When I came back to Tucson for Christmas break, my mom was like, “You need to clean out your closet or you’re not going anywhere.” This was her way of being dumb about the fact that I’d gained a few pounds since I’d started college, but I was like fine ’cause it was whatever. I was going to buy new shit anyway. My high school friends were having a reunion, Aaron Trujillo was going to be there, and I was obviously going too. So I took a huge trash bag into my closet and started filling it up with stuff I hadn’t worn or touched in years. But when I pulled out a very old Halloween costume from when my high school friends and I were Bath & Body Works flavors, underneath it, there was Magenta.
“Oh my God.”
“Oh Jesus.” She put her little claw in front of her face. “Shit. That’s—that’s a lot of light.…”
The plastic cage sat on a shelf next to my old yearbooks and duffel bags. It looked exactly the same. Neon pipes, pink hamster wheel, some toilet paper tubes and a shit ton of mulch. But Magenta was different. She looked a few years older than me, or maybe just more mature. There was new white fur underneath her eyes.
When I was little she walked quietly on all fours, but now she stood up like she had somewhere to be. On top of her gray fur Magenta wore a silky floral robe that she kept fixing and a teeny pair of Uggs that looked like they’d been in the rain. She held her robe closed, and then she waved.
“What are you…how are you still here?”
“Hey, Natalie.” Magenta half laughed. “Hey—listen, this doesn’t have to be weird. You grew up, you know? You had other things to do. And honestly, I totally understand.” She pushed a tuft of fur behind her left ear.
I sat down on my bed. It was weird being back in my room with all of the Got Milk? ads and Moulin Rouge! posters taped on the wall above my twin bed. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw Magenta, but it must have been when I still had braces and before my hair was red, which seemed like forever ago. I knew I was bad at remembering things (what time my classes were, if I took my birth control, quesadillas in the microwave), but I didn’t think I was this bad. “Why do I remember you dying?”
Should I feed you or something? Do you need new water?
“Ummm.…” Magenta winced and I saw all four of her teeth. “Maybe because a lot of your friends’ pets died?”
“How would you even know that?”
“You’re really loud on the phone.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Ohmygosh, don’t be. It used to give, like, a rhythm to my day. Back when you still lived here.”
Magenta peeked in her pocket and I saw the glow of a tiny cellphone light up inside. She looked back up at me and smiled.
“Well,” I said. “Should I feed you or something? Do you need new water?”
“I mean.…” Magenta laughed again. “If you want…?”
I stared at my hands on my lap.
“Well, I don’t eat stimulants anymore, and I try to stay away from dairy,” she said. “So actually, as far as food’s concerned, I’m honestly all set.”
I had five more days until I went back to school. I kept my closet door open because it felt awful to think of closing it. Magenta made a really big deal of putting her headphones on when I talked on the phone. When I changed my clothes she’d bury herself under a bunch of mulch or pick up a tiny fashion magazine. I knew she was trying to make me comfortable, but it just made me feel worse.
I asked my mom how long she’d been feeding Magenta.
“Well, honey, I don’t feed Magenta.” She laughed like this was a psycho thing to do. “It’s not like she’s a child. She just makes her grocery list and I pick up a few things.”
But it wasn’t just a few things. My mom wrapped a tiny iTunes gift card and put it underneath the tree. While we watched The Devil Wears Prada on DVD, she sat on the floor and made a mini version of those holiday buckets, the ones with three different kinds of popcorn, and she barely laughed or quoted all the parts we used to love, like when Meryl Streep is all Why is no one readyyyy? Or we’d be walking in the mall and she’d want to make “a really quick stop” at some weird, expensive doll store. She’d take forever, and I’d be like, “Mom.” She’d be like, “Well, honey, Magenta can get cold.”
I couldn’t wait to go back to Phoenix.
At my dorm I was fucking hilarious. In Tucson I had nothing to say.
