Local author’s new novel follows inner-city teens on the fringes

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      By Emily Pohl-Weary

      The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from How to Be Found by Emily Pohl-Weary (Arsenal Pulp Press, September 26, 2023).

      The Beginning

      Trissa tucked her breasts back into her fuchsia sports bra and pulled up her hot-pink sweater with rhinestones along the neckline. She flicked a red curl out of her face, popped the tip of her middle finger into her mouth, and sat there beside me, chewing on the stubby fuchsia nail and flipping the bird at the world. Trissa was the queen of not giving a shit.

      “Juicyyyy,” said Red. “My mouth is watering. Gimme a bite.”

      “Disgusting,” I snapped.

      “Shut up, Michie.” Red’s real name was Rocky, but nobody called him that. His orange armpit hair had earned him the nickname when it first grew in. Since he was the one who dared Trissa to flash everyone, he was obligated to act excited, even though he probably hadn’t seen much of anything. He was sitting on the far side of our circle of friends.

      The only light in the abandoned apartment came from a handful of candle stubs in the middle of the circle that I’d picked out of the nearby Greek Orthodox church’s garbage. They were nicer than phone lights, but at this point, they were burning dangerously low. Wouldn’t last more than a few minutes.

      “Doink, doink!” screeched Red’s little brother, Timbit, and his auburn curls bounced all over the place. “Laser beams shooting from her nipples. Doiiink. Hypnotized.”

      “C’mere, Trissa Baby,” said Red. “I’m hungry. Mmm. Top sirloin.”

      Trissa’s heel shot across the circle and connected with his shin. He yelped and rubbed the spot, even though it probably hadn’t hurt much. Trissa’s only response was to remove her middle finger from her mouth with a soft popping noise and hold it closer to the light so there was no mistaking her message.

      “You gonna take that disrespect?” jeered Anton, who was sitting on Trissa’s other side. He raised two beefy hands to encircle her neck like he wanted to strangle her. “You’ve gotta show a bitch who’s boss.”

      Red snickered.

      I shook my head in disgust. “Nice. Joking about a serial killer.” 

      The West End Strangler had been targeting girls our age for over a year. Police knew almost nothing about him except that he was good looking enough to pick up victims on dating sites. He drugged his victims, choked them to death, cut their bodies into pieces, packed them in cheap cargo bags, and tossed them into the lake. Body parts kept washing up, and girls were scared to walk alone at night. Or at least more scared than they’d been before.

      Trissa chewed her bottom lip. “I heard the Strangler snatched someone a few blocks from Club Jelly last weekend.” 

      The air left my lungs, and for an instant, I couldn’t inhale again. She was talking about the exclusive nightclub downtown where she worked as a cage dancer on Friday and Saturday nights. “That’s eight girls now.”

      “That we know about,” she said.

      “Gotta admit, he’s effective,” said Anton, cracking his knuckles.

      So gross. I couldn’t figure out what Trissa saw in Anton. He treated her like gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe, but she always messaged him when we were meeting up. It felt like he’d always been around and always would be, bringing my life down a couple notches. He acted like the leader of our group just because he was a couple years older, and he always needed someone to pick on. He usually focused on Timbit, because he wouldn’t fight back, or Trissa, because she was bright, shiny, and mouthy. Plus it was easy to press her buttons. 

      Anyway, in my opinion, Red deserved to be kicked for comparing Trissa’s breasts to steak. On my left, Timbit was still shaking his head, as if he was having trouble clearing his brain from the mesmerizing effect of nipples. He was a year and a half younger than most of us, only fifteen, but we let him hang because he’d found the master key card that let us enter this unit. It was probably owned by a real estate investor waiting for the right time to sell. Also, Timbit and Red’s parents owned a condo right across the alley, and if we froze him out, he’d just rat us out to his scary dad. Not like we did much in here—there was no electricity, running water, or furniture—but we didn’t want to lose the only private space we had. I felt kind of sorry for Timbit too—most of us did, except Anton, who didn’t experience human emotions—because he didn’t have his own friends.

      To be honest, it was so dark that me and Anton were probably the only ones who could see anything more than Trissa’s general shape. The candles barely illuminated our faces, and Trissa was sitting back a ways. The shadows pressed inward, thick enough to touch. Anton didn’t seem particularly interested. And it wasn’t like her body was anything new to me. We’d grown up in the same house and started playing doctor at the age of five.

      I squinted across the candles at the other two people in the room: my childhood friend Anwar and his perfect girlfriend, Kelli D. Anwar’s dimly lit face didn’t give anything away, but he wasn’t laughing. I could sort of make out the outline of Kelli D’s body melded into his side. I didn’t need light to know how perfect she looked. Her skin was smooth, her straight brown hair silky, and her green eyes flawlessly lined. Her breasts were perfect too, just like her skin and face and all the other parts of her body.

      My hair was a rat’s nest of over-bleached frizz. My skin was pale, even after a summer spent outside, and my breasts overflowed from a double-D BuyMart special. The underwire jabbed painfully into my armpits, and if I didn’t keep my back straight, my fingertips tingled. I should have gone up a cup size but was terrified to find out what the size above double D was called. E for Epic? Enormous? Elephantine?

      Anton’s bulbous nose and heavy black brows flashed into sight when he used the screen of his phone to roll a joint with some sativa I’d stolen from my mom. She smoked cannabis to keep her lupus symptoms under control. Though she was legally allowed to have four plants in the basement, she actually had more than thirty and sold the extra weed for cash.