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I crawl through it, p.18
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       I Crawl Through It, p.18

           A. S. King
 
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  China Knowles—Sunday Morning—Little Shit

  I am China, and I’m sitting with my mother at the kitchen table. Shane is playing video games with my sisters upstairs.

  Mom has a piece of paper and a pen in front of her.

  She slides them to me.

  “I’d rather just tell you,” I say.

  “Then tell me.”

  All that comes to me are poems about weathermen.

  “Or write it down,” she says. “Your choice.”

  “Your weatherman has more self-esteem than I do,” I say.

  “Okay.”

  “How to tell if your snowstorm was real,” I say.

  “Okay.”

  “Did you notice that I swallowed myself?” I ask.

  Mom shifts in her seat. “It was hard not to notice.”

  “Why didn’t you ask me back then?”

  “Because stomachs can’t talk,” she says.

  “I don’t want to call the police,” I say. “I don’t want anyone to know.”

  “That’s not up to you and you know it,” she says. She is stiff in her seat now. The mention of police. The look on my face. “If this is about that asshole in the bush, then someone has to do something.”

  “He’s a good guy,” I say.

  “Kenneth? Shit. He’s a psycho.”

  “He’s a sculptor. He’s eccentric. That’s all.”

  “I have letters,” Mom says. “I know about Kenneth.”

  “It’s not about Kenneth,” I say.

  She pushes the paper toward me. She knows I communicate best on paper. Upstairs, there is loud yelling and laughter. Upstairs, my sisters are playing a game and they’re happy, like I want to be.

  I write and talk at the same time. I write: Last summer I was dating Irenic Brown. I say, “The night before he broke up with me, he raped me.” I write: I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t do anything. I say, “He told me that no one would believe me anyway.”

  Mom sits there looking at me. I’m not crying or even emotional. I’m like Stanzi—talking about biological facts. I’m like Gustav, building machines that can take us to invisible places. Mom finally says, “Irenic Brown?”

  “Yes.”

  “That little shit.”

  “Yes.”

  “That little piece-of-shit asshole.”

  “Yes,” I say.

  “What a little shit piece-of-shit asshole!” she says. She has angry tears. She is pacing now. She says, “He told you no one would believe you?”

  “Yes.”

  “I believe you,” she says.

  “There’s more,” I say.

  “Oh.” She sits down again.

  “He bragged about it on Facebook. He took pictures.”

  She stares at her hands and clenches her jaw. I know she wants to ask how many people saw it or how many people know or how many people could sit in a witness stand and say something about it. She says, “What a slimy piece-of-shit asshole.”

  “Yes.”

  “Oh, China,” she says. “You need help. You can’t do this alone. I don’t know what to do to make you feel better. I don’t know anything about this. I don’t even know who to call.”

  “I’ve called them already.”

  “Who?”

  “Everyone I could call. Crisis lines, mostly.”

  She moves her chair next to me. She sits and holds my hand.

  I say, “Then I found this place online for victims. I met Shane.”

  “Oh,” she says. And I see her compute that she has left her young daughters alone with him upstairs. And then I see her compute that she shouldn’t be computing that.

  “He’s been through worse.”

  “It’s different for everyone,” she says. “Not better or worse.”

  “He’s been through worse,” I say again. “Trust me.”

  “I know who you can talk to,” she says. “Katie. From my group. She’s—uh—she’s had experience with this.”

  “Your group?”

  “My friends,” she says. “You know.”

  “Your basement friends?” I ask.

  “Yes.”

  “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

  “Probably not.”

  “Yeah.”

  “I’m going to get you into therapy,” she says. “I’ll ask Katie who I can trust.”

  “Okay,” I say.

  “We should call the police,” she says.

  “Not now.”

  “We should. It was only last summer. Other people…” She stammers on the N sound of know. “Know. Other people know.”

  “Not now,” I say again.

  “Shane can stay with us,” she says.

