Autumn’s crossed knees nodded impatiently as she sat opposite Principal Barter. His metal chair creaked as he wouldn’t sit still, which always drilled into her nerves — as did all the sounds all the rats round her always made. But she kept her expression still & flat. Though she couldn’t close her eyes, her eyes & mind colluded to maximize her sentiment o’ not being physically there @ all. ’Twas while doing so — in the heavy silence Barter oft produced, presumably for psychology-weakening techniques she didn’t know — that she figured she might understand why some people do drugs, though she knew the risks o’ excess precluded her experimenting herself.
So you & Madame Albumen got in a li’l scuffle, ¿huh?.
Autumn nodded. ’Tween sniffs, & with a slightly muffled voice, she replied,
If ‘Madame Albumen’ is the student in the brown ‘Crown’ jacket with the long angular nose, flattish forehead, & strains o’ black hair that fall o’er her ears, then we were both, indeed, involved in a ‘scuffle’. How one would define participation in said scuffle is a mo’ subjective matter….
¿So you claim she was the one who started it?.
It depends on your definition o’ ‘started it’, said Autumn. She noticed Barter’s brows fall. She continued,
She certainly threw the 1st punch; & I’ll let people judge for themselves objectively who was the greater victim based on our appearances.
Barter nodded. This is going better than usual. Perhaps I should try to get the shit kicked out o’ me mo’ oft, thought Autumn.
But then he said,
She claims you took a family heirloom o’ hers. ¿Is this true?. Barter had that amusingly penetrating stare that he must’ve learned from some inspirational story, since she’d seen it in too many after-school specials.
She merely replied,
It’s true that she accused me o’ doing so.
That wasn’t what I was asking. Please tell me the truth. We’re not blaming anyone.
O, well if that’s the case, ¡then I’ll just go on & confess the whole thing!.
Also, ¿who’s “we”? ¿Does he fashion himself as royalty?.
Autumn merely said,
You can search my backpack if you want.
We already know Madame Albumen has it back….
Has it “back”, ¿eh? Well, ¿then why ask for an answer you already know?.
She didn’t say this, however — though she recalled she might’ve years ago. She wasn’t sure what “maturity” was or what slight amount she might’ve gained in the past few years; but she did know she’d become less energetic for the hassles o’ faculty & other students & had learned that minimizing speech minimized those hassles as well.
’Stead she simply said,
If he’s dumb ’nough to believe an obvious thief, it’s his own fault.
He clearly hadn’t, for he then went into the usual weak attempt @ defeating her through clumsy propaganda that already hadn’t worked the last dozen times he’d tried it. Coupled with this were rehashed strawman criticisms gainst her, such as his insistence that she thought him to be a “silly” & “ol’ fashioned” or his claim that he, too, thought he knew everything when he was her age — an obvious indirect attack gainst her. ’Course, anyone with half a brain would know that Barter’s “silliness” — she wasn’t sure what arbitrary definition “ol’ fashioned” was s’posed to hold — was a façade for the fact that he just carried out whatever rules he had to follow, regardless o’ what arbitrary personality he held; & she would, indeed, be a mental child if she believed she magically captured all o’ the world’s knowledge in a mere 17 years — which was why she continued her learning. She’d also have to be a mental child if she trusted those, like Barter, who were far smarter than her — & thus e’en mo’ dangerous. What she did know — & she knew Barter knew, though he wisely ne’er admitted it, since it wouldn’t benefit him — was that those who don’t know everything are quickly destroyed by those who do; thus, if one doesn’t know everything, well, they better quickly fix that or they won’t live long, anyway.
She nodded every so oft, trying to be as polite as she could — though she didn’t have the energy to be polite or upbeat, which she admitted was a flaw, if the success o’ all these cheery cocksuckers was any indication. Then ’gain, perhaps ’twas better that she seemed to act sorry.
She just didn’t want to show any anger, which obviously wouldn’t help, & wasn’t the kind o’ sentiment useful for communication, anyway. ’Course she ’lone was angry — ¡she was the one losing! He’d probably be pissed, too, if she’d gotten him fired for sluffing on muffling her stealing.
His wide-winded speech ended with,
I hope you’ll consider what I’ve said. You’re far too bright to throw ’way the rest o’ your life for a cool-looking trinket.
