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I crawl through it, p.19
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       I Crawl Through It, p.19

           A. S. King
 
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  “She thinks I’m guilty,” I say.

  “She thinks it’s a mystery,” he corrects. “She thinks you’re the one who will solve it.”

  “But there was no drill,” I say.

  “We haven’t had one in a week,” Mr. Bio says. “Or maybe two weeks.” He scratches his chin. “Funny how you forget, isn’t it?”

  “What about makeup tests? Don’t I have makeup tests?”

  “We haven’t had one of those in a week or two, either.”

  “How will they assess us without tests?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe this is your test.” He gestures toward the box of evidence.

  I look at my list of cataloged items. Frog livers, hex nuts, red food coloring, a condom, a baseball, a tube of lipstick, a clarinet reed, a tiny pair of Barbie boots, a dried flower, a war medal, a coupon for dog food, a tiny ship in a tiny bottle, a sock, a pin for an air pump, a pill bug, a compact of eye shadow, a protractor, a fork, a razor blade, a cigarette, a pocket Latin dictionary, a Led Zeppelin cassette tape, toothpaste, an arrowhead, a necklace with a panda bear pendant, a pacifier, hand sanitizer, a scrap of paper with the anarchy symbol on it, a nail clipper, a cello bridge, a dried-out bull’s eyeball, a miniature Slinky.

  I look back into the huge box and I put gloves on and root through the other items on the surface. I see something shimmering halfway down. A small letter S covered in silver glitter.

  I meet China and Lansdale on the bus. Gustav is still on the football field with his physics teacher, who will agree to give him credit for the helicopter if ever she can see it.

  As the bus takes off, I can see Gustav in the pilot’s seat. Because it’s Monday, I can’t see the helicopter, so it just appears as if Gustav is floating, in the sitting position, in front of Ms. Physics. If that wouldn’t make you believe, what would?

  China Knowles—Monday Night—They All Do

  I’m China and I’m a walking iambic pentameter after reading sonnets for an hour at the end of the school day. Shane sits with a new friend on the bus—a kid he met in his government class. He looks happy. No one knows he’s a lizard inside. No one knows he’s mine.

  We decided to keep that a secret.

  My mother logged on to our survivor site last night and has asked the collective what she should do to help me. I haven’t looked at the answers, but she texted me twice today to tell me she loves me and I didn’t find it too intrusive.

  We can’t figure out if we should tell Dad when he gets back or not.

  I told her I didn’t want him looking at me any differently.

  “He won’t,” she said.

  “They all do,” I said.

  We decided to talk about it again another time.

  Lansdale, Stanzi, and I sit in my basement, now half Shane’s room and half not-Shane’s-room. I tell them I have no poems today.

  “You always have poems,” Lansdale says.

  “And you always have long hair,” I say.

  “This is all my fault,” Stanzi says.

  I say, “Okay. I have one poem.” I hand it to Stanzi to read it, but I realize that she’s weaker than I am now, so I take it back and I read it myself.

  How to Tell If Your Life Is Real

  If you wake up and you

  no longer own a stuffed monkey

  and you no longer own

  a sweater that shames you

  and you no longer fear

  anything because someone

  said

  I

  believe

  you

  then your life is probably real.

  If you go to bed and you

  no longer fear waking up

  and you no longer fear

  a boy who shamed you

  and you no longer fear

  telling the truth because

  someone said

  I

  love

  you

  then your life is undeniably real.

  When I’m done reading the poem, we decide to go see the bush man, Kenneth. As we approach his corner, we hear music.

  Then, before we can see who’s playing, he grabs me and takes me into the bush by myself. He hands me three poems. My poems. I don’t know where he got them. He says, “These are good. These are the answers.”

  Stanzi—Tuesday Morning—I Crawl Through It

  Today is Tuesday and I can see Gustav’s helicopter parked on the football field. I skip homeroom and go to him.