  “Thanks.”

  “I’m so sorry this happened. I don’t want to ask details, honey. I don’t. But I’m your mother. I have to ask some things.”

  I want to ask her to write them down on the piece of paper, but I don’t want to answer any questions. What happened to me is something everybody knows and no one knows. It’s something everybody cares about but nobody cares about. It’s as common as cereal for breakfast. There are laws that say it’s illegal, but barely anyone goes to jail for it.

  I say, “I have to go back and see Stanzi. Before you ask me anything, call the crisis center. The people there are nice. Or call your friend. Talk to her. Just let me go see Stanzi first.”

  “Okay,” she says. “Can I hug you?”

  “Sure.”

  “Do you mind if I cry?” she asks, but she’s already crying. It doesn’t seem possible that I made the neighborhood dominatrix cry, but maybe it was about time she paid attention.

  China Knowles—Sunday Afternoon—The Gland

  I’m China and I’m at the hospital and they are searching through my purse. This morning I had to beg to take Stanzi her lab coat, and they let me because Lansdale said it would help her.

  I let them keep my whole purse at the security desk. I don’t need it.

  I walk down the hall to Stanzi’s room and hope I’ll be the only one there.

  And I am.

  Her eyes are closed and she seems to be sleeping, so I sit down in the chair that’s nailed to the floor next to her bed.

  “I’m sorry I never talked to you about it,” Stanzi says. It startles me.

  “You’re awake.”

  “Did you hear me? You were in pain. You were wronged. I should have talked to you about it. I should have helped you in ways friends help each other.”

  “You did,” I say.

  “I ignored it. You turned into a stomach. You wrote so many poems.”

  “You did what you could,” I say.

  “I’m sorry.”

  “You really shouldn’t be.”

  “I’m sorry for a lot of things,” she says. “I’m sorry for everything.”

  She’s looking right at me and she’s not drooling anymore. Her arms are crossed over her chest and her lab coat is buttoned.

  “They nearly didn’t let me bring that in this morning,” I say. “Said you could eat the buttons.”

  “Why would I eat the buttons?”

  “You’re in the psych ward. I guess they think you could do anything.”

  “Last week, I flew in an invisible helicopter to a place that doesn’t exist,” she says. “How do I explain that to these people? How do I explain that I’m not the problem?”

  “You might want to leave out the helicopter part,” I say.

  “If I leave it out, then Marvin is right and the world is dumb.”

  “Then you’ll be in here for a lot longer and people will think you’re nuts,” I say. I have no idea who Marvin is, but I don’t care.

  “Not when I show them the helicopter.”

  “Stanzi.”

  “I am nuts,” she says.

  “You aren’t nuts.”

  “I have post-traumatic stress disorder.”

  “Yes.”

  “I’m obsessed with biology because I don’t know how to
have fun. I’m obsessed with biology because I want to cure something I can’t cure.”

  “What’s that?”

  “Guilt,” she says. “I think I nearly have it figured out. Touch here,” she says as she touches a part low down on her neck. “Lower. Yes. Just there. That’s how to cure it. That gland right there.”

  I am China, the girl who was once a weathergirl. I’m sitting in a hospital chair and my friend Stanzi is telling me how to cure guilt. As I massage this part of my neck, I feel better. I think Stanzi is a genius, but everyone else here will think she’s crazy. I don’t know how to tell her this.

  “It’s okay,” she says. “I already know.”

  “What?”

  “That everyone here will think I’m crazy,” she says. “Don’t worry. I’m not really going to tell them about the helicopter. Or the cure for guilt.”

  I wonder if I just said that out loud.

  “No,” she says. “You didn’t.”

  Mom and Shane have had a discussion.

  When I walk in, they’re sitting at the kitchen table and my sisters are sitting in front of the TV in the den watching the Disney Channel.

