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Glory obriens history of.., p.4
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       Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.4

           A. S. King
 
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  “That’s how they spread, I guess,” I said.

  “Then where’d he get them?”

  I didn’t say anything.

  “We’ve been dating for three months.”

  I didn’t say anything.

  “Is this the shit we caught off gorillas?”

  “I think there are a lot of different species. But yeah. Pretty much, I think,” I said. “Do you want me to get enough stuff for both of you?”

  “No fucking thank you.”

  “Does this mean it’s over with Rick?”

  “Yes fucking please.”

  That was going to be complicated.

  But we soon forgot about it when she went into the shed and produced the jar, the dust of the god Max Black, and a six-pack of beer.

  The clan of the petrified bat

  Ellie was in zone 1 all night. She said “Who gives a fuck?” a lot.

  I asked, “So, where are we going?”

  Ellie said, “Who gives a fuck?”

  We headed to the pond because I didn’t want to drink beer in my woods. When we got there and I unfurled a blanket I’d brought from home, I asked Ellie, “You want to sit on the blanket or just the grass?”

  Ellie said, “Who gives a fuck?”

  I laid the blanket out and sat down on it. I pulled out a small bag of Doritos and offered her one and she glared at me.

  “What?” I asked.

  “You’re always so fucking prepared.” She sat down on the blanket and added, “You and your fluorescent orange food.” I didn’t have time to say anything before she looked on the verge of tears and said, “What the hell can a six-pack of beer do for my problems? You know?” She pointed to the zipper of her jeans again.

  “I don’t know. Where’d you get it, anyway?”

  “Rick, remember?”

  “I mean the six-pack.”

  “I got that from Rick too. We were going to drink it during the star party on Monday. But now, who gives a fuck?”

  “I’ll get you stuff tomorrow and they’ll be gone and you won’t have to worry about it anymore. It won’t be your problem.”

  “It will always be my problem,” she said. “My problem is that I’m an idiot. My problem is that we’re all idiots. You and me and my mom and everyone I live with and everyone we know and everyone who lives on this road, in this town and in the state and the country and everyone on the planet. That’s my fucking problem.”

  “Shit,” I said.

  “Yeah. Shit,” she said.

  Ellie kept a scowl on her face as we drank our first beers. I stayed quiet and let her hold court. She talked more about how the world was full of idiots, mostly.

  When we cracked open our second beers, I said, “Do you mind if I say something?”

  “No.”

  “I think something’s wrong with me,” I said.

  “Like what?” She said it in a way that made it clear that right at that moment, even if I had leprosy or cancer, nothing was going to be worse than her case of regretful sex and crab lice, so I clammed up.

  “Nothing,” I said. “I’m just being weird.”

  Silence took over.

  We drank some more beer, though neither of us seemed to like it all that much. I put mine down and didn’t plan on picking it up again. Then Ellie fidgeted a bit and muttered some stuff under her breath. She turned to me and said, “Someone else had to give them to him, right?”

  “Yeah. Pretty much.”

  “I am such a dipshit,” she said.

  “You’re not a dipshit,” I said.

  As we lay and looked at the stars, Ellie stirred herself into more and more crab-anger. I thought maybe she was going to get up and leave me there. I thought she was about to combust. She wasn’t herself—none of the facets of Ellie I knew. Not the silly or the sarcastic or the oddly Jasmine-like. She was just… so pissed off. I’d seen her pissed off before, sure, but not like this. This was deeper.

  “I think we should drink the fucking thing,” she said.

  I’d zoned out and had no idea what she was talking about, so I said, “What?”

  “The petrified bat. God. Whatever you want to call that shit,” she said, pointing to the jar.

  “Max Black,” I said.

  “Max Black?”

  “That’s what I call it. It’s a photography term. Ignore me. I think I’m getting drunk.”

  Ellie held up the jar. “I’ll go first,” she said. “We’ll grow wings. It’ll be like drinking God. Hell. Maybe it’ll even give us a buzz.” She leaned over and took the last half beer—technically my beer, but it was warm and I didn’t want to drink it.