At my dorm I was fucking hilarious. I didn’t have class on Fridays. My roommates and I got blackout on the reg. And I did this super funny impression of our dorm’s security guard as if he’d just won a million dollars. Or it’s more like if he accidentally won a million dollars and he was just finding out. It sounds weird when I say it now, but I swear everyone dies for it. In Tucson I had nothing to say.
Every time I tried to tell my mom about the cool shit I was doing back home in the dorms (growing basil out my window, getting a B in finance), she’d be like, “Well, excuuuseee me! I guess I was mistaken, because I thought this was your home.”
Lara Brumski was having the reunion at her parents’ house. I had to buy a size large, but whatever, I looked good. Still, every time I looked at Aaron Trujillo, he was looking down at his phone. I remembered how it felt when he said Atta girl to me at graduation, when I parallel parked Lara Brumski’s truck on the first try, and I just wished he would bring it up, or that someone would arrive and really need their truck parallel parked.
The only time he talked to me at the reunion was after I said I’d seen The Blind Side with my mom. “You actually saw that movie?”
He was sitting on the kitchen counter and both his shoes were untied, on purpose. I sucked my stomach in. “Yeah, it wasn’t that bad.”
“It is that bad,” he said. He scratched the side of his shaved head. “It’s another one of those movies where white people come in and save the day. And it’s like, ‘Oh hey, black people, you can be like us! Be like us and then we’ll like you!’ It’s bullshit.”
Lara Brumski grinned at me over her beer. “Didn’t you say you cried?”
“Umm, no,” I lied. “I said my mom cried.”
Later, in Lara Brumski’s backyard, I thought that maybe I could fix it by drinking more. But then, in the space between Aaron and me, his phone lit up. It said Message from MAGENTA. Next to the M was a pink heart emoji, and a little mouse face was next to the A. My chest suddenly felt like it wasn’t even there.
I stood up. “Are you serious right now?”
Aaron said, “Natalie, chill.” As I walked out of the backyard, I heard him go, “It’s not like anything’s happened,” but it didn’t really seem like he was saying this to me.
Lara Brumski was standing with beers in both her hands as I walked through the kitchen and took the keys from my purse. She looked past me to the sliding glass doors and mouthed to someone, “Oh shit, he told her?”
Magenta was in pajamas and eating popcorn when I came home. I closed my bedroom door, laid facedown on my bed and began to sob into my sheets.
Magenta said, “Oh God,” and then, “Natalie, wait.”
I heard her little nails tap at the side of the cage. The sound made my lungs all tight and scrunched up.
“Natalie, listen,” she said. “Okay wait, I swear to God? Aaron is just a friend.”
I sniffed and turned away from her.
“I’m serious,” she said. “He’s so random and completely not my type. But even if he was, I’d never do that to you.”
I put my hands underneath my face.
“Natalie, don’t cry.” And then she kind of laughed. “You’re gonna make me cry. Do you want to come feed me a little bit?”
I shook my head.
“Come on, like old times! Remember? Man, I’m staarrvved. What am I gonna do?” As she said this, she was sort of singing.
I sat up straight. If I was really so loud on the phone, then Magenta knew how I’d gone down on Aaron in his car in the rec center parking lot on the Fourth of July, how I begged him to at least think about visiting me at college and how it was only two hours away. “Okay,” I said. I crossed my arms. “Okay, yeah. I’d like to feed you.”
Magenta laughed and said, “Really?” It was clear she thought I was joking, but when I didn’t wipe the snot away from my face—I let it drip down onto my skirt—Magenta closed her mouth and walked to her bowl.
If I was really so loud on the phone, then Magenta knew how I’d gone down on Aaron in his car.
I went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. I ripped off a stalk of some hard, green broccoli from the bottom drawer. My mom was watching Law & Order: SVU when I passed by the living room. When she saw the broccoli in my hand, she said, “Good for you, Nat!” Before I slammed my door I went, “Shut up, Mom!”
