The adoration of jenna f.., p.1
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       The Adoration of Jenna Fox, p.1

           Mary E. Pearson
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The Adoration of Jenna Fox







  I used to be someone.

  Someone named Jenna Fox.

  That’s what they tell me. But I am more than a name. More than they tell me. More than the facts and statistics they fill me with. More than the video clips they make me watch.

  More. But I’m not sure what.

  ‘Jenna, come sit over here. You don’t want to miss this.’ The woman I am supposed to call Mother pats the cushion next to her. ‘Come,’ she says again.

  I do.

  ‘This is an historic moment,’ she says. She puts her arm around me and squeezes. I lift the corner of my mouth. Then the other: a smile. Because I know I am supposed to. It is what she wants.

  ‘It’s a first,’ she says. ‘We’ve never had a woman president of Nigerian descent before.’

  ‘A first,’ I say. I watch the monitor. I watch Mother’s face. I’ve only just learned how to smile. I don’t know how to match her other expressions. I should.

  ‘Mom, come sit with us,’ she calls out toward the kitchen. ‘It’s about to start.’

  I know she won’t come. She doesn’t like me. I don’t know how I know. Her face is as plain and expressionless to me as everyone else’s. It is not her face. It is something else.

  ‘I’m doing a few dishes. I’ll watch from the monitor in here,’ she calls back.

  I stand. ‘I can leave, Lily,’ I offer.

  She comes and stands in the arched doorway. She looks at Mother. They exchange an expression I try to understand. Mother’s face drops into her hands. ‘She’s your nana, Jenna. You’ve always called her Nana.’

  ‘That’s all right. She can call me Lily,’ she says and sits down on the other side of Mother.


  There is a dark place.

  A place where I have no eyes, no mouth. No words.

  I can’t cry out because I have no breath. The silence is so deep I want to die.

  But I can’t.

  The darkness and silence go on forever.

  It is not a dream.

  I don’t dream.


  The accident was over a year ago. I’ve been awake for two weeks. Over a year has vanished. I’ve gone from sixteen to seventeen. A second woman has been elected president. A twelfth planet has been named in the solar system. The last wild polar bear has died. Headline news that couldn’t stir me. I slept through it all.

  I cried on waking. That’s what they tell me. I don’t remember the first day. Later I heard Lily whisper to Mother in the kitchen that my cries frightened her. ‘It sounds like an animal,’ she said.

  I still cry on waking. I’m not sure why. I feel nothing. Nothing I can name, anyway. It’s like breathing—something that happens over which I have no control. Father was here for my waking. He called it a beginning. He said it was good. I think he may have thought that anything I did was good. The first few days were difficult. My mind and body thrashed out of control. My mind settled first. They kept my arms strapped. By the second day my arms had settled, too. The house seemed busy. They checked me, probed, checked again and again, Father scanning my symptoms into the Netbook several times a day, someone relaying back treatment. But there was no treatment that I could see. Each day I improved. That was it. One day I couldn’t walk. The next day I could. One day my right eyelid drooped. The next it didn’t. One day my tongue lay like a lump of meat in my mouth, the next day it was articulating words that hadn’t been spoken in over a year.

  On the fifth day, when I walked out onto the veranda without stumbling, Mother cried and said, ‘It’s a miracle. An absolute miracle.’

  ‘Her gait is still not natural. Can’t you see that?’ Lily said.

  Mother didn’t answer.

  On the eighth day Father had to return to work in Boston. He and Mother whispered, but I still heard. Risky … have to get back … you’ll be fine. Before he left he cupped my face in both of his hands. ‘Little by little, Angel,’ he said. ‘Be patient. Everything will come back. Over time all the connections will be made.’ I think my gait is normal now. My memory is not. I don’t remember my mother, my father, or Lily. I don’t remember that I once lived in Boston. I don’t remember the accident. I don’t remember Jenna Fox.

  Father says it will come in time. ‘Time heals,’ he says.

  I don’t tell him that I don’t know what time is.


