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I crawl through it, p.9
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       I Crawl Through It, p.9

           A. S. King
 
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  Interview #6 The school principal

  “Do you have any idea how little time I have for this?” she asks.

  “We won’t take much time,” the man says, handing her a release form.

  She signs it and sighs. “All I know is that ____________ skipped school on Monday with China Knowles. China was in school today. I don’t know where the others are. The police are looking into it.”

  “Where do you think they went?”

  “How would I know?”

  “Someone told us they left because of the bomb threats,” the man says. “Can you tell us more about these threats?”

  “No.”

  “Can you confirm that there have been bomb threats?”

  “Can’t you read a paper? Or use the Internet?”

  The man smiles. “Well, I know and you know that there are bomb threats. But our viewers don’t know,” he says. “We’re national. This is… just a little town.”

  “You’ll have to talk to the police. They’re handling it now.”

  “Did you get a bomb threat today?” the man asks. “I see all your students standing outside.”

  “It’s testing week. We give them a break sometimes.”

  The cameraman steps up on a chair and films the hole in her floor—just to the right of her chair. It’s how she gets to work every day. Through the hole. Climbs in. Climbs out.

  She looks at them. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

  The camera pans wide and shows the principal inside an impossible stack of paperwork from every side. The paperwork is twenty feet high. It’s twenty feet wide. It’s a great white shark and she is its victim, her torso and arms and head the only things left showing.

  Interview #7 The local police chief

  “Aren’t you the guy on Channel Twelve with the stupid weatherman? What’s his name?” the police chief asks.

  “I’m national.”

  “But I saw you. You’re on Channel Twelve, right?”

  “If Channel Twelve is a CBS affiliate, then yes, maybe that’s me. But I’m national.”

  “You’re national? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

  The man stands straight. “It means I flew here from LA last night so I could cover this story.”

  “What story’s that?”

  “The disappearance of two teenagers.”

  “And?” the police chief answers. “Kids disappear every damn day, don’t they, Mr. National?”

  “Not usually in invisible helicopters, they don’t,” the man says.

  “That’s your story?” the police chief says. He laughs. It’s unstoppable laughter. It shakes the whole town like an earthquake.

  Interview #8 The bartender at the Hilton

  The man orders a double. The cameraman orders a lemon-lime soda. The cameraman doesn’t usually go to bars.

  The wineglasses hanging upside down above the bar counter are clinking into each other and making a noise that has emptied the bar. The hanging light fixtures are swinging.

  “Do you get many earthquakes out this way?” the man asks.

  The bartender, who is sweeping up broken glasses as each one falls onto the floor of the back bar, says, “Never.”

  The man drinks his double quickly. “I’m from LA. We get them there.”

  “Do they ever stop?” the bartender asks.

  “Of course.” The man sucks on an ice cube and spits it back into the glass. “Do you know anything about the two kids who disappeared on Tuesday?”

  The bartender is kneeling on the back bar floor with a dustpan and brush as more and more glasses shake their way off the bar’s shelves. “How the hell should I know?”

  The man orders another double to take back to his room. The cameraman slots five quarters into a vending machine and buys a bottle of water. As they head for the elevator, they see the door is stuck open and the alarm light is flashing.

  The line for checkout at the Hilton is inexplicably long.

  Patricia—Wednesday—Chewing Gum

  IN THE PLACE OF ARRIVALS

  Gary tells me I’m playing at breakfast today.

  “Playing what?” I ask.

  “Anything you want,” he answers.

  “The piano in the dining hall isn’t tuned.”

  “No one cares. We just want to hear you play,” he says. “You used to play for us all the time. Meals aren’t the same without it.”

  I’ve heard them say this before. Each one, in turn, as if they are primary-school children practicing for a play. They may know how to do many things, but acting isn’t one of them.

  It won’t stop—the thwap-thwap-thwap.

  I dreamed last night that it’s Kenneth coming to rescue me. I miss the most mediocre things. Junk food. Movies. I miss chewing gum, even though I never chewed it much back in the real world. I miss people—any people. I miss walking during rush hour in a big city.

  “Why don’t you play something classical?” Gary asks.

  I get out of bed and get dressed in the same clothing I wore yesterday. There is still garden dirt on the knees. I don’t think I should play classical. If Gary had asked me to play punk rock, I wouldn’t want to play that, either.

  At breakfast, we sit around our usual tables and eat whatever we have. I eat two hard-boiled eggs and a handful of strawberries. Gary tells me I should eat toast because the bread is going stale. I say, “Let it go stale.”

  I think: Everything is stale.

  I sit at the piano before the others are finished eating. They pretend not to notice, but I see them smiling at one another. Until I play a half-baked dubstep track that’s been running through my head—that’s when they stop smiling. It’s old. Probably from the 1990s. I wrote it before dubstep had a name. It has lyrics, but I don’t sing them because they don’t allow swearing here. When I finish and look up at their faces, it’s the same look I used to get in high school—a mix of disappointment and sheer confusion.

