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I crawl through it, p.4
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       I Crawl Through It, p.4

           A. S. King
 
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  Except I don’t have a dog or a panic room and I never had a job.

  I can’t stop myself.

  I’m melting from the ennui of being the most normal girl in the world. If I had guts, I’d go to college parties and drink vodka, like China used to. She’s gutsy. She swallowed herself and now she’s a walking digestive tract. She digests on paper and we can see what she ate that day.

  Usually she eats the past.

  She’s especially afraid of the bomb dogs in school. They roam around with their trainers and they do their job. They sniff. They sniff for nothing because there is a difference between a threat and a bomb.

  A bomb is something people make out of chemicals. A threat is something we all have, like snot or eye boogers or something. It’s a human body part.

  Threat (n.) 1. part of a student that makes them so scared they spend all day in their room on the weekends. 2. part of a student that makes them tell lies so people will like them because somewhere else inside their body is a panic button that never stops getting pressed.

  Our first intruder drill was last year. I was a junior. They told us to hide in closets. I did what they told me during the drills, knowing that if a real intruder came, I’d bail out the window before I’d trap myself in a closet. Didn’t they ever watch a horror movie?

  I hate Fridays because weekends are boring. It’s exciting having bomb threats every day. It’s something better to do. It’s a distraction. It’s a party. We have made it a routine, and it’s a reason to get up in the morning.

  I like seeing how people don’t care anymore. I like hearing the other students getting sarcastic. I wish they’d fuckin’ blow it up already. I hope today’s real, man; I didn’t do my chem homework.

  Fridays suck because I lied about seeing Gustav’s helicopter.

  I say I can see it, but I can’t.

  I’ve tried every day of the week and I can’t see a thing.

  I use facts I hear from China and Stanzi and I know it’s red and it’s almost finished, so I can fake it pretty well. Most of all I twiddle my hair and pretend like I like Gustav, but he’s not my type.

  I’m looking for someone older.

  Forty, at least. Someone who needs a good wife who knows how to do everything in a house. That’s all I want. Imagine if I said that out loud. They’d burn me as a witch.

  But it’s true.

  I want to be a wife, have babies, and make a man happy. And I want to be happy myself.

  Until then, I live a lie and chop off a foot of hair a day so my stepmom doesn’t notice and say something bitchy like, “I hate how you get more beautiful and I just get saggier and uglier.”

  I may be beautiful—if you believe in Barbie beauty—but I’m not like China, who can write down her feelings, or Stanzi, who can spit out logic like it’s some kind of scientific burp or something. I don’t have the bond they have. It’s impossible to have a best friend if you move every two years because you’re an irrational liar and people begin to hate you once they find out. All I have is Mr. and Mrs. Cruise, providers of a house and food in the refrigerator. Mrs. Cruise is not my mother.

  My mother was two wives ago. Daddy likes them young.

  Stanzi—Saturday—Waltzing

  China is spending the day doing something with Tamaqua de la Cortez.

  Just because I’m in a lab coat and up to my eyes in dead animal organs a lot of the time doesn’t mean I didn’t hear about what happened to Tamaqua. Everyone heard.

  China seems to think I heard something about her, too. She says, “You know.” She says, “Everyone knows.” She said to me yesterday morning at the drill, “Even Gustav knows.”

  She doesn’t understand that I don’t want to know. Not about anything. I want to crawl into a hole and not come out. I want to split in two so I have something to say. I want to go somewhere where there are so many mirrors that there is a reflection of twenty of me and I don’t have to choose the one I like best.

  I keep having this dream.

  There are four coffins standing upright. One is mine and one is Gustav’s. The other two are nailed shut, and I don’t have a crowbar.

  Each coffin has a doorbell. I ring Gustav’s twelve times and he answers wearing a tuxedo and top hat. He asks me if I know how to waltz and I feel stupid because I don’t know how to waltz. He tells me it’s okay because he doesn’t know how to waltz, either.

