Friday, April 10, 2009

Short Fiction Friday: All Those People That You Know

I grew up in Louisiana. Not New Orleans but not the bayou, either. People have this idea that if you're from Louisiana that means either New Orleans or some shack with a broken screen door next to a swamp. It's still the Great Plains and there are plains there. Where I grew up, if you didn't know you were in Louisiana you might think you were in Nebraska. There was a river a few miles outside of town. I don't know why the town wasn't built on the river instead of near it.

My dad worked on a computer. I think he did taxes for people. I didn't know my mom.

I went to a private Catholic school. Sister Josephine taught me from first grade through high school. It was a small school, only twelve students in my class. The Bishop said that it was better for us to have one teacher throughout our education than to change every year. Maybe he was right. I did get to know Sister Josephine well. She was tall, taller than any other woman I had met and taller than most men. She was also wide. She fit perfectly in a door frame.

Sister Josephine smoked too much. She was from Argentina. The combination of a cigarette in her mouth and the strong accent made it difficult follow along in class. By Christmas of first grade I figured out that if I sat quietly and looked attentive she wouldn't call on me to answer questions (which I wouldn't understand). My dad would help me out with homework that year, reading the assignments with me. By Halloween of second grade I found out I could just read books on my own and learn from them. From then on my only goal in school was to get through it without being called on. I read books on Abraham Lincoln and how he was elected even though he wasn't on the ballots in the South and on Lewis and Clark and how Sacagawea was 13 when she was taken as a wife by the French trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. I did well on my exams so Sister Josephine never knew I couldn't understand her. Once she wanted us to learn about letter writing so she gave us a list of famous celebrities' addresses and told us to write to two of them. I found it odd that Harrison Ford and Martin Short had the same address (P.O Box 24603, Los Angeles, CA), but it meant I only had to send one envelope.

In third grade I met Marius.

Marius Guischard was three years above me. He said his family ancestors were originally trappers on the Mississippi and that Sacagawea was his great-great-great-great-aunt. I think he was lying. He had Brother Paul for a teacher. Brother Paul wasn't tall or short. He wasn't in shape and would start sweating when walking down the hall. He looked like how Friar Tuck is always portrayed in Howard Pyle's Robin Hood. I never saw him enforce anything. If students didn't turn in homework he'd just say that he was sorry they didn't care about learning. Next to Sister Josephine he looked sad and small.

I looked up to Marius. When I was 10 he showed me a copy of Playboy he had stolen from the 7-11. When I was 12 he gave me my first cigarette. I was always discreet about smoking, making sure no one was around. There was a place by the river I had that I liked. I'd smoke a cigarette or two while watching the logs drift by. When I was 14 he got a job at the same 7-11 he used to steal from. Marius always sold me a pack of Camels when I was out, or a new porn magazine when I got bored with the one I had. Once he called and told me he had to unpack stuff in the back room and that I could just come in and take whatever magazines I wanted and a few packs of cigarettes from behind the counter. After he got off his shift he found me at Taco Bell trying to get a date with Kim, the girl behind the register. He was carrying a VHS tape. He said it was the security tape from that day and if I told anyone that he was selling me cigarettes and porn mags he'd give the tape to the authorities saying I stole them and push for my prosecution.

I think someone had told his boss he was selling stuff to minors and his boss threatened to fire him if it happened again. He always was looking out for himself.

Later that year he left school and moved to New Orleans. Brother Paul knew we were friends. He told me he was disappointed in Marius' decision and that he hoped I could be more responsible. After talking to him I sympathized with Marius. I would have left school, too, if I had a teacher so obsessed with being understanding. I bet if I had slashed the tires of his car he'd buy me lunch and say that he's saddened by my choice of actions and then get them replaced.

I was 17 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. After it happened my dad told me that he thinks my mom might have been living there. He didn't know. She hadn't returned any mail from him for three years. I didn't know she had ever returned any. He said her last address was a hotel in the French Quarter.
We haven't heard from her since. Dad thinks she might be dead now.

The next year I graduate from high school. After the small ceremony, a tearful Sister Josephine told me how much she would miss me and that she knows I'll succeed. The combination of a tracheal stoma, her thick Spanish accent, and weeping made it hard to tell. She might have been saying that she was pissed at me because she could smell my weed. I was pretty high. Either way she hugged me, giving me a face full of long, coarse, curly black hair. I patted her on the back quickly, like men do when they're too embarrassed to actually hug. I just wanted it to be done.

After the ceremony I decided to take a walk. I drove to the river and found my old smoking spot. There was still a pack of cigarettes in a ziplock bag there. I watched the logs drift buy for a few minutes and decided to light up one of the old cigarettes from the bag. The tobacco had gone bad. It gave me a headache and I puked. On the river I heard someone laughing. I looked up and saw Marius, standing on the river with water washing over his feet and ankles, laughing at me.

