Synopsis: K, a technophobe of 16 who lost her boyfriend to Grand Theft Auto, has discovered that her mother is dating a goblin name Braxton. Only K can see his true form through the use of her late uncle’s Aviation style sun glasses. Despite the fact she has met a new boyfriend, K’s life is further complicated by her mother’s threat to send her to Barstow unless she signs over her interest in her late uncle’s beach house.
Unwired Girl Part III
The following week was very strange, leading up to the virtual end of K’s world.
The next morning started well enough. She heard a sound beneath her upstairs window, and looking down to the canal she saw a plumpish figure bobbing in a kayak immediately below her.
“She speaks! Oh speak again bright angel.” His voice was thin and reedy but beautiful.
“I’ll be right down! I’ve got to tell you what’s going on.”
“Later,” he called back wistfully. He told her he was on his way to a university philosophy class he was auditing. “The prof’s a jerk, but he’s made some interesting points on Kierkegaard.”
They promised to meet at the little drawbridge on the quay after lunch when K would tell him the truth of what had happened. “Life can only be understood backwards,” Zachary told her, nodding. ”But it must be lived forwards” and with that he paddled off toward the open bay. As she watched him paddle away she felt frightened again. She needed to find out more of the “truth” to know how much immediate danger she was in. She found Lena downstairs sitting on what looked like a metallic bean bag.
“It’s a serenity ball,” Lena told her, sighing happily. “I certainly need it.” The fat liverish-colored obloid seemed to pulse as it adjusted to her weight. K had seen one somewhere before.
She had been afraid Lena would start in again about signing the quit claim, but she acted as though she had forgotten all about it. A look of dreamy pleasure suffused her features as the serenity ball tossed and jiggled her.
“What exactly did you tell Braxton about what I saw? Did you mention anything about sunglasses?” K had the tear-drop shaped glasses perched on top of her head even now, ready to snap down and examine anything suspicious. She had already tried them on the serenity ball and they only changed its color to a more bloody purple.
“Sunglasses?” Lena looked her curiously, scootching her bottom around in the serenity ball trying to find an even more pleasure-giving position. “I didn’t tell him anything about eyewear. However I did have explain about your—you know—about your problem.”
“Well yes. Your mental problem,” she hissed as though afraid someone would overhear.
“Mental problem!” She fell to her knees and gazed directly into her mother’s jiggling eyes. “What do you mean by that, Lena?” she demanded.
“That’s what Mr. Botham told us last month, remember?” Botham was a school counselor at Pit of Hell High back home in Contra Costa.
“That’s an absolute misrepresentation--”
“It’s true though, isn’t it?”
“He said you needed help. I should have listened.” K remembered what Botham had suggested and it was much more frightening than just “getting help.” She half heard her mother continuing, “My friend Ob has a good shrink who’s helped her to channel her maternity issues and lose eight pounds. If you keep on I’m going to go and see him myself.”
“I don’t have mental problems, Lena!” she broke in. “You know that!”
“Do I, now?” Lena rose from her serenity beanbag like a surfacing serpent and looked back at her steadily eye-to-eye. “Now listen. Even before this latest nonsense you would do nothing but moon around the house in your faux beatnik costumes. Your hair looks like you vacuumed it. You have no friends.”
“You’re being ironic about my hair, certainly,” she sputtered gesturing to Lena’s rainbow coxcomb. ”And as far as friends, what about Gunther?”
“Well you threw him over, didn’t you?”
K started to tell her about Zachary but thought better of it.
‘And you wouldn’t join the girl scouts even after I sold the den mother a 700 k condo.”
“That’s years ago. They were idiots in fascist uniforms making s’mores!”
“And then, of course, there was the destruction of property.”
“Lena, I told you. That was an accident. You know that was an accident!”
“Well I still had to pay for it, didn’t I? Six hundred dollars for an antique Mac station I could’ve gotten at the Salvation Army for twenty-five dollars tops.”
“I’m sorry I broke their computer, Lena.”
The accident at Pit of Hell High had been humiliating. She had scored so low on the computer proficiency test they had placed her in a remedial computing class—a class for kids so dumb they couldn’t play video games. K, who had been an AP Honors student sat there in a roomful of druggies and tattooed losers who looked like they were going to grow up to steal cars for living. The girl next to her, Roxanne, wore a pink sweater and was carving a heart on the desk with a nail file. She confided to K that she had no real problem with computers herself; she just wanted to be in the same class with Ronnie. Ronnie was out today because of a probation violation. “If you got any trouble, just let me know,” she whispered just before class started. K had sat there at a little computer hardly bigger than a toaster, pale tan with a built in screen and a little monogram of a fruit, presumably to make it seem friendlier. Lena’s computer in her bedroom had a monitor like a multi-plex screen.
The teacher, a kindly looking little lady in a silver jump suit and a tattoo of an out of date rocker, asked them to turn on their stations and to raise their hands if they had any difficulty. She wore a button which read, “Hey, I’m Connie.”
