To the wall you scolded for running into me,
To the wheelchair-bound turkey who gave us its drumsticks,
To the duck-billed dinosaur bones in your backyard,
and to you, Frank.
Also to my mom, who knows I couldn’t have done it without her.
My breakfast—watermelon chunks, apple slices, green grapes, blueberries, and a dollop of bright orange yogurt—sat forgotten beside my sketchbook, as I watched my mother eat. Looking down at my sketch, I drew in her hair, the long, flowing tresses of my imagination, not the short, drab, buzz cut she wore now. Her hair was cut that way because it was easy to maintain and keep clean, but it wasn’t attractive. It didn’t look very good on the male patients; on women it was awful. I drew her the way Dad said she had looked that night, sixteen years ago, her face peaceful in sleep, her shining, golden hair forming a halo around her on the pillow.
My mom and dad, Sara and Frank, met when they were twelve years old when they lived together in a group home. Overcrowded, under-managed, drab, and lonely, to Dad it was a “home” in nothing but name. His parents had been killed in a car accident, and his only other relative was a grandmother who had dementia and was living in a home herself. Mom’s parents were probably alive but didn’t want to be bothered with raising her. She’d never known her father, and her mother had gone on a South American vacation, met a man there, and never come back.
Mom was Dad’s only friend in the group home. He said her golden hair and bright, hazel eyes were his only lights in that dark place. She was friends with all the kids there, always smiling, always ready for the next adventure, and always getting in trouble with the adults who ran the place. After Dad was adopted—rescued—he thought about Mom all the time. He wondered what had happened to her, but he never knew, never saw her again, for over fifteen years.
I drew what Mom looked like the moment Dad and she were reunited, when he looked through an open hospital room door and saw her there sleeping. In that first startled moment of recognition, when he gasped and said her name, he didn’t notice that there was someone else in the room, a child in a plastic bassinet. I was three hours old.
Audrey walked along the sidewalk feeling exposed. It was too open—flat sidewalks, flat streets. Even the buildings were flat—single story stucco houses, made to look like adobe, flat roofs and all. The landscaping consisted mostly of gravel and cacti; the only trees were spindly, twisted, and small, like stooping old men. A chilly wind sent strands of hair blowing into her face, but the sun was shining too bright, adding to her feeling of exposure.
Pushing the hair from her eyes, she wondered when she’d last had a haircut. It had been a while. Her roots were showing; her hair was brown at the top and dull orange at the bottom. When she’d dyed it, it had been a surprising, vibrant orange, but it had since faded. She’d gained weight, too. She’d always considered herself a bit chubby. Now the word “fat” would probably be a more apt description.
As the sidewalk led her past a schoolyard, she stopped and looked in at the playing children. The school was faux adobe like everything else in Organo, and so seemed alien to her, but the playground equipment was familiar—swings, monkey bars, a slide—the same things she’d played on in elementary school. She closed her eyes and listened to the children’s shouts and laughter, and then something else. With a start, her eyes popped back open.
Supposing themselves unobserved, a group of children was chanting, “Red rover, red rover…” but before they could call someone over, a teacher came running toward them. “Stop it!” she said. “Don’t you know how dangerous that is?”
Audrey turned and walked away. On the corner, just beyond the school and looking utterly out of place in this stucco and cement neighborhood, stood a large, two-story brick house in a gated yard. The house had a new looking, metal roof and an old looking front porch with a white porch swing. The yard was occupied by two massive trees, and beneath them were actual patches of grass. Signs on the gate and the house identified it as “Harman Catatonia Center.”
Carefully pushing open the gate—it didn’t squeak—she walked up a narrow stone walk, climbed the porch steps and stood before the door, wondering if she should knock or just go in. Before she’d decided, it swung open, and a tall, Hispanic woman in scrubs came out, nearly bumping into her.
The woman looked her up and down, seeming entirely unsurprised about their near accident.
“Sorry,” Audrey muttered, nervously.
The woman nodded. “Audrey,” she said, wrapping her arms around her in a tight hug. After a moment, she pulled back, but she kept her fisted hands on Audrey’s shoulders, looking into her face. “I haven’t seen you since you were eight years old.”
The woman’s smile grew, but then faded, and she sighed. “I have to go. I’m sorry. I wish I…”
“It’s okay,” said Audrey.
“I’m sorry,” Maria said again, and Audrey wasn’t sure if she was talking about having to go or something more.
Maria went on. “Anna will be right with you. She’ll take you to your brother.” With a final sigh and a look back, Maria hurried away.
Audrey turned back to the door, but before she could step through the open doorway, another woman in scrubs appeared, this one a redhead in her early forties. She’d grabbed hold of the door, about to shut it, when she noticed Audrey standing there.
“Oh!” she said. Startled, she covered her mouth with her hand. A large diamond engagement ring and gold wedding band gleamed conspicuously on her finger.
She smiled awkwardly. “Hi. You must be Audrey, Andrew’s sister. I’m Anna.” She laughed. “Aren’t’ we a bunch of A’s? Come on,” Anna said, turning and leading her into the house. “I’ll take you to see your brother.”
The front door opened into a large living room, its walls a pale yellow except for the molding around the doors which was white and intricately carved. The floor was hardwood, with a few floral throw rugs. To the right, there was a staircase leading up to the second floor. Couches and chairs were arranged in the center of the room around a small television.
In the midst of this, Audrey was startled to see a man in very simple patient-like garb, hands covered by surgeon’s gloves, lurching like Frankenstein’s monster as he walked in place.
“That’s Kevin,” said Anna, “our early riser, getting his morning exercise in.”
“He can move?” Audrey said, staring at him.
Anna nodded serenely. “They all move if you guide them. All our patients get some daily exercise.”
“But he’s doing it on his own.”
“Mmm-hmm,” said Anna. “I had to get him started, get him moving in a rhythm. Then he’ll keep at it for a while.”
Audrey watched, eyes wide, as Kevin continued to lurch in place. “They all can do that?”
Anna nodded. “More or less. Kevin used to be an athlete, and he likes to move. He’s the most active.”
Watching Kevin a moment more, Audrey turned and faced her. Swallowing, she said, “How does Andrew do?”
“Alright,” Anna answered. She smiled sadly. “He can be hard to get going in the mornings. He likes to sleep in.”
Audrey laughed, bringing a little unexpected cheer to the somber atmosphere. “He always did.”
“This way,” Anna said with a chuckle. She led her across the room, toward a hallway, but before they reached it, she stopped at an open doorway and peered in.
A pretty teenage girl, about Audrey’s age, with long, curly, dark hair sat at a dining room table. Beside her was a woman dressed as a patient, her hands, like Kevin’s, in surgical gloves. The girl wore a black T-shirt from a rock concert and pink pajama pants with strawberries on them. She had a sketchpad before her on the table and seemed to be drawing the patient, who was eating oatmeal in a mindless, repetitive way, the spoon held in a closed fist.
“Clarity,” Anna called through the doorway. “Go get dressed, and wake your father up.”
Looking up, the girl smiled toward Audrey and then rolled her eyes. “OK. I’m going,” she said.
The patient finished her oatmeal, and, not noticing, continued shoveling the empty plastic spoon into her mouth.
“It’s all gone, Mom,” the girl said, grabbing the woman’s gloved hand and taking the spoon from her.
Anna walked on, but Audrey hesitated in the doorway, staring at the girl and her catatonic mother. As she watched, the girl gathered up her mother’s empty bowl, and dropped it and the spoon into a trash can marked “biohazard.” The girl turned back, and her eyes met Audrey’s. Audrey flushed and looked away, then quickly followed after Anna, who led her down a hall and into Andrew’s room.
The room was simple and bright with a large window, hospital bed, armchair, and nightstand. On top of the nightstand was a picture of the family—Andrew, Audrey, their parents. It was an old picture. Their dad had died several years before. They were all smiling, standing in front of the dolphin tank at the aquarium. On the wall was taped a poster of Andrew’s band, Benjamy. Andrew had been the front man and lead guitarist. Audrey had played bass.
“Dr. Harman thinks it’s important for the patients to have familiar things to look at,” said Anna, “things to remind them of their lives.”
Audrey nodded mutely, taking it all in, looking everywhere but at the patient in the bed. The room was nice enough, better than what she’d expected. It was homey, not like a hospital. It smelled clean and lemony, without the harsh tang of antiseptic chemicals. It was strange to think of Andrew in a place so neat and tidy, though. He was a messy person. She supposed he wasn’t capable of messiness anymore.
Finally, stealing herself, she looked down at her brother. Andrew’s eyes were open, his expression vacant, and his mouth hung open, a stream of drool running down his chin.
“Good,” said Anna, looking down at him. “You’re awake. Your sister’s here to see you. Oh no, you’ve lost a glove.”
Audrey’s gaze flicked to Andrew’s hands, laid out on top of a handmade quilt, one of their mother’s creations. One hand wore a surgical glove; the other was naked and pale. It was a small thing, but oddly, Audrey found it a little encouraging. Her brother could still be messy.
Anna turned to a glove dispenser on the wall. “Oops,” she said. “Empty. I’ll get some more. I’ll be right back.”
Turning to leave, she hesitated, and then turned back to Audrey. “Don’t touch his hand.”
“I know,” said Anna. “I’m sorry, but I’d feel terrible if I didn’t say anything and something happened.”
Audrey shook her head. “I know better than to let something happen.”
The nurse sighed. “Everyone knows better, but no one is perfect. We can all make a mistake.”
Anna launched into a lecture. “None of us knows how susceptible we are to goblin fruit. Some people use it continually and never become catatonic. Others fall into catatonia the first time they try it. You share the genes of a cataleptic, so you may be more vulnerable than most people. You can’t ever forget.”
As Anna continued speaking, Audrey began to picture the things she was saying. She imagined Anna leaving the room to get the glove and imagined herself moving up close to her brother, staring down at his uncovered hand.
“Traces of goblin fruit leach out through the pores of your brother’s hands,” said Anna.
Audrey saw large drops of bright orange moisture appear on Andrew’s palm.
“You touch him and become contaminated.”
She saw herself touch her brother’s hand and then stare at the orange liquid running down her own fingers until it was absorbed into her skin.
“You crave the drug,” said Anna.
Now she was pacing back and forth in her apartment, beating her fists in agitation.
“You try it,” Anna said.
She approached a dealer on the street and bought the goblin fruit, a large clear capsule filled with the orange liquid. She shoved it in her mouth and the juice ran down her chin.
“Right away you’re addicted,” said Anna. “You keep using it.”
Audrey saw herself consuming the drug again and again.
“Until suddenly a day, or a week, or a month later, it happens.”
Audrey shoved a capsule into her mouth one last time, and then began to convulse, falling down and lying in the street.
“Your body stays but your mind is gone.”
She stopped twitching, and lay still, her eyes wide, but unmoving, her mouth hanging open.
Blinking, Audrey looked at the nurse. “That’s not going to happen to me,” she said.
“I hope not,” said Anna. “I’ll be right back.” She left to get the glove and Audrey stared at Andrew’s empty face, trying not to look at his bare hand. It was all too much for her. Seeing her brother had, amazingly, been even harder than she expected.
When Anna came back with a new box of surgical gloves, Audrey was hurrying out of the room. “I have to go,” she said, running past.
Anna looked after her, shaking her head sadly. “Poor girl.”
Putting on gloves herself, she removed Andrew’s remaining glove and picked up the one which had fallen to the floor. Glancing briefly out the open doorway, she turned her back to it, and dropped the gloves into a specimen bag, then labeled and sealed it before tucking it into the front pocket of her scrubs. With a second glance out the doorway, she took fresh gloves from the box and put them on Andrew’s hands.
I went out the door of the catatonia center dressed in jeans and another rock band’s T-shirt. My hair was pulled into a ponytail, and I was wearing some makeup—lip gloss, mascara—nothing much, but more than I usually bothered with. Zipping up my jacket and dropping my purple backpack down beside her, I sat next to Audrey on the porch steps.
“Hey. I’m Clara. Clarity.”
Audrey wiped at her eyes with her sleeve before answering. “Audrey.”
We sat quietly for a minute, birds chattering and cawing in the trees. A breeze blew, sending leaves swirling around us.
“It’s hard,” I said. “I know.”
Audrey looked away, blinking back tears. She cleared her throat. “So you live here?”
“Yeah,” I answered, “with my dad, Dr. Harman. Anna works days and then our new nurse, Maria—I guess she’s friends with your mom—is here nights. It works out pretty well.”
“It doesn’t freak you out?” said Audrey. “Being around all those…” She couldn’t say it. Her voice trailed off.
I shook my head. “No, but I’m used to it. My mom’s been cataleptic my whole life.”
*She looked at me._ [[“How…” she*]_] began.
I grimaced. I didn’t exactly like talking about it, but at least this part wasn’t a secret. “Doing drugs in the hospital the same day I was born. Some great mom, huh?” (The part that was a bit of a secret, though Dad had never kept it secret from me, was that my parents had never actually been a couple, and my dad was not my biological father.)
“Huh…” Audrey said.
I sighed. “But to be fair, she couldn’t have known what would happen. She was the first goblin fruit catalepsy in the U.S.”
“Wow.” Audrey picked up a leaf and crushed it in her hand. “Andrew knew what could happen,_ and he did it [_*anyway[.”*]]
She opened her fist, holding the little pieces of leaf in her open palm, letting a few of them blow away. “He took it at a party I made him *go to*. He didn’t even want to be there.” She blew on her hand, sending the remaining pieces flying.
I hated that, the way the families were always blaming themselves. “That’s not your fault,” I said. “It may not have been the first time he took it. They usually don’t go catatonic the first time.”
Audrey laughed bitterly. “That doesn’t make it better. We were together all the *time,_ [[*and I didn’t even notice that he was using fruit?”]_]
I looked down. I’d said the wrong thing. I wanted to kick myself. I changed the subject. “Your mom’s been here a lot. I’m surprised you came by yourself…to see your brother.”
“It’s weird enough around my mom already. I couldn’t see him with her here…”
The door opened behind *us,] [[*and Dad came out onto the porch. He looked rumpled and sleepy, like always in the morning. His dress shirt was a little wrinkled, and a not-yet-tied necktie hung around his neck. “Ready, Clara?” he said. Noticing Audrey, he stopped short. “Oh, hi. I’m Frank. Doctor Harman.”]
We stood up, and I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulder. The thing was full of textbooks and weighed a ton.
“Hi. I’m Audrey Ortiz,” Audrey said to Dad, brushing some crushed leaves from her pants.
He nodded. “Right. Andrew’s sister. Your mom said you’d be *stopping by*. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“You too, Sir.”
Dad smiled awkwardly. “I’ve got to take Clarity to school now. She’s not allowed to drive on her own yet, but I’ll be back in a few minutes if you want to talk about your brother.”