  Then the drill bell sounds and the other two coffins open and the entire student body pours out of them. There are twelve hundred teenagers crowding us, waltzing. They waltz beautifully. The song is Mozart’s Waltz no. 1. It is played solely by cellos.

  This is the waltz drill.

  I realize in the dream that Gustav and I are failing the waltz drill.

  We don’t panic. We seem to enjoy the others’ ability to waltz so well. We hold our hands to our mouths as if we are viewing something extraordinary. Then we go back to our coffins and close the doors.

  Then we are in the helicopter, flying higher and higher.

  The student body is below us, and as they waltz, they look like a thousand tiny test dots, changing their minds with each step.

  A, B, C. A, B, C. A, B, C.

  The music stops and they all turn into tiny beetles and scurry into their respective dots and stay there.

  Then I wake up.

  Mama and Pop say we’re going for a short family outing tomorrow. They tell me it will be fun. I go onto my master list and try to figure out which crime scene they have in mind.

  State College? Swarthmore? Edinboro?

  I got the master list from a list of school shootings on the Internet encyclopedia. But sometimes they list people who just happened to shoot themselves/their lover/their enemy in a school. The list goes all the way back to Pontiac’s War. It’s like they added these not-really-school-shootings to the list to make it look like there have been school shootings all through history. You know, to downplay the problem or something.

  Gustav is right. You can’t read a thing or see a thing or study a thing without seeing the infestation. I walk to his house to tell him. Really, I should be writing my poem for English. It’s due on Tuesday. I still haven’t even tried. It’s just a poem. I don’t know why I’m so worked up about it.

  The dangerous bush man has set up a lemonade stand. He is selling pink and classic lemonade. He has a sign that reads ROOFIES COST EXTRA. I stop and ask him how much the lemonade costs and he says, “A quarter.” I ask him how much lemonade with the roofies cost and he says, “Add a dollar.”

  I ask him how business is.

  He says, “Not a lot of people walk by here anymore.”

  Gustav is lying on the concrete on his back with a large pair of pliers and a screwdriver. Next to him on the garage floor are a welding torch and a face shield. I can smell burnt metal.

  “Still in your lab coat?” he asks.

  “Yep.”

  “Do you dissect things on weekends?” he asks.

  “Do you build your helicopter on weekends?” I answer.

  “Touché,” he says. A minute flies by. “Do you want some lemonade?” He points to the pitcher of pink lemonade that sits on the tool bench next to the large garage door.

  “Did you get that from the man in the bush?” I ask.

  “Yes.”

  “Did you pay extra for the roofies?”

  “Of course not,” he says.

  “I trust you.”

  “I know,” he says. “You’re probably the one who trusts me the most.”

  This makes me feel guilty because if I’m the one who trusts him the most, I should be able to see the helicopter all seven days.

  “Can you tell me where we’re going yet?” I ask.

  “We’re going to an invisible place,” he answers without looking up from his work. “We’re flying an invisible helicopter to an invisible place.”

  “Did you know the man in the bush knows where we’re going?” I ask.

  “Who do you think bought me t
he kit?”

  I feel my forehead move into a frown—not a sad frown, but a thoughtful one. I say, “The bush man bought you the helicopter? You said it cost you, like, fifty thousand dollars.”

  Gustav doesn’t answer.

  “And did he tell you where you were going?”

  “He told me that people like us—like you and me and him—that we don’t belong here. We belong somewhere else.”

  “In the invisible place?”

  “Yes,” he answers. “Apparently, it’s a hotbed of genius.”

  Half of me laughs at this. Half of me cries.

  Stanzi—Saturday Night—Amadeus

  I watch Gustav build his helicopter until daylight disappears.

  “You’re a good friend to sit here with me all day watching me build something you can’t even see,” he says.

  “I’m only here so we can watch Amadeus when you’re done,” I say. “I’m a selfish friend who doesn’t own the movie herself.” Mama and Pop don’t like me watching sad things.

