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Glory obriens history of.., p.19
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       Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.19

           A. S. King
 
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  “Well, shit,” Peter said. “Doesn’t she live across the street? You’d know if it was like that, wouldn’t you?”

  “I don’t know. Yeah. I guess I would.”

  When I said good-bye to Peter that day, I decided to treat him as if we’d know each other for a lifetime. He did too. He asked if I’d see him the next day. I told him I probably would, but if not, I’d call him. He smiled. I smiled. And then, on my way home, I really tried to fathom it. Jasmine Blue: cult leader. It didn’t seem plausible.

  If Jasmine Blue Heffner believed a microwave oven was an atomic bomb, then I wondered what she would think of HC-110 developer or worse yet, photographic fixer with its 97% hydroquinone. I bet she’d think a darkroom was a Nazi gas chamber and I was a willing victim, walking in as if it was a shower, all the while holding my mother’s hand.

  If Jasmine Blue gave naked pictures of herself to men, then how would she answer Darla’s final question?

  Why do people take pictures?

  Or, in this case, why do people take naked pictures?

  Is it to fasten that moment in time? The moment when your thighs are still consumerist-perfect and your hair is consumerist-styled right and your body is just like all the bodies in the consumerist magazines people buy? Anyone who tried to convince me that Jasmine wasn’t a gorging consumerist on the inside from today onward wouldn’t succeed.

  The woman was fat with consumerism.

  And nobody in that commune knew it.

  Richard of the USS Pledge was right—maybe the commune was a cult in a way. Jasmine controlled when the kids would graduate. She controlled when people did anything. Star parties. Day trips. Local protests. But I didn’t see her going all doomsday like Jim Jones at Jonestown. I didn’t see her killing anyone. I didn’t see her using mind control or making anyone miserable.

  Jasmine needed to be liked. That’s all. And who doesn’t need to be liked, right?

  Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

  The explosion at the battlefield will scatter parts of Nedrick’s New American Army in all directions. Arms. Legs. Heads. Hands. Ears. The tunnels will rumble. The Sniper will run quickly to the safer tunnels, her husband close behind her, until they find a boy. The boy will beg them to stop. The boy will say there is too much smoke. He will say they are trapped. He is familiar to me. He will have come from a safe house that looks like Ellie’s barn.

  They will hear footsteps from behind. There will be a flamethrower and a man. The head of Ferret Company who has hunted them for over a year. A man who drives a red pickup truck.

  “Why don’t you come with us?” the Sniper will say.

  The man will consider this. He will look at the boy. Something will change in him when he sees the boy. Something will soften.

  “It’s over,” he’ll say. “I’ve found you.”

  The boy will think the man is talking about him and will run toward him. The man will fire his flamethrower at the three of them: the Sniper, her husband and the boy.

  But it will not be over. Nothing is ever over until there is no breath left. And when he leaves them there, scorched and bloody, they will be breathing.

  I can’t see… anything

  Ellie came over when she saw me on the porch in the rocking chair. I’d eaten dinner with Dad and stared at him a lot, trying to see a transmission, but I couldn’t see a thing.

  She sat on the step and leaned against the railing.

  “The… thing… it’s gone. I can’t see… anything,” she said.

  “I know,” I said. “Me too.”

  “What are you doing tonight?” she asked.

  “Nothing,” I lied. I’d planned on printing some negatives.

  “We should do something to celebrate the bat being gone, don’t you think?”

  “I guess we should,” I said.

  I went inside and told Dad I’d be home later.

  This time there was no jar full of dust. Just beer. Ellie offered me one.

  “No thanks,” I said.

  “It’s cold this time,” Ellie said. “I got it straight from my dad’s fridge.”

  I shook my head again and she cracked open her beer.

  She didn’t want to talk about the transmissions. She didn’t want to talk about the war, my war, she called it, because I’m pretty sure she didn’t really think it was coming. She didn’t want to talk about Rick because she knew I already knew too much about Rick.

  I grew awkwardly silent.

