This is a piece of fiction I have always wanted to write. I have written bits
of it as plots in other stories and bits of interactive fiction. I want the whole
story from beginning to end (???) in one place. That is why
I am setting up this blog. This blog now has an archives. It is
here, but please use the navigation table. Blogs
aren't all that well suited for fiction. Live and learn.
Then get ready to for a wild ride. The place is Columbus, Georgia on the border
of Alabama and along the banks of the Chattahoochee. The time is approximately
a hundred years in the future, but it is possible to lose your way through history,
and history after all is just stories told in a way to help the teller of the tale make
whole the circle of what is happeing to them. So it is with this tale. Scroll
down and read on....
Eileen H. Kramer
To return to
Unfettered Soul's main page pleease click on the link. To return
to the main page at Tacheiru.us please click
on the link.
Chapter 8 -- The Carrot and the Stick
Bright hot sun and a strong biting wind beat down mercilessly. There is no sign of Thursday's rain. Maybe the sky is compensating for being so strongly stuck. The sun makes the cemetary grass glow. The new section which is down by the athletic park is bare and nude looking. Silla does not like it one bit.
"What do you want, a special reservation at a gothic park in Atlanta?" I ask her.
"Might not be a bad idea."
"Peter wouldn't want that," I answer. Peter wouldn't want this either. Most likely Peter would want to be cremated so his ashes could be boxed up and stay in his comfortable house. Given his real druthers, Peter would want to rot in the pantry until he fell off that rope, but I need the pantry and it wouldn't be sanitary. And cremation is impractical. I would have to take Peter with me back to Sebastien's and I know he wouldn't like it there.
I shake my head. "This is the best option we've got. Don't worry, I'll stick the grave....something small and discrete. Nice bushes, a monument in the shape of an angel, maybe with his face on it."
"Sounds darling," answers Silla.
"You two must have been so close," sighs Iris who is my guardian until I am in my right mind again. I pay for the Peter's burial plot with a state chit, and we walk down to the river. We cut behind the softball stadium and find the river walk and from there the stairs leading to the real walk with its ornate metal fence and the green brown Chattahoochee flowing beyond. On the other side of the river is Alabama.
"Didn't you go to school by the river?" Iris asks, trying to distract me from my morbid train of thought.
"Yes," I answer. "That's upstream." I start walking toward uptown. Silla follows us. River Academy was a special elite club as much as it was an excellent school. The school day often ran from eight in the morning until five at night with a small special yellow bus like a bumblebee coming to pick me up and drop me off.
After school activities featured extra art, dramatics, games, and sometimes trips to the local museums. We did a historic Columbus tour and Medina, Lari, and I made murals that got hung up on the school walls. I remember drawing in pastels. No one would ever know what I would draw. I did not know about my wild eye then. Giving a kid crayons or pastels and plenty of paper is often like giving her a wish.
Even our takings were different. To get the most out of our education branch trips, the school and education branch asked that we get picked up at 7:30am in the school parking lot rather than at the erupting park or mall. The vans would already be waiting. We had an extra half day usually in Atlanta though some kids went to Auburn, University. Others went to Birmingham, and a few went as far as Athens, Athens Georgia that is.
All this special treatment was a warning. I was being taken out of the neighborhood. We no longer got big finds on our trips or our finds were enough that presents no longer had status. They had status with neighborhood kids, but their takings were mysterious. Our takings were important. We were set aside, encouraged, and I was in real danger of being taken away from my parents for good.
If only I could get accepted at one of the local university houses but two of them said I was too young. The other might have taken me when I turned ten.
It was a hot midsummer day when the school buses pulled into the yard of River Academy. School buses were usually not there and for a moment I feared a spontaneous and frightening taking, a taking that would make a lie of everything everyone had told me. I was glad when I found out we were only going to the mall.
The summer teachers gave us chits to buy custom made shirts and other clothes. I remember searching the database for patterns I wanted. I already knew some of what I wanted. I could search computers and books for images of all kinds. The world was as big as what you could find and what you found helped you dream. I could dream wide and long.
I remember one shirt with red anthurium in moss green leaeves and ferns and another with yellow peonies with fern leaves of forest green and a third with nautilus shell stripes that curled and swirled just below my rib cage. I had a bathing suit with orange tetraploid day lilies on it. I took a long time looking for patterns. The woman who ran the shop said she had ladies who spent hours matching colors and designing clothes. I felt good about my new wardrobe. It was too bad it had to stay in school tucked into its duffle bag, a moss green duffle like the leaves for the anthurium.
The duffle was for clothes for a long taking, a week or more. I was ten years old now and old enough for such things. In two to four years, I would be initiated, certainly before high school. I would have a new name I would use throughout my teens at least before I settled down and decided whether to keep it or use my parents' names. It was my time. The shirts proved that. I had come close to sticking even if it was only a custom pack. I wanted to wear those shirts.
The taking began as any morning taking had. Parents standing around the parking lot, some sipping coffee from the convenience stores, talking to one another, glad for the quiet parking lot instead of the noisey park or mall.
My mother hugged me before I clamored into the green van. She did not see all the duffles piled in the back or she did not connect the green one with me.
We were off but only to the stick throw. This time our driver did not stop at the convenience store on Veterans' Parkway. This time we just got out on I-85 nad then into the stick throw so we were at a parking lot surrounded by flat emerald green grass in the middle of nowhere.
The driver handed me a red wafer with a gold star on it. She pointed to a bus marked "Swarthout and Ferris." That was my bus. No one else in the van was getting on that bus. It was just me. There were other kids from other vans boarding. All of us looked very nervous. My duffle hung from my shoulder like weight. I thought seriously about running away, but all I did was think.
I sat staring through the stained glass window. I thought of all those bus rides home from Atlanta. I wondered when my luck would run out. Oona had said I had nothing to worry about until I was older. She said that when I was six. I was ten years old now. I sat with my duffle at my feet. A woman with a clip board took attendance.
Then we were off. We came out of the stick throw on a street of old houses. I noticed that irises and day lilies that had long stopped blooming in Columbus were aflame in some of the yards. I remember heading through a neighborhood of apartments and bars and stores and then on to a campus of elegant old buildings and austere structures of steel and glass all jumbled together. I remember riding over a bridge over a river where our driver said there was a "waterfall in the gorge." We unloaded at a very tall brick dormitory. For nine days this would be our home.
We came from all over the country. The counselors were very nice to us. As with most education branch projects they told the truth. We were at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. This was a camp run by the Education Branch of National Special Placement Services. It did not all come together then.
Instead I spent a week struggling to learn the rudiments of stick code. I was able to code simple simulations and flat items, such as images on walls. I did not have the power to summon living things, but I could do silk flowers -- my suggestions, plastic fruit, shells, and fake eggs. I did a basket of these and got a prize for it. I had a good imagination and was resourceful. In real world parlance, not only did I have national encouragement, I had a wild eye. I not only had a wild eye, I had a documented wild eye.
I was also just a little bit crazy. After making several leopard shells which could be seen even in murky underwater depths, I threw them in the pool and challenged other girls to dive after them. My ears hurt diving the twelve feet down, but I popped them when I could and resurfaced in the diving pool in Teagle.
I remember the gorge walking and the old cemetary best. I remember the long walks among the old houses. I remember the great size and ancientness of Cornell. I returned home a bit awed with my simulations and with images of other work I had done.
I also had a mark. It was not a mark in the sense that they teach of marks in Leadership Training. It was a negative mark. No local house wanted anything to do with a child who was nationally encouraged and those who might have touched me with a ten foot pole wanted no part of a child with a wild eye. My mother stared at my shirts and realized for the first time that the mark was now going to show on the outside. She put her arms around me which was hard because she was pregnant again and really big. She said she would do what she could to see that I stayed here.
We went to Roxanne for advice. Roxanne suggested a local house, one here in the neighborhood. My mother said we had already tried it and my wild eye ruled that out. The next stop was Oona. Oona told the truth. She said that neighborhood houses were out. An academic house in Atlanta might handle me. She knew of several that would welcome my wild eye. That meant that in two years, I would be living away and coming home on the weekend.
