Paper Mushy

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Eleven

Convincing Mrs. Woodfork the second time was not as easy as the first. She had a lot of questions for Special. She wanted to know why Special needed more materials and why she hadn’t brought in her creations to be photographed and displayed on the art wall. Special was too clever to not have thought about these very questions the previous night. She had an answer for everything.

“I gave the paper mushies to a friend,” Special said. “I forgot that you wanted photos of them.”

They technically weren’t lies, but she was definitely tip-toeing into fibbing territory.

“I see,” Mrs. Woodfork said. “And why do you need more supplies?”

“One of the paper mushies fell apart and I need some more paper to fix up the side. I also wanted to make a few more for my friend. They would really appreciate it.”

Again, not lies, but Special’s toes were touching the line that separated truth from fiction. If she fully crossed over there was no going back.

“You can have a few more supplies, but that will have to be the last of it. I need to save them for future projects. The school has been cracking down on the art budget. It’s a shame because kids like you are so creative when we do art.”

“Thank you for being so nice, Mrs. Woodfork.”

Mrs. Woodfork pulled the key from her top drawer (same place as it always was) and opened up the supplies cabinet. For a brief second, Special imagined what she could do with the entire mother load of supplies that were in there.

Mrs. Woodfork shook open a grocery bag and set a few items inside. “This ought to be enough for what you need,” she said. “I put a few new things in there to see what you can come up with. I’ll keep the bag near my desk and give it to you at the end of the day.”

“Thank you! Thank you!”

“Why don’t you go play outside with the other kids at recess? There’s still some time left before the bell rings.”

Special skipped outside and went straight for the swings. One of them wasn’t being used (technically two, but the other was missing the black seat after the rusty chains had snapped from the rubber last week). She sat on the hot rubber and stuck out her legs, swinging high into the sky. The world went upside down. Blood rushed to her head and she felt like she was flying. Every once and a while she liked to look at things from a different point of view.

Ianchelle was cooking spaghetti and meatballs when Special arrived back home. She had the day off from Ace of Fades. The aroma of garlic bread was strong. Special had eaten three pieces of bread the last time her mama made some and it had given her a monster belly ache. She was going to try and keep it to only two today.

The familiar Glug! Glug! of Shawn’s Nova quickly made her appetite disappear. She tugged on Ianchelle’s shirt as she was stirring a pot of sauce.

“Mama, is he staying for dinner?” she asked.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t know.”

Special knew that Shawn was unpredictable. What he had said on the phone might end up being the opposite. There were times when she figured that even he didn’t know what his plans were going to be. Shawn was not a man of structure; he was an agent of chaos.

Shawn opened the front door and stayed near the entrance. He didn’t bother taking off his shoes or rushing over to the TV to turn it on. He looked to be in a hurry.

“Just stopping by to say that I’ll be gone for the week,” he said, giving two taps of the cigarette in his hand over the ashtray. “When do you get paid?”

“This Thursday,” Ianchelle said.

“Good.”

“You sure you don’t want to stay for dinner? We’re making spaghetti.”

“Can’t.”

He tossed the cigarette in the ashtray and shut the door. The last thing they both heard was his car peeling out of the driveway.

Special didn’t hide her emotions. She lept up and gave her mama a hug.

A whole week. It was too good to be true.

The two of them had a fantastic dinner with little leftovers. They hadn’t enjoyed a meal like that in a long, long time.

Special finished what little homework she had and got to work on her next paper mushy. She dumped out the supplies Mrs. Woodfork had given her onto the floor. There were a few unexpected things—things from past assignments or future ones that Special had yet to learn about. She remembered that Mrs. Woodfork had said that she wanted to see what she could come up with. One item interested her more than the others: a bag of wooden tongue depressors. She thought about the times she had to open her mouth and say AH! at the doctor’s office. The wood always made her tongue dry. She wondered what it was they were looking for. Was there something stuck back there, something that they didn’t know how to get out?

The bag of tongue depressors was dumped out, making a clatter on her bed sheets. Special had made a bird, a caterpillar, a ladybug, a turtle, and a wonderful, goofy alien. What she hadn’t made yet was a person, a little boy, or girl that could move and look like her. That was the kind of challenge she craved.

She picked out twelve tongue depressors and separated them into groups of four. Two were made into the shape of a cross, the torso and arms of her paper mushy human. The other two were made in the shape of an inverted V and set at the bottom of the torso. These were going to be the legs. She dabbed a few droplets of glue onto the areas where the arms and legs connected and repeated the process until there were three human stick figures on her bed.

While the glue dried, the entire paper mushy creating process was started again: cutting the newspaper into strips, making the papier-mâché paste, soaking the strips. The wet strips of newspaper were wrapped around the stick figures. Paste got smudged all over her bed. She didn’t know how she was going to explain that one to her mama.

The glue spilled, mama. The cap must have been loose!

Once the torso, arms, and legs were completely covered with newspaper, she used what was left to make their heads. She did this by continuously wrapping the strips of newspaper around the top of the tongue depressor until it was in the shape of a ball; albeit, a bumpy, odd-shaped ball, but to Special, it was perfect—perfectly human.

She took her three new creations and hid them in her closet behind a stack of My Little Pony puzzles. The papier-mâché paste and other leftover pieces from her project were thrown in the wastebasket. She put her hands on her hips and looked at the comforter, wondering what she was going to do. It was a silly problem to have, especially since Shawn was gone and the kitchen table had been available for the project. But Special had made a promise with me and she was going to do her best to keep it, even if it meant hiding things from her mama, even if it meant crossing into fibbing territory, a place she had hardly visited much until recently.

The next day was long and methodical. There were two tests at school: social studies and math. Social Studies was a breeze but Special bombed the math test. Question one had to do with multiplication and it was all downhill after that. Ace of Fades was even worse. A few of the women getting their hair cut talked so loud that Special wished for a pair of headphones. She stayed there so late that they had to pick up dinner on the way home at Wendy’s. Ianchelle didn’t let Special get a Frosty, which made her burger and fries a lot less enjoyable than they should have been.

Finally home, finally alone, Special got to work again. She pulled the three paper mushy humans out of her closet. They were hardened and dry. She also took out the My Little Pony puzzles they had been hiding behind. They were going to be the backdrop while she painted. No more spills on the bedsheets or carpet. The boxes would get ruined, but the My Little Pony phase had been over with for years. These days, it was all about Shuri and Okoye from Black Panther. She couldn’t decide which one she wanted to be more: Okoye with her sharp spear, or Shuri with her cool hand lasers.

Special went to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water. She was excited to finally use the watercolor paints she hadn’t been able to use on the other paper mushies. But which colors? Yellow mixed with brown? White mixed with a dash of orange? Black to make them look like her?

She opted for all three.

She took a magazine (swiped from the Ace of Fades waiting area) and started cutting clothing for her black, white, and brown paper mushies. The brown person was going to be a man with shorts and a t-shirt. The white person was going to be a woman with long pants and a sweatshirt. The black person was going to be a little girl with a cocktail dress and bow in her hair.

Special convinced Ianchelle to let her go to her play spot that evening.

“As long as Mr. Potmis is there and as long as you don’t stay out too late,” she said. “And as long as you take off your shoes before you come inside.”

“Yes, mama,” Special said. “Yes to all three.”

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