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Glory obriens history of.., p.15
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       Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.15

           A. S. King
 
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  “The war you’re seeing. It scares me.”

  “It’s in here,” I said, tapping myself on my skull. “How can we be scared of something if we’re not sure it’s really going to happen?” She nodded. “Plus, if it is true, you’re going to have kids and then get to be a grandmother. You need to forget all this war stuff. Just leave it to me.”

  “I wonder if Nostradamus drank a petrified bat before he saw all that shit,” she said.

  She came around to my side when she got out and hugged me like she needed a hug, but I couldn’t find the love to hug her back. I fake-hugged her. All I wanted to do was get to my darkroom.

  My darkroom. Not Darla’s. Darla wrote Why People Take Pictures. I was writing The History of the Future. Darla took pictures of her dead tooth and tree stumps. I took pictures of things that were empty. We were a diptych. Mother-and-daughter diptych. She killed things, and I showed the hole that followed.

  “See you later?” Ellie said. “After dinner?”

  “I’m doing something with Dad tonight,” I said. “He felt bad for not taking me out for graduation.”

  “Cool. Tomorrow, then. I’ll come over in the morning.” [Insert laugh track laughter.]

  She crossed the road and walked toward the commune. I stood there and marveled at it—the farmhouse especially, with the thick limestone and the slate roof. I took a picture. I called the picture: Mine.

  Then I turned the camera toward myself and took about five shots of me in my new bat glasses. I sneered. The caption would read: Glory O’Brien, Mad at the World.

  Dad said he wanted us to go out for dinner to my favorite Mexican restaurant. I didn’t tell him I’d planned on spending the evening in the darkroom printing, reading and writing the history of the future. I wanted to tell him. Of all the people, he was the one who might understand it. He looked like a guy who’d done psychedelic mushrooms at least once.

  I asked him at dinner.

  “Did you ever do psychedelic mushrooms?”

  He shook his head at first, the way people do when they want to say Geez, kid, that’s some question. Then he said, “Sure. A bunch of times. It was—”

  “The nineties,” I answered. “Yeah. I know.”

  “Have you?” he asked.

  “Nah.”

  We ordered three plates of food and ate like starving people.

  “This is nice,” I said.

  “Yeah.”

  “For once you don’t look like you want to run out of here because of all the people.”

  “Oh good. So I’m hiding it well?”

  We laughed. I watched him and I thought about Peter. I had this strong feeling that they would meet one day. Or that could have been me hoping I was the girl of Peter’s dreams. Whatever it was, I wanted Dad to meet him. Maybe they could be friends. Peter didn’t talk about bullshit. I bet Dad would like him a lot.

  Day one of knowing a handsome guy and I was daydreaming all this. I rolled my eyes at myself internally. Jesus. You’re as bad as Ellie.

  Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

  Nedrick the Sanctimonious will make mistakes. He will forget that blowing people up makes them stronger. Eventually.

  While his army is mired in one battle for months, he will neglect his flock in New America. They will begin to sabotage because life isn’t so great anymore without basic services and exiled loved ones. Hundreds of tons of ammunition will explode and three of his training camps will fall. He will blame the rebels. He will look for a list of leaders. The name O’Brien will be at the top of that list.

  But his intelligence leaders will tell him the truth. He will deliver a speech calling his own people traitors. They will riot in all seceded states. A story will come out of his headquarters about the night he discovers this betrayal. He will be quoted. “Like any good father, I will discipline my children.”

  This will be when K-Duty turns on its own. Entire towns in New America will become camps. Making soldiers will become a factory process.

  While Nedrick still headlines as a man with many followers, he will be alone in the world.

  The only friend he will have left will be the man in the red pickup truck.

  Innocence sells

  I sat in the darkroom and read the rest of Why People Take Pictures. It wasn’t that hard because I’d already read most of it. Except for one last journal-like entry, which was written below a Polaroid picture of a dead firefly.

