Paper Mushy

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Thirteen

The week went by quickly.

Special watched the paper mushies during the day; I watched them during the night. We’d share stories about something new that they did. Special saw them holding hands before climbing into her bag. I nearly fell asleep one night, but was awakened by a light tap on my shoulder. The paper mushies were trying to keep me up. It was like they knew they would die if I fell asleep. They weren’t tied to one specific person; they were tied to both of us, as long as we were awake.

“They seem to be learning,” I told Special. “They seem to be getting smarter.”

“I know,” she said. “And they’re growing.”

“Huh?”

“I measure them every day. They’re a half-inch taller than when I made them.”

“That’s impossible.”

“It’s not. I used mama’s measuring tape and I’m sure they’re taller.”

There I was, thinking it was absurd that the paper mushies were growing, when I didn’t even know how they were coming alive in the first place.

I visited the Kresge Library at Oakland University during one of my shifts with the paper mushies. The library was open 24/7 on the weekdays. I knew one of the workers on staff there and they allowed me to use the Internet on one of their computers. I was interested to see if there were other stories about papier-mâché creations coming to life. If something like this had happened to another child, then maybe there was mention of it online. People would have probably made fun of the individual—classify it under a UFO or ghost sighting.

I kept the paper mushies inside my coat, hoping they would keep still. They did a fairly good job, except for one moment where they inadvertently tickled my stomach and I shouted. An old man shouting inside a library at night is apparently not a rare occurrence because nobody batted an eye at me. I also might have been the only one there, which would explain the lack of response. I couldn’t find any stories similar to Special’s. Who has ever heard of such a thing? I expanded my search beyond just papier-mâché things and found a few stories about toys coming to life. One of the stories was traced back to a What If? essay a third-grader had completed for an assignment. Another story dealt with a boy’s experience after watching Toy Story 4 at the theater. “My toys came to life!” he had told his parents late in the night. He wasn’t technically lying, but it was safe to say that his parents never bought him battery-operated cars again. Nothing on the Internet correlated with what Special and I were going through. For that, I was very glad.

I need to caution you before getting to this next part. There have been periods in my life where things were going very well. My mother used to have a term for it:

The brights.

The brights could be a long period—months, even years. They also could be brief moments throughout the day. Whatever the case, the brights were easily identifiable as happy occasions that built on one another; a progressive bliss that overshadowed the bad things that were happening in your life. For Special, the brights started the day when Ivory came to life. For me, it was when I first met Ariel. The brights made us smile a little more than usual; they made us sleep like babies. But like all great things, the brights never last. They can wither away slowly like a forgotten dream, or they can crash down hard like a hammer pounding on wood.

For Special, it was much, much worse than that.

It was cold and black out (that time of day where no one can truly say whether it’s night or morning) when Shawn returned on Saturday. He barged through the front door and into the kitchen. Special sat up in her bed, thinking a burglar was breaking into her house.

“Who is it? What’s going on?” Ianchelle said, half awake.

The refrigerator door slammed. “Got any food around here? I’m starving,” Shawn said.

Special had almost forgotten about Shawn. Living without him for a week had made her realize what a joy it was to be rid of his presence. But now, he was here.

And he was angry.

She slid out of bed and sat with her back up against her bedroom door. She wanted to hear what was going on, but she didn’t want to be in the middle of it.

“Shawn, it’s 3:00 AM. What are you doing here?” Ianchelle said.

“Where are those leftovers you usually keep in the fridge?”

“We don’t have any leftovers.”

“Why not? Bitch, I’m hungry.”

“Would you like me to make you something?” There was a pause. “Are you hurt? What happened to your hand?”

“Nothing.”

A chair was being pulled away from the table. Shawn must have sat down. Special wondered what his hand looked like. Had he been injured?

“I need some of my money tonight. It’s not a debate and I’m only asking once.”

“You can’t just barge in here and expect me to hand you check. It’s the middle of the night!”

“Well, whether you were expecting it or not, I’m here and I’m gonna need that money.”

“I don’t have it. I didn’t know you were coming. You should have—”

Something was thrown into the wall next to Special’s door. The wood vibrated behind her head.

“I told you I was only going to ask once! Where is it?”

“Shawn, wait … No! Special!”

Hearing her name said with such piercing resonance made all of the hairs on Special’s body stand up. She threw open her bedroom door and rushed into the kitchen.

Shawn was pointing a gun at Ianchelle.

“Where’s my money?” Shawn said.

Ianchelle saw Special and put her hands over her mouth. “Oh, God,” she said. “Shawn! Put it down. Special’s awake! She’s here.”

“Let her watch. Maybe she’ll learn something.”

“Put the gun down now!”

Special was frozen. She could usually say what she wanted to say in moments of high stress, but this time, all that came out were tears. She crossed her legs and hunched over, unable to conjure up a single word.

“Maybe if I pointed the gun at her you’ll listen to me!”

Shawn swung the gun over to Special. Her body began to shake. The air around her suddenly became thicker and was rank of wickedness. She could feel that gun. Even though it was across the kitchen, she could feel it as though it was being pressed into her skin. It felt cold. It felt …

All-powerful.

“Don’t point that thing at her!” Ianchelle said. “Oh, please don’t!”

“Is this what it’s going to take for you to pay me back?” Shawn said.

“Oh, please. Point it at me! Don’t point it at her. Point it at me!”

“One week, Chelle …” He moved the gun back in her direction. “And I’m gonna need that money. All of it.”

Special’s eyes were foggy and she peed her pants a little. She wanted to run over and hug her mama, but her body was frozen solid, stuck to the floor.

“One week. And if you even think of talking to the police, I’ll know. They can’t save you. They don’t care about people like you. You disgust them.”

Shawn’s parting gift wasn’t a goodbye or a vulgar comment, it was a punch to the ribs. Ianchelle keeled over and fell to the floor.

For the first time, Special cried out: “Mama!”

She ran over to Ianchelle and wrapped her arms around her. The two of them stayed on the floor for a while. Maybe they were too sore to stand up. Maybe it was the agony of defeat, the shame of getting up and knowing that what had been done to you couldn’t be erased, couldn’t be talked about or even made right with the law. Bad thoughts became thorns poking into her side.

Shawn abuses you because he thinks you’re lesser than him.

Shawn abuses you because you’re weak.

Shawn abuses you because he knows you’ll do nothing about it.

Lies.

Poisonous and evil things.

They swam around inside her head like fish going upriver to spawn. She wanted to rob a bank. She wanted to break something. She wanted her mama to get a gun and shoot Shawn. She wanted to not wake up tomorrow. Waking up meant reliving it over and over again.

The brights, as I said, always come to an end. But why, oh, why did they have to end so hard for her?

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