  You must understand, Amadeus is the most tragic love story. It’s a love story between the composer Wolfgang Mozart and his wife, Stanzi. It’s a love story between Mozart and his disapproving father. It’s a love story, most of all, between Mozart and his music. And it’s tragic because it’s a story of jealousy, waste, and the contempt for genius. It’s tragic because nothing has changed, really.

  Gustav is mocked for building a helicopter with his own hands. I want to stick up for him. Shut up! Shut up! Can’t you see he’s a national treasure? Can’t you see his light?

  They’ll understand one day as we fly overhead. They’ll be out on the athletic field enduring more drills. The administration will move the entire school outside once the weather warms. Desks, chairs, the poster of the periodic table of elements. They will vote to blow the school up as a prophylactic to bomb threats. They will vote for anything so long as they don’t have to find out why it’s happening.

  Gustav finishes a twelve-hour Saturday of work and stops in the bathroom to wash the grease off his hands. The grease is never invisible. He walks to the kitchen, which is behind the sunken den where we will watch Amadeus. I follow him and keep my hands in the pockets of my lab coat.

  “I’m going to make popcorn,” Gustav says. “Do you want more lemonade?”

  “Sure.”

  “If I give you a quarter, will you go get some?”

  I walk down the empty sidewalk and when I get to the lemonade stand, the bush man is still there. The sign now reads NO ROOFIES COSTS EXTRA. There is a small bit of impossibly long blond hair poking out from under his Thuja orientalis bush.

  I ask him how much for no roofies.

  “A hundred dollars,” he answers.

  I hand him what I have, a quarter, and I ask for a pitcher of pink lemonade with no roofies.

  As he pours he says, “It’s like a lottery, sweet cheeks. Do you trust me?”

  “No.”

  “But you want the lemonade?”

  “Yes.”

  “Well, good luck with this,” he says, handing me the pitcher.

  I don’t know what to say to Gustav when I return. I want to warn him, but I don’t want to sound like an alarmist.

  I say nothing.

  We set up the movie and Gustav brings popcorn with butter and a little bit of salt and we eat it from the same bowl and watch as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart unfolds on the screen in front of us.

  We watch as he plays for the emperor as a prodigy.

  We watch as he meets Stanzi and tackles her and kisses her and I blush but Gustav can’t see it because he is too busy eating popcorn and hiding the rise in his pants because Stanzi Mozart’s breasts are fantastic in those 1700s dresses she wears.

  We watch as Mozart is told his music has too many notes.

  We watch as he is slowly psychologically poisoned by Antonio Salieri, a rival composer who is split in two like I am. He loves Mozart. He loves his talent. He knows Wolfgang is drenched with gift. But, oh, he hates him. He hates him for being so talented now. Why now? Why wasn’t Mozart born after Salieri had his chance to shine? Why is he secretly known as the eccentric genius while Salieri maintains mediocrity?

  Jealousy is the tragedy of this movie.

  And I have been jealous.

  And though Lansdale Cruise keeps her secrets from me, I can see in her eyes that she will have the perfect life while I remain obscure and big-boned.

  Go ahead. Name me the scientists who’ve cured diseases. Name me the scientists who discovered the medications that may be helping you right now as you read this. You can’t, can you? You can’t name the titles of their published academic papers. You can’t even tell me how they discovered what they discovered.

  But I guarantee you can name me twenty talentless people who got famous for doing nothing.

  That will be Lansdale Cruise.

  And part of me isn’t jealous about it. And part of me hates her already for it.

  Part of me wants to brush her hair. Part of me wants to chop it all off in uneven stabs.

  “Don’t you like the lemonade?” Gustav asks.

  “Not really,” I say.

  “Do you want something else?” he asks.

  Then his father walks in and turns up the dimmer switch so we are both blinded by the den’s recessed lighting.

  “What are you two doing in here?” he asks. “Gustav, why aren’t you reading the flight manuals I brought you yesterday?”

