Though I’ve been following the inevitable turn toward electronic publishing for quite some time now, I have particular interest in this concept of interactive fiction. What you're about to read (if in fact, you do commit yourself to this 30-minute long caprice of mine) is a stab at that.
This started about a month ago as nothing more than a short story, though in ideation/early draft phase the thought occurred to me to find additional ways to leverage it, repurpose it, experiment with various distribution channels and audiences. (Also, at the time I was leafing through "Electronic Literature," by N. Katherine Hayles, sort of the preeminent scholar on digital publishing and content creation).
So after the muscle draft, I went back and modified it slightly to fit within the bounds of the hypertext narrative. Meaning, it's footnotey. There's a backstory. Click on links if you want more info, or visual clues. Click on as many or as few as you like. Your level of engagement is up to you.
Also, I know this is getting rambly, but I must point out the unstoppable trend in the last ten years towards the inclusion of deleted scenes on DVDs. I say, "why just for movies?" There are definitely authors whose deleted scenes I'd like to see. I like to think of this sort of like that (not that I even hold a small, votive-sized candle to those just mentioned). Extra content, some of which is relevant, some of which is less than. Hopefully it skews toward the former. (Where is the emoticon for “fingers crossed?”)
So hurrah for experimental, hypertexual "collaboration," with willing and unwilling contributors! For links used with or without permission, but publicly available and linkable and therefore legal, right?
Get outta here, prologue!
by Adrienne Aggen
We sped along, in that wavepool manner of a busride. Jolts and swerves and quick giddy halts at stoplights and tolls. Our driver, an irritatingly jolly man, was doing his best to negotiate the construction blocks and tried to laugh it off as he sent kids sliding across the laminate seats into windows and aisles. I clung to the edge of my seat until we got out of Oak Park, relaxing at last past the poorest part of the city. Here was calming repetition. Numbers and patterns.
I strained to follow the rows and rows of soft shabby houses, lining up the bright buildings in my eyeline as they sped by so they’d look like carousel horses. The up and down of taller intervaled industrials in the background. Back to the poor houses, extraordinarily varied in color and care but identical in size, therefore suitable for deciphering and identifying pattern.
Occasionally a door would pop open and ruin my makeshift zoetrope, and then I’d shift and stare down at the long yellow stripes of the road and try the same thing there, until my eyes quit and eventually the stabs of paint turned into a never-ending highway noodle. I had to be careful of not getting too close to the window because it was sensitive to the fog of my breath, blocking my view of the slum. A lot of my classmates were just figuring out this science and writing dirty words and diagrams on their windows for a laugh.
An important day, a field trip. A weird kind of freedom and intoxication that comes with knowing you’ll be in an unfamiliar environment. Unusual things are generally more tolerated. Expected. It’s like rules get thrown out the window once you’re off your home turf. I might say it’d feel like Guantanamo, except it’s the complete opposite. Pure Liberation. And I planned to take full advantage.
Rightly, it wasn’t hanging well on me that I felt nervous. I had even avoided eye contact with her all morning. I was also starting to develop an unfamiliar queasiness. Most likely from the near hour bus ride from St. Charles, from the constant shoves and yelps behind me as Garrett pounded his troublemaking fists into the seat and my back.
Miss Rackett tried to allay Garrett’s fear of highways and girls by dosing out fruit snacks medicinally, like Ritalin. After about five minutes he wilted and fell asleep, a cherry gummy nestled in between his pointer finger and thumb. Now he occupied an entire seat and his former seatmate Katie Lang excitedly packed herself into a bouquet of three girls across the aisle, a forbidden arrangement. They were clearly happy about this situation. And loud. Loud in the most beautiful kind of way that girls are loud. Girls of all different stripe.
Taking a break from my road and development tallies, I leaned forward onto corduroy knees. Anxious. Wishing the rules of second-gradedom allowed me to speak to three girls at once—or even one at time. I tried to get a peek at them to reason out their curious hysterics, but couldn’t quite make my head around the half-foot of vinyled foam without giving myself away.
Instead, I turned away and commenced a new autoplay: trying to maneuver my cheek up as close to the window as I could without actually touching it. I imagined my cheek filled with negative ions and the bus window with positive and tried to get as near it as possible without being sucked in magnetically.
I remembered something I’d heard about more kids getting sick from school buses than they did from school bathrooms, and immediately pulled away. I didn’t want to chance it. I simply couldn’t afford to today.
I pried my woolen mittens off with my teeth and stuffed them both into a vacant pocket of Scott’s jacket, which was a bit generous and sort of made me look like stuffed buffalo whose head hadn’t been properly preserved and had shrunk. But I loved the coat's color, I felt important in it, I felt like some of his teenagerness was rubbing off on me simply from the perfunctory sticking of arms through sleeves. It would give me the courage I needed.