“No, that’s ok,” said Audrey, tucking a stray hair behind her ear. “Another time. I’ll be back. I should have come sooner.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Dad said. “Your brother’s only been here a couple of *weeks,] [[*and you’re here now.”]
“Are you getting settled?” he asked. “Have you started school?”
“My mom’s taking me to get registered today.”
I smiled at that. I liked Audrey. I’d heard her address when her mom had registered Andrew, and she lived in an apartment complex about a mile away. We’d go to the same school. Maybe we’d share some classes. “Try to get Mrs. Nelson for English,” I said. “She’s awesome.”
“Okay,” she said, nodding.
“I hope you haven’t missed too much,” said Dad.
“I’m probably okay,” she answered. “I was doing a homeschooling program while Andrew and I were touring, but now that that’s over my mom thinks I should go back to a regular school.”
Dad just stared for a second in the blank way he does sometimes and then comprehension dawned, his face lighting up. “Oh right! You were in Benjamy. You all were getting a little famous I heard.
“You heard of us here, in New Mexico?” she asked.
“Well, no,” he admitted. “Your mother told us about it, but Clarity downloaded your album onto her iPod.”
He turned and looked at me. “What’s that song you like called?”
*Oh,_ crap. I hesitated. I really [[*didn’t want to answer that.]_]
“Let me guess,” Audrey said. “The single. ‘First of Many.’”
I nodded. Talk about sad and ironic—giving a song that name and going catatonic soon afterward. But it was an awesome song.
“Oh,” said Dad, sounding uncomfortable.
Audrey kicked at the leaves scattered on the porch. “Don’t worry about it. I know it’s ironic. The band’s finished. Andrew wrote all the songs.”
“You’re a good bass player,” I told her.
Audrey shook her head. “No, I’m not. Andrew wrote the songs for easy bass parts. He only let me be in the band because I was…I am…his little sister.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Dad said, chiming in. “I’ve heard it. You have talent.”
“Doesn’t matter. That’s all over now.” She walked down the steps. On the *walkway,_ [[*she turned back. “I better go…”]_]
“Come and see me later,” Dad said. “We’ll talk about your brother.”
“Alright,” she answered, and then walked away up the street.
We got in the car with me in the driver’s seat. Putting on my seatbelt, I turned and gave Dad my best “Are you crazy?” look. “Why did you ever become a psychiatrist?” I asked.
“I wanted to help people.”
I rolled my eyes. “But didn’t you know you’d have to talk to them?”
He chuckled. “I stuck my foot in my mouth there didn’t I?” He shook his head. “Honestly, I always preferred the research side of things.”
“You’re lucky all your patients are zombies,” I told him. I started the car, and the song we were just talking about, “First of Many,” which I’d burned onto a CD, started up with it. It really was a great song. I bobbed my head to the beat as we drove away.
Third period English was my favorite class besides Art, which, due to some very annoying scheduling conflicts I wasn’t taking this semester. Part of the reason I liked it was the atmosphere. Mrs. Nelson always left the fluorescent lights off and the big windows uncovered, making the lighting a lot less depressing than in the rest of the school. The walls of the room were covered in creative art projects portraying Juliet on her balcony and Piggy from Lord of the Flies and a bunch of scenes from a bunch of other books, too. Also, Mrs. Nelson was less boring than the average teacher. Regardless, I wasn’t paying attention.
I was thinking about Audrey. It was really sad how torn up she was about her brother. I was used to tragedy, a little numb to it maybe. All of the patients at the catatonia center were tragedies, my mother included. It *sometimes sucked*, badly, but I’d never known Mom any other way. What Audrey was going through was different. To be around someone every day, to talk and laugh with him, to think everything was fine, and then to have that person disappear, become one of the walking dead—it was awful.
“Clarity…Clarity Harman…Earth to Clarity…” Ms. Nelson was staring at me, and, glancing around, I realized the rest of the class was too. Todd (thinks he’s God) Williams laughed sneeringly from the back row.
“Clarity,” Mrs. Nelson said again, “What poem do you plan to interpret for your midterm assignment?”
“Goblin Market,” I answered right away, “by Christina Rosetti.”
Mrs. Nelson stared at me for a second before nodding. “That’s an ambitious choice. ‘Goblin Market’ is a much longer, more complex poem than students in this class usually have chosen, but if you’re sure…”
“I am,” I said, and I was. I hadn’t even considered another poem. “Goblin Market” was the only poem that mattered to me.
“Okay,” Mrs. Nelson said and turned away. “Isaac Juarez, what about you?”
“‘The Cat in the Hat’ by Theodor Geisel, ma’am.”
The class laughed.
“No Dr. Seuss, Isaac,” said Mrs. Nelson.
The door opened, and Audrey walked through it. She looked nervous, and I gave her an encouraging smile as Mrs. Nelson introduced her as a new student. She smiled back and then, looking toward the back of the room, gave an even bigger smile and a small wave. I turned to see who she was looking at and got a sick feeling in my stomach when I saw Todd.
Could Audrey be joining the ranks of the Todd worshipers already? He was the worst boy in the world to have a crush on—mean, shallow, and completely self-obsessed. Plus he was a major partier.
When the bell rang about fifteen minutes later, I was glad Todd and his friends left quickly, not giving Audrey a chance at any more contact. I went over to the desk Mrs. Nelson had assigned her to at the side of the room. “Hey,” I said. “You’re here.”
She smiled and then rolled her eyes. “Yeah, took me all morning to get registered, but I’m here.”
“Walk with me,” I said. “I’ll show you the cafeteria.”
The cafeteria was like generic school cafeterias everywhere. The floors were linoleum. The tables were those long, gray, institutional type with attached benches. Posters of food pyramids and talking fruits and vegetables decorated the walls. Along one side was the serving area worked assembly-line-style by a surly cafeteria lady and the students from whatever club wanted to earn some extra cash that week to buy soccer balls, or food for needy families, or halter tops for unfailingly slutty pep rally dance routines.
As we got our lunch trays, I scanned the room. My friends weren’t there, again. Lately, the term “friends” had become pretty questionable. I knew where they were—getting high behind the equipment shed. They’d tried to get me to come a couple of times, but yeah, that wasn’t happening. I mean, come on, I lived in a fruit-induced catatonia center. I wasn’t interested in drugs, and the fact that my former best friend, Jamie, was dating Todd’s best friend, Pete, a freaking drug dealer, didn’t change that. Quite the opposite. He was an idiot. They were all idiots. So what if he didn’t sell fruit? So what if the pills they took were legal with a prescription? That didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous. *Anyway*, I was glad Todd wasn’t there because I thought I should try to keep Audrey as far away from him as possible. I led her toward the end of a table at the side of the room.
As Audrey sat down, her iPod fell out of her pocket and tumbled to the floor. She picked it up and set it on the table next to her tray. She was wearing fingerless bicycle-style gloves, which I liked. They were a lot like mine. Gloves were part of the school’s dress code, but it was dumb. Okay, so don’t go holding hands with strangers; that was common sense, but people were way too paranoid about casual contact. I had lived with catatonia patients, people whose sweat, especially on their palms, had been shown to continue to excrete the drug years after last use, and nothing had ever happened to me.
“What do you listen to?” I asked her, nodding toward the iPod.
“Oh a bunch of different stuff,” she said, “Mostly bands that people have never heard of or else bands that are kind of old.”
“I have a lot of Nada Surf on there. I’ve always loved them.”
I laughed. That was clever. “‘Always Love’ is seriously one of the best songs ever,” I said.
“Really?” said Audrey. “Cool.”
I asked her if I could see her iPod and she nodded, taking a bite of her food.
Scrolling through the songs, I raised my eyebrows. “Annie Neilly?”
“Some of her stuff is cool,” Audrey said. Then she laughed, “Or not really. I was going through a phase, alright?”
“Alright…” I said, in a way that let her know I didn’t really believe her, but also that I didn’t really care, and that I thought the whole thing was hilarious. At least I hope that’s how I said it, but it didn’t matter because then I noticed something that floored me. “You have The Mountain Goats on here.”
Audrey nodded, swallowing.
I was amazed. “I thought I was the only person in this entire city who had ever heard of them.”
“Yeah,” said Audrey, “They’re an acquired taste in a lot of ways, but the lyrics are amazing.”
“Yeah, like half the time, I have no idea what he’s talking about,” I said. “He’s referencing obscure literature or something, but that just makes it even *cooler,_ and the songs can be really [[*dark, but in a funny way. You feel like you should be all depressed or something, but laughing at the same time.”]_]
“Like the way life is sometimes.” She paused. “And sometimes it’s just depressing.”
I nodded. I was speechless. She had The Mountain Goats on her iPod. I had burned a CD of some of their songs and listened to it so much that Jamie had burned it literally (as in with a cigarette lighter.)
We ate in silence for a minute while I digested this bizarre-o coincidence, and then I said something about the next band on her playlist, and we spent the rest of the lunch period talking about music. When I looked at my phone and realized the bell was about to ring for fourth period, I groaned. Geometry was all the way across the school. “I better get to class,” I said. “Any more tardies and the school will call my dad.”
“I’ll walk with you,” Audrey said. “If you want.” She sounded kind of shy*.*
I smiled at her reassuringly. “Sure.”
As we walked across the cafeteria, I saw Todd, back from the equipment shed, moving toward me. Pete was next to him, and, holding Pete’s (gloved) hand with one hand and clutching his arm with the other, was Jamie. Todd’s friends and my old friends followed in a big group. “Cafeteria food is rank,” Pete was saying.
Todd ignored him, and stopped in front of me, blocking my way.
He said in a loud voice, “Hey Clarity, I didn’t know you were such an animal lover.”
I glared at him. He was such an idiot, always hassling me. “What?”
He looked at Audrey. “Is it adopt an elephant day or something?”
She gasped and said Todd’s name quietly, sounding completely shocked and devastated.
I glowered at him and then turned my glare to Jamie when I heard her laugh. She never used to be so mean.
She glared back at me. “I don’t know, Todd,” she said. “Maybe Audrey adopted her. That frizzy hair makes more sense on a poodle than a person, and only some kind of color blind creature would wear those clothes.”
And then, without ever deciding to do it, and to my own amazement, I threw my lunch tray at Jamie. My aim was terrible. I hit Todd instead, splattering peach juice and gravy all over his jacket.
He made an angry grunt and took a step toward me.
I backed up, and he came after me, but then stopped, stunned as another tray of food hit him in the chest.
Audrey had thrown her tray too.
“You whale,” he said, and grabbing a fistful of spaghetti off the tray of some random student at a table nearby, hurled it at her.
Then I rushed toward him about to…I had no idea…get in the first fight of my life, and with a boy.
Before I reached him, though, a loud whistle blew. Everyone looked up to see Mr. Sanchez, the assistant principal, coming toward us and bellowing things like,] [[“What’s going on here?” and “Don’t even think about it!”]
At the same time, I noticed Mrs. Nelson standing nearby looking stern, but amused at the same time.
Mr. Sanchez marched Audrey, Todd, and me to his office. Mrs. Nelson came too, walking behind us the whole way.
Once there, he sat us in a row in front of his desk and told us he was going to go call our parents, not to say a word while he was gone, and that our eyes better be on our feet. I thought he was kind of overdoing the whole tough guy, disciplinarian thing.
While he was gone, Mrs. Nelson just stood there, staring down at us—not very far down; she was about 5 foot 2, but she could still be pretty intimidating. She looked incredibly stern, and I wondered if I’d just imagined her amused look in the cafeteria.
When Mr. Sanchez came back, he told us that Audrey’s and Todd’s mothers and my father were on their way.
“You called my mom?” said Todd.
“Yes, I did,” said Mr. Sanchez, his tone exasperated. “I tried your father’s work, but his secretary said that he couldn’t be disturbed.”
Todd started to protest, but Mr. Sanchez barked “I don’t want to hear it.”
Todd backed down and looked sullenly at his feet. I decided I kind of liked Mr. Sanchez’s tough act when it was directed at Todd.
*Our parents got there really quick._ [[*I was surprised to see who Todd’s mom was, absolutely amazed actually. It was Maria, the new nurse at the catatonia center! I hadn’t known Todd was half Hispanic, and I certainly had never expected that he could]_] be descended from someone as nice as Maria. The decency gene must have skipped a generation.
Maria and Audrey’s mom hugged as soon as they saw each other. I knew they were old friends, which made me wonder about Todd and Audrey. How well did they know each other? I’d thought they just met today.
“Dr. Harman,” Maria said, greeting my dad.
“Maria,” he said. “What a surprise.” He smiled reassuringly at her, and then looked at Audrey’s mom, and said “Mrs. Ortiz, good to see you.”
Mrs. Ortiz had light brown hair and blue eyes. She was a large woman, obese even, and she had some health problems. She used crutches to help her get around, the kind for walking, not the underarm kind people hop around on. She had a kind face and many laugh lines, but you could see strain there too. She was a woman who had known great joy and great sorrow. “And you, Dr. Harman. This is quite an assemblage isn’t it?”
“Yes indeed,” said Dad, and then looked at me, a question in his eyes.
I grimaced. This was majorly awkward.
Mr. Sanchez asked them to sit, and when everyone except Mrs. Nelson was seated and rather cramped in the not-huge office, he said, “Your children very nearly started a brawl in the cafeteria at lunch today.”
I thought that was an exaggeration, but it certainly had the impact he was going for—shock. Our parents each sent startled looks at us, and we each just avoided their gazes.
Mr. Sanchez went on. “Now we need to get to the bottom of this.” He looked around at us all and then his gaze settled on Audrey. “Why don’t you start?”
Audrey cleared her throat and swallowed, looked at her feet, and then looked up, but I could tell she wanted to melt into her chair.
“It wasn’t her fault,” I said. “It was between Todd and me. He and…his friends were harassing Audrey and me, and I lost it. I threw my tray at him.”
“I see,” said Mr. Sanchez. “What did Todd do to you?”
Todd groaned. “Nothing.”
I glared at him. “He’s constantly hassling me,” I said. “But today…he said something about Audrey.”
“Oh?” said Mr. Sanchez.
I looked at Audrey. She was staring at her shoes.
Mr. Sanchez made an impatient noise in his throat. “What did he say?”
I didn’t answer. Todd and Audrey were both staring at the floor, but whereas Audrey looked embarrassed, Todd just looked sullen, like a spoiled little kid.
“Audrey?” said Mr. Sanchez.
She looked up. “He was making fun of my weight.”
“Ay!” said Maria, and we all looked at her. She was glaring at her son. “Is this true?”
He grunted. “I guess so, but I was just kidding. Clarity turned it into a big deal.”
