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Glory obriens history of.., p.10
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       Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.10

           A. S. King
 
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  “You’ll miss the cake at midnight!”

  “I know. It’s cool. I’m tired.”

  “See you tomorrow?” she said. Then she whispered, “Mall?”

  I gave her the thumbs-up and walked away from the commune.

  I went straight into the darkroom and grabbed Why People Take Pictures and I opened it to Bill’s picture and I stared at it. Then I flipped through it and I found a self-portrait of Darla. It was a Polaroid—cyan highlights, a warm skin tone underneath, shiny and flat—making Darla two-dimensional and ethereal. She looked into the camera in a way that wasn’t all there. She stared out at me as if to give me a clue. I wasn’t all there. It wasn’t any one thing. It was everything. Because I wasn’t all there.

  This was a guess. I wasn’t getting transmissions from pictures the way I could get them from living people. But my gut told me I was probably right. She wasn’t all there. I didn’t know if this meant I was off the hook or not. Was I immune to not all there or was it coming, out of the blue, like it did for her?

  I looked at myself in the reflective black surface of the splashback behind the sink. I looked back at Bill, the man with no head. I flipped to the picture of Darla.

  Transmission from Dead Darla: N/A

  Transmission from Bill: N/A

  Transmission from me: N/A

  Looking at Bill freaked me out. There were weirdos who looked at pictures like that on the Internet. I didn’t want to be like them. It seemed disrespectful. Maybe Bill had a family. He had to have had a family. Everyone has to come from somewhere, right?

  I closed Why People Take Pictures and opened one of Darla’s other sketchbooks. None of the others had titles. Just numbers. I opened #3 of five.

  The first picture was a picture of me. I was a tiny baby. I’d never seen it before and it made me inhale quickly and exhale slowly. It made me afraid to turn the page, but I turned the page anyway.

  The next ten pages were pictures of tiny-baby me, too. A few of me with Dad, who looked so young and, frankly, scuzzy. There was one of me asleep on Darla’s chest. She had her eyes closed and was smiling. I stared at the picture for a while, but couldn’t figure out what I felt. It was a mix.

  On the last page of the series, Darla wrote a poem.

  I might buy a glistening crystal ball

  and lay it down before you.

  Roll it between us, and teach you

  that the future is round.

  And upon shattering it, show you

  it is as vast as the shards that

  surround us, as sharp as teeth

  in living traps.

  I will startle you with warnings,

  scold you with expectations,

  and not confine you to my limits,

  but our limits.

  Cells made of cells made of cells,

  we are a chain of fierce knitting,

  a patchwork of relation that

  does not fray.

  I shall buy a pouch made of leather

  and pass it on to you, delicately,

  filled with my dust.

  Then I will tell you a story.

  Underneath the poem, she signed her name. Darla O’Brien. I read the poem about five times. I liked it, but it was morbid or something. Plus, if she thought she’d done anything delicately, she was wrong.

  After the poem, there were pictures I already knew—a series of rocks—the same rocks that were upstairs on the living room wall that bored me. Her fascination with rocks was weird. She filled at least forty pages of book #3 with small prints and sketches of them with one repeating question.

  What makes a rock a rock?

  I took #3 to my room and looked through it as I lay in bed. There were a few pages of chemistry information, but mostly it was more pictures of me and Dad (Roy After a Day in the Garden was my favorite) and then more rocks. The rocks made me tired. I fell asleep with one question on my mind.

  What makes a rock a rock?

  How stuck I felt

  I woke just before dawn. I ignored the lying mourning dove.

  Before I went downstairs, I looked at my fifty-thousand-dollar check. I could have hopped on a plane to Borneo that day. I could have bought a flashy car or less knobby knees or something. I could have bought an electric oven so I could learn how to bake brownies and broil flounder.

  I had no idea what I would do with the money, though, so I sat down and wrote a new entry in The History of the Future.

