Cherrie and Maggie

ceiling

So. I’ve been trying to count the lumps of plaster on the ceiling. And I’ve come to a conclusion: nothing makes a bed more uncomfortable.
I remember being young and trapped in here before. That was before I had a tv or computer of my own, but my father had brought in the old tv from the basement and set it up on my dresser. So that was at the foot of my bed and I at least had Oprah Winfrey and Classic Concentration to keep my mind occupied.
Now, I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to entertain myself. For the most part, I can do that. I can usually leave the room and go wander the house or the yard or the street. I’ve even been as daring as to go to the mall, although I sometimes see people from school that I’d rather avoid.
Of course, there’s the melodrama, again.

“Do you have a geometry set?”
“What?”
Georgie’s voice was quiet from the other side of the door. “Mom said to ask if you have one.”
“If I have what?”
“A geometry set.”
“What?”
He said nothing for a moment and then knocked on the door. “What do you want?” I called out from the bed. I didn’t want to lose count, so I was careful not to move my eyes.
I heard the door knob rattle as he tried to turn it, but I had it locked. “Do you have a geometry set?”
“Go away!”

“Mr. Roberts is the volleyball coach this year. Miss Wong is pregnant, you know. You could see it in there by the end of last year. Right through her shirt.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Are you doing volleyball this year? I wasn’t going to because of basketball but I think I can do both.”
I took a bite of my sandwich. The meat looked grey.
“I was going to join cross-country.”
“Really? Oh, you’d be so good at it!”
“What? Oh, uh, no. I’m kidding, you idiot.”
“Oh.”

The second week of school and it rains every day. I don’t have money for the bus and I don’t have an umbrella. The words in my binders are starting to run. Running words. I wonder where they’ll go? Probably just to the bottom of the backpack.
“Isn’t it nice?”
“What?”
“The rain? It’s so warm! It’s like being in the shower.”
“I’d prefer being dry.” Why is she walking with me?
“It’s easy enough to get dry. Being wet is nothing.”
I closed my mouth and tried to walk a little faster. She kept pace easily, though. I should be able to get away from her and her short legs but she seems to have no shortage of energy.
“Were you going to join debate this year? You were so funny last year!” She laughed girlishly.
I’ve always wanted to say a girl laughed girlishly.
“Funny?”
“Oh, you know, the whole nuclear disarmament thing. You argued they should be kept in case the Vatican tries to take over the world.” She laughed again.
“That was a serious argument, you know.”
“Oh, haha!” Her laugh was less girlish. “Right. Like that could happen.”
“It’s happened before.”

There are more than one thousand, two hundred lumps of plaster on my ceiling.
“Do you have a geometry set?” My door was open and he was standing just in the hall.
“I don’t know.”
“Ok.”
He wasn’t moving. I stared back at him. Maybe he’ll disappear if I look hard enough.
“What do you want?”
“Are you coming downstairs?”
“What for?”
He shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

In the morning, she was waiting on the sidewalk when I left the house. Georgie was right behind me coming out and stopped when he saw her. “Oh, hi Georgie!”
“Hi, Maggie.”
“Who’s your teacher this year?”
“Mrs. Nadia Hester.”
“Wow.”
“Wow.”
“How old are you, Maggie?” Georgie asked.
“That’s funny!” she said loudly. My ears folded over in response. “Today is my birthday. I’m fifteen.”
“What?” I heard myself say. “You mean you were fourteen yesterday?”
“Of course. If today’s my-”
“How can you be two full years younger than me?”
“Uh. I don’t know?”
“Happy birthday,” said Georgie. Then he walked away.

I’m getting tired of looking at the same things all the time. I know it’s a world full of wonders and all that but even wonders get boring after a while. There are only so many angles. I think maybe my math teacher would disagree but my feet are only ever just plodding on the ground. Everything looks the same after a while.
There are over 3650 lumps of plaster on my ceiling. I don’t think I’ll count any higher.
There are over 600 tiny holes in half of a ceiling tile. That should be how I count these things. I should divide the space into some much smaller fraction and then multiply my count out. Or maybe I should not do it at all.
The new boy is sitting in front of me. His hair is longer than mine. His ponytail gives a little flick when he bobs his head down to write in his notebook. I suddenly find myself pushing the ponytail from side to side gently with the eraser end of my pencil.
He sits very still for a moment and then glances over his shoulder at me. I quickly shove the end of the pencil in my mouth and try to look like I’m watching the teacher.

“You should definitely try this. It’s super.”
“I don’t like carrots.”
“The dressing! Oh, it’s so good!”
“But I don’t like salad.”
“I’m serious. I can have this every day.”
“I don’t like pepper, either.”

