Thirteen

by Olivia DeLuca

Artwork by Autumn Griego


Thirteen was my lucky number.  I tested it out to make it so.  Though the superstition was that the number represented bad luck, I became obsessed with it to prove it otherwise.  This number defined every moment of my waking life.  I did everything to give it meaning—a positive meaning.
I counted things out so I would always make the thirteenth item right for me.  This included everyday things like the thirteenth package of drumsticks, the thirteenth bottle of grape juice, or the thirteenth apple in the thirteenth row of the produce section at the supermarket.
I would further complicate the significance of its good-fortune by choosing the thirteenth piece of a birthday cake on my thirty-first birthday, representing a stellar year for my age with thirteen’s digits inversed.  I’d count to the thirteenth 100 Grand candy bar in a convenience store and purchased it along with thirteen lottery tickets.  Once I had done this thirteen times a year, over a span of thirteen years, on the thirteenth day of the month, during the thirteenth hour of the day, its transaction rung up on the thirteenth minute of the hour, I could secure a win.  I’d read into the number’s meaning by seeking out the thirteenth novel, like The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, in a row of bestsellers at the bookstore, its crisp pages offering a compelling narrative written for me and me alone.
Listening to my iPod on shuffle, the thirteenth song that played was Radiohead’s “Karma Police.”      The number’s hopefulness strengthened my faith in the universe’s design at the first plucks of those guitar strings.  It was a sign.  Karma would come back to those that caused me harm.
Thirteen wasn’t always my lucky number.  It wasn’t always so.  It was after what happened with my ex-boyfriend, at age thirteen, which triggered this obsession with the number.  At the time, my experience was a sign, a symbol of womanhood.  It meant boys sometimes forced girls to finish having sex, even though they didn’t want to, as if it was a rite of passage.  I had every reason to avoid the number, view it as inauspicious, but I didn’t.  In spite of what happened to me, I refused to ignore the number, allowing it to determine all the conditions of my life.
I’d count the steps to thirteen while stalking up a flight of stairs, start over at one, and recount up to thirteen again until I reached my destination.  If I did abdominal crunches during a workout, I’d end each of my four reps of fifty with an additional thirteen crunches for good luck.  I noticed it more often, if it was a part of the date, the time, the number of items total like how many bottles of Ativan I had to unpack from inventory and put on the shelf in the pharmacy department as the dependable technician.
The civil twilight of the morning workday reminded me of the dusk of that evening so long ago burned into my memory.  A specter of my thirteen-year-old self sauntered through my old neighborhood to meet my boyfriend.  She walked alongside me as I ambled through the parking lot to the front door of work.  I opened up the store, switched on all the lights, and headed to the back of the pharmacy department.
It was the thirteenth day of the month, the day of my monthly ritual.
Ever since that night in the park, I relied on thirteen to test for its auspiciousness, to turn any distressing circumstance into good fortune.  I visited the pet shelter thirteen times, playing with only one kitten each time until I reached the thirteenth feline on my thirteenth visit.  He rolled around in my lap, grasped and licked my fingers, so I took him home.
Thirteen months later, he scrambled out from between my legs through the open front door and never returned.  I feared the ill fortune of the number, but I reminded myself that I had thirteen months of unconditional love from the feline.  That was part of the process of changing my luck.  Conveniently giving myself reasons why thirteen was my lucky number.
I retrieved the opened package of Xanax on the back shelf in the pharmacy.  I counted out thirteen pills and popped the thirteenth into my mouth gulping it down with my morning coffee.  I dropped the first twelve pills back inside the bottle putting it back onto the shelf.
I had to take the edge off—calm my nerves.  In about twenty minutes, the weight of a sedating undertow would roll out beneath me and drag me under, enveloping me in a surreal, aqueous solution.  I only allowed myself the luxury of taking a benzodiazepine once a month on the thirteenth day.  I didn’t want to drown in addiction.  I didn’t need something else to make me powerless.
I grabbed the thirteenth bottle of probiotics from the top shelf in the first aisle taking it to the snack room in the back.  Placing it inside the microwave, I set it to heat the bottle for thirteen minutes on a low setting.  The probiotic would lose its potency after the microwave finished.  I’d put it back on the shelf in the store.  I contributed to the universe’s design by damaging a product, a product one would rely on to right one’s biological system, and let whoever bought it determine the course of events in his own life.
The thirteen minutes on the microwave acted as my timer.  Since I was alone for now, I needed to restrain myself from taking my mischief too far.  It was better not to overdo anything on days like these.  I didn’t expect the pharmacist to arrive for another half hour.
I wandered down the adjacent aisles in the store as the thirteen-year-old me trudged through a thicket of bushes and trees to greet and kiss my boyfriend.  We met and embraced at the edge of the woods and headed deep within until we reached a secluded spot.  The scent of his cologne lingered in the air around us.
I paused at the back of the store to survey the section of goods down the second aisle.  Walking through the store was like crossing over an imaginary boundary that day eighteen years ago.  I repeatedly relived the past in my mind so I could rewrite it in the present.
My boyfriend unrolled and spread out a white blanket atop the sparse weeds and grass in the soil.  I undressed myself while he did the same, his eyes never leaving my body.  I crossed my arms over my chest to conceal my breasts.  He leaned towards me kissing me feverishly pushing me backwards onto my back.  His determined gaze fixed on my eyes making me blush.  I averted my eyes tilting my head up towards the sky blinking at the stars that twinkled back.  This vision of my thirteen-year-old self upon the thick fabric trembled with openness and vulnerability.  There I was before the violation, my pale skin exposed under the moonlight.
