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I crawl through it, p.3
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       I Crawl Through It, p.3

           A. S. King
 
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  AP bio students make a circle next to a nearby holly bush and talk about our ancestors’ hair and eye color. I didn’t have time this morning to ask Mama and Pop about the family medical history, but I’m pretty sure they would have lied to me about it anyway.

  Mr. Bio asks me which traits in my family are most common and I say, “Brown eyes and dark brown hair.”

  He nods and moves on to the other students. I don’t listen. Instead, I watch a bird deep in the holly bush, calling out. Surrounded by us. Trapped. Calling out for help, perhaps. Calling out in fear. Calling out about spring.

  Good-bye, cold and snow!

  Good-bye, hunger!

  I look over to the black walnut tree. Gustav is talking to Lansdale Cruise again. Her hair hangs down to below her knees, and she fiddles with it as if it’s a magician’s medallion. She swings it and hypnotizes everyone. All of us, under a spell.

  Lansdale has a reputation. When she talks about sex, we know she’s never had it. When she gets letters from the bush man, we know she lied somehow to attain them. She is like Pinocchio except her hair grows, not her nose. A mixed-up fairy tale. Pinocchapunzel. I guess she’s beautiful if you think beautiful people lie that much.

  I note that Gustav looks uncomfortable talking to Lansdale. He looks past her. He looks at me. I can see inside his brain and this is what it looks like:

  I asked him once where he’s going to go in the helicopter. He told me he couldn’t tell me yet, but I knew from his eyes that there is a destination. When I see him trying to talk to Lansdale, I wonder if he pictures the place in his head every day as he builds. I wonder if it’s so far away that I might never see him again.

  When AP-bio-at-the-holly-bush is over, I’m approached by the principal. She asks me to follow her back into the building. She sits me in a blue upholstered chair in her cluttered wood-paneled office and asks me to wait until someone else arrives.

  I guess who someone else could be. My parents, the guidance counselor, Mr. Bio, Gustav, China, Lansdale?

  I guess maybe she’s found out about the man in the bush. Maybe she wants me to testify against him, though he’s never done anything wrong to me. Then I guess I’m being too negative, and since it’s spring, maybe I won a scholarship or something. I applied for two.

  The principal returns with the superintendent.

  I smile at them both as they close the door and sit down. They ask me, “Do you know who’s sending these bomb threats?”

  I answer, “Yes and no.”

  They say, “Don’t be coy.”

  I say, “I’m not being coy. I don’t want to speculate.”

  The principal says, “Didn’t you dissect a frog last week?”

  I say, “Yes. Many of us did.”

  The superintendent opens a box. It contains about five frog livers, dehydrated. It also contains lug nuts, a condom still in its wrapper, a small bottle of red food coloring, a lock of Lansdale’s long, lying hair, and a hinge from a saxophone key.

  I don’t know what to say, so I say, “That’s an interesting boxful of things.”

  She says, holding up a frog’s liver, “Do you know what this is?”

  I say, “Did you know that the liver is the only organ that can regenerate itself? Isn’t that amazing?”

  The principal frowns. “Are those your frog livers?”

  I say, “I don’t have any frog livers, to my knowledge.”

  We all look at each other. The superintendent looks tired. She has black rings around her eyes. I wonder if she’s slept since the bomb threats started.

  She says, “Are you sure you don’t know?”

  I say, “I’m sure that I’m not sure. But I can keep trying to figure it out for you. I’ve been investigating since the first one. I’m close, but I can’t be certain.”

  She nods.

  “Did you get any fingerprints from the bomb-threat boxes?” I ask. “Or the letters?”

  “No.”

  “Did you get traceable IP addresses from the bomb-threat e-mails?”

  “No.”

  “Could the police trace the bomb-threat phone calls to any single number?”

  “No.”

  “Looks like we are dealing with a very smart person,” I say.

  They stare at me.

  Maybe they think I’m smart enough to do all these things.

  I’m flattered.