  Without Max Black, I had nothing in common with her anymore.

  So I watched the sky turn its sunset colors. There weren’t many. Some sunsets are boring. This one was.

  “I wrote the history of the future,” I said.

  “What?”

  “I wrote the history of the future.”

  “Like Nostradamus. He did that, right?” she said.

  “Kinda,” I said.

  “Maybe one day you’ll be famous,” she said.

  “I don’t want to be famous. I kinda hope what I saw never happens.”

  “Yeah,” she said.

  Before it got dark, she’d had two beers, we’d talked about pretty much every type of small talk there was—memories of our childhood, a few bad jokes—and when Ellie noticed that I hadn’t said anything for a while, she sighed—as if reality was a hassle—and said, “So did you ever find your wheelchair guy? Did he help you write this paper or what?”

  “It’s not a paper. It’s a book,” I said. “And yeah. We had lunch together today. With Peter.”

  “Peter,” she said. “Good.”

  “The weirdest thing is that the old guy’s related to Rick. It’s his grandfather. Weird, huh?”

  “I can’t wait to get the fuck out of there,” Ellie said, clearly not hearing a word I said. “Can I use your cell phone to call Markus Glenn?”

  Oh well.

  I gave her my phone, and once she’d made the date, I said good night and walked home. It wasn’t my job to save Ellie.

  So the only person left for me to deal with was Dad. Roy O’Brien—whose ancestors ate giant stag over a fire—chronic microwaver, occasional Jazzy driver and painting avoider.

  It wasn’t my job to save him. But I wanted to try. I wanted him to see Why People Take Pictures. I wanted to tell him about The History of the Future, too. Then maybe he’d stop wasting so much time on the couch.

  Darla Darla Darla

  Before I went downstairs in the morning, I grabbed The History of the Future. I was scared about this part the most. Maybe if I told Dad what I’d seen, he’d think I was losing it like Darla had. I’d never shared my fear of becoming Darla with him, either, so I didn’t know if he was hiding that same fear from me, too.

  But before I could make it down to the living room, Dad called out, “Cupcake? Can you come here?”

  He had two folders on the couch next to him and papers around those. Laptop in place, he read me part of Pennsylvania’s squatters’ rights law.

  “So that makes it sound like we have twenty-one years, right? Even if they have a claim in?”

  “That’s what it sounds like to me,” I said. “You could always call a lawyer.”

  “Well, I kinda did. Yesterday.”

  “Oh.”

  “We have options,” he said. “And I talked to a guy I know at the township office, too.”

  “Did Jasmine put a claim in for the land?”

  “She wouldn’t do that,” he said.

  “Never know.”

  “It won’t matter anyhow,” he said, handing me one of the papers. “I’m gonna give her this later. I’m gonna send one in the mail first to be official, then I’m going to walk this copy over.”

  “Only fair,” I said, while reading the letter. It was the same as the one I’d written but instead of my signature, it was his—minus the love. Short and sweet. Attached to it was a cover letter that explained zoning laws and how the township had contacted him about a list of things. Too many RVs. Too many people living in
a noncompliant structure (the barn). And apparently, no one on the commune had paid per capita taxes except for Ed, who’d been paying just for himself and Jasmine. The letter was nice. Almost apologetic.

  “Thanks for making me do this,” he said. “I’ve been in the same hole for a long time and I never wanted to step out.” He looked at the letter again when I handed it back to him. “I mean, how will they ever know what the real world is like if I give them a free place to stay for the rest of their lives?”

  I looked at him then. “Are you trying to tell me something?”

  We laughed.

  “I still think she’ll freak out,” he said. “But my hands are tied now. I have to get them off the property.”

  I said, “So, can we talk about painting now?”

  “Not really.”

  “Too late.”

  He looked at me over his computer glasses.

  “I have an assignment for you. Could be one single piece, could be a whole series,” I said. “But I think it will be good.”

  “Okay,” he said.

