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I crawl through it, p.10
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       I Crawl Through It, p.10

           A. S. King
 
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  Stanzi—Thursday—Hikers Lost

  IN THE PLACE OF ARRIVALS

  Patricia takes us to her house. It’s a tree house. A real house in the trees. Inside the tree house, there are three pianos.

  A man greets us, and Patricia introduces him as Gary. Gustav doesn’t say anything. I tell Gary that my name is Stanzi and that he has curious bone structure.

  “Curious how?”

  “Your mandible is displaced,” I say. “Did you never notice that?”

  Patricia looks somehow pleased that I have said this. The man, Gary, seems annoyed.

  Gustav asks, “Do you have any food?”

  Patricia speaks before Gustav can say any more. “They were hiking. Got lost. How long did you two say you’ve been walking around hungry?”

  I can see Gustav processing, but slowly. I say, “Almost three days. Lost the trail and then I swear we went in circles for two days.” I don’t know why I’m lying.

  “We didn’t,” Gustav snaps. “I knew where I was going.” I don’t know why Gustav is lying, either.

  “Well then how did we end up here?” I ask.

  I’m impressed by our acting skills. A physicist and a biologist.

  “You’re just impatient,” he says. He smiles slightly when Gary isn’t looking. Gustav knows I avoid confrontation. Gustav probably knows everything, but we never talk about it.

  “I was hungry, Gustav. My sister must be worried sick!” I look at Patricia and Gary. “Do you have a phone I could use to tell her we’re okay?”

  Gary hasn’t smiled yet. He says, “There are no phones.”

  “Oh,” I say.

  Gustav looks like he’s about to say something real when his actor says, “Where are we?”

  Gary takes Patricia by the arm and leads her into another room of the tree house and closes the door. I look at Gustav and smile. He says, “He doesn’t like us.”

  “I don’t think he likes anyone.”

  “I expected a real welcome,” he says. “I didn’t think we’d have to lie.”

  “I don’t like lying,” I say.

  “She said they’d destroy it. I just spent nine months building it. They can’t destroy it. Why would they destroy it?”

  “I don’t know,” I say.

  “She seems nervous. Too nervous,” Gustav says. “So far, this doesn’t seem like a hotbed of genius.” He’s shaking a little.

  “Are you nervous?” I ask.

  “I’m hungry,” Gustav answers. “I need fuel.”

  “There are no departures,” I say. “That’s what the bush man told me. He said, There are no departures, but I left and look at what happened to me.”

  “He’s dramatic,” Gustav explains. “Remember the lemonade?”

  “But he wasn’t being dramatic. It’s written on the map.”

  “Join us for brunch!” Gary says, exploding from the door, grinning. Patricia walks behind him and looks as if he stole her smile and took it for himself. She is expressionless, though anyone with a heart can see she’s afraid.

  “Thank you!” Gustav says. I believe this is the first time I’ve ever heard Gustav use a vocal exclamation point. “Will anyone at brunch have a phone? Stanzi should really call her sister.”

  I put on my actor’s face. My worried-and-need-to-call-my-sister face.

  It’s at this moment I feel inexplicably happy.

  I’m not gathered around the holly bush talking about dominant and recessive genes. I’m not drawing any Punnett squares. I’m not trying to explain to the class the magic of transcription and translation of DNA so they can better prepare for the tests.

  I don’t even miss it.

  In two days of flying I forgot about it completely, as if it never existed.

  I like this better, whatever it is. Whatever it isn’t.

  The Interviews II—Thursday

  The man and the cameraman wake up in their adjoining hotel rooms and are relieved that the earthquake has stopped. The hotel restaurant is empty for breakfast service. The man orders an English muffin, and when it comes out sliced and not fork-split, he has a fit the size of Saskatchewan.

  Interview #1 Rosemary P. Hatfield (Health III)

  The man notes how long her legs are and wonders where she gets pants that fit. She notes that he has really annoying hair and wants to ask how much hair product he had to put in it to make it look that way.

  “Do you know anything about the helicopter?” the man starts.

  “Helicopter?” she says. “You’re in the right wing, but physics is up the hall a few doors.”

  The man notices a poster on the wall. The poster says: 40% OF PREGNANCIES ARE UNPLANNED.

  Rosemary sees him reading it and says, “More and more of my students get pregnant and have no fucking idea how it happened.”

  “Um,” the man says. He gestures toward the recording camera.

  “What? Oh. I said fuck, didn’t I? Shit. I forgot.”

  “It’s just FCC policy. Do you want to start over?”

  “Can’t you just bleep it out?”

  “I guess. I just thought—uh—that you might want to seem more—uh…”

  He indicates for her to continue. She looks back at the poster.

  “I have this one board member. Never had kids. Says he knows about the kids of today; suggests I teach about abstinence only. Blow his ass up.

  “I have the gaggle of overprotective parents who refuse to let their kids watch the childbirth video. Blow their asses up.

  “I have a math teacher who says it’s not my place to teach kids how to stay safe from sexually transmitted diseases. Whose job is it? Hers? Because their parents sure as hell aren’t teaching them shit. Blow them all up.