  Yesterday we visited Kenneth and Patricia in the bush. We told them how we feel about each other.

  Gustav said, “We’ve decided to fall in love.”

  I said, “My doctor recommends against it, but sometimes doctors are wrong.”

  Gustav is on the football field with his physics teacher, who still cannot see the helicopter.

  “It looks brand-new,” I say.

  Gustav says, “I waxed it.”

  “It’s beautiful,” I say.

  Ms. Physics seems curious enough. She seems open-minded. She wants to see the helicopter. She looks at me and says, “Point to the tail.”

  I point to the tail.

  She says, “Point to the altimeter.”

  I step up into the cockpit and I look at all the dials. I know it’s the one marked ALT, but in case I’m wrong, I ask Gustav, “It’s the one marked A-L-T, right?”

  “Yes.”

  I point to it.

  Ms. Physics says, “Where is the pitch lever?”

  I shrug. “I’m not a pilot.”

  Gustav climbs in the passenger’s side and points to the pitch lever. “Here is the pitch lever and here is the engine oil gauge and I removed part of the horizontal stabilizer in order to make weight on my last flight.”

  We are two high school seniors floating in front of a physics teacher.

  And still, she cannot believe.

  As I walk the hallway with my late pass, I walk past open classroom doors. In one room, they are having a mock trial. In another, they are filling test tubes with suspicious liquids. In another, they are having a race on the blackboard. In another, they are writing a play for kids in middle school. The play is about being a good sport.

  When I reach the biology room and weave my way past the dead formaldehyde frogs, I find my box full of evidence. It has been sealed with sturdy packing tape. My clipboard is gone.

  I look for Mr. Bio but he’s not here. His briefcase isn’t next to his desk. His lab coat is hung on a hook by the door.

  It’s just me and the frogs.

  I pretend that one of the frogs is Mama.

  I pretend that another one is Pop.

  We have a conversation about Ruthie, my dead sister. We have a conversation about how she didn’t know what a wombat was. I tell them I was a bad big sister.

  Mama weeps, mostly.

  Pop tells me I was a great big sister. “Remember how you taught her how to braid Mama’s hair?”

  I open a drawer in the lab to find a tissue for Mama-frog. Her tears will overflow the formaldehyde jar soon. When I open the drawer I find the tests. Just the answer sheets. Thousands of little dots. Tens of thousands of letters.

  I’m on my knees by the drawer. I take out stacks and stacks of answers and place them on the floor. The drawer is ten feet deep. It’s ten feet wide. I empty it. I’m cold and sweating. In the very back of the drawer, there is a hole.

  I crawl through it.

  I fall through a chute of some sort.

  “YOU HAVE BEEN ASSESSED!” the principal says as I land in her chair, in her office, on her lap.

  We are surrounded by heaps of paperwork. She’s eating peanut butter crackers and asks me, “Don’t tell anyone, okay? I’m not allowed to have peanuts.”

  “Okay.” I shift on her lap to make us more comfortable.

  “How did you get here?” she asks. “From the parking lot?”

  I point up. “Biology lab. A drawer.”

  “Oh, that.”

  “I was supposed to be catalo
ging evidence.”

  “Investigation is over,” she says. “We found our man.”

  “Man?”

  “Yes,” she says, picking up the crumbs of her crackers by touching each one with a spit-soaked finger. “He’s out on the lawn for public display.”

  On the front lawn of the high school, there are a hundred students in a circle. It reminds me of the drills, but there are no drills.

  In the center of the circle is Kenneth, the dangerous bush man.

  The students throw things at him. Countries and capitals, history, dates, names, triangles, circles, rectangles, infinitives, clauses, equations, couplets, limericks, theories, debate points. Someone throws hydrogen. Someone throws radium. Another throws xenon. I see Lansdale Cruise in the crowd.

  “Why are we doing this?” I ask her.

  “He can take it,” she says.

  “Everyone here is guilty,” I say.

