The corn is being sown by metal teeth and pigs and sheep are being fed by automated hands and cows are being suckled on by vacuum tubes connected to their teats. A truck is driving past a window, and it shakes, and so does Vera. It makes more sense to shake when everything is shaking. Vera mumbles curses. Hannah bangs her head. Vincent is kicking air and crying for his mommy. The cows and corn and milk and sheep are on the truck. And Caleb wants to help, but Ellen says no.
The truck is turning in to park in a grey and yellow supermarket’s parking lot and coming in behind are Vincent and Vincent’s mommy, and Manuel and Gabriella, and Michaela. It came up I95, cut through I90, and on 295, and 666, and Vera screams because she sees the number of the devil. She sees Jackie in the mirror laughing out at her. She sees a hundred colors she doesn’t know the names for.
Gabriella sees a rainbow in a puddle in the parking lot. She holds her daddy’s hand and sings her ABCs. She sees diamonds sparking in the paving blocks and a hundred colors she doesn’t even know the names for. Her daddy’s hand is rough, because he picks his fingers. Vincent’s mommy is pushing Vincent in a shopping cart. His legs kick seven times and they encounter nothing, then on the eighth they hit his mommy in the stomach. She takes his foot and pushes backwards playfully before she reaches over for the pancake syrup. Vincent’s mommy gives him her keys to play with.
Fannarah’s locked the keys inside her car the second time this month. She fumbles for her cell phone in her purse and drops it in the puddle where Gabriella saw a rainbow. The rainbow means her car is leaking oil. The diamond sparkles in the paving blocks do not mean anything, and so Fannarah doesn’t notice them. Vera prays for help from Jesus, Satan or whoever’s listening. In the break room Michaela uses little razor blades to cut herself. She does it quickly then straightens up her branded work t-shirt and ties and re-ties her apron. If she has to deal with one more customer trying to get coupon credit for items she isn’t even buying she’s gonna kill herself. Jackie thinks she only does it for attention. Caleb wants to help.
Fannarah finds her keys under the tissues in her purse. She’s called AAA already, but she brushes the dirty water from her cell phone and drives off home to David. He says she’s stupid because she didn’t even call them back to let them know they weren’t needed. David is cooking chicken and potatoes. Vincent’s mommy wants to eat his little piggies. She wants to put him in a rocket ship and fly him all around the changing table before bringing him in, laughing, for a landing on his back so she can change his dirty diaper. Michaela isn’t hungry. She uses the computer to count calories while David and Fannarah raise their voices over plates of chicken and potatoes.
Vera is afraid. She thinks that you’re her long-lost daughter and they’ve kept you in a vat and grown you to adulthood so that you would turn against her. Babies are made in vats and plastics are made in test tubes. She’s got that backwards but even forwards it wouldn’t reassure her. Hannah bangs her head. Gabriella’s daddy picks his fingers. Vera asks if cherry soda’s coming later. Ellen says no.
Caleb wishes he was anywhere but U.S. History. Jackie looks sideways toward him, but he doesn’t notice because he’s worrying about Michaela. Vincent’s mommy calls the class to pay attention. At school her name is Mrs. Wasserhaus. She tells them it will all be on the test. Caleb doodles a picture of a rocket ship. He captions it in careful printed letters “ANYWHERE BUT HERE”. Marcus pays attention to the way that Vincent’s mommy’s boobs look in her sweater. Hannah bangs her head. She asks the nurse what time it is but gets no answer, so she asks the janitor.
There’s someone who hand-knitted Mrs. Wasserhous’ sweater living on an island out in the Pacific with a name like Martinique, or Singapore, or Taiwan. The woman who knitted it makes less than peanuts, which are made by peanut farmers. At harvest time there’s a machine which lifts the bush, then shakes it and inverts it. Once the crop is dry it’s separated from the vegetation with a thresher.
There’s a lot you can find out on Wikipedia.
There’s a lot you can find out on YouTube. And there’s a lot you can find out on XTube. And there’s a lot you can find out on PornHub. Marcus googles Mrs. Wasserhaus and finds what she’s got going on beneath her sweater. She thought she’d taken down the pictures but not before somebody posted and reposted and copy-and-pasted them all around the internet.