Some people take the bus home, the actual school bus. I don’t know where they could live, because it takes me twenty minutes to walk home and there’s no big yellow bus available for me. If I don’t want to walk, I need to get a city bus with all the creepy weirdoes.
“Do you know what I really like?”
“You like most things, don’t you?”
She stopped walking. I stopped, too. She kicked at the concrete of the sidewalk and looked at her shadow.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said.
I took a couple of steps and then turned to see she was still standing in the same spot. She suddenly looked very small and I once again wondered how she could be so much younger than me and in the same class.
‘What is it?”
“Nothing. You go on. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I stepped up to her and bent to look at her face. She wasn’t crying or anything.
“Aren’t we walking home together?”

Based on a little bit of math that I think I may have got wrong, I have determined there are seven-hundred and fifty-two million blobs of plaster on my ceiling.
“Mom says you have a geometry set.” He was standing in my doorway again.
“Get out of the way, I need to use the bathroom.” I pushed him aside and stepped into the hall. I really wanted a shower.
“What did Maggie get for her birthday?”
“What? Uh, I don’t know.”
“Where is the geometry set?”
“Goddamn it, will you give up?”
He shrugged his shoulders and walked past me and back down the stairs.

Georgie and Cherrie

ice tree

“Are you ready?” Cherrie was standing in the doorway to his room with her arms folded. He glanced at her face to see that she looked irritated. Normal, he thought.

“What are you doing?” she asked. Her voice always sounds the same, he thought. She always sounds like someone’s trying to crawl up her pant leg.

“I need you to walk Georgie to his friend’s house,” their mother had said while getting ready for work.

“What for?”

“I won’t be home in time. After school, take him to get a birthday present.” She gave Cherrie some money. “It’s a sleepover.”

“Boys have sleepovers? Will they be doing each other’s hair and makeup?”

Georgie was sitting in a chair facing his dresser. Cherrie was standing in the doorway getting more impatient. “Really, hurry up. We still need to go get a present.”

He reached down beside him and picked up a backpack. He stood and opened the second drawer of the dresser. He moved the top two articles of clothing and pulled out a pair of pyjamas. He was very pleased with himself.

“Are you finished?”

He put the pyjamas in the backpack and walked out past Cherrie. “I’m ready.”

Early morning, the day before, he opened the blind on his window and watched the trees appear in the darkness just before the rising sun. He kept his light off. While he stared, he noticed that the trees were never exactly indistinguishable but that they were a distinct form against a background. The background is the same colour as the trees, he thought.

After the sun was up, all the colours were filled in. He wondered how he could draw something that changed colour with the light.

Early the next morning, he set up a camera to take pictures of the darkened trees. He had spent the rest of the morning staring at the black images but could see nothing. Tomorrow, he thought, I’ll take the camera outside and see if I can get something. He wondered if there was some way to turn off the steetlights.

“What do you want to get him?”

They were in the toy section of a department store. The bust ride had been short. Cherrie had spent the entire trip staring at her phone and muttering. He hadn’t been listening to what she was saying.. He was watching an old woman sitting in one of the sideways seats with her grocery bags and purse. The grocery bags were in the seat next to her, the purse was in her lap. She was wearing a large wool sweater with some odd pattern around the hem and cuffs. It also had a large collar that curled slightly as it flopped over. The sweater is grey, he thought.

He watched the old woman watching the floor at her feet. She regularly looked toward the front of the bus but he could see she was uncomfortable staying in that position. He tried to see the items in her bags. In one, he could count the number of cans that were visible through the thin plastic, but the other one was shapeless. He decided it held bread.

He stared at the grinning stuffed bears before him. He momentarily thought they would look better once dirtied and torn.

“What about Lego?” she asked. “Don’t boys like Lego? How about a Transformer?”

He picked up a pop-eyed stuffed something. It had a shocked expression on its bizarrely elongated face. It also had a tail almost as long as its body. He recognized it from a cartoon. “This.”

“That?”

“This,” he nodded.

“Whatever,” she said. “Come on, then. I need to get some stuff, too.”

They walked through the kitchenware department and into the women’s clothing department. He liked the displays of knives and other kitchen utensils; he liked the pots and frying pans, too.

Cherrie walked to the section with underwear. She started taking bras off a display and holding them up.

“Your sister has big tits,” Brandon K. had said. They were playing softball, standing in the dugout, Cherrie was sitting on a bench by home plate with their mother. He looked over at her. She was staring at her phone and slouching over it to block the glare of the sun.