  I took a deep breath. “Ovens.” I drew one with my hands—boxy, rectangular. I pulled the imaginary door open. “I think you should paint ovens.”

  “Shit.”

  “Think about it. A summer project. Summer is only starting now. You quit that lame job and you can paint and I’ll print in the darkroom and then I’ll figure out what I’m really going to do with my life now that everything has changed.”

  “Everything has changed, huh?”

  I couldn’t tell him about the future even though I was holding The History of the Future in my hands. “Trust me. Everything has changed.”

  I put both sketchbooks back in the darkroom for another day. And then I went to the bank. I won’t tell you what I went to the bank for because you would think I was nuts. But what about me wasn’t already nuts?

  I went to the bank. I walked inside and I did something.

  The thing I did made me smile.

  When I got home and back into the darkroom, I looked at Darla’s tooth, still lying on the counter where I’d left it. I decided to tack it back on the ceiling along with its message. Not living your life is just like killing yourself, only it takes longer.

  It would be my mistletoe again—and every time I walked under it, it would give me good luck until I was strong enough to be the leader of the resistance.

  Dad went to the post office while I printed four pictures.

  One of Richard the USS Pledge guy. It was a good shot. He was grinning a bit and had a look in his eye like he was proud to know me—a girl who knew about his war.

  The next image I printed was of the elevator button. It said OPEN DOORS.

  The third one was of Peter looking at me in the food court. His face held a genuine smile—as if maybe one day we’d be together until our hair turned white. As if maybe something about me was loveable. Nothing about a tipi. Nothing about boobs. Peter looked as if he liked my brain. If that’s possible to capture in a picture, then I captured it.

  Then I printed the picture of me in the bat glasses. It was so badass. I taped it into The History of the Future and wrote: Glory O’Brien, Sniper. Mad at the World.

  I looked at our sketchbooks—Darla’s and mine—sitting side by side, and I read the titles. Why People Take Pictures and The History of the Future. That’s what pictures are. They are the history of the future. They will outlive us and they will exist to show us that even if it’s gone, even if it’s never going to tuck you in at night or sing you a lullaby, it is still there, in silver halide and paper. It is there because you can look at it and remember. It is powerful because once it’s there, it changes as you change.

  “I’m going over!” Dad yelled down the steps.

  “Wait up!” I answered. My prints were all in the washer, so I turned on the big light and went upstairs.

  He looked nervous.

  “Don’t be nervous,” I said. “Your hands are tied, remember?”

  He didn’t answer me and he started across the road and toward Jasmine’s house. I sat on the rocking chair on the front porch and watched him.

  Ed Heffner came to the door first and gave Dad one of those half-hug handshakes and I think he invited Dad in, but Dad stayed on the rickety old porch and eventually Jasmine Blue came out.

  Dad said some stuff. That’s why I stayed on the porch. I wanted him to be able to say whatever he wanted to say. Jasmine said some stuff. Ed tried to say some stuff but then Jasmine held her hand up to make him be quiet. Ed looked at his feet for a minute while Dad and Jasmine exchanged more words.

  Then Dad handed her the letter, nodded a good-bye to Ed and walked down the steps and back toward me.

  As soon as Dad got to the road, Jasmine started toward him. She wasn’t saying anything, but she was fast-walking, the ripped envelope and the unfolded letter in her hand. Her hippie dress got caught between her hurried legs. By the time he crossed the road and landed on the front porch next to me, she was waiting for a car to pass and looking right at us.

  “You can’t do this!” she said.

  “I have no choice,” he said.

  “It’s rightfully ours!” she said as she crossed the road.

  “Show me the receipt from the last time you paid taxes on it,” he said.

  “We don’t believe in taxes,” she said. “And you know it.”

  “Must be nice.”

  She sighed and growled under her breath. “Why are you doing this, Roy? Can’t you just let the whole thing go?”

  “What whole thing?”

  “Darla.”

  And there it was. Spoken aloud. By Jasmine Blue Heffner. Darla.

  Darla.