I dug through the pockets by feel and verified the small bubble wrapped package. The mug was there, sure enough, still intact. She had this weird thing for foxes and wolves, and really loved Wyle E. Coyote even though I much preferred Marvin the Martian. It cost a cool $12 bucks, but it would do its job. I wouldn’t have given up eight weeks of allowance for just anyone, but for her, naturally. For the girl of my dream.
I say dream, because for the past three weeks, I had only one dream. A singular vision where Sage took one look at the mug, mimicked the grin of the cartoon character, and threw her girlish arms around me.
I quadruple checked the accompanying notecard to see if what I had written was still actually there. It was, featuring the steadiest writing of my life. I reread it. I liked, in particular, the manner in which I’d closed this correspondence. “The friend you never had, Paul.” Much better than the first letter I’d given to a girl. More confident. Cooler.
As is the case with most elementary school transport, we arrived late. The tour guide, a squalid woman in museum red who must have affirmative-actioned her way into employment by being Ugly was at the ready. As the children assembled around her, I watched her eyebomb Garrett, who had snotted all over the donations box.
You! she shot. Was she pointing to Tommy, the new kid next to him in the denim hat, or me? I made the grave mistake of raising my eyebrows in response and inquiry where the other two did not. She surely was pointing to me. I knew it as certainly as I knew that Stephanie Walbrecht, though nice to everyone, really didn’t mean she “wanted to hug me I was so funny” even though she wrote it on my valentine two weeks ago.
- Him, Ugly pointed. You.
She lifted a heavy finger toward me and poked it in the air like she was branding me.
- You are to buddy up with Him.
Garrett sniffled a snarfle so loud it echoed against the stone, even over the collective chats of the children. He then turned a hot face and quite tumescent nose toward me, his buddy. He offered up what I could only guess was a high five, his way of accepting this arranged-friendship. More quick-wittedly than was characteristic, I managed to fake a sneeze and gave a shrug of my shoulders as means of refusing his hand.
- Germs, I chuckled.
About Garrett. Garrett was one of those kids who your parents make you invite to your Intergalactic Birthday Party even though he doesn’t have a Klingon name like your other friends do so your mom just writes GarretTor on his nametag. He’s the kid who’s brought you a present he dug out of the trash. He’s always digging things out of the trash, things of no value. It’s not like he’s even looking for money or cool, used action figures. Last year for show and tell he bought a piece of PVC pipe and a rusty tricycle that was missing both its back wheels. He’s the kind of kid who has a pocket full of Kleenex, none of which are his. No wonder he’s sick.
Ugly snapped her fingers to attention and looked over the pen of children, like she might say more. Instead she forcibly pulled Miss Rackett to her side and whispered in her ear, no doubt trying to deputize her. She stuffed 40 or so tin museum badges into Miss Rackett’s hand, which of course was too petite for such a gesture and half of the lapel badges spilled over.
You’d think a major museum would find a better method of tracking children. Especially since, except for confirmations and holidays, children don’t wear lapels.
A scream of toddlers toddled past, with big-breasted nannies that didn’t match their charges in skin-tone. Ugly swung her head around with the same force of the museum’s famed pendulum ball and began to chastise the women. To my delight, she was unsuccessful, as they didn’t know much English and she didn’t know much Spanish.
While she threw a finger up to her inflated lips and shhhshd, Miss Rackett swept up the badges from the floor and timidly waited for the next directive.
- Throw them in twos and don’t give them any maps, Ugly said. They’re too young for maps.
Miss Rackett nodded in acknowledgment, instantly losing my respect, as I not only knew how to use a map, but had recently mastered Dr. Dragon’s Cartography Challenge.
I tried to hide the map I had picked up from the kind sir stationed at Information on my way in, but Garrett ratted me out. (As he was in mid-narc I noticed his dandruff (could it be, on an 8-year old?)), which had silvered his coat collar. Maybe it was just dust. Or some dangerous dry particulate. I couldn’t decide whether to be disgusted or frightened.)
Sure enough, Ugly snatched the map out of my hand as if it was a low-grade explosive I had brought into the museum. I teetered between anger and shame, hoping Sage hadn’t witnessed this incalculable humiliation. She hadn’t. She was occupied by her braid, whose ribbon had started to come undone. I released the tension in my shoulders. I could stand some condescension more than I could embarrassment, so it wasn’t quite so dire after all. Especially because I had already mentally mapped out the Sarcophagi and the Outer Frontiers exhibits.
This last one. This last one was special. It would be in the Outer Frontiers exhibit, during the light-year presentation where all the holes cut out of the black cloth were twinkling their mighty constellations, under that smear of artificial stars, that I would hand the gift to Sage.