I opened my mouth, about to let him have it, but Maria beat me to it.
“Be a man!” she said. “Are you a gentleman or are you a beast?”
“Yes,” Mr. Sanchez said, joining in, “That’s hardly the way to welcome a new student, young man.”
Todd shook his head but didn’t respond.
I heard Audrey’s mom whisper “Are you alright?” to her, but she just shrugged.
“Hmm,” said Mr. Sanchez, pushing himself back from the desk and looking around at us. “So what are we going to do about this?”
“Punish him,” said Maria, “but DO NOT suspend him. He will just get in more trouble.”
Mrs. Nelson spoke up for the first time, from where she stood by the wall. “May I make a suggestion?” she asked.
Mr. Sanchez nodded.
“These three are all in my third period English class. I think that Todd needs some time with Audrey and Clarity to learn how to interact with them without being a bully, and I think Clarity and Audrey need to practice dealing with Todd without resorting to violence.” She looked at us. “I suggest that you three spend the next two weeks of lunch periods in my room. I’d like you, Clarity, to coordinate the painting of a mural on one of my walls. You can research some literary theme together, and turn it into a mural. I’ll want some kind of a sign that tells about the author whose work you depict.”
*Mr. Sanchez cleared his throat. “Well,_ [[*that’s an interesting idea, Mrs. Nelson. Of course, they’d need to be supervised. Are you volunteering?”]_]
“I suppose so,” she said.
The assistant principal nodded. “*Alright,] [[*that sounds like a good idea to me.” He glowered at us. “If it isn’t agreeable to any of you, I’m sure we could come up with something more severe.”]
I smiled at Mrs. Nelson and mouthed “thank you.” This was sure a lot better than being suspended or going to ISS, even if I had to put up with Todd.
Todd sighed and said “Just suspend me,” but his mother said something cutting to him in Spanish. I didn’t know what it was, but I could tell by Mr. Sanchez’s face that he was impressed by it. I half expected him to pull out a notepad and take some notes for improving his tough guy act.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Dad. “Thank you, Mrs. Nelson, for coming up with it.”
The two mothers nodded.
“No problem,” said Mrs. Nelson. “Alright, sounds like a plan. The three of you can just stay in my room each day after third period. I’ll ask the cafeteria to deliver your lunches.”
“I won’t suspend you,” said Mr. Sanchez, “but I do think a cooling off period might be a good idea. He looked at our parents. “Do you think you could take your children home with you? They can return to school tomorrow.
They all agreed. Mrs. Nelson left the room first and then we followed her out. Once we got into the *hall,] [[*Todd said, “bye,” to his mom and tried to leave. She grabbed his arm.]
“I can walk,” he said.
“No, you can NOT,” she said. “You’re not going to spend all day alone at your father’s house. You’re coming to your grandparents’ house with me.”
She stepped close to him. “I am still your mother, and you will show me respect, or you’re going to have to deal with me and with your uncle too.”
He gritted his teeth and looked away.
Her voice *softened,] [[*and she said, “Mijo, Abuelito has been asking for you every day. He’s so sad that you haven’t come to see him.”]
Todd’s face, which had been red, with anger presumably, paled. He sighed and then nodded.
Dr. Harmon and Clarity, and Maria and Todd headed out quickly to their cars. There were some parent-child discussions that needed to take place and the parents, at least, were anxious to get them underway. Audrey and her mom left the school much more slowly. Her mom just didn’t walk fast. Audrey was used to it. Mrs. Ortiz also had a nervous bladder, and they stopped at the bathroom on the way out.
When they finally got to the parking lot and neared their car, they saw that something was wrong. The hood on Maria’s car was propped open, and Todd was standing in front of it looking like (or trying to look like) he knew something about cars, which Audrey sincerely doubted. Todd get his designer gloves dirty? Right.
Maria was standing beside him with her phone to her ear, looking annoyed. As they approached, she hung it up angrily. “It’s busy!” she said.
“Maria,” said Mrs. Ortiz, “Need a ride?”
Todd’s eyes widened, and he gave a frantic shake of the head, but his mother ignored him. Smiling gratefully, she said, “Yes, please. No one’s answering at home.”
Maria’s house was in an old section of town, one that Audrey immediately recognized. When she was a small child, before her family had moved away, she had lived near here. It didn’t seem nearly so foreign and strange as the rest of the city. Unlike most of the Organo houses built in a faux Mexican style, these were the real deal. They were small, old, and brightly painted. Many of them had bars over the windows. Maria’s house was a bright blue cinder block one with an arched front porch. As they got out of the car and started up the walk toward the house, an old, gray-haired lady came running out. “Oh Todd, Todd!” she said approaching the car. Her accent was heavy and the way she said his name sounded a bit like “toad.” Audrey smiled to herself. She’d have to consider that as a nickname for him.
“Hi Abuelita,” he said, letting the old woman wrap her arms around his chest in a tight hug. She was more than a foot and a half shorter than him.
“Mama,” said Maria. “You remember Natalie and Audrey.”
“Oh, yes, yes, Natalie, of course,” she said, “And no! You’re not Audrey!”
Audrey gave a nervous glance toward Natalie, who was smiling at the little woman.
“Uh, yes I am, Abuela Jimenez. I am Audrey.”
“I know!” said the old lady, “But you can’t be. You were muy Chiquita when I saw you last y ya eres mujercita. Well, come in. Come in!” She grabbed Todd by the arm and pulled him toward the house.
“My car broke down,” said Maria, going ahead. “The phone’s been busy.”
“Yes,” said Abuela Jimenez, with a chuckle. “Hector’s been talking to his girlfriend.”
“What?” said Maria.
Abuela Jimenez just laughed.
As they approached the door, Todd pulled back. “I’ll wait out here,” he said, taking a seat on a flower painted bench on the porch.
“Todd,” said Maria warningly.
“Come inside,” said Abuela Jimenez. “Abuelito will want to visit with you.”
“I don’t want to go in there, ” said Todd, ignoring his mother, who was staring daggers at him. “Can’t Abuelo come out here? He likes to sit outside, doesn’t he? I’ll visit with him out here.”
“Ay!” Abuela Jimenez said, swatting at him. “Fine.” She went inside, and the others followed.
The house was small and clean with a fresh lemony scent that reminded Audrey of the catatonia center. The front door opened into a kitchen with a Saltillo tile floor and a large handmade wooden table. Abuela Jimenez’s son, Hector, stood by the wall talking on a phone with a long curling cord. “Get off the phone!” Abuela scolded him. “We have guests,” and then she sent him to get his father. He went into the living room—the two rooms were separated only by an archway—and then went into a room with a closed door. A moment later he was back pushing his father in a wheelchair. He carefully closed the door behind him.
Audrey could not believe how old Abuelo Jimenez looked. She remembered him as a kind man, who liked to work with his hands. She remembered when he and his two sons, Manuel and Hector, had made the kitchen table. She remembered when he carved little bits of wood into toys for the neighborhood kids. Now his hands were twisted and gnarled. His body was shrunken and stooped, and a tube from an oxygen tank hooked into his nose, helping him to breath.
Abuelo Jimenez signaled Hector to stop when they reached Audrey. “Mi gorda,” he said, and smiled though he had to struggle for breath. It meant fat, but it wasn’t mean when he said it. It was full of love just like it had been when she was a little girl.
Looking up into her face, he grabbed onto her arm. It made Audrey a little uncomfortable because he wasn’t wearing gloves, but she wasn’t going to be rude to him, and she didn’t flinch.
“Abuelito,” she answered.
He looked at her for a moment, smiling, and then let go of her arm and signaled for Hector to start pushing his chair again. Hector took him out onto the porch to visit with his grandson.
Maria and Hector left to attend to her car, and Natalie and Audrey sat in the chairs Abuela Jimenez offered them at the kitchen table, drank iced tea, and ate biscochitos. Audrey sat quietly while her mother and Abuela Jimenez talked. Natalie asked how Abuelo Jimenez was doing, and the old woman looked sad. “Not good,” she said. “He has cancer and the tumor’s too big to operate. The doctors say there’s nothing they can do.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Natalie and Abuela Jimenez nodded.
Audrey heard the soft murmur of Todd’s and his grandfather’s voices outside, as well as long pauses as Abuelo Jimenez struggled for breath. It was so childish and stupid of Todd to refuse to come in the house. Dust and pollen and all that had to be bad for his grandfather’s breathing. He was such a snob.
Her mother and Abuela Jimenez started talking about cheerier things—recipes—and Audrey’s mind wandered. It was so peaceful here, so quiet. She ran her fingers along the grain of the wood in the table. It was such a strong, beautiful table. She remembered hiding under it once when she played hide and seek with Todd and his uncle, Tío Manuel. Manuel was so much fun. He was already a grown up when she’d known him, but he was so full of energy; he played like a child. “Abuela Jimenez,” Audrey said.
The old woman looked at her.
“Where is Manuel?”
The woman’s eyes darted to the closed door through which her husband had come. “Why?” she said, her voice strangely tense.
Audrey hesitated, surprised by her reaction. “No reason,” she said.
Abuela Jimenez watched her.
Audrey went on, “I was just remembering a game of hide and seek with him when I was little. I was just wondering.”
She smiled, seeming to relax. “Yes,” she said, “Manuel loved to play with the children…He isn’t here. He moved away.”
“Oh,” said Audrey. She wanted to ask more but didn’t. Clearly, there was something more to the story. Maybe they’d had a fight. Maybe he’d eloped with a woman Abuela Jimenez didn’t like.
A few minutes later, Audrey’s mother said, “We must be going,” and the women stood up to say their goodbyes. As they moved toward the door, Audrey was surprised to hear a cough coming from the other room, from behind the closed door.
“The dog,” said Abuela Jimenez. “He has a cold.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you had a dog,” said Natalie. “You keep your house so clean.”
“Gracias,” said Abuela Jimenez. “See you later,” and then they were out the door.
Audrey said goodbye to Abuelo Jimenez as they walked past, but she didn’t say anything to Todd, nor he to her.
On the way home, Dad told me he was concerned about my friendship with Audrey, both because of the fight and because of Andrew’s catatonia. He said he was worried that Andrew might not have been the only member of Benjamy using drugs.
That made me a little mad. “You think Audrey’s tried goblin fruit?” I said.
“No,” he said. “I’m pretty sure Andrew beat her to that one.” He sighed and went on. “If anyone ever needed a friend, that girl does. I just want you to be careful.”
“I’m always careful,” I said.
Then he said, “I know,” and that was the end of it. He trusted me.
Early that evening, I sat on the love seat in my living room facing out the front window. My “Goblin Market“] _*storybook was open on my lap, [*and I was thinking about what a trusting man Dad was in general. Completely trustworthy himself, he expected the same quality in everyone else. It was a little scary. It made me feel a little protective of him. I was far less trusting of people, and I didn’t want him to be hurt.]_]
As I thought about that, he came into the room and sat down next to me. His hand fisted, so as not to touch me with an open palm, he put his arm around me.
“Hey, kid,” he said, looking down at the book. It was open to one of its last pages, a golden-haired woman with a bunch of children, her children, all around her. “You looking at your mom’s book again?”
I nodded and read aloud, “Then joining hands to little hands would bid them cling together…” I read silently for a moment, before speaking again. “To lift one when one totters down, to strengthen whilst one stands.”
I held my hand out in front of my face, opening and closing it. “Did you ever hold hands with anyone?” I asked.
I moved away, staring at him in mock terror. “What?”
He laughed. “It wasn’t always so taboo. Before goblin fruit and contamination fears it was seen as innocent, like a kiss on the cheek.”
Leaning back into his shoulder, I looked back at my hand. “Tell me about Mom again,” I said, “and about this book, and the night at the hospital.”
He chuckled. “Okay.” He paused a moment, collecting his thoughts and then began the story. “It was the middle of the night, and it was a slow night; the hospital was quiet. I was in the little closet-sized office I had there, working on compiling the data from a study I’d been conducting. It had to do with taste and odor—the way different foods could affect mood. It’s an interesting topic. I’ve continued my studies with our patients *here,_ [[*and it seems —”]_]
I Interrupted him, because if I didn’t, I knew he’d get completely off topic and might not make it back. “I know, Dad,” I said. “Please go on.”
“Oh, well, then Anna called me. She was the only nurse on shift in the maternity ward. They’d had some nurses call in, so it was good that it was slow, but she sounded worried. She asked me to come up and check on a patient, and since she was cute, I did.”
“What!” I said. “You never mentioned that before.”
He laughed. “I’m just kidding. I mean, Anna was cute,] _*but it was a tiny crush. She always only had eyes for Nick. Anyway, technically she was supposed to call Dr. Bell, who was the psychiatrist on call, but he was a crotchety, disagreeable man, and the nurses all tried to avoid him. She called me, [*and I was glad to get away from the data and statistical computations for a while, so I threw a white coat over my t-shirt and went right up.]_]
She seemed relieved to see me. She told me that the patient had given birth to a baby girl that afternoon, and that everything had been fine with the delivery and that her drug screen had come back clean, but since then the woman had started to act strangely. When Anna was bringing the baby back to her from the nursery, she heard her talking to herself. She sounded frightened, and Anna thought she said, ‘go away’ but there was no one in the room with her.
Anna led me to the patient’s room and through the doorway I saw her. She was asleep, her hair all around her on the pillow, golden like a halo, glowing almost. I recognized her right away, and said her name…”
“Sincerity or Sara?” I asked. I knew the answer, but I liked to hear him say it.
“Sara. She was always Sara to me,” he said, and then paused, lost in the memory. I loved this story partly because he loved it, at least this first part. That moment when he saw her again after so many years, he could never tell it without pausing, reliving the moment. It was beautiful.
*Finally, he cleared his throat and went on. “Anyway,_ you better believe that startled Anna. She asked me if I knew her and I said, ‘a little, a long time ago.’ Then Anna stared at me for a while, but I was too busy staring at Sara to answer, so then she told me that she knew Sara too, that she was an artist, [[*and she’d seen her at some of the art parties she’d gone to with Nick. She said that Sara was a real partier and that she used to date one of Nick’s friends—“]_]
“Marcos,” I said.
He nodded. “Marcos,” he repeated. Anna was married to Nick now,_ and Marcos was his assistant, driver, and [_*bodyguard[. Nick had made mega bucks in his job as a researcher for a pharmaceutical company. As far as I could tell, Anna just worked at the catatonia center because she liked it. If you compared her salary to Nick’s, hers would be like a grain of sand and his would be like the planet earth.]] Anyway[, I’d known Marcos, just like Anna and Nick, pretty much my whole life.*]
Dad went on. “Anna said that Sara and Marcos had broken up quite a while ago, but that she hadn’t seen her around lately, hadn’t known she was pregnant…”
“Then what?” I asked.
