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I crawl through it, p.8
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       I Crawl Through It, p.8

           A. S. King
 
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  Inside my head, I hear his voice. Give that letter to her. She’ll know I sent you. She’ll take care of you. You can trust her. She’s a very good friend.

  Gustav and I climb into the helicopter. It’s not like the opening credits to M*A*S*H where the dust and trees act frenzied by the wind. It’s calm. The sound is no louder than a purring cat, and I can feel the subtle movement of the rotor and the turbine that will fly us to wherever Patricia is. I’ve latched on to her in under a minute. She will be our camp counselor. Our friend. That’s what the bush man said. She’s a very good friend.

  Gustav turns to me and says, “Are you ready?”

  I nod.

  “You have to say yes or no. I don’t want anyone thinking I kidnapped you.”

  “What a strange thing to say,” I say.

  “I need you to say loud and clear that you want to do this,” he says.

  “I want to do this. But I want you to kiss me first.”

  Gustav recoils. “I’m afraid to kiss.”

  “I’ll teach you.”

  He seems willing, so before I strap myself into the passenger’s seat, I lean over to him and I kiss him gently on the lips over and over until he begins to kiss me back and we do this for several minutes.

  He straps himself into the pilot’s seat. He checks his gauges. He puts on his headset and I put mine on and he checks communication between us by saying, “That was a very nice kiss.”

  I check my communication device by answering, “I’ve loved you for two years, only I couldn’t tell you.”

  He doesn’t answer this because he’s busy flipping switches and firing up the helicopter to full speed and he asks, “Are you ready?”

  “Yes.”

  I look out onto the lawn where I was standing only five minutes before and I see her—my other Stanzi. She is staying here, in the land of test drills, bomb drills, and mourning parents, and I will finally escape. I wave to her. I don’t know why she’s smiling.

  I’m the one who should be smiling.

  I’m the one who is escaping.

  Patricia—Tuesday Morning—We Are Rotting

  IN THE PLACE OF ARRIVALS

  Gary brings me a hard-boiled egg.

  He says, “What are you doing today?”

  I say, “I don’t know. Probably working in the garden.”

  He disapproves. I know this because he disapproves every day.

  “You don’t really have a migraine, do you?” he asks.

  “The rest helped,” I lie.

  Even though lying isn’t allowed, we all do it.

  Even though conforming isn’t allowed, asking us all not to lie is conforming.

  It’s no different, even though it was supposed to be different.

  None of us are leaders.

  None are followers.

  Essentially, we are rotting.

  “Why aren’t you composing?” Gary asks.

  “I don’t know.”

  “Still sore about what I said last time I asked?” he says.

  Gary and I fight over this all the time. I tell him my music is nothing without listeners. He tells me I’m being greedy because I only want to make money from the music’s listeners. I say something like “Is that so bad?” and then he shakes his head as if I’m some leech on the world.

  What good is it doing here?

  He says the joy is the creation.

  He says sharing it will sully it.

  I say sharing is the whole point.

  He calls me a child—because he’s fifty-two and I’m forty-three. He calls me a child for wanting to share talent. Isn’t that what you do with talent?

  Isn’t that what you do?

  Stanzi—Wednesday—Coffins

  I miss her. My other. She’s down there while I’m up here. She has my hands, my lips, and my nose. I have everything else. Neither of us can see Gustav’s helicopter on a Wednesday.

  I slept last night. Gustav doesn’t even grow sleepy. He says he’s wide awake. He says, “No drills today for us.”

  I think of my parents and I miss them. I think of the week’s worth of freezer food that they bought for me to heat up, and wonder if they will eat it now that I’m gone.

  Or will she go and take my place? Can she?

  I move my hands and purse my lips. I wiggle my nose.

  I don’t know what I left back in Gustav’s yard, but it wasn’t her. She’s here with me. But part of me is gone.

  I say, “Is it dumb for me to miss home?”

  Gustav says, “Depends what you call home.”

  I say, “I miss China. I even miss Lansdale and her lies.”

  “You only left yesterday,” he says.

  “China needs me,” I say.

  Quiet grows between us.

  “What happened to China?” he asks. “Why did she swallow herself?”

  “I think it has something to do with a boy,” I say.

  “Irenic Brown,” Gustav says.

  “Yeah,” I say.

  “Look. It isn’t really a secret, is it? Not with pictures for everyone to see,” he says.

  I didn’t look at them. I knew they were there. I heard, but my ears didn’t want to listen. I try to pretend things are normal, the way Mama and Pop pretend they go to bed early every night.

  I tell Gustav, “I have dreams about coffins. And sometimes Adolf Hitler.”

  He nods. “Why Adolf Hitler?”

  “Why not?” I answer. “I have dreams about cheese, too. Can’t choose what you dream about.”

  “True,” he says.

  I say, “In one of them, Adolf Hitler is a huge beetle and he eats all the other beetles. Even his own kind. And there’s another one where everyone at school knows how to waltz but we don’t know how to waltz.”

