An Excerpt from Unwired Girl
by John Stacy
"Be where I can find you, Kati," said her mother's voice. "I'm doing enough double-tasking here without having to search for you. " Kati stepped out onto the wobbly dock behind her uncle's beach house for the first time. She was 15 years old, and her mother had named her Kati with the "i." She was no doubt supposed to grow up drawing flowers around the "i"dot, but she would have preferred Kate, or even better Katherine and she felt alone in the universe. She didn't have a single electronic device on her. By choice! Everyone else she had ever known was wired into something else, MySpace, Facebook, iPod, IMs, cell talk, text messaging, but she was electronically bare with only her own thoughts to listen to.
At the end of their rickety weather-planked dock a wonderful contraption floated in the water. All the other docks along this inlet were well-painted and had big ocean going cruisers moored to them. But at the end of their old dock, instead of a yacht, she saw a dinky craft about twelve feet long. Not a canoe, but-what was it?--a kayak! A two-seated kayak like Eskimos might spear walrus from.
Even better than that, a boy, about her age was sitting in one of the holes, not looking cool, or athletic at all, but awkward and lonely, his hair way longer than fashionable, wearing a ratty looking lumberjack shirt cut off at the arm pits. He was sitting in the little boat, head bent over some book, not PC Gamer or Skateboarding Now , but an orange and white paperback she owned herself. Notes from the Underground. And there were no wires coming out of his head!
Be demure, she thought, resisting the urge to scamper out to the end of the dock and start licking his bare ears. Instead she approached slowly, one lace-up brown walking shoe after the other, and said, "Hello,"
He looked up startled. He had really been immersed in ol' Dostoyefski. "Sorry," he said, beginning to untie the line that caught the Kayak to their dock. "This is your dock?"
"Oh No!" she exclaimed, wanting to reach out and grab him by the hair if she had to. "What you're doing is perfectly permissible."
He looked at her now, probably focusing for the first time. He would take in her skinny frame and horse-shaped face and get his kayak moving. Instead he sat back in the boat and said: "Say that again."
Uh oh! She thought. Here we go. "What?"
"That permissible thing. Say it again."
"Why don't you ask me if I swallowed a dictionary?" she said starting up the dock again. It was the same routine she had gotten all through her first year at Pits of Hell High School. "Go ahead and read your book. I imagined you were someone else."
"There you go again! It's wonderful." He stood up in the kayak and she saw he was wearing plaid shorts. A fashion plate he was not. But she stopped in her tracks any way. "What's wonderful?"
"That you can make polysyllabic utterances."
"Oh!" She trotted back down the dock to him, making it sway in the water, and heard her mother call from the house, "Kati! Where are you? Kati!!"
She sat at the dock's end, sticking out her hand. "We don't have long," she said. "Katherine Henderson-not Kati."
"Zachary Taylor" he said shaking her hand and grinning. "Like the ninth president." The grin didn't improve his appearance much since he had one of those cruel tooth improvement devices that involves a rubber band. He could probably play "Sewanee River" on it with his tongue.
"Can I call you Number Nine?" she said.
"Kati!" Her mother erupted. Any second now her radar would pick her up and fire some soul destroying verbal missile.
" Listen, I'm going to have to go, but-"
At that moment her mother burst out the door on to the landing. She wanted to tell Number Nine to cover his eyes. Lena Henderson should not be taken in all at once. Ash blonde hair tortured into something like a 21 st Century Mohawk, designer jeans, designer sweater, high heeled designer sandals on designer feet. And thoroughly wired into her universe. Right now, even looking for Katherine she had her cell-phone, messaging device, global positioning system, Internet connection, and mace dispenser clamped to her ear. "There you are!" she accused Katherine, than changed her face to commune with someone else on the cell phone. "We're only down here for the summer. It's a dreadful old wreck of a beach house. I'm going to flip it as soon as I can get it renovated." She gestured impatiently for Katherine to come inside. One of those stiff-fingered gestures someone might use with a waiter or a domestic animal. "Take a look at my website and you'll see-"
"In a minute, mother."