He laughed. “Then you started to wail. You were in a clear plastic bassinet next to the bed, and you woke your mother up. She picked you up and rocked you, making little shushing noises. ‘It’s okay, baby. I’m here,’ she said, and she stroked your head, your wispy, dark little curls, and smiled as she stared into your eyes.”
I nodded, my lips pressed tightly together. This part of the story always made me want to cry.
Dad said, “Anna and I went into the room, and Sara smiled when she saw me. I thought that was encouraging. I wasn’t sure whether she’d remember me. Anna offered to take you down to the nursery, told her that the doctor—that’s me—”
I laughed. “I know, Dad.”
“—That the doctor wanted to talk to her. Your mom said okay and asked Anna for some more water. There was one of those big plastic hospital cups with the lid and the accordion straw on the rolling tray beside the bed, so Anna took you and the cup and left. She singsonged to you as she carried you out, ‘Hello, Clarity, hello. What a pretty baby.’”
As he spoke he stared off into space, again caught up in the story. “I told Sara that Clarity was a beautiful name, but she didn’t answer at first. She adjusted the bed with the remote so that she was sitting up. Then she meticulously arranged pillows around herself and smoothed the blanket.”
He smiled. “It brought back memories. Sara always delighted in making people wait. At the group *home,_ she was the slowest counter at hide [[*and seek…”]_]
He chuckled softly. “*Finally,] [[*she folded her hands on her stomach and looked at me. She said, ‘Thank you. It’s like my name, Sincerity, but you know that…” and then she gave me this coy little smile and said, ‘Frank.’”]
“I was so excited that she remembered me,” he said. “I could never have forgotten her, those green-gold hazel eyes, so familiar. I said I hadn’t been sure she’d recognize me since the group home was such a long time ago.
*She nodded and said, ‘You weren’t there very long before you were adopted either.’ That was true. I hadn’t been there very long, though it seemed like forever, and she was the only thing that made it bearable._ She was everyone’s friend, always smiling, mischievous, always ready for the next adventure. I thought about her all the time after Grandpa, your grandpa, adopted me, [[*but I never knew what had happened to her.”]_]
He frowned and went on. “The mischief was still there in her eyes and her smile, but there was caution too and fear. I thought that something had scared her since I’d seen her last. Badly. ‘What about you?’ I asked.
She laughed, a little bitterly, and said that she was in the group home a long time, that she’d aged out. She said I was lucky to have gotten parents.
I looked away. I almost felt a little guilty about my good fortune. I said, ‘One parent, singular,’ but I told her that she was right. I was lucky to have him.”
*He looked at me._ [[“The world is so bizarre sometimes, Clara.]_] It’s hard to believe that I was adopted, and she wasn’t. [*She was so beautiful and so kind, everything a parent could want in a child…like you.”]
“At least when you’re not starting brawls in the school cafeteria,” he said, and I laughed and shoved him in a teasing kind of way.
Continuing the story he told me he’d said, “Clarity’s lucky to have you, Sara,” and again she didn’t answer at first. She was picking at little bits of fuzz on the blanket. Finally, she stopped, sighed, and said, “I’m all she *has,_ [[*and she’s all I have.”]_]
She clenched her hands into fists for a moment before folding them once again over her stomach, and she asked Dad what kind of doctor he was.
When he told her he was a psychiatrist, she laughed and asked if he thought she was crazy. When he told her *no,] [[*she laughed again, and said, “I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Frank.”]
He asked her what she meant, and she waved her hand in the air, brushing the question away. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “The whole world is crazy.” And then she said she wanted to show him something, and she showed him a book.
Dad stopped talking then and gestured to the book in my hands. Reaching out, he closed it and then ran his hand across the front cover, which had a picture of two golden haired girls and the words “Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti.”
“I told her that I’d read the poem in college,” Dad said, “I told her it was one of my favorites. I saw the inscription.” He opened the book and looked at it. “To Clara, with love, Mom.”
He turned the page revealing the first words of the poem and an image of different kinds of fruit—berries, peaches, and oranges—all together in a great, mouth-watering pile. “I asked her if she did the art herself and she said that she had. I was amazed by her talent.”
“It’s beautiful,” Dad told me, looking down at it. He kept turning pages until he got to one of the *goblins*, scary little monsters, part-human, part-animal. Some were mostly animal—rats, snails, wombats. Others, though not fully human, didn’t look like anything from real life. The central creature in the drawing looked mostly human, but had a strange, cat-like look to its slanting eyes, and its mustache looked like whiskers.
Dad told me he said, “It’s frightening, isn’t it?” and she said, “The world is frightening. I want her to be ready.”
He looked at me and shook his head. “I know that for a psychiatrist, I’m not always particularly good at reading people,” he said. “In my work, as much as possible, I’ve focused on research rather than therapy, but I couldn’t help but notice a tinge of fear in her voice and manner, so foreign in someone so daring. I said, ‘Can you tell me more about that?’
He went on. “She laughed sardonically. She said, ‘And there’s your psychiatrist training at work.’ Her voice was laced with irony. ‘No, I can’t tell you more about it,’ she said, ‘You know it’s frightening just like I do.’”
Dad grimaced. “Let me tell you, I felt pretty sheepish then. She said ‘If Clarity were your daughter would you give the book to her?’ I said yes but I’d wait a few years until she knew the difference between real and pretend.”
I cut in. “A few years! How about twelve!” He’d finally given the book to me four years ago. Before that, when I was actually young enough to be looking at picture books, he’d only let me see a few pages of it here and there. Ok, so it was kind of intense and graphic. Maybe it would have frightened me when I was little, but ever since he’d finally let me have it, I’d been completely entranced by the book. I loved it. I loved the poem itself, and I loved the incredible artwork that my mother had created to go with it.
Dad chuckled. “Better safe than sorry,” he said, and then went on with the story. “She repeated what I said, ‘The difference between real and pretend…’ and her voice trailed off like she was lost in thought. We stayed there like that for a while, in silence. Then suddenly she came out of her reverie, her eyes darting to the corner of the room.”
He hesitated for a second. “It was creepy like she saw something there and for an instant I imagined that I saw something too, a shadow, a hint of movement, but there was nothing…”
He shook himself and went on. “Then she took the book back from me and said I’d better go. I was a little worried. I didn’t want to leave, but she said she had paperwork to do and that I should come and see her the next day, so I left…”
Dad’s voice had become all serious. I thought maybe he was wondering what would have happened if he hadn’t left. It was very sad.
He sighed. “Nick had come by to visit Anna and was by the nurses’ station talking to her. She was still holding you. I remember he was wearing a maroon dress shirt and a black tie, his sleeves rolled up to display his toned arms. He was always very concerned with the way he dressed. It was before he’d gotten his big promotion and I remember thinking it was a bit much for the low-level job he had at the pharmaceutical lab, but he made me feel a bit self-conscious in my wrinkled lab coat and T-shirt, let me tell you…I led Anna away a little and said that I thought Sara seemed okay, but that I’d check back the next day. I looked down at you in Anna’s arms. You were fully awake; your eyes were wide open. I asked if I could hold you and she said ‘certainly’ and handed you to me.”
He smiled at me. “You were the sweetest little baby I ever saw,” he said. “Anna grabbed Sara’s cup from the water dispenser, snapped the lid on, and carried it into her. While she was *gone,_ I rocked you, and kind of cooed to you. ‘Such a pretty baby. So smart.’ That sort of thing. I think I made Nick a little uncomfortable. I don’t think he thought I was being [[*very manly. As soon as Anna came back, he kissed her and left.”]_]
Dad took a deep breath and then plunged into the next part of the story, the bad part. “A minute or two later, I said ‘I should probably be getting back,’ so we went to the nursery and laid you down in a bassinet. You were starting to nod off. That’s when we heard the scream.
Anna and I both ran from the nursery and into Sara’s room. She was curled into a fetal position on the bed, her eyes clamped shut.
I asked her if she was alright, and she said, ‘Goblins!’ and ‘Help.’ One of her arms was flailing in the air as though she were trying to slap away some unseen assailant. ‘Help!’ she screamed.
Anna grabbed the phone and called for a rapid response team.
Sara knocked against me with her flailing hand, and I grabbed onto her. She opened her eyes for a brief moment and said ‘Don’t let go,’ and then she started to convulse, her legs kicking out. She was thrashing violently, and she hit the rolling tray, knocking it over and sending the book and a bunch of papers flying. I lost my grip on her hand. She went limp…
The rapid response team showed up. They bustled around and then wheeled her out of the room toward the ICU.
You were crying in the nursery, so Anna went to get you. I just stayed in Sara’s room, staring at the empty space where she had been…”
I leaned my head against Dad’s shoulder. “It’s OK,” I said. “The next part’s better.”
He looked down at me and smiled. “When Anna came back, she asked me if I was alright. I *nodded,_ [[*and she handed you to me and started picking things up, Sara’s cup, and the tray, and all the papers.]_] Picking up the last paper, she looked from it to me and back again.
I said, ‘What?’ and she said, ‘It says you’re the father.’
‘What?’ I said again, and she showed it to me. She said, ‘This is the birth certificate application, and Sara wrote your name down as the baby’s father.’
I just stood there staring at it, and she said, ‘You knew her. Are you the father?’
‘What?’ I said. ‘No. I hadn’t seen her in years.’
Anna gave a small, relieved laugh and said ‘No. Of course not. Sorry…but she wrote your name down.’
I said, ‘Do you think she knew this was going to happen?’
She shrugged. ‘How could she?’
I looked down at you, and I said that I didn’t think there was a father involved. I asked Anna about the friend of Nick’s she’d mentioned who dated her—Marcos. Anna said she’d already asked *Nick,_ [[*and he’d said the timing was wrong. I was surprised that they’d been talking about Sara, but Anna said that he’d seen her through the open door as he walked by and he asked about her.”]_]
Dad shrugged. “Of course, Marcos wasn’t your biological father. I asked him about it later, and then you asked him that time when you were ten—”
I rolled my eyes. “I know, Dad. Go on.”
“Oh, well, we didn’t know who your biological father was. I looked down at you in my arms, and I said, ‘There’s no family either, so if Sara doesn’t get better…’ and Anna finished what I was saying. She said, ‘Then CPS will step in,’ and I said, ‘Foster care,’ and I held you more tightly to me. Watching me, Anna said, ‘Sara’s already signed that paper. If you sign it too, as far as anyone’s going to know, you’re Clarity’s father.’
The story over, Dad looked at me, squeezing me to him with his closed hand. “And she was right,” he said. “I got custody of you, and I opened this center to help your mom and the many catatonia patients that followed. I hired Anna to help out, and that’s it.”
The light had faded as Dad told the story and I could just barely make out the words of the book in my lap.
Looking up, I saw—I thought I saw—a vague, moving figure outside under the trees. At first, I thought it was a really big cat, gigantic, like two feet tall, but there was something strangely human about it, a look to the eyes.
I gave a quick look at my dad, to see if he’d seen it, but he was looking down at the book. I looked back out the window. Whatever it had been, it was gone now. I shook my head and then leaned into Dad’s shoulder. It had looked kind of like one of the goblins in my book, an after image maybe. I’d spent too much time staring at the pictures.
There was a knock at the *door,] [[*and Dad stood and answered it. For a second I kind of freaked, almost expecting it to be the cat goblin, but of course it wasn’t.]
Audrey stood on the front porch of the catatonia center feeling nervous. She’d made a fool of herself that morning running away from her brother’s room, and then, of course, there was the fight in the cafeteria. Clarity was nice, but Audrey didn’t know yet what to think about Dr. Harman, and she was a little uncomfortable about seeing him again. He probably didn’t have a very high opinion of her. “Is it too late?” she asked when he answered the door.
“No, come in,” said Dr. Harman, ushering her inside. “We don’t exactly keep regular office hours. You’re welcome here anytime.” It was dim in the room, so he switched on the light.
Clarity was sitting on the loveseat in the living room. “Hi, Audrey,” she said with a smile.
“Hey,” Audrey answered.
“Andrew’s eating dinner right now,” said Dr. Harman, leading her to the dining room doorway.
All the patients, six total, were sitting around the table, eating together. Anna was standing at the side of the room, supervising. The patients were oddly in sync, their six spoons going from their bowls to their mouths in almost perfect time. Audrey cringed.
“Anna puts them in rhythm on purpose,” said Dr. Harman. “It’s a bit creepy.”
Anna was playfully indignant. “Creepy or not, it helps me keep track of them,” she said. “If one of them chokes, they’ll fall out of sync, and I’ll know right away.”
Turning to Audrey, Dr. Harman said loudly, “We don’t want to doubt Anna’s expertise. She knows what she’s doing.”
“Thanks, Frank,” said Anna.
“But it’s still creepy,” he muttered.
“What’d he say?” Anna demanded.
Audrey laughed, feeling a little more at ease.
“Would you like to go into my office and talk?” Dr. Harman asked. “They should be done with dinner in a few minutes.”
She nodded, and Dr. Harman led her up the stairs to a narrow hallway and into the first door on the right. The office was small and a little cramped. The walls were lined with bookshelves full of books on psychology and catalepsy, and a few on parenting. On the back wall, which slanted with the slope of the roof, were taped numerous paintings and drawings, all signed “Clara” or “Clarity” and dated.
The pictures showed real talent, and Audrey could see why Mrs. Nelson had suggested the mural. In the earliest picture, a watercolor of a rainbow done thirteen years before, the colors were carefully blended between the rainbow’s bands, and in the background beams of light broke through the shadows of dark clouds. The most recent, a laughing image of Dr. Harman, could almost pass for a photograph.
Audrey’s gaze was drawn to an illustration of a golden haired girl being attacked by a number of small animal-like creatures. In their hands were oranges, peaches, and various other kinds of fruit, which they seemed to be beating her with, covering her with juice and pulp. Dated several months ago, the drawing was very well done, and a little disturbing. As Audrey looked at the picture, a shadow seemed to move in the corner of the room. She turned to look, but there was nothing there.
Dr. Harman didn’t seem to notice. “Please have a seat,” he said, gesturing toward the chairs in front of his desk. She sat in one, and he sat in the other, facing her. “I have your brother’s file here,” he said taking it from the top of the desk. He opened it, glancing through. “Andrew Ortiz. Classic goblin fruit induced catatonia. Onset, three months ago. Treatment with benzodiazepines and NMDA antagonists produced no effect…confirming the diagnosis.”
He glanced up from the file, looking at Audrey. “One day we’ll find a treatment that works for this type of catatonia, one that will change everything.”
“One day,” she repeated, hollowly.
Dr. Harman shook his head sadly. “I’ve been working to find a treatment for sixteen years, and I’m not about to give up. I know our progress has been slow, but many of the things that hold us back may change soon.”