My parents did the only thing they could do. They refused to sign the papers to have me initiated. This didn't matter since I was ten years old and lots of kids were not initiated at age twelve, though it hurt standing and watching kids my age, get their special name. I even picked out a name for myself, but until I "had a place settled" there was no way I would be initiated. I understood too.
I remember touring houses in Atlanta and even getting a recommendation from a house manager who did not want me of a house in Athens. She said I'd be a star. I had the makings of an outstanding stick artist because I could pick up the technical background. My parents did not want me going so far away and neither did I.
I remember eighth grade at River Academy. I had had two more sessions of Cornell camp and one in the winter as well. I had been told that once I was initiated, the next taking would be a wild thing and then I'd be placed. My parents knew that with my wild eye that must never happen. All around me my friends got their names and placements. I was one of the few going home to my parents every night and still using the name with which I was born. It hurt a lot.
"The place is still standing," comments Silla as we gaze at the River Academy. Inside the school is in session today. It is two weeks before a taking. I remember the anticipation and can almost feel it ooze through the bricks.
"Come on," says Iris. "We have to walk back."
"We'll go out for lunch. You like Dinah's Diner?" offers Silla. "State can pay for it.&qot;
Dinah's has a big menu. I try and think of what I can feel like. Wild eyes often have wild stomachs. I stare out over the water. I think of Peter. I think of him in his smoking jacket or the pajamas his sister sent him. I think of him in a white shirt open at the collar and dress pants from up north. I think of him with tired mothers who are ready to do anything. My throat hurts.
I take one last look at the river as I climb the stairs. I think of my thirteen year old eighth grade wild eyed self. That was nearly half a lifetime ago. I try to picture Peter thirteen years ago. I try to picture a conversation between us. Then the image switches to Oona.
By the time, I headed for the end of eighth grade, Oona was no longer barn boss. Unlike Peter, Oona did not hang herself. She left in the dead of night. She may still be working as a barn boss. She may have lived with relatives and found some other work. I do not even know if the story was true. The boy was fifteen years old and said that he and Oona had had an illicit relationship since he was twelve. There was no trial but plenty of angry parents marching in the streets.
I remember seeing them march past Mara's house which is a few blocks down the road from the house I grew up in. It was May and I was in a trial residence at Mara's. Mara would take me. I would have a local placement. I would not be sent away to Athens, New York, or God knows where else. I would not be sent inside to the shared space, the stick space. The lowest and least status mentors worked inside. That was not going to be my fate because I was "a little weird."
Mara was not my choice. Mara was the end of the line. With Mara I would not go to T-Ac (Traditional Academic Highschool) an excellent school right on the park. I might go to college or I might not. Mara said I was a good worker. Mara had me help around the house. Mara and I took a break to watch the adults protest. I stayed up late at night not to fall behind on my studies. I wondered how long I could keep it up.
I remember seeing the protesting parents through a grey haze of exhaustion. Mara's face was flat and content. She sighed. "If Oona had taken better care of families, those families would not be in the street now," commented Mara. She smiled. The whole scandal left her unfazed. Oona was getting hers and the scandal was just part of it. Mara at heart was a very cynical person. I guess any one who runs a house of last resort is.
I think of Mara from last night. I wonder if Mara knows more than she lets on. We ride toward the restaurant now. Silla is driving my car because I don't feel up to it. I need time to get on the computer. I am not sure what I want to look for but I know it has to do with Mara.
Iris asks me what I am thinking about. When I tell her, she answers that Mara was a long time ago and that I should get over her. I stare out the window. We re nearly at the diner.
The dining room is crowded with people enjoying noon dinner. I order spanakopita and hot tea. I pour my tea and toast Silla's ice tea. "It will be good to have a Dartmouth girl as barn boss," she says.
"You agree with Mara!"
Silla nods. "Why not...you're clean. Peter kept you away from the special arrangements."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Sunday, June 29, 2003.
I stare at my food. In the back of my mind I can hear the footsteps of the angry parents. They carry torches and placards. They are heading toward the barn boss house, the one where I live now. They are going to burn it down. They are going to burn Oona alive. They are going to tar and feather Oona. They are going to raise a flaming cross. I don't know what they are going to do. I am not sure if my mother was among the angry mob that night. I know the police had to take Oona away for her own protection. Later a kind sibling of hers showed up to help get rid of her stuff. Later the authorities sticked the house bare. It was weeks until we got another barn boss. That meant a lot.
Chapter 7 -- Mara, Sebastien, My mother, and others
State is here. I am sure of that. State is here with my marching orders and I can not even bury Peter. Why? I race into the house and feel my face flush with rage. Mara. Mara is the last person on earth she wants to see. In every neighborhood there is a Mara. She, and it is usually a she, runs a house of last resort, the place where parents who must have their children placed locally put the children and teens nobody else wants. I loathe Mara with a visceral stomach turning loathing. She is a big woman with incredibly broad shoulders and breasts like a kitchen shelf and iron grey hair surrounding a face that reminds me of Cream of Wheat.
I have no idea what Mara wants but she is getting out of Peter's house now! Then I see Sebastien, my mentor and Iris, one of my housemates. Iris is a college stduent at Columbus State. Iris has big strong hands. Iris grabs me by the shoulder and in that way I do not make a fool of myself in front of my mother and my sister, Naomi who have also let themselves in.
"You've had nothing to eat all day," Sebastien states. "I've had tea," I tell him. Sebatstien and Iris show me the carrot pudding and the cold cuts and cheese and the frozen vegetables and the cranberry bread, all my favorites, all brought to feed the grieving. My mother may have helped with some of this too. Women busy themselves around the stove and oven, reheating what is to be dinner. I go to the pantry to fetch the company dishes. How long has it been since we've had dinner guests here? I can't remember though I rack my tired brains. Usually we had business meals one or two mentors or an important parent. More often, business was in the study. I had teenagers and mothers and children for tea, cookies, and juice in the afternoons. I push past the tea set and get out dinner plates and bowls and cups. The rope still dangles in the pantry, I reach up and set it swinging.
What do we talk about? It's all small talk. Naomi and Iris exchange talk about school. Naomi is in a year of "college prep" in North Carolina and she has just come home stick flying because she has heard her older sister is about to crash and burn. Iris is glad to have someone to discuss school with. My undergraduate experience is not comparable to any one else' locally. I remember Peter went to Ohio State. He had a class ring. Remembering the ring makes me want to run upstairs, find it, and hold it in my fist. I stare at my food instead.
I am hungry. The food still tastes good. My mother offers to take me home. I refuse. Sebastien asks Iris to stay the night with me. I should not be alone at this time. I ask my mother and Naomi to help me pack early next week.
"Where are you going?" Sebastien asks me.
"Back to your house," I reply. "You don't think State will let me stay on."
There is an awkward silence. "There's no reason you shouldn't stay," answers Mara.
Yes, I still want to slug Mara.
"Please don't lie to me," I spit at her instead. I get up from the table. "Come on..." I tell her.
"Where are we going?" she inquires. My mother also looks uneasy. "You can come to," I tell her. I want everyone to go in the study and see the empty shelves where books of Peter's personal papers all sat. These were the books where the special arrangments were written. State confiscated them this mroning. I tell the story for the fifth time today. Maybe it's the sixth time. It doesn't matter. "State knows about what went on here and I worked for Peter."
"Yes, but you couldn't have had any part of it," Mara insists.
"I lived with Peter and worked for him," I remind her.
"Yes, but your history..." Mara reminds the whole table. I see my mother stare at her food pretending not to flinch. "Peter said the only children he would let into your hands were children whose parents agreed to have them taken, because with you they would be. Fortunately, there were always a lot of parents in this neighborhood who were taken as kids. Of course now you're going to have a clientele that includes regular parents who feel more normally toward their children." Mara smiles.
"Oh Kohana," don't look at me like that. "Being what you are saved you. Don't you understand? It's time we talk as equals. In a few days you'll even outrank me." Mara opens her big mouth to laugh. No one else laughs with her.
After dinner and after dessert, we go out in the study to talk. I stare at the empty shelves and Sebastien and I go upstairs with Iris. I turn on the light in Peter's bedroom. I remember the ring. There is a box of his jewlry on the dresser. I take out the ring and try wearing it, but Peter's fingers were bigger than mine and the ring slips off. "You can put it on a chain," Iris suggests.
