"I think sometimes we all feel like little stupid pigeons. Just eating and sh…"
She opened the door. It squeaked.
"Oh. Hello. Caroline?"
"Yeah." Caroline muttered, closing the door behind her. The two guys who were adjusting the lights started whispering. Was it the shoes? Probably. All that these people seemed to care about was shoes. "Hi," she said, deciding to attempt to be friendly. Maybe. She wasn't very happy right now.
"I'm Arista." The girl with cornrows said, reaching her hand out for Caroline to shake. She had pink nail polish. "Like Ariel's sister." She smiled, but her teeth were too white and her smile was too fake anyway. She was wearing black high heels.
"No one knows the names of Ariel's sisters," Caroline snorted. Arista just stared at her, and then slowly pulled her unshaken hand back and wiped it on her pants. Everyone was quiet for at least three awkward seconds.
The woman who had mentioned pigeons pointed to a green chair. "You can sit there," she said. Her voice was laced with impatience. "We were supposed to start ten minutes ago, believe it or not." She was wearing snow boots.
Caroline sat down.
Arista sat down across from her, in a red chair. "That's Julie," she said. The pigeon lady nodded. "And those two are James and Jim Rod." James and Jim waved. They were eerily identical. Caroline winked at them. "And we're ready to start. You filled out all the paperwork and everything yesterday right? The ones that said that we're not responsible for any emotional damage or long-term… anything. And the payment, the movie stuff. Because if this is good it could become a movie." Arista raised her eyebrows. Acid was in the air. "You signed all that?"
"I did," Caroline dug through her bag, found her hairbrush, and started doing her hair.
Arista threw her hands up, exasperated. "You didn't… I'm sorry, but we don't have much time. We were supposed to start fifteen minutes ago." James and Jim nodded, with matching faces full of impatience.
It was nine in the morning, and they had this studio for the whole day. There wasn't much to worry about. But saying that wouldn't be the best of Caroline's ideas. She just nodded, unsure what to say. "So should I just start talking?" Stupid sounding question.
Arista smirked. "You begin your story, and I'll ask a question every - oh - five minutes or so. Just start with something like, 'When I was fourteen… I lived through a crazy natural disaster.' Don't say that though. Just say something like it, but better."
"I was eleven. Actually," Caroline put down her hair brush and got out her makeup bag. She started slapping powder onto her face.
"Did you really not get ready for this at all? Your face looks fine." Caroline grabbed her favorite lipstick. Arista must have given up, because she got up and walked away. "Julie, are we ready?"
Julie laughed. "We've been ready. If our friend wasn't so intent on beautifying herself, we could have started twenty minutes ago. Thirty, if she wasn't late to begin with."
James and Jim agreed, and the lights that they were holding glared down at Caroline. The clock ticked. She hadn't noticed that before. The lipstick was fine, but she kept on going over it again and again, adding more color.
When Caroline had finally thought of a way to begin her story, she put her things away. "I'm ready to start now," she announced. Her fingers trembled, secretly. Everyone was quiet, all of a sudden.
Arista sat down across from her and smiled into the camera with her perfectly white teeth. She said some words, some polite words. Then she turned to Caroline. "Caroline, are you ready to begin your story?"
Caroline was supposed to say yes. "Yes," she said.
He was hammering, straight through the back of Candy's skull. Bone crunching, little bits of brain spilling out. Mean Mr. Sun, always hammering. She couldn't think when he did that. Her mind was a puddle of goo, simmering on the ground. Like the Jell-O that GG had brought them once, the cherry red one. The dog had eaten most of that. Where was the dog? She hadn't seen him in a while. Little fluffy dog. Brown dog. If found, please return to the big red house in the big yellow field. That would be a nice sign, hanging on a window for everyone to see.
It was so hot here.
Candy was standing right in the middle, like she was a tiny island with yellow grass all around. The grass was so tall that she couldn't see anything but shadows and ants. It was all caught in her hair and stuck to her shirt. But it wasn't tall enough to shield her from Mr. Sun's glares, and his hammer. She had a headache because of him, and she couldn't think. Her skin was a lovely burnt red. She had been standing here for a long time, waiting for Davey to come back.
