Kanye was writing a song. He’d started it on his flute, and this morning, halfway through New Mexico, he’d plugged his sequencer into the Cadillac’s tape deck. Kim’s teeth started grinding when the tape heads whirred on. She liked his music, but the same three minutes on repeat with minor variations would become torture.
When they crossed into Texas, he declined his shift at the wheel—driving with one good eye gave him a headache. He kept working on the song. Kim couldn’t tell if it was getting better, or even if it was good. She willed him to open a math book instead.
They were crossing the tip of Texas, and she hadn’t planned to stop there, but the border was behind them before she checked the fuel gauge. The needle was past the E. She chanced an empty tank until Amarillo, where stormy winds sprayed dust on the windshield and made her afraid to run on fumes. She saw the Goodwill from the interstate. The Shell station was across the street.
When she stepped out of the car, the heat wasn’t a surprise, but it felt more real. Cars without AC were supposed to get hot. In the dusty wind of the outside world, the heat was unbelievable. They built nukes in Amarillo, and Kim thought she could feel the radiation, but blamed the heat and Kanye.
The pump’s card reader was broken, and a misspelled note instructed her to pay inside. There was a line. She grabbed beef jerky and a Ding Dong from beneath the counter. When she got to the front, the old woman at the register consoled her in an accent that had to be a joke: the man who’d just left had paid for her gas. Baffled, Kim looked through the glass doors and saw no one.
“Just ring up the junk, I guess,” she said.
“Take it, dear, and hang in there,” said the woman. “The Lord has been known to answer a prayer or two.”
Kim stayed baffled until, pumping gas, she smelled herself. Kanye’s disfigurement may also have provoked the charity. His mask was off. When she got in the car, he stopped his song and said, “Let’s check out the Goodwill.”
“Yeah, let’s,” she said. The laundry quarters had done no good without a change of clothes to stand in. “But put your mask on.”
In the Goodwill parking lot, Kanye declared his song finished. He wanted to play it for her. She listened, but couldn’t hear any changes. When it was finished, she said it was good. He didn’t believe her.
“That’s fine,” he said. “I don’t love you for your taste in music.”
“I said I liked it.”
“You don’t get it is all,” he said. “The math is too hard.”
Inside, she was happy to split up. The racks of clothes were separated by type but not by size. She grabbed the first two jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies in her size, a baseball cap for a team she didn’t know, tennis shoes, and sealed bags of socks and underwear. She wasn’t trying to be fashionable.
The bookshelves stopped her on her way to the dressing room. Her novel had fizzled, and she believed in “good in, good out.” Reading could help her recover the thread. The shelves had Western, Sci-Fi, and a large section of Christian literature that included a King James Bible. She found a translation of La Belle et la Bête and laughed at its placement in the kids’ picture books.
She thumbed through it, occasionally landing on an interesting woodcut. She mostly knew the Dasney version. It bothered her. It told little girls that beasts stop being beasts. All you have to do is love them anyway. You’re not even supposed to want them to stop. You love the monster for being a monster.
She put the book back and took her clothes to a dressing room, where she appraised her new incognito. The hoodie was too warm there, but the northeast would be cooler. She imagined her family in the mirror. She’d watch them on TV sometimes. They’d never liked her. They would turn their noses up at what she was wearing. Luxury over reality, her lookalike over her. Kim crumpled her old clothes into a ball.
Kanye was outside the dressing room. He wore a shiny grey sport coat over a black t-shirt, a wicker cowboy hat, a feather boa, and sunglasses over his phantom mask. The sunglasses slanted in a V and made him look angry. Customers with arms full of sober clothes kept stealing glances at him. She chose not to remind him to fly under the radar.
The cashier searched the clothes that they wore for price stickers. Outside, Kim threw her stinky ball in a dumpster. Kanye followed suit. The clothes weren’t worth saving.
He took the passenger seat again, but he pulled a pair of earphones out of his jacket and plugged them into his sequencer. Kim watched this from outside the car and practiced not showing her relief. When she climbed behind the wheel, he handed her a silk rose.
She asked if he stole the presents. He said he was working up to banks.
The world’s greatest detective was out of his jurisdiction. He had his gun and badge, and he would save a life if it came to that. He drove through dusty winds, explaining Kanye’s proof to his passenger.
“So it makes sense,” said the detective, “but he could have gotten there more cleanly with induction on the number of edges. Now that’s funny, right?”
His passenger was silent.
“I know,” said the detective. “Kanye West wouldn’t fudge a proof. It’s absurd to even suggest it. So why didn’t he use induction? And that’s what brings us to Amarillo.”