“No,” he said, and resumed watching the batter. “It just looks that way.”

“Where does it have the size on this goddamn thing,” she muttered. He watched her turn it around and around before giving up and pulling another off the rack.

“Are your tits getting big?”

He heard a giggle from someone a couple of racks away.

He watched her face return to its normal pale hue. She scowled and grabbed his arm. “Let’s go.”

“Excuse me, miss,” said a man at the exit. “I need to check the boy’s backpack.”

“What? Why?”

“Please,” he said. His voice was serious. Georgie looked up at the man’s face. He wasn’t exactly looking at either of them. His hand was out for the bag.

“Give it to him, Georgie. You think we’re thieves just because we’re young?”

“Store policy, miss. Backpacks are to be left at the door.” He opened the bag and looked inside. He shook it and tilted it. He doesn’t want to put his hand in, Georgie thought.

“Here you go,” he handed the bag back to Georgie without closing it. “Next time, use the cubbies.”

“Fucking asshole,” she muttered, “He should stick to beating off watching the security cameras, dipshit. God!”

The night before, he’d watched the sun go down. The colours drained out of the things on the earth and drifted away in the sky toward the setting sun. But the dark that came was not the dark of a settled night. It was colder.

The night before that, it had been cloudy. The sunset was an unimpressive greying of the world.

The woman had got off the bus two stops before the shopping mall. He watched her slowly pick up her things and get ready to stand after she signalled for the stop. He watched her ease herself down the steps and walk off toward an apartment building. Then she was gone.

“We forgot a gift bag,” he said to his sister when they were back on the bus.

“Who cares?” she said.

Happy Halloween, Little Girl

I used to dress up for Halloween. Not anymore. Once you turn 12, I think it’s time to stop. That’s when I stopped, anyway.

They always made a big deal of it, though. Or so it seemed to me. They would build up my anticipation for weeks. I was supposed to make my own costume, too. They’d ask every day in October what I was making. But I never knew what I was supposed to make. Then there would be suggestions and I didn’t like any of those.

Last year, maybe out of habit, she asked “What’s your costume this year?”

I said, “I was gonna put a grocery bag over my head with some rope around my neck, drop my pants, be a rape victim.”

I can’t remember a single year I didn’t just wear a costume bought last minute at the drug store.

I want a cat. My room is too empty and I want something to keep me company. Maybe I should get a boyfriend.

That’s a good costume this year. I’ll go as a pretty girl.

“You need to clean this room,” she says. She’s leaning in the doorway, Her hair is a mess. It looks like she got confused and used a mixer to dry her hair.

“Can I have a cat?”

“What? Why? No. Listen. I want you to hand out candy tonight.”

“What? Why? Uh, no!”

“You’re doing it.” She’s gone.

Downstairs, I discover the box which is supposed to contain garbage bags is empty, so I dutifully write that item on the fridge list. “Get garbage bags.” I write it below “Get paper towels.”

How am I to clean my room with no garbage bag? It’s a mystery I will solve while watching television.

There’s a loud noise from somewhere. Banging. I turn up the volume to drown it out.

“Can you turn that down?”

“What?”

There’s more banging.

Georgie walks in wearing something he’s made. “What are you supposed to be?” I think he’s a robot. There’s so much tin foil, he’s hard to look at.

“I’m a nail.”

I can’t see his arms. “Where are your arms?”

“Nails don’t have arms.”

“Your arms are in the costume? “

His arms suddenly appear. They’re encased in cardboard and tin foil. “Your head looks ridiculous.”

He ignores me and walks out the door.

“Is your brother gone? I wanted to give him a flashlight.”

I don’t think anyone will have any trouble seeing him.

I really really want something to do. Something I will enjoy. Something that might make me feel like something. I’m melting into the fabric of the couch.

There’s more banging. “What are you doing?”

“Answer the door!”

I pick up the bowl and open the door. On the porch are three bored-looking plastic wrapped things holding pillow cases. I wait a few seconds but they don’t move or say anything, so I give out the candy. I hear them mutter “Thank-you” as they leave.

I take a look out in the street. It looks like the zombies really have come out. This seems to be the most unenjoyable night of the year. They’re all moving so slowly.

I go back to the couch. As soon as my ass has found its niche, there’s more banging. More bubble-wrapped vegetables at the door, picking noses and mumbling inaudibly, no one smiles. Once again, as soon as I sit, more arrive. I think they must wait, watching me through the window. But no – there’s a sudden flurry of them and I am handing out candy constantly for almost 10 minutes. Then suddenly the street is empty.