K just sat staring at the little computer while the rest of the class fired up their machines, rectangles of pearl light flashing on around the half-darkened room, and began work on their individual projects which looked for the most part like games of computer solitaire and hearts. Tears welled in K’s eyes. How had it come to this?
Connie, spotting K’s dark screen, came to her side. She smelled of petulie oil—which K only recognized because of one of Lena’s most loserly boyfriends. She reached out a hand allowing K to see the tattoo on her liver spotted forearm was of the lead singer of Kiss. For cripes sakes. Even Lena was cooler than that.
“Don’t worry dear. I’ll help you.” she said in a voice so filled with kindness and serenity it make K feel guilty. She pressed what looked like a plastic navel, bringing K’s rectangle to light, joining the others. “We’re connected to the main server upstairs so we have almost any kind of software you could want.”
“I—I’m sorry. I’d, I’d prefer not.”
“Not to what, dear?” A trace of steel with a little cigarette rumble came into her voice. ”
“I’d just prefer not.”
“Oh but you must, “Computer proficiency is required for graduation.” she said, looking at K’s no doubt troubled face, the kindly tone returning. “Basic proficiency anyway. Nothing fancy. Look, wouldn’t you like to send emails to your friends?”
“I don’t have any friends.”
“You could send me an email,” Roxanne in the next seat volunteered. “Ronnie’s not here today so I don’t have anything to do.”
“There you go,” said Connie beaming. “You could end a nice email to Roxy here. Tell her all about yourself as a new class member.”
“Sure,” Roxie, nodded. “Whatever.”
Roxy actually seemed nice. K was tempted, but subversively crossed her arms across her chest. “”I’d really prefer not.”
“Suit yourself,” said Roxy, looking miffed, and returning to an illegal solitaire move, making her computer beep.
“Oh dear,” said Connie. “I wasn’t thinking.” She put her lips to K’s ear startling her. The petulie smell was very strong and she actually felt one of Connie’s silver lipsicked lips touch an earlobe. “Listen you aren’t illiterate are you? I mean you can read and write. They promised they wouldn’t send me any more . . .”
“Oh!” said K, shocked. “Of course I can read. I mean Jane Austin is my favorite, but I like the Moderns too, Virginia Wolfe’s The Waves in particular, and . . .”
“That’s nice. But “her voice returned to a whisper “you can write also?”
K imagined that most readers of Jane Austin could also write. “Certainly, look—she pulled one of her purple covered composition tablets from her book bag. “ I write poetry all the time. In fact maybe that would be a good compromise. I could just sit here and write in my notebook.”
Connie shook her head sadly. “Nice try dear. But you are going to write on the computer. If you want to write poetry, that’s fine. We have some excellent programs that will help.” She clicked a couple of keys and a screen labeled Poem Author intruded itself before K’s eyes. “You compose any type of verse you want. See? It’s very popular. Just pull down a menu here for style. A rock ballad maybe? Country? Love Sonnet? And pull down here for the emotion. Joyful? Grateful? No? Or maybe sad and remorseful? Set your meter here. And away you go.”
K stared at her in the semi darkness, cheerfully preparing to let the computer write a poem for K to put her name on.
She saw she would have to compromise much further if she were going to be left in peace. “Is it possible that I could—It was almost physically painful to say it. “--Just type out a poem on a blank screen? Would that be all right?”
“Well why didn’t you say so? Of course.” Practically with a wave of an arthritic finger the screen went nearly blank except for a little blinking line like a dash.” There. Just like a clean piece of paper. You just tap the letters on the keyboard.”
“Thanks.” K waited while Connie moved away, but saw she was still being watched.
“Go ahead,” came Connie’s voice expectantly from the beeping and humming semi-darkness surrounding them. “Do your thing.”
K lifted her fingers to the keyboard. If she could just pretend this were her Royal portable maybe this would be okay. She closed her eyes. Her index finger came down on the “H”
“How’ she typed and dared to glance at the screen where the characters “How” glared back at her. The keyboard was alarmingly quiet. There was no reassuring clack to each letter as lead hit the cotton fiber over a rubber-cased platen. No machine oil smell. “do” she typed. Her thumb hitting what must be the space bar. “I” space again. “loath” space “thee.” And now return.
Her palm and fingers struck something. She heard a crash. Breaking glass. A sizzle. Cries of surprise from the other students. The lights came on. The room was filled with laughter and jeers of approval.
Connie rushed over and pulled the power cord from the floor socket.
“Stay back, everyone. Stay back. There’s still a high voltage charge!’ The ruins of the little Macintosh gave a dangerous sounding “pop!”
“Good one!” Roxanne gave her thumbs up.
“I . . . I didn’t mean to.”
“What were you thinking?” cried Connie. K recognized in her the frustrated desire to clutch the brave little computer to her bosom. “How could you?”
“I was just trying to hit the carriage return.” K demonstrated, her hands in the air, the gesture of returning the platen and paper to the left margin position. Connie winced watching K’s hands as though she were miming brutally swatting a kitten.
