To Hell and Back

By DS Levy

Amanda gently pulls me under the big red Welcome to Hell sign. The kid she’s roped into taking our photo points the iPhone says, “Smile.”

Through my jeans, I feel my friend’s hip bone poking into mine. She’s lost a ton of weight. I liked her the way she was, with curves and gravitas. Amanda 2.0 is svelte but gaunt. Her clothes hang on her like a coat hanger. I’ve always taken a back seat to her, been that friend, but now, I’m worried she’s dabbling in some dark arts of the soul.

Amanda’s always been tragically beautiful—perfect cheekbones, turquoise eyes, full pouty lips sans extenders. I like to think that when I’m with her I’m drawn into her aura. I try a little harder, apply gloss, dab rouge on my puffy cheeks.

I go along.

“Do you mind,” Amanda says to the kid with the charming, gravelly throat of someone who’s knocked back a pint of Jack. “Maybe a couple more?”

We pull in tight, mug for the camera.

“This time,” she says to me, “do something goofy.”

In the time-honored cliché of Selfiedom we stick out our tongues—a droll fuck you—and after the kid hands back her phone she immediately posts our photos on social media. She and Jerry are still “friends” on Facebook, and though she doesn’t say so, I know she’s hoping he’ll see us having fun in Hell, Michigan.

“Let’s go to the Hell Saloon,” she giggles, taking me by the elbow.

ToHellandBackWe’ve been joking about going to Hell for so long it’s hard to believe we’re finally here. After she and Jerry split, Amanda planned the whole trip: lunch at the Hell Hole Diner, ice cream at The Creamatory, a beer at the Hell Saloon. The only attraction we’re avoiding is Hell’s Chapel of Love.

Inside the saloon, Amanda buys a bumper sticker for her Honda: “How is my driving? Call 666-GO2-HELL.” Then we follow the hostess to our table. A few minutes later she seats two guys, twins from Kalamazoo, next to us and the confused waitress thinks we’re all together. We order food, shove our tables together—what the hell. After a couple of beers, the boys look nicer and we all agree a game of putt-putt golf would be fun. I’ve never been good at the exacting sports, and Amanda jokes she’s only good at “contact sports,” but we’re willing to give anything a try.

First hole, Amanda sends her blue ball over the wooden rail and one of the twins, Dwayne or Dennis, runs after it. We all laugh, but soon enough our beers wear off and Amanda and I can tell the boys mean business on the jigsaw patches of emerald felt. The bleary edges of the boys’ hairy faces look doughy and unkempt, and on the fourth hole Amanda sidles over and whispers, “Let’s get out of here.”

We finish the hole, tell the twins we’ll be right back. We joke about drinking all that beer, pretend to modestly to cross our legs—a polite go-to-hell that won’t be realized until we don’t come back.

Amanda and I walk through the golf shelter and on out the front door. We run down the street, jump into our car, and cackle like two geese flying overhead. We haven’t had this much fun in a long time. When I glance over at Amanda I see the woman I used to know, the one who’s always made my heart flutter just a little.

Before we take off, she remembers the bumper sticker in her purse and jumps out to adhesive it on her bumper. When she gets back in the driver’s seat she turns to me and says, “We’ve been to Hell, what say we find Paradise?”

For the next few hours we drive north to I-75, the Thelma and Louise of the Mitten State. But when we come to the Mighty Mac we don’t launch off the suspension bridge into the choppy Great Lakes below, no, we keep going, shoot up into the U.P. desperate to find Paradise, the radio blaring Patsy Cline: “I fall to pieces / How can I be just your friend?”

We sing along, know all the words by heart.

DS Levy’s work has been published in Little Fiction (nominated for Pushcart), the Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia, South Dakota Review, Brevity, The Pinch, and others. Her collection of flash fiction, A Binary Heart, was published in 2017 by Finishing Line Press.

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Copic Ink, Pen and Brush, Digital Finish)

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