We go into my room to get the chain. While I am digging around in my own jewlry box to get it, I dont' see Sebastien raid my book shelf for several coffee table books and a nautilus shell and a sand dollar. I only notice the items are gone as I leave with Peter's ring sitting against my heart. I touch the ring inside my shirt and take a start. "Sebastien has the books," Iris tells me. "He's taknig them down stairs."
By the time I reach the study, I see the books and shell and sand dollar piled up in the empty space of one of Peter's shelves. "Here," says Sebastien. "You arrange these." I stand up the books and balance one against the other. The nautilus shell is unfaded oxblood and cream stripes. The sand dollar is smooth with indentations of a perfect star.
In the light of the study they could be any one's generic nicknacks but they were the gifts of my first takings, gifts mostly from the time before I had a wild eye. I want to talk about tomorrow. I talk about the profile I want to give Treva. I find the phone and see if I can reach any one at the Educational Branch of Speical Placement Services in Atlanta. I have the dorm house number in among my files on the computer. I sit with the phone at my ear, rudely conducting business among my guests. No one says anything. I manage to speak to Lydia who gives me the rules on proctoring a basic literacy test in a homne setting. She also recommends the classic academic battery and sends it to me via the fax which blinks and whirrs.
"Sorry," I apologize. "I have to move fast."
"Why?" asks Mara.
"Because next week, I won't be here." I answer.
"I thought I told you otherwise," Mara purrs. I wish she would go home.
"Can we not argue about that," my mother pleads. I wish my motehr would go home too. Eventually she does. So too does Mara. Sebastian and Naomi are the last to leave. Then it's just Iris and me.
Iris offers me a backrub. I say there's something I forgot. Peter's pajamas are still in the kitchen. I fetch them out and carry them upstairs.
"You must have been very close," says Iris.
"Peter let me come back to the neighborhood," I answer. "It means that much...." Iris is from Macon. Iris will probably live wherever a job or the company sends her. I close my eyes and feel Iris big strong hands dig into my neck muscles.
I begin a long story. "I did not want to be sent away for having a wild eye," I say. Iris should know. We've known eachother since I was fourteen and Iris was eleven. Iris was a bright kid without connections and I was a bright kid who eschewed hers.
I had something better. Oona said I was not marked. She was right. I was encouraged. Yes, that is what I learned to call it at Leadership Training. Hamida and the Educational Branch of Special Placement Services in Atlanta did not pick out a mentor for me. They did not have to. I was not ready. They wanted me ready though. They spoke to Oona. Oona may have tried to stall them. I hope she didn't but I think she did.
On December 18th the last day of class before Christmas break it snowed. I was at the elementary school at the head of the park. I remember seeing the snow out the windows. Someone had stuck the sky and stuck it hard. The snow came down in big soft clumps dying the grass white but leaving the roads slick and then as the short day turned to grey and black night, the snow began to coat the roads in slick white creaminess that none of us had seen. It was so cold I needed two sweaters under my winter coat to go out in the cold. The cold and the snow drew all of us outside like moths to a candle flame. Above us in the sky coated in black wool bells jingled, and a voice called out "Ho ho ho"
The park was going to erupt again but this time there was no shooting and no control house. The next day dawned chill and hard and windy as no day before that I could remember. My mother bundled me up tight as the bells rang all over the neighborhood, sleigh bells everywhere and the great sleighs descended. There were white and silver pegassi and pink rein deer and the sleighs. There was more snow in the street so that we left footprints everywhere though last night's footprints were covered. Columbus, Georgia si so far south that the city does not have any snow clearing equipment. I went to college in a cold climate and know that they "deal with snow" but for us snow as magic as there was no magic before or since. With the great magic came the great taking.
Without complaint, we all, adults, children, and teens, followed the sleighs through the streets as the magical beasts slowly drew them in a great Christmas parade. We followed them to the western end of the parkand down 13th Street and over the bridge above the railroad yard. then down Fifth street toward the mall that used to be the Swift Denim Mill. At the railroad tracks, the train awaited. White robed State and Regional Mentoring employees began sorting the kids by age. They were taking all ages and I was one of the ones. My mother hugged me and cried. My dad hugged me. The little ones wanted to go but they were not old enough to be taken. I told them I would be back in a day or two. I remembered the routine from summer. With that I got on board the train.
This time though, the question was different. "What do you want for Christmas?" asked a State employee with long red hair. I heard the question because I was not the first one asked. I racked my brain. What did I want that my parents could not give me. What did I want that I could bring back as a prize. That was how I asked for the nautilus shell. I had seen a wildlife show, another one of those, and knew the shells were rare and precious things that washed up on the beach. I got my wafer punched and when the train pulled into the station where it arrived, it was not snowy any more.
Somehow the air felt colder, but it could have been the lack of excitement that the snow's departure left. It was ordinary brown winter and the air felt moist and smelled of metal. I found my way to the same old moss green van and moodily took a seat.
Someone had strung red, pink, purple, and blue lights all around the outside of the dorm house in the neighborhood of stores. It was already dark but Hamida took several of us out for a late Italian dinner that left me full and a little sick. Stores were open really late because this was the Christmas season. I remember the book store. This time though, I did not get a coffee table book. I remember standing in the back of the store in the educational section and getting an armload of books.
Mostly this was practice stuff, stuff I should have been doing last summer. I asked about that. "Oona was busy," Hamida told me. I remember watching the older kids play a kind of question answering game in the living room of dorm house. These kids are a year or two away from being initiated. I remember eating popcorn and drinking punch.
I remember rising early and the breakfast meeting. Hamida and several of the other Ed Branch Employees explained to us that our stay would not be as much fun as last time. We had work to do but we'd have a whole afternoon off to shop and have fun. We ended up in a room like a classroom and I had to take what at the time seemed like a reading test with essays to write, little essays, and do math problems and answer general knowledge questions.
Hamida never told me my score on the test but I ended up swapping some of my practice books for others. And yes we did some shopping which is how I got my nautilus shell. There was a serious piece under the game. Hamida took me aside over Indian food and asked me if I wanted to go to college some day when I was eighteen. I told her I did. She told me that I had to start holding up my end now. She said if I worked the practice books she would visit me in Columbus and send me stuff that I wanted and there would be opportunities, an opportunity to learn the code for using a stick. A stick used with code was a powerful tool. I thought of the snow and asked if the sky hand been stuck. She said that it had since the snow was in Columbus and not in Atlanta.
Of course I found myself on the five o'clock bus home from Atlanta and Oona and my mother waiting for me at the Greyhound station. Oona examined my books and gasped. "Well this is what happens sometimes," she told my mother who was NOT reassured. Oona gave a more thorough explanation later that evening. Both my parents sat stiffly in the living room as she said that I had been given the magnet school test in Atlanta and that with the new year, I would be attending River Academy which was an academic intensive program. I was encouraged not marked. There were some local university houses that might be interested in a child who was being encouraged as I was. I must have had quite a profile, but no one aske and Oona did not talk about profiles.
My nautilus shell sat among my Christmas gifts. It was a find but soon I would be among kids who received finds with each taking. Now my parents could have run. I don't mean leave the neighborhood but they could have made another attempt at a local placement. Today many parents would do that, but a lot of parents consider educational encouragement a good thing and mine were ambivalent. Most children, even most bright ones, did not get this kind of attention. On the other hand, River Academy, was selective and I had gained entrance to its hallowed halls. I remember the ride outside the neighborhood to tour the closed up campus. The snow was gone by then and there were puddles of surface water everywhere glistening and black in the late afternoon sun. Children from both Georgia and Alabama went to River Academy.
"We may be able to do something very special with this, " Oona reassured my parents who this time listened. They forgot that I might get sent to an internal house or far away. They forgot what could happen as I reached my initiation. I think of three of us standing by the river bank, my father, Oona and me. I am going to go to school outside the neighborhood. I know that Oona has told me things happen a little at a time. "I'm not going to let them take me out of Columbus," I tell Oona. She laughs. My father stares down at the black water.