  She opened the jar and smelled the contents first. “It’s just dust. It won’t even taste like anything.” Then she poured the beer over the dust and swirled the mix around until it homogenized the best it could.

  She drank first—made a face like it was delicious, and then handed it to me.

  I hesitated and then I drank, confidently. What did I have to lose, right? I was about to graduate from high school and had nowhere to go and nothing better to do. Why not drink the remains of a bat? Some of it spilled down the side of my neck because the jar’s mouth was so big. I swallowed it and washed it back with the last of the warm beer in my bottle.

  Ellie held out her arms, palms up. “It’s like we’re part of God now, isn’t it, Glory?”

  I’d only mentioned the God stuff before as a joke, but Ellie seemed to really feel it or something. I felt pretty light-headed. I figured I was a little tipsy and had too much drink-the-bat adrenaline running around my system. But sure—this feeling could pass for being God. Glory O’Brien. God. Owned an atomic bomb. Daughter of long-dead Darla O’Brien, max black.

  I looked at Ellie. Ellie Heffner. God. Did not own an atomic bomb, unless you count the pubic lice treatment I was about to buy for her. Daughter of Jasmine Blue Heffner, hippie weirdo freak.

  “We’re a clan now. It’s like being blood sisters, but better. Clan of the petrified bat!” Ellie slurred.

  Then everything changed, only we didn’t know it yet.

  I felt like I wanted to puke for about a half hour after we drank it. I’d only ever had one other beer before, so I didn’t know what it was like to be drunk. I’d never felt quite like that, though.

  Ellie looked like she really believed she was God. She whispered to herself a little, like she was having a conversation with someone. Maybe the crabs. Maybe herself. Maybe she was just drunk. On God.

  “Free yourself,” Ellie said. “Have the courage.”

  “What?”

  “Free yourself. Have the courage,” she repeated. “I don’t know. It just came to me.”

  I answered, “Oh.” I didn’t know if she was saying it to me or to herself.

  I thought about that. Free yourself. Have the courage. It had so many meanings. So many accusations for me.

  We lay looking up at the stars for what seemed like an hour and Ellie didn’t tell me one constellation for once. She didn’t even point out Jupiter. It bothered me so much I nearly pointed it out myself.

  But then I looked at it, and I saw its history and its future all at once.

  I saw a huge explosion. I saw the planets and stars each take their place in the blackness. I saw the speed of light. Then darkness again—as if everything had died. It made me want to cry.

  So I looked away.

  I looked at Ellie and she looked frightened.

  Maybe she saw what I saw.

  “I should go,” I said. Just like that. I was lying there, then I was standing, waiting for her to get off my blanket. When she got up, Ellie said a hushed good-bye.

  I walked home and said hi to Dad. I didn’t look at him, though. I felt like if I did, he’d see I was some sick girl who’d just drunk the remains of a mummified bat. Maybe he’d see I was God.

  It was confusing.

  I went to bed with all my clothes on, trying to focus on feeling normal. I did not feel normal. I felt like I was fl
oating. Flying. Lighter and heavier at the same time.

  Twoooeee-toooo-tooo-tooo

  I woke up at five to the sound of the mourning dove that lives near my bedroom window. I never liked mourning doves. I knew what mourning was, and the bird wasn’t mourning.

  The window was about six feet high by ten feet wide and was separated into three sections. Just outside my window there was a line of flowering fruit trees. The mourning dove sat in one of them, singing that horrible song. Twoooeee-toooo-tooo-tooo.

  When I looked at the bird, I saw things.

  Strange things.

  I saw its ancestors. I saw its great-great-great-grandfather getting hit by a car, feathers exploding in all directions. I saw its children. I saw its great-grandchildren. I saw the bird’s infinity all the way to extinction. To dust.

  Just like I’d seen Jupiter the night before.

  I felt that familiar panic. I shook my head and stretched my shoulders back to relieve the tightness in my chest.

  Today was going to be normal and I was going to buy a dress for graduation at the mall. Very simple. Maybe later, I’d meet up with Ellie and say something like “Whoa, that was weird, eh?” and we’d laugh.