He leaned forward, his voice fervent. “There’s a bill before Congress to ease some of the restrictions on research. This center, like most centers, hasn’t been able to test patients’ bodily fluids or the secretions from their hands. Currently, we have to incinerate or sterilize gloves and other contaminated materials immediately. If the law changes, it’ll open up the field for much more research and many more researchers.”
“I heard about that bill,” said Audrey, rubbing her hands against her pants, nervously. “But they say there have been bills like it before, and they haven’t passed.”
Dr. Harman sat back. “That doesn’t mean that this one won’t.” Looking at Audrey, he spoke slowly and with conviction. “There’s a lot of fear and misinformation out there about the dangers of Goblin Fruit contamination. It’s held back our research, but we will find a cure. It just takes time.”
She clasped and unclasped her hands. “How much time do you think my brother has?”
He tapped the folder and smiled. “I think he’ll be with us a long time yet. The fatality rate at this center is very low.”
She nodded. “I know. But people still die here.”
“Yes,” he said. “The affliction eventually claims their lives, but there’s plenty of reason for hope.”
“Clarity said her mom’s been cataleptic a long time—like sixteen years?”
Audrey looked at him hopefully. “And she’s fine?”
He gave a glum smile. “None of them are fine, but she’s still with us. It’s a record.”
“And she’s not dying or anything? She’s as healthy as the day she became catatonic?”
He hesitated. “I’ve seen no signs of decline.”
“And you’d be able to tell?” Audrey said.
Dr. Harman sighed. “No, honestly I probably wouldn’t. Death for catalepsy patients is generally sudden and fast. They don’t suffer much. One morning we can’t get them out of bed, can’t get them to eat or move at all. Then we feed them intravenously, but they pass in a matter of days.”
She slumped in her chair. “So I won’t know…when…I won’t know when it’s going to happen to Andrew?”
“On average, a patient is cataleptic eight years before they die,” he said. “At this center, it’s more like ten. In ten years there’s a good chance that a cure will be found.”
The TV was switched on downstairs and the indecipherable, but loud, sounds of dialog were heard.
“Well,” said Dr. Harman. “It sounds like they’re done with dinner.”
They went back down the stairs to the living room where Clarity and Anna were guiding patients to seats around the TV, an older model on a small TV table. Clarity smiled when she saw them. “Come watch with us.”
Audrey looked at Dr. Harman, who nodded.
“Go ahead,” he said. “I’m going to go cook dinner for those of us not on a special catalepsy diet. You’re welcome to stay if you like.”
When she hesitated, he smiled and said, “Well, think about it.”
He disappeared through the dining room door, and Clarity plopped down on the floor in front of the TV. She leaned back, resting against the bottom of the couch, between the legs of two patients. Audrey sat down on the floor near her, but closer to the TV and well away from the patients.
A news program came on and, uninterested, Audrey mostly watched Andrew. Sitting in an armchair nearby, he was totally still. His head wasn’t at quite the right angle to see the TV, so he stared off into space. Occasionally he blinked, but otherwise, he seemed entirely frozen in time.
The news was uneventful except for a report about the first goblin fruit catalepsy in China. The drug, previously confined to America and southern Europe, was apparently beginning to infiltrate Asia.
When the news program ended, Anna shook her head. “Well, Maria’s late. Come on, Clarity. Let’s get the patients to bed.”
She and Clarity began moving patients away to their rooms.
As Audrey stood up, a commercial came on with “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash as its theme music. “That’s one of Andrew’s favorite songs,” she said. Looking at her brother, she noticed the corner of Andrew’s mouth turn up. “He’s smiling!” she said and gestured frantically in the air for Anna and Clarity to come and look.
They left the patients they were leading away where they were standing and came toward her.
“What?” said Anna.
Audrey was exuberant. “Andrew’s smiling! He loves this song!”
The commercial ended as they looked toward Andrew.
“It may have been a twitch,” said Anna. “Their muscles twitch sometimes.”
“No, it was a smile.” Audrey looked at Clarity. “You saw it, didn’t you?”
Clarity glanced from Audrey to Andrew and back again. “Maybe.”
Anna shook her head, and Audrey’s face fell. “I’ll help you get him to bed,” she said and then turning her back to them, began pulling Andrew up by his shoulders.
Behind her, Clarity started to sing the song.
Audrey stepped back and looked at Andrew’s face. There was no response, but glancing at Clarity, she started to sing along.
The corner of Andrew’s mouth lifted in one momentary twitch.
Audrey broke off. “See!” she said. “You saw that.”
“I did see it,” said Anna. “But I’m sorry. It was a twitch.”
“It was a smile.” Audrey looked at Clarity. “Right?”
She smiled encouragingly. “Right. Maybe. It definitely might have been.”
The front door opened, and Maria came in.
“Thank goodness,” said Anna.
“I’m so sorry,” said Maria. “My father wasn’t feeling well tonight, and I had to get him settled before I could leave. I tried to call, but no one was answering.
Anna walked over to the cordless phone and picked up the handset. “Someone didn’t get it in the cradle right again. It’s dead.” She positioned it properly so that it would charge and glanced at Clarity.
“Hey, don’t look at me,” the girl said. “It was probably the absent-minded professor.” She made a head nod toward the kitchen where Dr. Harman was banging pots and pans around.
“I think we need to get a simpler phone,” said Anna. “Neither one of you seem to be able to put it back correctly.”
She looked at Maria. “Don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you’re here now,” and with that, she grabbed a garment bag from by the door. “You get the patients to bed. I’m going to get changed. Nick is taking me to the theater.” She hurried up the stairs and out of sight.
“Alright,” Maria called after her. She turned toward Clarity and Audrey.
Clarity looked uncomfortable, probably remembering the lunch tray she’d thrown at Maria’s son. “Do you want help getting the patients to bed?”
“No, that’s okay,” said Maria. “I’ll do it. You girls do something fun.”
“Okay,” said Clarity. She turned to Audrey. “You want to go for a walk?” she asked.
“Sure…” said Audrey. “See you later, Maria.”
I put on my jacket—Audrey was still wearing hers—and we went outside. The night was clear but chilly, with a big, bright orange, almost full moon coming up over the horizon.
“Where do you want to walk to?” I asked.
“Wherever.” She smiled at me. “You lead the way, and I’ll follow.”
“Ok,” I said, looking around. “How about the schoolyard?”
I grinned and said, “Let’s take a short cut.”
With Audrey watching, I stepped onto a bench in the yard and from there climbed into a tree. I shimmied out onto a branch, hanging over the wall, and dropped down into the schoolyard.
She followed and, both of us back on the ground and standing side by side, I turned to her and said, “So where should we start?”
“Start?” she repeated.
I looked around the schoolyard. I kind of thought of it as my playground since I lived right next door. It was large, with slides, swings, monkey bars, and a big dome jungle gym. “Look around, Audrey. It’s a virtual wonderland of playground equipment. In the day, the kids hog it, but at night, it’s all ours.”
Laughing—only a little nervously—Audrey looked around. “Are we going to get arrested for swinging?”
“Arrested?” I gave her my best are you crazy? look. “No. Why?”
“No. The gate’s open.” I gestured to the open gate nearby.
“Then why’d we take the tree?”
*I smiled at her. “For fun._ Why [[*take a gate when you can take a tree?”]_]
She laughed out loud. “Why indeed?”
“Besides,” I said, “I just saved us like a full thirty seconds of walking. That’s time you would never have gotten back.”
“I guess not.” She looked around. “You pick where to start. I don’t care. Swing. Slide. I’ll do whatever you want.”
“Well, if you’re going to let me pick…” I said and started walking. “It’s the jungle gym, no contest.”
She followed behind me and, reaching it, we began to climb. “I was the jungle gym queen when I was younger,” I told her.
“Oh yeah?” she said.
Reaching the top, we sat down, our legs dangling. “Yep,” I said. “I once hung upside down for a full forty-five minutes after school. None of the other kids even got close.”
“Wow, that’s impressive. So you went to elementary school here?”
“Yep. This jungle gym is a monument to my childhood.”
Just then I heard a gruff, unfamiliar voice say, “Hey,” and a head popped up through the bars of the dome.
Audrey and I both screamed and scrambled backward.
“You guys here for the farmer’s market?” the man asked.
“What?” said Audrey.
“You here for some produce?”
We climbed down the opposite side of the dome from the man.
“No…” I said.
The man ducked down and,75 hunching over a bit, walked toward us across the ground beneath the dome. “Apples, quinces, oranges, lemons, cherries?”
On the ground, we faced the man, Audrey slightly in front of me. “No man,” she said. “We don’t want any fruit.”
The man—the fruit dealer—climbed out from under the jungle gym as we backed away. “Oh come on! You wake me up—” he gestured to some bedding lying on the ground under the dome— “and you’re not here to buy!”
We turned and started walking quickly away. “Sorry,” Audrey said over her shoulder. “We didn’t know.”
We hurried through the open gate and onto the sidewalk. I could hear the fruit dealer’s footsteps pounding behind us. “Hey, that’s not cool!” he yelled and grabbed onto the back of Audrey’s jacket. She stumbled and fell. I screamed.
“Buy some fruit!” the dealer said.
More footsteps came running toward us, this time from the other direction, as two trench-coated men, Nick and Marcos, approached. They were both solid and muscular, though Marcos, huge and hulking, was much bigger than Nick. But Nick was in charge. “What are you doing?” he said. “Get away from them!”
The fruit dealer backed up, his gaze darting between the men.
Nick spoke again. “These kids are from the catatonia center. Have some respect!”
Marcos stepped close to the fruit dealer, staring down at him.
“No…” said the fruit dealer. “I…They didn’t say.”
“Apologize,” said Nick.
“Sorry,” said the fruit dealer. “Sorry, sir.”
“Not to me,” he said.
The fruit dealer looked at Audrey and me. “Sorry,” he said, stepping back. Then he turned and fled back through the gate.
Nick turned and faced us. “Are you two alright?”
“Thank you,” said Audrey.
*“Yeah,” I said. “Thanks,_ Nick.” I turned toward the bigger man. “Thanks, [[*Marcos. Should we call the police?”]_]
Nick shook his head. “No need. He’ll no doubt be gone by the time they get here. And he won’t be back. These types live in the shadows. They’re quick to flee when spotted by someone who poses a threat to them, and Marcos definitely poses a threat.”
I looked at Audrey, unsure, but she just shrugged.
We started walking up the sidewalk toward the gate to the *center,] [[*and Nick introduced himself to Audrey. Then he said, “Anna’s mentioned you to me.” His voice was calm and commanding, as always, “A talented musician, very exciting.”]
When we reached Nick’s fancy car, Marcos picked up two bouquets from where they’d been set on the trunk. He handed one to me, and I did my best to smile. “Thank you, Marcos. They’ll be beautiful on the table at dinner.”
He nodded, giving me a brief smile back. “Good.” Marcos wasn’t much of a talker.
We went *inside,] [[*and Marcos carried the second bouquet across the living room and into my mother’s room.]
Anna came down the stairs. She was wearing a black evening gown, her red hair smooth and done up. Nick kissed her and wrapped his arms around her. “Sweetheart, you look beautiful tonight,” he said.
Dad came out of the dining room holding a small silver bell, which he rang. In a bad British accent, he said, “Dinner is served,” and then laughed.
As Nick and Anna started moving toward the dining room, Audrey held back, looking at Dad uncertainly.
Dad smiled good-naturedly. “You’ll stay for dinner I hope. I already set a place.”
“Oh, well, okay,” she said with a nervous smile. Dad patted her lightly on the back with a closed hand as they went through the dining room door. Marcos, returning without the flowers, followed them into the room. I grabbed an empty vase from the bureau and went in last.
The lights were off, and tall candlesticks illuminated the large dining room table. I put the flowers in the vase and set them at the center of the table. In serving dishes were scrambled eggs, sausages, biscuits, country gravy, homemade waffles, and syrup. I felt kind of queasy from what had happened, but there was nothing to compare with my dad’s cooking. My mouth watered.
As we sat down, Anna chuckled at Audrey’s surprised expression. “It’s breakfast for dinner. Clarity picked it. It’s her favorite.”
“Dig in everyone,” Dad said. “I already set a plate aside for Maria.”
After we had passed the food around, Marcos opened a pill bottle and took some pills with a sip of water. I knew he took medicine for his heart.
Anna watched him with a worried expression.
*Nick smirked._ [[“You’re lucky you’re so big you scare the bad guys away.]_] Otherwise, [*I might have to hire someone whose heart isn’t liable to give out in a fight.”]
“Who’s fighting?” Anna said.
“No one, dear,” Nick said, giving Marcos a wink. “Thanks to the Hulk over here.”
Marcos grimaced at him.
“You could never hire anyone else,” said Anna. “Only a friend would be willing to act as personal assistant, driver, and bodyguard all rolled into one.”
Nick laughed. “For what I pay him? People would be lining up down the block for his job.” He turned to Marcos. “I pay you fantastically well don’t I?”
“Fantastically,” Marcos answered—dryly. We all laughed, the tension broken.
I poured an ocean of gravy over my biscuit. “Breakfast’s the best dinner in the world,” I said, “especially by candlelight.”
Audrey swallowed and asked, “Do you do this a lot?”
Dad nodded. “I love to cook, and I try to do breakfast for dinner once a week for Clarity.
“We’re not always here, though,” said Anna. “I make Nick take me out, get a little variety in the scenery of my life.”
“The scenery might be different,” Nick said, “but the food’s not any better.” He paused with his fork in front of his mouth, a piece of waffle dripping butter and syrup onto his plate. “I always say that Frank missed his calling. He could make a fortune as a chef.”
Audrey took a bite of her egg. Her eyes *widened,] [[*and she started shoveling food into her mouth, as fast as her fork could fly. “This is delicious,” she said between bites.]
Dad chuckled happily. He loved it when people appreciated his food. “I’m glad you like it, and we’re glad to have you here.”
“Dad loves guests,” I said. “He likes to show off his cooking.”
“I like to be hospitable to the families of our patients.”
“You like to be hospitable,” I said, “and you like to show off your cooking.”
“Fair enough,” he said, as everyone laughed.
When dinner was nearly over, Dad put down his fork and looked around. “I’m going to miss this while I’m gone,” he said. “Two weeks is a long time.”
“Where are you going?” Audrey asked.
He sighed. “I’m leaving tomorrow for Italy. I’m going to the International Conference on Goblin Fruit Induced Catatonia. I’m hoping to pick up some new treatment ideas for our patients.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t be so academic and dry, Dad. This is your first vacation in…ever. Go to the beach, stay up late, meet people, preferably women people.”
