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I crawl through it, p.6
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       I Crawl Through It, p.6

           A. S. King
 
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  “God?”

  “Whatever.”

  “Do you know where you’ll go?” I ask.

  “No. And I don’t care. As long as there are no more drills. As long as it makes sense where we’re going. Gustav will know.”

  Our bus arrives and the line moves forward. “Do you love him?” I ask.

  Stanzi laughs. “This isn’t about love.”

  “And it’s really there? The helicopter?” I ask. “You’re the only one who sees it. Lansdale lied. She can’t really see it on Fridays.”

  “I know.”

  “Do you think his dad sees it?”

  “Seems so,” I say.

  When the bus arrives, Stanzi and I sit next to each other.

  She looks out the window, and the bus backs up and pulls out of Port Authority. As we drive toward the tunnel, she looks back at New York City. “So was Shane good? Was seeing him nice?” she asks.

  “Yes.”

  “How old is he?”

  “Same. Seventeen.”

  “Did you meet on Facebook?”

  “I don’t do that anymore. Not since Irenic Brown,” I say, hoping she’ll figure it out. Or say something. For once.

  “So?” That’s all she says.

  “I met him on a self-help site.”

  “Oh.”

  She doesn’t ask what self-help site. She looks out the window after we emerge from the tunnel and she takes in the last view of the city from a distance before the only things to see are marshy NewJerseyscapes and endless highway.

  I look at Stanzi and I see that she’s crying, so I ask if she’s okay.

  “Yes.”

  “Was it something I said?”

  “No.”

  “What, then?”

  She turns to me. “Do you love Shane?”

  “Yes, I think so,” I say.

  “That makes me so happy I’m crying.”

  “Oh. Sorry.”

  “Don’t apologize,” she says. “It’s a good thing.”

  “I believe, you know. In the helicopter. In the whole thing,” I say.

  “I’m glad.”

  “I hope you and Gustav can get out of here. You deserve better.”

  “So do you.”

  “You’re geniuses.”

  “So are you,” she says.

  Stanzi told me once that just because I get bad grades that doesn’t make me stupid. She was in my eighth-grade algebra class. She knows the teacher hated me. She knows that’s when I started hanging out with my other friends. She told me once that a high percentage of high school dropouts are the smart kids.

  I take out my journal and I write in it. Stanzi probably thinks I’m writing about Shane, but I’m really writing about being smart and being stupid at the same time. Getting stoned before a chem final. Drinking gin in the bathroom during ninth-grade study hall. Letting my new friends write my name and number on guys’ bathroom stalls.

  I never told Shane this, or anyone else, but maybe I deserved what happened to me. Maybe I had it coming since eighth grade. I gave up, so everyone else did, too.

  Stanzi—Monday—Free Shrinks

  As the bus nears our station, China says, “I’m sorry if we get in trouble tomorrow.”

  I shrug to say I don’t mind.

  “What will you tell your parents?” she asks.

  “I’ll tell them I got sick of the drills. I’ll tell them I’m scared to blow up. I’ll tell them that it’s finally getting to me.”

  She nods. “This town needs more shrinks,” she says.

  “Every town needs more shrinks,” I say.

  “Free shrinks,” she says.

  “Yeah,” I say.

  China says, “That’s how I found Shane online. We are all each other’s free shrinks. It’s a forum for people who have survived things. Maybe you could join.”

  I can’t even figure out how I’d introduce myself to a group of strangers. I don’t even know if I need a shrink. Is it normal to know, deep down, that you are two people joined as cells? Is it normal to know, for sure, that there is an organ inside us that no scientist has discovered? Is it normal to know, without a doubt, that you will escape this place in a helicopter that no one else can see? How would I explain that to a roomful of strangers?

  “Aren’t you going to ask me about why I go online to talk about my problems?” China asks.

  I’m still in the imaginary free-shrink room, telling the strangers I wear a lab coat every day. In my imagination, I don’t tell them the lab coat keeps me safe, because I’m afraid they’ll think I’m crazy.

