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Glory obriens history of.., p.8
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       Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.8

           A. S. King
 
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  “Congratulations,” she said, finally.

  “Thanks.” I thought about how Ellie wasn’t going to be my friend soon. How I’d planned to get away from her somehow. How she didn’t know my biggest secret—about becoming Darla.

  I pointed to her arms. “Where’d you get that idea?” I asked. “Free yourself, have the courage?”

  “I don’t know,” she said. “The bat gave it to me. Saturday night, remember?”

  We let silence fall between us for a minute.

  After a while, she said, “We should tell someone.”

  “No one would believe us if we told them.” I put the car in park and waited for traffic. I grabbed my camera and took a picture of Ellie’s arms. I’d call it: The Consequence of the Bat.

  Once I pulled out of the traffic and onto the small highway that would get us home, Ellie started with small talk and I started to compile a timeline in my head. If Stacy Cullen’s granddaughters would be sacrificed in the Second Civil War, then that would happen around the late twenty-first century or so, depending on when people have kids, I guessed. They looked young, like most parents did in the transmissions—like all those old pictures from the East where daughters are sold as teenagers to men. That’s what it looked like.

  It scared me and yet it seemed like a worthy project or something—to document it, even if it was some hallucinatory reaction to the bat. What else did I have to do?

  Before Max Black, the future seemed boring and there wasn’t much to think about. After Max Black, it was like I was looking at a negative, a stack of photographic paper, a jar full of emulsion, a paintbrush, and trays full of chemistry. There was now so much to do.

  So much to do.

  I couldn’t think of a title

  When we got home, Ellie went to her house and I told her I’d see her later at the star party. Dad was in place on the couch, laptop stuck to his knees, and he said a bunch of cheery stuff to me as I went upstairs to change. I looked at myself in my seersucker dress one last time before I took it off. I slipped the fifty thousand dollars out of the pocket and put the card and the check on my desk.

  I stared at it.

  I looked at the numbers. 5, 0, 0, 0, 0. I took a picture of it, but I couldn’t think of a title.

  This was Darla’s graduation present for me.

  I didn’t think the obvious things here. I didn’t think about how I’d rather have her than money. I didn’t think that this could buy me a new future or some path that made some sort of sense to a high school guidance counselor.

  Anyway, Darla left me a lot more than a dumb fifty thousand dollars. She left me her sketchbooks. Her darkroom. Her cameras. Her knees. Her hair. Could fifty thousand dollars buy my way out of following in her footsteps? I had no idea. Because I still didn’t know why she took those footsteps.

  I put on a pair of old jeans and a T-shirt and flopped back downstairs so I could get back to Why People Take Pictures.

  “I’m going to Ellie’s star party tonight, okay?” I said.

  “Sure thing.” Then Dad looked up at me. “Shit, Cupcake. Should I have asked if you wanted a graduation party? Crap. I never even thought of that.”

  “Nah. Who would I invite?”

  “Friends? Family?”

  “So Aunt Amy could come over and try to tell me about the Virgin Mary again? Yeah. That would have been comfortable.”

  “True,” he said. “But Ellie’s mom shouldn’t be the one throwing you a party.”

  “She’s not throwing me a party. She’s throwing the stars a party. I just get to crash,” I said. “Anyway. Until then, I’m printing.” I waved and walked toward the basement door. He didn’t stop me. He didn’t ask me what I was printing. He didn’t point out that I didn’t have new paper yet. He didn’t point out that I probably wasn’t printing. He didn’t point out that I couldn’t really become Darla, even if I wanted to. Even if I took over her quest for the everlasting print. Even if I wore Dorothea Lange Dust Bowl dresses every day. Even if I stuck my head in the microwave and turned my head into Hiroshima.