He chuckled. “Well, I’ll try, but I don’t think Italy will be much fun. The country has become something of a mess from what I’ve heard.”
Anna shook her head. “So sad. Nick spent a semester there in a study abroad program in college. He had a great time.”
“It was a wonderful experience,” Nick said, “such a rich and ancient culture. What’s happened there is a tragedy.”
“They have a real goblin fruit problem there, don’t they?” said Audrey.
Dad nodded. “The drug appeared in Italy a few years before it showed up here. Actually, researchers recently found a plant there that contains the chemical in goblin fruit.”
My eyes widened. I hadn’t heard about that. “Wow,” I said.
“Wow’s right,” said Dad. Then he shrugged. “BUT it’s *rare,_ [[*and it doesn’t seem to be cultivatable. They’re looking for related plants that the drug might]_] be derived from…”He paused and then went on. “*Anyway*, all that aside, the drug has had a devastating effect on the culture.”
One of the candles spluttered and we all looked at it for a second and then Audrey said, “Do they have a lot of addicts and cataleptics?”
“Yes,” he said, “but the bigger problem is the way the population has responded.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He pushed his plate away from him. “They’re so spooked about contamination that most people wear surgical gloves all the time, and some even walk around in biohazard suits. It’s not exactly conducive to romance.”
“But isn’t it necessary,” said Anna, “If so many people are on fruit?”
Dad sighed and didn’t respond at first. Long pauses were not unusual in conversations with him. He liked to think before he spoke. *Finally,_ [[*he said, “Maybe, but sometimes I think we’ve gone a little overboard even in this country. It’s sad.” He looked around the table. The candlelight was dancing across our faces. We all looked back at him, except Nick, whose eyes were focused on his coffee as he stirred it.]_]
“Everyone’s so careful about physical contact, so distant from one another,” Dad said. “It’s true that if you touch a user, particularly his hands, a small amount of the chemical may enter your system, but no one’s ever become catatonic or even verifiably intoxicated without ingesting the drug itself.”
Anna shook her head. “Yes, but it’s so dangerous, that people are better off being safe than sorry.”
“You’re probably right,” said Dad, “but I feel like we’ve lost something as a society, something we may never get back.”
I’d heard this argument before, many times. Dad felt one way. Anna felt another. Had we lost something? I wasn’t sure. I had never known a time when I would have just casually shaken someone’s bare hand or held it. The idea was bizarre to me. The possibility of goblin fruit contamination was a fact of life. Like Dad, I thought peoples’ fears were overblown, but still, you had to be safe.
Dad looked around again, his gaze coming to rest on Marcos. I looked at Nick’s burly assistant and my mom’s onetime boyfriend. The large man seemed lost in thought, a sad expression on his face. When he saw Dad watching him, he gave a startled look and then glanced away. We were all quiet for a second.
“Well,” said Nick, “be that as it may, at least try to have some fun on your trip, Frank. Sometimes I think it gets entirely too serious around here.”
“Yeah, Dad,” I said. “Try for some romance. Please.”
Dad smiled. “Okay, I’ll *try,_ [[*and you try to be careful while I’m gone.”]_]
“*Of course,] [[*I’ll be] *careful,_ [[*and Anna and Maria will be here too.”]_]
“We’ll take care of things,” said Anna.
“I know,” Frank said. “I just worry.”
Nick finished the last of his coffee and set the cup down. “I’ll come by more often while you’re gone. Make sure everything’s alright.”
Dad nodded. “*Thanks,] [[*Nick. I appreciate it.”]
“My pleasure.” He looked at his watch. It looked expensive, and honestly, pretty ostentatious. He turned to Anna. “We better go if we’re going to make it in time for the show.”
Nick, Marcos, and Anna all stood up.
“Have a nice trip,” Anna said. “Everything will be fine.”
“Thanks, and thanks for coming to dinner,” said Frank. “Have fun tonight.”
They left, and Dad stood and began collecting dishes.
“Can I help?” Audrey asked.
“That’s okay. I’ve got it. Do you need a ride home? I’d be happy to give you one.”
Audrey shook her head. “Thanks, but no need. I borrowed my mom’s car.”
Dad carried the dishes into the kitchen and Audrey and I went into the living room.
“Are you sure you’re okay to drive at night?” I asked.
“It’s fine,” Audrey said and leaned toward me. “I’ll be sure to stay away from deserted playgrounds,” she whispered.
That didn’t make me feel any better. “…if you’re sure,” I said.
Audrey hesitated for a second and then put her arms around me in a quick hug. Smiling awkwardly, she opened the door and walked out.
I watched her through the open doorway as she got into her car and drove away. About to shut the door, I saw that small man-like figure beneath the trees again, but I blinked, and it disappeared. It was just a shadow, I told myself, a trick of the light.
Shutting the door, I locked it and turned away. Then I smiled. I liked Audrey. A lot. There was something very genuine about her. She was a lot easier to be around than Jamie and my other old friends.
I went to help my dad finish cleaning up in the kitchen. We didn’t talk much as we worked, just enjoyed each other’s company and the old routine of working side by side. I thought about telling him what happened with the fruit dealer. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t want to worry him and ruin his trip. I kept quiet.
Before dawn the next morning, Frank stood in the doorway of his daughter’s room, the light from the hallway illuminating her peaceful, sleeping face, the covers pulled up to her chin. Frank smiled and switched off the hall light, carrying his suitcases carefully and quietly down the stairs.
He said a brief goodbye to Maria, reminding her that Anna’s and his cell phone numbers were on speed dial should there be an emergency. There was a sound of a car pulling up to the curb outside. “See you,” said Frank, putting on his coat. He opened the door and carried his suitcases out onto the porch. Turning, he locked the door, and then pulled on the handle to make sure it was secure. Picking up his suitcases, he shivered in the chill predawn quiet and turned toward the waiting cab, its driver standing beside it, ready to load his bags into the trunk. Frank watched the center through the cab’s back window as he was driven away.
Later that morning, but still very early, Nick dressed in the sumptuous elegance of his and Anna’s bedroom, the dim light of the morning illuminating the four post bed and matching antique bureau. Anna woke and groaned, pushing the gold coverlet away from her face. “Come back to bed.”
Nick shook his head. “Can’t. Gotta go to work.” He looked at her. “You should too. Your patients will be up soon, and you know Maria’s still struggling to handle it all. It’s a pity you lost Jen.”
Anna sat up, looking at him groggily. “Maria’s learning quickly, and Jen wanted to stay home with her baby. I can understand that.”
Nick bent down and kissed her. “You were always a sucker for babies.”
Anna’s face fell, and Nick frowned. “Still? I was disappointed about losing the baby too, but it was for the best. We’re too career minded for a child. We wouldn’t have known what to do with one if we’d had it.” Nick put his watch on and moved toward the door.
Anna shook her head and forced a smile. “At least I have Clarity.”
Nick paused in the doorway, looking back at her. “How is Clarity?”
“She’s not seeing goblins?”
Anna’s eyes widened. “No, of course not.”
“She’s not your child, Anna, and she might turn out crazy like her mother.”
Anna stared at him, not responding.
Nick shook his head. “Remember, I’ll be working late tonight. I’m meeting with some distributors.”
“Okay,” said Anna.
Still later, after helping her mother with breakfast, Clarity dressed and left for school. The plan had been for Maria to stay a bit late so that Anna could drive her, but then Marcos pulled up in Nick’s fancy, black car and she went with him instead.
Anna smiled as she watched them pull away. Nick must have sent Marcos because he was feeling bad about his brusqueness that morning. He knew she was a little uncomfortable making Maria stay late. The new nurse had said it was okay but at the end of her shift she always seemed so anxious to leave. Anna figured it was because she was anxious to check on her father, who was in poor health.
I was excited to get a ride with Marcos. I’d never been in Nick’s car *before,_ [[*and since Marcos never talked, I planned to use the blissful silence to luxuriate on the plush seating and fiddle with the car’s many do-dads. It was not to be.]_]
No sooner had we pulled away from the curb than Marcos turned to me and said, “Clarity, what were you doing last night messing around in that playground?”
I stared at him, amazed that he’d asked me something. “Nothing, you know, just messing around. Audrey seemed sort of uncomfortable at the *center,_ [[*and we went for a walk.”]_]
“Audrey,” Marcos repeated and then lapsed into silence. This was more normal.
I started fiddling with the seat controls. They were amazing with built-in massagers, heat, and air.
“How well do you know that girl?” he asked.
I looked up from the controls. My mouth hung open. Wow, was he talkative.] [[“Not well,” I said. “But she’s nice. She’s my friend.”]
“Anna said you got in a fight at school yesterday,” he said. “Perhaps you should choose your friends more carefully.”
“Anna was talking about me?” I asked.
“She mentioned it to Nick on the way to the play…Don’t you have enough friends already? What about Jamie and the red headed girl and the short one?”
I blinked at him. I hadn’t realized that Marcos had paid attention to who my friends were. I supposed he would have seen them around enough through the years, but still… “They’re boy obsessed and mean. I do choose my friends carefully, and I’ve chosen Audrey.”
He grunted. “Strong willed, like your mother.”
My breath caught. I’d never been able to get Marcos to talk about my mother, never known him to talk about much of anything. This morning he was uncharacteristically chatty. “How was she strong willed?” I asked.
He shook his head and didn’t answer.
“Did you disapprove of her friends?” I asked.
Again he made no response, and we rode in silence the rest of the way to school.
That day Audrey, Todd, and I stayed in Mrs. Nelson’s classroom when the lunch bell rang. She got out three old books from a locked cabinet behind her desk. “I don’t let everyone see these because they’re very old,” she said, “and they mean a lot to me. My grandfather was an English Professor, and these books were passed down through our family. He received them as a young man, and you can see his notes in the margins on some of the pages. Please be very careful with them. “
We sat at a table and looked through the books. Audrey sat as far away from Todd as she could, without actually being at another table. I was a little surprised about just how angry she was at him, but Todd’s mother was Maria, and aside from being our nurse, she was also Audrey’s mom’s friend, so, I realized, Audrey and Todd could have a whole history I didn’t *know about. And then it occurred to me._ Oh, [[*crap. I hoped they didn’t have some secret romance. I]_] really didn’t want to be in the plot to Grease. I didn’t even like it as a movie.
The artwork with the poems was breathtakingly beautiful, the books carefully made. For a while I sat engrossed in the images, looking at picture after picture.
Finally, I looked up. “Guys, come look at this,” I said, and they did—slowly, avoiding each other’s gaze the whole time. The colors in the picture were remarkably beautiful and vibrant. It was an image from Canterbury Tales, and the pilgrims were detailed and varied if not always proportioned like real people. But, there was something about it that drew me in, that made me feel like I was a part of it.
“I wish I could paint like that,” I said.
“You can,” said Audrey. “Your artwork’s amazing.”
Todd made a small disbelieving sound in his throat, and Audrey glared at him.
“Show him your sketchbook, Clarity,” she said.
*I hesitated. My artwork was hanging up in my dad’s office, but I didn’t show my sketchbook around a lot._ It was more personal, like a journal in a way. And besides, Audrey was [[*wrong; it]_] didn’t compare with the work in Mrs. Nelson’s books.
Todd looked at me skeptically. “Come on Clarity, if I’m going to help on this project, I need some idea of what I have to *work with*. I don’t want to plan some complicated thing and have us embarrass ourselves.”
I glared at him, grabbed my sketchbook out of my bag, and handed it to him.
Laughing, he opened it. And then his laughter stopped. His eyes widened as he slowly turned through the pages. I could tell he was impressed. I didn’t compare with the masters yet, but I was still good. My pictures were more than life-like, brighter, with colors that made your teeth tingle. There were pictures of a few animals, things you saw on the edges of town, a regal roadrunner, a creeping coyote, a road kill rabbit being picked apart by crows, but mostly they were of people. There were a lot of my dad, looking characteristically rumpled but kind. There were pictures of my mom with her empty expression, and there was one of her when she young, beautiful, and fully alive, though sleeping. Todd gasped when he saw that one. There was a picture of Mrs. Nelson, in front of the class looking commanding. When he saw a picture of Nick and Marcos, Todd asked how I knew them.
“I’ve known them my whole life,” I said. “They’re friends of the family.” I looked at my drawing and shook my head. It wasn’t one of my favorites. “I can never draw him right,” I said, running a finger across Nick’s expression. “He always comes out looking sinister, but he’s great in real life.”
Todd looked impressed. “My dad works at Brinkley Laboratories. Everybody thinks Nick’s great there, some kind of scientific genius or something.”
He continued flipping pages. He stopped at one of himself and his friends, and his jaw tightened. I stifled a laugh. It wasn’t a caricature or anything. I hadn’t drawn it to be mean, but I could tell he didn’t like the way he looked in it. He looked cold, shallow, which wasn’t exactly a mistake the way it was with Nick’s picture. That’s the way I saw him.
Todd turned some more pages. The last drawing was of Audrey and me, a piece of bright red fruit, with the shininess of an apple and the red juiciness of a tomato, between us. The wind was blowing in the image and strands of our hair had become intertwined. Todd kept looking back and forth between the drawing and Audrey like he was making sure it was her. Which was weird, because it looked just like her. I’d done a really good job capturing her full lips and big brown eyes.
“I drew that last night,” I said, looking at Audrey. “I’m working on my assignment about ‘Goblin Market,’ and I wanted to draw the sisters…” I was kind of nervous. “I draw people I’ve seen the best. I’m not great at making them up, and I don’t have a sister.”
Audrey smiled at me, and I felt relieved. “Do you think ‘Goblin Market’ would be in one of these books?” she asked.
“Maybe,” I said. “It’s old enough.” I turned to the index. “Yeah, here it is,” I said, turning to the page.
I read the whole poem out loud to them. It was fairly long, and took up most of the lunch period, but I barely noticed. I was captivated by the words, as always.
When I *was finished*, Todd laughed. “Are you a lesbian, or what?”
I scowled at him. “That’s none of your business. You’re an idiot.”
“Clarity,” Mrs. Nelson said warningly, from across the room.
“Sorry,” I said, turning to face the teacher.
When I looked back, Audrey was staring at me in a questioning kind of *way,] [[*and I laughed. “No. Okay. I’m not a lesbian. It’s not actually about sex, not really. It’s about love and sacrifice and fruit.”]
“You mean, like fruit fruit?” said Todd. “The drug? But the poem’s really old.”
“I know,” I said, “but, okay, Rossetti’s father was from Italy, and they found a plant there that produces the chemical naturally, so I thought…well, it’s just a theory, but maybe he knew about it and told his daughter…”
“I heard about that plant,” said Todd. “Wow.”
The bell rang.
“So you guys want to do the mural about ‘Goblin Market’?” asked Todd, which sort of surprised me.