  “I’m pretty sure Adolf Hitler knew how to waltz,” Gustav says.

  “I mean you and me. We don’t know how to waltz,” I say.

  “Oh,” he says. “I’m in your dreams?”

  “All the time.”

  “With the coffins?”

  “Yes.”

  “Are we dead?”

  “Yes. But then no. It depends which dream. You’re always in the red coffin.”

  “Does Hitler have a coffin?” he asks.

  “Yes. It’s black,” I say.

  “Seems right,” Gustav says. He asks, “Does anyone dance with him?”

  “No. I don’t think so. He’s always the bug eating other bugs. But one time he had lederhosen on and was exercising his hamstrings.”

  “Are there drills in your dreams?” he asks.

  “Sometimes there are bombs, too. And the dangerous bush man,” I say.

  “He’s a good neighbor,” Gustav says.

  “He is.”

  “And you’ve kissed him for letters,” Gustav says. “But you’ve never kissed me until yesterday.”

  I think about this before I answer. “I didn’t think you wanted me to kiss you,” I say.

  “I’ve been busy,” Gustav says.

  I want to touch a part of the helicopter to emphasize that I know he’s been busy—to tell him how genius he was to build it—but it’s not there. Not the body, not the windscreen, not even the seat I’m sitting in. If I think about it for too long, I grow frightened, so I focus on the hem of my lab coat. I fiddle with the fat corner where all the fabric meets. I slip my thumbnail into the tiny groove left by the sewing machine.

  “Do you have any other dreams?” Gustav asks. “Dreams without coffins?”

  “Yes,” I say.

  “Do you want to tell me about them?” he asks.

  “No,” I say.

  “Am I in them?” he asks.

  “Mozart is in them,” I say. “And I’m Stanzi. And we’re happy. And everything is falling apart.”

  “Mozart doesn’t get a coffin, does he?” Gustav asks.

  I do not explain that the movie Amadeus is fictitious. I let Gustav believe that genius is often disregarded. That’s the point of the film, a
nd I allow Gustav his fictions.

  “Why did the dangerous bush man have the map?” I ask.

  “Clearly, he’s been here before,” Gustav answers.

  “I think he’s harmless,” I say. “I don’t think he really puts roofies in the lemonade he sells. I think it’s a joke to him.”

  “He’s a very funny man,” Gustav says.

  “I never knew this about him,” I answer.

  The Interviews—Wednesday

  Interview #1 Lansdale Cruise

  The man arrives at Lansdale Cruise’s house. The Cruises are undergoing construction. They are cutting Mrs. Cruise #4 out of their lives as if she’d never been there. The white couches are being loaded into a truck. The glass-topped dining table. The impossible stair-climbing machine that never got her anywhere. Just always climbing.

  “Do you know where the missing kids could be?” the man asks Lansdale Cruise.

  She plays with her hair. “They’re on a boat,” she says. “With many fishing rods.” She smiles. “Just kidding. They’re on a hunting trip with a rifle.”

  “They’re armed?”

  “No,” she says. “I was kidding about that, too.”

  “Where are they?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “We think you know more than you say you do.”

  “Doesn’t everyone?” she asks. “I have the answers,” she says.

  “And?”

  “I have them memorized in sentences.”

  “And?”

  “And bats eat cold dogs after being coy animals during deadly Easter attacks due at any basic daily cat appreciation dance.”

  He looks at her, frustrated.

  “Those are the answers,” she says. “Just the first twenty-one of them. Do you want more?”

  He turns to his cameraman. “Cut it.”

  “What’s wrong?” she asks. “Were those not the right answers?”

  “We’ll ask your friends. Someone has to know what happened.”

  “But the answers were right!” Lansdale argues. “I know it! ABECDABCADDEADAABDCAD. That’s the sequence!”

  “Mr. Cruise? Can we ask you a few questions?”

  Mr. Cruise is directing the moving men to take a painting off the wall. It’s not a real painting. It is glitter and shiny fabric glued to a canvas. He doesn’t answer.

  The man asks again. “It’s about the two missing kids.”

  Mr. Cruise answers, “What do I know about kids? Does it look like I know anything about kids?”

  Lansdale says, “He’s right. He’s never here. He never met them.”

  “Weren’t they your friends?” the man asks.

  Lansdale looks sad. “Yes.”

  “Do you know they were the ones sending the bomb threats?”

  “No, they weren’t.”

  “How do you know?”

  “Because I know who was sending the bomb threats.”

  “And?”

  “And it wasn’t them,” Lansdale says. “Now go away.”

  The man walks with his cameraman out of the driveway and down the sidewalk. He says, “I swear her hair grew while I was talking to her. Did you see that?”

  The cameraman answers, “You weren’t looking at her hair.”

  The man says, “I know, right?”

  Lansdale hears this and says, “They send two morons like you to ask questions? You don’t even know the answers when you hear them!”

  Interview #2 Gustav’s father

  “They left in the helicopter on Tuesday morning,” he says.