  That night at home, Mama is there in place of the Gone to bed note because Pop has a late eye doctor appointment. While she takes a nap before dinner, I watch an episode of M*A*S*H where an unexploded bomb lands in the middle of the 4077th hospital compound. Hawkeye Pierce has to try to defuse it. It’s high drama, but in the end it’s just a bunch of funny flyers about the Army/Navy football game that explode into the sky.

  A joke bomb. Just like ours.

  I wonder what our joke-bomb letters would say.

  English 12.……………A

  Calculus………………B+

  AP Biology……………A

  AP World History..……B+

  Physical Education.……C-

  Dear Mr. & Mrs. ____________, Your son/daughter has been selected to serve as a square of human confetti in the science wing one day this year. Please sign this permission slip and return by tomorrow. Our condolences.

  While we make enchiladas and line them up in the glass dish, Mama asks me how the drill was today. “Nice day to be outside,” she says. “Spring has definitely sprung.”

  “I watched a bird in a holly bush,” I say.

  “What kind of bird?” she asks.

  “Eremophila alpestris,” I say.

  She pretends I’ve said nothing.

  “A horned lark,” I say.

  “Well, that’s nice,” she says, but she’s already fastened into the TV news playing on the kitchen set. Something about a man who kept teenaged girls locked up in his basement for ten years. She’s swallowed by the story, even though she knows all about it already. They’ve been looping it for days.

  “The superintendent thinks I’m the one sending the bomb threats,” I say.

  “That’s ridiculous,” she says, not taking her eyes off the screen. “Of course it’s not you.”

  “Of course,” I say. “Or it could be. Nobody knows,” I add, just to see if she’s listening.

  “How’s Gustav?” she asks.

  “I’m going to see him after dinner,” I say. “But I have to finish my bio worksheet first. Can you tell me if we have any history of cancer, heart disease, or autoimmune disease in our family, and if so, who had it?”

  She lowers her brow to think, then cocks her head toward me and claims we are a 100% perfectly healthy family that has never had any diseases.

  “If more people were like us, then there’d be no need for health insurance!” she says. “If more people were as lucky as us, then the world wouldn’t be so crazy!” she says.

  “Yes,” I say. “We’re very lucky.”

  When I fill in the bio paper, I write that my maternal grandmother had cancer and my paternal grandmother has high blood pressure. I say that Pop’s father is fighting dementia right now and that Mama’s father has struggled with multiple sclerosis for the last five years.

  When Pop gets home, we eat dinner together. It’s a welcome break from the TV dinners I feed myself most nights. I tell Mama and Pop I can’t seem to write my poem for English class. I tell them I still haven’t heard back about the scholarships. I tell them I got an A on my statistics project.

  Mama says, still watching the set with the sound muted, “Isn’t it awful what that man did to those girls?”

  Stanzi—Thursday—That Soon

  I can’t see Gustav’s helicopter, but because I saw it Tuesday, I comment on the tail propeller and how nice it looks.

  “That’s a rotor,” Gustav says. “It’s so we can steer.”

  I want to ask what he means when he uses the word we, but I know he must mean someone else. The woman I’m happy for him to marry. Th
e one I write postcards to.

  “I know it seems dumb,” I say. “But I really do love the color. So bright!”

  “They had the kit in black, too, but I chose red,” he says.

  “I’m glad.”

  Gustav smiles at me. “Do you ever take off your lab coat?” he asks.

  “Not really,” I say.

  “Why not?” he asks.

  “I don’t know,” I say. “Probably the same reason you wore your snowshoes that time.”

  “Aren’t you hot, though?” he asks. He’s wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. The garage where he’s assembling the helicopter is hot without a doubt, but I’m too shy to take off my lab coat, so I don’t answer. I just shake my head.

  He says, “Tomorrow I’ll finish the engine and place it inside the chassis.” He says, “We’ll be flying in another week or so.”

  “That soon?”

  “That soon.”

  “Why do you keep saying we?” I ask.