Did I know even then? "This is home," I tell Iris. I roll over on my back. It is late. It is time to go upstairs. Peter's bedroom door is open. I realize I forgot to put the top on his jewlry box. I slip in and close it knowing he won't come back here to do it any more. I close the bedroom door and head into my own bedroom. Iris has the spare room across the hall. I slip out of my clothes and put on Peter's pajama top. I close my eyes and think of Peter's face when he was happy with a good placement or when I learned something. Then I rest my head on the pillow and listen to the sad old house. I wonder who will live here after I am gone. At least at Sebastien's I won't be far away. I try not to think what this place will look like when I have to rip it up packing and disposing of Peter's stuff. I am not ready to go there yet, but that's where this journey leads.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Friday, June 27, 2003.
Chapter 6 -- Treva
The rain has given way to an unseasonable chill as I pull the car into Laure's driveway. Laure's house
is on the park. This is choice territory. It is a big white castle of a place with a widow's walk atop its porch and lots of green lawn stacked up nearly vertical. There is not much of a backyard and the lights that look warm and inviting elsewhere glow like yellow snake eyes.
I knock. Roxanne stands behind me. A chunky teenage girl answers the door. Another teen and a boy are playing some kind of board game in the living room. The odor of a just finished dinner makes me sick. I ask for Treva. The girl does not know where she has gone. I ask for Laure. Laure comes out of the kitchen. Laure is about ten years my senior. She is a product of Leadership Training and probably has a college degree though in a different major and from a different school. She has long dark brown hair and a heart shaped face and pretty blue eyes that may have been sticked or genetically altered.
"What can I do for you?" Laure asks and then she remembers. "I'm sorry." She drops her face respectfully. I'm not thinking about Peter now.
I ask for Treva and Laure makes a pretense of finding her. "Treva! Treva!" she yells. "I hpoe that child hasn't taken off her hearing aides," she adds.
We end up on the third floor. Treva has a room to herself, an attic lean to with no windows and a slanting ceiling. The cot she sleeps on sags in the middle and I can only guess when the sheets were last washed. Children and their bedding take a long time to start stinking. Treva is not there. "She must be out at her chores," protests Laure. "I'll fetch her."
Unbidden, I follow. Roxanne follows as well. That is how we all end up by the garbage corral. It is easy to let a garbage corral or dumpster room go. Cleaing it up after a rain on a cold night is not a job for a seven year old. Treva is cute and blond. She is cute even with two big hearing aids and dirty underware which is all she is wearing. Laure can always say she got dirty cleaning up the garbage corral and that her bedding just needed to be washed.
I don't care what Laure has to say. I know what Treva has said to her mother, Virginia, and what Virginia reported to Peter. Now I've seen for myself. "Come inside with us," I order Treva. "Do you have a study?" I ask Laure. Laure has an office. I don't waste words. "I want you to sign a release for this child. I'm ordering you to do it."
"On what grounds?" Laure asks.
"You pick. I won't be here to investigate anything. I just want the child out of here. If you didn't want the child, you should never have taken her."
Laure says nothing. She signs the paperwork and then it's back to the third floor to gather up Treva's things. That is how I learn most of them are either broken or missing, the toys, books, gifts, are mainly gone or trashed. The wardrobe is warn out, dirty, and largely stoen by other children in the house. Negative gifts, is the phrase that comes to mind. Treva does not even have a suitcase into which we can put her meager posessions. She and her stuff are way too easy to load into the car.
"We're going to take you back to your mother's house," I tell Treva.
Virginia, Treva's mother is widowed. Virginia, Treva's mother, lives in one of the neighborhood's few garden apartment complexes. She is widowed. Divorce is rare in the neighborhood. She has blond hair with streaks of brown and grey in it. She stands horrified as Roxanne and I bring Treva back into the apartment.
"I'm sorry," Roxanne begins. I am not sorry, but Roxanne can say things I can't and feel things I don't feel.
I hand Virginia, the release I ordered Laure to sign. "It's over," I explain.
"But....Peter said...." Virginia protests.
"Peter died this morning," Roxanne answers.
"He took his own life," I continue. "State from Atlanta was at the house before the police cut down the body. State took all of Peter's personal papers. Any special arrangements you had with him are gone."
"No!" wails Virginia. "What are we going to do now!"
"You have time," counsels Roxanne. "It's not so bad. Treva was having a rough time of it at Laure's. We have good houses in this neighborhood."
"With a rejection as her only record and a handicap, Treva is going to have a hard time," I begin. "Getting her a profile will help."
"A profile. Normally when a small child is taken, Mentoring Services makes a profile, the child's abilities, wants, interests and it grows with time. Treva was never taken. She has no profile."
"And she's not getting one either!" I see Virginia's face redden.
"I can also make a local profile right at the barn house. You'll get a copy of that and it will be useful in finding a local placement. I know some good houses, not in the neighborhood but close enough by. You may have to drive your daughter to them several times a week until she becomes a resident. There would be no special arrangements involved, but they won't look twice at Treva until they have a profile in their hands."
Virginia groans. Treva has watched all of this. She stands silently trembling. I wonder why she has not run off or cried or done something. A copy of the local newspaper sits on Virginia's kitchen table. I grab it. "Treva," I order. "Come here."
Treva slips nervously into the kitchen. I know from Treva's records she has never been to school or only for a few weeks. There are parents suspicious of all outside agencies. "Treva," I say calmly. "I want you to read as much of this as you can." I expect her not to get through any of it but she'll toss the paper aside if that is so or stand numbly and painfully holding it. Instead she reads the headline and stumbles through the first paragraph. I hug Treva who seems not to feel it.
"I think we can do better than Mara," I tell Virginia. Virginia stands staring at the floor. Roxanne's arm is around her. Don't ask me how we get out of the house but I manage to order Virginia to let me do a profile interview for Treva for tomorrow afternoon.
"You need a rest," says Roxanne as I drive back to the house. I park. The lights are on. Is it happening already?
written by ZOIDRubashov
Chapter 4 -- Afternoon Thunder
By the time I run back to the house, the sky has opened into a downpour. I try to think back to the last time it rained during the day time. Yes, someone has sticked the sky and today unsticked or sticked it in a different way.
I remember the time someone sticked the sky around Christmas when I was sixteen. It was in the last few days of school and the flakes began to dance outside the windows of the T-Ac School which is right on the park at the corner of 17th Street. The first flakes were translucent, then they were thick opaque white clumps. They stuck to the grass turning it sugar coated, but the roads were slick. They let all of us out..... We stood on the brick steps. I remember turning my face up to the snow and stretching my hands. Several of my classmates were already talking in low fearful voices of what the snow would bring. They sounded like my parents and like most of the adults I knew. I walked away from them. It was good to have very little to fear.
Outside the kitchen window thunder claps. I still see that unopened box of tea and the kettle never set to heat water. The pantry door is still partially ajar. A bit of rope hangs from one pipe, frayed where the police cut it.
I walk upstairs, past my own bedroom and carefully as if he is still here, open the door of Peter's room. His big double bed in its mahogany frame sits there. He has a blue and white tick stripe comforter and white sheet set. He was good about getting the laundry clean. There are some old books in a mahogany shelf, books, I am glad no one has touched. There is a matching bachelor chest and a home entertainment set up on top next to a mirror.
I won't touch anything. I walk into Peter's bathroom. I see them left on the back of the door, probably out of habit. They are not clean. They smell like Peter, pajamas, red and cream striped, a bit loud for his taste, a gift from a daughter or sister or well meaning aunt. I take down the pajamas and hold them in my arms. I sit on the toilet seat. I don't think of anything.
I just think of Peter, what he looked like, white hair, face weathered and pink, brown eyes, and bushy brows. He could have been a little old store keeper in a small town. He had long hands with slim tapering fingers. He smoked so the fingers were nicotine stained. He liked to drink brandy or cognac. He used to joke that I was raised to be virtuous. I made the best assistant he had ever found.
I am still hugging the pajamas when I hear the kitchen doorbell ring. No one rings the doorbell. People knock or holler up. I drop the pajamas on the floor and run downstairs. A girl in a starched white shirt and dark blue skirt stands holding a cake from Publix. The cake has white icing and either yellow or white cake part and no jelly or nuts. It is undecorated. No one could figure out what to write on this occasion. "Gloria sent this," the girl says in a voice as stiff as her blouse. I ask if she would like to come in. The cake box is getting wet in the rain. The girl shakes her head. She is glad to be done with the errand.