Ugly said a few more private words to Miss Rackett, then dismissed us with a flail of her hand, like she was an army general. She even had the epaulettes on her shoulders to prove it. I wondered if each ribbon signified a child who had died from panic or fear.
As we dispersed from our frightened or oblivious huddle I started to devise a scheme to rid myself of my new buddy ol’ pal, and in doing so, took note of the complex stairways linking floors two and three. I counted the stairs in fives 51015202530354045 -
- What do you want to see, Paul?
Sage stood to my right, normal as morning.
Yes, Sage. Looking radiant in her purple overalls and plum colored turtleneck with matching plum hair ribbons. This outfit might look childish and absurd, costumey, on anyone else, but it nicely offset her silvery-white hair and glacier eyes and made her look even more regal than usual. She should wear this outfit, (augmented by a simple fir headpiece) when it came time for the two of us to enter court and begin our rule of North Antarctica.
Caught in this splendor, it took me a minute to realize that it was not she who had spoken to me, but her best friend Tabby. Ol’ Tabby Apple, as the boys called her, mocking her babyfat.
Though I was flustered by this confrontation, I’d looked up the exhibit rotation on the museum website a week prior in anticipation of the trip, so it didn’t take long to rattle off my wish-list in response to her question.
- I’ve heard the Outer Frontiers exhibit has a remarkable example of the space-time continuum, the Egyptian Wing has the world’s oldest intact Sarcophagus, I heard the submarine might be cool. Oh! And I’m hoping for some antediluvian artifacts, of any sort, really.
The two girls shrugged.
- Oh. said Tabby.
- Hnn, said Sage.
It soon became clear that this had come off less casual, less nonchalant than I would have liked. I sounded dreadfully like a second grader.
- I want to see the fairy dollhouse!
Garrett practically screamed this, butting his rhinovirusy face into the conversation.
Sensing my chance to recover with an unparalleled cool statement, I jumped in.
- Dollhouse, Garrett? Really? You can see a stupid dollhouse anytime, like your sister’s. I can’t think of a bigger waste of time. Plus you’ll probably have to get in line behind all of them.
I head-nodded to a bunch of yoddling young girls, presumably two years our junior and from an inner city school where it’s acceptable, and maybe even dignified to sprawl out on the floor while others see how close they can get their feet to your face without landing on you mid-air.
My three classmates looked to observe this display of showy, intellectual flaccidity and then back to me.
- Dollhouses! I said, in mock-excitement.
- Oh, said Tabby.
- Hnnn, said Garrett.
Sage looked like I’d just knifed her.
No. Not possible.
Not possible that someone who can recite the entire taxonomy of the American Grey Wolf is also interested in tiny dollish structures! Only it was more than possible. It was actual.
Sage shifted her feet, cocked her head toward the floor and didn’t open her mouth. Her beautiful, spring-pink mouth. That would now never, never ever, touch mine.
- Yeah, well, maybe we’ll see you later at the dollhouse exhibit. I heard it’s pretty cool from an engineering standpoint, I said
and grabbed Garrett by the neck and walked as fast as I could toward the Ocean Technologies exhibit. I didn’t look back until I reached the deep blue and yellow sea posters, and by then she and Tabby were gone.
The exhibit housed a few WWI Doppler Radars, an oversized periscope that displayed (through its dirty, fingerprinty lens) alternating Indian, Atlantic, Pacific, and Antarctic seascapes and marine life, and the showpiece U-605 Submarine. Garrett resigned himself to looking through the kaleidoscope of marine life, along with every other kid on a field trip that day, which left the pristine steel sea-giant free for the taking.
First I inspected each welder’s seam, counting the nail heads along the base as I did so. 806. A small informative plaque near starboard explicitly prohibited any touching of the boat, but the chaperones and curators were so busy trying to circumvent fighting with the periscope riot that no one was paying much attention to me.
I slid two fingers over the stern and walked to keep up with my fingers, never letting them leave the steel. I stopped periodically, and tried to guess where the pump room lay, the galley, the torpedoes. I did this by applying soft pressure with the tips of my fingers, like the doctor had done one time when he examined my belly by feel. I walked around the boat four times, studying its surface dimples and wondering what sort of deckhand I would have made. And if they would have allowed me in uniform and what kind of hat I would have been given. What kind of sailor I did and didn’t want to look like. I looked at my watch. Four hours to go.
Mistrustful of the women and teenagers who ran the coat check, I had kept my puffer jacket in the crook of my arm, folded over on itself, which was making me sweat a bit under my right armpit. I reached into the left pocket and once again checked to see if the mug and note were still there. The last thing I needed was for them to fall out during the IMAX presentation, forever lost on a dark, sticky floor.