Yes, by “far too bright” you mean “far too dangerous”; &, ’course, his advice — so helpful that it requires no effort on his part — is self-contradicting: I shouldn’t throw ’way my life — do something that’ll cause them themselves to finally have me sent off to be destroyed, a’least metaphorically — by stealing, so I should stop stealing, & throw ’way my life in the future, which relies on having money to support, which relies on stealing.
I a’least hope he derives joy from the cleverness o’ his weasel words; they are true poetry.
Autumn nodded, but said nothing. Then she stood.
¿Do you know where the nurse’s is?, asked Barter.
Autumn nodded ’gain. She didn’t, but she’d had her fill o’ nettling faculty for a lifetime, so she wasn’t going, anyway. I’m sure my spilling blood on my shirt & tie & their cracked, puke-colored floor is the worst problem each o’ us faces.
What surprised her wasn’t that it happened, but that it happened so abruptly.
The events still spun through her mind like a 90s animated GIF, watched repeatedly for morbid curiosity: she — thank god she left Edgar @ “home” — entered an electronics store she’d ne’er been to before, hoping the darkness inside would obscure her.
However, the cameras must’ve not only seen her “absentmindedly” pocket some gadgets, but also notarize all them she did, for e’en after pretending to realize she’d pocketed some & returning some to their shelves, security jumped out just as she was headed for the door after “realizing” that she’d “left” her wallet @ home & couldn’t pay for the goods she pretended to try buying.
But she didn’t just see the ninja-garbed security she’d seen before @ other stores, but also true police in white suits. Turned out that trying a new store did her no good: the police already knew o’ those other stores catching her, & ’stead o’ giving this store a restraining order gainst her, the cops put cuffs on her wrists & led her out to their car.
Throughout the trip Autumn wore a blank stare. Though she knew this event had existed sometime in the future as certainly as had Macbeth’s death, she was still jarred by its existence in the present. ’Twas such a sunny day, too. This & the newfound excitement o’ failure caused her to fidget a li’l in the car, which she tried to stifle for fear o’ them thinking she was trying to ’scape & shooting her.
What had surprised Autumn was hearing she had a visitor, e’en after she looked up & saw Edgar, his eyeholes full o’ mo’ fear than she’d e’er seen.
Autumn sat up, though not without an uneasy flick o’ her pupils toward her cellmate. However, said cellmate’s eyes ne’er left the TV.
¿How’d you find out?, asked Autumn.
The police told me when I put a search out for you.
Autumn’s mouth twisted into a closed smile, the hot air o’ laughter pounding gainst her lips like ribbits.
Well, they found me.
So… ¿How long you in for?, asked Edgar, now looking down @ the ground.
I don’t know. You shouldn’t bother waiting.
Edgar looked up @ her, e’en mo’ fearful.
¿What d’you mean?.
I mean…. ¡I mean ’scape with your life, man!. Autumn glanced ’gain @ her cellmate. I don’t care if they starve me or beat me o’er the face with bats; the least they could do is give me privacy for once.
The least they could do is make everything unbearable for you & there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.
She stood, scampered o’er to the bars, & whispered,
What I mean is I’m just going to end up here ’gain & ’gain. Consider the consequences.
I don’t understand…. whispered Edgar.
¿What do you want?, asked Autumn.
I…. Edgar paused. Then he looked down & murmured,
He turned back, but appeared e’en mo’ uneasy.
Don’t be sorry, said Autumn.
Just, uh… Just try to make yourself better off….
Edgar nodded with a sloshy face & shakes, as if he’d become infected with the flu.
Well, uh… take care, he whispered.
Autumn stared @ him with confusion.
Uh… ’K. You, too, I guess.
They hesitated for a second before Edgar finally walked ’way & Autumn finally returned to her bunk, reading her book with such concentration as if she hadn’t been interrupted.
Autumn was intrigued by how carefully programmed the schedule was.
All had to wake @ 600 hours. They were given an hour to shower, change, & prepare themselves hygienically otherwise. ’Cept for 1 ditz who oft lagged & had to be prodded by the end o’ the hour, ’cause her “hair wasn’t done”, most realized they weren’t going to be entering a beauty contest & spent most o’ their time chatting loudly to each other. Autumn spent most o’ her time reading.