  “I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable,” I say.

  She says, “Look at me.” She is a stomach. She is digesting a bag of Swedish Fish she ate on the bus. Everything is red. “Aren’t you ever going to ask me what’s wrong?” she asks.

  “I was waiting until you felt ready,” I answer. I don’t tell her I can’t talk about things like that. I can’t tell her anything since the day I lied to her about the scar on my leg. I’d told her it was from a boating accident. She’d said, “That’s bullshit and you know it.”

  Stanzi—Monday—Bears

  When I pass the dangerous bush, the man pops out, totally naked. I ask him where his trench coat went and he tells me he’s a bear and bears don’t wear trench coats. He grabs me with his huge paws and pulls me into the bush. There he has tea set up on an old mahogany table. Proper china cups and all. Gold-leafed rims. Doilies adorn the saucers, the table, under the tiny plates where there are madeleine cookies for us both.

  The tea is the perfect temperature.

  We toast our good luck. I tell him about my trip to New York City. He tells me his mother lives inside the house and she yells at him all the time even though he’s trying to help her be old and die. He tells me he shares letters because he can’t stop making them. “I’m an artist,” he says.

  “They’re nice letters,” I say. “Very sturdy.”

  “No one wants them,” he says. “No one walks by anymore.”

  “Most people are scared of you,” I explain.

  “So why are you here?” he asks.

  “It’s on the way to Gustav’s house and the Mexican restaurant. And I’m not scared of you,” I say. “I like your letters.”

  He gives me a huge wooden D. It is painted with tiny dots of every color. I thank him and ask him to keep it for me because it’s too big to carry. He asks, “Do you want to go there now?”

  “Where?”

  “The restaurant?”

  I’m hungry. The last thing I ate was the kale/kiwi drink in the juice bar by Central Park. “You have to put some clothes on,” I say.

  “I know. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

  I don’t wait.

  I walk to Gustav’s house. I ask him if he’d like to come with me to Las Hermanas. I know he can’t resist the tamales.

  “I’m starving,” Gustav says. “But I don’t have any money.”

  I tell him I’ll pay for dinner. I tell him the dangerous bush man is coming with us.

  “He’s naked,” Gustav says. “He’s always naked.”

  “I told him to put clothes on,” I say. “He’ll be fine. He’s a nice man, really. Just bored, I think. Like we’re bored, yes? He makes nice letters.”

  Gustav looks uncomfortable.

  “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to come,” I say. “Why are you so uncomfortable about the dangerous bush man? Isn’t he helping you with the helicopter? I thought you were friends.”

  “He makes letters and he gives them to people,” Gustav says.

  “I know. I have many of his letters,” I say.

  “You kissed him!” Gustav seems shocked. Or possessive. I can’t tell.

  “Yes,” I say. “A few times. But there are other ways one acquires such quality letters.”

  He changes the subject.

  “There were two bomb threats today,” he tells me as he climbs down from the cockpit and puts his tool belt on the
bench. “One of them came from New York City,” he says. “Nobody knows this but me, but I know you’re trying to solve the mystery, so I’m telling you.”

  I nod but don’t ask him about the other bomb threat. It was nice to escape them for a day. I ask him to hurry. “I’m hungry,” I say.

  When we get outside, the dangerous bush man is there, dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt that says WHAT WOULD YOUR TV DO? The three of us walk to the restaurant and instead of going in and sitting down, Gustav leads us to the takeout window and we order, and though I can see the dangerous bush man is disappointed by this, he knows he is the dangerous bush man as much as I know I’m Stanzi, a character in your book, a nobody and a somebody and really two people inside one body, and as much as Gustav knows he is the boy who is building the invisible helicopter. We are not the three most welcome people in the neighborhood.