I decided they might be safer nestled in the pouch of my sweatshirt, so I looked carefully around to make sure my secret remained so, and transferred the contents of my jacket pocket into my sweatshirt’s front snug. It had openings on each side that didn’t have the security of zippers, but it did nicely accommodate both my hands, and it became a sort of crowded muff, which would keep its cargo safe.
I had just finished doing so when a tall unknown man deposited Garrett on the bench next to me.
- Is this him? The man asked Garrett, thumb towards me.
Wet-eyed, sniffling Garrett just nodded.
- Ok, just stay here and everything will be okay.
His look of gentle concern vanished and he turned to me in a fit.
- Don’t you think about leaving him again! You are responsible for your buddy! From now on you are to link arms with him at all times unless you want me to report your behavior to your teacher! At all times!
- What about if I need to go to the bathroom? Garrett asked.
Good boy, Garrett.
The guard’s face got all twisty as he contemplated this development.
- Except, if one of you needs to go to the bathroom, of course, he replied.
I instantly scanned the floor for a drinking fountain. Come on, drinking fountain.
- Are you listening to me? he asked. Stay with him! Got it?
I was too stunned to say anything.
I didn’t even offer a response until the gangling man sped away, surely off to ruin the life of some other misjudged child.
- But he’s sick! I shouted, a pointless decrescendo.
Garrett, miraculously, instantly better, sprung up from the bench and motioned for me to do the same. He was still wearing his red purled hat and jacket and looked just like a walking incubator of disease.
- Okay, look. We are only going to link arms until we get to the Egyptian exhibit. After that you’re on your own, and you’re definitely not to touch or talk to me.
He stared still, probably thinking about something sick.
I stood in a languish, and stuck my only free arm through his. The other arm held my jacket and its hand held onto the contents of my sweatshirt, securing them in place.
- And if you do anything to embarrass me, I’ll tell the whole class. I doubt you’ll ever have a buddy again, I concluded, for effect.
After the Fisheries and a really dumbed-down Children’s Nature Exhibit, came the IMAX. As the only scheduled event on our itinerary, I wanted to be prompt. Which meant I had to hustle us along through the Electricity and Industrialization exhibit, and Ancient Egypt as well.
As my sick sidekick and I rushed through, I noticed something brewing underneath my belly. An untimely sickness. The kind that would have never allowed me employment aboard a submarine or any other sea craft. And Sage was nowhere to be seen, so I couldn’t quite chalk it up to nerves. I shrugged it off.
The feeling worsened as I was surveying the head to body ratio of the ancient Pharaoh as compared to modern, Caucasian men. I felt a cough bellowing up in my lungs. By the time we’d fled Egypt I was sneezing with some regularity.
I didn’t want for anyone to see me unlinking arms with Garrett, (especially not Ugly, who I hate to admit I was genuinely terrified of), but my cough demanded a hand, so I let go of my sweatshirt treasures for a second and turned to cough.
As I did, the pull of my cough yanked Garrett toward me. He lunged in direct contact with my torso. His leaking nose slammed square into my left shoulder, wiping the muck against my favorite outfit. His elbow knocked into my pocket and his cheap aluminum watch dinged against the mug.
- Ow. What’s that? Garrett said, rubbing his elbow, cradling it in his other arm.
He poked at the bulge of my sweatshirt, which clearly held the contents of something shaped not very much like a fist. Some nearby students turned, including dream girl. Who wouldn’t look me in the eye. Still upset about the dollhouse jab, I suppose. Rightly so.
- What have you got in there? said Blair Furst, motioning to the pocket.
The little brunette was postured strong with her arms folded against her chest.
I sucked in my lips together and bit on them and just pretended like I hadn’t heard her. But I had, and Blair knew it, and she knew that I knew it and so did Tabby and Sage. Blair was notorious for ratting all the other kids out, the ones who threw dried up frogs at each other at recess (which I couldn’t blame her for) and tattling on the ones who took extra cheese from the potato bar at lunch (which I could blame her for. I did that).
- Did you steal something from the Egyptian exhibit? said the Cheese Nazi.
- No way! I squeaked, folding my own arms in response to her pose, but held awkwardly low over my belly.
- What is it? Sage asked politely. What's in there?
By this time the attention of the sweet looking museum guard had been piqued. He woke from his halfsleep supervision to monitor the imbroglio. I felt a wide, earthly panic rise up from my arms and settle over my head. The man looked at Garrett and me with equal consideration, trying to pinpoint the culprit. He strode forward in patient steps, his thick non-marking museum shoes inching toward me or toward Garrett. He was a giant, nearly 7 feet tall, I’d guess.