So they sent her to Coventry. First to detention. Then to Mr. Botham the counselor’s office. Botham appeared to be a well-meaning little man, like a tame rodent in spectacles and levis, who tisked when Connie explained that K had murdered the computer.
“Just leave her alone with me,” he told Connie gently, as though she were the one who needed succor.
“Now we gave some tests,” he told K once they were alone. “But don’t worry. You take them with a paper and pencil. We don’t want any more violence do we?”
She started. “I really didn’t mean --
He smiled weakly, holding up a palm. “A joke.” He puttered around his office, a space with pale green walls and posters of cats lifting weights and doing chin ups on exercise bars, while she pencil and papered a battery of antique tests which asked her questions designed to ferret out if she would like to burn down buildings or assassinate public figures. When she finished he ran her answers through a scanner and looked somewhat alarmed by the results.
“Hum” Botham focused his eyes on her through his silver-rimmed spectacles. “Um-hum.” He wrote furiously in a folder labeled with her name. “I see you have some issues,” he said looking over a graph her answers had produced. He paused at one entry. “Oh my. If this were wartime you might be considered a potential saboteur. Now that can’t be right” he said smiling without sincerity. “A well-behaved honor student like you.”
“I do have some issues with technology,” she admitted.
“Well,” he said. “It’s no doubt some irregularity showing up because--” he flipped through the pages of her file, which was already surprisingly thick. “Yes, because your father left when you were quite young. Is that right?”
“And he was famous for . . . Hum—“. He read further.
“For what?” she asked. “I never heard that he was—“
“No, no, never mind.” He read further. While she watched him read she got the most peculiar impression that he was pretending to read, that he already knew precisely what was in her file. What had seemed to be kindly well-meaning eyes behind the silver rimmed glasses suddenly looked hard and calculating, a thing wearing Botham like a soft man-mouse suit. “Yes, your father” he said, closing the file. “That must have been very hard on you. Do you know where he is now?”
“No I don’t. The last I heard was Japan.”
“Last spotted in Kobe. Yes. But surely he’s sent you a card? Telephoned on your birthday? Secret father daughter messages even your mother doesn’t know about?” There was an intelligent glint to the eyes that searched hers for the answer.
“No! What’s that got to do with my knocking a computer on the floor?”
“Perhaps everything,” he said. “I’m going to make a suggestion to your mother. There’s a special retreat camp you might go to this summer. It’s for the gifted.”
“Well let’s say the gifted with issues like yours.”
She didn’t know there were any. For a moment she almost smiled thinking she’d like to meet them, but then she heard his next sentence.
“It’s a safe environment to work out some of your problems.”
“Oh.” She pulled back imagining the kind of place it really was, guards, orderlies, injections, group meetings of vacant, hollow-eyed internees, and posters of cats doing chin ups on the walls.
“Very well. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again. See Miss Green on the way out.”
Miss Green was away from her desk in the outer office, but next to her desk she remembered a large liver-colored metallic beanbag like the one Lena was sitting on now.
“Lena, where did you get that thing?”
“Braxton brought it. I think it’s doing wonders for my stress levels. God knows I need something. I want to talk to you about the scholarship Mr. Botham offered.”
“Yes, to the camp. I mentioned it to Braxton, and he thought it might be a nice alternative to Barstow.”
“Lena, I’m not going to camp for the mentally ill!”
“Don’t be silly. It’s a special camp with kids like you! Braxton thinks--”
She ran from the house and waited by the drawbridge for the rest of the morning. It was a warm day in Sunset Beach and she had to keep finding bits of shadow to stand in. The fulls of the yachts creaked at anchor and she keep looking to the outer bay for a kayak to appear. When at last it did it approached her only slowly.
“Zachary,” she called.
Reluctantly he paddled up to her, but remained a few feet out from the pier.
“I really need to talk to you? Could you take me someplace away from here?”
He had a strange expression as though there were something frightening about her.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I gotta go work on a chapter.”
“But last night? This morning?”
His eyes darted from side to side as though looking for an escape route, then spotted it up the quay. “You must have got the wrong idea. You should get in out of the sun.” He dipped his paddle in an oil slick and glided off without looking back.
“But Zachary,” she called after him. She herself could barely hear the words she whispered after his retreating form. “You’re fat,” she whispered.
She retreated into the house, throwing herself on the couch, flipping her sunglasses to blot out the world, and crossing her arms tightly across her chest. Lena had gone out somewhere leaving the television on. A house never seemed right to Lena unless there were a couple of televisions and a stereo playing in it somewhere. K found the remote to switch the thing off (the remote was one piece of technology she had mastered out of self defense). She wanted quiet to think. What had happened? What was going on? She searched the remote for an off or mute button, half noticing the man in the suit in the large screen, introducing the gubernatorial candidate. K raised the clicker but her hand froze. The candidate was a deep purple, except for the pale green worms growing on his chin and a grayish cast to his the tentacle with which he gripped the podium.
She sat down on the floor gazing up at the screen as the thing explained the great things it was going to do for the State of California.