Moving on to the middle of the third aisle in the store, I reached the packages of condoms.  I undid the safety pin adhered to my nametag counting to the thirteenth box on the first row.  I pulled it from the others and pricked the pin through the box.  The faint hum of the microwave buzzed in the back of the store.  A smile formed as I went about my task.
My thirteen-year-old self laid spread in the nude underneath my boyfriend.  Our limbs tangled together as the temperature of our flesh continued grinding against each other, into one another.  His weight rose and fell bumping against me with awkward desperation.  The heat of him pushed inside deep within my tunnel.  He thrust and moaned as pain jolted through from between my legs up through my lower abdomen.  Tears filled and flowed from my eyes.  He forced his manhood through my opening sawing me back and forth.  Flesh shoved against my insides fighting back.  Resisting.
Panic and confusion cemented themselves into my bloodstream.  He had torn me open once before when I lost my virginity to him.  The second time was as if he thrust to tear me up some more.  It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.  This wasn’t how I imagined my second time with him.  He was my love at the time, my whole world, my everything.
“Please stop, it hurts,” I begged.
“No, I’m going to come,” he said.  Our eyes met, he held my stare, his gaze burning deep into me the way his phallus seared my insides.
I counted to the thirteenth box in the next row of condoms, pricked it with the safety pin, careful not to prick my finger, and put it at the front of the row in its new proper place.  I could have put the box back in its thirteenth place.  That would have made more sense considering the luck of the number, but I was in control.  I made the rules.  I wanted to rush the misfortune inflicted upon others.  After all, it was the luck of the number for me and no one else.  I could do whatever I wanted.
For my own personal pleasure, I could declare that the act of pricking the boxes with the safety pin was my way of turning something I possessed into a phallic symbol.  I had my own phallus that I would use to cause the level of misfortune once inflicted upon me, but I didn’t see it that way.  The damage wasn’t the same.  Only someone sick and broken would want to deliver a similar kind of harm.
I reasoned that this really wasn’t my doing.  It was the universe’s plan.  It brought together a patron and a defective product.  The universe had its own design independent of my thoughts and actions.
I pricked the thirteenth box of condoms of all the brands in all the rows in the third aisle of the store.  I put all of them at the front so the next unsuspecting customer would purchase punctured condoms.
The weight of my boyfriend rose and fell rose and fell on top of my thirteen-year-old self, reached orgasm with a grunt and sigh, and rolled off onto the blanket.  He wiped the sweat from his brow grinning with satisfaction.  He reached his hand to my breasts tracing his fingers haphazardly over and between them, down the length of my lower abdomen, and to my mound.  It was as if what he’d just done wasn’t enough to leave his mark.  He had to imagine drawing his signature across my skin.  A chill washed over me.  I wanted to swat his hand away, but instead I let him linger his fingers over my damp nakedness.
I asked him why he did what he did, demanding an answer, a justification for his actions, his behavior.  He shrugged it off.  Said it was no big deal.  He leaned in pressing his lips against mine taking ownership of my whole being in such a small gesture.
So that was also what the number represented, a shrug, it was no big deal.  I needed apathy to perform such a ritual in the store.  I lacked the conviction and drive it took to carry out these morally ambiguous activities.  It was more like an obligation to the universe.  The number screwed me, so I had to utilize it to screw others by playing a part in it this time.  Instead of being the victim, let me have control.
It was why I had to go on thirteen dates with the same man before I’d even have sex with him.  Nowadays, if he was willing to stick around after that many dates, especially after paying for every date, it was worth spreading my legs for him.  Not every man would stay for so long.  I hoped that when I reached my thirteenth man, he would probably be the right one for me.  I could decide whom I would marry based on the number.  I simplified something that was far too complicated than it needed to be.
The beeping of the microwave alerted me to commence the routine of the morning in the pharmacy.  I grabbed the bottle of probiotics from the microwave and placed it at the front row with the others.
The main entrance opened as my first customer arrived to browse through the store.  She chattered on her cellphone while pulling products off the shelves and dropping them into the basket hanging on her arm.  The woman remained on the call talking away as I rang up her order—a tube of lipstick, a bottle of aspirin, an anniversary card with its envelope, and a box of condoms.
While she rummaged through her purse with her free hand, she continued chatting away.  I smoothed my finger over the back of the box.  I felt the imprint of the hole from the safety pin beneath the pad of my forefinger.
I smiled.
I bagged her items and waited for her to finish paying with her credit card.  She never once stopped to acknowledge me nor did she end her call.
“Thank you, have a great day,” I called after her.  She juggled her purse, shopping bag, and cellphone as she strolled out of the store leaving the shopping basket behind on the countertop.  I grabbed it and returned it to its rightful place near the front entrance while watching the woman drive off.
Thirteen wasn’t always my lucky number, but I had made it so.  I reveled in taking what was unlucky and turning it into my good fortune.  The good luck I made for myself, at the expense of others, would right the wrong done to me.  This woman’s chance would change because of the number.  The thought of it tickled me.  Unbeknownst to her, thirteen would be her inauspicious number.  Yet she would never have the good fortune of knowing to turn that luck around.

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