“Sure,” I said, and Audrey agreed.
We gave the books back to Mrs. Nelson and headed to our classes. “Oh, Clarity,” said Audrey in the hallway. “My mom wanted to know if you could come to dinner at our place tonight, kind of a thank you for yesterday. You could come over right after school.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Okay, I’ll let Anna know.”
The rest of the school day went by quickly, and I got out of my last class, Chemistry, early after there was a fire at another lab station. I called Anna, and she was fine with me going to Audrey’s for dinner, so after school I waited in the parking lot by her car, and we drove off together.
Audrey lived in a pretty dilapidated looking apartment house. It was a two story peach colored stucco building, with some painted squares that didn’t quite match the original color—places where someone had painted over graffiti. All the apartment doors were exterior. Audrey took out a key and opened the number 14 apartment door. It was on the first floor, which was good since her mom would probably have a hard time with the steep stairs up to the second story balcony. “Mom, I’m *here,_ [[*and I brought Clarity with me!” she called.]_]
Audrey’s mom came into the room, supported by her crutches. “That’s wonderful,” she said. “Welcome. I’ll start dinner. Make yourself comfortable.”
I smiled. “Thank you, Mrs. Ortiz.”
“Call me Natalie.”
Audrey’s room was small with dingy flowered wallpaper, and boxes stacked in one corner.
“It’s not much,” she said, “but it’s *home…[*sort of.”]
*I forced a laugh._ This was [[*depressing. “Hey, a guitar,” I said, seeing the case propped in a corner. “May I?”]_]
“That’s Andrew’s,” said Audrey.
She blushed. “No, I mean, it’s okay. I haven’t opened it since he went catatonic, you know, his hands.” She looked at her own hands, opening and closing them.
“Oh, no,” I said. “Don’t worry about that. The goblin fruit secretions from people’s skin degrade pretty quickly. I’m sure the guitar’s fine.”
She nodded and watched as I laid the case on the floor and opened it. There was a picture of the band on top of the guitar, their arms draped around each other’s shoulders—Andrew, Audrey, Mark, and Jacob. I knew their names, though I’d only seen Mark and Jacob in internet videos, and you couldn’t really say that I’d met Andrew. I’d never heard of the band, Benjamy, until we got Andrew as a patient, but what had started as a bored Google search a couple of weeks back, had turned into watching five hours of YouTube videos, and downloading all their songs. I wasn’t going to make a big deal of it or anything with Audrey. It would just stir things up, but yeah, they would have been huge. They were awesome.
I handed her the picture, and she smiled looking at it. “This was a great night. We’d hit ten thousand downloads of our single, and we went out to celebrate.” She looked at me. “This was just a few days before, you know…” She started to *cry,_ [[*and I jumped to my feet and hugged her, rubbing her back in a circle with my fist. “It’s gonna be okay,” I said—not that it necessarily would be, but that’s what you say—an expression of faith more than fact.]_]
After a while, Audrey pulled away, wiping her eyes. “Sorry,” she said, “It’s just sometimes…” She looked away. “Do you play?” she asked gesturing to the guitar.
I smiled and pulled it from the case, strummed it, and sang the chorus to “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I knew I was terrible, but that wasn’t the point.
Audrey sang along and laughed (that was the point.)
“Well, that’s it,” I said. “That’s all I can play.”
Slowly, Audrey took the guitar from me. She played a couple of songs, old stuff, and we sang together.
“You lied,” I told her. “You said you weren’t any good, but you’re great. You could have played lead guitar.”
She shook her head and set the guitar back in its case. “I just play around with simple chords and stuff. Andrew is amazing. He could almost play anything by ear, and the stuff he wrote *was…[*glorious.”]
I nodded. I agreed with her, but it didn’t seem like there was anything to say. Andrew was gone. My mother was gone. Even though I hoped every day for a cure, even though I’d heard my dad say countless times that they’d find one, that it was just a matter of time, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know if Andrew, or my mom, or any of them were ever coming back.
Mrs. Ortiz called us to dinner. We sat around a table in the small kitchen,] _*and I bowed my head and closed my eyes as she said grace. It was really long, [*and I was surprised by all the things Audrey’s mom thanked God for, especially since her life pretty much sucked.]_] Her husband was dead, her son was catatonic, and she was disabled, but she thanked God that they had a place to live, food to eat, that Audrey had found a new friend (me), that I was there to share their meal, that they’d found good care for Andrew, that they were living again near their old friend Maria, and on and on. Then she asked for blessings on the food and on lots of people, including me. She ended with, “And *God,_ [[*please even bless Jerry Williams.” And that was the first time I heard her sound at all bitter. “Give him the things he needs in his life. Soften his heart and help him to be a good father to Todd.” She took a deep breath. “And please bless Todd to find his way and to reunite with his family. Amen.”]_]
We ate plates of stuffed pork chops, potatoes, green beans, and salad, with apple pie for dessert. I was spoiled with my dad’s cooking, but Natalie could give him a run for his money. It was delicious, and I felt comfortable and happy eating with Audrey and her mother. We talked a little about the mural we were going to do, and Natalie asked about how Todd was behaving, and Audrey said, “Fine, so far.”
After dinner,] _*Audrey and I hung out in her room a while longer, [*and I helped her unpack some of her stuff. Mostly it was clothes, a few stuffed animals, and some pictures. One was of Audrey and Todd when they were much younger standing with Natalie, Maria, and two men, who must have been their dads. One was tall, athletic, and Hispanic. The other was short, handsome in a sleaze-ball kind of way, and white.]_]
“What was that about Todd and his dad?” I asked. “You know, in the prayer.”
Audrey shrugged and sat down on the end of the bed. “Todd was my best friend when we were little, but then when I was eight my dad got a job in *Texas,_ [[*and we moved away, and, well, he’s changed a lot.”]_]
“Yeah, I can tell,” I said.
She nodded. “Yesterday we gave him and Maria a ride because their car wouldn’t start. I couldn’t believe how he acted at his grandparents’ house. He sat out on the porch and wouldn’t even go inside. Just because it’s not fancy or anything like the place he’s living. He’s like some massive snob now.”
“Oh,” I said. “And what about his dad…Jerry?”
“Yeah, Jerry,” said Audrey. “Jerry’s a jerk. He’s Todd’s dad, he’s rich, and he’s changed a lot too. He used to be really good friends with my dad. It’s a really cool story how he and Maria got together. I used to think it was romantic, you *know,_ [[*until they got divorced.”]_]
“Really? What’s the story?”
Audrey smiled. “Okay, but don’t tell Maria I told you.”
I sat crossed legged on the floor, looking up at her, and she started the story. “Jerry came from a wealthy family. His parents moved here from back east somewhere. They moved here, built a big house, joined the Country Club. They had two girls that were already in college. Then Jerry came along. He was an accident, but the way they acted you’d think he was the second coming. He had anything he ever wanted, and he was kind of a brat.
My father, Roberto Ortiz, came here with his parents from Mexico. He was their only child, and his parents couldn’t have any more kids. They were field *workers,_ [[*and they’d take my dad with them a lot. He was tall and athletic and one of the farmers his parents worked for sponsored him in t-ball and then in Little League. That’s where he met Jerry.]_]
Jerry’s parents always gave a lot of money to the sports leagues, but it’s not like they were buying him a place on the teams or anything. He didn’t need it. He was small, but he was fast and athletic. Dad became a great pitcher, and Jerry was his catcher a lot of the time.
By 8th *grade,] [[*the two boys were best friends. Jerry was ‘short, stocky, and cocky.’ That’s how my mother describes him. She says that his ego was always bigger than he was. He could talk just about anyone into anything, including talking a lot of girls out of their underwear.”]
“My dad,” Audrey continued, “was a ‘good boy.’ He was very quiet and respectful of girls. He found Jerry *hilarious,_ [[*though, even though at times he ‘despaired about his character.’” She smiled and rolled her eyes. “Those are my mom’s words.”]_]
“Anyway, while the two boys were growing up so was my mother, who was from here. They all ended up at the same high school when they were Freshman, my mom took one look at quiet, tall, polite Roberto, and got a massive crush. My dad noticed her *too,_ [[*but she didn’t know it. Todd’s father didn’t notice any one]_] girl because he was too busy playing them all, and trying to get what he could. Then, in their Junior year, there was a new girl in school.”
“Maria,” I said.
She nodded. “Maria. Imagine her as a teenager. She was tall, thin, had beautiful brown eyes and long, flowing black hair. She totally ignored him.”
Of course, she did. I could totally picture that.
Audrey went on. “Jerry thought of Maria as a challenge. He was determined to add her as a notch on his belt or bedpost or whatever. But he misjudged her. She was quiet, but she wasn’t naive. She knew exactly what he was after.] _*At first, she ignored him. Then he got their chemistry teacher to make him her lab partner, so she treated him like a slightly stupid, younger brother. It drove him crazy, [*and he fell in love with her, and then she fell in love with him back.”]_]
“Wow.” I thought about that. My chemistry partner wore striped socks and smelled like soup. I probably wasn’t in any danger of falling in love with him, not unless he shaved his unibrow.
“During the summer after junior year, my dad, Roberto, got a job as a cook at Sonic, which was easy compared to working in the fields. When he got there for his first shift, he saw my mom skating around the parking lot as a carhop. When she saw him, she started to do some fancy moves and fell on her butt. That really helped him get over being shy around her. He helped her up and was finally able to talk to her. As an excuse to spend more time with her, he asked her to teach him how to skate. After work, they would go downtown and skate together. That summer, they fell in love, too.
Okay, so think about how mismatched those two couples would look. There was short, blonde Jerry with tall, willowy, olive-skinned Maria. Behind them came tall, handsome Roberto with Natalie, who he towered over by like a foot and a half.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I didn’t notice that in the picture, but yeah.”
“Things got complicated,” said Audrey. “Jerry’s and Dad’s parents were the *problems*. They were really old fashioned and traditional. Neither set of parents would approve of their son being in a biracial relationship. So the two couples ‘cooked up a switch’.” She laughed. “Those are my mother’s words again.”
“Todd’s dad told his parents he was dating my mom, and my dad pretended to be dating Maria.
On Friday nights, the two boys would dutifully arrive at the door and pick up the other’s girlfriend. They’d go on a double date, or get in separate cars and cruise around downtown. Then, the four of them would meet again and switch to take the girls home before curfew.
This went on for all of senior year, and then, after graduation, both couples eloped. They came home and told their parents they had married someone that their parents hadn’t even known they were dating. It didn’t go well. The guys’ parents were the most upset, but Maria’s and Mom’s parents were unhappy too. At my mom’s *house,_ there was a huge family fight with a lot of yelling, breaking dishes, and slamming doors. Afterward, Mom drove back to the hotel where the two couples were sharing a room until they could find someplace to live. The next day when they left for breakfast, [[*they realized that her father had had her car (which he]_] actually owned) towed away.
It was really ugly for a while, but then Maria and my mother both got pregnant within months of each *other,] [[*and things started to change. Maria’s mother started coming around, but she kept it from her father. She was very excited about the baby, and once Todd was born, his grandfather relented too. Todd Francisco is still his only grandchild, and he] really loves him. That’s why I got so mad about how Todd was treating him yesterday.”
Audrey shook her head. “All four sets of parents got involved again once Todd and I were born, but things with my dad’s parents were always kind of tense. I don’t think they ever completely forgave him. And it was even worse with Jerry’s parents. They died in a car accident when we were two and Jerry found out that they’d cut him out of the will when he’d eloped and never changed it back. All their money went to his sisters and fancy charities and art foundations. My mom said he was pretty bitter about that.”
She sighed. “When Todd and I were little, our families were poor, but we had a lot of fun together. We’d have picnics in the park and go camping at Elephant Butte. Todd was like a brother to me. When we moved away, I cried for like a month.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It sucks, the way he acts now.”
She shrugged. “Yeah. I think he took his parents’ divorce really hard. Jerry left Maria for some rich blonde, the daughter of a board member at Brinkley Labs.”
“And Jerry works there now,” I said, “with Nick.”
Audrey nodded. “Right. Todd lived with his mom for the first couple of years. We kept in touch for a while, but then Todd quit responding to my emails, and he didn’t want to talk on the phone anymore. He seemed angry all the time. I was hoping that maybe with us moving back here Todd and I might be friends again. I thought it might be a silver lining, to a really, really black cloud.”
*Ah, crap. I hugged her._ [[“I’m so sorry,” I said.*]_]
Audrey nodded. “You’ve been a silver lining, though. You’ve been great.” I didn’t feel great. I felt bad for her. There was nothing I could do about Andrew, her real brother. I understood better now why Todd, who’d been like a brother to her, was such a drugged out jerk, but I didn’t think it was a good enough excuse, and it didn’t change what he was. I didn’t want her to make up with him.
Two days later, Clarity woke up in the morning and walked down the stairs. Like always, Kevin was in the living room, lurching through his morning exercises, and she could hear Maria in the kitchen, making breakfast. She went into her mother’s room to get her up. It was bright with a fresh, flowery scent in the air. Marcos’s bouquet of flowers sat in a vase on the nightstand. They were lasting pretty well, and she wondered where he’d bought them.
“Good morning, Mom,” she said, approaching the bed. “Ready for breakfast?” She leaned over and put an arm under her mother’s neck to help her sit up, but she couldn’t lift her. Sara was lying there like dead weight. “Come on, Mom,” Clarity said. “Help me out here.” It was then that she looked down and realized that her mother’s eyes were still closed.
That was a change in the routine, and it frightened her. She pried open her mother’s eyelids with her fingers, and they stayed half open. “Mom!” she said, then shook her and checked her pulse. It was racing. She lifted her arm, and when she let it go, it fell limply back onto the bed. She screamed and backed toward the door.
“What’s wrong?” Maria said, rushing in.
“She won’t move,” Clarity told her. “I can’t get her up.”
“Dios,” Maria said and shook the catatonic woman. She quickly examined her and then took out her cell phone and dialed.
Anna peered into the mirror above the bureau in her bedroom and raised her hands to her face, gently stretching her skin, smoothing out the wrinkles on her forehead and beside her eyes. She sighed as she dropped her hands and her wrinkles reappeared. She turned away and put on a set of scrubs, pulled her hair into a simple ponytail, and then sat on the end of the bed to tie her shoes. Oscar, her short haired, white cat jumped onto the bed beside her, and Anna smiled, scratching him under the chin. Her cell phone rang, and she glanced at it, seeing Maria’s name as the caller. “Hello,” she said, answering. After a short pause, she sprang up from the bed, startling Oscar, who streaked out of the room. Anna grabbed her coat and ran out the door.