  Whatever.

  They clap when I stand up, and I give an animated bow, grab a third hard-boiled egg, and go back to the house.

  Gary says, skipping to keep up with me, “Seems silly to waste time on this hip-hop rubbish when you’re capable of the classics.”

  “What are the classics?” I ask. “Do you want me to write a Gregorian chant because your college professor in the one music class you took in 1979 told you it’s relevant?”

  “You’re not yourself,” he says.

  I’m not myself. I am a ham sandwich without the ham. I am a blue sky on a Monday and a rainy Wednesday.

  I didn’t think I loved Kenneth when he was here. Now I think about him all the time. Cliché isn’t supposed to exist here, but it does. I didn’t know what I had until it was gone. I threw the baby out with the bathwater. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’ve been looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses.

  It’s not so great, you know.

  There is no such thing as individuality when one is part of a collective of people who think they’re all individuals. It’s a little like being part of a motorcycle club. The idea was to take off on my own and be free. Instead, I’m barreling down an imaginary road alongside a bunch of loud, unruly children.

  Stanzi—Thursday Morning—Doomed

  We’re doomed. I haven’t told Gustav this yet because he wouldn’t understand. Being doomed isn’t like building an invisible helicopter. Being doomed isn’t like watching Amadeus for the fiftieth time.

  Being doomed is being a passenger in a helicopter I can’t see for two whole days.

  It’s like gliding, but while sitting down.

  Being doomed asks questions.

  Why haven’t we run out of fuel yet?

  Where are we going?

  Why does this map take us in so many circles?

  As if Gustav senses my nervousness, he frowns. “Is everything okay?” he asks.

  “No,” I say. “We’re doomed.”

  “Doomed?” Gustav says.

  “Why haven
’t we stopped for gas?” I say. “And why haven’t we stopped at all? We’ve been up here for two days.”

  “You need a snack,” Gustav says. “You need water.”

  I look behind me at the box of food Gustav brought. He favors chewy granola bars, raisins, and gum.

  “Gum?” I say. “Why did you bring gum?”

  Gustav laughs. He points. “We’ll land there,” he says.

  Below us is a green landscape. Flat. No airport. No fuel trucks. Just a field. Gustav is a very good pilot. He lands us smoother than when Mama sits down on a hemorrhoid.

  China Knowles—Thursday—Runaways Always Come Back

  I am China-who-swallowed-herself. I’m China-the-walking-throat. I’m China-being-digested. I’m looking at my mother in her black latex bodysuit. She’s forty-two and her body could pass for twenty-five. Dad’s coming home. There’s a party tonight. There will be strangers in my basement begging for mercy.

  I miss Stanzi and Gustav.

  I’m sick of Lansdale Cruise because she can’t be trusted. Yesterday she told me during the drill that she has leukemia. In a week she will tell me it’s in remission. She has done this two times before. The whole cycle makes me feel like a basketball being dribbled.

  We walked to school together today and I told her I missed Stanzi and Gustav, but she said they’d be back.

  “Runaways always come back,” she said.

  But we both know that’s not true.

  I ask Mom, “Is it true that runaways always come back?”

  “I don’t know,” she says. “Some do. Some don’t.”

  “Okay.”

  “Is there something I should know?” she asks.

  “I don’t know,” I answer. “Maybe later.”

  I go to Stanzi’s house to see her parents. They look worried and ask me if I think Stanzi is okay.

  “Gustav is a very trustworthy boy,” I say. “They’ll be back. I know it.” Right then, my esophagus clenches and I feel like I might vomit, so I walk out the front door and go home.

  I call Shane and he tells me he ran away lots of times and never went back. He says, “What makes you so sure that Stanzi and Gustav will come home?”

  I say, “Because Stanzi knows I need her.”

  “Life isn’t all about you,” Shane says.

  “That’s not fair.”

  “Nothing’s fair,” he says.

  “I want to run away, too,” I say.

  “So do it.”

  “Are you home tomorrow?”

  “Yes.”

  “I’ll come to you, then. Around noon.”

  He sounds happy. “I’ll see you then.”

  But by the time I say I love you, he hangs up and my esophagus morphs into stomach walls, coated in acid.

  When I get back home, four cars are parked in the driveway. The door isn’t locked. I go to my bedroom and pack a bag for running away.

  How to Know If Your Runaway Plan Is Real

  If you’ve given up on

  every

  possible

  solution

  to an unmentionable problem,

  then your plan to run away is probably real.

  If you’ve packed three bags of trail mix,

  a curling iron you won’t ever use,

  three quality letters that spell C-A-N,

  then your plan to run away is most likely real.

  If you don’t cry

  and you feel nearly human

  and you feel nearly whole

  and worth something other than

  cheap laughs and sick jokes

  and you feel like maybe

  tomorrow

  will

  be

  the

  day

  when

  you

  really

  feel

  right side in.