  I retrieved and opened up Why People Take Pictures and paged directly to Bill, the man with no head. I stared at his exposed connective tissue and broken bones. Every color you could think of was there. Different shades of yellow—fat cells, bone particles, tendons, parts of teeth. Oranges and reds and deep purples and blues. A rainbow of death. All that color, but still no head. Just a neck and part of a jaw. All that color and still max black for Bill. Nothing. Zero. No more anything for Bill.

  Could I ever really wish this on myself? I liked my knobby knees. My dumb Irish nose. Why was I looking at this? Why was Darla?

  I turned the page and there were four black-and-white pictures of a tooth. A pulled tooth—the whole thing, long, curved roots and all—lying on different backgrounds. The first background was white, which made the tooth look several shades of gray. The second background was a bunch of pebbles, and the tooth was barely visible in the chaos, but when it popped, it was particularly creepy. The third background was dirt. Darla had built a 6-inch-high mound of dirt and laid the tooth right on top like an offering on an altar, and the focus was the tooth, with the dirt beyond it fading into blurry nothingness. The fourth background was black and the stark contrast between the tooth and the black made the texture of the tooth more obvious. Ridges and burrs and layers of enamel all wrapped into one dead tooth. Who knew a tooth had so much texture? So much life—even though it was dead?

  She drew an arrow to that picture, the fourth one, and wrote: Max Black and #46. She drew a frowny face next to it like this. ☹

  Then she wrote: Now #46 and Bill can go preserve peaches with my mom.

  My mother had clearly gone bonkers.

  This is why she stuck her head in the oven rather than making perfectly N-shaped Rice Krispies Treats for my preschool class thirteen years ago. This is why she chose to concentrate more on making pictures last longer rather than herself.

  I wanted an answer. That had to be the answer. Now #46 and Bill can go preserve peaches with my mom.

  I turned the page and found three more naked pictures of what looked like the same photo shoot from the first naked picture. This time the head wasn’t ripped off, though.

  This time, the head was there in full view.

  And it was Jasmine Blue Heffner’s head.

  The creepiest thing about this was that young Jasmine Blue looked exactly like Ellie in the pictures. It was like looking at a naked picture of Ellie and it felt twenty shades of not right.

  We are all naked under our clothes.

  What does she have that’s so special?

  Ripping meat from the bone

  Going to the star party that night took on a whole new light after I found those pictures. How would I ever look Jasmine Blue Heffner in the face again?

  I wanted to read the whole book right then—call off going to Ellie’s and stay in the darkroom until I was done—but then I looked back at those pictures of Jasmine Blue and I closed the book.

  If Darla’s question was Why do people take pictures?, then what sort of answer was that? Or were pictures like that why Darla was asking in the first place?

  I said, to the empty room, “I take pictures because sometimes I can’t find the words to say what I want to say.”

  There was no answer, but I felt as if I was haunted—as if I heard someone breathe right there next to me. It sounds stupid now, but I was scared. Maybe Bill was there. Maybe Darla was. I saw something move—something translucent.

  I put Why People Take Pictures behind the cabinet and I locked the darkroom door. I went upstairs two steps at a time and closed the basement door the minute I got upstairs.

  “Dad?”

  He looked up. Transmission from Dad: An ancestor bricklayer from the nineteenth century stood on the top of a tall city building, smiling and taking in the view.

  “Can we talk about something?” I asked.

  He must have noticed the seriousness of my tone
because he put his computer on the coffee table and sat up. “Sure. What’s up?” he asked.

  “It’s about Jasmine Blue,” I said. “And why you don’t talk to her.”

  A lot of awkward silence here.

  Oh well.

  I said, “You knew each other before, right?”

  “We all moved out here together… technically. The four of us.” I stayed quiet. He added, “Me, your mom, Jasmine and Ed.”

  “And?”

  “We had big ideas.”

  “Like?”

  He sighed and shook his head. “We were going to start a nonconsumerist movement. Drop out. No attachment. No stuff,” he said. “We were stupid kids.”

