Art by Rachel Hyvonen. Story by Helen Stadelmaier. 


By Rachel Hyvonen


Water Bottles  

By Helen Stadelmaier

The air gets sticky and you can no longer walk to your bus stop without breaking a sweat. You go to Wal-Mart and buy a new water bottle and fill it up from the fountain there.  A few days later, you put the bottle in your backpack and it leaks all over. Your pristine assignment planner is ruined and so is that book you were reading about some poor, white bastard who hates his wife. You’re disappointed about the book, but you probably weren’t going to finish it anyway.

You return to Wal-Mart and buy a new planner and a second water bottle. This one has a lid that promises no leakage whatsoever or your money back. You don’t remember it, but the last one said that too. The girl at the checkout counter is unusually attractive for a Wal-Mart employee. Her name is Ana. AH-nuh. She has purple hair that falls to her shoulders; she wears it half-up,half-down.

You fill up your water bottle the next day. You add some ice  because the weather report declared it the hottest day of the year. When you go outside, the moisture in the air condenses all over the sides of the water bottle. You try wiping it off with a napkin, but it disintegrates. Disappointed, you ball up the napkin in your fist.

You can’t live with this condensation, so you return to Wal-Mart. You buy a water bottle with two layers of insulation so that your water is sure to stay cold and the bottle will not sweat. The bottle also has a secure lid. You have learned from your mistakes.

Ana looks you in the eye at the checkout counter as if she wants to make some comment about your purchase but can’t think of the right thing to say. You think her shyness is charming, so you tell her she has nice hair. She says thanks. You can immediately tell she is bored of this compliment, and you feel ashamed at your lack of originality.

You leave the water bottle sitting on the desk of your first class of the day. When you go back, someone has taken it. It didn’t have a hook so it was inconvenient to carry around. You see Ana as you enter Wal-Mart. You go to the sporting goods section to find a bottle with a hook. Ana looks at the price tag  as she’s checking you out. You have spent almost $80 on water bottles this month alone. You start to feel self-conscious but also a bit confident in your financial status. You ask Ana a personal question. Ana answers in the cute, clever way that only a girl with purple hair could. You joke that you will see her next time you need to buy a water bottle.

Next time turns out to be next week. You start to get frustrated with the lid you have to screw on and off in order to  drink. You work up the courage to ask Ana for her number at the checkout. She laughs nervously, looks around to make sure her manager isn’t watching, and hands you her phone to put your number in. She texts you later that night and asks you to coffee.

The barista notices you carrying your water bottle and  asks you if you would like your coffee in a personal cup. Sure, why not! Save a few trees. You hand her the bottle  and she examines it. “I don’t think I can pour hot liquid in here,” she says.

Sure enough, on the bottom of the bottle, it says “Not for use with hot beverages.” You make a mental note to return to Wal-Mart and get one that can handle  hot and cold drinks. The caffeine gets you wired, and you tap your foot throughout the coffee date, fantasizing about which water bottle you will buy next.

You ask Ana to hang out again as she rings up your heatproof water bottle, along with some other odds and ends. You know, Ana reminds you, they’re all imperfect. You will never find the perfect water bottle, and you know that in the place that’s buried behind your heart and above your stomach.

Still, you buy the insulated bottle, and you buy Ana dinner later that night. Ana makes fun of you for keeping your water bottle on the table but you insist that you need to stay hydrated at all times. She gets it, she really does. She has so many make-up bags. She puts everything in them: bobby pins, pens, cards, notepads, photos. Her house is practically stacked with them or so she claims.

You come to find that Ana’s house is not stacked with make-up bags, but you do notice a few underneath her bathroom sink. You look around her apartment and realize it’s not the apartment of a girl with purple hair. It’s the messy apartment of a person who does not have money to decorate. Ana puts on a documentary about food tourism, and you have no fun at all. You continue to see her.

A few weeks later, the drain in your shower is clogged so you go to Wal-Mart to buy a tool to clean it out. You find a wad of purple hair. You would have thought this was cute when you met her, but now the drainage disturbance becomes grounds for terminating the relationship. When she walks out of your house after you tell her it’s over, you start to strategize how to start shopping at the other Walmart across town.

After Ana leaves that night, you find the plastic bag with the wad of her hair in your trash can and you take out the hair and feel it. It’s soft and a bit spongy. You also find that she left a t-shirt at your place, but you hold onto it. You decide as you’re falling asleep that you should probably hit the gym the next day. You forget to bring your water bottle, so you buy one out of the vending machine. For three months, you fill and refill this plastic bottle, until it gets worn around the edges and you drop it in the dirt.•

Helen is our creative writing editor and she urges you to read Prairie, our arts and literary journal. She has a lot of feelings about bagels. You can read more about it here.