Her punk-rock parents were mean and stupid all day and they had named her Crotchcrust. Jordan and Meghan said their parents were mean all day, but their parents were drunks, so at night theyíd pass out and it would be ok. Crotchcrust's parents were straightedge, no drugs no alcohol, so they were mean at night too.
Her parents said mean things about people who shopped at K-mart, and about Republicans and Democrats and accountants and dog-owners and guidance counselors and hippies. They really hated hippies, but there weren't any hippies around anymore, so Crotchcrust wasn't sure why they bothered. Then Crotchcrust tried dressing like a hippie to piss her parents off, but they knew she was doing it to piss them off and that made them happy.
Crotchcrust got a job at the 7-11 and she had to drive to work, so her parents let her use the Civic even though she didn't have a license yet. Next year she'd have one, anyway, so it didn't matter. Her boss's name was Wasim and he was dark skinned and had very white teeth, which fascinated Crotchcrust because her teeth were kind of yellow from all the crap her parents fed her, sugary cereals with licorice sprinkles for breakfast and baked twinkies in taco sauce for dinner. Crotchcrust knew that all her meals were some kind of joke, but she didnít get why it was funny.
Wasim showed Crotchcrust the bat and the shotgun that he kept behind the counter. The bat is for kids, he said, when they play with the candy. You just wave the bat, donít really hit them. Donít hit them with the bat. The shotgun is for never. Things are never so bad that you need the shotgun. Why do you have it then? asked Crotchcrust. Because someday it will be never, he said.
At the 7-11 Crotchcrust met guys who didnít go to her high school. They were all idiots, and she didnít like the way they looked at her, but one day in the parking lot she gave her first blowjob. The guy had a trailer park mohawk and a home-made tattoo that was supposed to be tribal but looked more like an interlocking ring of poorly drawn dolphins or penises. He was exactly the kind of person her parents made fun of. She'd seen blowjobs on the internet and had some basic idea that the guy was supposed to ejaculate on her face, but he didn't, and she wasn't sure how to take that, but he gave her five bucks, which was a surprise. In internet porn, nobody gave anybody five bucks. Maybe it was one of those things you could only learn about from first-hand experience.
Crotchcrust had worked there for four months when Wasim told her she'd have to take care of the store for a few hours while he went out. She'd never been in charge of anything before and she felt a big, heavy ball of worry inside her stomach. It was kind of like being constipated, she thought, and thatís not the worst thing that can happen to someone. Sitting on the tall stool behind the register she counted the kinds of cigarettes, and then made a vow to smoke one of each brand before she died. She twirled her hair, which had gotten long since sheíd started working, and bit the end of a strand. It broke off in her teeth, brittle.
A man came in leading a woman on a leash. He was fat, maybe 20 years old, and the woman was tall and thin and had bad skin. They both looked pleased with themselves. He smugly bought some Slim Jims and Diet Coke. The woman, in goth make-up and black Morticia Addams dress, stared at Crotchcrust, smiling. The leash dangled in front of her as the man searched for change in his pockets. She wanted to say My name is Crotchcrust, there's nothing you can do to fuck with me worse than that, but she was silent and they left, enjoying the mistaken thought that they had made her uncomfortable.
Wasim returned an hour later with his hair a mess and stinking of sex. Crotchcrust was already disgusted by him when he didn't smell, so this wasn't really much of a change. Everyone who came through the store was beneath her. I'm becoming like my parents, she thought, and I'm only sixteen. That seemed too soon. She had seen the greeting cards in the display rack, the ones that said I'm Becoming My Mother or I Never Thought I'd Become My Mother! or Then I Realized: I'd Become My Mother! But they were for older people who wore track suits or the kind of slutty clothes they sold at K-Mart that looked like the kind of slutty clothes that teenagers had been wearing two years earlier. Out of style sluttiness.
Crotchcrust realized that looking down on everyone was a bad idea. She decided to start thinking of Wasim as a friendly space alien who was stranded on Earth and so had to manage a 7-11. It made sense: convenience stores were always run by foreigners, so no one would notice. Wasimís people lived 20 light years away, and they could travel 1 million miles per hour, so it would take themÖ Crotchcrust did math in her headÖ 5,865,696 years to get to Earth and come save him. When he was at the register he was actually keying in his coordinates, signaling the distant ship. Crotchcrust thought it was sad and noble the way he persevered while surrounded by people whose intellect, compared to his, was on the same level as that of a dog or gerbil. When his ship arrived, he would judge humanity unfit to live, and he would destroy us all.