  Ah ha ha ha ha.

  I took a shower. I did the thing my dad taught me when I was little when my brain would move too fast. I kept the bathroom light off. I tried not to think of anything except the water hitting my face. I tried to be there. I breathed in and out. I smiled. I did neck rolls. I felt the water hitting my face. I smiled again.

  I still felt wrong. I felt like Max Black the bat. I felt invisible wings in my back. I felt like eating bugs. I could hear for miles.

  I was different.

  More neck rolls. Water hitting my face. Smile. Glory, don’t be so dramatic.

  I stuck my camera (the Leica M5 with black-and-white film) in my bag in case I wanted to stop and shoot pictures on my way to the mall to buy a dress. Sometimes I did that. I considered it a family heirloom—claiming time alone exploring shit that no one else found interesting. Carving those interesting things into real negatives. I considered it my right.

  Darla O’Brien stuck her head in an oven, so now I got to pretend I was her sometimes. Whatever she was. Whoever she was. I got to pretend like I knew. Twoooeee-toooo-tooo-tooo.

  Dad was settling into the couch when I left. He talked to me as I washed out my cereal bowl in the kitchen.

  “You okay?”

  “Yeah. Going for the dumb dress,” I said.

  “You don’t have to wear a dress, you know,” he said. I could see Darla saying that. Or maybe she wouldn’t.

  “I know.”

  “Good.”

  Truth is, I didn’t know what else girls wore to be dressy. I didn’t want to wear some business suit or anything. I figured I could just go to the mall and look and then if I couldn’t find anything, I could stop at the vintage thrift store on the way home and buy one of those 1940s housedresses. Something casual and roomy. Something I could wear with Doc Martens shoes and no one would care.

  Everyone already thought I was weird. Glory O’Brien, voted Most Likely to Not Be Your Friend. Glory O’Brien, voted Most Likely Not to Touch Your Tipi. Glory O’Brien, voted Most Likely to Stick Her Head in an Oven.

  When I parked in front of Sears, a car pulled into the space beside me and I looked at the driver and she looked at me and I saw a… vision. A whole bunch of them, actually.

  Transmission from the woman parking next to me: Her mother was in jail. Her grandmother loved jazz. Her grandson will flunk out of high school. Her other grandson will become a senator and finally get equal pay for women in the workplace. It will be the middle of the twenty-first century. That senator will have a second home in Arizona, and the day he brings that bill to the Senate floor in Washington, DC, people in Arizona will burn his other house down.

  I looked away from the driver and shook my head.

  That was insane.

  Maybe you are insane.

  You broke.

  Like Darla.

  Twoooeee-toooo-tooo-tooo.

  The driver didn’t even notice I’d been staring at her. I don’t think I was. I think the transmission—it came in like a second or less.

  I walked toward the front door of Sears convinced that I was imagining things. No way does drinking a dead bat make you hallucinate that much—to see other people’s futures or pasts or whatever. I’d read about frogs you can lick and mushrooms you can eat and other crazy shit like nutmeg. No bats.

  Nothing about bats.

  The big joke was

  It didn’t get any better inside the mall. I looked down mostly, but when I dared look at a person, I could see their ancestors and descendants. I could see events in their past and their future. I could see their infinity, I guess.

  Example.

  Transmission from the guy arguing at the cashier desk at Sears: His great-great-great-grandfather was a slave on a plantation in Alabama and was abused endlessly by the men he worked for. He killed two of them with his bare hands before he was beaten to death in punishment. That man’s son was also a slave. His great-grandfather knew freedom, but not from anger and abuse. His grandfather moved north but still wasn’t free. His father rioted in Newark in 1967. He lit houses on fire. No transmission from the future. The man has no children.

  Shit.

  I knew I had to walk through Sears to get to the Dressbarn, so I looked down and walked fast. Once I escaped Sears, I walked over the bridge that spans a fountain. The fountain was made famous by a YouTube video of some woman who was so busy texting that she fell right in. If you saw that video, then you know the fountain outside Sears.