Though usually respectful and obedient of the law (I’d linked arms with sick boy for over an hour straight!) I stuck my arm through Garrett’s and pulled him along with me as we fled around the corner and down the southeast stairs. As soon as we were out of sight, safe in the darks of the IMAX wing, I stopped. Garrett was panting but smiling from the game he thought we were in the middle of. I was sweating, but then again, I had been before the chase.
- Well. . . I huffed, surprised at my own defiance—and exhaustion—and continued, We’re . . we. . are. . . supposed to meet . . the class here . . .anyway . . . in 15 minutes. We’ll. . .we’ll . . . just wait here.
I unlinked myself from Garrett and sat down, feeling even more deathly from my stomach’s yeasty quiver. Of course I was getting sick, being in front of the sick kid on the bus and getting railed on with his cries, screams and coughs. I hadn’t thought it possible to contract the illness so quickly. My class report on the flu virus was very clear that it took a day before you started showing symptoms. Garrett must have been carrying a mutant super-virus.
- I’m going to the gift shop? Garrett said this like it was a question that required my approval.
- Um, fine okay, but be back here in ten minutes, I said, foolishly trusting that he knew how to tell time.
I crept farther into the shadows, illegally behind the red movie rope that was used to herd excited children into the theatre in an orderly as possible fashion.
I don’t remember what the IMAX was about, I didn’t really see it. I did see Sage, though, sitting four rows ahead of me next to a boy I’d never seen before. Maybe she’d made friends with him in Egypt. Maybe he attended a different school. Maybe he had won the Presidential Physical Fitness Award at his school without cheating on his situps. But what did I expect. Of course a girl like her was bound to attract the attention of any dumb public school boy. This was not a welcome complication to my plan.
The kicker is I missed the whole IMAX. I would have normally been highly interested in seeing all about the creatures and landscapes and rifts of the ocean’s floor, but today it was too much. The zooms and expansive pans of the camera made me feel even more sick to my stomach. Instead I experienced it vicariously. Garrett nudged me every time he got excited, and made extremely sophomoric moaning and “hubba-hubba” sounds when they showed the cuddlefish mating.
Intolerant of this ignorance, I sneezed into the cuff of my sweatshirt and ducked my head inward toward my chest. I used my jacket as a cape and draped it around my neck from the front. I can’t say why, but it seemed prudent to unbutton my pants as well.
The movie ended with a saccharine “Octopus’s Garden” cover, and as the credits rolled all my class oohed and awed and spanked their little hands together in adoration. I looked next to me. Garrett had left at some point. But not without leaving a pile of trinkets on the seat – 6 museum maps and a Payday wrapper filled to the brim with chewed chewing gum.
As everyone started to file out I caught the attention of Miss Rackett. I waved her open with my cough-hand. She maneuvered around the exiting mass of kids and sat next to me, where Garrett had been sitting a minute earlier. She took the seat litter in her hand, the way teachers do with trash or gum, totally oblivious of germs. The lights undimmed.
- What is it, Paul? Are you sick? she guessed.
Mouth half open, I instantly realized if I agreed, that yes, I was sick, I would be whisked out of the museum quickly, maybe deposited onto the bus to wait for the others, maybe to wait alone with the riff-raff of the coat room. I changed my mind at the last second.
- I – I lost Garrett, I lied.
She ended her sigh with a smile.
- It’s okay. He’s just right up there, with Sage.
She gestured to the crown of steps. Sure enough, ratty nosed, mussed hair, social opportunist Garrett was talking to Sage. How he had the gall to approach her one-on-one was beyond me. My stomach knotted again, inside its other knot. A league of knots, twisting and careening toward the surface.
- Are you sure you’re okay? she asked, noticing my expression.
I looked at her, keeping Garrett and Sage in my eye line. At least New Boy, the greater threat, was gone.
- No, no. I just hope there’s not a huge line to see the fairy dollhouse. I’ve been waiting all day to go see that, but Garrett hasn’t wanted to.
- Well, I know you’re his buddy,
she leaned into me in a way teacher’s weren’t supposed to and lowered her voice,
- but I think it would be okay if he were by himself for the next hour.
Oh blessed Miss Rackett! Surely her canonization was approaching!
- Thanks, I smiled.
- It’s okay. C’mon.
I followed her up the stairs, but by the time we’d exited the theatre I could only see the back of Sage. She was all the way across the marbled floor, probably outside of shouting distance, and was in rushes toward the dollhouse exhibit. There wasn’t much time to dither around, so, though sweating and dizzy, I picked up my coat and pursued her.
From just outside the doorway of the purple-litted dollhouse room I audibly gasped from glimpse I got of the exhibit, but managed to cover it up with a play cough.
