Archive for the 'small towns' Category

Stiff as a Board

Sunday, May 25th, 2008


My best friend Georgia is like a metaphor for the worst thing that could happen. People like her are always my best friends but I myself am never that person. I mean, I’m nineteen now, so I know I’m an adult and I should be able to make the trouble I want to make most. But there’s always people like Georgia who have been doing it longer and so I think, well I’ll just hang back this time, I might learn something. That way I figure the next time I’m in a brand new situation I will have plenty of experience, and there won’t be anyone questioning the fact that now I’m the dangerous and troubled one.

For instance, lately I’ve been practicing my smoking indoors. Lots of places don’t allow that anymore so I figure it’s a good place to start. Today I lit up in the diner off 20 and Paul Gerard, the line cook, told me he’d spit in my eggs if I didn’t stub it out right now, because of the fines. I hollered back that I saw his sister with that guy from the Mobile station, the one with just the single eye, and what’s she doing with him ’cause I personally have heard a thing or two about his diseases, but anyway when I saw that, I told him, I’d looked the other way so certainly Paul Gerard could, about my smoking. Then Paul Gerard got flushed and said damn it that girl! and tossed my spit-free eggs up under the lamps.

The one waitress, Linda, was on a smoke break of her own, so I went around the counter and retrieved my own breakfast. As I did so the bells of the front door rang and in came Georgia, looking for Christ like she’d been out all night. She had on this little skirt that she’d borrowed from the back of my closet and a t-shirt she took from her kid nephew, this one that says something about Japan. She was barefoot, but no worries, because she had a pair of Payless sandals in her right hand and a pocketbook I’d never seen in her left. I put out my cigarette in a saucer by the napkin dispenser.

“Hannah!” said Georgia. “Get me breakfast!”

I turned to Paul Gerard who was already giving me the stink eye. Georgia and Paul Gerard graduated in the same class at high school, eight years before me so I didn’t know either of them that well, although I did know Paul Gerard’s aforementioned sister who as you might have guessed has always been bad at making decisions.

“If she’s drunk she’s not getting served,” said Paul Gerard.

“She’s clearly not,” I said. “Drunk. She’s got a job interview.”

“What’re you doing hanging with her anyway,” he said.

“Hannah!” yelled Georgia.

I took my eggs, grabbed a muffin for Georgia, and sat down in the booth across from her. The eggs were perfect because for all his whining Paul Gerard knows how I like my breakfast.

“When’s your interview,” I said. “I thought it was nine?”

“I canceled it,” she said. “Listen. What are you doing today?”

“Finishing these,” I said. “Then I got class.”

“Forget it,” she said. “I met a guy and he’s got something you need to see.”

For some reason I glanced over at Paul Gerard and found him watching us with his hands on his hips. There was no one else there so I guessed he had the right, but then Georgia followed my look and she started yelling at Paul Gerard to mind his own business and he’s been nosy long as she’s known him and he can stop looking at her tits as well. Meanwhile I just shoveled those eggs straight down my throat because I knew in a second if the typical held, Paul Gerard would throw us out.

We took Georgia’s car, even though mine was right there. She said she hadn’t exactly got permission to bring me to this guy’s place and he might freak out if he saw some stranger’s car driving up. And yeah she spent the night with him but it wasn’t what I thought. It felt good to know some of the details and I had a smile on my face because I always do when Georgia gets excited about something. She turned the radio up, I put my arm out the half-stuck and rolled-down passenger window, and we sang about Los Angeles being three thousand miles away.

The guy, whose name was Kim, lived or at least was staying up past the Presbyterian church on Family Hill Road, in this old sprawling house obscured from the highway by overgrown god knows what. Georgia said he was probably still asleep and as long as I was quiet we could just go look on our own. I followed her around back of the house’s weather-beaten garage. There was a new padlock on the door and it did not surprise me at all when Georgia produced the key from within her purse.

I walked in behind her, expecting to squint for my view. Instead, there was a bright light competing with the dusty sun, a blue frosted glow that was colored like burning gas and popsicles. The garage seemed bigger than I thought and sitting in the center of it all, around an ornate sort of round table, were six dressed-up people, their eyes shut tight and all holding hands. I mean really dressed up, by the way, like the women (four) had big dark dresses with high necks and beading and some lace gloves. The men (two) were wearing six or seven piece suits, it felt like, and they both had hats sitting in front of them. The youngest-looking woman, just a girl really, had her hair done up in ringlets and a bright gold cross around her neck. Her lips were moving around words I couldn’t hear and everyone at the table was turned a bit in her direction.

“Isn’t it great?” whispered Georgia. She linked her arm with mine. “Look at them!”

“Who are they?” I asked.

“It’s a séance,” she said, which did not answer my question but before I could say so, Kim burst in the back door holding what looked like a BB gun. He pointed it at me, then at Georgia, who ran to him and kissed him while pushing the gun out of the way. The people around the table seemed unperturbed by the interruption, in fact, it appeared they hadn’t noticed us at all. Georgia was whispering into Kim’s ear and I heard him say BUT I LOCKED IT. While that went on I moved closer to the table and tapped one of the men on the shoulder. He didn’t turn but shrugged his shoulder slightly, as though to discourage a fly.

“Hello,” I whispered. None of them moved. “Hello!” I said, louder. At that, the girl with the cross threw her head back. Around the table people squeezed each other by the hands and tried to keep their eyes closed. The man I had touched had a tear at the corner of his eye. They were all a movie on mute, people through a window, a diorama down a hole.

