Ernesto’s black Dodge Durango is parked in front of the Boost Mobile store where he works as a manager. Rosa can always tell it’s his car by the dolphins. His windshield protector is a picture of dolphins swimming. “They’re the Einsteins of the sea,” he said last Friday right before dropping her home from her shift at the Halloween store. Ernesto does that a lot, explains things to her. Rosa never interrupts him when he gets that way.  

Rosa reads Ernesto’s text again—“Gotta go. Busy.”— and tries to decipher a meaning. Before last Friday, he used to send her texts all day long. GIFs that made her laugh. Plans for when they would be together. Then all of a sudden, he stopped. 

“I’m It! I’m It!”  

The noise startles Rosa into almost dropping her phone onto the glass counter. Annoyed, she traces the voice to a young boy who has midnight-black hair and chubby round cheeks. He tightly holds a mask from the scary movie It. Before he puts it on, the sweet-looking boy flashes a gap-toothed grin at her. 

“I’ll kill you all!” he screams, his voice now deep and ominous under the mask. The boy becomes Pennywise the Clown. 

The boy roams wild. As a salesperson, it’s Rosa’s job to stop kids from running in the store, but a part of her wishes she could be like the masked boy and scream like someone possessed. She’s unable to look away from the chaos such a tiny person can cause. He darts between the shelves, threatening the haunted house statues. The store is practically empty, like it always is during these scorching months. There are no Halloween emergencies in the summer. 

“What do you think?” The boy’s mother, seemingly unfazed by what her son is doing, holds up a sexy nurse costume. The mother’s hair is in a messy top bun, and she has a large tattoo of a sunflower on her chest. 

“I like it,” Rosa says. “It’s 30 percent off.” Rosa glances over at the parked Durango again. She can’t help herself. 

“I’ll kill you all!” Whoosh. “I’ll kill you all!” Whoosh. The boy now wields a lightsaber. One more look at the car. Another at her unanswered texts. Why hasn’t Ernesto texted her back?

“Will you stop?” The boy’s mother yells. She violently yanks the Pennywise mask from the boy’s head, hard enough to make him wail. And just like that, the boy ceases to be a monstrous clown. 

Rosa smiles at the boy, whose lip is trembling, and holds her hand out for the lightsaber, which he gives her. She turns off the glowing light and places it back with the rest of the Star Wars costumes.

Rosa began working at the year-round Halloween Club store off the 5 freeway on the very last day of her junior year of high school. She had barely paid attention to the “Help wanted” sign in the window when her father drove them to the Boost Mobile store to replace their phones. That is, until she met Ernesto. It was hard not to notice the guy dressed in a suit. His cute smile. The way he talked to her father but always made sure to look over at her. She remembers it so clearly: Ernesto shared a silly joke, and her laughter was a little too loud for her father, so he sent her to wait by the car. Embarrassed and angry, Rosa walked next door to the Halloween store instead and filled out an application.

Rosa’s father usually drops her off in the mornings on the way to his job at Just Tires. When he drives, he rarely speaks to her. He only listens to music on La Ranchera 96.7 FM. When she’s done at the store, Rosa usually hitches a ride back home with her supervisor, Lisa, instead of asking him. 

When Ernesto first approached her, she was taking her break out underneath the awning of the store. It was the only place with a bit of shade. Because she never had money, Rosa was eating her usual sad lunch of a ham and cheese sandwich. The mini mall only had a law firm, a nail salon, the Boost Mobile store, and the Halloween Club. She never had anyone to drive her to get real food—until Ernesto noticed her. 

“That sandwich can’t possibly be filling you up,” he said. When he spoke to her, Rosa didn’t know where to look. Not at his dimples. Not at his sun-kissed tan. Ernesto offered to drive her to El Zarape Michoacano restaurant, where he ordered for both of them. 

She stares at her phone. Still no text from Ernesto.

The first time Rosa made it with Ernesto, it was in the back seat of the Dodge. He called her baby and whispered, “That feels good.” She loved how his strong cologne lingered on her clothes afterward. She didn’t want to wash them. 

On that day, Ernesto never asked her age (almost seventeen). Rosa knew he was twenty-three. He never asked what school she went to (Benjamin Franklin High). Never asked if she had a boyfriend (no). He just opened the door to his big car and waited for her to climb in. For the first time, Rosa felt seen. In school she’s just the quiet girl with the strange mother. 

The mirrors in her parents’ house are covered with bedsheets. If Rosa wants to see what she looks like, she has to carefully pull down the sheet that is taped to the medicine cabinet’s mirror in the bathroom. Then she stands on the ledge of the bathtub to see herself in the mirror. Her mother believes mirrors will suck them into another dimension, that they are the devil’s work meant to trick them. Her father allows the mirrors to be covered. He says it’s better when her mother sits calmly in her bedroom reading her Bible instead of getting upset about how the mirrors are showing her things. 