  There are words.

  Words I don’t remember.

  Not obscure words that I wouldn’t be expected to know.

  But simple ones.

  Jump. Hot. Apple.


  I look them up. I will never forget them again.

  Where did those words go,

  those words that were once in my head?


  Curious adj. 1. Eager to learn or to know, inquisitive. 2. Prying or meddlesome. 3. Inexplicable, highly unusual, odd, strange.

  The first week, Mother pored over the details of my life. My name. Childhood pets. Favorite books. Family vacations. And after each scene she described, she would ask, ‘Remember?’ Each time I said no, I saw her eyes change. They seemed to get smaller. Is that possible? I tried to say the nos more softly. I tried to make each one sound different than the one before. But on Day Six her voice cracked as she told me about my last ballet recital. Remember?

  On Day Seven, Mother handed me a small box. ‘I don’t want to pressure you,’ she said. ‘They’re in order. Mostly all labeled. Maybe watching them will help bring things back.’ She hugged me. I felt her fuzzy sweater. I felt the coolness of her cheek. Things I can feel. Hard. Soft. Rough. Smooth. But the inside kind of feel, it is all the same, like foggy mush. Is that the part of me that is still asleep? I had moved my arms around her and tried to mimic her squeeze. She seemed pleased. ‘I love you, Jenna,’ she said. ‘Anything you want to ask me, I’m here. I want you to know that.’

  Thank you was the right response, so I said it. I don’t know if that was something I remembered or something I had just learned. I don’t love her. I sensed that I should, but how can you love someone you don’t know? But I did feel something in that foggy mush. Devotion? Obligation? I wanted her to be pleased. I thought about her offer, anything you want to ask me. I had nothing to ask. The questions hadn’t come yet.

  So I watched the first disc. It seemed logical to go in order. It was of me in utero. Hours of me in utero. I was the first, I learned. There had been two boy babies before me, but they didn’t live past the first trimester. With me, Mother and Father took extra measures, and they worked. I was the one and only. Their miracle child. I watched the fetus that was me, floating in a dark watery world, and wondered if I should remember that, too.

  Each day I watch more discs, trying to regain who I was. Some are stills, some are movies. There are dozens of the two-inch discs. Maybe a hundred. Thousands of hours of me.

  I settle on the large sofa. Today I watch Year Three / Jenna Fox. It begins with my third birthday party. A small girl runs, laughing at nothing at all, and is finally stopped by a tall, weathered stone wall. She slaps tiny starburst hands against the stone and looks back at the camera. I pause the scene. I scan the smile. The face. She has something. Something I don’t see in my own face, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe just a word I have lost? Maybe more. I scan the large rough stones her hands rest against. It is the small enclosed garden of the brownstone where we once lived. I remember it from yesterday on Disc Eighteen.

  ‘Play,’ I say, and the scene moves forward. I watch the golden-haired girl squeal and run and hide her face b
etween two trousered legs. Then the three-year-old is scooped upside down into the air and the view zooms up to Father’s face laughing and nuzzling into her belly. My belly. The three-year-old laughs. She seems to like it. I walk over to the mirror that hangs near the bookcase. I am seventeen now, but I see a resemblance. Same blond hair. Same blue eyes. But the teeth are different. Three-year-old teeth are so small. My fingers. My hands. All much larger now. Almost a whole different person. And yet that is me. At least that is what they say. I return to watch the rest of the party, the bath time, the ballet lesson, the finger painting, the temper tantrum, the story time, the everything of three-year-old Jenna Fox’s life that mattered to Mother and Father.

  I hear footsteps behind me. I don’t turn. They are Lily’s. Her feet make a different sound on the floor than Mother’s. Movement is crisp, distinct. I hear every nuance. Was I always this sensitive to sound? She stands somewhere behind me. I wait for her to speak. She doesn’t. I’m not sure what she wants.

  ‘You don’t have to watch them in order, you know,’ she finally says.

  ‘I know. Mother told me.’