I set the cake in its box on the table next to the unmade tea. The rain goes hiss. I realize I am alone and I go back upstairs to Peter's bathroom. I bring his pajamas downstairs and sit with them in a ball on my lap.
What did we talk about last night? Treva. That is her name. She is seven years old. She is too young. Her parents got her into Laure's house. Laure's co-ed mentoring house is considered the hot house and it's right now more prestigious than Gloria's though Gloria's house is older. It's what we called a "failed placement" in Leadership Training. It's a failed placement trailing red and orange flames.
I argued endlessly with Peter about talking to Treva's parents. A seven year old does not have to live in a mentoring house. The parents can take her home, no questions asked. A child that young should not hae to beg to get out of a bad sitation. Peter said he would talk to the parents. He had worked with them and so he would talk to them. That was the way he put it.
Last night, Peter finally gave in about Treva. "You understand this probably better than anybody. You are going to need to talk to her and help her get on after this." That was all he said before saying goodnight to me. Now I know it was saying goodbye. I close my eyes and think of Treva. I hug the pajamas. Peter's smell mingles with his face in my mind. I see him standing in the upstairs hallway and then the image cracks into rings of sharp pain. In the house with the rain around me, there is no one to hear me cry.
Chapter 5 -- Sunflowers
"Koey, are you all right?" a female voice asks. I see Roxanne, Aaron's wife, the former school psychologist framed by the screen door. I have left the heavy door open out of carelessness. Peter's pajama pants have slipped to the floor. I pick up the pants and shirt, lay them carelessly on the back of my chair, and let in Roxanne who has a bunch of orange sunflowers. Where did she get them?
"I know you like these," she says comfortingly as I stand over the sink and try to wash away the tears that have left my face swollen and blotchy. It hurts to talk because my throat is so swollen and sore. "Treva," I keep thinking.
The sunflowers are indeed beautiful. I thank Roxanne. She switches on the kitchen light. The room is golden instead of grey now, and she fills the kettle with water. She sets tea to brew for me. She glances at the cake and asks who brought it. I tell her. She shakes her head.
I look into Roxanne's face gone puffy with age and think of her eighteen years ago. Her hair was long then. It was grey then too, just as it is long and grey now with bangs and big dark brown eyes. Roxanne has a round and pleasant face. It was never pretty but it was smoother eighteen years ago with a big comical nose and thin expressive lips. She wore interesting rings and funny necklaces that I thought were much prettier than my mother's conservative jewlry. My mother called Roxanne's costume jewlry cheap. Roxanne is wearing dark blue beeds today, big ones that form a lump between her ample breasts.
I think of Roxanne a few days after Michael was killed. I think of the same golden light in her living room. Michael was killed on a Thursday evening after the dinner hour and before the sun had set. Because Columbus is at the end of a time zone, days are long in June. They both start and end late.
Michael's body was still there the next day. We kids dared each other to go look. We went at noon and later in the afternoon and in the evening again. The older kids said he was going to rot. He never stayed out in the sun long enough to swell and stink. The police or State or someone took him and he was never buried, and if he was cremated there was no memorial service.
Saturday the park erupted as planned. This was the weekend the little kids, the six year olds, along with a few five and seven year olds, were going to be taken. We would get on a ride and wind up somewhere else. Oona was not sure where and it didn't really matter. Kind adults would ask us questions and within eight hours to two days, we would be back with our parents. That was why we should not be afraid.
I wanted to see the spot where Michael was killed even though the body was gone. I wondered if Linda would be there at the park and of course she was. The whole thing was as fine a carnival as I've seen though maybe it looked bigger to my little kid eyes. My mother held my hand too tightly as she walked me across the grass. We kids could ride all the rides as much as we wanted for free. There was free food too, cotton candy which I loathe, popcorn which I threw half of away, and candy apples which I also detest. There were hot dogs, pizza, but after the experience with the popcorn I refused to eat. I liked the ferris wheel that let me see the whole park and most of the neighborhood.
The kiddie train was boring and the carousel was beautiful with horses and tigers and camels. The carnival went on all day. Around 4pm I noticed the robed figures by the carousel. They were shoeing away the grownups though some of the older brothers and sisters could ride. "This is it," I thought, and I thought it calmly. After the killing on Thursday night, a few robed figures and a beautiful carousel did not matter much. It all seemed way too tame if that was the word.
My mother's hand tightened. Then she gave me a hug and let me go with the rest of the little kids. I wanted the red horse with the flying mane but Frederic, Aaron's son who is also my age, got it. I found a buffalo instead. It had great big horns. I believed that what I rode would determine where I went.
The carousel music began to play. It was just the ordinary carousel songs, really old stuff, maybe one or two hundred years old. This was just going to be an ordinary ride. The whole thing we got scaird for and a man got killed for was a big nothing and then....
It was like snow. The sky beyond the carousel turned white and the old fashioned music gave way to Spiara Force singing the tune from what was then their latest movie. I thought I heard someone crying. I felt excited and relieved.
When the white cleared, the carousel was on a flat green meadow and there was no park and no carnival. Robed figures sat at tables. I know now they were State employees, or perhaps Regioinal. They were part of the mentoring crew. They lined us up and counted us off and sat us in a circle. They had a pack of plastic wafers in their hand that were thicker than smart cards. Another employee in a robe walked around the circle and asked each of us a question.
The question was: "Where would you like to go? You can go anywhere you want...." Usually most kids didn't answer so the emloyee would prompt and prod "How about Disney World?" I have nothing against Disney World but if you could pick any place to go in the world other than back home of course well...that opens up a lot of other choices.
I liked nature shows and would watch them endlessly, much to my parents' relief, since they considered it quality entertainment. When the young male employee with the wheat blond beard asked me where I wanted to go. I told him I wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands where there were penguins and tortoises who were so tame you could ride them. I guess I had not had enough of the carousel. I rember the employee taking out a pen or what looked like a pen and writing something on my wafer. He took a while longer with me than he did with the other kids.
After we all had our wafer, the employees herded us toward a fleet of multicolored buses. There was a huge bus with Mickey Mouse on top and I wondered if I could not change my mind. I tried to get on that bus and an employee grabbed me by the wrist, scanned my wafer and dragged me down teh long line of vehicles to a plain looking moss green van.
I sat on the van's seats and shivered. There was a boy with thick glasses in the van and a dark haired girl who looked very tall and some other kids too. Our van driver was female and she hiked up her robe and wiped her face with a red cotton bandana. She asked if any of us were hungry or thirsty. I was both.
"We'll take care of that," she said. We rode out of the park and through some woods and then we were back in Columbus, downtown on Veteran's Parkway. The driver parked the van by a convenience store and said we could go inside and buy whatever we liked. She would pay.
I could have run away then. I sometimes think about what would have happened if I did. I know now it was better that I didn't. I drank lemonade and watched I-85 shoot past as the day waned. We reached Atlanta around sundown. Our headquarters was in a two story building in a neighborhood of shops and restaurants. Several of the other kids went to other places from there, but three of us stayed. I remember the
late Chinese supper which I liked and then the walk through the stores.
None of the adults wanted to sleep and we could stay up with them. We talked, mostly about school. I was just six but had had my basic literacy certificate for several months. I remember stopping in a book store and looking at the big coffee table books. One of the adults, a short woman with wiry black hair and olive skin pointed something out to me. It was a book on animals of Galapagos. I couldn't read the print but the pictures were gorgeous. Hamida, the wire headed employee made me a gift of that book. It was heavy and I had to really stretch my arm to get around it. I decided I would treat the book very carefully. I still have it today.
There was a dormitory floor and we slept two to a room in spartan rooms. I slept badly even though I was tired. I was up with the sun. I remember exploring the hallway which had a small unused kitchen and then led to offices including what must have been a library full of books. The library had a window that looked into an ivy covered alleyway at the back of the building. No one caught me.
A short time later the adults came to wake us and found most of us awake already. We dressed and came downstairs to breakfast which featured fresh fruit on cereal and lots of juice and even some soda. This was the day for heavy and serious talking. I met privately with Hamida. She said that I had shown I was very special and some day I would do a very special job. I would need a good education and she and her friends at State Special Placement would help find me the right training and the right mentor. Meanwhile my job was to enjoy myself a bit and when I got back home to work on my studies.