700 hours was breakfast — the same cardboard cartons o’ cereal they had @ her school, ’long with a banana or an orange that was too much o’ a hassle to open. Autumn wished she could bring a book with her, but couldn’t, so sufficed with planning & other concerns. She didn’t dare e’en waste time considering robbing her jail mates, nor e’en looked @ them. When someone asked the obvious question, she always said she just tried it once out o’ desperation.
They had to leave before the whole hour was up so that they could make it to work before 800 hours. Well, some workers did. The administration told Autumn that they were short on jobs, but that they were working on getting her 1. Though Autumn nodded silently in response, she wasn’t heartbroken: from what she heard, none o’ the workers received pay; & she had done ’nough research years ago to know that whatever s’posed resume-building benefits working a job, e’en here, would give her would be ruined by the dark mark o’ having been here in the 1st place.
They offered her classes, but they were just secondary-school alternatives & classes to teach English as a 2nd language, so she stayed in her bunk & read.
Lunch was @ 1100 hours. Here, too, the meals were like those in secondary school, with the same cardboard trays & the cheap revolving portions o’ square pizza that felt like gum, meat loaf, & steak nuggets with rice.
@ 1600 hours was outside exercise — a warped echo o’ her PE classes from secondary school. Like in school, while most o’ her classmates seemed to enjoy the exercises, laughing, moving energetically, & talking, Autumn moved mechanically the whole time. When they ran, she ran fast ’nough to keep up with the back, but didn’t bother putting effort into going farther than that.
Sometimes some inmates would raise their voice to alarming levels & violence would break out, surrounded by loud cheers — nerve bursting explosions o’ sound. Autumn always tried to stand back without attracting attention, body-pumping adrenaline acting as just a sickening, useless toxin that got in the way o’ her only useful tool: standing inconspicuously & being lucky. Thankfully, she ne’er ended up dragged into anything.
It felt as if the shades-wearing guards leaning gainst the back wall with tight frowns were staring @ her petulantly, but figured that might’ve just been imagination.
1700 was dinner, which was the same as lunch.
1800 to 2300 hours was, from what she could tell, mo’ free time, which was mo’ reading & planning for her. The 1st 2 hours were apparently reserved for religious ceremonies or whatever, since her jail mate was gone then.
Her jail mate’s Christianity was a double-edged pistol: on 1 hand, though as noisy as the others, she was peaceful & ne’er threatened Autumn; on the other edge, she sometimes hassled Autumn ’bout what her own religious views were & tried to urge her to go with her to the ceremonies. Thankfully, like in secondary school, Autumn’s quietude & weak-to-nonexistent responses to her jail mate’s questions & statements ’ventually whittled down her jail mate’s patience & her jail mate would drop it & talk to someone else.
2300 was when the lights went out & everyone was s’posed to sleep. Since Autumn was ne’er good @ falling asleep @ night, it oft took a while for Autumn to fall asleep, & hours would oft pass with Autumn simply turning left & right in bed, planning. This would oft leave her tired for the next day, but it wasn’t too much o’ an inconvenience. Her fear o’ trouble kept her motions within schedule.
Increasingly, as the nights passed, she thought ’bout how lucky she was. She expected far worse. So far she’d received no mo’ violence than brusque shoves caused mo’ by inconsiderate hurrying on the others’ part mo’ than any anger @ her. & she could feel November pulling closer & closer. She could survive this.
She spent the bulk o’ her time wondering how she would survive after jail.
Edgar’s doubts now resembled the very same he felt when he was 1st getting to know Autumn, & this only reminded him o’ her locked up & his own abandonment o’ her.
He slowly climbed the steps to the 3rd floor, vision jumping all over in wait for someone to pop out & ask what he thought he was doing there. But ’twas deathly empty: the only sound was the spattering o’ rain gainst every solid.
E’en if I don’t get the room wrong & annoy some stranger, she probably won’t be here.
The only thing that cut his pauses short was the ’scuse that he’d cause mo’ trouble for himself if he stayed in 1 place for too long. Too suspicious, Autumn would say.
He stopped before the door, reading the # ’bove it numerous times just to be sure ’twas correct. His fist hung frozen before the door. He was sure he’d be unable to knock @ all — & if he were, it’d only be a tiny tap inaudible to anyone outside its immediate millimeter radius. What he was doing was simply impossible.