I peek out through the curtains and see no one. I sit down again and start watching something about some people trying to buy something that doesn’t matter to anyone from some other guy who is pretending it’s important when it clearly isn’t and I know I won’t remember a bit of this tomorrow. I start to wonder why I’m even alive but then the doorbell rings.

“Trick or treat!”

She’s almost as tall as me and much more energetic. I immediately recognize her behind the feathered facemask and glittery cape. “Aren’t you a little old?”

“How can anyone be too old for Halloween?” She held out her bag to receive my gumballs.

“Do you even eat candy?”

“Sure!” She hopped down the stairs and trotted down the path. “See ya! Thanks!”

I stand in the open doorway and watch her go to the houses across the street. I can’t understand people.

“You can leave the bowl on the step. There won’t be many now.”

Why am I still here?

“Close the door. It’s cold.”

She has a garbage bag in her hand. Her hair is still a mess. I think her shirt is older than me. I take a handful of lollipops and Tootsie rolls from the bowl and drop it into the open garbage bag. “Happy Halloween, little girl.”

Melancholy

So, sometimes I just want to feel pathetic.

You know, like one of those characters in a melodrama. Maybe like a soap opera queen who has had one too many and is about to finally drive her Mercedes off a cliff as one final gesture to the great all-powerful Love.

But instead, I just sit in my room with Are You Lonesome Tonight playing over and over. The version sung by Elvis before he sounded too gooey. I found out it’s an older song, actually, and that other people did it before Elvis. But there were people before Elvis?

I picture him singing, wearing jeans and a black leather jacket, standing by one of those old cars from the 50’s. Maybe he’s more James Dean than Elvis, I don’t know.

I’m lying on the ground in front of him, curled on my side, looking up at him. I want to be the one with the broken bottle at the end of my finger tips but that seems wrong. I picture a small table with a ham sandwich, instead. Every now and then, Elvis can pause and take a bite from the sandwich. His smile assures me it’s good.

Oh, I am soooooooo hungry!

My uncle showed up and made my mother cry. She didn’t do it while he was still here – she waited for him to leave. I saw her sitting on the end of her bed.

I remember him from before. I have foggy memories of him staying with us for a while. He slept in the little weirdo’s room. So that was long ago – before he was born. And where has he been hiding, anyway?

I love my bed and the lights in my room. The ceiling needs something, though. I want to take down the posters and replace them with new ones. The only one I like is a multicoloured echoed Elvis with a gun in his hand. Is that a gun? It’s from a magazine I found. It’s too small.

I want to be a maiden and do things. I don’t even know what that means.

I think I have seen too many movies. Or maybe the wrong movies. I see movies with girls in them and the girls are all easily shocked and scared and they have honour and expectations. I don’t feel like I have honour, not the way they do. And I don’t expect anything at all. I’m thinking the dish I’ll be served will have a nice neat pile of dogshit on it.

But if I could be a character, that could all be changed. There would be no more random feeling. I would be a certain way. Instead, I am lying on my bed and want to sleep but it’s four pm and I just got home from school. I have nothing to do and nowhere to go and I don’t even have a reason to feel melancholy.

Someone tell me how pathetic I am. I can’t even be melancholy.

But the sound of Elvis’ lazy voice pooping out “Is your heart filled with pain?” makes me want to scream “No!”

My heart is not filled with pain or anything else.

I think it’s got some blood in it and that’s about all.

Oh, god! Why am I listening to this ancient crap? So, I press the stop button and shut him up. Holy shit, that was weird. My room looks like a palace of unrequited horniness with all the boys staring at me off the walls. When did I ever think this was a good idea? But it’s okay – they tear nicely as I rip them off the wall. Soon, they’re in shreds on the floor, bits of gleaming eyes and teeth and hair randomly strewn across the clothing and books and junk that hides the carpet. Gun-toting Elvis is mixed in with the rest. I briefly curse that I will be forced to clean up and find myself sitting on the floor.

“What’s wrong?” My mother is standing in the doorway, the sheepish boy is looking carefully around her at me. I feel slightly more like a bomb than a dishrag.

“Nothing.”

“Are you ok? What happened?” She took a step forward but stopped when I held out my hand. She stood and looked for a few seconds and then walked away.

Georgie looked like a ghost. But then he pinched his nose with his right hand, elbow in the air, and spun around while waving his left hand up above his head like some kind of miniature deranged tapdancer. “Take off, you little freak!”

I think everything’s ok.

Cherrie

Things haven’t been so bad since I got stuck on my shelf.

People like to move and do different things. People get bored sitting in one place all the time. But not me. Maybe the spell or curse or whatever it was also made me more complacent.

