Under the Floorboards

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Chapter 3

Eyes darting around the screen, hyper focused, she answered “Violet”. I mulled it over. Yes, it fit. She looks like a Violet to me. “Where did you come from?” This time she didn’t answer right away. As if deciding how much or how little to reveal.

“I came out of the sea.” I put my hands on my hips. “You must think I’m stupid.” She shrugged. “Ask a question, get an answer. I didn’t promise you’d believe me. That’s where I came from though. I’ve been hiding out ever since. Wherever I could find any sort of narrow, dark, secret place. Just until the sun goes down.”

I asked how she could’ve lived in the sea, when she’s not a fish. Her voice became wistful and empty. “There’s...a lot more in the sea these days...than fish.” I asked if she meant submarines, like from the book about Captain Nemo and the giant squid.

“...Something like that. Buildings, though. They don’t move. Big metal buildings with lots and lots of people inside, on the bottom of the ocean.” I asked why anybody would put buildings there. “Defense. Submarine resupply. Officially, anyways. Actually, a place of containment and study for...people like me. They were trying to find ways to kill us. Permanently, I mean.”

It sounded unbelievable. But then so did those trips to the Moon when Daddy first read me the book about them. “The world is full of all kinds of unbelievable things, isn’t it?” I asked. She weakly smiled, and nodded.

“How did you wind up there?” She told me she was a prisoner. I became worried that maybe she was a bad person after all and I was helping to hide her from the police. But she then told me that she never did anything to deserve it, other than being different.

“When you’re different...really, really different, in a big way...people react badly. They do bad things to you.” I didn’t find that hard to believe, recalling the things those men said to me the other night once they got a good look at me.

“Did they think you were dangerous?” She nodded, and looked off into the distance. “Yeah, they did. Maybe they were even right, I don’t know. I just try to survive. That’s all I’ve done, before or since. I did...some things...that I am not proud of in order to escape that place. In order to save my father.”

Oh, that makes sense. “Your daddy was a prisoner too?” She confirmed it. “In a different way. It’s hard to explain. There’s this place...there’s a dream it’s inside of. I don’t know how to explain it so that it won’t sound crazy. Have you ever been really weak? Sick maybe, or just sad? A time when you felt really empty, alone and hopeless?”

I thought it over, then nodded. “Alright. Did you have any strange dreams at the same time? Of a cold, dead place with yellow light? With concrete, asphalt, rusty metal and broken machinery? The same dream over and over, the same every time?”

I shook my head. She looked relieved. “...Good. If you ever have a dream like that, you have to tell me right away.” I asked why. “Because...it means that he’s found me. The one who imprisoned my father.” However I badgered her, she wouldn’t tell me any more about him.

In fact she wouldn’t discuss that topic any further after that. Instead she pushed me to show her more computer stuff. Understandable, it’s a very cool computer and I am an expert at using it. I showed her how, if you leave the lander sitting on the pad long enough without pressing space, it runs out of fuel.

“It uses fuel even when standing still” I explained, “just very slowly. Whoever made the game didn’t think anybody would do that, so if it runs out of fuel when it’s still on the pad, the game messes up and has to be reset. Isn’t that funny? That’s not supposed to happen!”

I laughed heartily, though she seemed indifferent. “Where are your parents?” What a funny question to ask. “Up in the house of course.” She contradicted me. “When you led me inside, it looked like nobody’s lived up there for a long time. Furniture covers on everything, dust everywhere...are they on vacation?”

I never thought of that. “Sure, maybe. Come to think of it I didn’t see their car in the driveway. You’re right, they’re probably on vacation. I’ll bet they bring me back tasty treats for my tum tum.” She giggled. This time I demanded to know what the joke was.

“It’s just...sometimes you talk so elegantly and formally. You sound like a book. But then other times you’re like a child.” I became self conscious, ears turning red, and asked how I ought to speak instead. She waved her hands.

“No, no. I didn’t mean it like that. You’re just very different, that’s all.” That doesn’t sound so bad. “I’m...different? Like you?” She frowned and began to disagree. But then she thought about it. Little wrinkles formed at the corner of her eyes, and she smiled a little. “Sure. Just like me.”

We then got to talking about unexpectedly grown up things. When she asked if I’ve ever had a job, I proudly told her that in fact I’ve held the same job all my life. I led her over to the breaker box and opened it up to reveal all the little switches.

“When the breaker blows, Daddy taught me to find the switch that has flipped the wrong way, and flip it back. He says I’m his little breaker monkey.” I puffed up my chest proudly and studied her face for any signs that she was impressed. “Although...the breaker never seems to blow anymore, so there’s not much for me to do.”

“That’s not work!” she objected. “Not a real job, I mean. That’s really why they keep you down here?” I didn’t expect her to say something like that. I really thought she’d be impressed that I have a job, like every good boy is supposed to. “Well, that’s not the only reason. They have good reasons. I would scare their guests if I lived up in the house, you see. It would embarrass them.”

