Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Cage (short story for screenwriting class)

Today there’s another weird bug in the shower. Mom and I have been killing them for weeks. There seems to be an infinite variety, today it’s a spidery one with a tiny body and legs like strands of hair. This one has a stinger. I splash it but somehow it floats on its thin legs and circles around the drain for a bit but then Mom drops a cupful of water on top of it.
She lets the water run over the crime scene for a minute, watching the spot where the bug was, convinced, she says, that the bug has left a poison residue that she might absorb through her feet.
I’m watching her, sitting on the closed toilet seat.
She tells me that she thinks there’s an army of bugs under the bathroom but that they come out one at a time because these are the scouts.
“No one who ventures up that drain ever returns…” she narrates in her narrating voice while she shampoos her hair.

Outside the sky is white. I’ve taken a book out here with me and am sitting on the lawn like a confused sunbather waiting for the storm. I’m breathing in the air like adrenaline. I let the wind flip the pages of my book. I read that page until it flips to a new one and I’m piecing together a message that I pretend the wind is sending me.
My fingers are red and hard to bend but I’ll wait here until the wind blows so hard that my heart speeds even though I’m not afraid and the first snowflakes melt on the page and make bubbles of ink in the text.

Inside Mom is sitting in the middle of the almost empty living room, in the middle of the white shag carpet. There’s a white coffee mug beside her, ten minutes ago it was triple espresso.
“Your eyes are twitching.” I tell her.
“I know,” she says, “I'm working on it.”
We hear the kitchen door open and close and feel a fleeting draft. Mom says nothing but tightens her grip on the carpet.
“Maggie, I was trying to call you.” says my aunt Louisa, appearing at my shoulder. “No ones answering the phone.”
She brushes past me into the room she smells like snow and chemically perfume.
“Anyway, he’s dead.” She says looking down at Mom
“Who’s dead?” Mom asks calmly, eyes closed.
“Donny, he was… What are you doing?”
“She’s trying to overheat her brain.” I explain, “She drank a lot of coffee and if she can get her eyes to stop twitching…”
“How did he die?” Mom interrupts without opening her eyes.
“He was old.” Louisa says absently, she’s trying to leave.
“But how did he die?”
“He was sick.” My aunt is always trying to leave. She is only ever here when she’s between other places.
Mom’s leg starts bouncing against the carpet. She closes her eyes. I turn away and go to the kitchen.
My aunt follows a few minutes later. She sits down across the tiny table and begins, absentmindedly to sip from the white coffee mug she’s apparently just confiscated. She crosses one leg over the other and the foot on top starts bouncing.
“Who died?” I ask her.
“Who was Donny?” past tense, I think.
“Maggie’s canary.”
“He was at Grandma’s, your mom hung him from the shower curtain rod.”
I know she means hanging in a cage but I think about a tiny bird hanging by a tiny noose, tiny feet twitching.
“You should try to get her out of the house.”
I nod.
“She needs to do things.”
“She does things.” I think about the bugs.
Louisa raises her eyebrows. She means a job. Mom needs a new job. Louisa takes another a sip of Mom’s coffee.
“So you’re going out tonight?” she asks, noticing the makeup on my eyes.
I nod.
“Will there be boys there?” Louisa likes to think that she’s the cool aunt who I can tell things to.
“You can tell me anything” I remember her swearing, the day she noticed that I had shaved my legs.
“Yeah there’ll be boys.”
She stands up suddenly.
“What was in that coffee!” She’s opening and closing her palms probably in time with her racing heart.
She grabs her black shiny bag and red scarf from the back of her chair. She hasn’t taken off her coat.
“Bye.” I say. She puts the red scarf around her neck and throws one side over her shoulder.
“Have fun.” She reaches for the doorknob, which is right behind her in the tiny kitchen for a second I watch the snow falling behind her then the door slams shut.
I go back to the living room. I stand in the doorway and watch Mom warring with her twitching eyes. She’s sitting up perfectly straight. Her little hands are white and she’s twined her fingers into the rug and is holding on as though the whole picture is upside down and she and the rug are flat against the ceiling.
“I’ve been feeling a little guilty,” I say, “about killing the bugs.”
She doesn’t answer.
“Mom? Wanna go somewhere?”
“Maybe tomorrow you can shower alone? They never come back once you drown them. I think it’s probably okay.”
“Donny’s dead.” Mom says, eyes closed. “He hung himself in the shower.”
“You hung him in the shower.” I tell her.
“But don’t you see him in a little bird noose when you think about it?” Her leg starts twitching again.
“No.” I say, “He was in his cage.”
She opens her eyes for a minute and looks at me.
“Yeah I know.” She says
“I’m going to a party.” I say
“Will there be boys there?”
“You know, they’re probably scared of you.” She says.
“What?” she’s looking up at me, which makes her eyes look huge.
“You should kiss them.” She says “Don’t wait for them to…”
“I don’t know. Never mind.”

The party’s in the basement of the last house on the block. It’s the house where most of the parties are held and there are red chili pepper lights that blink out of sink with the beat of the music. I like to try to make the two pulses line up it feels like holding repelling magnets together.
Tonight there will be a boy leaning against the yellow wall. I’ll lean against it too, too close to him. He’ll swallow, look over his shoulder for a rescue. I’ll smile and put my hands on his cheeks. I’ll kiss him, it’ll only last a minute then I’ll pull away.
He’ll stare at me, stare like tasting. He’ll put his hands on the wall on either side of my head. I’ll stay there as long as I can, staring back while his eyes blink black and red with the lights.
I’ll like it there, between him and the wall but I won’t let him know. I’ll break free, duck quickly under his arm, find the bathroom and press my face right up to the mirror.
I’ll take someone’s coat from the pile near the door and put it on, it’ll be too big.
Outside the snow will be frozen like ice. Behind me, near the ground, the basement windows will throb with the red lights and the bass from the stereo. The cell phone in the pocket of the stolen jacket will buzz once. I’ll step and slide as lightly as I can across the surface of the snow; back and forth before the house, pretending that the lawn is a lake, waiting for tiny cracks, hoping not to fall through.

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