  Last night I couldn’t sleep. There was a lightning bug in our room. I watched him for an hour until I got up and went to the bathroom for a pee and he followed me.

  Let me tell you about our toothbrush.

  It’s rechargeable and Roy mounted it on the wall next to the socket. When it charges, a funky blue light blinks. And do you know what happened?

  The lightning bug made love to my toothbrush.

  I stood and watched it dance first, three blinks, then none, hover, three more blinks, and then it landed right on the handle of the toothbrush and mated. It was two in the morning and I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. I watched as long as I could and then sat on the toilet seat, depressed. Because this is us. This is us, and I hate that this is us, and this is you, and this is me, and this is the whole fucking world who can afford to be us. We are natural, beautiful, magical creatures humping flashy machines.

  I turned to the last of Darla’s pictures. It was a Polaroid of our house. The sun must have been setting, because the windows were a warm orange and the siding seemed yellow. It looked void of her somehow—as if Darla already knew that this would be the last picture she’d take of our house.

  I paged back to her You’re a pornographer too, you know page and I looked closely at the tub of anti-aging cream she had taped there. It was a great picture. She’d somehow made the tub look sinister. The background was shadow, but not black. Just a weird evil shadow. Like something—in this case, wrinkles—might jump out at you and bite you when you were least expecting it.

  I paged back to the pictures of the porn women. You. Are. All. Worth. More. Than. This. Each one struck a common pose—the poses I’d seen since I was a child. Suck in belly, push out chest. Flex calves, high-heeled tippy-toes. Let your knees fall out just a little. Pout. Bite your lip. Look innocent.

  Look innocent.

  Look innocent.

  Because no matter what age you are, looking innocent is sexy. And looking sexy is everything. I couldn’t think of any pictures I’d seen lately of women who were just there and not trying to look sexy.

  Then I remembered one.

  The donation box at the drugstore, for the local lunch lady who has ovarian cancer and can’t pay her medical bills. There was a picture of her sitting in a chair that looked enormous because she’d shrunk so small. She was bald. She was smiling.

  But she wasn’t trying to look sexy.

  She wasn’t sucking in or pushing out because she was too busy dying. She was no one special and she was dying. And we were no one special and we were sexily dropping a few coins into her donation box as we paid for our wrinkle cream at the drugstore.

  Shit.

  We were all fireflies humping toothbrushes.

  No wonder Darla was mad at the world.

  I opened up my sketchbook. I answered Darla.

  We are natural, beautiful, magical creatures who are so busy being sexy we forget that fireflies are sexier than we are. I have never made love to anything, yet. I don’t know if I ever will. But I will not make love to a toothbrush. I promise.

  I felt like a ghost

  I decided I might give Ellie a chance. I’d never shared anything with her. I’d never told her my biggest fear. My biggest secret.

  Maybe I was choosing to be lonely.

  I decided, since it was only eight thirty, that I should go over to the commune and find her and tell her I was mad at the world. Maybe if we could start there, I could eventually tell her the truth about me.

  I saw the lights on in the chicken hou
se, so I walked there to find her. I brought a blanket so we could go and sit in the field and talk. I brought a bag of contraband snacks inside the blanket. Doritos. Fluorescent orange. Our favorite.

  When I got to the chicken house, all I found was one of the preteen girls who sometimes helped Ellie with her chores cleaning out the duck pen. I think her name was Matilda.

  “Is Ellie around?” I asked.

  “She’s out in the field.”

  “Oh,” I said. “Thanks.”

  Matilda went back to the chickens. I fast-walked to the back field.

  And before I got all the way there, I saw something I never wanted to see.

  Ellie on top of Markus Glenn—the boy from down the road who once asked me to touch his tipi.

  I stopped dead.

  I slowly turned around so they wouldn’t see me, but before I could get far enough away, I heard Ellie yelling. “Glory! Come back!”

  But I kept walking.

  I wasn’t jealous.