Rosa’s mother wasn’t always afraid of her reflection. Rosa remembers a time when she would stare at her putting her makeup on before going to church. She would first darken her eyebrows, then fill her already-full lips with dark-red lipstick. But then her mother lost the baby growing in her belly, and things never healed. Since then, Rosa doesn’t have friends over anymore. The boys at school pay her no mind. To them, she doesn’t exist. It’s much easier to be quiet and avoid the awkward questions. 

When Ernesto spoke to her, she finally felt a shift. He was so much older than her. Here was a man, someone with experience. He could’ve talked to anyone, any other woman, but he chose her. That meant something. It happened. Rosa can recall every touch, his every word. It happened.

And now nothing. 

Rosa wants to know if she messed up. She needs to know. 

“I’m taking my break,” she says when Lisa returns from vaping outside. Rosa knows in her gut that she shouldn’t, but she can’t wait any longer. She walks to the Boost Mobile store. 

“You haven’t answered my texts.” Rosa whispers even though the store is empty so there is no need for her to be discreet. 

“I didn’t get your messages,” Ernesto says with a smile. He steps around the counter and slowly walks over to her. But Rosa notices that he doesn’t bother looking at her. Instead he concentrates on boxes of phones. On a wall. On the door. His eyes constantly move to avoid her. 

Of course he received her messages. Why is he lying? Why can’t he look at her?

“Let’s talk about this later,” he says. “I’m at work. I’ll text you.” 

“I don’t understand,” Rosa says. She fails to keep her voice from shaking. “Did I do something wrong?” 

“Of course not. You’re perfect. We’ll talk soon.” Ernesto places his arm around her shoulders, but instead of leaning in to reassure Rosa with a kiss, he leads her to the door. Then he does that thing Rosa always craves at night when she’s alone in her room—Ernesto caresses her neck. 

Back in her own store, Rosa angrily rubs the tears from her face. When it’s time for her to leave work, she accepts a ride from Lisa. Rosa opens the window to avoid the smoke from Lisa’s vape pen. At home she recounts the times she’s done it with Ernesto. In the back of the Halloween Club when she was locking up. In the storage room of the Boost Mobile store. In an empty parking lot. 

They’ve never taken a picture together. All she has are the dumb memories and those moments when she felt real.

As she lies in her bed, Rosa can hear her mother pacing in the living room, reciting a prayer over and over again.  


* * *


A week later, while Rosa is dusting off the eyeball erasers, she sees that there is a new person working alongside Ernesto at the Boost Mobile store. The woman has long black hair that reaches her butt and wears a tight pencil skirt with tall heels. Half an hour later, Rosa sees them leave together for lunch in the girl’s small convertible with the top down. She angrily taps on the glass counter until Lisa grabs her hand to make her stop. 

“Everything okay?” Lisa asks. 

Rosa nods and excuses herself. She wants to break something, to bring this rage she feels up to the surface and blanket everything around her. It doesn’t occur to her what to do right away, but once she walks past the masks an idea dawns on her. Rosa grabs a Pennywise costume from the shelf and locks herself in the bathroom. She stares at her reflection in the mirror—the dark circles under her eyes, the tiny scar on her chin that won’t go away no matter how much cocoa butter she slathers on it—and refuses to cry. 

When she puts the costume on, sweat immediately pools in her armpits and under her breasts, trickling down her back. She then places the mask over her head. When she looks at the mirror, a ghostly white face with an evil smile and long teeth stares back at her. The glowing yellow eyes are now her eyes. Rosa stands up straight. She’s a monstrous thing. Invincible. Evil. 

Without thinking, she walks to Ernesto’s Dodge Durango. Her heart races as she draws nearer. She stands in front of the shiny car and recalls all those conversations about dolphins. Ernesto explaining so much. Ernesto and his stupid car.

Rosa pulls out her house keys and calmly drags the jagged metal across the shiny exterior of the car. The screeching noise the keys make against the surface soothes her. Rosa sees her reflection in the immaculately gleaming black car, now distorted by the newly formed scratches. She’s a grinning, fearless clown. 

There is a click behind her. She quickly turns. A boy is taking pictures of her with his phone. 

Click. He snaps another. 

“Cool,” the boy says. 

Rosa steps toward him. The boy jumps back a bit from fright and starts laughing. Then he runs away. Afraid, she hurries back inside the Halloween Club and heads straight to the bathroom, past Lisa, who has her back turned. Rosa’s hands shake as she takes off the costume and makes sure it fits neatly back into its plastic bag. 

