We spent most of last summer somewhere between the kitchen, the Walmart parking lot, and her white-silver Audi. On the kitchen island, our feet dangling in the thick air, on the tile floor, our backs pressed against her mahogany cabinets, dark red varnish with nice silver knobs. The Walmart in our Illinois town, and, when we grew tired of looking at bruised produce, the Walmart in the town ten minutes over. One weekend, on a whim, she picked me up from work and we drove to Milwaukee. Midnight, new smells, beer signs, my mother blowing up my phone, and still, we ended up in a Walmart. This is the great fucking thing about Walmarts, she said. The ubiquity. You travel states away and your home is through the automatic doors. Who knew Wisconsinites ate the same instant oatmeal as us.
The employees at our home Walmart must have noticed our repeated presence, our slouchy pace, but we didn’t rearrange shelves, or cause commotion, and we bought at least one item per trip, even if that item cost three dollars, so they left us alone. I say that we bought. Really, it was always her, for the same reasons that we drove in her car and used her card for gas and sat on her marble kitchen countertop. She bought the same thing every time, a small flimsy cardboard box, which contained a chocolate egg, a scrap of paper, and, inside the egg, a plastic Peppa Pig, dressed in one of sixteen fun thematic outfits.
In late July, my parents were divorced. They sat me down to give me the talk, but I had known what was coming, the dining table crusted over, the kitchen walls sweating, and our lawn wouldn’t stop dying, even though my mother paid a nice college boy to treat it with an emerald-green solution. We love you very much, said my father. This doesn’t change that. I nodded back at him. Ran my thumb over Princess Peppa in my pocket. Texted her with my other thumb. Come pick me up.
You’re being quiet and weird, she said in the Audi, her foot heavy on the gas. Stop it.
I apologized. Thought of Chef Peppa and Pirate Peppa standing two inches tall on my windowsill. That summer I picked them up and shuffled them every night before bed, as if they cared about movement. I thought of Nurse Peppa. You have to turn bedbound patients every hour, she might say. Or else they’ll develop sores. My head started to hurt. I imagined Pirate Peppa’s eyepatch, brimmed hat, raggedy striped shirt. Eye on the horizon. Everything shifting under.
It’s been an autumn and a winter since that summer, so the details of each of the sixteen figures escape me, although there was a time when I knew them, could spot a Peppa from a mile away. Actually, much of that summer escapes me. I turn to my camera roll and find nothing, because I never thought to reach for it, in those days, perhaps deemed nothing worth keeping, at least not with a third party. She gave me approximately one of every six figurines, keeping the rest, although she must have had doubles and triples of some characters. I lined every one of mine up on my windowsill, plastic cartoons smiling towards my bed. Although she came to my room at least twice during the summer, she never noticed.
In her kitchen she pulled out another cardboard box, unopened, sealed with a dab of tape. My mom got it for me, she said. I didn’t go without you. Although I could. Another bolt of pain ripped through my head. She noticed me wince. You need to stop drinking Polar, she says. That’s what gives you those headaches. It’s the bubbles. Straight through your bloodstream.
Stop drinking my Polar, I heard. I paused in my path towards her fridge. Sat back on the floor. Turned my parents over in my head, like a wind-up doll, tried to turn the key, familiarize her with the contours of their juddering movements. I need a divorced Peppa to explain, I thought to myself. A Peppa with a removable ring-piece. Immediately I dismissed this as ridiculous. There are no interactive Peppas.
She bit carefully into the egg, split it down the seam. It cracked into two neat pieces. Inside: the familiar curl of paper. Sixteen printed Peppas, side by side. She dropped the paper onto the floor, where later the housekeeper swept it up, where later I fidgeted uncomfortably, unsure whether to move to make space for her broom. Do you think, I said, and then stopped. She didn’t look at me, but she stopped disassembling the egg. This was how I knew she was listening. Why, I said to the back of her head, do you think you buy stuff like this?
An awful pause. Then her fingertips resumed. Look, she said, look, forget that. It’s Knight Peppa!
I celebrated appropriately. The moment slipped past. The housekeeper came and went like I knew she would. Through her kitchen windows I could see the lush greenness of her backyard, the spiraling hedges, the bursting gardenias, the morning glories winding up trellises sturdier than most city buses.
You have chocolate on your teeth, I told her.
Do I? she responded, swiping her tongue over her upper lip. Did I get it?
Yes, I told her. Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, you have it.
Anne (she/hers) is a high school senior from Chicago, Illinois. She can occasionally be found on Twitter at @anneechen1 and has never eaten a radish.