away, down Wekiva Cove Road where the bus would be rumbling around the bend any moment now.

"I mean, it's just, I don't know, it's like you're smarter than that or something."

Nikki shrugged. Courtney just shook her head. "You should sit in the back with us instead of hanging out with those retard headbangers."

Nikki half smiled at this and everyone went back to waiting. Jason, Tiffany, and Becky walked back to the bus stop, giggling and punching each other. "Ow! Fucker!" "Fuck you, fuckin dick!" "Fuck you too." "Fuck yourself, it's cheaper."

The bus finally rumbled around the corner, dark yellow with black smoke floating behind it. It pulled up to the corner and the kids stepped back. The door opened and Jason stepped on first, followed by Tiffany, then Becky. Courtney stood at the entrance to step up. Nikki stood next to her, waiting to board.

"So are you sitting in the back with us or what?" Courtney asked her.

Nikki half nodded, and followed her up the steps.

Down the aisle, Nikki walked past the lesser kids in the front seats, past the increasing stratas of coolness, even right past the other two Buncha Fuckin Shit Girls, with whom Nikki usually sat in the usual middle of the bus seat towards the back. Tiffany watched Nikki walk past, blue eyes full of wide expectation. Fuckin bitch thinks she's better than us. Tiffany wanted to say something, but a line was crossed on the bus and to insult anyone in the back of the bus was to insult everyone in the back of the bus. So, instead, she turned to Becky and was like, "What the fuck, man?"

"I'm sayin." was all Becky said.

Nikki sat next to Courtney in the second to last seat on her right. So many backs of heads. Row after row of backs of heads sticking up over green seats. It was beautiful. The bus sped along the deliberately winding Wekiva Cove Road. The houses were silent again now that the kids were off to school. Nikki felt like she had finally made it, and she was only a sophomore.

"Yeah, you shouldn't be up there with them," Courtney said, smiling.

"They won't get mad cuz it's alla buncha fuckin shit anyway, right?" Jason sneered from the seat behind them. Everyone laughed, including Nikki -- not loudly, but she laughed just the same.

"Here," Courtney said, reaching into her big black purse and pulling out a blank cassette tape -- "Visage Dance Mix." She handed the tape to Nikki. Nikki looked at the song listings by bands she had never really heard like Depeche Mode, OMD, The Communards, Ministry, The Smiths. Nikki thanked Courtney, wondering if she would like the tape, wondering if Courtney and her would be friends, and for how long, but regardless, Nikki's middle-of-the-bus days were over.

Brian Costello, a longtime THE2NDHAND contributor and progenitor of Chicago's #1 talk show, the Brian Costello Show W/ Brian Costello, has recently finished a novel we've had the pleasure of reading, which details among other things the exploits of one Shaquille Callahan, drummer for the Enchanters, Sprawlburg Springs FL's legendary quartet. Contact Brian here.