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I crawl through it, p.14
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       I Crawl Through It, p.14

           A. S. King
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  I say, “Give me something that tastes horrible.”

  She hands me a fresh beet and carrot mixture with some seaweed in it. It’s disgusting. I go to Central Park and find a bench.

  Next to the bench is a trash can and I can hear it ticking, so I scoot closer and put my ear to it. The carrot/beet/seaweed juice is making my stomach turn. I feel my salivary glands working hard to keep things calm.

  Tick tick tick tick tick tick.

  What better place to die than here?

  Your Ticking Bomb Has More Self-Esteem Than I Do

  For one thing

  it does not

  have to

  look at itself

  in a mirror.

  Or brush its hair

  or its teeth.

  Or maybe

  when it does

  if it does

  it makes the ticking


  because it

  can’t stand itself,


  Maybe it’s easy

  to destroy things.

  Maybe it’s easy

  to self-destruct.

  Maybe your ticking bomb

  is just faking it

  and what it really


  is someone

  to talk to.

  I gulp down the beet/carrot/seaweed juice and my body tells me to stop but I don’t stop because my hand holds the cup to my lips and I suck through the straw with no real idea of why I’m forcing something inside me that I don’t want inside me.

  This is the story of my life.

  China: the girl who has things inside her that she doesn’t want inside her.

  As I stand, Central Park wraps around my waist and I grab both sides of the trash can, nine and three on the clock, and I stick my head in so far that the ticking bomb must be inches from my head and I vomit a dark pink mess.

  It splashes up with each heave and spots of it land on my glasses as I heave again and again. I vomit an ocean of juice. It swirls in the trash can and becomes a loud, angry tidal wave, and people in Central Park start to run in the opposite direction.

  There is screaming.

  I’m still stuck to the can—hands at nine and three. I’m still heaving, but nothing else comes out. I feel it dripping from my chin as the wave rises above me higher than the Chrysler Building, and I have no place to hide. Either I will be washed away or I will not be washed away. The ticking is louder.

  And so I jump right into the center of it. Right into the trash can, headfirst. Right into the vomit, into the bomb.

  It’s as pink and pulsing as my esophagus in here.

  It smells like beets and beets smell like fresh earth, and it’s all I can do to not stop and fill my mouth with dirt because it smells so like home, like playing with my sisters in the backyard and building dirt castles for the ants and the ladybugs and the spiders. I want to eat that. I want to eat childhood and become childhood and become the mound of dirt and become my little sisters, who still don’t know about anything except flannel pajamas and dolls and dumb shows like Scooby-Doo!

  I travel through the red tunnel hands first, like I’m flying. I pass the bomb. It ticks like a metronome. It’s keeping time for musicians in the Kaboom Orchestra. We are all musicians in the Kaboom Orchestra, only no one knows it yet.

  I see trash, then, on every side of the red tunnel within the tidal wave. Sandwich wrappers. Used gum. A math test. Fifty coffee cups. Cigarette packs. A broken snow globe. A baseball hat. A half-eaten doughnut. A condom wrapper. A love note. A plastic medicine bottle with the prescription scratched off. A boy. There is a boy here.

  At the bottom of the trash can, he is clinging to a piece of paper that is plastered across his chest. The paper says Tick tick tick.

  “Are you okay?”

  “Are you okay?”

  “Are you okay?”

  I open my eyes and I’m still standing at the trash can in Central Park. My hands are still at nine and three and I still have vomit dripping off my chin and speckling my glasses. The person asking me if I’m okay hands me a brown napkin and hurries on.

  She probably hears the ticking.

  I sit down on the bench and spit. Then I wipe my face and look down at my backpack and it has drops on it, too. So does my shirt. My sleeves. Everything I have is speckled with pink puke.

  I move to another bench.

  There is ticking in the trash can there, too.

  So I move to another bench. And another. And another. I discover that all of the trash cans are rigged. Maybe they will explode at the same time. Maybe they won’t.

  I move to the other side of the bench where the ticking is less noticeable and then I turn myself upside down and sit with my feet in the air and my head in the caked dust that gathers under park benches.

  I try Shane’s phone again and it goes directly to voice mail. I haven’t left a voice mail yet because I don’t want him to think I’m needy. This time, since I’m safely upside down on a park bench in Central Park, I wait for the beep.

  “Shane, it’s China. I came to New York to be with you. I think we can make it if we’re together, but I don’t know where you are. I’m in Central Park just behind your building. I’ll be upside down on a park bench and splattered in pink vomit.”

  As I watch people walk by—their shoes telling a different story each time—I inch closer and closer to the trash can side of the bench. But there is still no ticking while I’m upside down.

  This means something, but I’m not sure what it is.

  Lansdale Cruise—Friday Afternoon—Oh, Come On

  I wait behind the bush man’s bush because he is the only friend I have left. I don’t care about his answers or his letters this time. I don’t even care about what’s under his coat.

  I want a conversation.

  No one ever thinks the pretty girl wants conversation.

  If I wrote poems like China does, I would write a poem about how no one ever thinks the pretty girl wants conversation, but I don’t write poems. I bake, mostly.