  I pieced together everything I saw. I drew a timeline. But I didn’t write about what I was thinking. I didn’t write about how I wanted to take the commune back from Jasmine Blue because I didn’t think she deserved it. I didn’t write about Ellie and how stuck I felt.

  This book was supposed to serve as a record of how I went crazy. In case… you know. What makes a rock a rock? So I wrote all the visions down, and the details about the laws, the armies, the exiles. I didn’t write about how I couldn’t see my future when I looked at my father. Just a past. I tried to ignore that, even though the longer I ignored it, the more I noticed it.

  When I was done, I went down to the darkroom and returned Darla’s sketchbook #3 to the shelf and pried Why People Take Pictures from behind the cabinet. I opened it to where I’d left it the night before.

  Bill is following me. He still doesn’t have a head.

  He is telling me something important. He is telling me that there are three of me. I am me. No one special. I am Roy’s wife. I am Gloria’s mother.

  It is like juggling.

  Sometimes I want to drop all the balls and rest my arms. Sometimes I want to stay in this darkroom and sleep until I know which one of me I really am.

  I have no idea what I’m doing.

  I have no idea what I’m doing.

  Underneath this was a sketch. It was hard to make out what the sketch was, but when I squinted at it long enough, I saw it. It was a sketch Darla made of herself, but with Bill’s head. Or, more accurately, with no head. When the image firmed up and I saw what it was, I turned away. I closed the book.

  I opened my sketchbook and I replied to her, minus the morbid sketch. I have no idea what I’m doing either. I am not juggling anything and I am juggling everything. I can see the whole world’s future, but I can’t see my own. I can see the whole world’s past, but I can’t see yours.

  And then I cried—maybe the first real cry I’d had since I was a child. There were so many tears, I was caught off guard. How could there be that many tears stored inside one person?

  I remembered crying when I was at school—the times when kids or teachers asked me about my mother. They didn’t know any better. They were just normal people with normal lives. Can we call your mom to pick you up? Can your mom make us something for the end-of-the-year class party? How come your mom doesn’t volunteer like my mom does? Does she travel a lot?

  It’s hard to understand. I knew that. I was surrounded by people who never had to think about morbid things like I lived with every single day. They never seemed to know how lucky they were.

  I cried about the darkroom. I wished I had someone—anyone—to hand me a tissue or find something smart to say. And yet, I’d made sure there was no one. This made me cry harder.

  I heard Ed Heffner in my head. I heard him tell me how smart Darla was.

  I wanted to believe it so much.

  But if she was so smart, then why didn’t she see? Why didn’t she see what she was doing? Why didn’t she understand that one day, I’d be in tenth grade, trying to make friends with the new girl in my class, who would say, “You’re so lucky you don’t have a mother, Glory. Mine is such a bitch.”

  Why didn’t she understand that once she was gone, Jasmine Blue Heffner would be the only female role model on our road?

  Why didn’t she understand how lonely Dad would be without her?

  I looked back at Bill and I knew the truth. Suicide isn’t something people do to hurt other people. It’s something people do to release themselves from pain.
>
  My crying lasted an impossible amount of time. It went on forever.

  Once forever passed, I found a roll of paper towels and cleaned myself up. I didn’t want Dad to see I was upset.

  The story of my life. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I knew he had that many tears stored up, too. If we both started, maybe we wouldn’t ever stop.

  I noticed my shirt was wet from crying, so I went upstairs to change and I saw the check again. I thought driving to the bank would be a good thing to do. Clear my mind. Maybe even figure out what to do with fifty thousand dollars. So I drove to the bank.

  The bank manager was called over because of the amount. Apparently, fifty large makes bank managers anxious. They all fluttered around behind the bulletproof window like chickens locked in a small pen with a hungry rat. Eventually, the steel drawer extended with my receipt and the teller asked me if I needed anything else.

  What else could I need?

