It was happenstance that I passed by Special’s house when Shawn pulled out of the driveway. The tires on his Nova ripped through the street, sending stones and twigs and God knows what into the sky. I was carrying the three paper mushies in a paper sack I had acquired from Motown Coney Island (great dogs if you’re ever in the area). I sat next to Special’s window waiting for her to come back into her room.
It felt like hours, and maybe it was hours, before Special finally did come back. Her blinds were closed, but I could tell she was pacing by her bed. Every time she passed by the window I thought about saying hello. Instead, I kept quiet. She needed time to think about whatever she was thinking about.
She needed space.
The moon was full that night. It cast a white glow onto everything. I was beginning to get uncomfortable, so I decided to call it a night, but not before leaving the paper sack at the bottom of her window. I stood up and tapped on the glass twice like I had every morning when we made the exchange. Then, I ran the fastest I had run in maybe twenty years.
Special heard the strange tap on her window and opened the blinds. She noticed the brown paper sack nestled against the siding of her house. She opened the window and pulled the sack inside. Out came the three paper mushies, standing in a line. It wasn’t enough to stop her crying, but it did make her smile.
The paper mushies climbed on top of the bed. Special followed. She didn’t want to play or take notes about their learned behaviors. She just wanted to sit—sit and think.
How could these inanimate objects—these things made out of paper and scraps—contain more soul than someone like Shawn? How could someone exist to be so cruel? How could he even stand to look in the mirror every day?
Special was breaking down slowly. Piece by piece, she was falling apart, like the paper mushies would if we fell asleep. Too much had gone wrong to make what had gone right feel satisfying. She was beginning to hate what was good, because what was good wasn’t stopping the bad.
The paper mushies stood idle on the bed. Looking into their innocent eyes, eyes that Special had created and placed deliberately, hurt her. Those eyes might have been able to see her, but they didn’t know her. Seeing and knowing were two completely different things. Those eyes didn’t know pain, loss, or what she was going through.
“Certainly you can do more than stare at me?” She had never spoken to them like this before, so spiteful with her words. “Certainly there’s more to you than that?”
Restless leg syndrome got the best of her. She dug her heels into the mattress. The sheets got balled up at the end of the bed. Some mornings, she would wake up and find her bedding all twisted up. She thought it was ironic how her legs could tie better knots than her shoes.
The paper mushies moved their attention to her legs. They tried to evade her rogue movements, but a few times it was unavoidable. They seemed unsure of whether or not it was alright to be knocked over.
“Touch,” Special said.
The black one touched her leg first, then the white one, then the brown. It was a light pat with little force.
She wanted to push them further.
The white and brown one touched her leg again, but this time it was quicker, more oomph behind it. The black one did the same. The force coming from their wooden hands startled Special. She had never tested their strength or their loyalty like this.
The paper mushies did nothing. They remained still, as if they had heard her wrong.
Again, nothing happened.
Special pulled down her sock, exposing her bare ankle. “I said cut!”
The paper mushies jerked their arms quickly, cutting into her skin. A splotch of blood twinkled like glitter. It seeped into her sock, staining it red. It hurt bad, but she embraced the hurt. She wanted the hurt.
Their arms went faster now, back and forth like a saw, deeper into the cut. Blood dripped down onto the bed. Eyes that had seemed innocent moments ago looked dark and full of rage. They weren’t eyes; they were black holes to nowhere.
The paper mushies lifted their wooden hands, stained red with blood. The three cuts on Special’s leg continued to bleed. She picked up the paper mushies and held them close to her face.
“I’m sorry I made you do that. I’m so sorry.”
She pushed them against her face, an embrace of forgiveness. There was a box of Kleenex next to the bed. She had the paper mushies help clean up her wounds. It was better than sneaking out to find a Band-Aid. The last thing she remembered before falling asleep were the sheets being pulled back up over her body.
The next morning, three paper mushies were disintegrated next to her pillow. The wood had splintered. The paper had broken apart into identical pieces. They were dead just like the rest of them were, but this time Special felt nothing. She was thinking about something else. It was what Mr. Potmis said a week ago when she had showed him the paper mushies.
If I had the power to create living things out of paper, I might try to make something that could put an end to all of my problems.
If three paper mushies could draw blood, then what could ten do?
What could a hundred do?
She needed more.
More paper mushies.
But where could she get that many supplies—the exact supplies that she needed? She didn’t want to spend her mama’s money. She had already made her mama stay home from work one day. Her money was precious. It couldn’t be wasted.
“There is a place,” she said, beginning to think it through. It had everything she needed. And sure, it was locked. Sure, the key was hidden, but not to her. No, it was always right there in the top drawer, where only she and Mrs. Woodfork knew about it. She couldn’t ask for the supplies again. She had already asked for too much.
She was going to have to take them.