Hello again. Well, I think I’m starting to get a grasp on this story, and it’s flowing easier than before. If you feel up to it, post a reply to let me know what you think. One comment out of hundreds of views is somewhat discouraging.
Chapter 3 Don couldn't quite fit his head around it. Not that his head was very small - just that what Mrs. Cooper had said was difficult to swallow. And still a part of him - a larger part every minute - was believing her, though he'd never even met the girl. Angie, as Mrs. Cooper had insisted he call her, had shown him a picture of Grace, and he had come to admit that there was indeed something chilly about her. Something about how the edges of her lips curled a bit too much when she smiled, as if there was someone inside of her, pulling her skin apart. It was she, Angie had claimed, who was responsible for her mother's unusual problems. She who decided that her mother should never have friends unless she gave up the one shred of the past she had left - Grace herself. And as the story had come into form, the pieces began to fit together, though the picture itself was misshapen and confusing. Angie had said vaguely: "Grace has the ability to control people in a very intimate way." She meant not they themselves, of course - no, not their thoughts or their deliberate actions, but the small muscles that hide in the most private fashion, confined under mounds of clothing, embarrassed by their own existence. Another confidence, hushed and almost forbidden, "She can make people wet themselves, or… worse, as it happened." "Uh," he had nodded comprehension. Superficially, the impact of that didn't seem devastating to Don, though certainly strange and humiliating. But worse things have happened, right? People kill, people die, people hurt and torture people - surely making someone lose control of their bowels isn't the worst thing that one person could do to another. But, as Angie would have it, it took over every aspect of her life. Grace was a sadist. She would embarrass her mother at the most crucial moments. When she went shopping. When she had a friend over. When she had to get to work in the morning. When she tried to meet men. When she brought one home. When she was in bed with them. Of course, the embarrassment itself wasn't the whole schmeer. She quickly became a recluse, avoiding the outside world in a coma-like state of numb fealty to her own daughter. There were things she could have done to keep on with a normal life, but she felt compelled to keep Grace under watch all of the time, afraid she might get loose and wreak havoc on some other poor soul. And other people didn't want to be near her and her daughter, anyways. Odd things happened to them, too, that they found quite disturbing and very embarrassing indeed. Angie lost everyone who had any meaning left to her. All she had to cling to was Grace, so she made due with what she had. She raised Grace with all the decency she could muster, all the begrudging love she could afford, and hoped against hope that Grace would grow up to be a good person, a gracious daughter, a reflection of the world they had both lost. After all, she had her father's crinkling eyes when she smiled, and his infectious laughter when rarely it was heard. Angie had begun to cry, saying over and over, "But she didn't. Oh, God forgive me - she didn't." Mrs. Cooper seemed almost possessed by the idea that her daughter was some kind of monster. By the way that she described her questionable parenting methods, Grace's personality fit quite snugly within human measures, albeit a more antisocial region. She was simply a sad kid from a broken home who turned angry. And when she turned angry, she made people shit their pants. Don had to laugh. Was the whole idea plausible? Not really. Did it make a sick kind of sense? Not really. But Angie seemed to be a very sane person, despite her incapacities. If she really was crazy, Don couldn't tell. He didn't think she was, but her story was unarguably bizarre in it's own right, and he had to make very careful evaluations, consider it with deepest censure. But if what she said was true, it would be a very interesting case, indeed. The case of a girl who was able to make someone - anyone - do their business in their pants. And all she had to do was stare at them, and do the same thing herself.
Her father used to sing a lullaby in strained monotonic soliloquy:
When the sun drops out of sight,
And stars twinkle in the night,
When the birdies fly to rest,
There’s a place I love the best:
Daddy’s lap, 'cause it’s my nest.
“Lulla, lullaby.” She hummed it to herself in the shower, accompanied in metronomics by water splashing from her spout and two others, booming and chanting: Rub-a-dub-dub, three girls in a shower.
The place wasn’t half bad, actually, compared to the last one. Two girls a room - and Serenity even got to spend the first night alone. Sleep 'til nine. Softball. And you could buy smokes from Lindsay pretty cheap, although strangely they were all Chinese or Russian.
Serenity allowed her eyes to roam around the mangy shower hall. Grace had done a pretty shitty job of cleaning the place up. She hadn’t been there for breakfast the day before, either, not that her presence was missed. When she’d finally reappeared for lunch, she was there well before anyone else, slouching in a fake primly fashion while Serenity and all the other girls made a point of giving her the largest berth possible.
Again, Serenity had felt bad for her, but did her best to repress the feeling. Grace just seemed so quiet and sad, nebbish - much different from the boisterous girl she’d met on the bus. Anyways, Serenity had made a few friends already - other girls with bruises on their faces or on their thighs and arms, girls who didn’t try to hide their hatred and contempt for those who rightly deserved it. They sat together and ate their food, laconic and cold, but harmonious in their companionship and silent empathy.