"They're old. The tobacco has rotted." I said.

"Whatever. Hey, come here. I want to show you something."

"I can't, you're in the middle of the river. How am I supposed to get there?"

"Shut up with the excuses and get out here."

Looking at the water rushing past, seeing the eddys forming and dissipating in front of me, I can tell the current is pretty strong. I was always told by my Dad not to go swimming in this river, it was murky and though it looked pretty peaceful it was known to have a strong undertow. I wade in the water a little and then swim out to him, expecting to find an island or rock in the middle of the river to stand on. Nothing. I'm struggling to stay afloat at Marius' feet. I have to swim upstream just to stay at his feet while he's laughing at me. The current is so strong that I start running out of breath. I never was a strong swimmer. Between gasping for breaths and spitting out water, I tell Marius I'm done playing and going back to the shore.

"You're a real girl now, you know that?" he says.

"Why? *gasp* Because I *spit* can't walk *spit-gasp* on water?"

He sighs. "Ok, ok. Here."

Marius reaches down and with one arm lifts me out of the water and then sets me back on it. It feels like a waterbed that's started leaking. The water still runs over my feet and ankles, but that's it. I'm standing on the river. Pushing my wet hair out of my eyes I ask Marius what's going on.

"When I went to New Orleans I met a guy named Gregori. He sold me some stuff: meth, cocaine, heroin. It was cool for a few years, but then none of it really did it for me. Gregori told me he though he had something for me that only a few people could handle. He-"

"So it's some drug you're on?" I interrupted. "That doesn't explain me standing here next to you."

"Shut up and let me explain. It's not a drug. He took me to this warehouse outside of town where he had... he had these kids kept in cages, all speaking some other language."

"He was keeping kids in cages?!" I screamed. "What the hell kind of people are you hanging out with?"

"I said shut up. He took one of the kids out and said something to him--I don't know what language it was, maybe Russian--and the kid almost froze in fear. Then he took my hand and put it on the kid's head. This blue fog covered my eyes and I felt this rush like I had been hooked up to a generator. It was unreal. When I came to it was dark--I think it was the same day but I don't know--and I felt like I was overflowing, like I had more in me than I could contain. I looked around the place and it was empty, no sign of the kids in cages, nothing that shows they were even there. All I could find was a log and a note from Gregori that said he had to take off and that he left me some fire wood."

"So what? That's it? This guy keeps kids in cages, takes you to this place, drugs you causing you to pass out and then when you wake up he leaves you with a log? You've got some messed up friends now, dude."

"Well, I caught up with him after that. I ran back to town as fast as I could. With this extra energy I was running faster than some cars were going and I didn't get tired. I found Greg. I just knew where he would be. He told me the effects are only temporary with a source that small, and that I'd need something bigger if I wanted it to last."

"Source that small?"

"Yeah. Hold still for a second."

As he said it, he put his hand on my forehead and my vision became clouded with blue. I wanted to say something but couldn't. I tried to speak but I couldn't. I felt my want to speak being pulled from me. I tried to push his hand off me, push him away from me, but again, I felt the thoughts of movement pulled away. Then my feet had a sharp pain, followed by a numbness. The pain-numb duet sang up my legs, through my calves, my knees, my thighs, up my hips. A massive stomach cramp came, followed by a the feeling that someone had just punched me in the chest and I couldn't breath. Quickly both went away and I felt nothing after. Lastly, I felt the thoughts from my head leaving, the feelings of pain that had traveled up me were leaving, the memories of Sister Josephine and her doorish frame. The memories of seeing that first issue of Playboy. The memories of being from a place that looked like Nebraska but was really Lousiana.

Then it stops. And I remember everything.

I remember growing. I remember my mom, tall, strong and sturdy. I remember the pain when she let go and I fell. It was dark after that. I remember fighting hard on that first push, breaking the topsoil. I remember the feel of the first rays of sunlight on me. I remember the first cold winter when I thought I was going to die. I remember the little rabbit that ate my leaves the following year. I remember the kids that played on me years later, the tire swing they tied to my largest branch. I remember the man who came and marked me with a red X. And I remember the saw cutting through my trunk and the fall to the ground.

I had a good life. Occasionally I have flashbacks of a large woman who's hard to understand talking to me. I guess when you're just a log floating in a river you think of crazy things.


Brooke said...

I like it. It's gritty, but very intriguing. I assume you will have more next Friday?

Tim said...

Well, there will be another story next Friday.

That's all for this one.

Tim said...

Unless people ask for more, then I could see what I come up with...