I reminded Hamida that school had just let out for the summer. Hamida told me to read books from the library and not to neglect my math. This was fine with me since I rather liked school.
The rest of the day was for having fun. I remember eating curried rice for lunch in an Indian restaurant. I liked its yellow color. I remember looking with an older girl in a jewlry store. I remember visiting a museum too with big paintings on the wall and riding the MARTA trains. That is why it felt so sad when I came down the blue stairs and Hamida walked me and another girl into the Greyhound station and bought us bus tickets back to Columbus.
It is not that State Special Placement is cheap. They just don't see the need for a lot of frills and if the bus goes back to Columbus or in the case of the other girl I was with to Valdosta at 5pm, then on we go. State Special Placement had already called Oona and she and my parents were waiting for me two hours later. My mother threw her arms around me as if I had been away forever.
I had only been gone about twenty-four hours, an average length of time, for a first taking. I handed Oona and my parents copies of Hamida's business card. I saw Oona gasp. In Leadership Training I learned that what happened to me when I was six years old is called an "atypical taking."
Oona, a barn boss, thought in terms of next week and next month. She told my parents I was not marked and that there was nothing to worry about until I got close to initiation age, about fourteen.
In reality, I was all but marked in name only. My parents sensed that. My parents did not believe Oona. My parents debated what to do. They talked about sending me away to boarding school, away to live with relatives, of keeping me away from parks, malls, and other places that tended to erupt. They wondered if they could do this without my father losing his job. I already had one sibling and there was another on the way. Remember, my mother was pregnant a lot.
After a day or two of worrying, my parents decided I should talk to Roxanne who was a psychologist and who knew things. I knew by then, having talked to other kids, that my big Galapagos book was a find. It was a larger and fancier gift than most kids got. Most kids had t-shirts and souvenirs. A few had really fanccy toys. One boy had a light sword.
Roxanne said that she understood that I was special. I know that sounds worn out but she mentioned the book and that caught my attention. She said that educational houses were not the worst places though I was too young for one. I felt bad about that. Roxanne said that meant that I would not be taken away from my parents for at least for another three or four years, maybe longer. Educational houses tended to be interested in kids who were at least eleven or twelve. Hamida according to her business card worked in the educational division of State Special Placement.
Roxanne asked me if I wanted to go to college some day. I told her yes. She asked me how I heard of the Galapagos Islands and I told her about the wildlife shows I watched on the entertainment center. She asked me what my favorite book was. She reminded me of Hamida. We also talked about Michael. It was words that had to be said. Then they were said and it was over, for now.
"You're going to be OK" she reassured me and she even reassured my parents though they also had a somewhat different conversation away from me. I remember "try outs" with Gloria's house. Laure's house did not exist in those days. There was also the Captain's house and the River House and something called White Star. None of them clicked and that was OK though undboubtedly my parents worried. Something else would come up that would be a good fit and if I were locally placed, I could not be taken far away or taken inside. There was time, or so Roxanne thought.
"You're going to be OK," Roxanne reassures me as she pours hot water into the tea pot that sits in the center of the table under the golden light and next to the orange sunflowers.
"Roxanne, I need your help."
"There's a child named Treva. Her parents have shoe horned her into Laure's house and she doesn't belong there." I relate the rest of the tale. "You're good with parents....We need to get her out of there."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Tuesday, June 24, 2003.
Roxanne nods sympathetically. I sip my hot tea. As soon as this rain lets up, I am going to take care of some of Peter's unfinished business.
Chapter 2 -- Aaron, Gloria, Silla, and Others
Aaron Stephenson lives one street behind the northern side of the park. His house has been stuck white with a huge old fashioned porch on the front. It reminds me of my childhood. Aaron and his wife, Roxanne, have always lived here. Roxanne even had a job as a school psychologist and they employed a housekeeper and a nanny to take care of their boys. No one else I knew lived like that.
I remember Aaron as what must have been a young man in kahki pants and a subtle royal blue and green plaid dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up over beefy arms covered with downy brown hair. Aaron's head hair was full and fluffy and brown. Now that hair is white around the sides and the man who reminded me of a brick stood on end has softened in the outlines.
Long ago, Aaron, who must be older than either of my parents was head of the Parents Association. The job of the Parents Association was to see that children did not get mentored by those from out of town or by strangers or when the park erupted or the mall erupted in the way that only a heavily sticked place can, we did not get taken away for weeks on end or possibly forever. Aaron succeeded most of the time.
I can see Aaron through the screen door as I climb the porch stairs and cross the planking which needs to be stuck again because the paint is peeling. "Koey, what are you doing out so early?" he asks.
"Peter took his own life," I respond.
Aaron shakes his head and invites me in. He folds his arms and inspects me. "I'm arranging a funeral for him. I'd like it if you and Roxanne came. If you come, I think others will also."
"All right," says Aaron most agreeably. Roxanne is in the kitchen. She has been listening to us silently. She says she is sorry. She wants to hug me. Her arms feel stiff to me but maybe I'm just stiff back. "You're going to be all right," she says. In a week, I'll be out of this neighborhood. That is one very good thing.
I offer Aaron no advice. Like me, he too, will have to fend for himself. "State from Atlanta got to the house before the police cut the body down," I say matter of factly. Roxanne tries to offer me coffee which I don't drink and then awkwardly offers me tea. She has to put on the kettle and then realizes she doesn't have a kettle.
"There were three of them from State," I continue. " They took all of Peter's personal papers. Peter must have kept records." That is as far as I'll go. Aaron just nods.
"My children are both grown," he says after a time.
"Other people's weren't." I answer.
"Parents do what they can when they love their children," Roxanne interrupts.
"My parents loved me," I argue back.
"You made it impossible," answers Aaron. "As long as we are going to speak plainly. At fifteen you decided you knew best and you were going to do as you wanted."
"I'm glad I did," I answer, and I truely have no regrets. I think about this as I ride toward Gloria's house. Aaron's hands may well be clean, but he knows whose hands are dirty. Peter was the neighborhood barn boss. He stood between the company's state office which administers the &qout;mentoring" program and the parents who do not want their children taken from them or sent far away. The company can do this if they think it is in the child's best interest and if the child wants to go. Children can be bribed. Children can be offered a good situation. Children are realists and adolescents are even worse.
The barn boss mediates between the company mentoring program and parents. He tries to find a good fit for the children. That of course is the official story. Parents who do not want their children sent away are willing to do whatever it takes to keep them close at hand. There are local mentoring houses set up in the neighborhood, and of course Peter did special favors, for a price.
I never saw the money change hands. Some of the transfers may have been electronic. Some may have been as cash. Some may have been in the form of jewelry or barter.
Do you sympathize with the parents? I guess many of you do. Many of you out there may work for the company yourselves and try to maintain a special relationship with the barn boss to protect your little ones or you may engage a local mentor to act as a shield. A lot of that goes on in this neighborhood.
If you wonder why I'm dredging all this up and stating the obvious and complaining about it, you forget something. Working for the company is voluntary. Yes, there was a time before I was born when the economy was in shambles. Most people could not find steady work with benefits. Sticks were just coming into use then but there were already custom packs at the mall and design programs similar to the old time static web pages. There were speical specticals similar to what happens when the park erupts now.
People wanted security so parents signed on, signed their whole families on, signed their children into the mentoring and taking system. Even today though, parents are free to walk. Nobody rides for free. I've done the best with what I was given.
I am glad that when I was young the local mentor houses were not established. Gloria runs the most prestigious of those in the neighborhood. Her house is white with blue trim and it is a mansion, four stories tall and rambling over a rolling grassy lawn. One of her girls politely answers the door. They are crisply dressed, these girls in starched blouses and dark skirts, a kind of house uniform. The girls learn old time girlie arts like needlepoint and jump rope. I don't think any of them can wield a stick, even for practice.
Gloria is eating coffee and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Her house has a cook and a housekeeper. Gloria has a large bust like a soft shelf and her golden brown hair is turning grey. She has small blue eyes that I think of as beedy. She asks me how I am doing and I begin with the news...
"Peter is dead."
"Lord have mercy." Yes, mercy on all of us, I think.
"I'm arranging a funeral for him and I want you and all of the girls to come. Do you think you can arrange that?" I confront the blue beeds.