  ‘There are discs of when you were a teenager.’

  ‘I still am a teenager.’

  There is a pause. A deliberate pause, I suspect. ‘I suppose,’ she says. She comes around so she is in my vision. ‘Aren’t you curious?’

  Curious. It’s a word I looked up this morning after Mother used it to describe Mr Bender who lives behind us on the other side of the pond. I don’t know if Lily is asking me if I am inquisitive or odd.

  ‘I’ve been in a coma for over a year. I guess that makes me highly unusual; odd; and strange. Yes, Lily. I am curious.’

  Lily’s arms unfold and slide to her sides. Her head tilts slightly. She’s a pretty woman. She looks to be fifty when I know she must be at least sixty. Small wrinkles deepen around her eyes. The subtleties of expression still escape me.

  ‘You should watch them out of order. Skip straight to the last year.’

  Lily leaves the room, and on Day Fifteen of being awake, I make my first independent decision. I will watch the discs in order.


  There is something curious about where we live. Something curious about Lily. Something curious about Father and his nightly phone calls with Mother. And certainly something curious about me. Why can I remember the details of the French Revolution but I can’t remember if I ever had a best friend?

  Day Sixteen

  When I woke this morning, I had questions. I wondered where they had all been hiding. Time heals. Is this what Father meant? Or were the words that had been lost in my head simply trying to find the proper order? Besides questions, the word careful came to mind, too. Why? I’m beginning to think I must trust words when they come to me.

  ‘Jenna, I’m leaving,’ Mother calls from the front step. ‘Are you sure you’ll be okay?’

  Mother is going to town. It is the first time I have seen her leave the house since Day One.

  ‘I’ll be fine,’ I tell her. ‘My nutrients are on the counter. I know how much to take.’ I can’t eat regular food yet. When I asked them why, they stumbled over each other’s words trying to explain. They finally said that after a year of being fed through a tube, my system can’t utilize regular food for a while. I never saw the tube. Maybe that’s what’s on the last disc that Lily told me to watch. Why would she want me to see that?

  ‘Don’t leave the house,’ Mother adds.

  ‘She won’t,’ Lily answers.

  Mother is going to town to interview workmen. She is a certified restoration consultant. Or was. She had a business in Boston restoring brownstones. It was her specialization. She was busy. Everyone wants to restore everything. Old is in demand. Lily says she had a respected reputation. Her career is over now because of me. There are no brownstones in California. But Mother says the Cotswold cottage we live in needs lots of restoration, and now that I am feeling better, it’s time she began making it livable. One restoration is not that different from another, she says. Fixing me and the Cotswold are her new careers.

  She is halfway down the narrow front walk when I ask her my first question. I know it’s not a good time for her.

  ‘Mother, why did we move here?’

  She stops. I think I see a slight stumble. She turns around. Her eyes are wide. She doesn’t speak, so I continue. ‘When the doctors, Father, and your career are all in Boston, why are we here?’

  Mother looks down for a moment so I can’t see her face, then looks up again. She smiles. One corner. Then the other. A careful smile. ‘There are lots of reasons, Jenna. I can’t discuss them all right now or I’ll miss the shuttle into town, but the main reason is that we thought it would be best for you to have a quiet place to recover. And our plan seems to be working, doesn’t it?’

  Smooth. Practiced. I can hear it in the singsong of her voice. In some ways it’s almost reasonable, but I can see the holes. Having a quiet place is not as important as being close to doctors. But I nod. There is something about her eyes. Eyes don’t breathe. I know that much. But hers look breathless.

  My Room

  I go to my room. I don’t want to. But before she left, Mother made one last request. ‘Go to your room, Jenna. I think you might need some rest.’ I don’t need rest, and I don’t want to go, but before I know it, my feet are taking me up the stairs and I am closing my door behind me. I know it would please her.