But he began to shiver & his nostril cavity began to fill with mucus, — which was harder to hide without a nose — & that fear that not doing anything would get him in bigger trouble returned.
¿What did Autumn say? ¿“It’s better to accept the .1% chance o’ failure caused by acting o’er sure failure by not acting”, or something like that?.
He tapped his knuckles on the icy door & then quickly snuck them into his robe pockets, head slunk. He knew ’twas his body’s absurd attempt to hide him from anyone who might be looking out.
As he stared @ the door, mind churning with fears for both the door opening & not, he remembered Autumn telling him in the murky depths o’ his storm drain home, “Though I admire your restraint, you should be honest ’bout your desires ’fore they eat you inside”.
He jerked his hand forward & rapped the door in 3 hard — for Edgar a’least — blows ’fore yanking his arm back as if the door were a boiling pan. ’Twas only as he stood shivering still ’gain that he realized how much crazier this made him appear than when he was just standing there.
Suddenly he heard rattling on the other side. The door opened ’fore he had a chance to prepare — though how he’d prepare, he had no idea.
Dawn peered out the door with curiosity for a second ’fore smiling. She stepped to the side, opening the door wider, & with a swing o’ her hand said,
Edgar. Come right in.
Immediately after, she frowned — probably ’pon seeing Edgar jerk a li’l. He was unused to such… loudness — not an angry loudness, but the kind that seemed to inflate like a balloon.
She blinked @ him still standing stupidly outside the door. He noticed her hand’s grip on the door’s edge tighten.
¿Are you all, uh… You won’t get in trouble if you come in, ¿will you? I don’t know ’bout, uh…. She glanced left & right, seemingly searching for something. She looked back @ Edgar.
If you can’t come in, I understand. You don’t need to be ’fraid.
O… Sorry, Edgar said, unsure which would be ruder, entering or not.
Uh, ¿is it all right for you to come in?.
Uh, I mean, if you want….
I don’t want to get you in trouble….
Dawn stared @ Edgar, but her mind seemed to be focused elsewhere.
O, never mind. My imagination’s just acting up. After a beat, Dawn continued,
Well, come on in.
Edgar nodded & then stepped inside, only to stop just inside to lift the skirt o’ his robe & wipe his feet. He frowned @ the caked dirt practically covering said skirt.
You needn’t worry, Dawn said;
nobody else e’en bothers to wipe their feet.
Yeah. To be fair, with this sparkling neat room o’ mine, — Dawn raised an arm to point @ the piles o’ chairs & desks & boxes & computer equipment & cords & books & stuff Edgar couldn’t so much as interpret swarming round the walls. ’Twas such a jarring contrast to the empty storm drain & apartment with which he was accustomed, which made him feel as if a blanket o’ warmth wrapped round him while he looked @ it.
There’s plenty o’ room here.
Edgar turned to see Dawn pat a seat on her couch. He nodded & sat with his knees tightly clasped & his upper-body hanging over them. Through the corner o’ his eyeholes he could see Dawn strap on some funky glasses & peer into the foot o’ some plastic doohickey holding a glass o’ bubbling blue liquid while in her hands was a controller plugged into a laptop showing a video game Edgar didn’t recognize that looked like a strange but beautiful blend o’ classical & abstract art, the way it was composed o’ big, blocky pixels o’ many vibrant colors & the medieval scene it depicted o’ a small figure who changed his costume every so oft wandering grassy forests & aquamarine caves, only to sometimes suddenly warp to a larger, mo’ detailed cave with 3 other people, all in closer the detail. The cave was infested with stalactites & stalagmites & brown & gray plump squirrels as still as cardboard, ’cept when they flip sideways to run ’way. The blue & white windows below showing a table o’ names, #s, & meters seemed like the kind o’ bizarre meta commentary Edgar was surprised he’d ne’er seen abstract art do.
But it could ne’er completely keep his mind off reality: Edgar kept glancing ’way toward Dawn, who seemed distant with her eye-concealing glasses on, her knees swaying together & ’way, causing the hem o’ the long jacket she wore as a dress to fold out & in. Then he would yank his attention back to the laptop screen with a shaky feeling o’ nausea & the feeling like his bones were burning up.