  “Who did?”

  “My boy and his friend. The girl in the white coat.”

  “Where’s the helicopter?”

  “It was in my garage. Now it’s somewhere else.”

  “Why do you seem unworried by this?”

  “Because Gustav knows what he’s doing,” he says. “The boy is smarter than all of us put together. He has an IQ of a hundred and seventy-six.”

  “The police say there wasn’t any helicopter,” the man says.

  “The police don’t believe.”

  The man chuckles. “So, you have to believe to see the helicopter?”

  “Yes.”

  “And did you see them take off?”

  “I was at work yesterday morning. I start at seven.”

  “So you don’t really know, then. Is that what you’re saying?”

  “The helicopter was here. Now it isn’t. And my boy is gone with the girl who sat here and watched him build it. Anyone with a brain can figure that out. Don’t know why you’re all making a big deal. They’re big kids. Smart kids. They’ll be fine.”

  “He built the helicopter?”

  “Yes.”

  “He built a helicopter that no one could see?”

  “I could see it.”

  “Can you show me any proof of it?”

  Gustav’s father points to his empty garage. “There’s your proof right there. Do you see a helicopter?”

  “No.”

  “Well.”

  “But no one could see it before yesterday, either,” the man says.

  Gustav’s father says, “Why don’t you have a real job instead of this? I bet your hands are as soft as breasts.”

  “Interesting comparison,” the man says.

  “Nothing is softer than breasts,” Gustav’s father says.

  Interview #3 Irenic Brown’s parents

  “We don’t know anything about it,” they say, in unison. They are one voice. They are two-people-in-one. They are an it. They repeat themselves. “We don’t know anything about it.”

  “We understand your boy goes to school with them.”

  “Does he?”

  “He dated her best friend, didn’t he? That’s what we hear.”

  “Whose best friend?”

  “The missing girl. She wore a lab coat. Her name is ____________.”

  It looks at each other. It says, “He dates a lot of girls.”

  The man and the cameraman look at each other and shrug.

  “Your son has an unusual name,” the man says.

  “We named him the day we picked him up,” it says. “He was our peace. That’s what it means, you know.”

  “Yes. I know.”

  “What does that have to do with anything? Why are you here?” it asks.

  “We’re just interviewing kids who knew them. We’re trying to find the truth.”

  It looks perplexed and defensive. It’s a perplexed and defensive machine.

  “So Irenic was adopted?” the man asks.

  “Not like it’s any of your business,” it says.

  “As a baby?”

  “Not like it’s any of your business,” it says again.

  “We heard that he has a reputation,” the man says.

  “He does. We’re very proud.”

  The man frowns. “I’m not sure you know the exact reputation we’re talking about.”

  “Don’t believe rumors you hear,” it says. “Our boy wouldn’t hurt a living thing. Not even a fly.”

  “He doesn’t hurt flies?” the man asks.

  “Not any living thing,” it says.

  “So the rumors aren’t true?”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” it says.

  “The rumors. About the girls.”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” it says.

  Interview #4 Stanzi’s parents

  Stanzi’s parents have left a note on the kitchen table. It says Gone to bed. TV dinner in freezer. Make sure you turn out the lights.

  Interview #5 China Knowles

  China is a glowing red tongue today. When the man approaches, she waves and accidentally licks his arm.

  He asks a series of questions, but China hands him a poem.

  You Shouldn’t Worry About Gustav and Stanzi

  If we were made of paper

  then rain could disintegrate us.

  So they are safe.

  The man reads the
poem and he shows it to the cameraman. They look at China-the-tongue. They do not see from her tongue how well she’s been eating. They can’t see the spinach/apple juice she drank for breakfast. They look away.

  The man asks, “Did you see the helicopter?”

  China doesn’t answer.

  “Do you know anything about where they went?”

  China writes a haiku.

  They went wherever

  They had to go to escape

  All the tests and drills

  “The bomb threats? Is that right? Is that what you mean?” the man asks.

  China writes another haiku.

  You think we’re stupid

  You cannot divide fractions

  Or dissect a frog

  The cameraman reads the haiku and says, “I can divide fractions.”

  The man says, “I always hated math.”

  China hands them another poem and then walks into her house.

  How to Know If Your Dangerous Bush Man Is Real II

  If he is naked

  adorned with letters

  if his trench coat

  is open

  then your dangerous bush man

  is probably real.

  If he holds the answers

  and everyone

  avoids the street where

  he lives

  even though they

  want the answers

  then your dangerous bush man

  is most likely real.

  If you find a burrito wrapper

  disintegrating under a bush

  and a sign for lemonade

  and a jar full of

  tears—a contained ocean—

  then you should stop

  and ask your dangerous bush man

  if he is okay.

  The man tries to ask one of China’s little sisters if she knows where Gustav and Stanzi are. China’s mother comes out, dressed in a neck-to-ankle black latex bodysuit, and says, “Fuck off!”

 
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