  When I was done at the bank, I drove around. I drove around the neighborhoods. I drove around the old community swimming pool that’s overgrown and never open anymore. I drove to the high school and around the empty back parking lot. And then I found the perfect thing to photograph—the empty graduation platform. No one had broken it down yet. It was just 350 empty chairs and an empty stage with empty steps and empty bleachers and an empty sky and an empty podium.

  Day one, post–graduation from high school: This was the first day of the rest of my life. And it was empty, just like everything else. Zone 10 was in the shiny reflection off the white stage awning. Zone 0 was in the shadows beneath the makeshift handicapped ramp and the chairs.

  I metered the scene and took a roll of pictures. I titled them in my head. Empty Chairs. Empty Stage. Nobody’s Talking at the Podium. When I was done, I walked to the away bleachers where Ellie had been the day before. I looked for her graffiti.

  Free yourself. Have the courage. WHO IS THE PETRIFIED BAT? That was in all caps. WHO IS THE PETRIFIED BAT? I sat on the dewy-damp concrete and asked myself. Who is the petrified bat? Then I pulled a black Sharpie marker from my purse and answered. I wrote: I Am the Petrified Bat. I wrote it ten times, in ten different ways. I took pictures of each one and went home.

  When I looked at my negatives once I’d developed them and hung them to dry, I saw each angle as a point of view. That was what a picture was, wasn’t it? A point of view? If you took a picture of a glass from above, it would look mostly empty. If you took it from below, it would look half full. A clichéd example, but you understand. Everything we see is based on where we’re standing when we see it.

  Maybe my mother went crazy. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was really being followed by Bill, the man with no head. Maybe Bill existed. Maybe Bill didn’t exist. Maybe he existed just for her, as a message from somewhere else. From over there. Or from down there. Or from up there. Maybe it all depended on your point of view.

  Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

  Nedrick the Sanctimonious will come from an unconventional place. He will not be born to wealthy parents. He will not be a politician. He will not even go to college. He will be an electrician—and not a very good one. His friends will call him Ned.

  It will take a year for the Second Civil War to start, but Nedrick will have every intention of war as he begins his K-Duty Club. He will gather his friends after closing time at their local bar and they will travel forty-five miles to cross the border into Old America. They will steal girls.

  Some nights they will steal as many as ten. Some nights they may only find one or two. They won’t discriminate. They will steal a white girl as fast as they’ll steal a black girl, though they will prefer young teenagers because they will be the easiest to sell. I’m not sure who they sell them to. I can only see that they drive home with wads of cash in their pockets.

  Nedrick the Sanctimonious will love to talk about the Family Protection Act and the Fathers Count Law. He himself will be free of a ten-year-old forty-five-thousand-dollar child support bill thanks to the latter. He will be a natural speaker with an ego so large, he will say aloud that he is the smartest man in the world. He will name himself Nedrick the Sanctimonious.

  He will not figure out that he is the biggest moronic dipshit of all.

  Ellie didn’t give a shit about chlorofluorocarbons

  “Are we still going to the mall or what?” Ellie asked.

  Dad had let her in and into the basement, but the minute I’d heard the basement door open, I hid Why People Take Pictures and left the darkroom because I didn’t want her in there. I didn’t want her near any of it. My pictures. Darla’s pictures. Pictures of Jasmine Blue, her naked mother. I walked her up and into the living room.

  I saw Ellie looking at Dad and I could see she was seeing his infinity and I wondered if she saw any future. I wanted him to have a future. I wanted me to have a future. I hoped she would be honest with me even though I hadn’t been honest with her. I wanted to know if my grandsons would be part of the machine. I wanted to know if my granddaughters would be stolen. I wanted to know everything… if there was anything. I was so tired of empty.

  We got into the car.

  “What did you see when you looked at my dad?” I asked.

  She shrugged. “Something about his feet. How he has his mother’s feet.”