  I didn’t say anything, but I didn’t think that was a particularly stupid-kid way of thinking… unless that made me a stupid kid, which was probably up for debate considering my recent two-steps-at-a-time escape from my own basement, not to mention my lack of future plans.

  He said, “The eighties and nineties were so… full of stuff. Materialistic. Everybody wanted a shiny new car. Money trees. Suits and ties. Everybody was greedy, you know?”

  I nodded, but I didn’t know why this was so different from now. That was what everyone at graduation wanted. Success. Spell that with dollar signs. $UCCE$$.

  “So what happened?” I asked.

  “Jasmine started gathering her flock.”

  “Which means?”

  “She invited other people to start living over there. People who agreed with everything she said,” he said.

  “So all those people weren’t there in the beginning?”

  “No.”

  “Did they drop you guys when new people showed up or something?”

  “Not quite.”

  “So, what’s the big deal? It’s their house. They can have people live there if they want, right?”

  “It’s been a long time,” he said.

  “Are you saying you can’t remember? Because I don’t believe you.”

  “No. It’s just—complicated.”

  “I don’t know. I can understand what it’s like when your best friend gets new friends. That must hurt.”

  “Yeah. That’s not quite how it went,” he said.

  “Well, yeah. The new friends moved onto Jasmine’s farm and started the commune without you, but right across the road. Is that close?”

  He pointed toward the commune. “That,” he said. “That… place… isn’t Jasmine’s.”

  “Oh,” I said. “Whose is it?”

  “It was given to her. By your mother,” he said. “Given.”

  “Given?”

  “Well, maybe more like borrowed.”

  “Like, she didn’t sell it to her? She just… what? Said, Hey you can live here?”

  “Yep.”

  “Huh,” I said. “So… Jasmine stopped talking to you guys once you gave her a house to live in?”

  “Kinda,” he said.

  “But she and Mom were close once, right?”

  “Best friends.”

  “And then… they weren’t?”

  He sighed again. “Shit, Cupcake. It’s a hell of a long story.”

  “And I really want to know,” I said.

  “It’s adult stuff. I mean—I know you’re old enough, but you’re still my kid,” he said. “It’s not the kind of stuff you tell your kid.”

  “I might already know more than you think I know. So you should tell me the rest or else you’ll die one day and I’ll never know the truth and that would suck.”

  He stared at me.

  I said, “What did Jasmine do?”

  “Uh—she—uh. She didn’t—uh—something—uh…”

  “Seriously? You can’t tell me?”

  He exhaled. “Jasmine tried to steal me away from your mother,” he said. “She tried really hard.”

  He made a face then. Like he’d just eaten a bad piece of shellfish. “I didn’t handle it right,” he went on, before I had a chance to say anything. “Darla had every reason to be angry.”

  “Is that why…?”

  “No.”

  “It didn’t have anything to do with it?”

  “No.”

  “So she and Jasmine had a big fight or something?”

  I felt bad for pressing. But at the same time, I’d just found naked pictures of Jasmine Blue Heffner in a secret book in Darla’s darkroom and I wanted to know where they came from.

  He was quiet and sent out signals that the conversation was over.

  I didn’t want to piss Dad off and then leave.

  I didn’t want to make him sad, either.

  But I was inexplicably angry about those pictures.

  He put the laptop back on his lap and started to type as if we weren’t having a conversation and that made me angry. The old, not-graduated Glory O’Brien might have just microwaved a snack pocket cherry pie, but Glory O’Brien the bat wanted the truth. I stood with my hand on my hip.

  “Did Mom take those pictures of her? Is that one of those weird nineties things you talk about? Posing naked and stuff like that?”

  It took a minute for my question to prance across the room and into his ears, but once it did, he put his face into his hands. For a second I thought he might be crying, but then he looked at me.

  “Okay,” he said. “Sit down.”

  I sat down. He closed the lid on his laptop and curled his legs cross-legged, winced from knee pain, then uncrossed them.