  “Do you think I went to college thinking I’d need to be armed to teach kids about herpes?” she asks. “If I wanted to shoot bad guys, I’d have been a cop.”

  The man motions to the cameraman to keep rolling.

  She says, “My dad was a cop. He was made of glass.”

  She says, “Best people in the world are made of glass. You can see right through glass. You can trust it.”

  She stops talking and goes to her desk drawer and grabs her purse.

  She points to the clock. “You guys ready for the drill?”

  The man and the cameraman shrug.

  “Here it comes.”

  The alarm sounds. The students file out. The teachers file out, lessons in hand, ready to teach outdoors if they have to. As the man and the cameraman walk past the office on their way out the door, the cameraman turns and walks backward, camera rolling, and captures the dogs and the police entering the building.

  The principal is the last one to leave. She is the captain of the ship. She says, “How will I ever achieve anything?”

  Interview #2 Lansdale Cruise

  “You again,” she says.

  “I wondered if you could explain what you know about the helicopter,” the man says.

  “I know a lot about the helicopter.”

  “Great.”

  “How old are you?” she asks.

  The man says he’s thirty-nine.

  “Does that mean you’re forty-five, or are you really thirty-nine?”

  “I can show you my ID if you want,” he offers.

  The cameraman says “Jesus Christ” under his breath.

  Lansdale Cruise says, “You’re kinda cute. You married?”

  “Nope.”

  “Thirty-nine?”

  “Can we get back to the helicopter, please?” the cameraman says.

  “Sure,” Lansdale says. “What about it?”

  “Was it real?”

  “Didn’t it fly them out of here?” she says.

  “Did it? Are you sure they didn’t just hop on a bus or a train or something?”

  “They flew in the helicopter. Gustav built it. It took him many months.”

  “And could you see it?” the man asks.

  “Yes. Every day of the week.”

  “
Does that mean no?”

  “Can I say on the record that my latest stepmother is a lying bitch and I hate her? If I say that, will it get on air?”

  “Probably not.”

  “I guess it’s a bit off-subject,” she says.

  “So you couldn’t see the helicopter?”

  “Why are you so hung up on the damn helicopter?” Lansdale asks.

  “We’re trying to figure out where the missing kids are.”

  “The missing kids are fine. Gustav knows what to do. Have you interviewed the bush man yet? He’d be the guy to ask.”

  “Really? I didn’t think he was real.”

  “When you find him, make sure you ask him for his special lemonade. It’s delicious,” Lansdale says.

  Then she walks away.

  Interview #3 Random male student in parking lot

  The man says, “Do you know where I can find the bush man?”

  The student says, “What are you talking about?”

  “What do you think about the helicopter?”

  The student, who is getting into his car, replies, “The helicopter is the only way out.”

  Interview #4 China Knowles

  China is still inside out. She is no longer a tongue. She is now an anus. These are never China’s best moments. People are very uncomfortable about anuses, and yet everybody has one. It’s complicated.

  “Do you know where I can find the bush man?” the man asks.

  China/anus nods.

  “Can you show us?”

  The anus contracts and runs away on China’s legs. The man and the cameraman try to keep up, but they soon realize that China Knowles is not taking them to the bush man but is running away from them.

  Interview #5 Stanzi’s parents

  “We have to be somewhere before five,” the father says.

  “I won’t keep you long. Can we come in?”

  The mother answers. “No.”

  “Okay.”

  “Are you worried about your daughter?”

  The two of them stare at him. They look unstable. “Which one?” the mother asks.

  “You have another daughter?”

  “Yes.”

  “We didn’t know that.”

  “Well then, you’re a very lazy reporter.”

  The father starts to cry. The cameraman zooms in on this.

  “We have to be somewhere,” the mother says, and pushes the camera out of the way, and they walk hand in hand down the sidewalk.

  The man is sweating. The cameraman films a bead of sweat dripping from the man’s forehead down his cheek and his neck.

  Interview #6 Chick’s Bar

  The man and the cameraman walk into a bar. All the people in the bar climb under their tables. Those on stools somersault over the bar and hide behind it. Nobody moves until the two men are gone.

  Interview #7 Gustav’s father

  “I don’t know this bush man.”

  “He makes lemonade?”

  Gustav’s father looks perplexed and then enlightened. “You’re talking about Kenneth!”

  “His name is Kenneth?”

  “Kenneth has been to where Gustav and Stanzi are!”

  “Stanzi? We heard her name was ____________.”

  “We call her Stanzi. She calls herself Stanzi.”

  The man nods at this.

  Gustav’s father says, “We’re very proud.”

  “Proud?”

  Gustav’s father asks, “Why wouldn’t we be proud? Our boy built a helicopter. A helicopter! Do you have any kids?”

  “No.”

  “Then you wouldn’t understand.”

  “Can you point us toward this Kenneth?” the man asks.

  “He’s very private.”

  “I’m sure he won’t mind. He’ll be on national TV.”

  “He hates the television,” Gustav’s father says.

