And the Frog

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16

She was frozen. Blue-screening, like a malfunctioning computer. As she stared at Jamie, her eyes started to cross. Casey.

“Uh,” the blur in front of her said, “you okay?”

She made her eyes focus. There was a boy in front of her, didn’t look old enough to drive. Jamie, right. That’s Jamie. “You said,” she stammered, “you said, Casey?”

“Uh, yeah.” Jamie looked to the high window at his side, which Marigold must’ve been sitting under. “Is that not what you go by? Sorry, it’s the name on your card. I . . . sorry?”

Emma opened her wallet, slowly. “No . . .” she said as she dipped her finger into the pocket that held the card, “it’s alright . . . don’t . . . don’t sorry.” She pulled the card out, but only look at the corners.

“I . . . can you go?” said Jamie. “I have a line.” No he didn’t.

Emma’s eyes bounced. Why couldn’t she look at it? The kid had just said it, it wasn’t a secret anymore. So why was it so hard to see it? Well, because Emma was something now. Maybe not something much, but something, surely. There was reason she hadn’t looked at this before. Change is a good thing. It’s a good thing. Air and time, shake it up. It’s good. It has to be. Emma was the type of person, she was the type of person that never read the same book twice, dammit. She slapped the card down onto the counter, held it there with her thumb and forefinger like it was trying to squirm away. And then, she read the letters.

Casey Humphrey

Casey. Humphrey. Spacey Casey. Her father, her grandmother, Saphal, everyone used to call her that. Oh, nuts and ass.

She looked up at Jamie, who’d taken a few steps back. His eyes were wide. You can imagine how she looked. “I don’t know what to do right now,” she told him.

“Oh . . . kay?” he said.

She nodded. “I don’t know,” she said again, then she thrust her wallet, which was in her other hand still, at him. “Here, take this.”

He looked at it, then back at her, then both again. “I don’t want your wallet.”

“Me neither. Take it. The card too.”

“Why?”

“Alright.” And she dropped the wallet and walked out the door.

It’s safe to say that most people on the planet haven’t experienced the brisk phenomena of suddenly becoming two people at once. All of the memories she’d had since the crash, of her father, of her grandmother, of Saphal, you know the ones, whose were those? Were those Emma’s memories, or Casey Humphrey’s? Was that Emma remembering Casey’s memories? Which one of the two was intruding? She put her palms in her eyes, because ocular input just couldn’t fit it her mind right now. Whose mind? Precisely. Really, identity crisis was no fun when it was your identity(s). She hadn’t really known what she’d been avoiding, by not looking at the name in her wallet, but she decided right here and now that it was this. What even was she feeling? Guilt? Did she betray something/someone? Now that she knew her name, her father really was her father, Saphal really was her dead boyfriend. And her grandmother, well, that hadn’t changed, had it? Or had anything? Shouldn’t it have? Which way was easier?

“Yeesh, what it in all hell is wrong Emma?” said John. Said John?

She turned, and there on the bench outside of Quik Serv was Marigold, and John Bain. Oh good, another twist.

Change. It’s a good thing.

And out of the door came Jamie, wallet in hand, and a pleading look on his face. He looked at the two on the bench. “Uncle John?” He held the wallet awkwardly, halfway in the air, unsure how to make it be away from him.

“Oh my god,” said Marigold. “He calls you Uncle?” She looked up at Jamie. “How come I’m not Aunt Mary?”

John pushed himself off the bench and waved a hand back at Marigold. “Bigger problems,” he said, taking a few steps toward EmmaCasey. “Emma, kid, you’re not breathin’. Why aren’t you breathin’?”

Oops. Was she not breathing? She didn’t notice. She was like an experienced weightlifter, holding her breath because the movement of her lungs made everything hurt more. She was focusing on one muscle so hard that those two pink bags in her chest just couldn’t be spared the effort. Except right now her brain was the muscle, and it felt more like it was jumping rope than lifting a barbell. Jumping and jumping and never landing.

“Darlin’, air, it’s all around you.” John’s hand had made it to her shoulder. “Suck some in for me.” Air. Was he right about that? Was it all around? Or did he mean to say it was all that was around? The people, the RV, the names. All just air, all just floating here, just for now, until some kid behind the counter at a gas station blows it all away. During the crash there was no air, and then it was nothing but.

Oh, shut up girl. Is that all you can do? Make metaphors and despair? You have to make a choice now. Clearly you can’t be both Emma and Casey, so pick one. This is a difficult moment for anyone, character and writer. They will say this moment is the defining one, will they not? Or they would, if there was a ‘they.’ This can be the moment of revelation, where we satisfy a general romanticism with a sense of self; you can decide right here and now that this whole time you’ve been trying to find yourself, never once realizing that yourself was you the whole time. No, obviously that won’t do. Scrap that entirely. This story isn’t about finding, it’s about chasing. Do you really want to try to convince yourself that you’ve been looking for something this entire time? No, because clearly you’ve got no clue what to do with it now that you’ve got it. You’re like a child chasing her father around the back yard; the only thing that would really upset you is if he stopped and let himself be caught. Ah, that was a mistake. Don’t bring your father into this. Stick with your grandmother – she’s always easier. And what did she say? No one can tell you your name. Don’t forget, you’ve got a gun in your waist band. Agency. That gun is the most you that you have right now. As long as you have that, surely no one has the power to tell you who you are. So why are you so shaken up? Lighten the hell up already. One name printed on a card has done this to you, just when you were beginning to find your own in this story. One boy at a gas station. Does that boy really have the unique ability to do this to you? Is that the place you want to give him in this story? The destroyer? YOU have the gun. All he has is a name. All he’s armed with is a name, and no one, no one can tell you your name. No one should be allowed to hurt you like that, so gently and so completely, to assign you to a you. The truth is, you don’t want Casey Humphrey any more, do you? You want to be you, not her? Is that the truth? It’s hard to say, right this very moment, but it is clear beyond a doubt that you do not want that damned wallet anymore. Look at what it’s done to you. All the air is gone again, all the time.

Jamie held the wallet out to her and said, “Please take this, ma’am.”

Oh, your poor father. Has he lost his, as they say, little girl?

As if to say yes, she pulled out the cocked revolver, and she shot the boy right in the chest.

. . .

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