  I turn off the TV and tell Shane and Mom to join us in the den and I sit upside down on the couch. Little sisters do what big sisters do, so they do it, too. Shane has a look of concern on his face for me, but I smile and say, “Come on. Do it.”

  Mom is the last to turn upside down, but once she does, she giggles a little.

  “The world is upside down,” I say.

  “It is,” Shane says.

  “I think my head is going to blow up,” my sister says.

  “It won’t blow up,” I say. “Stanzi told me heads don’t blow up. She’s a biology genius.”

  “It really feels like it will,” she answers.

  “Look at how different everything looks now,” I say.

  “I’m dizzy,” Mom says. “How long do we have to do this?”

  “I don’t know,” I say.

  Once the girls are in bed, Mom, Shane, and I gather around the coffee table in the den and talk about how we’ll make this work.

  Shane says, “I’ll go to school with you now.”

  I say, “I’ll show you the best places to go during the drills.”

  “Shane will have a room in the basement,” Mom says. “I talked to your father and he thinks that’s the best way.”

  I ask, “Shane’s going to sleep in the dungeon?”

  Shane looks concerned.

  “I’ll redecorate it tomorrow. You’d be surprised what I can do in a school day,” she says.

  “Stanzi talked today. She told me she won’t be back to school for a week or two. They’ll let her out soon, but she has to do group therapy or something. She seemed okay,” I say. “I’m glad she talked.”

  “That’s good,” Mom says.

  “Yeah,” Shane says.

  “I think we should go to the police,” Mom says.

  Shane stays quiet.

  “The police won’t believe me any more than they can see Gustav’s helicopter.”

  “Irenic Brown has a reputation,” Mom says.

  “And so do I,” I say.

  The three of us look at each other around the table.

  “Shane showed me your website—the place where you met,” Mom says. “I can’t make sense of what I can do to help. I feel so guilty.”

  I reach over and I put Mom’s hand on her neck in just the right spot. I tell her to rub it. “That should help,” I say.

  “I called a crisis center,” she says. “I was going to call Katie about her therapist, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her.” She looks despondent. “You’re my daughter,” she says. “This is a nightmare.”

  Stanzi—Monday Two Weeks Later—Project Evidence

  Gustav built a helicopter in his garage and no one believed it.

  But today, he’s going to fly it to school and show them. I’ll be on the bench in front of the WELCOME sign, sitting upside down like China does. I’ll be wearing my lab coat because no one in my group therapy thinks it’s weird and they tell me Whatever works.

  Thwap-thwap-thwap.

  As I walk toward Gustav’s house, I see that the bush man Kenneth has decorated his entire yard with sculptures. They are nudes of Patricia. There are forty of them, at least. I see him and Patricia sitting behind the bush having tea and they wave me over.

  “We’ve thanked Gustav, but couldn’t thank you,” they say.

  “You don’t need to thank me,” I say.

  “Yes. Yes, we do.”

  “I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know where we were going. I didn’t know we were coming back. I didn’t even know that you weren’t a dangerous man,” I say, looking at Kenneth. “And I didn’t even know you existed,” I say to Patricia.

  “You saved my life,” Patricia says.

  “I don’t think I did,” I say.

  Thwap-thwap-thwap.

  I didn’t tell my group about the invisible helicopter because it’s sacred. It’s something I didn’t want to talk about. When the question came about my “disappearance” with Gustav the week before, I told them they were outrageous and that I hadn’t disappeared at all. I told them Gustav loves me and I love Gustav.

  I told Mama and Pop, too, and Mama said we are all headed for the looney tunes. When she said that, I asked her what was so wrong with the looney tunes.

  She answered, “I don’t know.” She answered, “People talk.”

  “What about the master list?” I asked. “It’s like going to the looney tunes over and over again. What good does it do?”

  “It does us good,” Mama said.

  “It shows us that we’re not alone,” Pop added.