She couldn't remember. Had he run towards the sun? Away? She couldn't think, and she couldn't remember. He could be anywhere now, so she had to wait here for him to come back. Soon Mr. Sun would hammer through her skull, down her spine, and shatter her legs. Davey would come back to a pile of steaming mush on the ground. Red and white and mushy. Poor Davey.
"Owww…" the top of her head was probably sizzling, boiling soup now. That hurt. Candy rubbed her scalp, disappointed that it was still intact. Her headache was so painful, but even the top of her head was still completely fine. Not even a bit of brain leaking out. But if her brother didn't get back yet, there definitely would be.
Mr. Sun glared at her. Why aren't you mushy yet, he growled, picking up his hammer again. But nothing happened. A cloud reached out and pushed him to the ground, covering his mouth with a cotton candy hand and grabbing his hammer with the other. NOOO! Mr. Sun screamed. Candy smiled. Looking up, she could just barely see the round outline of Mr. Sun, veiled behind the cloud. "Thanks cloud," she said. The cloud smiled at her, and she smelled cotton candy.
But she was bored of looking at clouds.
Why hadn't Davey come back? He had just run off, a long time ago. "I'll be right back," was what he had said. "Right back" had expired a long time ago. He had lied, and now her head hurt. Soon the sun would come back, and then she would begin to melt again, and her head would hurt.
She looked up at the sky. The cloud was moving on, too tired to hold Mr. Sun down any longer. His hammer blinded her, shining with stupidly bright light. Her head swam, decapitated, through a sea of worms. There was a worm on her toe. Her toe was dirty and all dried up by the sun. She could barely move it.
Circles? Ow. Circles. Her brain was running in circles. Like a race. Running a race, round and round in pointless circles. Ow. Was the worm gone?
Candy looked all around. Looking for Davey. All she saw was grass. Grass and a couple tall trees, far away trees. A very tall tree, taller than the others. Hmm, strange. It was such a tall tree that it made her think she might be insane. If she was very insane, she might think it was an arm, with a hand attached, reaching out to grab hers and lift her high up and carry her away. Candy was not very insane, but she wished it was true so that she could see where Davey had gone. She was worried now. He had been gone a long time.
"I'll be right back," he said. And then he ran away and tripped and fell and hit his head. And then he ran and ran and his foot got caught on the fence and broken. And he ran and ran and ran and got lost and never found his way back home.
"Ow," Candy muttered. Headache. Mr. Sun glared at her. His skull crushing, brain squishing hammering didn't hurt anymore. Her skull must already be crushed, her brain must already be squished. Her head was flat as a pancake, folding down into her neck, down through her stomach. Her entire body would twist inside-out, her intestines would hang out in the sun like laundry, and her clothes would be folded inside her belly. Maybe she would melt like ice cream and turn to steam and sit in the palm of the cotton candy cloud's hand. She would fling her arms out like sails on a boat and float through the sky like she was rowing down a river.
She kicked the stupid worm into the dirt. It wriggled around for a little bit, and then was limp and gross and dead. Oops. (Owwww.) She hadn't meant to kill it. She kneeled down to examine it closer, but backed away when she realized that she couldn't tell which end was its face.
"I'm back!" Davey sang, scaring a bird away. The grass bent aside when he walked, like he was parting water. He was so tall, he could see above it. There was grass in his hair, and grass on his shirt, and even a little piece of grass on the bridge of his nose, right between his eyes. He was carrying a little paper bag.
"What took you so long?" Candy complained. "I think I got sunstroke from standing here for so long. Are any of my brains leaking out through my skull?" She pulled her hair back so that he could see her skull.
He laughed. "Your skull looks great. And… I had to make us some amazing sandwiches, so it took me a while." Was he lying? Had he had another argument with Jordan? Candy couldn't tell. She tried to focus on his eyes, since the eyes are windows to the soul, but saw nothing besides grimy eyelashes, which weren't very soullike. "Let's go into the shade," he said. "It's hot out here."
"Wait!" Candy grabbed his arm. "You have a piece of grass on your nose," she reached up and flicked it away.
"Make a wish," Davey said, laughing.
Candy wrinkled her nose. "I'm not wishing on a piece of grass, Davey," she frowned. "You can only wish on stars and candles and dandelion seeds. Grass is just useless grass."
