The thing about plans when you’re a ten-year-old is this: rarely do they ever come to fruition. Adults always seem to muck them up. Special had planned an entire day of painting and modifying her paper mushy creations. By morning, that plan was kicked to the curb. Special and Ianchelle headed over to Ace of Fades after a breakfast of stale Cheerios and milk on life support. Ianchelle had picked up an open shift after a worker called in sick.
“I’ll allow it this one time, but you can’t bring your daughter here for an entire day,” the manager told Ianchelle when they arrived. “After school is fine, but this isn’t a daycare.”
Special thought the woman’s afro was as thick as moss. She desperately wanted to reach up and touch it.
“How can you do a good job if you’re monitoring your child all day?” the manager continued. “How can you stay focused? How can I?”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t originally scheduled for today,” Ianchelle said. “I didn’t have time to get a sitter. It won’t happen again.”
“Last time …” The manager held out her finger, leaving it raised for Ianchelle to see.
Special spent the majority of the day in the breakroom, away from the customers and workers. She found a coloring book and worked on a picture of a zebra (hers had purple and blue stripes, not the usual black and white).
“What are you drawing?” Ianchelle asked when she came in for lunch.
“Things,” Special muttered.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t get your painting done this morning.”
“How long will we be here for?”
Oh, the number of times a child has heard the words not long, only for the day to stretch out for eternity.
Special hated being stuck in the salon, but she knew that they needed the extra money. Would Shawn really leave if they paid him back? Would things go back to normal? The answer to these why’s were more important than anything else.
The day went slow as expected. Special found a comfortable chair to rest her eyes for a bit. She dreamed about the colors she was going to use for her three creations. The alien and turtle were going to be green, while the caterpillar was going to be yellow with red stripes.
Shawn’s Nova was parked in the driveway when they got home. He had done a poor job; the two right tires were in the grass and had left tread marks in the yard. Shawn was good at leaving marks wherever he went.
“What’s he doing here?” Ianchelle said, so flustered that she almost rear-ended the Nova.
“I thought you said he wasn’t coming over this weekend,” Special said.
“That’s what he told me.”
“But why is he here?”
“I don’t know.”
A sinking feeling pulled at Special’s stomach. In the worst way, she wanted to go back to the salon and pass out on the floor until Monday.
Shawn was not happy when they came inside. “What in the hell is this? I come home and the place is trashed.”
“It’s not trash,” Ianchelle said. She was in such a rush to get her shoes off that she almost fell on her face. “Special’s working on a project for school.”
“How am I supposed to eat?”
“Once she’s done painting, the table will be cleared off.”
“No! If there’s one thing I know it’s that your word means nothing. Where were you anyway? Tried your cell for hours.”
“I must have left it at home.”
“Geez, Chelle! You gotta be smarter than that.”
“Sorry.” Ianchelle looked over at Special. “Baby, can you move your project over so Shawn can sit at the table?”
Special opened her mouth to say something, but Shawn wasn’t having it. He slammed his arm onto the table and in one motion, swiped it across the wood, sending all of the supplies and her three creations onto the floor.
“There. That’s better,” Shawn said.
Special screamed and tried to get in front of Shawn. She tripped over his extended leg and landed in the middle of her creatures, biffing her chin on the floor.
Ianchelle pushed Shawn in the back. “You did that on purpose!” she said. “Say you’re sorry.”
“She tripped herself!” Shawn said.
“My creatures,” Special said. She scooped up the turtle, alien, and caterpillar. She didn’t realize her chin was bleeding.
“I saw what you did! You tripped her!” Ianchelle said, pushing Shawn again.
“I would never!” Shawn said. He wrapped his arms around Ianchelle and started to squeeze. “You push me! You push me! I think it’s time to collect my money. Do you have it?”
“Stop being ridiculous.”
“Do you have it? Bitch, I asked you a question.” He squeezed her again, this time cracking her back.
“Stop it! You’re hurting me.”
“I SAID DO YOU HAVE IT?”
“No! No! But I will. Soon! I will!”
“Bullshit!” He let go of her and stormed into the living room. The TV came on, followed by the metal clink of the recliner being kicked out.
Ianchelle started to cry. “I will,” she said. “I will have it. I will have it.” She looked at Special. “I’m sorry, baby.”
“I know, mama.” Special started to cry. She felt helpless. Not just because of Shawn’s behavior, but because five minutes from now her mama would start apologizing to him. Even though there was nothing to apologize about; even though Shawn was the embodiment of evil. That wasn’t right. That hurt Special more than anyone could ever know, more than I could ever know or understand.
Ianchelle helped Special clean up the mess and wiped the blood from Special’s chin. She went into the living room and sat next to Shawn. At halftime of the game, the two of them retreated to the master bedroom and shut the door.
Special didn’t waste a second.
She put her creatures in her book bag, went outside, and pulled her wagon to her play spot. The creatures didn’t need to be painted. They were beautiful as they were. She parked the wagon near the barrel and emptied her book bag onto the rug. She pulled out a notepad from the front pocket to document her observations. There was a Sharpie clipped to the front and she took it and stuck it in her mouth, gnawing and thinking. Today wasn’t only about bringing her creatures to life, it was about figuring out the why.
She repeated the same steps from last time: placing the creatures into the old barrel, closing the lid, pretending to leave. The lid began to wobble again, sliding off the top of the barrel and onto the concrete. Three creatures climbed out and sat in a line. Even though Special figured this would happen, there was still a shred of doubt inside of her wondering if it had all been a dream. It was, after all, against everything she had ever been taught.
Newspaper and Styrofoam can’t come to life.
Miracles aren’t real.
But maybe they were? Maybe the ones who believed miracles weren’t real said those things because they had never seen one, because they had never had a reason to believe in them.
Special believed now.
The turtle, caterpillar, and alien looked up at her, waiting for instructions.
She took the Sharpie from her mouth and popped off the cap, ready for note-taking. “Ok, let’s see you move.”
The caterpillar went first. It slithered across the concrete at an odd angle. Some of its legs were too short on one side, causing it to move in circles rather than a straight line. The turtle went next, its slow body scraping the ground while it crawled. The alien went last. It was by far the quickest, its three legs giving it perfect balance like a tripod.
Much was learned about the paper mushies, so much that the Sharpie was beginning to fade. She started a new page in her notebook, a summary of everything:
What the Paper Mushies Can Do
- Jump (only alien)
The last one was a mystery to her. She had fallen asleep with Ivory and never got to see what happened after. That was when everything unraveled. That was when Ivory died.
She set the three creatures in the wagon and pulled them home. Ianchelle and Shawn were still in the master bedroom, listening to music from Shawn’s phone. Special went into her room and played with the creatures, singing songs and reading them stories. She tried her best to stay up, but she was exhausted.
The next morning, her creatures were in pieces.