  I wanted to ask her about his future. Maybe grandkids. Maybe great-grandkids. I didn’t say anything, though, and just drove toward the mall.

  “Can we stop at a coffee place?” Ellie asked me.

  I pulled into a Dunkin’ Donuts and lined up in the drive-thru. She ordered something fancy. I ordered a bottle of water.

  “So, this war,” she said as we waited. “It’s going to affect our grandkids. And it’s going to be what? I can’t get it. Girls are stolen? For what?”

  “I think the usual girls-in-war stuff. I’ve seen them being sold.”

  “Like prostitution?” she asked. “Doesn’t seem logical.”

  We pulled to the window and I paid because I knew Ellie didn’t have money. She slurped her coffee drink as we drove around the winding road to the mall.

  “I mean, if they sell all the girls, then who’s left to make new people?” she asked.

  “Good point,” I said. “They call it K-Duty. They don’t always steal girls. Some just hunt and kill people. They call it the machine.”

  “That’s creepy,” she said.

  “Yeah,” I said. “The whole idea of another civil war is creepy if you ask me.”

  “I don’t get it,” she said. “How can we divide over anything anymore? It’s not like we still have slavery, right?”

  “I don’t know,” I said. “I think it has something to do with politics.”

  I don’t know why I didn’t tell Ellie about some of the things I knew. I saved the facts for the book because sometimes, certain people don’t want to hear stuff like that. Ellie didn’t believe women had any farther to go, right? So if I’d told her about the Fathers Count Law or any of that, she probably would have thought I was making it up out of my own agenda.

  We sat in a parking space for a minute with the AC cranked because Ellie didn’t give a shit about chlorofluorocarbons—not when she was away from Jasmine Blue, anyway. A college-aged kid pulled into the space next to us. We both looked at him and he looked back at us.

  Transmission from the college kid in the mall parking lot: His distant descendant will be a leading Godcaster in the twenty-seventh century. His broadcasts will be seen by ten billion people a day. His charity will collect over fifty trillion dollars in the name of Christianity. He will go to jail because he will steal several billion dollars of this money in order to pay for his addiction to sports cars. He will be euthanized at the start of the Third Intergalactic War because he will be over fifty years of age. His four hundred sports cars will be discovered in an enormous barn on Earth in Western Kentucky.

  The twenty-seventh century. Wow. And still… more war.

  “What did you
see?” I asked Ellie.

  “His grandfather insisted on using the same fork and napkin ring at every meal. He’d travel with the fork and napkin ring. They didn’t even match. But he insisted, so until he died, he ate with the same fork and rolled his napkin in the same ring.”

  “Wow.”

  “You?”

  I told her what I’d seen about the kid’s crazy descendant in the twenty-seventh century.

  She said, “I wonder why we get such different versions.”

  “Dunno,” I answered, knowing it was just like earlier in the darkroom. It all depended on where we were standing, right?

  We got out of the car and stepped into a humid Pennsylvania day. As we walked through the parking lot she asked, “What were you doing in your basement today?”

  “Just some work in the darkroom.”

  “Huh. I didn’t know you were into that.”

  “I have a summer project I want to do,” I said. “Nothing formal. I just always wanted to get into printing, you know?”

  “That’s cool,” she said. “I bet that’s cool for your dad, right?”

  I shrugged. “He seems weird about it,” I said. “I look like her, you know?”

  She nodded as we walked through the double doors into the mall. “You do. I’ve seen pictures.”

  Oh, Ellie. And you look like your mom, too.

  As we walked to the food court, where Ellie vowed to eat the most processed and disgusting food she could find, which wouldn’t be hard, she said, “Do you really think Rick gave me those… the Jupiterians?”

  I said, at the same time, “Did you see anything in my dad’s future when you looked at him before we left?”

  We looked at each other and laughed. I don’t know why I was laughing. I was stuck in a mall with Ellie, who was so self-centered that she only ever wanted to talk about her own pubic lice.

 
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