  I wasn’t mad at them. I was mad at the world.

  Why shouldn’t I be mad at the world? The world let fireflies hump toothbrushes. The world was so full of shit.

  “Glory!” Ellie yelled. “Stop! Wait!”

  I didn’t turn around. I didn’t want to talk to Ellie about anything right then. I knew what was going to happen to her grandsons. They would be slaves to the machine—fingers that reached out in the night and stole lives.

  Next thing I knew, she was grabbing my shoulder from behind. “Seriously. Would you stop, please?”

  I stopped and turned around. The Doritos fell out of my blanket.

  “What?” she said.

  I didn’t say anything.

  “You told me we’d make a cute couple,” she said.

  I didn’t say anything.

  “So what’s your problem?”

  I thought about this. “I’m mad at the world,” I said.

  “Shit,” she answered.

  “I came over to talk to you about it,” I said. “And Matilda told me you were in the field. I didn’t expect you to be screwing him… but I guess you move fast.”

  She crossed her arms and started to cry a little. Her dress was hanging crooked and I wondered if she had underwear on. I don’t know why I wondered that, but maybe that’s what I was supposed to wonder.

  “I’m not mad at you,” I said. “I was just coming to talk to you about something else and I didn’t expect to see that. That’s all.”

  The silence wasn’t awkward then. It was just silent.

  “I’m ready for it to go away now,” she said. “All of it.”

  “Me too,” I said. We were such cowards. There we were on a speeding train, and instead of putting our heads out the window and screaming wheeeeeeeee, we complained.

  We stood there on the edge of the road for a few seconds and listened to an approaching car, and then saw its lights and then watched it pass us, the kids in the backseat staring as if we were ghosts.

  I felt like a ghost.

  Ellie probably did, too.

  Ellie sighed and started to cry. “You totally think I’m a slut.”

  “I don’t.” I did. I totally did think she was a slut. It made me cry.

  She looked at me. “Why are you crying?”

  I shook my head. “I’m mad at the world,” I said. “Go back,” I said, pointing to the field. “Have a good night.”

  “But what about you?” she said.

  “I’ll see you in the morning,” I said. “Remember?”

  She nodded and turned toward the field. As I watched her walk away I thought about Peter and how she flirted. She’d flirted with everyone that way since I could remember.

  It wasn’t just her. All the girls in school did, too.

  Somehow, Darla doing what she did saved me from this. As I walked back to the porch, I was thankful. I’d been so preoccupied with whether or not I would turn into Darla—so busy being the walking picture of emptiness—that I’d overlooked society’s expectations of me.

  I smiled at this.

  Did all outcasts come to this realization at a certain point in life? That being outcast from a bogus and pornographic society actually was a good thing? I hoped so. I hoped there was an army of us out there, smiling about it that very moment.

  I’m not normal

  I got up at dawn again. I hadn’t been sleeping past six. Habit, I guess.

  I sat on the front porch and looked over at the commune. My commune. It wasn’t that I was greedy or that I wanted to hurt Jasmine or Ellie or any of the commune families by taking it back. Maybe part of me wanted to hurt Jasmine for what she did to Dad and Darla, but it was more logical than that.

  It was our land.

  I thought, for our sake, we should have it.

  If Dad wanted to move to California or Vermont, then he’d need it. If he died tomorrow, then I would be left with the mess. I didn’t care if Ellie never spoke to me again. I didn’t care if Jasmine threw a hissy fit. It was ours. The trick would be convincing Dad, who had been happy to leave things the way they were in order to avoid having to do anything about it. Probably reminded him of what happened. Probably reminded him of everything.

  Ellie saw me on the porch and walked over at around eight.

  “I’ll be back at nine. Is that okay? Extra chores for missing yesterday. My mother is a freak.”

  “I don’t feel like it today, Ellie,” I said.

  “Why not?”

  “I just want to be by myself today or something,” I said. As I said it, I could see her processing the last time we saw each other. I hoped she would remember that I was mad at the world. I hoped she might ask me if I was okay.