Sage was about 6 people back from the entrance. I started toward her in line, but fell faint and had to catch myself on a older girl I didn’t know. I apologized and tried to fit my way in under the arm of the girl-crutch.
- No you don’t!
It was the guard, the one who’d burdened me the task of babysitting Garrett.
- You’ll wait in line like the rest. he said. And you'll wait with him.
He pointed to Garrett, near the back of the line.
As patiently as possible. That’s how I waited. Normally this is actually rather patient and adults are often surprised at how I don’t mind waiting. Waiting while the dentist examines my teeth for cavities and gets distracted talking to his blonder than blond assistant. Waiting till after noon to open my Christmas presents. Waiting for Scott to pick me up from school, and when he shows up 2 hours later smelling like refried beans, I don’t yell.
The line inched along, and I almost felt wrong when I finally entered it, knowing I might perchance cough my germs upon and infect the perfect little fairy world. That’s how extraordinary it was. It blew the U-boat right out of the water.
It was one of those miniatures exhibits. Like a train set, with real tiny people and tiny roads and tiny landscaping – shrubberies and trees and spurring ivy all along the brick of the dollhouse. I was actually surprised by how beautiful it was. And how large, close to 20 feet long and 6 feet high.
The exterior of the mansion house was shingled with silvery wood and aluminum, from what I could guess. With gilded windows, some stained glass featuring tiny biblical scenes. The atrium caught my attention. A ganglion of branches dripping in silvery snow, glass icicles like tinsel in the boughs. Sage saw it too, transfixed by its sparkle.
The small, dim room was jammed with girls, all of them pushing and shoving against each other. Sage among them, vying for a position as close to the foundation as possible. I pushed my way through them all, noting the time on my wristwatch and realizing If I didn’t present her the gift now, I’d have to do it on the bus to the certain sneers of eavesdroppers.
Whispering in alongside her, I just stood silent. She opened her mouth to speak to me, but kept her eyes on the house, especially on the upper tiered ballroom, full of tiny Edwardian chairs and tables, soft red velvets and purple satin walls, checkered with fleur de lis.
- You like this, don’t you Paul? she asked mischievously.
Simply, I was rapturous.
- It’s perfect, I admitted.
She smiled at me. That smile full of both devilry and coquetry. My paradoxical princess.
- I knew you’d like it. I just knew it.
She was teasing me! Flirting, maybe! She was clearly in an affable mood, entranced by the flickering lights of each petite room, from the elegant chandeliered ballroom to the small wicker-lit windows beneath each turret. By the world’s tiniest Magna Carta. And I couldn’t blame her, the intricacies and weird colors of the house were enchanting. It was more incredible than the scaled model of the Millennium Falcon I’d seen at the State Fair two summers ago.
I slipped my hand in my jacket, slowly, like an animal trying to not scare off its hunt. She hadn’t noticed, and was still pouring over the fairy dollhouse. I noticed I had a crest of perspiration growing on my neck. My stomach felt especially unsettled. I momentarily backed out. Backed back in. Our minds and tastes were in sync. Do it now. Now, in the royal haze of the exhibit.
I softly tapped her on the shoulder. She turned. As she did, the orange, the egg sandwich which I’d had for breakfast, and my snack of ants on a log came marching up from my stomach, within the blink of an eye, and landed in a vomitous heave on the pink puff of her coat. And a bit on her hair. It started and ended within 5 seconds. Came without notice, without mercy.
So did a few other girls.
The two other boys in the exhibit in the back laughed, and one tried to high-five me on my way out. I didn’t look back.
I ran as quickly as I could, dizzy and slightly splattered in my own vomit, toward the ground floor restrooms. I locked myself inside a stall and curled up beside the toilet. I wasn’t sure if I had more. I kept coughing rapidly, like gunfire. Realizing I had emptied the contents of my stomach on my one true love, I also started to cry. Started to cry and wail, like Garrett. But I didn’t care.
After about 10 minutes, I swept myself up off of the floor. There was a small lake of sweat, or something I hoped was sweat, puddling the floor. I looked under the stall to see if there were any other feet in the boys’ bathroom. All clear.
I unlocked the stall door and walked to the sink. I looked in the mirror, grey faced. My eyes looked a little cloudy, but other than that I looked pretty normal. Upon close inspection of my clothes it looked like there actually wasn’t that much vomit on me at all. I winced. Most of it just got on Sage then.
How I’d face her again, let alone ride on the same bus with her back to school, let alone give her the gift I’d been carrying in my sweatshirt pocket this entire time remained an uncomfortable mystery.
