Paper Mushy

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Nineteen

“I’m sick, mama. I can’t go to school.”

Ianchelle placed her hand over the top of Special’s head. “You do feel warm, but the thermometer says you don’t have a fever.”

“But I don’t feel good! My stomach hurts.”

“Ok. Ok.”

Special rolled over in bed. Ianchelle took the thermometer from Special’s mouth and looked at it again.

“If you stay home, then that means I will have to as well. Are you really that sick?”

“Yes, mama. Just let me rest.”

“You should drink some water or at least try to eat something.”

“I’ll have a drink but I’m not hungry. Can you bring me some water?”

“Yes.”

Ianchelle leaned down and kissed Special’s forehead. Special quickly sat up and rubbed her eyes when Ianchelle went to go get the water.

It was all an act, but at the same time, it wasn’t.

She did feel sick, sick enough not to eat or move or do anything productive. Sometime in the early morning, Shawn had come back. He was currently in the living room watching one of his shows. This unexpected arrival threw a wrench into Special’s plans. It was supposed to be one week before he showed up. Why was he here today? What was he planning?

There was one thing that kept nipping at her as she lay in bed. She was going to have to persuade her mama to let her go to her play spot. This meant that some part of the truth would have to be revealed. Any part of it was going to sound like foolishness, but what choice did she have? She owed her mama at least that much for making her miss work.

Ianchelle came back with a glass of water and some toast. Special drank the water but didn’t eat the toast. She shut her eyes and tried to get some sleep again, but all she could think about was Shawn in the other room. It was like having a bomb in your house with no timing device. You never know when it’s going to go off, you only know that someday, it will.

While Special was working on her acting skills, I was waking up from one of the worst nights of sleep in my life. I have slept in some God-forsaken places, but the patio chair on that cement pad was an abomination. My legs and arms ached. My back was a disaster. My knees sounded like the 4th of July when I stood up. I was feeling my age and then some. The unfinished paper mushies were all around me, undisturbed. I didn’t bother counting them again; they all looked to be there.

The first thing I wanted to do was get some water. There were two options based on my location: the drinking fountain at Save A Lot, or a free water at McDonald’s. If I went to Save A Lot I would have to take the pedestrian bridge over the freeway. It was in the opposite direction as Special’s house. Something inside of me—intuition maybe—told me that I would be better off going to McDonald’s and getting a water. A big tall one, too.

I started walking, slowly at first. My legs were still thinking they were asleep. I wasn’t sure of the exact time, but based on the sun’s location I guessed it was around 9:30 AM. Believe it or not, you don’t need a phone to tell the time. The birds were singing away in the field and a squirrel was making a mad dash up a tree. Everything was fully awake except for me.

I don’t know if part of my brain was still asleep, but when I first looked over at Special’s house I didn’t see Shawn’s Nova. All I saw was that someone was watching TV in the living room. I thought this was odd, because Special should have been in school and Ianchelle should have been at Ace of Fades. I stopped, looked closer, and finally, my eyes adjusted and saw the Nova parked in the driveway. My heart began to beat faster. My lungs were struggling to breathe. Shawn was back, much earlier than anticipated. What did this do to Special’s plan?

I thought hard for a minute about what to do. There were no great options, but I knew one thing was certain: the paper mushies needed to be painted as soon as possible. Special had skipped the painting on a few of her earlier creations, but she was adamant that this batch receive the full treatment.

My pace quickened, and the usual hellos and howdy-doos that I delivered in the morning were nonexistent. I kept my head and eyes down to avoid any person wanting to make conversation (most rarely do, although, you’d be surprised how many people want to know your life story). I arrived at Mcdonald’s parched and fatigued. I purchased my free water as well as a hot apple pie with a dollar I had earned on Outer Drive East. The large water was going to do the trick. It would be enough to quench my thirst and supply the base for the watercolor paints.

There was no time to linger, so I carried the water and ate the apple pie on the road. Shawn’s Nova was still at Special’s house. I ascertained that the reason Shawn was back before he had planned was that he owed money too. It made sense that Ianchelle wasn’t the only person he had given money to with the promise of it being returned with interest. But all of that money had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere needed to be paid. I wasn’t positive about any of this. It was just a thought. Makes sense, though, don’t you think?

The paper mushies were right where I left them. I took a couple of large gulps from the water and set the cup on the cement pad. I had told the McDonald’s employee no ice, but wouldn’t you know it, they loaded it up anyway. The paintbrush for the watercolors wasn’t very big. It was going to be a long morning, but I owed it to the girl to get the job done.

Black, brown, and white were the main colors I stuck with for a while. The white paint slowly turned grey because I was using the same brush for everything. It was hard to cover all of the indents and folds on the hardened newspaper. Paint would either get bottled up, or it wouldn’t get in there at all. There are many hidden talents that I possess. Artistry is not one of them.

The black, brown, and white (now grey) colors soon ran out. I was only halfway done. My first thought was to leave the others unpainted, but that wasn’t what Special had intended. She wasn’t just going for accuracy, she was going for unique. Like her past creations, she hadn’t opted for the obvious choice. There was a wide gamut of colors and she would have wanted me to use them all.

So I did.

I started with green, then moved to orange. I shifted toward purple when those two ran out. I hummed Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” and got a little carried away. If someone were to drop in at that moment, they surely would have hauled me away to the nuthouse.

Purple ran out, which left me with red, yellow, and pink. I had about twelve paper mushies left so I split the colors three ways and let everything dry. Special had used various magazine clippings to supply the paper mushies with clothes. I didn’t have magazines with me, but there had been some ads tucked inside the newspapers that I had set aside. I found the scissors and began cutting shirts and pants from the ads.

The last thing I did was to work on the faces. The paper mushies needed to have individual expressions to match their colorful bodies. Special had used a Sharpie before to make the eyes. This time, she had brought bags of wiggly eyes. They were already kind of freaky looking, so imagine how scary they were going to be when they came alive. I glued them on the heads, then took the Sharpie and drew crescent moons for the mouths. My first completed face was a laughable catastrophe, but I’d be lying if I didn’t think it was sort of charming. There are no straight lines in nature. The same goes for any kind of art made by yours truly.

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