Pinky Monster | Samantha Steiner
Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Big green lawn. Mayonnaise on bread, mayonnaise in bowls. Too many relatives, most of
them white. The same every year.
A white boy in a T-shirt runs up, jabs me in the chest with his index finger.
“Quick!” he says. “Tell me five things about you.”
“Uh,” I scramble. “I’m Hector and Dana’s son.”
“I’m Gregory’s son,” he says.
“I don’t know who Gregory is,” I say.
“I don’t know who Hector and Dana are, so we’re even. Four more things.”
“I’m from San Diego.”
“Bless you,” I say.
“It’s in Montana, craphead.”
He didn’t actually think I was a craphead, I could tell from his voice.
“I play football after school.”
“Football like football, or football like soccer?”
“Football like soccer.”
“I used to do baseball. Hector’s son, nine, San Diego, soccer. What else you got?”
“I was born with an extra pinky.”
“Yeah, the doctor cut it off, but I don’t remember. Wanna see?”
The bottom edge of my hand: scar tissue, a cold shade of brown.
Gregory’s son holds my hand in both of his, strokes the raised nub with the tip of his index.
“Hector’s son!” he shouts when he sees me. “Last year nine, now ten, San Diego, soccer, Pinky Monster!”
“Hi!” I say.
“C’mon!” he runs to the edge of the lawn, where there’s a jungle gym. I follow. We climb up onto the monkey bars.
“Tell me five things,” he commands.
“Things I don’t already know about you. Quick, before one of us drops.”
“I’m learning piano,” I babble. “I have a pet chinchilla named Randy. When I grow up, I’m gonna open a comic book store. My grandma lives in Bolivia, that’s where my dad was born. That four or five?”
Our faces are loud with sweat.
“Four,” he says. “One more.”
“Uh, uh. There’s a diner by my house where they have packs of jelly on the tables, and I know how to stack them really high.”
We both drop.
“Everybody does that with the jelly packs,” he says.
“But I’m like, really good at it,” I pant. “When there aren’t a lot of people, the manager brings me jelly packs from the other tables. He says I’m a sculptor.”
Gregory’s son runs a short distance and plops down on a swing. I take the one next to his. We pump our legs until we’re ten feet off the ground.
In my ears is whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
“Pinky Monster!” Gregory’s son calls from his swing. “Do you ever miss your extra pinky?”
“Not really!” I say. “I only know it was there because my parents told me.”
He drags his feet against the dirt to slow himself. I do the same. We’re only swaying, now.
“What if your pinky was your superpower?” he says. “What if your parents took your superpower away?”
“I guess,” I say.
He gives me a big closed-mouth smile. “I’m just kidding. Let’s race!”
He takes off running. I follow after.
He lets out a laugh like steel wool. He told me his real name, but I forgot it.
“You’re eleven,” he tells me, and I shake my head up and down.
“Fourteen?” I ask. He nods.
“I’m hungry,” he says. I follow him to the picnic table. We pile our plates with mayonnaise food and sliced watermelon. We sit on the grass, watch ants climb our sneakers.
“Five things,” says Gregory’s son.
“Oh no,” I say. “You didn’t do it last year. Your turn.”
“Okay,” he says. “Mmm, I don’t know.”
I chomp my watermelon. “Tell me about food.”
He bites into his watermelon from the side of his mouth. “About food?” He chomps on that side, then swallows.
“I hate onions,” he says. “I can eat a teaspoon of cinnamon without throwing up. I know how to make pasta but my dad says men in our family don’t cook, we barbecue. Once I cracked my tooth on a jawbreaker.”
“I never had a jawbreaker,” I say. “I see them in commercials, though.”
“The other kids at my school aren’t allowed, but my dad says I can do whatever the hell I want!” He opens his mouth. His teeth are Swiss cheese. One side is crowded with watermelon pulp.
“Okay,” I say. “No onion, yes cinnamon, pasta, jawbreaker. One more.”
“Once I ate a snail.”
“That’s escargot,” I say.
“No,” he says. “Not like in a restaurant. I found it in my backyard.”
“What about the shell?”
“I tried to bite it but it was too hard.”
“Whoa,” I say.
“Did you know biting off your finger is as easy as biting into a carrot? The only thing that stops you from doing it is your brain.”
“Whoa,” I say again.
“If you still had your extra pinky, you could have bitten it off and kept it. How cool is that?”
He doesn’t wait for my answer. Instead, he gives my shoulder a soft punch.
“Wanna find some snails?” he asks.
“I can pop a wheelie on my bike,” I tell Gregory’s son when I’m twelve. “I made a sculpture that’s gonna be in the school art show. My chinchilla Randy died, but I don’t care, he was boring. I ate a teaspoon of cinnamon with my friend Nacho, we both threw up. And I’m in love.”