  Gustav looks hurt. “Because you’re coming with me, aren’t you?”

  I smile.

  Gustav smiles.

  “Are you sure you don’t want Lansdale to come?” I ask.

  “Lansdale lies too much,” he says. “She serves no purpose.”

  “What about China?” I ask.

  “China has eaten herself,” he says.

  “One of your physics friends?” I say. “Wouldn’t they be a better copilot than me?”

  “None of them believe,” he says.

  I tell him I’m honored and say I have to go home now. By the time I walk out, I’m sweating through my lab coat because I’m nervous and the garage is so hot. As I walk home, I wonder how we’ll fly in a helicopter I can only see on Tuesdays. I wonder where we’ll go. I wonder if we’ll ever come back.

  I wonder so much I forget about the dangerous bush until I’m several steps past it on the wrong side of the road. The bush man calls to me, so I cross and say hello.

  I say, “Can you tell me where Gustav is going in his helicopter?”

  He looks disappointed. “Don’t you want it to be a surprise?”

  “I don’t like surprises,” I say.

  “Well,” he says, “I can’t tell you. That’s up to him.”

  “Have you ever loved somebody?” I ask him.

  “Yes.”

  “Does it always hurt so much?” I ask.

  “When does it hurt?” he asks.

  “All the time.”

  “I’m not sure that’s love,” he says. “You may be sick.”

  “My mother is Hawkeye Pierce. He says without love we’re just eighty-nine cents’ worth of chemicals walking around lonely.”

  “He’s probably right,” the bush man says.

  He gives me a stuffed purple velvet lowercase f for my trouble, but I drop it at his feet and walk home feeling like eighty-nine cents of chemicals.

  My bedtime story is season one, episode twenty-three, “Ceasefire.” Everyone at the M*A*S*H 4077th hospital believes a rumor of a cease-fire, but there really isn’t one. I go to bed knowing how they feel.

  China Knowles—Thursday—It’s True

  I am China and I have swallowed myself and your brother, too. Last week I swallowed a little girl who didn’t know where her mother was. Tomorrow I will swallow a teacher who forgets how to teach. I don’t just swallow myself. I swallow anyone who’s willing. It keeps me from being lonely in here.

  There is a girl who sobs every day in the girls’ bathroom next to the gym. I don’t know why she sobs and I don’t know who she is, but I hear her every day, sobbing. I go to that bathroom to sit down and think for a minute, and she goes there to sob. I’ve asked her if she would like me to swallow her, but she hasn’t answered me yet. I believe she’s thinking about it.

  It’s a big decision, to be swallowed.

  Once you’re swallowed, you can only be found by people who understand guts. Once you’re swallowed, the only way out is to push yourself back out.

  I won’t be crude about it, but you know what I mean.

  Lansdale would say something like, “You need to take a colossal shit and find your head in there somewhere.”

  Stanzi would say something like, “It’s actually impossible to swallow yourself, you know.”

  Stanzi has guts I wish I had. She always tells the truth. She can dissect any animal without fainting. She can walk by the man in the bush when the rest of us take the parallel road. She sends me postcards from where her parents take her on vacation and always signs them Love, Stanzi. I can’t even write the word love. I can’t even think about the word love. Not since Irenic Brown.

  I’d bet all my father’s money that Stanzi will fly out of here with Gustav when he finishes the helicopter. She says he’ll take Lansdale, but I know it’s her. He looks at her all the time when we’re outside for the drills. Then, when she feels his stare and looks over at him, he looks somewhere else.

  Irenic Brown was like that with me, too, before we started to go out. I used to think it was because we were meant to be, like Stanzi and Gustav. Turns out it was just a trick. It was all just a trick.

  Some Boys Have Tricks

  We believe them like

  we believe the weatherman

  when he predicts snow

  and when he’s wrong, we shrug

  and blame ourselves for

  ever believing him.

  The night I ran, I ran all the way back to my house. Two miles. Two miles is a long way. Two miles is a long way to think. And yet, I only thought one thing for those two miles. I thought: Run, run, run, run, run, run, run.