  “Jasmine gave me the pictures. I was an idiot and I didn’t tell your mother because that was her best friend, right? And what best friend would, you know—do that? And then your mom found the pictures.”

  I squinted at him. “You saved them?”

  “I told you I was an idiot about it,” he said. “It’s not like I looked at them or anything. I stuck them in the back of my studio and under a hundred other pictures I kept there. Painters, we… collect pictures and stuff so we can refer to them. Your mom was digging through the pile one day and—well, yeah. That’s when things went bad.”

  He looked sick.

  “You mean for her, or for you?”

  “For all of us,” he said. “Jasmine said she’d stay on the commune and never come here again as long as Darla allowed her to stay on the land. She apologized a lot for the pictures, but your mom wouldn’t accept the apologies. Not from me, either.”

  “So this is what caused it?”

  “No. Of course not.” It sounded like that was probably the three millionth time he’d said it.

  “We’ve never talked about it, you know?” I said.

  He nodded vaguely.

  “I’ve always wanted to know… uh.” I stopped there. “I mean, why didn’t we leave or make her leave or whatever? Wasn’t there a better solution?”

  “We didn’t know it was coming,” he said. “Nobody knew it was coming.”

  “I don’t mean that,” I said. That (n.): A better word for suicide. “I mean before that. I mean, couldn’t you just tell Jasmine to go away and show Mom that the pictures were just a—uh—mistake?”

  “It was more complicated than that.”

  “Oh.”

  “Stuff like that lingers,” he said. “And then when Darla died, I could have kicked Jasmine out myself but I didn’t because you and Ellie were tight as kids, and how could I take away your only friend at the same time you lost your mom?”

  “Shit.” I said that because he said only friend. I said it because that fact made two secrets into a bigger, more awful secret.

  “Yeah.”

  “That must be hard,” I said. “Not talking to her all these years.”

  “Not talking to Jasmine is easy. Since Darla died, she acts like I’m dead, too,” he said. “And where the fuck are those pictures that you saw? I don’t want them in the house. I don’t want you thinking about this shit.”

  “Language, Dad.”

  “Seriously.”

  “I’m glad you told me this,” I said. I looked at him and he smiled at
me through a pained face. Transmission from Dad: One of his ancestors once killed a giant stag by jumping on its back and garroting it with a young tree limb. Still no future for me. No grandchildren fighting or dying in CWII. Just Megaloceros giganteus. Just a vision of someone ripping meat from the bone of an enormous drumstick.

  My train still felt on track. It felt like its brakes worked. It felt like I could stop it anytime. But I was starting to realize that Why People Take Pictures was a turning point. I had never had control of my train. I wasn’t sure who, exactly, had control of it. It was different from day to day. Markus Glenn had control the day he asked me to touch his tipi. Ellie had control the days when we were kids and she changed the rules and then, as teenagers, she made me drink the dust of a mummified bat. Dad had control by relinquishing control. I walked through the freight cars and the passenger cars. I walked toward the engine. I wanted to see who was driving. But deep down, I knew who was driving.

  Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

  The Family Protection Act will spread like lice on a hippie commune. Nine states will draw up similar laws and move them through their legislative branches. They will unofficially secede from the rest of the country, who will think they are bonkers. They will call themselves New America.

  There will be a massive rise in welfare applications for single women, single mothers and their children. A massive rise in homeless women and children. A massive rise in random assaults, both violent and sexual, against women and even young girls.

  A government official will be quoted as saying, “We’re taking our country back!” (From whom? From women and children? Did they take over when none of us were looking? I can’t see that in these transmissions, but I doubt it.) Another government official will be quoted as saying, “We gave women two hundred years to reinvent themselves. I think that’s long enough.”

  Women in the media will compare the entire movement to the days of cavemen. Some of them will be confused about what to do or say because they will have unknowingly supported the movement up to the point when they are shown to the studio’s door.

 
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