Another night, Wasim told Crotchcrust that he would be out again, and that she should mind the store. He used the phrase: mind the store. She thought, the storeís ok. I donít mind it. She giggled to herself. A woman in a pink velvet jogging suit came in and bought a blue Slurpee, and Crotchcrust thought: both the jogging suit and the Slurpee would have seemed like magic to the ancient Sumerians. She had read a book on the ancient Sumerians for her social studies class. The seemed like good people, the Sumerians.
At midnight four drunken boys came in and tried to buy beer. Do you have ID? she asked. No, we donít have ID. Then I canít sell you beer. Maybe you could sell us your ass, you stupid pimply whore. Not without ID, said Crotchcrust. The boys laughed. Crotchcrust laughed too. They left the beer on the counter and stole some pork rinds on the way out.
Wasim returned disheveled and stinky again. He looked desperate. Move away from the counter! he yelled. Wasim never yelled. Crotchcrust went to go stack magazines. Wasim opened the register and took all the money out. His eyes were ringed with red. Crotchcrust watched him and tried to come up with a good explanation for what he was doing. The only thing she could think of was that he was robbing the store, which didnít seem like the kind of thing that a noble space alien would do. He stormed out and she heard his car squealing in the parking lot. Crotchcrust waved at the security camera and smiled.
An old man came in and wanted to buy some hemorrhoid cream, but he only had a twenty, and Crotchcrust didnít have any change because Wasim had taken everything. She told him he could just have the hemmorhoid cream. She said I hope it stops itching. The man looked startled and was going to say something rude in return, but Crotchcrust looked so sincere that he just said thanks. She thought that having an itchy anus must be horrible.
Wasim had been gone for two hours now. Crotchcrust thought that the police would show up at the store, but they didnít. A man came in wearing a big trench-coat over a hooded sweater. The hood hung low over his face. He pulled out a small gun. It was funny, such a big man with such a small gun. Crotchcrust giggled a little. Give me everything! said the man. Youíre too late, weíve already been robbed. The man looked confused. Give me all the money! he said. Crotchcrust reached in her pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill and some change. This is all I have, she said. In the register, stupid bitch, give me the money from the register. Thereís nothing in there! she shouted, We already got robbed! The man didnít believe her. She opened the register drawer to show him but he couldnít see from around the counter. Come back here and look then, she said. The man looked around for how to get behind the counter. At the end, she said, thereís a latch. Lift that up. No, slide the latch to the left. Now lift. Lift theÖ no lift the whole counter there. Yeah. The man came to look in the register, but Crotchcrust shot him in the stomach with the shotgun. He crumpled over and dropped his tiny pistol. It skidded right to Crotchcrust, and she picked it up like she had seen policemen do on television.
Now the police really did come to the store. Where is the manager? I donít know, he stole all the money and left a few hours ago. Why didnít you call the police then? I donít know, heís the manager. Heís the manager? Yeah, itís, itís his store. Itís his store? I guess not, said Crotchcrust. The policeman looked very official when he questioned her, but she thought that he was treating her like a suspect. Thatís ok, thatís what policemen do, she thought. And when the man came in the store, said the policeman, did you notice anything suspicious about him? I thought it was suspicious that he pointed a gun at me, said Crotchcrust. Thatís not what Ďsuspiciousí means, said the policeman.
It was 2:30 when Crotchcrust got home. Her mother was watching an infomercial for colon cleansing. Why are you home so late? she asked. There was a robbery at the store. I had to kill a guy. Great, maybe you could kill your father next, he wonít stop playing with the Xbox. Crotchcrust opened the refrigerator. It was full of SeniorLife Liquid Nutritional Supplement. Whatís in the fridge? she asked. Your dad and I decided to only eat senior food this week, said her mom, Try the chocolate mud pie flavor. Crotchcrust took out a container and shook it before heading to her room.
Crotchcrust woke up at noon. Maybe she could still get to school in time for her afternoon classes. When she came into the kitchen her mom and dad were staring at her. Why arenít you at work? she asked, and why didnít you wake me up? The paper was sitting on the kitchen table. Hero Girl Stops Robber said the headline. Crotchcrustís picture was on the cover, right under the words Hero Girl. In the picture you could see the blood-stained floor of the 7-11. Her mom and dad stared at her. Crotchcrust looked at her picture in the paper. Hero Girl: thatís a good name, she thought. Maybe she would go with that. Maybe sheíd stop being Crotchcrust. Why not. Itís her name. She can do what she wants with it.
James DiGiovanna is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and multiple award-winning film critic for The Tucson Weekly. His fiction has appeared in Spork, Blue Moon Review, and 20X18. In collaboration with Carey Burtt he made the feature film Forked World and the short Kant Attack Ad. His website is www.spoonbot.com