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Glory obriens history of.., p.13
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       Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.13

           A. S. King
 
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  I fit in here. In my house. In my family, which was just me and Dad since I was four. I didn’t think I’d ever fit in anywhere else. Ever. When I looked at Dad, I realized he felt the exact same way. We were mad at the world, and this was the only place it was okay to be mad at the world.

  Darla had to escape. That’s what she did. So what would I do? What would Dad do? If rolling in bullshit isn’t something we can do, then where’s the door? There’s got to be another door.

  “So what did Ellie do this time?” he asked.

  “Nothing any worse than what she always does,” I said. “She’s always about Ellie, you know? Self-serving or whatever.”

  “But friends forgive each other for that shit, don’t they?”

  “I don’t know,” I said. “Ellie has never really been a friend.” I felt like the worst person right then. “I mean, we’re—uh—accidental friends. She lives there. I live here. But we don’t really have much in common or something.”

  “Huh.”

  “Is that okay?” I asked.

  “Sure. I mean, as long as all this stuff we’re talking about isn’t turning you away from her. She always seemed like a pretty cool kid.”

  “But the apple, right? It doesn’t fall far and all that.”

  “Huh,” he said again. “But she didn’t do anything that made you say that?”

  “We had a fight. But it’s a fight we should have had years ago, so no, she didn’t really do anything specific. Everything serves to further, I guess. You know? Maybe I’m changing. Maybe I’m growing up or maybe she’s not. I don’t know.”

  “Be careful with her.”

  “I’ll try.” I couldn’t explain to him that she hadn’t been careful with me.

  I walked outside. It was one of those perfect early-June nights. Cool, but I could still wear just a T-shirt. I left all the porch lights off so I could see the stars. I looked up at them and talked to Darla because she was there in the stars because I was there, too. In the history of the world, we are all in the stars, right?

  I told her, “Sometimes I want to leave on my own terms too, but I have something to do. I don’t know what it is yet, but I know I have something to do.”

  Transmission from Betelgeuse: You have something to do.

  Transmission from Vega: You have something to do.

  Transmission from Polaris: You have something to do.

  I nearly fell asleep on the porch step, sitting up. Crying was exhausting. I hadn’t done it in so long, I’d forgotten how it makes you tired. Maybe Darla was so tired, she just couldn’t do it anymore.

  Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

  Old America will finally gather an army big enough to secure the border. New America will have taken nearly two whole states in nine weeks.

  After that initial nine-week assault, Nedrick the Sanctimonious will make more and more public appearances. He will say he has a bigger army in reserve. He will say that all persons over sixty should be euthanized. He will say that all government-funded schools should close and that New America will open its own schools. He will say that women are only good for one thing.

  He will not say what that thing is.

  New Americans will no longer talk to national network reporters. Nedrick will say, “It’s none of their goddamned business.”

  Girls will begin to disappear from border states at an alarming rate. Twenty to forty per night. The sound of wailing will be as common as the sound of freight trains and traffic.

  I don’t see where the girls go, but I know enough to guess that they are either sold for money or will end up in a building that has a number on it.

  What do you think makes you different?

  Dad had the TV on as he worked. I watched him as I ate my granola, still half asleep. Then I said, “Do you have friends anymore? I don’t think I ever saw you with friends.”

  “People suck.”

  “Not all of them.”

  “Yeah. Pretty much.”

  “Right.”

  “Why?” he asked, looking up over the top of the laptop. Transmission from Dad: His distant ancestor skewered five of Cromwell’s Roundheads with a pike.

  “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t have any friends either.”

  “So that stuff about Ellie last night—you were serious?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Just outgrew each other?”

  “Exactly,” I lied. “I guess.”

  “Welcome to the rest of your life. It’s why I don’t bother. Though I might if—”

  “If?”

  “If I lived somewhere else,” he said.

  “You think?”

  “I don’t know. Most guys my age just watch sports and talk about bullshit.”

  “Everyone talks about bullshit,” I said.

  “True.”

  As I chewed the rest of my granola, I realized that the history of the future was not bullshit. It could be complete bat-induced insanity, but it wasn’t bullshit. It was showing me something.

  Past is future is past is present is future is past is present.

  Fact: Past, present and future have one thing in common. Me.

  I wished I could take a picture of it. Make it real. Make it something I could glue into a sketchbook. More than just some story about what I saw when I looked at people.

  Why do people take pictures?

  To make things real.

  Or real-er.

  Or something.

  To have memories of things they lost.

  To remember—even though sometimes they want to forget.

  I decided on a day without Ellie. I decided to go to the mall to see if I could find my USS Pledge man again. When my phone rang, I answered it without thinking.

  “Didn’t you get my voice mails?” Ellie asked.

  “I was busy,” I said.

  “Can we go to the mall again?” she asked. [Insert laugh track laughter.]

  “Um—I don’t know. I—uh—think I have stuff to do here today.”

  “Liar. You’re just avoiding me because I was a bitch yesterday.”

  “Uh.”