  “Can you give me his last name?”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Does he live nearby?”

  “Can you go now?” Gustav’s father asks. “You’re taking up too much space.”

  “I’m taking up too much space?”

  “Yes. Go away.”

  Gustav’s father closes the door gently in the man’s face.

  The man looks at the cameraman and mouths the word asshole. When the man turns his back on the cameraman, the cameraman mouths the word asshole. Then he says, “How about we knock on some doors and ask where Kenneth lives?”

  The man says, “I don’t do that shit anymore. I’m national. Stories come to me, not the other way around.”

  China Knowles—Thursday Night—Fire Pit

  I am China, the girl who swallowed herself, and I’d like to turn myself right side out again before I see Shane. I want him to see my skin. My eyes. My hair. I don’t think I have particularly nice skin, eyes, or hair, but he might think so.

  Maybe if he thinks so, I will, too.

  Like a mirror.

  People can be mirrors for other people. It happens all the time. Probably more than it should.

  Burning my journal was fun, and I look around my room for anything else I should burn before I leave. I look through my desk drawers and my closet. I only find a stuffed monkey that Dad bought me when I was seven and he’d been on a business trip to San Diego. He showed me a lot of pictures from the zoo there.

  It wasn’t the same as going there with him.

  I decide to burn the monkey, even though I have no particular animosity toward it.

  Before I leave my room to go downstairs to light the monkey on fire, I see the one last reminder of the night that changed everything. The sweater. The sweater that he unbuttoned slowly at first, until I asked him to stop. The sweater missing its bottom three buttons. The sweater that has a tear in the last buttonhole. The sweater that acted like my mother’s handcuffs.

  It was my favorite sweater.

  Mom found it in my trash can on trash day—a Friday—three days later—and told me that it cost her and Dad too much to just throw it away.

  “You always loved it,” she said.

  “I don’t want it anymore,” I’d answered.

  “Well… you don’t just—I mean—I…”

  Before she could see the missing buttons, I pulled it from the trash can and balled it up in my arms. “Forget it,” I said. “I guess I do want it.”

  As I take it down the steps, I wonder what silk smells like when it’s on fire. I look at the monkey’s head, peering out from under my right arm, and I wonder what crazy chemicals will come out of it. For a minute I think about dressing the monkey in the sweater and then decide that the monkey should burn without shame. If nothing else, it’s a good cover for my burning the perfect sweater in case Mom catches me. When I get to the living room, I decide that the fireplace is too small.

  It’s a cloudless night. I can see at least forty stars—even with our development’s streetlight system. I can hear the music from Chick’s Bar a block away. I can imagine adults there, bitching about their jobs and saying things like Thursday is the new Friday.

  As I place the sweater and the monkey in the copper patio fire pit, there is a scream. It’s a scream like someone has discovered a dead body. It’s a scream like someone won the lottery. It’s both kinds of scream.

  It’s coming from my basement.

  I ignore it and I take a lighter to the monkey’s tail and watch it burn.

  Within seconds, I’m regretful about the monkey. Dad never meant to hurt me with those pictures and his stories about the zoo. I feel like a spoiled brat.

  But as the sweater burns, I remember what a spoiled brat looks like.

  What a Spoiled Brat Looks Like

  The weatherman

  makes weather, kneads

  weather like a baker

  kneads bread.

  Once it’s baked

  it’s no surprise

  when he says

  “Look! Bread!”

  The weather he makes


  is not good weather

  for a picnic

  or a ball game.

  The weather he makes

  is best for

  staying indoors

  and

  staying quiet.

  On his map it says

  you were too ugly anyway.

  On his map it says

  you don’t even have

  a nice body.

  On his map it says

  I never liked you

  and you smell weird.

  Why are you crying?

  I don’t cry when I watch the sweater burn. Or I do cry, but they are tears of relief. Shane knows these tears. We have cried them together. When we meet, we clutch each other like fledglings and we tweet out soft sobs about our spoiled brats.

  Shane’s spoiled brat is a man old enough to be his father.

  Shane’s spoiled brat is in jail.

  Mine is not.

  Irenic Brown asked me, when I was a rectum maybe four weeks ago as we passed in the hallway at school, why I hadn’t killed myself yet. I didn’t have an answer for him, and I don’t have one now.

  There’s another scream. This time it’s from behind me on the deck.

  “What are you doing?” Mom screeches.

  “I’m burning something,” I say.

  She squints into the fire pit. “Is that the monkey?”

  “Yes.”

  She looks perplexed. She is wearing her latex bodysuit with chains and hooks. If I was normal I’d look perplexed, too.

  “Do you need to talk about anything?” she asks.

  “No.”

  “Your hair looks pretty,” she says.

  “Thanks.”

  “Okay,” she says, as if she suddenly realizes that she’s standing in plain sight on her development deck wearing nothing but a latex bodysuit. “I guess I’d better get back.”

  “I’m going to bed,” I say.

  “Good night.”

  “Good night.”

  When I get back to my room, I unpack the curling iron from my backpack and I pull out my phone. I set it so my ID is blocked.

 
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