  “It’s Markus, isn’t it?”

  I stayed silent.

  “God, Glory. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be a normal girl like you are?”

  “I’m not normal,” I said.

  “You’re what my mom wants me to be,” she said.

  “Your mom doesn’t like me,” I said. “Because I look like my mom.”

  “We both look like our moms,” she said. “Shit. I hope that doesn’t mean we’re going to do what they did.”

  “Like what?”

  “Like break up,” she said. “I don’t want to break up.”

  “I don’t think we will,” I said. “I mean, the thing that broke them up was kind of a big deal, and that can’t happen to us.”

  “What was that?” Ellie asked.

  “What?”

  “The thing that broke them up?”

  Since I couldn’t tell Ellie the truth, I said the first thing that came to mind. “The land.”

  She cocked her head. “What land?”

  “Where you live. The commune. It’s my mom’s land,” I said, pointing to her house.

  “So they fought over the price of it or something?”

  “Well, no,” I answered. “They never bought it from her. It’s—uh—still ours, pretty much.”

  “What?”

  “The land.”

  “It’s still yours? Like we rent?” she said.

  “No rent.”

  I think she was mad, but not as mad as she would have been had I told her the real reason that our mothers stopped talking to each other.

  We stayed there for a minute, just looking over at her house. She was processing, probably. I was still wondering if she’d ever ask me if I was okay. She didn’t, so I changed the subject.

  “So what’s the deal with you and Markus Glenn?” I asked. “Has he gotten any less assholey since seventh grade?”

  “He was—um—kinda weird with me last night,” she said.

  “Like how?”

  “He was pretty pervy.”

  I laughed a little. “You didn’t know this?”

  “Well, yeah, but I mean, he wouldn’t even kiss me. He just kept—you know—paying attention to my boobs.”

  “Paying attention? That’s romantic.”

  She smacked me on my arm. “I
t’s not funny. It was kinda creepy, pretty much. It was like the rest of me didn’t really exist. Just—uh—them.”

  “Your boobs.”

  “Yeah.”

  I sighed. “He’s probably watched so much boob porn that boobs are like people to him now or something.”

  “Yeah.”

  “Did he call them by name?” I asked, giggling.

  She laughed. “Stop it.”

  “But did he?”

  “He’s still coming to the star party tonight.”

  I didn’t question her motives or her sanity. Maybe this is what normal girls do, right? And I did what other normal girls do. There are billions of us out there. Just like stars—none of us is the same.

  “I’m still invited, right?” I said.

  “Of course,” she said.

  She went back to the commune and I watched her walking and I wondered how many times Darla sat on this porch and watched Jasmine walk back to the commune. I wondered if Darla ever wanted to take it back, too.

  The Zone System didn’t have a zone for how I was feeling right then. I was very high contrast—all blacks and whites and no grays. I was a lithograph.

  My zone 0 was max black: Holy shit I am living next door to a bunch of sex-crazed freaks and my mother killed herself after one of the sex-crazed freaks sent naked pictures of herself to my father. Or, in short: I am an extra in an ugly movie about sex-crazed squatter hippies. I didn’t sign up for this shit.

  My zone 10 was blown-out white: I am probably the sanest person I know, even though my mother killed herself when I was four, I eat all microwaved food and I live across the road from squatter hippies. Compared to my sex-crazed friend, I am a real winner.

  I went inside and took a long shower. After my shower, I curled up in bed and tried to take a nap. Instead, I thought about the transmissions and how a day without them would be better than a day at the mall with Ellie. Even if I missed a chance to see Peter. Even if I missed a chance to find my USS Pledge man, who might have the answers I’d been looking for.

  After an hour under my covers not sleeping, I got up and got dressed and wrote a chapter in my book about some of the transmissions I’d seen in the mall the day before. Then I opened my computer and waited for it to boot up.

 
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