  This afternoon between the hotel and coming here to meet the bush man, I baked a batch of madeleines for him because I know he likes them and that’s how I’ve been paying him for the answers.

  Everyone thinks I pay him in other ways, but I don’t.

  I have never kissed the bush man. He likes to brush my hair. He likes me to lie so it grows right in front of him like Hairnocchio. He likes to clip off the pieces that grow and tie them in braids and save them in a bag marked LANSDALE’S LIES and I don’t mind because I know I lie. I’m not stupid. I just can’t stop myself.

  Last night at the Hilton I said I was eighteen. I said I like champagne. I said newsmen turn me on. I said I believe he grew up in Los Angeles when I know he grew up in Ohio. Last night I said I was once anorexic when I wasn’t. I said I have leukemia, but it’s in remission, which I don’t and it isn’t. I said that when I was seven, I sneezed for four days straight until they took me to the hospital, which I don’t think is even possible. As the Ohio/Los Angeles man snored grossly beside me, I thought of hundreds of lies to make my hair grow so long that it would wrap him in a cocoon.

  All that happened was that I was cocooned, not him.

  And today, I’m tired of lying.

  So I’m waiting to have tea with the bush man. He can have the last of my dishonest hair.

  Stanzi—Friday—Dumb Marvin


  Because we’re leaving today, Gustav tells me to act normal. So after breakfast, I go to Marvin’s laboratory.

  Marvin ignores me as I wander around his lab and look at the experiments he has set up. On one table, he has a beaker of something dark pink—like beet juice—on the boil over a Bunsen burner. On another, he has several sticks of explosives standing at attention like soldiers. On another, he has a frog, ventral side up, and a set of dissection tools.

  “Do you want to cut it open?” he asks, turning in his swivel chair.

  “I want to ask you questions,” I say.


  “Do you think my guilt organ is plausible?” I ask.

  “Maybe,” he says. “I will go looking for it the next time I have a specimen.” I nod at this even though I know this means he will cut open one of his friends.

  I ask, “Why do you think humans are so—”

  “Dumb?” he interrupts.

  “I wasn’t going to say that,” I say. I was going to ask why humans are so guilty all the time. But since he said this, I add, “Not all humans are dumb.”

  “Most of them are. You know that. Why else did you come here?” he asks.

  “I don’t think most humans are dumb,” I argue.

  “So you think most humans are smart?”

  “I think all humans have potential.”

  He seems disappointed.

  “I was going to ask why humans are so guilty,” I say.

  “They’re guilty because they’re dumb.”

  “Humans are not dumb,” I say again.

  “Stop saying that!”

  I shake my head and go back to walking around his laboratory. I try to think up something to say so I seem normal—just like Gustav told me to be—but I can’t think of anything.


  I sigh. “I think a lot of humans are lazy, yes. I think we could do better as a species. But I don’t think I’m smarter than humans. I am human, am I not?”

  “You’re a human with an IQ of one hundred and seventy-five.”

  “It’s just a number,” I say.

  “You shrug? You’re given this gift and you pretend you don’t have it? You think numbers mean nothing? You’re no scientist. Get out of my lab.”

  “It’s an equation. Mental age divided by chronological age times one hundred,” I say.


  “And how does this explain that you think humans are dumb and I don’t?”

  “You’re young. You don’t know anything yet.”

  I don’t say aloud that nearly every study ever done on IQ shows that IQ decreases with age. I don’t say anything except “You’re right.” I say it not because he’s right. I say it because Gustav told me to act normal.

  I reach up to the area where my theoretical guilt-free gland is.

  Marvin laughs and says, “That’s more like it!”

  He tells me he’s putting a control group together this week. He tells me he thinks it’s real. A real undiscovered gland that can solve many world problems. I don’t see a spark of understanding in his eyes when he says this ironic thing.

  I don’t mention that if the solution for many of the world’s problems is here, then no one else will ever be able to solve their problems. Only the seventeen people who live here.

  China Knowles—Friday Afternoon—Broadway

  I am China, a girl sitting upside down on a bench in Central Park. Every ten minutes I sit right side up so all my blood doesn’t pour out of my nose or my eyes. That’s what it feels like upside down. It feels peaceful and I can’t hear the ticking, but it also feels like my head will explode with blood.

  It’s getting late.

  It’s getting so late that I realize I don’t have a plan.

  My plan was: Leave home, find Shane, make new plan, execute new plan.

  My plan now seems to be: Sit upside down on a park bench until I can figure out what my next plan is. The sky is cloudy, but it doesn’t feel like it will rain the way the man on the bus said it would.

  Shane hasn’t called back. My mom hasn’t even called back. I tried to call Stanzi at around three but there was no ringing, just the sound of distant helicopters with rotors made out of cotton balls. Her voice mail is gone.

  I’m hungry because there’s a praline vendor nearby who is candying nuts and it smells good. Maybe pralines will make me vomit again. Maybe this is a side effect of turning right side out. Maybe I’m doomed to vomit everything now that my digestive system is on the inside.

  I try Shane again. No answer. No voice mail to talk to. Just ringing to infinity.

