Izzy Stole Maria’s Night Guard
Kat Gonso

Maria said it isn’t important to study because, when they are older, they will live in California and all anyone ever does in California is eat avocados and swim. Izzy thought Maria might be wrong, but the teachers forgot to take attendance and eighth grade was stupid and Cleveland was stupid and she couldn’t wait to get out, so she kicked her French book under the bed and spent all her time with Maria: at the movies with Maria, riding bikes with Maria, flipping through Victoria’s Secret catalogues with Maria, eating fortune cookies with Maria. Each afternoon, Mo Baker, a tenth grader, whistled at them from his stoop on Euclid Avenue. Maria hollered back in a thick Spanish wave. Izzy didn’t know what they were saying.

Her mother told her not to be friends with Maria. At Maria’s there were moths that sprung out of flour and half-eaten cans of vienna sausage on the countertop. Izzy and Maria wagged the little sausages at each other like little swords and tossed potato chips on the floor, blaming the mess on Benito. They closed the blinds and the curtains and their eyes. They lay down on the carpet in the dark, head-to-toe. They whispered about the future, about being roommates.

After a heated negotiation, Izzy’s mother let her spend the night at Maria’s every other Friday. She made Izzy call home three times: after school, before bed, after breakfast. Before bed, Izzy and Maria brushed their hair. They giggled as they checked each other for lice and scoliosis. These were the games they played. After they brushed their teeth, Maria grabbed her night guard from its glittery purple case and popped it in her mouth. Izzy called her The Quarterback. The night guard was cheap, from CVS. Though the fit was loose, her molars had dug ridges into the thick, hard plastic. Izzy would fall asleep listening to the soft click of Maria’s jaw.

One Saturday morning, Izzy took Maria’s night guard. Izzy knew Maria had a crush on Mo Baker and Mo Baker had a crush on Maria and she thought about these truths as she slipped the night guard into her backpack.

Maria’s father used to tell them to watch for tiny moments with huge importance. He called them Sky Openers, when God peeked down for a moment to watch. He told them that weddings and births and falling in love were Sky Openers, but little things mattered too: the first time you bought your own groceries or rode a bike down a hill so steep you thought you might never stop. But you did stop, and you were okay. He said his greatest Sky Opener was coming. He thought his boss at the factory might promote him to manager. Then, he would take them all to Myrtle Beach. Benito. Maria. Abuela. And Izzy too. Instead, he was laid off, and he moved them all away.

After that, Mo Baker didn’t talk to Izzy anymore. She didn’t eat fortune cookies or little vienna sausages. There was no one to check for scoliosis. Sometimes, at night, Izzy removed Maria’s night guard from its glittery purple case. She pushed it toward the roof of her mouth. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t make it fit. Her mouth was not Maria’s mouth. Her teeth were not Maria’s teeth. Her mouth was much too small.

Kat Gonso lives in Boston with her boyfriend and cat. She divides her time between writing short fiction and teaching composition. Her fiction can be found in American Literary Review, River Styx, Pindeldyboz, and Fringe.