“Cherry, can you come clear these dishes?” my mother yelps from the kitchen downstairs. I can barely hear her through the door. My eyes are glued to the pages of Go Down Moses, which I was supposed to read for school two months ago. “This is so fucking brilliant,” I say as quiet as I can.

“Well?” She’s in the doorway, now, looking at me with that frenzied expression of someone who’s just run a foot race while mixing a cake and doing a tax return. I stifle a laugh and put the book down on the bed.

Georgie is parked six inches from the tv, as usual, watching cartoon heroes beat the shit out of one another. The index finger of his left hand is secured in his left nostril. I don’t speak to him as I walk behind him. And I’m sure he doesn’t know I’m there.

I purposely scratch the tines of forks on the plates I scrape into the bin. “Can you stop that?” my mother yells from the bathroom.

I look at my phone: no messages. I want to go online in the living room but I hate sitting with my back to Georgie booger boy. I never know what I’ll brush out of my hair.

Outside I go, after running back up to get the book. On the step, the concrete is cold and feels almost wet through my shorts. I’ve heard before that people get hemorrhoids from sitting on cold concrete, but I can’t believe it’s true. Whatever hemorrhoids are. I make a mental note to look them up when I get back to the computer.

“Hey, Cherrie.” It’s Maggie Risa. She’s been out jogging and has now paused her actual movement and is bouncing on the walkway in front of me. She’s lightly pumping her arms and kicking her heels so high she’s almost hitting herself in the butt. But her sports bra must be designed well because her boobs are completely stationary. She looks like a hyper animated mannequin. That’s not cruel, by the way.

“Hey.”

“How’d you do?”

“In what?”

“School,” she smiles. Her breathing is making her words sound funny.

“Oh, pretty good. Except for English,” and I hold up the book.

She makes a face. “Ugh, I hated that.” I swear I see her nostrils close together like she’s actually pinching them in response to a bad smell.

“Hmmm, me too.” I nod. “How’d you do?”

“Oh, I did good,” she nods.

The trees cast darker shadows the later it gets. They get long but what I notice is the colour. I want to slip into the outline of the tree in the yard and feel the grass without colour on my cheek. But the idea of getting dirt or (worse) bugs in my hair bothers me too much, so I stay on the step.

It’s too dark to read. I check my phone. It lights up and tells me no one is thinking about me. I poke around a bit to verify. Yup.

Georgie has gone to bed. Banished to dreamland. I flop on the couch feeling unrequited, although I have no one and nothing in mind. I wish this was one of those funny old couches, with only one arm rest, so I could be more supine and demure and melancholic as I sigh. Sigh.

“Where were you?” my mother looks more calm now and more refined. She’s traded in her sweat pants for a skirt and blouse. She has eyeliner on. She looks pretty. “I just called Angela to babysit.”

“I was on the step.”

“Why?” She doesn’t believe me. She probably thinks I was out somewhere smoking a joint. That’s her normal thought. “Anyway, I gotta go. She’s probably on her way. Send her home when she gets here and give her this.” She gives me ten dollars.

“What do I get?”

I can never find anything good on television if I’m bored.

The computer verifies what my phone told me earlier – no one is thinking of me. I take a picture of myself on the couch with my lips pouted and post it as a new default. I turn up the contrast a bit, first, to make my hair look darker.

Little Angie is in the doorway. She has a wooden box under her arm I know contains paper and pencils and markers and perhaps some tubes of paint and crayons and brushes. “Your services are no longer required,” I tell her, and immediately feel like an idiot.

“Oh?”

“But come in, anyway,” I say and glide as gracefully as I can back from the doorway, sweeping my right arm away and back. I still feel idiotic, but at least I’m more fully entrenched in dorkiness.

Angie is my age but less than four feet tall. She’s very pretty in a miniature sort of way. But what I like about her is that she’s so very neat. Every movement she makes is tidy. I think she can clean a room just by entering. And I’ve never seen her knees not touching.

“I have ten dollars for you.”

“What for?”

“Babysitting me,” I try to grin.

“Haha!”

I wish my hair was as soft as a rabbit. I wish my face was as smooth as a baby.

The book feels heavy in bed. I push pillows and try to sit higher but slide back down under the sheet, very slowly. Night eats my intentions and I know I must sleep.

I can’t think of a life. And that must be what puts me here. I know of a sequence of events. I know of being more than a plastic ornament. But I can’t think it’s real. That’s why being here is so much better. It doesn’t bother me no one wants to take me down to play.

I do wonder about love. The pillows are nice under my head. The sheet is not yet too hot.

When I get up in the morning, I’m going to go jogging.