I pulled out the note – the blue ink in which I’d written out “TO: Sage” was a bit smeared from wear. The edges of the card had become soft, one of the corners completely dog-eared. I turned to the mug. Mr. Coyote’s mocking, judgmental smirk, unchanging in the ceramic in which it would smirk forever.
I ripped the note in four and sprinkled it into the mug. Then I dumped the thing in the trash and walked out the door.
I didn’t dare return to the dollhouse exhibit, so I walked aimlessly towards the front, barely picking up my feet as I did so, sliding them across the concrete as if on ice skates.
I noticed a clamor at the front of the museum doors. My class was all chittery as Miss Rackett tried to group them together in two lines. Captain Ugly herself had returned, and I saw her actually pick up Mimi Reynolds by her overalls and plant her down at the back of one of the lines. And there was Sage, or the top of her head.
She’d taken her braid out it appeared, and now her hair was in a wet pile on the top of her head. Tabby stood next to her, holding what appeared to be Sage’s purple turtleneck. Confused, I got a little bit closer to the class, but not close enough to be seen. Oh no.
They had outfitted poor Sage in a vomitless substitute for a shirt—a brown paper grocery bag, with two holes cut out for the arms and one for the head. I know I was the reason she had to wear the thing, but honestly, it really didn’t do much for her.
Suddenly, as if she knew she were being watched, Sage spun around in my direction. She said something to the small huddle of girls who were hiding her and her paper bag shirt from the rest of the museum. She looked embarrassed, teary, and a little sick herself. The wall of girls looked scornfully in my direction.
I spotted an undershirt crunched in a ball near her feet. It had a red and blue stamp pattern of a certain coyote’s face. As the class started excitedly showing off their gift shop toys, she picked up the shirt and cradled it in her arms like a new baby doll. She started crying again, and Tabby comforted her and whispered something in her ear.
- You! Ugly appeared out of nowhere. Get in line!
She gave me a less than gentle shove toward my classmates. I dejectedly trotted towards them, head down, eyes fixed on Sage’s damp undershirt and her new paper bag outfit. Wyle E. was smirking at me, in two different colors.
I had to go back. Sage was so sad. Maybe I could make things right. Show her that true love is worth a little vomit. Maybe when she saw the gift, she’d forgive me.
I threw my coat to the ground and sped in a frenzied sprint back to the bathroom. Ugly easily caught this disturbance and hiked up her pants and I swore licked her gums and lips, exited at the chase.
- Davis! she shouted, already in full pump, chubby legs winding around with surprising speed.
A squirly young man of indeterminate race and sculpturesque hair put down the phone he was cooing into and joined the race, within seconds passing his superior.
I could feel his draft close behind and slid around the corner like a kid who actually plays baseball, sliding triumphantly into home base and expecting a resin and polyethylene trophy for it. For this spectacular play. Safe.
I slammed the bathroom door and jammed the door stop under the heavy metal and ran zealot-eyed toward the trash. How it had filled up this considerably in the last 10 minutes amazed me. Seriously, it was incredible.
A can of Tuna, tissues, something mudcolored that looked and smelled like it’d been swiped from a canopic jar in Ancient Egypt. And this was just the skim of the rubbish. But mug, no. Mug: Unaccounted For. And yep, there was Davis banging fists in from the outside.
Hell, I’m already sick, I told myself, I must go through with it. With the whole disgusting business.
More banging. Ugly yelling her threats. Davis sweet talking me. The kkkkkkfvttt of a walkie talkie.
Averting my eyes towards the marble-steamed walls, I dug. I dug for feel, through all the waste of Chicago.
It was only seconds until the door burst open like a steam valve and two bodybuilder types stood at command. I turned, hand halfway down the throat of the bin, which had loosed most its contents on me and the floor. Some camaraderie, trash can.
Ugly parted her two dobermen aside, waving them off with a downward swing of her hand. I could see she meant to be the disciplinarian at this juncture. She would not be denied the pleasure.
- Young man,
she said, plucking me up from my back belt-loops, suspending me mid air in her Amazonian grip,
- You really. . . . breath. . . . shouldn’t. . . . breath. . . . have done this.”
- What are you doing that for anyway? Don’t you got no trash to play with at home? Davis asked.
- You, are coming with me, Ugly boomed.
And I guess I was, as I couldn’t reach my feet to the ground. She headed toward the door, and my body followed her, at a 70-degree angle.
I squiggled and wriggled and hoped my belt loops would give and send me toward the floor, free. No luck.
In such proximity I noticed for the first time the steel museum-issued nametag she was wearing. EDIE. I thought .of all those cop shows where they explain that the more of a human connection you can make with your captor, the more likely you are to survive.
-Edie, please. Listen, let’s come to an understanding, I pleaded.