“Pinky Monster, bro. A lady. Welcome to the club.”
His fifteen-year-old face is oily red. He’s in a black turtleneck even though the sun is shining so hard, it’s making all the grass and leaves go brown. It doesn’t make sense, but I don’t ask him about it.
Instead I ask, “What do I do about being in love?”
“I’ll tell you what you do. You still play soccer?”
“Nah,” I say. “I quit.”
“Get back on the team. My dad says ladies like dudes who play sports.”
“Okay,” I say.
“You still doing art club?”
“Quit it, that’s wimpy shit.” I don’t know why he looks angry.
“Okay,” I say, but I’m not sure I mean it.
“Once you’re back on the soccer team, you go up to her and do something mean. Push her or something. Then she’ll know you’re tough. Ladies like guys who are tough.”
“Okay,” I say. I definitely don’t mean it.
The year I’m thirteen, I find him at a picnic table in his turtleneck.
“Gregory’s son!” I shout. Up close, his face is still oily red. “You’re sixteen!”
He looks at me slowly, laughs. His teeth are even more Swiss cheese than they were two years ago.
“Pinky Monster,” he says. “Pinky Monster, Pinky Monster.”
“Five things?” I say.
He jerks his head toward the edge of the lawn, where the forest begins. “Let’s walk.”
A few steps into the forest, he pulls out a box of cigarettes.
“You don’t smoke, huh?” he asks.
“Nah,” I say.
He lights up. Smoke races from the tip of his cigarette to the sky.
“How’d it go with the lady?”
“Oh!” I say. “Rochelle. She’s nice. She doesn’t like guys like that. But we’re friends.”
“Pinky Monster,” he says, almost interrupting. “Cousin. Brother. Whoever the hell you are.”
I think he’s going to give me more advice, but instead he says, “Wanna hear a secret?”
“First,” he says. “You have to promise not to tell.”
“Yeah,” I say.
He pinches his cigarette in his fingers, extends his pinky.
“A pinky promise for a Pinky Monster.”
I loop my pinky through his. The nub of my missing finger touches the edge of his hand. Then I let go.
He tosses his cigarette into the dirt, mashes it with his foot. Then he pulls up both of his sweater sleeves.
The skin on his arm has shiny pink streaks running from his wrists to his elbows.
He lifts his sweater to reveal his stomach. More streaks, disappearing upward. Some look hard and plasticky. Other look soft, like they might melt open.
He turns around, lifts the sweater to show the low part of his back. More pink, scabbing.
His eyes are on me when he yanks down the collar of his turtleneck. The scar tissue traces up to his ears. He tugs the collar back up to cover himself.
“So?” he says.
The inside of my head is a drumbeat. I say nothing.
“You inspired me,” he says. “I thought, maybe I have an extra pinky too, only mine’s invisible. Maybe if I find it and cut it off, I’ll be like everyone else.”
“Oh,” I say.
“I haven’t found it yet, but I’m still looking. My dad says I can do whatever the hell I want.”
I don’t want to be here anymore.
“I’m gonna go,” I say.
“Remember, Pinky Monster,” he says. His voice is shaking, like he’s afraid of me. “You promised.”
I leave the woods.
I’m fourteen the year I don’t find Gregory’s son.
His dad is there, at one of the picnic tables. He has a balled-up napkin in his hand. He keeps scrunching it. Relatives come up to him with their heads bowed. One at a time, they find little ways to hold him: rub his back, pat his elbow, take one of his hands in both of theirs. He nods his head, but doesn’t respond to their touch.
I almost want to go up to him and scream, but instead I cross the lawn to the jungle gym.
I dangle from the monkey bars until my face is loud with sweat.
On the swing, I pump my legs until I’m ten feet off the ground. Then I drag my sneakers against the dirt I’m only swaying. I take off at a run, right into the forest.
Under the trees, I slow to a walk. I hold two fingers up like there’s a cigarette between them. I suck with my mouth. I close my eyes and suck some more. I throw my imaginary cigarette to the forest floor and tilt my head all the way back. The leaves are all burned brown by my cigarette. The sun is just a little spark from my cigarette.
Suddenly, I want to actually smoke. I comb the ground with my fingers in search of a nub.
Snail, jawbreaker, pasta.
I keep searching.
Yes cinnamon, no onion, baseball.
I keep searching.
Missoula. Gregory’s son. Seventeen.
That pinky promise made me a Pinky Monster.
I sit on the forest floor and stroke the raised nub of my missing pinky. It’s strange. Not the hand that had six fingers and lost one, but the hand that only ever had five.
Samantha Steiner, MFA (she/her/hers), is a visual artist and two-time Best of the Net nominee. Her work is published or forthcoming in the Apple Valley Review, Sou’wester, and Bayou. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.