That only seemed to further disturb her. What a strange girl. Maybe she never had a job when she lived in the sea? But that’s just her, most people must have some kind of job that they do back in their own crawlspaces, even perfects. I told her so.

She stared. I hate when she does that. “Most people...don’t live in crawlspaces, dude.” I scoffed. Good one. But she repeated herself, seemingly serious. “Where do they live then? In the sea?” She told me they live in houses.

“But that’s where their mommies and daddies live. They can’t live up in the house! They would scare guests.” She didn’t answer. Just looked very sad, then embraced me. It felt weird and unfamiliar to be touched by someone who isn’t me, but I allowed it.

“What was that for?” I inquired. She just held me by the shoulders and looked at me. Mournfully? I think so. Did I say something bad? Mommy used to do the same thing. It’s frustrating that other people seemingly know some kind of secret about me, and they never tell me what it is.

She spent much of the day sleeping. What a sleepyhead! I left her to it though, as I figured escaping those bad men took a lot out of her. Soon the bright blue sky gave way to oranges and reds, until night fell over the land.

Just like that, Violet descended from the ceiling like a creepy crawly. She then yawned loudly, stretching this way and that. I felt funny watching her stretch. The same way I feel sometimes when I’m in bed at night, listening to that tape. I feel my face warming up, so I turn away and wait for it all to pass.

“Something wrong?” I fibbed that I was just exhausted, then changed the subject. She proceeded to wash herself behind the boxes. I asked if she needed some scissors to trim her hair with. “I haven’t had to do that in years. It doesn’t grow.”

Stranger and stranger. I didn’t know there was anybody whose hair doesn’t grow. How did it get that long to begin with? I told her that I wished mine would stop growing. She stared at the floor while drying her hair with my only towel. “No, you don’t.”

She helped me cut mine, sitting me down facing away as she went to work. “It’s really a mess back here, geez.” I confessed that I can’t see what I’m doing back there when I try to cut it myself. “You could’ve just gone out to a barber or something.” I shook my head furiously, and she scolded me for not keeping it still.

“Why do you stay down here anyways? There’s a whole world out there, at least for the time being. There’s so much more than this.” It’s a question I’ve asked myself so much that the answer came out by automatic reflex.

“It’s scary. Everybody out there looks so perfect compared to me. They would laugh. Or even worse, be afraid of me. It’s safe down here. It’s easy, and comfortable. I already have everything I need. There’s no need to take foolish risks.”

I couldn’t see her face but could swear I felt the displeasure radiating from her. “That’s a load of bullcrap. Can’t you feel life passing you by, every day that you hide from it? You’re so lucky and you don’t even know. You’re not like me. You can go out in the sunshine, feel it on your skin. People look at you, and it doesn’t hurt.”

I assured her that in fact it hurts very much when people look at me. “No, not like that. I mean I can’t be in bright light. I can only hide what I really look like in dim lighting, or darkness. I don’t understand why, but the more people observe me at once, the weaker I become. It’s been like that ever since I became this way. Ever since he changed me.”

My ear snagged on the bit about hiding her appearance. “But I’ve seen what you look like. Is it a mask? If so, you chose a lovely one.” She tensed up for a moment, but then explained that what I see when I look at her is some sort of illusion.

“Like a magic trick?” She must’ve nodded as I felt her hands shake a bit. “Something like that. Lots of people are friendly at first, because they like the way that I look. Men especially…” she trailed off for a moment. “...But when they see me how I really am, they...don’t like me anymore.”

I remarked that they were never really her friends, then. Something Mommy told me once about boys who picked on me when I was very small, and still allowed to play in the park. “That’s probably true”. She didn’t sound comforted.

“You can show me.” She didn’t register what I said right away. When she answered, her voice shook subtly. “No I can’t. You’ve been great. So far, I mean. But it always turns out the same way. Everything is fine until I let them see, then-”

I broke in to contradict her. “You are a nice and okay lady! I think you cut hair well, and know about many things I don’t. You’ve been really nice to me, even though I am dirty and live in a place like this. Nothing you could show me would change any of that.”

She put down the scissors, and had me turn to face her. “What about now?” she asked. As I watched, something weird began to happen. Her face became blurry. When I looked down at her hands, I saw the same effect.

When it cleared, her skin was no longer smooth. It was rough and worn out. Blotched, torn in some spots though the openings did not bleed. There was a blueish green pallor in places, her eyes were sunken in and cloudy. Here and there, larger wounds had been carefully stitched shut with very fine thread.

I shrugged. “That’s still better than I look.” She seemed taken aback for a moment. But then burst into laughter and embraced me. Many confusing behaviors. Is this what women are like? Or are all perfects like this?

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