  Darla.

  Darla.

  “She was my wife,” Dad said. “Exactly why would I let her go? This is her house. Glory is her daughter.” He knocked on the rocking chair arm. “This was her fucking rocking chair. And that”—he pointed to Jasmine’s commune—“is her land.”

  “And you’re going to steal it from us,” she said.

  He said, “I can’t steal something that’s already mine. Anyway, did you read the letter? It’s not me. It’s the township, too. Can’t you just be happy you got to live the dream for as long as you did?”

  “You always were a fat, greedy asshole.”

  I think Dad was as shocked by this reaction as I was. Although maybe we weren’t. Maybe we both knew that Jasmine was a self-centered jerk who thought lawyers and townships and tax collectors were all beneath her. Along with us.

  “Sure I was,” he said. “That’s why you sent me all those pretty pictures, right? Because I was a fat, greedy asshole?”

  She said, “You’ll hear from my lawyer.”

  And Dad answered, “If you want to do it the hard way, I’ll go copy the paperwork from when you bought it from us. Except that doesn’t exist. Bummer.”

  I laughed a little at that. More like a giggle.

  She stood there and stared.

  She looked at me. “You’re as fucked up as your mother was.”

  I smiled. “Thank you.”

  During dinner, I could tell Dad was feeling bad. I said, “I can’t believe she was so mean about it.”

  “I hope you didn’t take that thing she said about Mom too personally. Jasmine is a self-centered jerk and she has always been a self-centered jerk.”

  I wanted to say something about the apple not falling far from the tree, but I didn’t. Instead I just ate and thought about Ellie and what I’d seen in that last transmission from Ed Heffner.

  Ellie and the ducks.

  Ellie getting into a car.

  Ellie gone. Forever.

  I lost my appetite.

  Like, today

  The next day, Ellie came over at noon and told me they were moving.

  “Like, today,” she said. “They’ve been packing all night. They won’t tell me why, but Rick told me it was because your dad took the land back.”

  “The township wr
ote us letters, I think. His hands were tied.”

  “So it was him?”

  “More like the township,” I said again. “Where are you going? Is it far?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “You don’t know?”

  “Another commune, I think. We’re taking everything,” she said. “But not the chickens.” At this, she started to cry.

  I went over and gave her a hug and she got snot all over my ear and I didn’t care. A week ago, she was treating her crabs in my barn. A week ago, we drank a bat and saw God. A week ago, we were God. Now we were mortal—swayed by the decisions our parents made.

  “Will you take care of my birds for me?” she asked. “I have enough feed for a few months. Maybe you can sell the ducks back to where I got them. The chickens are good for fresh eggs.” Ellie babbled some more things about chickens and ducks. I didn’t hear all of what she said because I was trying to block out a feeling of deep guilt.

  “Sure,” I said. “Of course I’ll take care of them.”

  “I told my parents I wanted to stay. I can’t wait to get away from them all.”

  Dad, who must have overheard all of this from the kitchen, came in and said, “Why don’t the two of you go for a drive?”

  “A drive?” I asked. I was finally going to be free of Ellie, and now Dad wanted me to go for a drive?

  Dad shrugged. “Maybe Ellie and you need a night to go and have fun somewhere. How about the shore? Your mothers used to love going to the beach together.”

  “The shore?” Ellie asked. “We’re moving. I told you.”

  He nodded. “You’ve got choices, right?”

  Ellie and I looked at each other.

  “I don’t know,” she said.

  “Want to try?”

  Fifteen minutes later, we were driving down the highway. I felt free. Free of school. Free of regret. Free of Darla. Even free of Ellie, even though she was in my car. I looked at her, worried and nervous in the passenger’s seat, and saw that she was not free of anything—especially Jasmine Blue.

  “Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked.

  “Where will we go?”

  “Anywhere we want. How about the beach, like my dad suggested? It’s only three hours away. Maybe we could just touch the ocean with our toes and come back. Just for fun,” I said.

 
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