Davey shrugged. "Fine. Wasted opportunity, but fine," he kicked at the ground. "Want a sandwich? Let's go over there," he pointed. She couldn't see where he was pointing to, because of the tall grass, but she followed him anyway because he took her hand and started walking.
They walked down a secret path that Candy could not see and emerged at David's Creek.
David's Creek was a slimy, sludgy, slow moving snake of water forever slithering through Dundee. Snails lived there, and leeches, and little dark fish. The bank was lined with smooth stones, each overlapping the next like scales. But the river was nice to sit next to, as long as you didn't try swimming in it.
Candy nearly slipped on a stone and fell, squealing, into the slimy water, but Davey was still holding her hand and was able to catch her before she fell. She hugged him, caught her breath, and then they sat on smooth rocks by the water and ate their sandwiches and talked. Just the two of them and a quiet river. The world ticked by somewhere else, somewhere far away, somewhere loud and smoky. The world probably peered through its dirty, bug splattered window at them and wished it was there, talking with them. But it was just Candy and Davey and the river, and that was pretty close to perfect.
Candy asked him about the sandwich and his shoes.
Tomato, lettuce, cheese. I bought them yesterday, do you like them?
Yes, I do.
Candy asked him about his friends, Jordan, GG, and had he ever been in love?
They're great, she's tired, he's old, yes.
How was it?
It's intense, and can be devastating. But still wonderful.
Is kissing any good?
Kissing is spectacular.
What about… you know. That. How is it?
Never tried it.
Candy pondered this for a moment. "Hmm," she said, taking a bite of her sandwich.
Davey reached under the rock and pulled out his notebook. It had a gentle little cloud floating through the front cover, and it was a light shade of pink. He wrote in it every day. Candy couldn't read what was inside, but she assumed it was a diary.
Davey started writing. His pencil went, "scritch, scratch. Shratch, thratch. Schmatch." Words and little doodles and poems and stories all poured from the point of his pencil. Funny ideas and experiences and thoughts and feelings that he was painting onto that paper. She wished she knew what it said.
"Can you read it to me?" she asked.
He smiled woodenly, with fake feelings all stuffed up in his eyes. She could see his mind racing. "Sure," he said. "Once upon a time," he began. "There was a house. Full of gold. Shimmering, shining gold. On the walls, on the ceiling, on the floor. Shelves of gold, boxes of gold."
"Liar!" she screamed at him, shoving him. "That's not what you wrote. You just made that up."
But he didn't fall, he stayed and put his hand on her shoulder. Little angry fireflies zipped around his face. Push him over again, they said. You're angry. Push him into the lake. He lied to you! Their little lights flared urgently, pointing to his face, cheering her on.
But she ignored them. "I'm sorry," she said.
"It's ok," he said. "You're right. That's not what I wrote. But most of what I write isn't very interesting, you don't need to worry about it." He closed the notebook and put it back under the rock.
"It's about Jordan, isn't it," she said. "It's about father, too. And GG. It's about all the problems. Well, I understand. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. But your lie was pretty bad. Besides, who would want a house full of gold? Just sell it for normal money. That sounds less glittery and annoying, and you could have all the food you want."
Davey laughed, faintly, stiffly. "Yeah," was all he said.
The forest around them sighed. The foundations were crooked with age, ancients whispered in the trees, little living things rustling and moving, all of it breathing together. Candy looked and each creature and twig and flutter looked back, eyes like spinning plates, eyes like black beads. A ruffled feather fell softly into her lap. A bird called from a wiry nest. A snake slithered past them and disappeared into the water.
"It's late," Davey said. "We should go." He grabbed her hand and the sandwich bag and they waded back into the grass. Candy followed blindly, swimming through the yellow curtains that covered her eyes. It was so hot out here. She hoped they wouldn't get in the crashing waves.
But Davey always knew the way, and when they emerged on solid ground Jordan was there, already yelling. "Why didn't you tell me Candy was with you?" Jordan yelled. "Davey, you were responsible, and you just left her in the forest and came back to get sandwiches?" She had her sandy hair up in a silver hair tie, but little pieces of hair had come undone and kept getting in her eyes. Her shirt had a brown stain on it, right on the neckline. Her eyes were angry, truly angry.
"Is Jordan your sister?" Arista asked.