Fannarah has a black lace bra and panties and a lacy garter that David gave her back before they married. There’s a lot that you can find out there on the internet. Like David’s dick, which he takes pictures of and sends to random women late at night after Fannarah’s sleeping.
Marcus sends a link to Greg C., and to Caleb, Jackie, and Michelle, and Terry. Caleb forwards the email to Michaela with the subject heading “Wasserhous, sooooo funny”. On 200 calories and 2 hours sleep the email seems mysterious and threatening and the words are like a puzzle which don’t connect up to the picture.
Jackie thinks Mrs. Wasserhaus is stupid. She thinks she’s old. She wishes she had breasts like that.
Vera wears her bra outside her sweatshirt to protect herself from angels. Michaela breaks her fast with vodka and tries absinthe and burns herself with cigarettes. Manuel stays late at work so Jackie has to babysit her little sister. She heats up their dinner out of boxes and sits Gabriella at the table while she goes and checks if anyone’s on instant messenger. Gabriella throws a shoe at Jackie’s head so she’ll come play instead of typing things on the computer.
Hannah bangs her head. She couldn’t sleep before but now she can’t wake up they’ve got her on so many medications. She wants to go outside, but Ellen says no. Gabriella tries to put her jeans on by herself but gets them backwards. Manuel lifts her out and way up in the air before turning her around and helping stuff her into them. Jackie thinks that Gabriella’s stupid. And Manuel too. And Caleb and Michaela and Vera and Mrs. Wasserhous. She wishes Manuel was somewhere far away, like in Afghanistan or Argentina.
Greg C’s dad is in Afghanistan. He ordered a rifle for his son online so he can take him hunting when he’s home again. It came two days after Greg C’s birthday but he didn’t mind. It sits in Greg C’s closet underneath his winter jacket. It was made in Ilion, New York from steel smelted from iron in Australia. A company called Remington owned by an even larger company called Cerberus Capital manufactured it.
A three headed dog called Cerberus is hunting Vera in her dreams. She whimpers and wakes up Hannah who bangs her head against the bed frame. She prays out loud for help from Zeus or from Poseidon or whoever’s listening. The bed frame is made of steel smelted from iron in Australia.
Greg C. hasn’t even taken the gun his father gave him out from its packaging. He’s waiting for when his dad comes back to teach him how to shoot it. Vera thinks Hannah has a gun. She thinks she had one too except that she’s forgotten where she put it. Martinique’s cheeks are bright and fizz like cherry soda when she smiles. She says, calm down. You calm down, now. She stacks fresh towels in the closet and takes the trash away.
Martinique is a French possession in the Caribbean. Or else she is a heavily accented woman with cheeks like cherry soda when she smiles. Or maybe Martinique is a woman and an island, a small dark island Vera rests on until Ellen says no.
Martinique she doesn’t seem to mind when Vera follows her around, but there would be no telling if she did because the cherry soda smile covers everything. If she is an island she is surrounded by a sea of smile.
And Martinique is black. Her black skin does the laundry and takes out the trash. Her black skin changes the bed linen and moves out of the way when a social worker or a nurse comes by. Erupting in 1902, the volcanic eruption of Pelée was the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century.
Greg’s mom is waiting for her husband to come home from war to fix the downstairs sink after the pipes erupted. She needs, misses, wants to have someone around who can assemble the shelves she ordered off the internet. She makes Greg dinners out of boxes, but when his dad comes home she’ll make him chicken and potatoes and bake cakes and make them pancake breakfasts every Saturday. At least Vera gets her pancake breakfasts regularly, but she has to take a tray and stand in line and wait for melt-faced kitchen workers to hand them over to her. Hannah bangs her head. Gabriella’s daddy picks his fingers and calls his wife on the pay telephone. He asks if Jackie wants to talk to her, but she says no.
Vincent’s mommy forgot about the pancake syrup. She’s been cross ever since some of her students found drunken topless photos of her on the internet. The syrup gets lost behind the cornmeal and the baking powder until mid-December when the first real snow storm comes and she remembers she has pancake syrup somewhere. After she finds it where it’s hiding she’ll bundle Vincent up inside his snowsuit and let him have a plastic cup to fill with snow then pour the pancake syrup over it. It comes from corn instead of from the sugar maple tree, but Vincent doesn’t know the difference.