  I told them Dr. Sidney-from-M*A*S*H wants to do family therapy. They told me they are looking forward to it. We’ll start next week. I’ll start by telling them that visiting those places makes me feel more alone, not less alone. I’ll tell them I don’t want to go anymore. I’ll show the doctor my snow globe collection. He’ll probably recommend that I throw it away. And then I’ll tell them about Ruth and how she didn’t know what a wombat was and I’ll massage my neck and maybe, just maybe, it will work.

  When Gustav flies to school and lands the helicopter in the football field, several students point to it. It’s Monday, so I can’t see it. But they can. One of them is a girl from my bio lab and I wonder if she’ll be the woman Gustav marries.

  China and Lansdale see me on the bench and they sit down on either side of me. They do not sit upside down like I sit. Lansdale has a pixie haircut. It’s new and cute and none of us talk about it.

  “I think Gustav should love a woman who can see his helicopter every day,” I say. “Don’t you think that would be fairer?”

  “Fairer to whom?” China asks.

  “To Gustav.”

  Lansdale says, “I read a lot about this stuff. Nowhere does it say that a wife must see her husband’s helicopter every day of the week.”

  “You are the expert,” I say.

  “Plus, love doesn’t just show up and disappear. Not real love,” she says. “I’ve known enough Mrs. Cruises to know that some people just show up and don’t have any love at all. They just have needs.”

  “Irenic Brown,” China says.

  “Yeah,” I say.

  “No. I mean Irenic Brown,” she says. “He’s coming over here.”

  I stay in my position with my hair dangling in the grass beneath the bench. China tenses. Lansdale runs her hand through her hair and says, “I’ll take care of this.”

  Irenic stands there staring at Stanzi. “It’s good to see you back, Stanzi,” he says. “We were worried about you.”

  “You’re a piece of shit, you know that?” Lansdale says.

  China stays quiet. She doesn’t look like she’ll swallow herself from down here.

  Lansdale continues. “You’re a piece of shit who doesn’t understand anything. You think you’re so powerful now? We talk
, you know.”

  “We take screenshots, too,” I say, upside down.

  “You don’t have to be so mean about it,” he says.

  “The guilt will eat you,” China says.

  “You will suffer for the rest of your life,” I say.

  “If some daughter’s father doesn’t kill you first,” Lansdale says.

  Irenic Brown walks away.

  Maybe he didn’t know until now that he was feeling guilty. Maybe he didn’t know that he should.

  When first bell rings, there is no announcement about a drill. The police car is not stationed outside. Mr. Man-with-a-Gun’s parking space is empty.

  I get to be Mr. Bio’s helper all day. My obsession with biology is something I’m supposed to work on, except I can’t go into the back lab without staring at the animals in the formaldehyde jars.

  Mr. Bio discovers this and takes me to another small lab. He shows me a box.

  “I have a project for you,” he says. “If you want it.”

  “Okay,” I say.

  He opens the box. It is full of Ziploc bags. Each bag contains an item and has a pink note stapled to the outside.

  “What is this?” I ask.

  “Evidence.”

  “Evidence of what?”

  “That’s the question, isn’t it?” he says.

  He hands me a box of latex gloves and a clipboard with sheets of paper clipped in. I’m still looking into the box. I see a Baggie with something familiar in it.

  It’s a frog liver, a hex nut from a helicopter kit, and a lock of blond hair.

  Stanzi—Monday Afternoon—The Catalog

  Gustav sent me a postcard at lunch. It said: We are not eighty-nine cents’ worth of chemicals walking around lonely. Love, Gustav.

  China and Shane sat together at a table with me, Lansdale, and Gustav.

  There are no bomb threats yet today.

  I have cataloged four pages’ worth of Ziploc bags. Mr. Bio says the buses are here. I don’t want to leave. I’m finding the answer. I’m working hard.

  He tells me, “You have all week. This is your special project.”

  I look at him as if to ask, Why?

  “The principal said you were the one who should do it.”

 
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