  When you burn your journal from last year

  when you were in love

  with an untrustworthy weatherman,

  then your plan to run away is

  as real as it can get.

  I let the last embers burn in the fireplace. They glow orange-red and they flake off and fly up the chimney because paper is light, but ash is lighter and Irenic Brown is lighter even, than paper and ash and everything that doesn’t matter.

  When you burn your journal, it’s easy to forget things. It’s easy to forget people. If Stanzi and Gustav don’t come back, then I won’t miss them, same as I won’t miss my mother and her basement of pain and I won’t miss Lansdale and her fauxkemia and I won’t miss the bomb threats and I won’t miss English class behind the lilac bushes in the corner parking lot where we discussed Oliver’s “Goldfinches” and its themes and meanings way too much because it was on the test last year.

  I miss Shane.

  He’s already burned his journals.

  He never told anyone, either.

  We keep each other’s secrets.

  It’s time for us to be together for real. Even if we sleep on the streets. Even if we don’t have anything to eat. Even if we end up coming back here. It’s time for us to be together.

  Stanzi—Thursday—Kenneth

  IN THE PLACE OF ARRIVALS

  Gustav sits in the pilot’s seat until the blades stop rotating. He takes off his headset and smiles at me. Then he climbs out of the helicopter and comes around to my side and opens the invisible door and helps me out and onto the not-invisible grass.

  Solid ground.

  I have no idea where we are. I ask, “Do you know where we are?”

  He answers, “We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be. I promise.”

  We look at each other, and I can see that something has changed inside Gustav. He’s more than just a boy building a helicopter. He’s a man who flew a helicopter. I hug him, and it’s not the kind of hug I’d give China or Mama; it’s the kind of hug I’d give Wolfgang if I was Stanzi. I can hear Gustav breathing the smell of my hair into himself. I can feel him relax in my arms. I want to kiss him again. I’m about to when a woman walks out from the brush to our right.

  “Welcome!” she says.

  She’s dressed in a pair of dirt-covered stonewashed jeans and a sweatshirt. Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and it’s going gray at the sides. There is no doubt that she can see the helicopter.

  Gustav says, “Are you Patricia?”

  She nods.

  “Nice to meet you.” Gustav shoves his hand toward her and she shakes it. She looks as if she could cry for a month. I have no idea why.

  “I’m Stanzi,” I say. “This is Gustav.”

  “You know Kenneth?”

  Both Gustav and I look perplexed. This causes her to look more concerned than happy. She glances behind her every five seconds or so—as if she’s checking to see if she’s been followed.

  She looks at the helicopter. “You have to hide it,” she says. “Or else they’ll destroy it.”

  “Where could I hide it?” Gustav asks. “It doesn’t fit anywhere else.”

  She thinks in her head. She talks to herself. She is like a person who has split in two. “They don’t come up here anymore. They won’t see it. Maybe we can leave tomorrow. Maybe we can leave tonight.”

  “Leave?” Gustav asks. “I’m sorry. I’m out of fuel.”

  She says, “You are?”

  I turn to him. “You are?”

  “I am. Completely. Had we not found this perfect field, we would have crashed.”

  At the word, my body shivers.

  Stanzi—Thursday—Stanzi Takes a Test

  IN THE PLACE OF ARRIVALS

  There’s a test. I took it on the Internet a few times. It’s a yes-or-no test. There are no ovals. There are no right answers. The test is wrong, so all your answers are wrong if you have to take the test. It is a lose-lose situation.

  The first question on the test is: Have you or has a loved one experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror?

&nb
sp; There are twenty-three other questions.

  If you answer yes to any of them, you are supposed to tell your doctor.

  I think about the first question. Have you or has a loved one experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror?

  This is a test for PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder.

  As far as I’m concerned, everyone is a witness. As far as I’m concerned, if anyone says they’re not, they are lying worse than Lansdale Cruise. As far as I’m concerned, this first question reads like one of China’s poems.

  Your PTSD Test Has More Self-Esteem Than I Do

  Have you

  or has a loved one

  experienced

  or

  witnessed

  a

  life-threatening event

  that caused intense fear,

  helplessness,

  or horror?

  We are still standing in the perfect field with Patricia. She says, “The whole world causes me intense fear, helplessness, and horror.”

  I say, “You should tell your doctor.” Then I stare at her as if she is untrustworthy. Mind readers are slippery.

  “Not always,” she says.

  Gustav is too busy unloading a few things from the helicopter to hear this or understand that Patricia, like the dangerous bush man, can read minds.

  I’d like to ask Patricia what Gustav thinks of me.

  “He loves you,” she says.

  “Shhh,” I say. “He can hear you.”

  “Only if he’s listening.”

  We watch him rifle through a box. He finds the quality letter P from the dangerous bush man and hands it to her.

  She says, “Can you take me to him?”

  Gustav and I look at each other and shrug.

  “Kenneth,” she says, and holds up the P. “You know him? He made this for me.” When neither of us answers, she says, “Fuel. We must get fuel.”

 
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