"For someone who won't use either of the names her parents gave her, you are sure old fashioned at times," answers Gloria.
"I think Peter deserves a proper send off," I answer.
"I didn't think you were so loyal," Gloria comments.
It's not a question of loyalty. It's a question of doing what I know is right. Several of the girls are trying not to be too obvious about evesdropping into our conversation. I suppose Gloria needs a heads up too.
I explainn about State and the missing personal papers. Gloria shakes her head. "I never took a bribe or gave one," she answers. "I never had to."
No, I think Gloria you never had to. Gloria runs her house with an iron fist. She demands what she pleases from the girls who fearfully obey because they fear being taken because their parents have taught them to fear being taken because their parents are too fearful to leave. There it all is. I am glad to be back out in the sunshine.
Silla lives near my mother almost all the way to Cross County Shopping Center. Silla's house is black and covered with shingles with turrets on top and a widow's walk. Sebastien says I am too good for Silla. He still says it in the present tense. Silla handles those who might get taken into a dark realm house from the neighborhood. Silla is tolerated by some and railed against by others. Peter used to find her laughable. Aaron never spoke of her. I helped place several of the children and teens that Silla turned down.
Needless to say, Silla probably did not take bribes. Silla gets her pick and choice. Silla needs the products of eruption to survive, the strange gothic creatures, dragons, and black pegasi, her personal alternative to unicorns she creates.
Silla is a fairly good stick artist and so too are some of her lieutenants including a college age male who answers the door. Despite the heat of the day, he wears a black turtle neck. He leads me past the heavy black furniture in the living room. He leads me upstairs to where Silla sits propped up in bed, one arm of her string shouldered nighty drooping.
&quuot;You wouldn't be up this early if it weren't bad news," she begins. I tell her about Peter. She sighs. "Crazy crap we are going to have on our hands now. The wrong parents in charge and they'll come after this house and send it inside. You want that?"
I personally don't care. "Peter was a damned fool!" Silla continues.
"Peter either got greedy or made a mistake," I answer. "Either way he paid for it with his life."
&quuot;Well you want help with the funeral don't you," asks a brightening Silla.
"I have one more errand to do before we go track down the undertaker," I say.
"Let me guess....Taffi."
I nod. Silla snorts. Silla and Taffi are rivals. Where Silla conjures up banshees, dragons, black pegasii and dragons that breathe smoke, Taffi does white and silver unicorns, fairies, and probably angels. She sometimes puts people in touch with the dead who have always gone to heaven. Taffi's sacchariney sweet stick magic bores me but she has a following. She is also selective. She takes no bribes. She is too good at what she does for that. Artistic integrity has its advantages.
I go to Taffi's house because I need to touch all the bases. Taffi's house is in the park and it is pink. She does not need to stick her house because she wields her stick in far more important ways. She trains artists in her style. She chooses kids with good heart. She is a mentor and artist in the grand style. She makes a good living from the company for her pains.
She has on a pink nightie and no robe as she stands in the kitchen drinking coffee. She has white stiff hair and a round smooth face. She hugs me with boney arms and asks me if I'm all right. I tell her I am. She asks me if I want the angels to accompany Peter and if she wants me to see them. I say "No, I just want Peter laid to rest. Can I have you and your crew at the funeral in a few days."
"If that's all you want...." says a disappointed Taffi.
"Look Peter died because he felt he was better off dead. State took all his personal papers. He was dealing...well you know..."
"There are times when I prefer to look the other way," answers an emphatic Taffi "same as you."
I just avoided that end of the business. I handled placements for less well off parents, provided counseling, and tracked taken offspring. That was all. I kept the map and the computer files. The other stuff was in Peter's books and now State has those. State can keep those.
"What are you going to do?" asks Taffi.
"Leave," I answer.
"Where will you go?"
"Back to Sebastien's. He's my mentor. He can use an adult to help out. I may even get to stick a few walls."
"Ah so you'll become an artist."
Ah so I'll retire at twenty-four. I made the mistake of working for a tainted barn boss. I'm going to pay for that mistake. There is no free lunch. I think of how I want to bury Peter as I ride back to Silla's. This time next week, I won't be in the neighborhood any more.
This means I ought to take stock. Silla has on her long black gown and her jet black hair hangs in a perfectly straight mantle down her back getting squished between the back of her gown and the other bucket seat in the front of my car. I think of how my orange car oddly enough clashes with Silla though orange and black look fine together on some people.
A lot of the people who still bury their dead are Black and the undertaker is black and plump and wears a white shirt that is wilting in the midmorning heat. We tour the casket room first. I already know what I want, something in light birch wood. State is paying so money is no object but I just want something light grained and simple. It will be a closed casket funeral. Peter just looked too awful. I don't think any undertaker can put his face right.
"I think Peter should have used poison," I explain to Silla as we ride toward the fanciest florist in Columbus. I want anthurium, red and oxblood, green, and white. Just a few for the top of the casket and a couple of simple and stark modern arrangements, the kind of thing I stick in my dreams. Silla doesn't think my choice is too bad. "At least you'll spook off Taffi's angels," she sighs.
Chapter 3 -- Michael
I drop off Silla and park the car in the driveway. I am glad nobody has come by to start paying the traditional calls on the grieving. I walk down to the park. I know where I am going. I can remember without thinking. I can remember without wanting to as well.
I remember one of the first times the park erupted. I was just past my sixth birthday. I was old enough to be taken and Oona, our then barn boss (Remember I grew up in the neighborhood) said she did not want to raise fearful children. Those of us who were young would be gone no more than three days. Maybe we would meet our mentors. Maybe we would be marked for a future taking but none of us would go away forever. We needed to tell those who took us where we lived or where Oona lived so she could find our whereabouts most quickly so our parents shouldn't worry. Other than that we were to enjoy ourselves and not feel guilty.
I think of Oona's words a lot. I think of them as I skirt the playground at the topof the park near 20th Street and walk toward a plain patch of grass. There is no monument here. There is not so much as a smooth white or grey stone and I wish there were one now for me to sit on. I sit on the grass instead. I could care less about fire ants.
I wonder why no one ever got rid of the fire ants. Maybe it's good no one did. Oona made her speech. Oona practiced us in remembering drills. The parents whispered and cursed and schemed. Aaron was head of the Parents' Association. He talked about complaining to state. Oona must have refused bribes or maybe no one thought of making one. There were no local mentors either...not yet. That was just a few years off though.
As the park got ready to erupt everyone watched. It was to be a carnival with a merry go round and a kiddie train and a few other rides. The rides were the weak point. Oona was for giving everyone a heads up. Oona explained we would get on the ride. We might be led to it or it just might happen. Then we would be somewhere else. Kind adults would meet us. They might ask us where we wanted to go or for one wish or what sort of a gift we wanted.
All this kind of magic that is way beyond simple stick magic required a generator house and a control center and that was a trailer. White robed State employees (They came from State in Atlanta of course) darted in and out of the trailer and some of the parents watched. That meant some of us kids watched too. I watched.
Like gathering clouds, we could see the rain coming. The storm would be a big one. The parents were scaird. Michael was the father of Linda, one of my classmates. Linda was due to be taken for the first time as was I. Michael was nervous. He stood among the men smoking and glancing furtively at the control house.
One Thursday night, while we stood watching the set up and the control house, Michael rushed the control house. Now the control house had an electric fence around it, just a single strand of wire to keep all of us away from that precious equipment inside, stuff that makes an ordinary stick look tame. Michael ducked the fence and ran toward the control house. He had someting in his pocket. I now think it might have been a gun.
Michael never got to fire. Several of the State employees appeared. One clapped his hands and a bright lightening bolt or white flash engulfed Michael who collapsed on the ground motionless and a little burnt looking. No one touched him for a long time and when the police took his body away, that was that.
The grownups did not talk about him. My mother said to try not to think of him. That was all she could say. Roxanne and Aaron said more. Roxanne explained that if Michael did not want his daughter taken, he could quit his job at the company. He and his wife could pack their bags (for our houses are company financed) and leave. He could go live with relatives or look for contingent work. Sure his family would be a lot poorer but he could leave. No one could stop him. All things come at a price. There is no free lunch. Michael tried to have his cake and eat it too. If you want to live well and work for the company, you have to live with the eruptions and the takings. Michael was stupid.