After lunch, Serenity had discovered who her roommate was to be for the duration of the camp. Grace flagged her down before she could do anything about it. Serenity stood incongruous, scowling as the girl smilingly told her the news. “Hey, I got assigned to your room. Last night they made me sleep on a cot in the bathroom 'cause they said I did a shitty job. But now I get a nice, warm bed, close to my buddy from the bus ride,” and she beamed. “Hey, dibs on the bottom bunk, I don’t like heights.” And she took off, almost skipping. Serenity mollified herself with silent vituperations, and turned around with a sour, snide construction built on her lips. That night, Grace had been asleep by the time Serenity was sent in for bed.
Incidentally, she’d been assigned a couple of jobs. Everyone was required to work outside for at least three hours a day, doing manual labour. She watered the flowers, kept the garden and trimmed the shrubs. Another of her responsibilities was laundry, which she shared with three other girls, one of whom was Grace. They spoke frugally, if at all. On top of that, she was required to attend individual and group counseling on rotating days to help her deal with her “inner demons”. Yeah, right.
The water gently died as she fit the knob into it’s resting notch. She wiped her body dry and wrapped her towel around it like a chalice to hold her privacy. She walked over to a mirror, and her breath steamed against it as she tendered her jaw. She wondered how long it would be before the newest bruises left. Her father had always insisted she looked pretty in purple.
After drying her hair, she slipped into her white colours and went to perform her morning laundry duties. The hallways were long and bare, and echoed the small squeaks of her sneakers like a confused tide. Turning a corner, Serenity almost ran into the fat woman who commanded the place, whose name was Bertha Betts. “That’s Mizz Betts for all you kids,” she had insisted at the initial assembly.
Her voice was almost a man’s. “Hmm, Mizz Kravtzov. You’re looking well today. I hope you’re on your way to the laundry room. You’re - hmm, five minutes late, by my count.” And she smiled glumly, a mixture of kindness and disappointment. Serenity almost felt bad. The large woman, though she insisted she had to make an imposing impression on the first day, was actually quite compassionate, especially to someone like Serenity. As her counselor, she had divulged to Serenity that she, too, had had a tough youth. Her parents hadn’t been the nicest people, she had said, and left it brooding there. She could be a bully, though, if she didn’t take a liking to someone. She’d already been seen berating Grace, her latest victim. Incidentally, Serenity didn’t know what to think of her.
“Um, right. Sorry.” Serenity still perceived the woman as an authority figure, and thus felt an obligation to resent her. Miss Betts nodded, reminded Serenity of their meeting later that day, and clicked around the corner and out of sight.
The laundry room was the freshest smelling place in the whole building. Sheets wavered in synthetic wind amongst soft redolence. The four girls were inspired to a calm agreeableness. They moved mounds of clothing gently from pile to pile, machine to machine, and struck their hands together afterwards, looking on in satisfaction. Today, Serenity could feel Grace’s stare grazing itself on the back of her neck. Annoyed, she turned to face the girl, her expression a challenge. Grace bowed her head forward slightly and raised her eyebrows, and her eyes darted from side to side nervously. She opened her mouth to talk, but nothing came out and she blushed and turned around. Serenity rolled her eyes.
She finished her duties in the laundry room and took off for lunch, and afterwards went to her meeting with Miss Betts. The woman disregarded the contours of her chair rudely, as if they did not exist, and offended the craftsmanship of the fine frame. Still, she wore a thoughtful and considerate expression on her face, one that professed altruism and a lack of all personal concern. She smiled sympathetically as Serenity sat down across from her roughly. The girl had been privileged with a pack of gum for lunch and was gnashing a piece between her teeth.
Serenity jutted her jaw and set it, and placed her tongue behind her front lip, which was pursed in apathetic expectation. Miss Betts placed her hands together as if she was praying and maneuvered them just under the bridge of her nose. She pulled them down and folded her arms across each other before she spoke in her customarily scrupulous tone.
Serenity barely listened. She found that there was little of benefit in what the fat woman had to say. She’d heard it already a hundred different times from a hundred different councilors from a hundred different lives. It was all the same, and she fell into rhythm with the pulping gum mold in her teeth. Her eyes were drooping and she got the hiccups, which she never apologized for, and she discovered herself standing outside the door disoriented after the session. Miss Betts was patting her on the shoulder, saying “You’re alright, Miss Kravtzov. I think you’ll be okay.”
The consequential sneer was wasted on a wide white door swinging shut. Serenity had another hour to pass before dinner. The facility was one of the country’s best, and had a lot of things for the girls to do. Things to inspire creativity, intelligence, and ambition - things to turn each and every one of them into an empowered and informed member of society. Serenity squeaked her way to the piano room, a small rehearsal stall with bare walls and a freshly varnished, dark brown grand piano. She had been enrolled in lessons by her parents when she was just five years old. She had played for eight years, and then quit to spite them. She was quite good, she had been told, and her voice accompanied the cadences with a donation of drama and pain supplied by her charitably hard young life.