  When I got home and into the shower, I thought about other things. Pregnancy. Diseases. Lies. Tricks. What he’d said.

  Why No One Will Believe You

  You are a dumb weathergirl

  who cries Storm! Storm!

  Every time you speak

  we take you less seriously.

  When we whisper in your ear

  we say

  Even if it snows, you’re full of shit.

  Ask anyone.

  You’re untrustworthy.

  AP English is the one class a day where I pay some sort of attention. I like the truth. I like expression. I like the feeling of yelling like Sylvia Plath or Walt Whitman. They yelled louder than any dumb voice, and they used paper, too.

  They said more than I can ever say about the truth.

  The truth is upside down.

  Everything is upside down.

  That’s all that comes out when I try to explain why I swallowed myself.

  I think I’m becoming good friends with Lansdale Cruise. Before, I thought she was just like one of my old slutty friends. Oxymoron. I can’t really call them my friends if I’m simultaneously calling them slutty, can I?

  Lansdale Cruise isn’t slutty at all. She lies to protect herself. She’s a nerd, but the nerds don’t like her. She’s a popular girl, but the popular girls don’t like her. She has a secret and she won’t let me tell Stanzi. I find it hard to lie to Stanzi. We’re best friends and Lansdale is new, but still, I have to keep a promise when I make it, and it’s easy for a swallowed girl to keep secrets.

  There Is Nothing Stupid About Home Economics

  It’s learning how

  to be independent

  to do your own wash

  to cook your own food.

  It’s learning how to

  budget so you don’t end up

  a dick with ten maxed

  credit cards and a mortgage

  you can’t pay.

  If the world explodes

  as predicted

  I’d want to be near

  Lansdale Cruise.

  She can balance

  a checkbook.

  A three-course meal.

  She makes the best

  red velvet cupcakes.

  I am China—and today I can see Gustav’s helicopter. It’s a shade of red rivaled only by the color of my stomach, which is all anyone ca
n see now. Gustav won’t look at me, and I think it’s because he knows.

  It was on the Internet.

  It was passed around like my parents pass around joints during their basement parties.

  It wasn’t just some rumor. It was viral.

  I ask Gustav how soon he thinks the helicopter will fly. He says a week or two. I tell him we still have fifty-six days of school left. He sneers and says, “What school? You mean the drills? The dogs? Test week? That’s not school.”

  When I try to apologize for pissing him off, he adds, “I’ve learned more in this garage in the last nine months. Haven’t you, China? Haven’t you learned more outside school than in it?”

  This is how they act—all of them—the people who know. And everyone knows. Why would anyone respect that girl? I remember when it happened to Tamaqua de la Cortez. I called her a slut myself. When they all called her a stupid spic who deserved everything she got, I nodded my head.

  You know what I wanted?

  Silence.

  And look what I got.

  Silence.

  I walk out of Gustav’s garage and head home. I take the road with the dangerous bush. When the man steps out, I punch him right in the teeth and he falls backward into his green dungeon. I don’t run. I walk and I shake the pain out of my fist. He doesn’t follow me.

  Did you know they don’t like girls who fight back? That they usually give up on us? They’ve done studies. It’s true.

  Except sometimes it’s not.

  Lansdale Cruise—Friday—It’s a Party

  Fridays suck.

  Fridays are the bridge to the weekend, when I’m hit with frying pans, croquet mallets, my mother’s favorite fish slice. I’m scorched with cigarettes.

  Sometimes, they sever the soft skin between my toes and rub table salt in.

  But not really. They could only do that stuff if they were home.

  Mr. and Mrs. Cruise are never home on weekends.

  So no one is there to beat me except me.

  I had a job once in the kitchen boutique and that kept me busy, but then a guy came in one day and robbed us and I got shot, so now I sit in my panic room all weekend until my parents come home. The only friend I have in the world is my Doberman, Crunchy.

 
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