I threw the broccoli into Magenta’s cage.
“Okay. Cooool.” Magenta nodded slowly. She looked up at me and bit her bottom lip. “Can I be so annoying and ask for some olive oil?” “No,” I said. “I want you to eat it like old times.”
Magenta blew through her lips. She walked to the broccoli, the bedding crunched beneath her, and she took a small floret in her hand.
“No,” I said. “On all fours.”
We stared at each other for what seemed like a long time. We did this until Magenta bent down and began to crawl around the broccoli. She looked as if she were in a game of charades or pretending to steal cookies from a jar that she was more than welcome to have in the first place. I felt like I was watching an adult do the hokey pokey with a child who wasn’t theirs—putting their left arm in and their left arm out—at a birthday party they were obligated to attend.
Magenta took a bite. “Okay, umm, squeak squeak?” she said. “Thank you, Natalie. Yummers. Squeak squeak.”
I sat down on the floor and hugged my legs.
How was I so fucking fat? Since when had my mom started doing arts and crafts? And did Aaron Trujillo really hate texting as much as he’d told me he did? Because it kind of seemed like he didn’t.
Magenta came to the side of the cage and her face looked careful and sad. “Do you feel better?” she asked. “Or not so much.”
I shook my head and said, “Not so much.”
On my last night in Tucson, Lara Brumski texted me to say that she and Aaron made out and did some over-the-pants stuff in his parents’ garage on Christmas Eve. As I packed my bags, Magenta asked me if I was okay, and we ended up talking for hours. I played my old CDs (Amy Grant, Jewel, Tori Amos, Toni Braxton), and she showed me how she charted what she ate (BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER and SNACKS). It wasn’t as judgy as I’m making it sound. It was actually really nice.
Around midnight, I sat on my suitcase as Magenta organized her things. A little white bandanna was tied on her head, just above her ears. In a corner of her cage were three tiny boxes. One was labeled TOSS, one said KEEP, and the last one said DONATE.
Obviously Magenta could be a little much, but we had history.
“Hey, just to put it out there,” I said, “You could drive back to Phoenix with me tomorrow. I have a closet in my dorm.”
Magenta stood up and pushed her fur behind her ears. “Really?”
“It would be cool,” I said. “You could even come to class if you wanted.”
Obviously Magenta could be a little much, but we had history. Maybe she could help me get up in the morning since she was such an early riser. Maybe I could try some of her healthy eating habits. I felt like I could never forgive Aaron Trujillo and Lara Brumski, but I was the one who forgot Magenta was alive, and she seemed to have forgiven me. Most important, Magenta had always been mine to begin with.
“You know what?” she said. She partially closed one of her eyes. “I think that sounds really fun.”
“Yeah,” she said. “You know what, why not? I’m gonna pack my stuff and get my cage ready to go. A change of scenery would be really good for me right now.”
But the next morning, Magenta was gone. Her cage was so empty that when I walked over to it, the wheel spun around once by itself. She’d left me a little note that I read using the magnifying glass my mom had on her key chain. Magenta had gotten an internship at a magazine I’d never heard of; she was hoping to be hired soon after, and she was moving in with friends. She hadn’t had the heart to tell me, but she wanted to catch up with me soon, when everything cooled down and her schedule wasn’t so all over the place. She wished me all the best.
There are times I see knitted boots or a colorful robe in a doll-store window that I think Magenta would like. Something she can wear around the house. I stop and I think about sending them to her, saying something quick and nice in a card that I’d attach, but then I remember that she didn’t leave her address.
Writing down my meals actually works. I’ve lost four pounds, and now I’m kind of dying to see Magenta at brunch or at the places where the bartenders know my name, but I also know that these are places she’d probably never go. That Christmas, when I’d shown Magenta my impression of our dorm security guard winning a million dollars, she’d said, “Sorry…it kinda sounds like I’d have to be there.”
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