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I crawl through it, p.16
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       I Crawl Through It, p.16

           A. S. King
 
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  “But she still didn’t ever know what a wombat was and it was an unfair advantage.”

  Gustav leans into me and gives me a half-hug. I feel Patricia’s cold hand on my shoulder.

  “I wanted to be Stanzi forever,” I say, inspecting the red slap marks around my scar. “I just wanted to be Stanzi and you could be Wolfgang and everything would work out okay. I thought we would stay there. I thought it would be good for us. I thought we could be free.”

  Stanzi—Saturday Morning—Family Vacations

  It’s impossible to sleep naked in an invisible helicopter. It’s possible to fake it, but impossible to actually do it.

  Patricia sang through the night. She wrote a song about being free right there, curled into a ball on the floor of a homemade helicopter in the middle of the night. She has a beautiful singing voice.

  Gustav looks twice as tired as he did yesterday. He’s shivering.

  “I can sit near you or something. Keep our body heat up.”

  “You can’t move. We’re balanced.”

  At this, Patricia laughs.

  “It won’t be long now,” Gustav says.

  “It won’t be long until what?” I ask.

  “Landing.”

  “But it took us nearly two and a half days to get there.”

  “The journey back is half as long,” he says. “Isn’t that what you always say about the vacations you take with your parents?”

  I look down at my scar again.

  It opens its mouth before I can put my hand over it. It says, “I don’t go on vacations. I lied to you.”

  “Where do you go?”

  In my head, I explain everything to Gustav and Patricia. Out loud, I say, “I write you postcards, but I never send them.”

  “But you said you lied. I don’t understand. How would you get postcards if you’re not on vacation?”

  My scar talks. It tells them everything about my family vacations. Everything. Where we go. Why we go. How the world is falling to pieces.

  I ask Patricia if she’s still happy to come back with us. “You were in a safer place,” I say.

  “Safety is a lie. It’s a ham sandwich without the ham,” she answers.

  “It’s a blue sky on Monday when it rains on Wednesday,” I say.

  She says, “I’m so sorry about your sister.”

  I daydream with my eyes closed. There are four coffins. Mine is red, Mama’s is blue, Pop’s is green. The fourth coffin is half the size of ours. It has a unicorn painted on it, and a rainbow. Mama and Pop are lying with their eyes closed, but every few seconds they peek out to see if I’m sleeping yet. So I pretend to sleep, and when they are convinced, they get up, join hands, and head to a big coffin that is propped in the corner. When they open the door of the big coffin, I can hear the sound of people laughing and talking and clinking glasses. Only when they close the door behind them do I squint and see that the big coffin is Chick’s Bar.

  And it’s just us here now. Me in my red coffin and her in her unicorn coffin.

  There are wombats everywhere.

  Lansdale Cruise—Saturday Morning—No Kidding

  Last night, I talked to the bush man. He told me he knew about what happened with the newsman. “Things go around,” he said.

  “No kidding,” I said.

  He said Stanzi and Gustav will come home. He said they’re bringing him a woman. He said the woman wrote a song last night about being free. He told me her name is Patricia. I asked him if we could stop sending the bomb threats now.

  “It’s hard to stop a machine once it’s in motion,” he said.

  “It’s like the answers,” I said. “I think you gave us the wrong answers.”

  “It’s hard to stop a machine once it’s in motion,” he said again.

  “Whatever,” I said.

  “Whatever?”

  “Whatever. I want to stop lying now. Right now. That’s why I came to see you.”

  “I will miss your hair,” he said.

  “You have bags of my hair. Let’s trim this into something cute. Like a bob or something.”

  “Would you like me to put a bowl on your head and cut around it?”

  “You’re a sculptor,” I said. “I want you to use your imagination.”

  I walked out of the bush with my hair sculpted into this woman, Patricia. From every angle there was another Patricia. Her face, her hips, her breasts, her eyes. My head was a hundred Patricias. I was a walking museum.

  He gave me a lowercase e that was beaded with pearls. He told me that I have to do the interviews now because the man and cameraman went back to LA.

  When I got home I washed my hair and then I went on the Internet to find a style I liked and I watched a how-to-cut-your-own-hair video and gave myself a decent layered bob.

  Today is different. When my dad asks me what I did last night, I tell him, “I went and saw the man in the bush. He sculpted my hair into a hundred statues.”

  He doesn’t even look up from his paper.

  “You should at least look up to see my hair,” I say.

  He folds a corner of the paper down and squints at me. “Looks nice,” he says. “A little short, maybe, but hair grows back.”

  Every Mrs. Cruise so far has had hair down to her ass. Always blond, like mine. Always highlighted and no roots showing.

  “I don’t think it’s too short,” I say.

  “A man in a bush?” he asks.

  “I’m thinking of getting it cut shorter, actually.”

  “It’s your hair,” he says.

  I turn on the kitchen TV and scroll through the channels looking for a cooking show and stop when I see the newsman’s face. The minute I see it I want to start lying again. I turn the volume up so I can hear him.