I stared like I’d paid my quarter to until Kim’s cold thin angry hand closed around my wrist and yanked. He pulled me out of the garage and swung me out towards the lawn like a shot put. Georgia was leaning against the car and fishing around in that bag.

“You got smokes?” she asked me.

“What the hell was that!” I yelled. I felt shaken suddenly, like I’d seen a personal and awful event.

Kim slammed the door and turned on us both. Georgia gave him the finger.

“I thought you were cool,” she said.

I didn’t know who she meant at first and felt my blood rising around my ears. Kim was shaking a bit and pacing back and forth in front of the door. He was a thin man, probably in his forties, with thin white hair sticking all which ways from his scalp. At that moment he also didn’t look so great.

“You tell no one what you saw in there,” he said to me. “Or I’ll kill you.”

Georgia snorted, then flicked her head at me like I should stand by her. I stayed rooted and pointed again like that would make my point.

“I said,” I said. “What the hell was that!”

“Séance,” said Georgia. “I said so. It’s a bunch of people trying to talk to spirits.”

“Those aren’t people,” I said.

“Sure they are,” said Georgia. “They’re just not entirely here. Kim says they’re from the past. He says it’s a highly successful séance, except that they’re stuck. He says most séances try to get things to come to them, only this one went the other direction. He says he’s not sure why they landed here but he’s gonna keep them regardless, ’cause they landed on his property. Out in the field, he says.”

“Stop saying what I said,” said Kim.

“Well, you did,” said Georgia. She leaned into her car through the open window and popped the armrest, rifling around with her ass peeking down the bottom of her skirt. For all his agitation Kim didn’t mind stopping to look. I just rubbed my face with my hands. I couldn’t piss off Kim because she was my ride, so the best thing to do was just to believe them. It was always easier to just speak language instead of talk contrary.

“So are you guys gonna help them or what?” I asked. Kim laughed.

“Of course not,” he said. “I looked it up online and it’s a pain in the ass and it doesn’t always work. But the fact they got here means there’s probably more things going to come through. And that garage is big enough.”

“For what?” I asked.

“Kim Mecham’s Supernatural Circus,” said Georgia, her words slightly impeded by the butterscotch candy she’d found in place of the cigarette.

“It’s not going to be a circus,” said Kim.

“Sideshow, then,” said Georgia.

“Quit it,” said Kim. He looked at me with his meanest eye. “And no, you can’t have a piece.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Sounds good.”

Georgia swayed on over to Kim and draped her arm around his neck. She said, see I told you, and leaned all her body into him until he relaxed, then she kissed him open-mouth and I saw the butterscotch candy switch over. I turned back to the garage and peered through the window, cupping my hand around my eyes so to get a better view. The girl had her head facing normal now, and everyone was concentrating so hard.

“Hey!” called Georgia, and she and Kim were partway up the walk to the house. She had him by the hand and he was making his way up her arm. “We’ll be back in like a half hour. Can you wait by the car?”

I waved to say yes. They disappeared through the front door and I heard her shriek with glee. The padlock on the garage door was still popped, glinting in the sun and yelling for me. I eased the door open, slipped in, and shut it with a hush. Seeing the blue glow again I hesitated, heart squeezing, but then I thought what would Georgia do here, and the answer was whatever she wanted to do, so long as it would make her happy at that moment.

There was no room for me at the table so I stepped over their held hands and sat down on the table, facing the girl, my legs folded. I put my hands on her shoulders and said,

“I’m here.”

Her eyes widened and her head went back again. I thought maybe it was working so I repeated myself, keeping my volume. I’mhereI’mhereI’mhere!I’m here. She was breathing faster and shouting again so I could just barely hear her say, Give Us a Sign. Tell Us Your Name.

“Hannah,” I said, and then shouted, “Hannah!”

The girl gasped, which I could hear perfectly, and she looked straight and I knew she saw me. I waved and smiled which I figured could not be misinterpreted. The others around the table were moaning but I couldn’t hear them. It was just me and this girl with the hair and the cross around her neck, and despite all the business around us I got the feeling she was surprised to see me at all.

“What message do you have for us, spirit?” she asked.

“Look,” I said. “I don’t know much about what you’re doing, but you gotta quit it. Seriously. I’m from the future and someone wants to keep you in a shed forever. Which seems stupid. Plus you’re doing it wrong, because I’m not dead. You’re dead.”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“Um,” I said. I considered my options, then I stood on the table. She watched as I wobbled slightly. The table was not as sturdy as I’d thought. I waved my arms. “Leave this place forever!” I yelled.

“I’m dead?” she said.

“Forever!” I said.

She reached out her hand to me, breaking the circle. I went to reach back, but apparently circles are real important in magic or something, because that’s when the whole séance disappeared, and with it the table that I was standing on, which is why it’s a good thing my mother made me do gymnastics all of those years. I did a safety roll and landed on concrete, head tucked.

For the hell of it I clicked the padlock shut as I left the garage, then I grabbed my backpack from Georgia’s car and walked down the driveway. A half mile down the road I stopped into the Presbyterian church and asked the secretary inside if it was okay if I used their phone. I looked up the number in a Yellow Pages from five years ago, which just goes to show you.

“Hey Paul Gerard?” I said. I heard the grill crackling in the background, Linda shouting at a customer. “Come pick me up. I’m ready to go home.”