She walks quickly to the aisle where the Pennywise costume goes, her heart about to burst, but right before she returns it to its display shelf, she changes her mind. Rosa heads to the back of the store, finds where she keeps her backpack, and shoves the costume inside of it instead.


* * *


Rosa swore it was going to be a one-time thing. But the next day, she finds herself in front of the gym where Ernesto works out. A few days later, she stands in front of his apartment complex. Rosa makes sure always to keep her distance. When Ernesto spots her lurking in her costume, she simply disappears before he can reach her. But she gets close enough to see his face grow red with anger. Strangers on the street see Rosa and laugh or scream. For the first time in a long time, she feels a sense of control. 

It’s Sunday, and Rosa has the day off. To avoid the deafening silence in her house, she takes the long walk to the Home Depot to eat from the food truck parked in front. Her mother hasn’t made lunch or dinner in a long time. She is used to fending for herself. Her costume is in her backpack. It makes her feel strong. 

A group of kids sits at the picnic table next to Rosa.

“Did you hear about the clown?” a girl with blue hair asks her friends. Rosa pulls her backpack to her chest and leans in to listen. “Some guy is dressing up like It and popping up in random places. It’s the scariest shit ever.”

The girl’s friends gather around her cell phone to see the Instagram posts made by others. 

“I would die if I saw that thing walking around,” one of the girls says. 

“You know he does it for kicks,” a boy says. “Like sexual stuff. He probably gets off on it.” 

They all laugh. 

Rosa smiles to herself. On Instagram, she scrolls through the pictures of Pennywise. Pennywise by the highway. Pennywise in front of the Laundromat. Pennywise in front of the gym. The hashtag reads #MontebelloIT. It’s her but not her. 


* * *


Rosa is sitting outside eating her plain sandwich when she hears his voice. Ernesto leads his coworker by her elbow. The girl can barely walk in her towering heels. She is older than Rosa, but not by much. 

“You’re going to love El Zarape,” Ernesto says to the girl. 

Rosa stares at them, but Ernesto doesn’t acknowledge her. Not once. Not even a little bit. 

When Ernesto first took Rosa to the same restaurant, he went over every single food on the menu, explaining the dishes as if he were on the Food Network. She was so impressed. She remembers how he corrected her pronunciation of certain Spanish words, making her repeat them until she got them right. And later, when he yanked at her hair after doing his thing in the back seat, she replayed the moment over and over in her head while caressing her bruised lips. Rosa convinced herself that she liked when he pulled her hair, but she didn’t. So many ways she lied to herself.

Rosa doesn’t have much money, but she orders the Lyft anyway. 

The store is empty, as it always is. Lisa doesn’t care that Rosa has “an emergency.” Rosa grabs her bag with the clown costume. Inside the Lyft, she dresses in the outfit. Her driver doesn’t bat an eye. She waits until he parks in front of the restaurant to place the mask over her head.  

Rosa stands in front of the restaurant. Through the tall glass windows of El Zarape, she can see that Ernesto is ordering, then using his hands to explain some elaborate joke or something. Rosa doesn’t move. She stands very still, watching him reenact the things he did with her. 

Inside the restaurant, a little girl screams. Everyone inside the restaurant can see Rosa. No, they see It, the demented clown. Rosa is no longer the shy girl who fell for Ernesto’s sweet words. She’s a demon. This is the dimension her mother is afraid to enter. Behind her mask, Rosa laughs. 

“Enough.” Ernesto mouths this word as he stands up. Or Rosa thinks he does. He takes a step toward the door separating them. She should run, take off her mask and make a break for it before he reaches her, but she doesn’t. The costume feels like a weapon, a shield protecting her from this man who now runs toward her, cursing.  

“You think you can fuck with me?” He’s outside now, grabbing her collar like he’s about to punch her. He doesn’t know it’s her, and this both scares her and gives her such a rush. She is It. She is here to torment him. This close, Rosa can see how Ernesto’s suit has a stain on it. How his teeth are yellow and crooked. This is the guy who made her feel whole? This guy? He’s nothing, and she can finally see it. She doesn’t need to hide. Not now. 

Rosa pulls off her mask. Ernesto’s face falls, and he lets go of her. There is a crowd of people around her, faces gathered on the other side of El Zarape’s glass window, waiting to see what will happen next. Everyone holds their breath. So many eyes on her. You think you can fuck with me?

Rosa tilts her chin up and drops the mask by Ernesto’s feet. 

“Yes,” she quietly says and walks away.

{ Edited by Alexa Wejko. }