  I decide to buy pralines. I buy three bags of them and they are too sweet but I eat them anyway as I walk down Broadway toward the subway station.

  But I pass the subway station and keep walking down Broadway because maybe I’ll run into Shane. Maybe he’s taking a walk to clear his head. Maybe he got a job at the pizza place near 54th Street where he took me on our first date. Maybe he’s a bicycle courier. Maybe he’s a businessman. Maybe he’s a skyscraper. Maybe he’s the W on top of the Westin hotel.

  As I walk, I get closer to Times Square and the tourists are out. Country people from another state and another time. People who speak French. Schoolchildren in matching purple T-shirts with chaperones who don’t hear the ticking coming from every trash can on every street corner.

  If I’m close to Times Square, then I’m close to Port Authority.

  Your Runaway Plan Has More Self-Esteem Than You Do

  I am thinking now

  of buying a ticket

  and sleeping in my

  own bed by myself

  and being right side out

  and being happy.

  I am thinking now of

  the stuffed monkey ashes

  in the back porch fire pit

  and thinking

  maybe I was too rash

  maybe I was too quick

  maybe I was too trusting

  maybe I was stupid

  to think

  that anyone wanted

  me any more than I


  the monkey.

  I walk to the doors of Port Authority and a homeless man asks me for money, so I give him a five-dollar bill. I call my mother, but the ringing blends right into our voice mail message, which is my sisters singing some dumb song from the Disney Channel show they watch all the time.

  I miss them.

  I’m a failure.

  I buy a ticket home.

  I walk down the steps to the gates.

  I’m underground. I feel the weight of all of New York City on my chest.

  And then I see Shane.

  He’s not here to find me.

  He’s here to leave… with some guy who is old enough to be his father.

  He doesn’t see me. But he will.

  Patricia—Friday Morning—Act Normal


  We’re leaving today. I am mourning the loss of my pianos. I am mourning the loss of my manuscripts. I try to act normal around Gary, so when he asks if I’m off my period and we can make love, I say, “Maybe tomorrow.”

  When he takes his loud morning shit, I gag.

  When he says, “I think I was wrong about your weird music. You should be open to experiment here. Think outside the box. That’s the point, I guess.” I smile and act like he said something that pleased me.

  On our walk to lunch, he says, “Why do you think those two came? They don’t belong here. This generation is lost.”

  “People said that about our generation, too,” I say.

  “This is different.”

  “I don’t think it is,” I say. “I think the real world changed. I don’t think we’re the right people to debrief anyone who comes from it.” I add, “I think they’ll fit in fine here.”

  “Marvin says the girl has potential, but she’s some sort of humanist.”

  “Nothing wrong with that.”

  “I don’t know,” he says.

  I don’t think I ever heard Gary say I don’t know before.

  “You’re not yourself.” I put my arm around his shoulder and he wraps his around my waist and to any onlooker we would look like friends or lovers when, really, I am a genius about to escape from a genius prison.

  Lunch is uneventful. Gary has been east because I told him that was where I found Stanzi and Gustav. He didn’t even get a half mile into the forest, but he says there’s no sign of anyone walki
ng out there. So now he’s planned a search involving all of us. Every direction. All day. All weekend if we have to, until we find the helicopter and destroy it. He doesn’t tell them about the destruction part, though.

  He asks Gustav, “Do you think you can remember which way you walked into camp? Or which way Patricia brought you?”

  Gustav says, “I’m pretty sure I know where we came in. I can show you.”

  I discover Gary looking at me and I smile because I know I won’t see him tomorrow. I think of Kenneth and I smile even wider. I say to the new arrivals, “Before we go, let me show you the garden!”

  On cue, the three of us stand up and put our plates and utensils in the sink.

  In the garden I talk to Stanzi silently, in her head.

  Me: We’re leaving today.

  I know.

  Me: I can’t thank you enough for rescuing me. I owe you my life.

  She thinks, We’re rescuing you?

  Stanzi—Friday Afternoon—The Dinner Bell


  After an afternoon walking in circles around the south perimeter of the forest, Gustav looks exhausted. I want to tell him to sleep. I want to tell him he shouldn’t fly while exhausted.

  “Do you think you can see the helicopter today?” he asks. “It’s not Tuesday.”

  “I trust you,” I answer.

  “That’s not what I asked.”

  I fiddle with my hands. My nails grow faster here. Or maybe I didn’t trim them before I left. I think about what day it is. It’s Friday. We arrived yesterday morning. We will leave as the geniuses eat dinner. As I rip my index fingernail shorter, I feel sad for Gustav. “You worked so hard,” I say. “It took you months.”

  “Why are you sad?” he asks.

  I shrug. “Because it didn’t work out,” I say. I don’t want to use the word failure, so I think this is a good compromise.

  “It’s working out,” he says. “It’s all working out.”

  I look at him, but he looks over my shoulder and I turn around to find Gary approaching from behind me. He tells Gustav that the recovery mission will move west next, toward the old west field—which is our field—and I stand there thinking about if Gary will miss Patricia when she leaves with us today. I don’t think he will.

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