  He’s talking about whales. He’s talking about how whale-watching tourism is booming again in California. At the end of his report, a helicopter flies overhead and he says something unintelligible and points at it. Then he apologizes to the anchorman and says it’s an inside joke between him and his cameraman.

  “I had sex with that guy two nights ago,” I say.

  My dad folds down the corner of the paper again and slides his glasses from his head to his nose. “Him?”

  “Yeah,” I say. “Total poseur.”

  “Looks it.”

  “He’s from Ohio but tells everyone he’s from California.”

  He says, “Isn’t that the channel with the annoying weatherman?”

  China Knowles—Saturday Afternoon—The Monkey

  I am China, girl who swallowed herself yesterday in Port Authority, New York City. I’m China, girl who unswallowed herself this morning in my kitchen, right in front of my parents. My little sisters are staying with my aunt. Shane is still asleep on the floor of my room.

  “Mom told me you burned the monkey,” Dad says.

  “Yeah. Sorry about that.”

  “I know I never see you anymore,” he says.

  “Yeah. I know you have to work,” I say. “I’m really sorry about the monkey. I really liked it. I’m glad you bought it for me.”

  “I wish I could be here more often,” he says. “I really should be in your life more.”

  “It’s fine. Mom has us covered.”

  I look at Mom. She wears a look of worry.

  I’m China with a boyfriend sleeping in her room and no one knows that but me. Mom and Dad seem to think I ran away from home because of the monkey.

  I call Lansdale because she’ll know what to do. Lansdale knows exactly how to use a fire extinguisher without having to stop and read the instructions.

  “Is this China?” She answers her phone like this, as if I’ve been gone for a month.

  “Yes.”

  “I think the answers were wrong,” she says.

  I tell her that the answers don’t matter. “Shane is here. Still asleep in my room. My parents are home.”

  “There were sixteen leftover answers,” Lansdale says. “Sixteen!”

&nb
sp; “What do I do?” I ask.

  “Don’t take any more tests with those answers,” she says.

  “I’m talking about Shane.”

  “Oh,” she says. “Just keep him in your room. Close the door.”

  “What if he has to pee?”

  “Can’t he pee out a window or something?”

  I’m China and I’m on my bedroom floor with Shane, who is crying. My parents are downstairs making a late lunch and they dance to Cuban music in the kitchen. They can’t hear me when I tell Shane to stay in my room. They don’t hear me as I tell him to pee out the window.

  He isn’t a lizard anymore. We talked about that.

  Shane has to smoke. He says he can do that out the window, too. My phone rings and it’s Lansdale.

  “Is that guy actually pissing out your window?”

  I look over at Shane, who is pissing out the window. “Yes.”

  “The whole neighborhood can see him,” she says. “A side window would have been a better choice.”

  “Oh. Well.”

  “I saw Kenneth last night,” she says.

  “Is that the guy from Los Angeles?”

  “The man in the bush,” she says. “He gave me the wrong answers.”

  “Oh,” I say.

  “He said Stanzi and Gustav are coming home.”

  “His name is Kenneth?”

  “Yes.”

  “Why didn’t anyone tell me that?”

  “I thought you knew,” she says. “Is he smoking out the window now? Seriously. Someone’s going to call your mom and tell on you.”

  I ask Shane to move. While I close the front window, I stop and wave to Lansdale three doors down across the street. She’s perched on the front porch with two quiches cooling on the windowsill.

  “Cute apron,” I say.

  Lansdale says, “Kenneth also told me we could stop now.”

  I say, “Fuenteovejuna?”

  “Yeah. We had the wrong answers. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

  “Shane wants to meet my parents,” I say.

  “Let him.”

  “But.”

  “What have you got to lose?” she asks. “Let him. But make him chew a breath mint first. And wash his hands. Smoke never makes a good first impression.”

  Stanzi—Saturday Afternoon—Gustav’s Secret

  This is where we land and I’m home, right? This is where my bed is, yes? My books? My other coat? My other lab coat?

  I wake up to the gentle whooshing of the rotor and we are still naked ice-cube babies in the sky. When I look forward, I picture the windscreen and the control panel, which Gustav is using every so often, pressing buttons and moving levers. But I can’t really see anything. It’s Saturday.

  Ten minutes ago, I thought I hallucinated the whole helicopter. I could see the red. I could see the propellers above our head.

  But now, nothing.

  Just the three of us floating through the air in impossible positions. Patricia is still rolled up like an injured pill bug. Gustav is sitting upright with nothing on except his headset. He’s still shivering.

  I say, “I just had a dream about four coffins. You weren’t in any of them.”

  “That’s nice,” Gustav says. He actually means it. I think he’s relieved to not be in my coffin dream.

  I go quiet.

  I look back at my scar. It stays quiet.

  “I have to tell you something,” Gustav says.

  I nod.

  “It’s something important,” he says.

  “Okay.”

  “I have two letters from the bush man. I got them about five months ago.”

  “And?”

  Gustav looks flustered. “And you know how I got them.”

  “Yes.”

  “So?”

  “So,” I say. “So what?”

  “You know what I did?”

  “I think so.”

  “I kissed him,” he says.

  “What letters did he give you?”

  “Does it matter?” Gustav asks.