  Stanzi—Monday Night—Box Bet Bug Bin

  I get a burrito because it’s easier to eat while walking and that’s what Gustav wants to do—obvious from the fact that he begins his journey home before the bush man and I can leave the restaurant window. Gustav got a Styrofoam container of tamales and the bush man gets dos pollo enchiladas and I’m envious because that’s what I would have gotten had we gone into the restaurant and sat down like normal people. I do not say this aloud, but the minute I think it, the bush man taps me on the shoulder and gives me his container of enchiladas. I give him my burrito and say thank you. He tells me I’m welcome en español. “De nada.”

  When we get to Gustav’s garage, Gustav climbs into the invisible cockpit to eat by himself, and the bush man says good-bye and continues on to his house. Or his bush. Or wherever he will eat my burrito.

  I sit on the upturned paint bucket and balance the Styrofoam container of enchiladas, rice, and beans on my knees and attempt to eat them with a white plastic knife and fork and Gustav asks, “Why do you even talk to that guy?”

  “I feel bad for him.”

  “He’s crazy,” Gustav says.

  “He gave you the helicopter,” I say.

  “That doesn’t make him sane,” Gustav says. “He only gave it to me when I told him I couldn’t stand to be alive here anymore.”

  I don’t say anything to this. He must be exaggerating. Maybe it was during his string theory/snowshoe episode last year.

  “I don’t even know if the thing will fly or not,” Gustav says. “He might have given it to me because he wanted me to take my mind off other things.”

  “Some people would say we’re all crazy,” I answer. He shoves most of a tamale into his mouth and chews for what feels like an entire minute. I add, “But we’re not, of course. I mean, not like that.”

  Gustav looks at me with a mix of sadness and curiosity in his eyes. “You really have his letters?” he asks. “You really have kissed him?”

  “Yes.”

  “Why?”

  “Why not?”

  “That’s not an answer,” Gustav says.

  “I don’t know,” I say. “He just wants to be loved. He just wants to give his letters away. They are superior letters. I’ve never seen anything like them.”

  “Everyone wants to be loved,” Gustav says.

  We eat the rest of our meal in silence, and when Gustav is finished with his tamales, he picks up his tool belt and goes back to work on his cockpit. I ask him what he’s working on and he says he’s fastening the control panel now that all of the gauges and switches and dials have been tested. He tells me we’ll be ready soon.

  “Maybe tomorrow,” he says.

  “Tomorrow?”

  “Tuesday would be the ideal day of the week for us to go,” he says.

  “I know.”

  “Do you trust me?” he asks.

  “Yes.”

  “Why?”

  “Why not?” I answer.

  This time he doesn’t press me for more than Why not? This time he knows what I mean when I say it. He knows we are not lettered A, B, C, D, or E. He knows we are not mice in a school-shaped plywood maze. He knows I sometimes don’t want to be alive here anymore, either.

  “You really think… tomorrow?” I ask.

  “I think so,” he says. “I have to give it a short test in the morning.” He looks down at something under his feet—presumably pedals—and says, “After that, we can go.”

  “I don’t understand how we can go to an invisible place,” I say. “Is that all the bush man told you?”

  “It’s a hotbed of genius,” he says. “That’s what he told me.”

  “But you told me he said it was invisible.”

  “He did. But he’s also crazy, right?” Gustav answers. “Just imagine a place where you never have to feel like you’re in kindergarten again. No assessment, no holding back, and no bullshit.”

  “Is that what he said it is?”

  “I don’t know. But that’s what I imagined.”

  I stand there for a minute and try to imagine what hotbed of genius looks like to me. I see me curing the world of guilt. I see no more trips with Mama and Pop. “Okay,” I say. “My parents must be wondering where I am. I spent the day with China skipping school.”

  “I wish China could come with us,” Gustav says.

  “She can’t see it,” I say.

  “Not even on Thursdays?”

  “No. She was lying.”

  “Huh,” Gustav says. “She’s spending too much time with Lansdale Cruise, maybe. China usually tells the truth.”

  I don’t think anyone usually tells the truth, so I don’t say anything.

  “What will you bring?” Gustav asks.