Dawn broke the silence a few minutes later by saying,
So… ¿Mo’ trouble with that friend o’ yours?.
O, yeah…. Then he said in 1 quick burst,
I probably shouldn’t be bugging you with it, but you said I should come by….
Mmm hmm. No problem. This game’s music is flaccid, anyway.
Edgar gazed hard @ the carpet ’neath his feet, for a second distracted by what bad quality might make music “flaccid”. He noticed some scent that seemed to be both sweet & sour, felt an unfamiliar warmth in the air & softness in the carpet, which only amplified the alien feeling o’ his surroundings.
¿You want to say what the problem is?, Dawn said, not with impatience, but with a casual rise in tone.
Um… Well… Autumn — my friend… I guess….
Well, I mean… she calls me, well, I think she thinks o’ me as a business partner mo’ like….
O, I’m sorry. You shouldn’t beat yourself up o’er it, though. I know the chemicals in you — I assume are in you; I don’t know much ’bout skeleton biology — make it seem that this 1 particular person is everything in the world; but you’d be surprised by how many people they can apply that feeling toward.
¿You think she… might be annoyed by my being round & that I should go ’way from her?.
I dunno. You tell me. I ne’er met her, said Dawn.
But if it gets in the way o’ your business, it’d probably be a good idea.
I think it’s mo’ that she thinks this business is bad for me.
Ah yes. For the 1st time since they started talking, Dawn turned ’way from her game & toward him.
You said she was a thief, ¿true?.
That sounds like the opposite o’ what you’re insinuating, said Dawn.
¿Why would she care what business you get into?.
Edgar paused as if faced with an infamous Boskeopoleon Times crossword. His eyes caught Dawn smiling.
That’s the thing… I think she only lets me stick round ’cause she, I dunno… feels sorry for me, I guess…. Edgar turned his head ’way.
¿Why, did she hint @ that in any way? ¿What’d she say?.
O, I dunno… Like I said, I’m probably a distraction from her business….
I thought you said she considered you a partner in her ‘business’.
Yeah, but, well, it’s not like I’m good @ it or anything. I mean, ’twas just her business, & then I happened to fall into it for no reason.
She must’ve had some reason for including you. ¿Does she include anyone else out o’ pity?.
¿So what makes you so deserving o’ pity out o’ everyone else?.
Edgar squirmed, but said nothing.
Well, ¿See?. Dawn patted Edgar on the shoulder & added,
That’s just insecurities talking. From the sounds o’ it, she likes you, but just isn’t expressive ’bout it.
Edgar wrung a piece o’ his robe in his wrist.
¿Have you tried just asking?, said Dawn.
O, I don’t want to intrude…. Edgar said, his voice falling as the realization that this was probably bad thinking already came to his head.
Just asking isn’t an intrusion. If the answer’s ‘no’, then she can just say ‘no’, & that’s that.
OK. Thanks, & he sat there in e’en mo’ discomfort than before.
They ne’er ’splained to her why they put her in “The Kennel” — a name her ears happened to pick up in the vocal noise that surrounded her from all the other inmates; maybe ’twas the frown she always had on her face; maybe ’twas the way she ne’er interacted with the other jail mates; maybe she was s’posed to go somewhere to apply for a job, & she was accidentally breaking the rules by going back to her bunk to read; maybe they sneakily read the papers she kept under her mattress & interpreted her code to find she was still keeping to her naughty thievish ways; maybe they thought, with all the time she spent in her own corner reading, that she’d prefer this new arrangement.
Whatever was the reason, there she found herself, in a room with just a bed, a sink, & a toilet; a room with li’l light; a room only 8 m2.
For the 1st few hours, she was quite content to get some privacy — or a’least the illusion o’ privacy, considering the possibility o’ hidden cameras. But as the hours dragged on, e’en she ran out o’ things to think ’bout, material on which to plan. & without her papers & pens she had no way to record anything she thought, no way to remember, no way to keep it in order, so that she had no plans, in truth, nothing but a jumble o’ weeds, crumbs, debris that was scattered round her mind’s room, crowding it, & the mo’ time that spent, the mo’ she had to think — she couldn’t stop — & thus the mo’ mental debris that further clogged her mind which only made the thoughts that forced themselves into her head e’en mo’ tattered.