  “I was. Okay? I was. So let’s try it again. I want to see if I can see your war and you probably want to see more too, right?”

  “I guess,” I said.

  “So… I’ll be there in five minutes?”

  I let a few seconds pass before I answered. “Okay.”

  I don’t know why I said yes. Ellie was a habit. It was early. I didn’t have the brainpower to lie to her and tell her I had something else to do.

  She arrived on my porch in a new blouse.

  “Nice shirt,” I said, not commenting on how it was unbuttoned one button too many.

  “Thanks.”

  This was the kind of stuff we said to each other on the way to the mall, too. Small talk, mostly. Then, when we got to the mall, we split up and agreed to meet for lunch at one at the food court.

  When I got to the mall, I sat in the center area on one of the benches waiting for my USS Pledge man and got as many transmissions as I could.

  Transmission from the lady next to me: Her grandson will discover the gene in humans that carries a rare disease I can’t pronounce. His son will then ironically contract the disease and will die and be buried in the same cemetery as Darla’s mother. His name will be: Lawrence Julian Harrison. He will live to age nine. His last day in school, he will learn how to multiply fractions. He will never use this skill again in his life.

  Transmission from an old Hispanic man in a pressed Cuban shirt: His sister’s great-grandson will be deported during Nedrick’s nine-day assault. After he’s deported, his surviving children will become exiles. They will live in the trees and scavenge for food. Seven generations later, his descendants will be invited to be the first inhabitants of the EcoDome on the moon.

  I looked around and tried to meet eyes with someone else and I saw a guy with a trimmed goatee and longish brown hair. He was dressed like Dad used to dress—grung
e on a stick. Cut-off flannel, T-shirt, baggy shorts that looked old but not dirty. Boots. A tattoo, a band, around his right arm. He was older than me… but not much older, I don’t think. He smiled at me. And he was completely gorgeous.

  I felt dumb to think it, but I thought it. His skin was browned like he did a lot of yard work or something. His arms were built, too. I felt wrong noticing these details. As if I was never planning on becoming a sexual being.

  I smiled at him.

  Transmission from sexy guy who I was trying not to compare to young Dad in my head: He will marry later in life, and he will marry his true love, whom he will meet at the mall one day in June 2014.

  No shit.

  I looked away. And then I looked back at him. Transmission from the same guy who might be marrying me at a later date: He and his wife will run from Ferret Company. The man in the red pickup truck won’t be able to catch them. They will destroy many things belonging to the New American Army, including peeling the MY OTHER TOY HAS TITS bumper sticker off the red pickup truck. He will be a master of explosives. His wife will be a sharpshooter. He will be eighty-six when he dies in her arms.

  He smiled at me again, so I looked away, but then he sat down on a bench three benches away from me. He had a clipboard. The clipboard made me feel stupid, because up until I saw it, I thought he was smiling at me. But he probably just wanted something. When I looked up again, I was face to face with a little girl who was eating a Dum Dum lollipop.

  Transmission from the kid with the lollipop: Her great-grandmother used to tell her stories about surviving the Second World War. They will come in handy when she finds herself living in a swamp to escape the New American Army.

  “Hi,” he said—the completely gorgeous guy. I hadn’t seen him move. He looked younger now that he was closer. Still older than me. Oh well.

  “Hi,” I said.

  “Peter,” he said. He put his hand out, and I shook it. I tried to get a look at what was on his clipboard, but I couldn’t see it. Would he ask me for money? A signature? A subscription to a magazine or something?

  “I’m Glory.” He laughed. They always did. Glory is a porn star name, right? It’s a stage name for a lap dancer. “It’s short for Gloria,” I said, looking at his boots. Doc Martens. Well worn. Oxblood.

  “Nice to meet you, Glory,” he said.

  “Did we meet?” I asked. Then I looked at him again.

  Transmission from Peter: His grandfather was a POW in the Pacific during World War II and had to eat bugs and drink his own urine. His distant descendant will invent a microchip that can be inserted into children that gives them the ability to take standardized tests without fear or boredom.

  “I think we did,” he said. “And you have a really pretty smile.”

  This could have been considered the creepiest conversation that ever took place. If anyone was watching it, they’d have called the police. My dad would run Peter over with his supermarket Jazzy. Even Ellie would be grossed out, and she’d slept with Rick-with-crabs-and-books-about-serial-killers.

  “That’s pretty… creepy,” I said. “Nice. But creepy.”

  He laughed. “Totally didn’t come out right.”

  “That’s okay,” I said. I focused intensely on his knee. It was also completely gorgeous.

  “I’m doing a survey. I’ve been here every day this week. I’m getting kinda sick of it,” he said.

  “A survey?” I said. “You’re not going to make me answer a bunch of questions, are you?”

  “No questions,” he said. “You already answered. See?” He showed me a paper clipped into his clipboard that had Xs and a checkmark. “See that checkmark right there? That’s you.” The rest of the page was Xs. Like, fifty of them. “You were like a lighthouse in a storm. That’s all. I didn’t want to freak you out. I was just happy to find you.”