She brushed her hair from her eyes and sat on the firm gentle wood, clearing her voice of cobwebs. She hadn’t done this in three years and her hands shook with anticipation as they pressed against the ivory keys. The notes tumbled like a child rolling down a hill, chuckling until it had a bad bounce, and her voice choked out,
"Someone found the future as a statue
In a fountain at attention looking backward
In a pool of water wishes with a blue songbird
On his shoulder who keeps singing over everything
And she stopped, vulnerably and soft. Her hands cast down across her face and she stood up abruptly, clattering the bench to the floor. She tore the door open and ran to her room and shoved her pillow against her face, waiting for the tears to die as she slowly, painfully descended into dreams.
Grace tapped Serenity on the shoulder and woke her up. Her face was streaked and puffy red, as if it had been crying. Grace made her mouth as small as possible and whispered that it was supper time, and Serenity was already five minutes late. She grabbed a Kleenex, dabbed it in a bit of water and handed it to the bruised girl, who snatched it from her and tossed it across the room, and lay firmly back under her pillow, her angry voice muffled, "Fuck off, I'm not hungry." Grace lingered for a moment and tried to catch a glimpse of Serenity's face beneath the pillow. An arm extended slowly with a hand attached to it that had it's middle finger raised. She took the hint. No-one ever wanted to sit with Grace during meals, though that didn't really bother her. While she gnawed on her bread and stew she watched the girls around her and listened to them talking. None of them really had anything interesting to say, but the rumbling noise was comforting. She ate quickly and created a makeshift boat with her napkin, plate and spoon. The spoon was the mast, and she bit a smiley face into it to be the lookout. She smiled and sailed it across the table and let it clatter to the floor, feeling pleasantly immature. When supper was finished, she reported outside. Today she was planting trees and tilling gardens. She left her body and let it work while she retreated into something more pleasant. After work, she grabbed a water bottle and went to the library to read for a while. She picked a large book from a low, stretching shelf and sat down with a plop. She fingered through the first few pages for the proper beginning. It was a book about psychology, and it had diagrams of brains and spinal cords, and others that shrank to the microscopic level of atoms and neurotransmitters and chains of axons. Grace found it highly interesting. She bit her lip absently and frowned as she read, and her hair played with her cheek. She came upon a section that showed a naked man with no penis and no skull, which provided a clear view of his brain. The sides were coloured blue and red to distinguish left from right. Both sides of the brain, it explained, had different functions. Basically, the right side felt emotion while the left side did all the thinking. Grace digested this, and when she looked up from her book and closed her left eye, everything was tinted red. Looking at the marooning clock, she realized she had spent the whole evening reading, and it was time to go back to the room that she shared with Serenity. She huffed in disappointment and placed the book back in its slot, nestled between volume two and the book end. There was a woman holding an attendance sheet at the door that led to the dorms. She stopped Grace for a moment to check her off the list, and a tall man escorted her to her room and locked the door behind her. There was a lump on the top bunk. Grace was unsure whether or not Serenity had gotten up to work after dinner. For her sake, she hoped she did. Grace settled into her bed and lit the warm bulb attached to the wall, spreading dim yellow vision across her sheets and the floor. She put on her headphones and lay back, staring at the metal bars that held Serenity's mattress above her own, and lost herself in the Latin cantata pounding her eardrums. "O, Fortuna," it cried, and she felt awash with passion and intensity. As the hour whittled away she folded herself out like a lawn chair and yawned luxuriously. A soft buzzing noise cackled through the air and her light went out, and the room was enveloped in darkness. She glued her eyelids open and let them adjust to the ebon gloom surrounding her. Everything remained how it was before. She got up slowly and felt around to assure herself of her bearings. Then she whispered softly to Serenity to see if she was still awake. She wasn't, so Grace stripped down to her underwear, finding it difficult not to smile. She was giddy with excitement. Grace could explain it no better than Mrs. Cooper or Mr. Metcalf - why she could do this thing to people, and why she had to wear something for it to work. It didn't make sense, but there it was, so Grace took advantage of it as much as she could. She allowed her bladder to relax slowly and stared at the lump on the bed. Serenity's forehead had peeked out from under the sheets, and Grace focused on it as her legs warmed and her feet sensed a foreign pool forming around them. When she was finished, she leaned theatrically towards Serenity with her hand cupping her ear, and was delighted by the faint rushing sound she heard. Wasting no time, Grace cleaned up her little mess, washed out her underwear in the sink and put it under her mattress to dry. She slipped another pair up her thighs and put on her pajama pants and a t-shirt. Under her sheets, she noticed that the mattress above her was dripping slowly onto her blanket. She fell asleep grinning.