  The bridge has these wooden benches next to it. I sat on one of them and went into my purse for a penny. If ever there was a day for a wish, I was in it.

  I tossed it in and closed my eyes. I wish that I’m not going crazy like Darla.

  The Dressbarn was on the left side of the mall next to the Orange Julius and a blacked-out storefront that used to be the Build-A-Bear Workshop. As I crossed over toward Dressbarn, I saw a little kid walking from potted plant to potted plant in the center of the mall. She had to touch every pot with her hand in some sort of OCD-like kid ritual.

  Transmission from little girl at the mall: Her son will become a doctor who goes to countries where disasters happen. He will go to China. He will go to Italy. He will go to Syria. He will go to Congo and Zimbabwe. He will be nominated for a peace prize, but will not win it.

  I watched the girl weave in and out of the potted plants until I couldn’t see her anymore. I could feel the kids working at Orange Julius staring at me. I looked back at the floor and then walked into Dressbarn.

  I found a cool seersucker cotton dress in my size. It almost looked like one of those 1940s housedresses, but it was shorter and had some shape to it. I took it off the rack in a size larger, too, and headed to the dressing room. Only when I got inside and sat on the small stool did I realize that there were two mirrors there.

  Maybe if I looked at myself I’d see things I’d never want to see. Or maybe my great-granddaughter would be some awesome woman who would cure cancer or AIDS or something.

  Or maybe I’d find out about Darla’s parents and their parents and theirs and theirs until I got all the way back to some small damp village in Eastern Europe where her ancestors met.

  Or maybe I’d find out what really happened to Darla. In her head. Maybe I would stop having to make up reasons for what she did. If there were reasons.

  When I got the courage, I looked in the mirror and I saw nothing. I got no transmissions. I got no glimpse of my future or my past. I just saw me—twenty-four hours from graduating high school, not free, not courageous.

  Glory O’Brien, atomic bomb

  I bought the dress—the larger size, because I wanted it to look roomy, like those dresses in Dorothea Lange’s Farm Security Administration pictures from the Dust Bowl. Wearing clothing a size big makes you look like you’re h
ungry and poor. Makes you look like you are withering.

  When I stopped at the drugstore on the way out of the mall, I stood in aisle six pretending to look at shampoo. I asked myself, Why am I buying crab killer for Ellie? Why can’t she do it herself? And I was angry. Suddenly. One minute, I was Glory O’Brien, dress shopper; next minute I was Glory O’Brien, atomic bomb.

  Somehow, staring at the nine million different types of Pantene shampoo made me see Ellie for what she’d always been. A manipulator. A competitor. A codependent. A leech. An obligate parasite—who needed me, but whom I didn’t need.

  Transmission from the bottle of Pantene Pro-V Straight to Curly 2-in-1: My shampoo will make men look at you. Trust me. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

  Transmission from the bottle of Pantene Pro-V Frizzy to Smooth shampoo: Don’t use that two-in-one shit. Makes your hair all wiry. Use me. Grab a bottle of conditioner, too, and then men will totally look at you. Also, wear shorter shorts and unbutton your blouses about two more buttons. You may also want to get a tan. And shave your legs more often.

  I took a picture of the rows of shampoo. I called it Empty Promises.

  I walked back to the pharmacy and asked the guy for whatever would kill the pubic lice my slutty friend had. I said, “Can you give me whatever stuff will kill the pubic lice my slutty friend got?”

  This made the people working in the pharmacy laugh and soon I was walking out of the mall with a graduation dress and crab killer. And I was mad at Ellie for being sexy. Or being slutty. Or being whatever made her have sex before I did. But when I looked out to the parking lot and accidentally met eyes with a guy who was walking toward me holding his son’s hand, I stopped.

  Transmission from the guy walking into the mall: His grandfather was a teacher. His granddaughter will be a teacher, too, but before she ever gets a chance to teach, she will be exiled from a place called New America. I shook my head and walked to my car.

  When I got there, I stared at myself in the sun visor’s mirror until I could get a transmission. No transmission. See, Glory? You’re imagining things.

 
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