  “Why am I the only checkmark?”

  “Look around,” he said. “What do you think makes you different?”

  I looked around. I accidentally made eye contact with a woman walking quickly by. Transmission from woman hurrying by: Her father was called to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1943 to work on a top secret development called the Manhattan Project. One day, the outcome of the Manhattan Project would be a 9,700-pound bomb named Little Boy.

  I couldn’t answer Peter’s question right away. What do you think makes you different? What made me different was I could see people’s infinities. What made me different was that I drank God and had become God. Or I drank a bat and had become a bat. You choose.

  What made me different was that I couldn’t look you in the eye and just see you. Instead, I saw everything.

  “Well?” he asked.

  “What makes me different? Um,” I said. I looked around. “I’m not tan and I don’t give a crap if I’m tan?”

  “Nope.”

  “I don’t dye my hair?”

  “Nope.”

  “Makeup? I don’t wear makeup?”

  “This isn’t just for women,” he said. “This is for everyone.”

  “And you’re not going to try and sell me anything?”

  “Nope. It’s for college.”

  “You’re in college?” I asked. He looked at me and smiled. He knew what I meant. I meant: Aren’t you a little old for college? I didn’t mean to be judgmental. “Sorry.”

  “It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to be,” he said.

  “I hear you,” I said.

  “And I’m only twenty-two.”

  “Oh,” I said.

  “So? Any more guesses?”

  I shook my head.

  “You smiled at me when I smiled at you.”

  “And?”

  “And that’s it. You didn’t scowl or look down or play with your phone or pretend you didn’t see me. You smiled back,” he said.

  “And this makes me exceptional?”

  He moved his hand like the mall population was a prize on a game show. “Try it yourself. This place isn’t a hotbed of friendly people.”

  I wanted to tell him I wasn’t friendly. I wanted to tell him I didn’t want any friends and didn’t have any friends and I wanted to tell him I was happy that way. Except I was too concerned about why I was smiling. That was new. Was it just because a beautiful-looking guy smiled at me first? Had I smiled at other people that day already and not noticed? What was happening to me? I asked, “What are you going to college for?”

  “Psychology,” he said.

  “You here all day?” I asked.

  “All day, all week. I’m hungry, though. Will you hold my bench while I run up and get something to eat?”

  “Sure.”

  “You want anything?”

  “A taco? Chicken? Extra sour cream.”

  He gave me a thumbs-up.

  I only had my phone camera with me. I’d left my others at home for once. I had an urge to take a picture of him from behind as he walked away. I didn’t. But if I had, I’d have called it All I Did Was Smile.

  That’s a high bar

  Peter ate sweet-and-sour chicken. He dipped the chicken into the red sauce like it was fast food or something, which was kinda disappointing. I tried to eat the taco, but it was messy while sitting on a bench so I put it back in its little paper tray. But then I decided I didn’t care. The guy was a complete stranger. What did he care that I was a slob with tacos, right? He’d brought a hundred napkins, too, so that was good.

  We started with small talk about music.

  “I love old bands,” he said. “Like anything from Zeppelin to Nirvana to the Stones.”

  “My parents were hippie freaks. I like all of that too. Toss in some Grateful Dead and Hendrix and Pearl Jam and we could be like music twins.”

  We ate for a while. There was no awkward silence because my taco was extra crunchy. Or at least it sounded extra crunchy. Every time I looked up at Peter, he got better-looking.

  “So you just smile at people all day?” I asked.

  He nodded as he c
hewed.

  “Is this, like, a class on how people are dicks or something?”

  He laughed a little. “It’s a thesis for a summer class. I’m calling it ‘The Death of Common Courtesy in the Connected World.’”

  “Hmm.”

  “You ever go online and read comments under articles?”

  “I know what you mean, yeah.”

  “You’re in high school, right?”

  “Just graduated.”

  “I’d love to interview you. I mean, about what it’s like in high school.”

  “I thought you were twenty-two,” I said. “High school hasn’t changed much since you were there.”

  I chewed the last bite of my taco, which was, like, a third of the entire taco that I’d just shoved in my mouth before it broke into a million pieces all over my lap.

  “People in my class say I’m too into this stuff—the idea that humans are becoming less and less interested in other humans and more and more interested in stuff on their computers. That kind of thing.”

  “I think you’re right,” I said. “Even friends don’t act like friends anymore.”

  “Meaning?”

  “Meaning that friends just text each other or they get together to gossip or look through each other’s profiles and they make fun of other people and stuff.”

  “Have you done that?”

  “I don’t have any friends,” I said.

  “I doubt that.”

  “Doubt all you want. It’s true.”

  He studied me. “Not one friend?”

  “I have one. But just because she lives across the road. She’s not a very good friend, though. Convenient, I guess.”

  “You seem cool.”

  “I am cool.”

  “So why not have friends?” he asked. “Is it that hard to find other cool people or something?”

  “Yes. And no. I don’t know. I just don’t like people as a rule,” I said. “They’re very untrustworthy.”

 
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