  “Everyone here knows it,” she answers.

  China arrives. She’s holding a piece of paper that says Irenic Brown. She throws it at him. The crowd stops hurling shapes and phonetic symbols and x and y. Kenneth, the dangerous bush man, says he knows what to do with Irenic Brown.

  “I know what to do,” he says. “Only no one will let me do it.”

  China looks as if she knows what this means.

  When I listen to the crowd thinking, I hear they know what it means, too. I consult myself: Do I know what this means?

  I think it means we must start paying attention.

  I know the odds of this happening are very low.

  Stanzi—Monday Afternoon—Frogs in Jars

  There is a note on the table. It says Gone to bed. TV dinner in freezer. Make sure you turn out the lights.

  It’s only four o’clock.

  So I walk over to Chick’s Bar and find them at the corner table. When they see me, they climb underneath and hide. They climb into two jars of formaldehyde and become frogs. I pick up the jars and take them home.

  The doctor from my family therapy arrives. He still looks like Sidney from M*A*S*H and I know he can save the frogs that are now sitting on the breakfast bar.

  We sit in a circle. Me, Mama-in-a-jar, Dr. M*A*S*H, and Pop-in-a-jar.

  I say, “They’re dead frogs floating in formaldehyde.”

  “I’m sitting right here,” Mama says. “I am not a dead frog.”

  Pop doesn’t say anything.

  “Why do you say this, ____________?” the doctor asks.

  “Stanzi,” I correct. “My name is Stanzi.”

  “Well then, Stanzi, why do you say your parents are dead frogs? They’re sitting right here.”

  “They won’t talk about Ruthie,” I say. “And they take me to school shooting sites and call it vacation.”

  Dr. M*A*S*H looks at Mama and Pop for verification. They nod but don’t seem to see that their vacations are in any way creepy.

  “I talk about Ruthie all the time,” Mama says. “I never stop talking about Ruthie.”

  “I have never heard you talk about Ruthie,” I say.

  “That’s because you weren’t listening,” Pop says. “We talk about her all the time.”

  “Is this true?” Dr. M*A*S*H asks me.

  “No.”

  He looks at me like I’m an insect, lying to make my life harder.

  I say, “They drink all day at Chick’s Bar. They drink all night, too. They leave me a note that says Gone to bed. TV dinner in freezer. Make sure you turn out the lights every night.”

  “Is this true?” he asks them.

  “We’ve never left a note like that in our lives,” they answer.

  I walk to the sideboard and open the middle cabinet door and remove hundreds and hundreds of notes. They all say Gone to bed. TV dinner in freezer. Make sure you turn out the lights. Some are on white paper. Some are on the backs of junk mail. Some are on sticky notes. I pull them all out and place them, in piles, on the kitchen table.

  “Is this your handwriting?” the doctor asks them.

  “Yes,” Mama says.

  “Do you think Stanzi wrote these herself?” he asks.

  “No,” Pop says.

  “And do you talk about Ruth, the way you said you did a minute ago?”

  “No,” Mama says. “If I had to talk about it, I would end up in the looney tunes.”

  “She would,” Pop agrees.

  I’m still on my knees clearing out the sideboard of notes.

  There is a hole in the back of the cabinet.

  I crawl through it.

  I’m in the dangerous bush man’s bush.

  He is here, naked and drinking tea with Patricia.

  I say, “Why did we go all that way only to come back?”

  “You know why,” Patricia says.

  “Because you’re in love and needed rescuing?” I ask.

  “I didn’t need rescuing,” she says. “I was on my way here anyway. Eventually.”

  The bush man says, “I could have taken Gustav’s helicopter and gone myself.”

  “But you didn’t.”

  “No.”

  “You made us go,” I say.

  “I didn’t make you do anything,” he says, then offers me a madeleine cookie.

  “Love is funny, isn’t it?” Patricia asks.

  Thwap-thwap-thwap.