I wasn't sure I believed this. I am not sure I believe this now. Michael was desperate. I wonder if Michael really had a choice. He had two small children and with the way the company works, most women don't hold down jobs once they marry and have kids. Michael had either two or three children to support. Now of course I am part of the second or third generation to grow up under the company or other companies like them.
I wish Lisa, Michael's widow, had buried her husband. I wish we could have all gathered around and mourned him. He was a father. He was honest and weak and silly and stupid and desperate. He was the first person I saw die and the first person I saw dead. Lisa and her two children did leave eventually. I suspect that Lisa remarried or that she is living with someone who works for another company.
I feel a drop of rain caress the back of my neck. I am glad it is going to rain. The sunflowers are thirsty.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Saturday, June 21, 2003.
Chapter 1 -- Welcome to the Neighborhood
The first thing you notice about the neighborhood are the houses. They are large modern houses and they were that way even before people started altering them with sticks. Some, especially in the neighborhood just north of the park were as large as mansions. Some of them were mansions.
I spent my childhood in a house with a porch near Seventeenth Street. It was a white house with grey trim at least some of the time. It was built to resemble someting in the 1960's. We had a plain lawn and unimaginative shrubbery.
The house is still there only now it's been faced in anonymous red brick like many of the other houses. It is still large and plain though it now has a second story attic bedroom on it. My family was growing while I was growing up. My parents and some of my brothers and sisters still live in the house, though my youngest brothers and sisters are in high school. I try not to think about our growing population. Reproduction is not always a good thing. It's hard not to think of my mother pregnant though. I've never been pregnant. I'm not sure I ever want children.
It is a hot day. The sky is gravid with grey clouds, yet no rain falls. I awoke early because I have a habit of turning off the air conditioning at night and awakening sweaty and just a bit irritable. I go to the kitchen to brew herbal tea in a kettle I set on the stove. Sometimes Peter is in the study. Sometimes he is not yet awake. Sometimes he has coffee. Peter has no wife. He may have been divorced or widowed or never married.
I have not yet gone through his personal papers yet. I know I have to do that. I know there is only so far I can go on this walk. I turn and pass my parents' house again. I could go in there, at least in theory and tell my mother what has happened, but I'm not sure what she would say. We don't really talk the same language any more and haven't talked it in years.
I reach the park. Many of the houses here can't be sticked. This is a historic district. I wonder what it feels like living in a house that is a museum. I know what the mansion houses might feel like. I have practiced with a stick enough to be able to scale up. My family always cut back space when it felt threatened. I wonder what became of my childhood room after I hit my late teens. I know I raided it. I did not have a stick. I had a friend with a car.
That was a long time ago, but it was not another world. I have a car of my own now, and I imagine the raiding I will have to do. It is just a question of when. I walk through three blocks of historic, nonstickable houses. The park was quiet and will be quiet for a few weeks yet. It erupts from time to time as do the malls. In the dead of night the world is a sticked place, at least in the neighborhood around the park.
Three blocks beyond the park, the historic district ends. I walk down streets of small houses some of which have been converted to offices. Some of which are bloated by sticking, some of which are small and well sticked.
Our house is one of the larger ones. It is creamy stucco with a garage on the first floor and two floors of bedrooms and a porch surrounded by a dark brown fence for privacy. This makes the yard too shadey for the sunniest plants. I wish we had some sunflowers here. I put in a few seeds. The plants are now getting ready to bloom. That makes me feel very sad in a ripped open way.
I can't afford to be ripped open. We have no housekeeper and it is still too early for any one to show up for an appointment. I had my time and I took a walk. That seemed the best thing to do.
I let the screen door close quietly and leave the back door open. Sunlight streams in across the kitchen floor. On the table sits an unopened box of mint tea. I never set the kettle to brew. Sunlight makes a big blond stripe across the old or distressed linoleum. It's distressed linoleum now I think.
I can not bring myself to go in the study. Peter is not in the study but the room is half his. He kept manual books and wrote letters. I tended to his computer, unsaggled his files, set up databases and accounting sheets, maintained a gorgeous community resource map. Thinking of all that now makes me sad in a low way.
I have not bothered to touch the pantry door. It is still ajar. I can look. All I feel is a memory of the initial shock. Outside in the sunlight, a car circles the block. I hear its tires on the gravel mixing with the bird song that sifts through the screen door. I ought to close the heavy door and switch on the air conditioning. There is also a phone call I need to make.
I take a look in the pantry. There is no blood though Peter's face looks terrible. One eye is open and it looks soft of bruised and black. I wonder if he would not have tried poison instead of hanging himself if he was aware of how bad he would look. I stare at Peter's shoes. I wonder why he bothered to dress himself fully before killing himself. I know when I last saw him alive he had on pajamas. We always dressed modestly because we shared this house. Now the house belongs to nobody. I was just an assistant, a mentee.
I think of closing the pantry door as I hear footsteps in the walkway. The footsteps become shadows and the shadows faces and bodies. Two officials in robes precede even the police. I think of buzzards in the desert sky except this is western Georgia and even in drought years no one would ever call this part of the world a desert.
There are two women and a man. We exchange names and politeness. They say the police will take care of the body. They are more interested in what is in the study. I realize now that I will never have a chance to go through Peter's personal papers. Maybe it is better this way. I still don't feel I can put up tea, but it is time to call the authorities.
It is also time to do right by my friend who took his own life. I finish the call. My voice sounds calm because I have no choice. I listen to the soft conversation from the study. One of the women asks for my computer password. I make a note to change it later. There is nothing incriminating on the old fashioned hard drive unless one counts bits and pieces of assorted graphics. Frustrated stick envy but no stick and no money to get stick priviledges or the land or house to properly stick. That is all they will find. I watch them for a while and then sit down at the table facing the pantry and wait for the police.
I know what I want. When they hand me a body release, I tell them I want to have my friend Peter buried. I have some money set aside and will pay for it myself if that is a problem. The threesome who were going through Peter's papers are by now standing in the study door watching me explain my wishes to the police. The tall woman who asked for the computer password says that State in Atlanta will pay for a burial service if that is what I want. I thank the woman who calls herself Tara.
Tara and her cohorts leave after the police do. I am alone in the house. They have cut down Peter and taken his body to the morgue for an autopsy which is the law. They will sew him up and the undertaker will get him and put him in a box. We can bury him then. Probably they will keep him another days which will give the neighborhood time to learn the news.
I climb the stairs to my bedroom. I have been wearing nothign but a nightie stuffed into shorts and sneakers on my feet. It is time to wash and dress. I have business to attend to, but the burying of the dead is not the worst thing, I tell myself. I will tend to Peter first and worry about me later.
I stare at the bedroom that has been mine for the last two years. That's over now, I tell myself. I am not sure who will tell me to move on or when they will do it. I may stay long enough to train my successor. I am not sure I will want to serve my successor or whether he or she will want me to serve him or her. "You're going to need to think of where to go" I tell myself.
I put on a black skirt, dark hose, but I can not find a clean black blouse. I settle for a pale yellow one. I walk back downstairs. I still see the box of tea on the table. I see the empty pantry which has only food in it. I walk into the study. The trio took all of Peter's personal papers. I sit in Peter's easy chair.
Peter looked after me. I owe him. I close my eyes and see his face. What would I have told him if I had known what he was planning. I'm glad somehow I didn't know. I would have asked why of course and I would have learned. I stare at the empty shelves and feel a sick tight rage beginning in the place where grief leaves off. I know why.
I don't want to know the details but I know why. I'd be a damn fool if I didn't know why and I'm glad that Peter did not tell me. I've fended for myself for twenty-four years and I'll keep fending for myself. That's not a problem. "At least you had the grace not to drag me down with you," I say to the now absent Peter.
Then I get up and walk through the light rectangle on the distressed kitchen linoleum and out the doors locking them behind me. My car waits in the driveway behind Peter's vehicle which is in the garage. Having my own car will make moving out easier. I have business to take care of, before I can start fending for myself again.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Thursday, June 19, 2003.
written by ZOIDRubashov
This is the inevitable test post with which all blogs begin including this one. It is the story around the story if you will.