Her mother glanced at her. "Oh I didn't see you were with a friend," she said pleasantly, and then focused on them for the first time. Teenage boy, she would think. Good. Get backward daughter into social swim. Good. Boy looks like social outcast, loser! Bad! Very Bad! Abort program!
"You'd better come, now!" she said sternly. "We have to leave. Say goodbye."
"Goodbye" said Katherine staying firmly planted on the dock.
"Say goodbye and come here, now! No nonsense."
"See you later," she said to Zachary.
"Wait a minute," he said. "Who's your favorite poet?"
She'd been waiting for someone to ask that forever but she stayed cool. "John Donne, of course." She followed Lena into the kitchen of the beach house where they had been camped for several days. The metallic highlights in Lena's Mohawk glinted off the furniture as she passed.
"What is it, I thought we were going somewhere."
"I'm going somewhere. But I need to talk to you first. Sit down." she gestured to her uncle's scarred old wooden kitchen table. It was his abandoned house Lena was "flipping."
Speaking of flipping, as she sat Katherine flipped down the lenses of the old sunglasses she found in her uncle's room. She flipped them up again, and down. In the mirror they made her look like a Parisian intellectual or Marlon Brando sitting on a motorcycle. Flip up. Parisian. Flip down, Marlon.
"Stop that," Lena snapped.
"This is serious, Kati. I've met someone. He'll be here to pick me up in a few minutes."
Katherine felt the stiffness go out of her joints as she prepared to flop in the kitchen chair like an under-stuffed rag doll. She had heard that you are more difficult to carry when you are totally limp--like a corpse.
"Sit up!" Lena flashed her one of her atomic ray glances, and Katherine sat up.
"This isn't going to be like every other time when you've sabotaged my boyfriends."
"I should get a medal." Katherine muttered.
"Don't deny it. You've driven everyone off ever since your father went on permanent sabbatical leave.
Her father had left years ago when Katherine was little, forgetting to come back from a literary sabbatical in Europe, dropping Lena a few postcards, always from someplace further east from the London library where he was supposed to be, the Left Bank, Zurich, Budapest, New Delhi, and the last of them from Singapore.
It was still a sore point with Lena. But Katherine thought he might just turn up one of these days. After all if he just kept going in the same direction he woud arrive in California. She dreamed about it, in fact.
"I didn't deny it. I said I should get a medal. They were such losers, Lena!"
And they were too. They all had styled perfectly combed hair. Who had styled hair anymore? Or worse a little pony tail. And their teeth looked capped, and their shoulders looked padded-unlike the narrow shouldered man with the wild hair and crooked tooth in his smile in the frame by her bed. "Losers," she repeated and flipped her sunglasses down expecting a lethal dose of radiation in Lena's reply.
She was surprised that Lena didn't say anything for a moment. She just looked at her watch and gave herself a little Lena smile, with her freshly bleached teeth. This was bad.
"Kati I know we've had a tough time since your father left." She tapped one of her designer sandals on the floor and Katherine saw she had just gotten a fresh pedicure.
"Went on sabbatical."
"And I know you have issues with whoever I might go out with."
Issues. Everyone had issues in Lena's world. Not just problems. As a teenager Katherine had complexion issues.
"I have an issue with how you found somebody so quickly. We've only been here two days! Isn't that a little fast, even for you?"
Again Katherine expected a zap from Lena's eyes, but her expression remained dangerously clear and unclouded.
"I've know Braxton for a little while . . ."
Braxton? Where did she get the guys, from soap operas?
"And he's on a project here in Southern California."
"So that's why you uprooted us for the summer? To be near Braxton."
It was just a lucky coincidence." More bleached-tooth Lena smile. "Your uncle's house came available, and . well it all worked out." Again she looked at her watch, and nodded. "Now about you and Braxton."
"You think I should be nice."
"Yes I do."
There was something daunting about Lena's calm. She would normally have been at screech 3 and ready to garrote Katherine with her ear pod wires.
"I suppose I could give him a chance."