I’m dying… I’m dying as I do nothing here, slowly. I’m slowly dying. Every hour I waste down here doing nothing is a slice o’ my skin being peeled off, every hour I’ve already thrown ’way, & will continue to throw ’way.
I know, but I can’t stop.
She began pacing the room, since it felt mo’ like an action. @ 1st ’twas hard, since she still wasn’t sure a camera wasn’t watching, wondering why she was walking round & deciding to keep her here longer. But then, as her thoughts slackened to the point that she wondered if she slept through part o’ it, her legs happened to have lifted her, & then happened to step her round. & then once ’twas going, continuing not only seemed easy, it seemed easier than not stopping, like ’twas the new natural pattern, & that stopping would be hard — would lead the cameras to ask, ¿now why is she stopping?, & punish her further.
@ 1st she went in the same clockwise circle; but she found that as that pacing became the new normal, it no longer fed her fix for action, & she found her heart pounding ’gain @ the prospect o’ suddenly turning the other direction. She could imagine the cameras saying to themselves, ¿now why is she going in the other direction? But this time she didn’t care — no, she was glad to… ¿to rue them?. She could already feel her slip on her English slipping. She gripped her arm tightly, & then feels something, & it feels good. Yeah yeah yeah. Heh heh. They can’t stop me here. She digs her nails into her arm & it feels like she’s running through the mountains on a cool dawn — not the blistering summer sauna this shit hole be — with a sack o’ treasures on her back. Feels like… apple pie… with chocolate pudding on top. All I want — I can have it all if I just imagine it. They can’t take that. What they call a total lack o’ light I call a blank canvas.
She swung her head to a corner & says in a quiet mutter — though what she thinks is a shout — That’s the hole.
& she begins pressing her body into the corner, expecting for hours any minute now to pop through like a ghost & fall into refreshing water.
When Edgar could absorb himself into his Pride and Prejudice, he felt like he could be content. But his mind kept slipping back to his cold storm drain & the tepid light o’ his lamp that Autumn had gotten him that felt mo’ like a spotlight on him, so that the dangers lurking outside could see him, but he couldn’t see them. & yet, he was deathly ’fraid o’ the light going out, leaving him dead to all senses ’cept that 1 he tried to stifle the most, his thoughts.
To his greater guilt, Edgar found an upside to Autumn being gone: he had ’scuses for putting off the questions that Dawn had called ’pon him to ask, questions that could ruin him, as if the fear that ruin was just a step ’way wasn’t already on his pate.
He wasted too much time trying to measure a balance o’ visiting Dawn — an indulgence sinful in multiple ways. He began to feel like it’d be rude if he took too long to visit her, as if blowing her off; & yet, every visit felt like ’nother nail dug into Autumn. & his breath caught on the thought o’ what would happen once Autumn returned from jail. Most certainly he would simply stop visiting Dawn, tossing her ’way like rubbish, the way he had now with Autumn. Maybe Autumn wouldn’t care whether he continued visiting her — or maybe she would, & just wouldn’t say anything, becoming gradually embittered toward him. &, anyway, it’d be an odd sudden change, to want to visit this stranger o’ hers just like that, & this oddity would want an explanation, if only ’cause you couldn’t just stand there doing things that had no explanation. But he wasn’t like Autumn, who could ’splain the deep threads o’ logic o’ her whole life philosophy & make it seem right, while also leaving one feeling like there was a 95% still unexplained. He wasn’t logical, but a churning soup o’ emotions.
& then there were those facts that refused to surface, — facts that were silent, but gave you meaningful looks — facts ’bout what he’d feel when he looked @ snippets o’ Autumn & Dawn that made him feel equally silly for being trite ’nough to see the snippets & for trying to stifle his sights like a medieval monk. Whatever he chose to do felt wrong in its own way, & that he was missing some integrity that kept him from acting right, e’en if Autumn or Dawn assured him it wasn’t — assured him, perhaps as Autumn might, that “wrong” was wrong itself, an irrationality. But Edgar wasn’t logical, but, ’gain, a cauldron o’ emotions, & everything in emotions was in right & wrong.
He wished he could have Autumn’s smoothness o’ social interraction that treated anyone else as just ’nother that happened to be there, not a mystery that could save his life or destroy him. E’en if that smoothness was probably a façade, that façade was better protection that what he had.