  I think for a moment and say, “My dissection kit and a lab notebook and my goggles and a change of clothes. Does that sound good?”

  “Will you be wearing your lab coat?” he asks, and points to my lab coat.

  “Of course,” I answer.

  “I thought you might leave it here,” he says.

  “Why?” I ask.

  “Why not?” he answers.

  I put my empty enchilada container in the trash can in the garage and say, “Good night, Gustav. I’ll see you and your lovely red helicopter tomorrow.”

  He waves and says something about his tachometer.

  The man is in his trench coat again. He says, as if he’d never met me before, as if we didn’t have bear-tea or trade dinner entrées, “Wanna buy an A?”

  “I already have an A,” I say.

  He digs around behind the bush. “How about a C?”

  “Do you have a W?”

  He roots around again in the bush and comes back with two Vs. He holds them side by side and they form a child’s exaggerated W.

  “That’s two Vs,” I say.

  “I know.” He pulls his trench coat open and searches the inside pockets. His nakedness is so normal to me by now I don’t even notice it. “I have an M,” he says, and hands it to me. He is joyous about this. He is thrilled that he has an M.

  “Do you make any numbers?”

  “Numbers!” he says. “Ha!”

  I turn the letter M over in my hands. It is smooth and cold. I ask, “Is this marble?”

  “Granite.”

  “I’ll take this M,” I say. “As a good-bye present.”

  He squints at me and grins. “Is Gustav finally going?” He is more excited than he was when he found the granite M in his trench coat pocket. He holds up his index finger. “Wait,” he says, then runs from the bush to the front of his house, and I hear the storm door slam and the sound of someone running up or down a set of wooden stairs.

  In a minute, he is standing in front of me again. He says, “I wish I could come with you. I’ve seen it. It’s perfect.”

  I have no idea what the dangerous bush man is talking about. “What’s perfect?”

  “They say there are no departures,” he says. “But they lie. I’ve been there. I came back.”

  “If it’s perfect, why did you come back?” I ask.

  “Because nothing i
s perfect,” he says. “Perfect is a myth. I want you to remember this. Perfect is a boldfaced lie. It’s a ham sandwich without ham. It’s a blue sky on Mondays when it rains on Wednesdays.”

  “Okay,” I say, because we could stand here all night talking in crazy bush man circles. “Can I pay you for this quality M?”

  He looks sad that I’ve asked. Hurt, even. “It’s a gift. You can’t take it with you because it’s too heavy. But it’s a gift all the same.”

  “Can you see it?” I ask.

  “The helicopter?”

  “Yes.”

  “Of course,” he says.

  “Which day?”

  He occupies himself with arranging his letters in order of texture behind the bush. When he leans over too far, his scrotum is just visible through the slit in the back of his trench coat. He stands again. “What do you mean, which day?”

  “Which day can you see it?”

  “Every day,” he says. His face finishes his statement. It says, Why would you ask such a stupid question?

  “I can only see it on Tuesdays,” I say.

  He acts as if he doesn’t hear me and reaches into his innermost trench coat pocket. He produces what looks like a map. It looks very used. It looks old. Yellowed. He says, “There is only one of these. Gustav will know what to do with it.” He grabs my shoulders and says, “This is the only one. Do you understand?”

  I take the map and tuck it under the elbow that is braced against my side because it’s still holding the granite M. I feel dejected because we’re not kissing. It makes no sense. No one should want the dangerous bush man to kiss them.

  I open the map and look at it by the light of the streetlamp. I can’t understand the markings or the drawings, really. All I can see are two lines of text. At the top it reads THE PLACE OF ARRIVALS. At the bottom it reads THERE ARE NO DEPARTURES.

  I wonder if this is all a joke.

  The dangerous bush man says, “Do I look like I’m joking?”

  I wonder if I was talking my thoughts aloud.

  He says, “No. I can hear them.”

  I think about how I want him to kiss me.

  He grabs me by the shoulders and kisses me softly on the forehead. “You go sleep,” he says. “It’s a long journey.”

 
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