  “I’m taking a break,” Gustav says. “I’m seventeen. I do require breaks sometimes.”

  “Don’t get snippy,” Gustav’s father says. Then he turns to me. “Hello, Stanzi,” he says. “What are you watching?”

  When we tell him, he rolls his eyes and says, “I don’t know why you’re wasting your time on that rot.”

  Gustav’s father doesn’t understand love.

  Gustav’s father doesn’t understand biology.

  Gustav’s father kills his own daffodil bulbs by mowing them too early and doesn’t care about whether they grow again next year or not. Gustav’s father likes grass. In his eyes, watching Amadeus for two and a half hours is akin to letting clover and dandelions infest the whole lawn.

  When he leaves, Gustav has to get up and dim the lights again. When he sits down next to me, he’s closer. I can feel his hip. We balance the popcorn bowl in the valley made by our touching outer thighs.

  The movie ends and dead Mozart is dumped into a common pauper’s grave with a dusting of lime. Gustav presses the button on the remote to turn the TV off. We sit for a minute in the dimmed room and are silent. He moves the empty popcorn bowl from between us to the coffee table. He fidgets. If I were to guess what he’s doing, I’d guess he’s getting ready to kiss me.

  I get up, straighten my lab coat down my hips. I say, “I’m going on a drive tomorrow with my parents. I’ll see you at school Monday.”

  Everything freezes for a too-long second.

  “Have a nice time,” he says. “You’re very lucky that your parents take you on so many trips.”

  I’ve never told Gustav where we go. He’s never seen my snow globes. He’s never received the postcards I never send him. He thinks we go to see elaborate gardens or state parks because that’s where I tell him we go.

  “Yes. I’m very lucky,” I say.

  “I’ll be stuck here reading flight manuals.”

  “It’s not so bad,” I say. “Soon you’ll know how to fly. That’s really something, isn’t it?”

  “It is.”

  I want to ask him where we’re really going in the helicopter, but I’m tired and I think this is a good place to leave the conversation.

  As I walk down the road to my house, I walk on the other side of the street from the bush man’s lair. I’m not in the mood. I don’t want to see Lansdale if she’s still there. When I pass, he pokes his head out and smiles. There is no blond hair. Just him. Naked again, I bet. I scowl at him from across the road.

  As I near my h
ouse, half a block away, I hear him call out to me.

  I can’t help that the world is upside down! I can’t do anything to change it!

  Stanzi—Sunday—Red Lion

  We drive to Red Lion, Pennsylvania.

  We travel at warp speed back to 2003, when a fourteen-year-old kid shot his principal and then himself in front of hundreds of people. Mama reads an article aloud about the day it happened. She says that according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 77% of witnesses to a school shooting will end up with PTSD.

  Post-traumatic stress disorder.

  Seventy-seven percent.

  Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H would know this is bullshit. He’s a doctor. He’d laugh, dressed in his red bathrobe on top of his olive drab, and he’d say something smart like, “What happens to the other twenty-three percent? Do they get eaten by bears?” He’d probably be a little drunk on homemade gin. He’d probably have a girl on his arm. A nurse. She’d laugh at his joke and say, “Oh, Hawkeye.”

  We get to the school in Red Lion and we can’t go in, of course. All we can do is park in the empty Sunday parking lot. We stare at the building and Mama cries. Pop rubs her back. I do what I always do. I think about how I’m split down the middle. Part of me wants to blow up everything. Part of me searches for a needle big enough to stitch it all together again. I think Hawkeye Pierce felt like that, too.

  Stanzi—Sunday—The Answers

  The dangerous bush man isn’t selling lemonade tonight. He’s not in the bush. I can’t imagine where he’d be on a Sunday evening, but I guess everyone must need a day off and maybe today is his.

  I walk into his bush and check to make sure. No man. No trench coat. No letters for sale. When I walk out of the bush, China is standing there, staring at me with her stomach. She is shivering—from fear, not cold. China never walks down this road. China always uses the parallel road because of the bush man.

 
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