As if the Programmers were giving their own opinion on the issue, while ’twas sunny on her incarceration, ’twas pouring ’pon her release. She didn’t pay much attention to it. She didn’t pay much attention to anything. Her mind was so tired.
But her mind was quite alert to movement — though lazy, her mind knew ’twas lazy, & jerked in reaction to anything quick ’nough to catch it. After a delay, her mind recognized the movement as Edgar, the skeleton, sitting up from ’side the wall & closing a book. He was ’fraid as he looked @ her & walked toward her.
¿Autumn?. Edgar stopped.
¿Are you all right?.
Autumn stared @ Edgar, her face cracking in fear. ’Twas cold, but she feared tightening her jacket, feared movement would somehow only bring mo’ coldness. E’en talking felt like it’d be freezing. ¿Could she do it? ¿What would she say? ¡She could say anything! ¡Think o’ all the quadrillions o’ possible strings o’ syllables she could make, & she could do it! ¿How could this be? ¡Think o’ the billions o’ different actions she could do! ¿How could this be?
But with the septillion things she could do or say came a septillion unpredictable consequences that made her quail @ just the thought. No, ’twas safer to do nothing. She didn’t want to leave her warm bed, her warm bath, her warm womb.
¿Autumn? ¿What’s wrong?.
Things are happening… ¿Why do things insist on happening?.
¿Autumn? ¿Can we talk?.
Autumn’s pupils sank. She shook her head & said with barely a voice,
No, as if a muffled mummy.
Edgar stepped back.
I’m sorry… ¿Are you mad @ me?.
Autumn shook her head.
¿You’re not?. Edgar looked mo’ surprised now. ¿What was he planning?
¿You want me to leave?, asked Edgar.
Autumn waited a few minutes.
Then she slowly shook her head.
Edgar gripped himself by his robe tightly.
Autumn, ¿can I just a-ask you a question? It’ll probably sound stupid, but….
Autumn didn’t respond.
Autumn…. Edgar took deep breaths as he turned his head in every direction & wrung his bony hands together.
¿Do you pity me?.
Autumn blinked for a few seconds. Then she broke up into laughter — a laughter so strong, it caused her to bend o’er, a laughter so strong it caused her to pound her knees, a laughter so strong that tears began to spill from her eyes, that spittle began to spray from her mouth, a laughter so strong it felt like vigorous sex in its guttural, wheezy in-&-out, that made her sweat so much that the cold air became refreshing now, waking her from her solid state.
But then she looked up @ Edgar & saw him shake in hollow-eyed fear, & she began to shake with the same expression.
O god… Edgar… Y-you ne’er left that, that storm drain, ¿did you?. The last 2 words were flatter than the rest.
¿What? No… Well, hardly. All your stuff is safe; don’t worry.
Autumn clutched her forehead. She wasn’t looking @ Edgar, but @ the storm drain kilometers ’way.
¿What’s wrong? I swear nothing’s missing… We… You can go there now & see….
Autumn looked @ Edgar.
I’m so sorry, Edgar….
Edgar jerked back.
¿For what? ¿What’s wrong?.
Autumn paused in thought. Though her mind was weak, she felt it building its baby muscles back. & ’twas thinking constantly, Change, change, change…, like a perfectly sensible foreigner just unable to ’splain itself.
Then she looked Edgar in the eyes & said,
Let’s go home.
Autumn’s brows rose.
That’s what you want, ¿right?.
Edgar stared @ her for a few seconds, & then gripped his sleeve & said,
Yeah… That’d probably be best.
Yes. Autumn nodded. Then, to Edgar’s incrementing shock, her eyes darkened. She added,
We’re ready. Let’s go right inside that damn storm drain.
& then she gripped Edgar’s arm tightly & led him ’way, eyes staring vacantly off forward.
Edgar, staring uncertainly @ both her & the road before them said,
I’ll ne’er understand what happened to you in there, ¿will I?.
Edgar felt liquid slide down his cheek. @ 1st he thought ’twas a rain drop that somehow fell in through the hole meters ’way, but then heard a few heavy inhales ’hind his ear.
However, the whisper that came after was still level & deep:
I’m sorry it’s this way.