Ellen knows the difference. So will Jackie when she’s old enough to do the shopping. So does David, who makes French toast for his family on Sunday to show Fannarah that he’s sorry. Michaela doesn’t care. She says she isn’t hungry anyway.
Caleb wants to help. He’s got his computer hooked up to SETI so that it can help search for messages from different planets when he isn’t using it. He shows Vincent while he’s babysitting how to hook his mom’s computer up to Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence but he doesn’t want to do it without Mrs. Wasserhous’ permission. Instead he writes down all the instructions in careful printed letters on a sticky note.
Art Fry invented post-it notes. They use a low-tack adhesive which was invented by a colleague, Spencer Silver. Silver is a precious metal which is mined in Peru and Mexico and China. When Caleb comes home stoned he looks up random words on Wikipedia. He’s boring even when he’s high. So says Michaela but she’s sped past weed and booze and straight on through to Valium and Percocet and Oxycontins. She gets the weed from Marcus who gets it from his older brother who says he gets it from the hood. Wherever that is. Vera hides inside her hood when she goes outside for a cigarette. She looks down at the pavement and if she sees the diamonds she isn’t telling anyone.
Neoprene hoods are often used by scuba divers in cold water. They cover the whole head and neck except the face. Neoprene is a trademark of the DuPont company. Everything’s started moving in slow motion and Vera feels like she is under water. Hannah is screaming but she doesn’t make a sound. She bangs her head. She looks for help but Ellen just says no.
Vincent wants to be a fireman. Greg C. wants to be a fighter pilot. Gabriella wants someday to get married to her daddy. He picks his fingers and does their taxes on the internet while Jackie stands waiting in the doorway for him to be done with the computer. Jackie’s scared if she’s not there online with all her friends they’ll all start saying they don’t like her. They’ll go get high in the woods behind the middle school and she’ll be left behind. She’s scared they’ll find out where her mom is and everyone will know next week in school and they’ll all whisper and point their fingers at her and nobody will want to tell her what they’re laughing at.
Caleb wants to help. He wants to be an astronaut. He wants Michaela but Micheala wants to be a fireman and Greg C. wants to marry his own father. Gabriella wants to be a finger-painter. She brings her painting home to daddy and daddy hangs it up with magnets on the refrigerator. Jackie thinks it’s stupid so she goes and smokes weed in the woods behind the middle school with Marcus and Caleb and Michaela. The woods are made of trees. The trees are made of paper. Michaela is made out of paper and Jackie wants to light a match but Ellen says no.
Marcus tells Michaela to make out with Jackie just to see if he can make her do it. Michaela kisses Jackie just to prove she’s not afraid of anything. Jackie kisses Michaela and she really likes kissing her a lot, which is confusing. Jackie’s a lesbian but doesn’t know it yet.
At school next week everyone is whispering and pointing fingers but at least she knows what it’s about. She tells her friends Michaela is a dyke and the whole thing pretty much blows over.
Caleb says Jackie was the one who seemed to be more into it, but he only says it to Michaela. Fannarah and David get called in for a meeting with the school psychologist, who sees a lovely couple with a very troubled daughter, unless he sees a very troubled couple with a lovely daughter, but either way he puts it in his notes and then forgets about it.
Michaela bangs her head. Hanna burns herself with cigarettes. Vera is raising her hand as if there were a teacher there to call on her. Caleb wants to help. He wants to be an astronaut and fly to other planets. He wants to be Tomorrow man, Man of the Future. Ellen says no.
Plastics are the future. America is the future. Electronics are the future. Japan is the future. Internet communication is the future. China is the future. India and Peru and Africa and Mexico are all the future. The future is coming at Vera like a bullet but she has to raise her hand to use the bathroom and Ellen says no.
And Jennifer is dead. She lies under the ground. I’d like to dig her up, but Ellen says no.
Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart is a freelance writer who draws the webcomic Tiny Butch Adventures. She writes fiction when she can and nonfiction when she must, and presently resides in Knoxville, Tennessee because fate can be cruel, sometimes.