School on Monday was all about perception. Special raised her hand like she always did. She played kickball at recess and ate all of her lunch. She took notes during Mrs. Woodfork’s lectures. The notes had nothing to do with school, but her pen was still moving, still looking like it always did when she listened during class.
The perception was that she was being a good student.
The reality was that she was hatching a plan to steal the supplies.
There was a little of the angel vs. the devil happening on her shoulders. The angel kept telling her to ask Mrs. Woodfork for more supplies; to explain to her what had happened to her and her mama; to call the someone and get Shawn removed from the situation. What could it hurt to ask?
The devil was more cunning. He told her to not listen to the angel. The angel didn’t know how hard her life really was. The angel, innocent as it may be, didn’t understand how impossible it was to remove Shawn. She could always tell Mrs. Woodfork what she had done with the supplies later, but right now her mama needed help.
They were both right.
They were both wrong.
What was she going to do?
Ianchelle made meatloaf and mashed potatoes for dinner. Special picked at her food, swirling the mashed potatoes around like a cool haircut she had seen the other day at Ace of Fades. Butterflies were vigorously flapping their wings in her stomach. There wasn’t any room for food.
“Not hungry?” Ianchelle said.
“Not really, mama.”
“Why don’t you save your plate for later?”
“Drink your milk if you can.”
She drank her milk in three gulps. Ianchelle wrapped tinfoil around her food and set it in the fridge. Special asked Ianchelle if she could meet with me in the field. Ianchelle said that was fine, although, she was beginning to wonder what was going on.
“Can you tell me what you two need to talk about at this hour?” Ianchelle said.
“I can’t yet. It’s a secret between me and Mr. Potmis.”
“Will you promise to tell me what it is one day?”
“I will. I promise I will.”
Special met up with me in front of the DEAD END sign. It looked like there was a new bullet hole inside of the D on END. Finding a new bullet hole in Morrow Square is like finding a new blade of grass in your backyard. Try counting them all.
I noticed Special didn’t have the paper mushies with her. “Where are the paper mushies?” I said.
She tilted her head down, looking ashamed. “I let them die.”
“Oh, don’t say that. I’m sure it was an accident. One of us was bound to fall asleep with them sooner or later. I’m surprised we kept them alive for this long.”
“Shawn came over. It was bad. Really bad. He had a gun.”
“Heavens, Special! We need to go to the police and tell them what happened.”
“No!” She stomped her feet. “We can’t. He said he would know and that it would make it worse. What can the police do anyway? They don’t help us. And mama … she was the one who invited him over the first time. She got us in this mess.”
“Your mama was only doing what she thought she needed to do to provide for you. She made a mistake, but it was only because she loves you.”
“But she still does it. She still keeps making mistakes.”
“He has a hold of her. She feels trapped.”
“Why is my life so hard, Mr. Potmis? Why can’t I be like the other kids, the ones who don’t have any problems?” She sat down on the ground and began to cry. There was a notebook tucked under her arms. A few tears landed on the lined pages and soaked through.
I sat next to her. “You have quite the fascination with trying to figure out the why’s. There are times when I ask myself the same questions. Why is my life hard? Why does it sometimes get so … bad? The questions are more of a scream than a civil inquiry, an interrogation with myself. I want answers! But they don’t come.”
“Is it weird to get mad at yourself sometimes? I get mad at myself because it feels like there are two of me trying to decide what to do.”
“That’s not weird at all. That’s human nature.”
“I don’t like it. I only want there to be one of me.”
“There is. It’s just … there’s a lot more to you than just one thing. There’s a whole bunch of things—ideas—inside of you and every one of them wants to have their say.”
We were pouring out our souls to each other, like lost children at the edge of the world.
“I don’t always know why bad things happen to good people, or why good people become bad,” I said. “I only know this: we must always try to be the best version of ourselves regardless of our surroundings. We must try to circumvent the bad.”
“Go around, or find a way through it. Find a way to defeat it.”
“I might have found a way.”
She opened her notebook and stopped at a page that was covered with doodles and inkblots. There were entire sections crossed out, lines pointing to this and that, and diagrams of what looked to be a cabinet in her classroom. Her mind must have been going a hundred miles an hour.
“When you gave me the paper mushies last night, something happened.”
She pulled up her sock, revealing three scabs at the base of her ankle. It looked like some animal had clawed her leg.
“Special! That looks like it hurts. Who did that to you?”
“It was the paper mushies.”
“I told them to. First, I just wanted them to touch me. Then, I had them poke me harder. I was surprised by how hard they could do it. I asked them to cut me, just to see what would happen, and they did. They cut me good. I still feel bad about it. I don’t think they liked doing it, but they did it anyway. It made me wonder what else they could do. They listen to everything we say, and if we could make more—a lot more—then maybe we could build an army to do some good.”
Her response blindsided me. An army? This little girl was preparing for war!
“I know where we can get the supplies,” Special said. “Enough to make almost a hundred men. We could get rid of Shawn.”
“Are you saying you want to hurt him?”
“No, not hurt.” She looked down the road, trying to find the right word. “Scare. Yes. We could scare him. What would you do if you saw paper men try to attack you?”
“I don’t know. I could never imagine such a thing. I’d probably declare the place possessed. Blame it on witchcraft.”
“But you’d never want to come back.”
She had a twinkle in her eye, as if what she was about to say was more precious than gold. “You would never want to come back after that, right?”
“I … I assume I wouldn’t.”
“We have to make them. We have to scare Shawn.”
She told me her plan, all three pages of it from her notebook. I tried to get her to change her mind about the supply closet, but Special was a girl on a mission.
“The other paper mushies came from that closet,” she said. “I don’t want to change it up now.”
“I can buy supplies,” I said. “I have money.”
“What if it doesn’t work then? What if they don’t come alive?”
“We’ve used some of our supplies too.”
“But we’ve mostly used Mrs. Woodfork’s.”
“I guess you’re right.”
We were grasping at straws, trying to understand something we didn’t fully understand. Perhaps other supplies would work. Perhaps she didn’t need to steal them. But there wasn’t enough time to put stock in the perhaps.