  My room is on the second floor—one of ten rooms on the upper level, along with an assortment of closets, bathrooms, nooks, and other small windowless rooms that seem to have no purpose. Mine is the only one that is clean and has furniture. The others are empty except for an occasional spider or a piece of trash left by the previous occupants. The lower floor has at least another ten rooms, and only half of those rooms are furnished. A few of the rooms are locked. I have not seen them. Mother and Lily have rooms down there. The cottage is not a cottage at all. I looked it up to be sure. I looked up Cotswold, too. It’s a sheep. So we should live in a one-room house meant for sheep. I haven’t seen any sheep here either.

  My room is at the end of a long hallway. It is the largest room on the upper level, which makes the lone bed, desk, and chair seem small and awkward. The polished-wood floor reflects the pieces of furniture. It is a cold room. Not in temperature, but in temperament. It reflects nothing of the person who inhabits it. Or maybe it does.

  The only color in the room is the custard-yellow coverlet on the bed. The desktop is clear except for the Netbook that Father used to communicate with the doctors. No papers. No books. No clutter. Nothing.

  The bedroom opens into a large arched dressing room that connects with a closet that connects with another smaller closet that has a small door at the back, which I can’t open. It is an odd zigzag tunneling arrangement. Was my room in Boston like this? Four shirts and four pairs of pants hang in the first closet. All of them are blue. Below them are two pairs of shoes. Nothing is in the second closet. I run my hands along the walls and wonder at the emptiness.

  I look out my window. Across our yard and the pond, I see curious Mr Bender, a mere speck in the distance. He appears to be squatting, looking at something on the ground. He moves a few steps forward and disappears from view, hidden by the edge of a eucalyptus grove that borders both our properties. I turn back to my room.

  A wooden chair.

  A bare desk.

  A plain bed.

  So little. Is this all Jenna Fox adds up to?

  A Question I Will Never Ask Mother:

  Did I have friends?

  I was sick for over a year and yet there is not a single card, letter, balloon, or wilted bouquet of flowers in my room.

  The Netbook never buzzes for me.

  Not even an old classmate’s simple inquiry.

  I may not remember everything, but I know there should be these things.


  I know when someone is sick that people check on her.

nbsp; What kind of person was Jenna Fox that she didn’t have any friends?

  Was she someone I even want to remember?

  Everyone should have at least one friend.


  I hear Lily humming. My feet fumble like they have a will of their own, but I try to control them so she won’t hear me. I lean close to the wall and peek into the kitchen. Her back is to me. She spends most of her time in the kitchen preparing elaborate dishes. She used to be chief of internal medicine at Boston University Hospital. Father was a resident under her. That is how he met Mother. Lily gave it up. I don’t know why. Now her passions are gardening and cooking. It seems that everyone in this house is reinventing themselves and no one is who they once were.

  When she is not in the kitchen cooking, she is out in the greenhouse getting it in order. I can’t eat her foods, and I wonder if that is part of the reason she doesn’t like me. She clanks pots and then turns on the faucet. I make my move for the front door.

  The hinges on the heavy wooden door squeak when I exit, but she doesn’t follow. The sound blends with the clanking pots and rushing water. I have been no farther than the front steps of the house, except for once when it was dark and Mother took me for a short walk to Lily’s greenhouse. Mother told me from the start that I must stay close. She is afraid I will get lost.

  Lost adj. 1. No longer known. 2. Unable to find the way. 3. Ruined or destroyed.

  I’m afraid I already am.

  The noon sun is bright. It hurts my eyes. I ease the door shut so Lily won’t hear, and I hurry across the lawn. I won’t go far. I will keep the house in sight. Careful. The word comes again, like a hedge in front of me, but pushing from behind, too. I pass the chimney of the fireplace in the living room. Its top bricks have tumbled to the ground and weeds almost obscure them. Bright green lichens creep up the remaining bricks. I walk around the far side of the garage so Lily won’t see me. Several of the windows are boarded up, and a whole section of shingles is missing from the roof. Money doesn’t seem to be a problem for Mother. I wonder why, in over a year of my being in a coma, she didn’t have time to make the barest of repairs.

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