Life Savers

No one doubts that Charlie and I will grow up to be major fuck-ups.

Life Savers
Photo by Mark König / Unsplash

by Phebe Jewell

The night Charlie and I decide to break the street lights, an ambulance screeches in front of Missy Cartwright’s house.

No one doubts that Missy Cartwright will make her mark on the world. At 13 she already dazzles parents and teachers with her sweet selflessness. Girl Scouts, choir, volunteering at the food bank, helping special needs kids. She’s going to make waves. A giver, a Real Life Saver, one of the moms calls her. A Real Pain-in-the-Ass Charlie and I call her when it’s just us. 

If Missy Cartwright were a Life Saver, she’d be cherry, a baby flavor, sugary smooth, like cough drops. Me and Charlie? We would be lemon - tart, sharp like a winter sunset.

No one doubts that Charlie and I will grow up to be major fuck-ups. We’re the latchkey kids, in our Nirvana tee-shirts and hair we can’t bother to comb. When I catch the moms staring at me with pity, they blush and look away. We’re foreign creatures, too far out of reach to be rescued. 

Most nights Charlie and I are the last kids on the street when all the others have been called in for dinner. We pass the ball back and forth until we start a new game, filling our pockets with stones, looking for something to break. 

The other kids suck Life Savers til there’s just a thin ring of sugar wrapped around their tongues. Me and Charlie crunch each lozenge into bits, tiny shards caught between upper molars. Cavities? Who cares? Just another word for a hole where something used to be.

We sit on the curb in front of his house and Charlie tells me he doesn’t believe in God. I picture his dad in a small study, door closed, the light from his desk lamp a circle on the sermon he’s writing. Lost in thought, he forgets the can of soup in the cupboard. Charlie walks me to my dark house. I stand in a cold kitchen, the only light a flickering glow from under Mom’s door, a mumble of TV voices worlds away. 

What would it be like to be Missy Cartwright? No one can be that good all the time. What would break her? Where would she go when she didn’t want to be good? Who could she talk to? I almost feel sorry for her, but I like picturing Missy Cartwright alone in her room, or hurling her guts in a bathroom stall. 

Paramedics rush into the house, coming out minutes later carrying Missy Cartwright on a gurney, her mother sob-stumbling behind. Her wails ring up and down the block, and without a word we drop our stones. 

Phebe Jewell's flash appears in numerous journals, including SoFloPoJo, Bending GenresMolotov Cocktail, Flash Boulevard, Drunk MonkeysReckon Review, and elsewhere. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she also volunteers for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for incarcerated women, trans-identified and gender non-conforming people in Washington State. Read her at