  I sit and chew my madeleine cookie and I wonder if I could be Constanze Mozart and if Gustav could be Wolfgang and if we might, one day, sit naked in a bush drinking tea. This morning we kissed on the grass in his backyard. There is a lovely evergreen behind the birdbath.

  “I think that’s possible,” Patricia says.

  “Anything is possible,” the bush man says.

  I ask for another cookie for Gustav, who is landing the invisible helicopter where we kissed earlier this morning, and they give me three. I leave the bush and walk across the street to see him landing right where we landed two weeks ago. Back then, I was a naked frozen baby being born. This time I’m Stanzi, wearing my lab coat, crawling through holes.

  Gustav jumps out of the invisible cockpit and I walk over to him and give him the cookies.

  He says, “She gave me credit.”

  “Did she see it?” I ask.

  “No.”

  “But she gave you credit?”

  “Full credit.”

  Today it’s a red helicopter. Who knows what people will believe tomorrow?

  Stanzi Has a Paper Clip

  Gustav is building a boat. I can see it every day except on Thursday because that’s family therapy night. When I talk to Gustav about the boat, he doesn’t tell me it will be better than a stupid human. He tells me it cannot drive itself.

  Gustav’s boat is red, just like his helicopter. He’s decided that he wants to be in my coffin dreams again and asks if he can have the biggest coffin. I tell him yes, but I don’t tell him that in my coffin dreams since we flew back, I dream us in a double coffin. I make a note to change it to queen-sized so we both have more room.

  Mama and Pop now make dinner together and last night they made carnitas and they were delicious. Gustav ate with us, and Pop and he get along great. Mama avoids Chick’s Bar because once she came out of her formaldehyde, she said she never wanted to smell like that again.

  We threw away the master list. It’s in a landfill now. Probably the one over by the highway. You’re welcome to it if you want to one day see the looney tunes.

  There are still intruder drills once a month. Red buttons. Test weeks. Banned books. Dress codes. Assessment. Detention. We can’t get away from it. Letters make letters make letters make letters. It’s a chain of command. A line of duty, a battle chosen.

  Gustav has chosen the battle of building an invisible red boat. I have chosen the battle of remembering what I wanted to forget. Lansdale has chosen the battle of being an honest, short-haired girl. China has chosen the battle of being right side out.

  We’re alive. We have words and shapes and ideas. We will throw them at you when you
do not believe. We will throw our love and our hate and our failure and success. We’ll split in two right in front of you and be our best and our worst. We’ll lie and tell the truth.

  But we are alive.

  And no one has the answers.

  And we all sent the bomb threats.

  We did it so you would believe.

  Because we believe.

  We believe.

  Somewhere in every mind is an opening to crawl through.

  Somewhere in every body there are eighty-nine cents’ worth of chemicals walking around lonely.

  And somewhere in every idea there is a hole that fits an unbent paper clip.

  You just have to find it.

  Reset. Reset. Reset.

  For more great reads and free samplers, visit

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  Acknowledgments

  I am Amy, the walking circulatory system. I bleed, I pump, I recycle. Yesterday I was inside out and wrote a book. Today I am right side in and I am grateful.

  The usual suspects deserve enormous thanks. Michael Bourret, you told me you liked weird. Look what happened. Andrea Spooner, please edit this sentence so it somehow conveys the full appreciation I have for your trust. Deirdre Jones, you rock all over. All other LBYR teammates, thank you for everything you do for me.

  I am also grateful to the community at Vermont College of Fine Arts for responding so positively to a reading on a humid summer night in 2013. Thank you.

  Family and friends, you know who you are—thank you. Special thanks to e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, mi hermana en Las Hermanas; Wendy Xu, for your illustrations in this book and for your amazing Angry Girl Comics; Robyn Sarig for your hospital expertise; my kids, who make my world surreal and who don’t fit into ovals; and Topher, because you built me an invisible helicopter.

 
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