Caroline looked at the clock. It had been almost exactly five minutes. She wasn't scared anymore, she wanted to finish telling the story. But she smiled for the camera. "Yes. Jordan was my sister, Davey my brother. I had another sister, Lilac, as well. And GG was our name for my grandfather."
"You… Ok. That's fine," Arista cleared her throat. Julie marked something down on her paper. James and Jim adjusted the lights. "That was very good, by the way. A lot of description that we'll have to take out, but still good."
Caroline nodded. "Sure." Whatever they wanted to do, she didn't care.
"I liked the part about the river," Arista continued. "Why was it called 'David's Creek'? After your brother?"
"Can I just finish this part first? I'll forget it if we wait much longer."
"Sure. Go ahead," Arista said, smiling to the camera with her glaring white teeth. Julie scribbled something down on her paper. James/Jim gave them a thumbs up.
Davey swallowed. "Sorry, sis. We just wanted to eat our sandwiches by the river. I didn't mean to make you mad." He ran his fingers through his messy hair, and fiddled with the edge of the sandwich bag.
"Not the river, Davey. It's so easy to fall into, with all those rocks. Candy could get hurt. Eat your sandwiches in the grass next time, and for god's sake, keep track of your sister. She's only eleven, you know."
"Good. GG's gone, so come and help me make some food," she looked at Davey with a secret message in her eyes, but he didn't seem to notice. She sighed, and they followed her inside.
Inside it was hotter than the sun, but without the terrible headache and swampy feeling. There were wisps of steam coiling up into the ceiling, snaking up from the big metal pot on the stove. There were heaps of dirty dishes in piles and broken piles, like a huge mass of people all running in the same direction and trampling each other. The floor was stained and the windows were disgusting and the thing boiling in the stove smelled like fish. Candy wrinkled her nose. She didn't like to come in here very often.
Jordan tossed Davey a knife and Candy a spoon. "Davey, cut up the onion. Candy, stir up the fish thing."
Fish Thing was very old and very smelly. He had a few unfortunate warts on his nose and stringy, shriveled green bean hair. His skin was not normal human skin, it was slimy and scaly. Fish skin. He liked to swim in a pool of rotten, stinking oniony, watery goop, and his eyes were huge, never blinking. People preferred to stay away from Fish Thing, unless they were very desperate.
Candy held the spoon at arms distance and sort of shifted Fish Thing around. Yesterday they had eaten Robert, the last chicken, so she would have to get used to fish. The thought made her wrinkle her nose.
"Where's GG?" Davey asked, as he plopped some onion into the pot. "He's been gone since yesterday, hasn't he?" Their grandfather would usually be here right now, talking to Jordan or making a fire or complaining about the Chairman.
"He's… well," Jordan leaned closer to Davey and whispered, but Candy still heard. "He's selling some land, actually. Some of the stuff over there," she pointed out the window with one fishy finger at some flat, green emptiness.
"Lilac?" Davey asked. "Where is she?"
Jordan raised an eyebrow. "She's asleep, in her bed. I know how to keep track of my sisters." She lifted the pot off of the stove and disappeared outside.
Davey chewed on a bit of onion.
Candy drew a tree on the dusty window.
The door slammed shut behind her.
My mom told me this story.
Apparently, before my grandfather lived in Dundee, another family lived in our old house. There were three of them: a mother, father, and their son David.
David was young, and he liked to play by the river by their house. He would pretend to be a pirate, or a soldier, or a fish. He would climb on the rocks and name them. He would swing on vines and jump into the water. And even though it was slippery by the water, he didn't fall in, so his parents allowed him to go to the river at night with his dog and play in the water.
David couldn't see the slick, smooth rocks in the darkness. So he slipped, and fell, and cracked his head open in the river and drowned among the leeches.
There is a moral to this story.
Don't play in the river at night.
Arista was silent for a moment. "Interesting way to begin," she said, finally. "Was all that necessary? Will it… contribute to the watcher's understanding of your story? All that happened, that I can see, is that you had lunch by the river and then stirred some fish soup."
Julie nodded, and scratched something down on her paper.
James and Jim switched off the lights.
"Are we done?" Caroline asked, ignoring Arista's question.
"No," Julie said.
"Then just let me continue, and take out whatever you don't want. But I wouldn't tell you anything that wasn't important. I would hate for you to be bored." Caroline took a sip of water and felt around in her bag for her hairbrush.