  “Yes.”

  “A blue B and a black G. Both carved from wood.”

  “I wonder what we could spell with all of our letters,” I say.

  “Are you listening?” Gustav yells. “Are you listening to anything?”

  “I don’t care who you’ve kissed before me. I only care who you kiss after.”

  “But he’s a guy. What if? I mean, what if?”

  “I love you,” I say. “I really don’t care if you love me back.”

  “I do love you back. I’ve loved you since ninth grade in the cafeteria when you pulled out your dissection kit to eat lunch.”

  I look down at my scar, which is still not speaking.

  I stay quiet for five minutes. I know it’s five minutes because I count. Have you ever counted five minutes? It’s long when you count it. There have been 375,840 five-minutes since ninth grade in the cafeteria when I ate my faux chicken nuggets with my scalpel and my forceps.

  “It was a pickup truck,” I say.

  “It ran a stop sign and Pop didn’t see it,” I say.

  “I only saw it when I looked over to tell her that my Twenty Questions answer started with a W,” I say. “I saw it coming straight for us.”

  “What was her name?” Patricia asks from her pill bug position in the back.

  “Yeah,” Gustav says.

  “Her name?” I ask.

  I look back at the scar.

  Stanzi—Saturday Afternoon—Her Name

  I can’t remember her name. I can’t remember it. I knew it yesterday. I knew it every day since she was born warm. But right now, naked in the sky, I can’t remember her name.

  Gustav says we’ll land in five minutes and neither he nor Patricia seems particularly bothered that I can’t remember my own sister’s name. Unlike all five minutes that came before it, this one is unfathomably short. I can see our oval-shaped neighborhood. The tops of the fifteen-year-old trees. The playground. The parallel road. Las Hermanas. Gustav’s backyard. And in the distance, I can see my house, brown siding and bilevel.

  We descend.

  We descend.

  We descend.

  And the bush man runs toward us. And Gustav’s father opens the garage door. And his mother holds a tray of home-baked cookies. And suddenly I remember that we’re all naked.

  And I can’t remember her name.

  The scar can’t remember her name.

  No one remembers her name.

  She was the kid who didn’t know what a wombat was. She was exceptional at geography. She liked rhyming. She talked too loud. She had temper tantrums when she had to go to bed. She will never kiss the bush man. She will never go to a dance. She will never watch M*A*S*H with me while we eat frozen dinners. I will never tell her that Hawkeye Pierce is our mother. She will never cry out my name at night and set up her sleeping bag on my bedroom floor.

  We land and the grass doesn’t know her name. The dirt. The dandelion blooms. None of them know her name.

  I don’t know what comes after this.

  I don’t know what comes after this.

  Reset. Reset. Reset.

  The Interviews IV—Saturday

  Lansdale Cruise finds her camera, sets it to video, and stuffs it into the pocket of her apron. She rushes to the scene in Gustav’s yard with a quiche in each hand.

  When she arrives, she sees that they are naked—Gustav, who is covering his privates with a tea towel; an older woman, who is wrapped in the green plastic tarp that Gustav’s father uses to cover his woodpile during the winter; and Stanzi, who is covered in blankets and is sitting on the grass, staring toward the backyard.

  Interview #1 Patricia

  Lansdale asks, “Why are you all naked?”

  “Are you filming me?”

  Lansdale makes her camera nod and says, “Yes.”

  The dangerous bush man pushes Lansdale away and says, “Not now.”

  Interview #2 The dangerous bush man
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  “Why did you give us the wrong answers?”

  “Turn off the camera,” he says.

  She turns it off. The bush man walks away from Patricia, who is getting partially dressed in Gustav’s mother’s clothing. The tray of chocolate chip cookies lies, unscathed, on the macadam outside the garage door.

  “How do you know they’re the wrong answers?” he asks.

  “Because there were sixteen extra.”

  “And?”

  “And sixteen extra means you got us the wrong answers.”

  “Or you remembered them wrong,” he adds. “You’ve been distracted, haven’t you?”

  “I guess.”

  “Test week wasn’t ideal,” he says.

  “No.”

  “So what were you asking me?”

  “Nothing, I guess,” she says.

  Interview #3 Gustav

  “Why are you all naked?”

  “We had to make weight,” Gustav answers.

  “What’s up with Stanzi?” she asks.

  “I think she’s in shock. Or something. I don’t know.”

  “Did you call her parents?”

  “My dad did. Their message says Gone to bed. TV dinner in freezer. Make sure you turn out the lights.”

  “They’re at Chick’s Bar,” Lansdale says.

  “Oh,” Gustav says. “I’d better go tell my dad.”

  Interview #4 Stanzi

  “Stanzi?

  “Stanzi?”

  Lansdale stares at Stanzi. She waves her hand slowly in front of Stanzi’s face but Stanzi continues to stare forward with glassy eyes. Lansdale puts her video camera on the grass and starts taking Stanzi’s vital signs.

  “Stanzi!”

  Stanzi doesn’t answer. Her eyes are fixed. Her breathing is shallow.

  Lansdale walks back to the group standing around the open garage door.

 
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