Paper Mushy

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Six

As three o’clock bell rang, most of the students at Mason Elementary School skipped toward freedom. Not Special. She stayed behind to talk to Mrs. Woodfork. The empty and silent classroom was strange, like it wasn’t the same room anymore. Mrs. Woodfork’s desk was an old wooden thing that seemed to grow taller when Special walked up to it. By the time she reached the edge, she thought about standing on her tippy-toes, if only to not feel so small.

“Mrs. Woodfork?” Special said. She kept her arms behind her back, doing quick turns side-to-side to try and shake out the nerves.

Mrs. Woodfork was looking at some papers. She drew her eyes up toward Special. “Hello, Special. I didn’t know you were still here. How can I help you?”

“Mrs. Woodfork. Yesterday Iv—the paper mushy project that we did … well, mine got broken.”

“Oh, no. I’m sorry.”

“I was wondering if I could get some supplies from the art closet so I can make another paper mushy?”

“Of course! Let’s go and see what we have left.” Mrs. Woodfork pulled out a key from the top drawer of her desk. She stood up and walked over to a wooden cabinet. “I’m so glad that you had fun with the project. Some of the other students didn’t seem to catch on as you did.”

“Mama says I’m a fast learner.”

“Mama’s right. I like what you called them: paper mushy. That’s pretty fun.”

Special grinned.

Mrs. Woodfork unlocked the cabinet with her key. Inside, three rows were stuffed full of supplies, everything Special needed to make another Ivory.

“Help yourself. Only take what you need, though. Some of these supplies will be used for future projects.”

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Woodfork.”

“I hope you have a great weekend. Can’t wait to see what you come up with.”

“I’ll bring them to school Monday so you can see.”

“That would be great. I can take a picture of them for our art wall.”

Mrs. Woodfork went back to her desk and started sifting through some papers. Special unzipped her book bag and packed it with supplies, some of which she hadn’t used to make Ivory. She thanked Mrs. Woodfork for her kindness and ran outside to get on the bus. During the bus ride, she brainstormed what her new creations could be. A reptile seemed like a good idea. They were learning about reptiles in science. Perhaps a spider, although, spiders were scary. She didn’t want to make something that would frighten her if it came alive.

The bus stopped near Ace of Fades (late, of course) to let out Special. She had an extra hop in her step today, irking a man that had no intention of getting from here to there in a hurry.

“Watch it!” the man said, shaking his fist. “Slow down or you’ll trip!”

“It’s a great day, isn’t it?” Special said. She swung open the salon door. “Mama. She let me!”

Ianchelle was sweeping up a mess of hair on the floor. She stopped, put her hand on her hip, and pointed her finger, the ol’ ‘Told ya so’.

“I knew she would,” Ianchelle said. “What did you make this time?”

“Oh, I haven’t made anything yet.” She showed Ianchelle the supplies inside her book bag. “I was going to do it at home. Is that ok?” What she was really asking was is that ok with Shawn around?

“Of course it is! You can use the kitchen table.”

“For real?”

Ianchelle paused. “As long as you clean up afterward. Make sure to put something down so you don’t scratch the wood.”

“I will, mama. I promise!”

Dinner was Hamburger Helper leftovers (which tasted even better than yesterday—who knew?). Special wiped down the kitchen table with a washcloth when she was done and set her book bag full of supplies on a chair. She lay down some newspaper over the table to protect it just like her mama had asked her to. Things were bound to get messy. She planned to roll up the newspapers and throw them in the trash when she was done. The rest of the newspapers were torn into one-inch strips and set aside. They were going to be very important.

Making a paper mushy required a correct ratio of water and flour to be mixed into a bowl. Too much water and the paste would be runny; too much flour and it would be chunky. Special found a silver mixing bowl and set it on the table. Mrs. Woodfork had already filled plastic containers with flour, so she didn’t need to use any from the cupboard. Special dumped one container of flour into the bowl, then refilled the container with water from the sink. It was the best way to ensure that the water and flour ratio was equal. She stirred the ingredients with a wooden spoon, humming made-up melodies. The flour merged with the water, making the papier-mâché paste that would eventually coat her creations.

Mrs. Woodfork had explained to her students that there were many different methods for applying papier-mâché. A balloon, for example, offered a nice round surface for the newspaper to adhere to. That was what Special used to make Ivory. The problem with the ballon was that it only allowed her to make round things. Round things were fine, but they limited her creative potential. She was also bad at tying the ends of the balloons. They always deflated or flew away (last year’s birthday party being a prime example). And if one of them popped, she screamed.

Special opted for a different method. She pulled out various shapes of Styrofoam from her book bag and placed them on the table, waiting for the ideas to come to her. What did the shapes look like? What could she make them look like?

A bowl-shaped piece caught her attention first. She flipped it over and dragged it across the newspaper. “Turtle!” she said.

Idea Number One.

There was a tall cone that reminded her of a wizard’s hat. She held it over her head and giggled. She didn’t know what kind of animal looked like a cone, but maybe it didn’t need to be an animal. Maybe it could be something new, like an alien or a mystical creature from one of her fantasy books.

“Mystery.” She placed the cone off to the side.

Idea Number Two.

The next idea came to her by accident. After bouts of staring and wanting to give up, she crammed the Styrofoam pieces back into her book bag. One of them broke in half and fell onto the floor, spreading white dust all over. Special gasped. She grabbed a broom that was leaning against the refrigerator and started sweeping up the mess. It was then that she saw a funny shaped piece of Styrofoam that was perfect for Idea Number Three.

“Caterpillar!”

The fuzzy exterior reminded her of the caterpillars she found near her play spot. Their fur felt like the side of a couch when she pet them.

Before she began the arduous process of constructing the bodies, she turned on the radio to get some hits going. She bobbed her head and sat criss-cross applesauce in her chair.

First, she dipped the one-inch strips of newspaper into the papier-mâché paste. Next, she applied the soaked pieces of newspaper to the Styrofoam skeletons. A dry paintbrush was dragged across the pieces of newspaper until all of the bubbles and smears were gone. This process was repeated dozens upon dozens of times until her three creatures had a hard, newspaper shell around the Styrofoam. She cut up some pieces of cardboard and pipe cleaners to make the appendages while she waited for things to dry. The turtle was going to be the easiest; just four stubby little feet and a round head made out of wadded up newspaper. The caterpillar required a little more attention than the turtle. The hold up was determining how many tiny feet to add to the bottom. Special decided on 22. No reason for that specific number, it just sounded good at the time.

Once the bodies of the turtle and caterpillar were done, she pondered what to do with the mystery alien. It certainly looked alien. The cone had grown almost double its size after applying the papier-mâché.

“I’m going to make you weird,” Special said. “Because everyone needs a little weird.”

And weird was what she did. Instead of two feet, there were three. Instead of two arms, there was one, poking out from the top of the cone. There was no face. Only appendages. Special got out of her chair and surveyed all the hard work she had done. Tomorrow, she would paint them and bring them to life.

Ianchelle popped her head in to see how Special was doing. “My, my, these are wonderful!” she said.

“Thanks, mama.”

She looked at the alien. “What’s this one supposed to be?”

“My alien.”

“Neat.”

“Is it ok if I leave everything out here for a while? They need to dry before I can paint them.”

“That should be fine. We can eat in the living room if we have to.”

“What about Shawn?”

“He’s not coming over this weekend.”

“Oh.”

Special went to bed that night as happy as a clam.

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