She just laughed. Tightened her grip.
All at once, in an inglorious wave, my adrenaline plummeted, zeroed, and my germophobia took its place.
Silence was probably the best policy, but I decided to ask anyway.
- Can I at least wash my hands?
Nothing. Squirm at full force.
- Come on! This is just indecent!
Ugly wouldn’t hear it. Or pretended like she couldn’t hear it, as she didn’t make a move back towards the washbins. Instead she held me screaming through the door and towards my classmates.
This was dire.
- Okay look, just let me down and I give you my word I will return to be with my class, okay. Just put me down, this is humiliating.
One word. A question? A statement? Not clear. Comical? Must have been.
She kept on. I took up a new tactic and stopped the squirming in an instant. Maybe she’d think she’d suffocated me. If nothing else I’d be a dead weight. Harder to carry.
The whole second grade stopped their whining and purring and all turned to look at me, tiny in the arms of a giant.
Sean Higham, teacher’s pet, started with a slight laugh. Then a louder one. I literally saw it domino across to Daniel Loudin, to Graham Obel and Mike Pentack, and then to the girl’s side, like the most contagious, potent supervirus. I watched with dread.
Morgan Boyce, Blair Furst, Gretta Olsen, Ayumi Kamanishi, Sara Potter. I started to feel like I might be sick again. It hit Tabby Apple and Sage at the same time and then the whole class was having a grand old laugh at my expense.
- Alright, here you go Teach.
Ugly released me and I managed to stay upright. Miracle.
I stood silently facing a now equally silent majority.
Miss Rackett, double saintly, stepped in.
- Let’s go everyone. Stay in your A and B lines!
During the bus ride home I tried to sleep. A lot of other kids did too, exhausted from a full day of non-stop laughing and exploring. Some kids slept with Pharaoh dolls tucked under their arms, others with Submarine playing cards. A few with rock candy sticks hanging out of the sides of their mouths, which jostled around independent of their owner and looked as if they might fall out each time the driver took a bump. He’d started humming to himself. It sounded like the Doors but I couldn’t be sure.
I was feeling a little better physically, but emotionally a hermit.
I snuck myself up in the loose folds of my coat and zipped it up all the way, even buttoning the nose guard. I pulled tight on the hood cables so all that existed of my face were two angry eyes. At least no one wanted to sit by me for this ride.
About 30 minutes into the drive the bus became completely silent. Except for a small occasional fit of laughter from the very back. I laid down my head toward the center of the seat and looked back. In the very last seat of the bus, the smaller, two person seat, sat the impetus—Garrett, still sniffling, and Sage, in her paperbaggery.
He was showing her something small and green and malleable he had bought from the gift shop. She was giggling, holding out her lunch sack. She was sharing her peanut butter and cheese crackers with him. She held one side and he the other and they yanked off each side off to see who’d win the cheese filling. She kept winning and giggling in response to her luck. Maybe she’d rigged it, who knew, the trollop. I was so angry for a minute I wondered if I’d be sick again.
The two of them bent down in unison and seemed to be focusing on something Sage held in her lap. She yelped in delight and threw an arm around Garrett, still in that stupid red hat with a red nose to match. I rose up and tried to see what they were looking at, what had caused this unprecedented physical contact. She stretched her arm over the seat to where Tabby and Blair were sleeping and tapped Tabby on the shoulder. They sat up and turned back to Sage. She proudly held up a Wyle E. Coyote mug. The girls took a look at this, then rested their eyes on Garrett, beaming.
My mug! My Sage! He must have dug it out of the trash, the hobo.
I turned around in my seat, fuming. Trying to decide a plan of action to redress the injury. To tell her that I had, in fact, bought the mug for her, intended to pass it over to her babysmooth hands with the note explaining all.
I unzipped my coat and threw it down on the seat and started the balance beam walk to the back of the moving bus.
I was less than four rows away, when I stopped in my tracks, clutching to the seats on both sides so I wouldn’t fall over.
There they were, the two little lovebirds, sticking their noses and tongues onto the glass, smashing them in in hysterics.
What I have learned:
1) How does one (me) format something of this length online so as not to scare away readers? Don’t know. I found this new blogger template that’s a bit better, but still. It just looks laborious.
2) It takes longer to search for appropriate additional content (links) than it does to just write a story. On the other hand, it was a pretty fun process. And I feel like I’m becoming a tip-top google searcher.
3) Autobiography just creeps in as it likes.
The Wyle E Coyote mug? Yep, definitely bought the mug for my six-grade boyfriend Dustin Sharp to commemorate our 2 month “anniversary.” I chickened out, and didn’t ever give it to him. He gave me a lovely gold necklace that looked about like this. Real life is so good.