"Yes I think you will."
Still the calm expression, but something back there lurking in the wilds of Lena's mind like a trendy electronic python. She was waiting for Katherine to ask why.
Katherine resisted as long as she could--between 4 and 6 seconds--and asked. "Okay, why?"
"Because if you don't get along with Braxton, and I mean get along beautifully, perfectly, you will be spending your junior year with your grandmother in Barstow, and going to Barstow High."
The "what" was caps what that bounced off the natural wood cabinets of her uncle's kitchen. She didn't even close her jaw after uttering it.
"Just long enough for Braxton and I to really get to know each other. I've got every hope it will be permanent."
"But you just met him!"
Lena's eyes looked off into the distance. "I know what I know."
"But I don't even know my grandmother."
"We haven't been close. Haven't visited much."
"That makes it all the more reason for you to get to know her."
"You talked to her about this already?"
"Of course. She has a nice little room for you over the gas station."
"Over the gas station?"
"Yes she and your step grandfather have run it for years. She's so excited about the idea, she can't wait." "Listen Kati . . . She paused, wetting an index finger in her mouth, crossing her eyes, and adjusting a loose strand of her Mohawk. "You're like a little old lady yourself--you think like my grandmother! You'll get along great with Granny Stubbs."
"Wait. Wait. Wait." Katherine held up her palm as though to stop a stampede. "You said this would happen IF I didn't get along with Boxter?"
"Braxton. That's right. Get along with him perfectly, splendidly, marvelously. Laugh when he laughs. Smile when he smiles. "
"Choke when he chokes," Katherine muttered.
"Whatever. It has to be totally sincere."
"Or off to Barstow?"
"Whoosh! Said Lena brightly, looking totally delighted with herself. "So . . . ? She spread her hands waiting for Katherine to respond.
"Lena, I don't know what to say. You've topped yourself this time."
"Don't worry Kati. You really can't lose here. Baxter is delightful, and for that matter so is your grandmother."
She looked at Lena carefully and to her horror saw that her mother was completely sincere. To Lena she was offering her daughter a hell of a deal.
"Okay," Katherine said softly. "I'm sure I can get along with Braxton."
"Wonderful." Her mother glanced at her watch yet another time. "Now before Braxton gets here I have another surprise."
"I don't think anything could surprise me now."
"Oh yes it could. Here." From one of the kitchen cupboards Lena produced one of those decorated bags that people use when they are too lazy to wrap presents.
"Go on Kati. Call it a bribe. I'm sure that you'll get along with Braxton but this will help."
"I don't think so. " She looked at the bag where Lena had placed it on the scarred surface of the table.
Dutifully Katherine reached inside the bag and brought out a cell phone.
"Lena you know I don't believe in . . ."
"This one is special."
Lena had given her three cell phones and Katherine had lost or destroyed every one. The first two were Nokeas and had disappeared of their own accord despite Lena 's efforts to track them down by calling the numbers. One someone had answered but had sounded as though he were under water and speaking another language. When Katherine opened the third one she told Lena about the Bradbury story where a man destroys his house and flushes his wrist radio down the garbage disposal. Lena refused to believe it was coincidence when the third cell phone itself turned out to be the cause of the fatal grinding noise in their sink three days later.
Katherine held the cell phone in her hand. It weighed as much as a pet turtle-which she would have much preferred.
"Why is it special? If I don't like it you'll send me to Barstow?"
"Don't be silly." Again she glanced at her watch!
Just then the phone in Kati's hand "rang." Actually it began to writhe and vibrate with a hip-hop tempo. It felt obscene and she dropped it on the table top.
"Well answer it, It's for you," said Lena.
"I'm not going to answer it. Nobody I know has my number. I don't even have my number."
The phone hip hopped impatiently working it's way toward the edge of the table where it had ever chance of smashing itself on the granite surface of the kitchen floor.
"Of for cripes sakes," muttered Lena and snatched the phone, flipped it open and changed her annoyed look to a sweet one. "Yes," she cooed. "She's right here."
She stuck out her hand to Katherine.