Clarity wasn’t at school that day. Audrey sat in Mrs. Nelson’s English class, curious, a little disappointed, and slightly worried. She wondered if her friend was sick or if she had stayed home to help with the patients. She didn’t look forward to lunch detention alone with Todd, but it would be better than lunch in the cafeteria with all Todd’s mean friends. She’d been popular at her old school. She’d been Andrew’s sister. Here she was just herself, and no one liked that…except Clarity.
She and Todd stayed after class, but Mrs. Nelson dismissed them. She said there was no point working on the project on their own. The whole point was to show that they could all three work together. “But don’t be getting ideas about ditching,” she said as she shooed them out the door. “Clarity better have a good excuse for her absence.”
Audrey hesitated outside the door, thinking about what she should do. She was hungry, but she didn’t want to be hassled.
Todd stopped beside her. “You don’t want to go to the cafeteria, do you?”
She looked at him. “Not really.”
He sighed dramatically. “My car’s finally fixed. You want to go to my house?”
She was suspicious. “Who’s going to be there?” she asked.
“No one,” he answered. “Me and you.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Why?”
“Why would you invite me to have lunch at your house?” she asked. “You’ve been nothing but mean to me.”
He grunted. “Look, if you don’t want to come, don’t come.”
She glared at him. “Okay,” she said. “I guess I won’t.”
She turned and started to walk away.
He called after her. “Look, I feel bad about the way I acted, okay? I want to make it up to you. Just come on.”
She turned back, with a tentative smile. “Okay.”
Todd’s house was big, not a mansion, like the crazy palaces Audrey saw on TV sometimes, but large in a realistic, but unnecessary way. It was two stories with great, tall pillars out front. It had a multi-car garage, hardwood floors, and a TV in the living room practically big enough for a movie theater. They sat in the kitchen at a granite-topped counter and ate leftover take out—Thai noodles, pizza, and fried chicken.
The food was good, but the couple was awkward together. The first five minutes of their lunch consisted of chewing noises interspersed with silence.
“So where’s your dad?” said Audrey, finally. “Is he working?”
“No. He and Bridget left for the weekend.”
“Oh. Do you like your step mom?”
He half-laughed. “Not really, but my dad does.”
“Oh.” She chewed some more. “So…what’s your uncle Manuel up to? Where’s he living now?”
He looked at her, his gaze cold and suspicious. “Why?”
She rolled her eyes. “Because I’m trying to make conversation. Because he’s nice and a lot of fun and your grandma said he wasn’t living there anymore.”
“Oh,” he said. “I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him.”
“Oh.” Audrey took a bite of her pizza. “This is good.”
He nodded. “It’s from Uno’s.”
“I haven’t been there.”
“You should try it. It’s pretty good.”
After a while, Audrey looked at the clock, an oversized brass one with roman numerals in the place of numbers. “Lunch is almost over. I guess we better be getting back.”
“Kay,” said Todd, scooping up his keys from the counter. “I’ll give you a ride.”
“Give me a ride?”
He raised his eyebrows and nodded. “Yeah, unless you’d rather walk.”
“You’re not going back to school?” she asked.
“Nah, I figured I’d take the afternoon off.”
“And do what?”
“Play video games, watch TV, sleep, whatever. You wanna stay?”
“We’re already in trouble at school.”
He shrugged. “We’ll tell them we had car trouble. What’ll they know?”
Audrey hesitated. She didn’t want to get in any more trouble. Her mom had enough to worry about without being called to the school again, but it was Todd, and she missed him. She’d missed him for a long time. He was a jerk now, but still… “Okay.”
The afternoon was a lot less awkward. They played video games and made fun of each other. They watched old movies with the sound off and made up what the characters were saying. They ate popcorn and had a contest throwing it into each others’ mouths. It was like they were kids again. It was awesome. Audrey thought she was getting her friend back.
A little after three o’clock they heard giggling outside. There was a knock at the door, and then it opened before Todd had a chance to answer it. It was Jamie. “Hey Todd,” she said walking in. A couple more girls followed in behind her. “We brought jello shots and brownies for the party tonight.” She spotted Audrey on the couch, and her eyes widened. She looked at her friends, and they started giggling again.
Todd blushed and glowered.
“Well,” said Jamie. “I guess we’ll just put this in the fridge.”
They walked through and into the kitchen. A moment later they were back. “Ugh. I guess we’ll just leave you two alone,” Jamie said, and her friends cackled.
“We don’t need to be alone,” said Todd.
“Right,” said Jamie. “Well, that’s okay. See you tonight.”
Todd watched the door close behind them and then turned and looked at Audrey.
“You’re having a party?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. He sounded angry. “You probably shouldn’t come.”
She glared at him. “Believe me, I don’t want to.”
“Good,” he said. “School’s getting out now. I should probably take you back.”
Audrey stood up and followed him out the door. “Take me to the catatonia center,” she said. “I want to visit my brother.”
They got in the car and started to drive in stony silence. “Is there going to be fruit at this party?” she asked.
He grunted, dismissively and glowered at her. “Of course not.”
She glowered back. “Well, I don’t know. You’ve got jello shots and pot brownies.”
“She didn’t say they were pot brownies,” said Todd.
“Are they?” asked Audrey.
“I don’t know.” He made an angry growling sound under his breath. “Probably.”
She scoffed and turned away from him.
“I wouldn’t let fruit in my house,” he said. “I know better.”
“Yeah, well Andrew knew better too, and now he’s a zombie.”
“Yeah, well I’m not Andrew, okay!” He was yelling, now. “And I know better! You’re not the only one who had someone they cared about become catatonic!”
That stopped her. “Who do you know who’s catatonic?” she asked, very quietly.
He hesitated. “No one,” he said. “A friend of mine.”
She watched him. He was red and sweating. He seemed to be holding back tears. “Manuel?” she asked.
Seconds ticked by. She thought he wasn’t going to answer but then he nodded. “You can’t tell anyone, okay?”
“Okay.” She was nearly whispering. “Where is he?” she asked. “I thought Dr. Harman had the only center around here.”
“He does,” said Todd. His voice was quiet but cold, and his face was hard. “He’s not in a center. They’re taking care of him at home, Mom and Abuela, all of them, hiding him there.” As he spoke, his words came faster and faster, and his voice got louder. “They don’t care that it’s illegal and they could go to jail if anyone found out. They don’t care that he’s contaminating their house. You couldn’t pay me to go in there. They don’t care about anything. They just say that he’s family, and they’ll take care of him at home. It’s so stupid!”
Audrey took a deep breath, taking that in. “How long has he been catatonic?”
“Like a year and a half.”
She nodded. “Is that when you went to live with your dad?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “I wasn’t going to live in that house with that…zombie.”
They pulled up outside the catatonia center and sat there, looking at each other.
“I’m sorry about Manuel,” said Audrey.
“Me too,” said Todd. “I’m sorry about Andrew.”
“Thanks,” she said, “Well, I guess…” She pulled the door handle, opening it slowly.
“Seriously,” said Todd. “Please don’t tell anyone about Manuel.”
I sat in the chair in the corner of my mother’s room as Anna did stuff with the heart monitor and IV. We’d tried to call Dad, and had left a bunch of messages, but his cell service was spotty in *Italy,_ [[*and he hadn’t called back yet. Anna had called Nick a few minutes ago and told him about my mom, and he’d probably told Marcus. Audrey was presumably at school. I wished Dad would call back.]_]
As Anna worked, she watched me from across the room. She was worried about me, and she was probably right to be. There was a glass of water in my *hand,] [[*and I wasn’t sure how it’d gotten there. Anna had given it to me, I guessed. I wasn’t thirsty.]
She pulled off her gloves and walked out of the room. I could hear her dispose of them in the incinerator in the hallway. She came back in and sat on the arm of my chair and rested her fisted hand on my shoulder.
“It’s not going to matter, is it?” I said.
“What?” she asked.
I took a deep breath. “If we get a hold of *Dad,_ [[*and he gets on the next plane and comes back, even if he gets here in time, he won’t be able to do anything.]_] He’s never been able to do anything.”
She didn’t answer at first. Maybe she was mad at him. I’d overheard arguments over the years, and I knew that, while she supported Dad’s decision to raise me, she didn’t approve of Dad and me living in the catatonia center. She didn’t think it was professional, and she’d worried that I’d get too attached to my mom. I’d never seen a problem with it. I liked being near my mother, but maybe Anna had been right all along. She was more of a mother to me than Sara had ever been, but she wasn’t my mother. My mother was dying, and I didn’t know how to handle that.
Anna smoothed my hair with her fisted hand. She sighed. “But he should be here, *anyway*,” she said finally. That was true, but not comforting.
The doorbell rang, and Anna stood up and went to answer it. I could hear murmured words, and then she led Audrey into the room.
I was glad to see her. I needed a friend right then. She looked toward my mother on the bed and then turned to me.
I set the glass of water down on the floor beside the chair and then stood, moving toward her.
“I’m so sorry,” said Audrey.
I nodded. “It’s not like I knew her. I didn’t know her, not really. But I always thought…” My voice caught. I couldn’t get the words out. “I always hoped I would someday.” I started to cry then, to sob. Hands fisted, Audrey wrapped her arms around me. I cried for a while before I could get any control over my sobbing. Then I gasped and stepped back, wiping at my eyes. “I’m okay,” I said. I felt kind of awkward. I looked at Audrey and then glanced at Anna.
Anna stepped close to my side. “Why don’t you and Audrey go somewhere for a little while?” she said. “Get some air. I’ll call you if anything changes.”
“Do you want to?” Audrey asked.
Outside the day was bright and sunny. The colored leaves on the tree branches overhead and on the ground by our feet rustled softly in the breeze. I clutched the keys as Audrey and I walked toward the car. “Do you have your license with you?” I asked.
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Good, I’ll drive. I have to have a licensed driver with me with my permit.” I liked to drive. I hoped it would distract me, keep my mind off things.
*We just drove around._ At first, [[*I pointed out landmarks to her. She was new here after all, and I preferred small talk to, well, big talk…about my mom and everything. I showed her restaurants I liked, parks, the mall, but as we moved into an older part of the town, I stopped talking. Things started to look]_] kind of ominous, creepy. “Emblematic of the inescapable destructive power of time,” Mrs. Nelson would say. There were decaying buildings, an old clock tower that clanged loudly as we drove past, a tattoo parlor painted with a mural of the Hindu goddess, Kali, surrounded by skulls and the bodies of the dead and dying. I’d seen it before and thought it was cool, but now it was freaking me out. I shivered, though I wasn’t cold.
We drove on in silence, the day turning to twilight. As we approached the hospital, I slowed and pointed it out to Audrey. “That’s where I was born,” I said.
“Yeah.” I cleared my throat. “And where my mom went catatonic.”
Audrey looked out the window toward the building. It was large, and surrounded by cars, still clearly in use, but like everything in this part of town, it was old, kind of run down looking. She looked back at me. “How did…” she started. “Your dad doesn’t seem like…” She stopped again. “Your mom…she…”
I laughed. “Are you wondering what my dad was doing with a drug addict? Concerned about Dr. Harman’s judgment?”
“No, that’s not…”
I shook my head. “It’s okay. I’m adopted.”
She blinked. “Oh.”
“Dad knew my mom from when they were *kids,_ [[*but they weren’t…” I shook my head again. “I don’t know who my biological father is. I’ve honestly never wondered about it that much. I’ve got Frank.”]_]
I turned at a light and passed another side of the hospital, glancing briefly at it as I *drove by*. Looking back at the road, I screamed and slammed my foot on the brake. I was too late. I hit him, a short, cat-like man standing in the road. I saw my car hit him, but I didn’t feel it. The car passed right through. I swerved off the road and onto the shoulder.
“What is it?” said Audrey.
I stopped the car and turned it off. I was shaking.
“What?” she said again. I could hear the tension in her voice.
“I hit it!”
“What? Like a dog or something?”
“Something bigger,” I gasped. I could barely breathe. “Is there something in the road back there?” I took a deep breath trying to calm down. “Did I hit something?”
She turned and looked out the back window. “There’s nothing there.” She looked at me. “You didn’t hit anything.”
“I thought I saw…” I shook my head.
“A goblin.” I folded my hands in my lap and stared down at them. I’d been seeing glimpses of things for a while, but I’d been ignoring them, explaining them to myself, but I couldn’t ignore this. I couldn’t explain this. “I’ve been seeing things, shadows, nothing like this! Never so clear before.”
She stared at me. She thought I was crazy. I should care about that; I should be embarrassed, but I was too scared. I went on. “My mother, the night she went catatonic, she told my dad she saw goblins.”
“She was taking fruit,” Audrey said.
I turned and looked at her. I could feel tears on my face. “She was crazy! And I’m going crazy too!”
She shook her head, staring at me.
I turned away and screamed again. The goblin I had hit was standing a few feet from the car waving at me, a fang filled grin on his face. As I watched, a car passed right through him, and he continued to stand there, unfazed.
“It’s back!” I said, gesturing frantically toward the road. “Do you see it?” I asked though I knew she didn’t.
She looked. “There’s nothing there.”
I really was going crazy. It was as real as anything I’d ever seen.
More goblins appeared around the car. I recognized them from my “Goblin Market” book, but no drawing could show how horrible and strange they looked in real life. They weren’t animals or people, but some bizarre mix between the two. The cat-like one I’d seen first was the most human looking, and the only one standing like a person on two legs, like some demonic Puss-in-Boots.
Another of the creatures was like a rat, with a long, naked tail. It scuttled a few feet forward, stopped and sat on its hind legs, its nose twitching. Then it scuttled forward again. Another one was half man half snail, its human upper body disappearing into a shell. It crept along leaving a shining trail of slime behind it. The final creature, I knew from my book, was part wombat, and it was the least human of all. It wore no clothes but was completely covered with brown fur, except for its face, which was like a 20-year-old guy’s. For one insane second, I found myself wondering if there was a college kid somewhere with a wombat’s face in place of his own.
The creatures circled the car and moved in toward it. I completely panicked. “They’re coming!” I said, wrenched off my seat belt, and threw open the car door.
“Clara, stop!” Audrey called after me, but I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t thinking. *I was so scared._ [[*I rushed from the car and was about to run out into the road, but Audrey dove across the seats and grabbed my hand, pulling me back, as a semi-truck]_] sped by.
I’d almost been killed. The goblins vanished.
I looked around checking that they were all gone. They were. I looked at Audrey, and then, slowly, still holding her hand, we got back in the car and shut the door.
I looked down at our hands clasped together. We weren’t wearing gloves. I didn’t usually wear them when I wasn’t at school. I let go of her hand and then screamed as the goblins reappeared. I grabbed her other hand, and they vanished again.
It was tricky switching seats while still holding on to each other, but we did, and Audrey drove us back toward the catatonia center. She may not have remembered the way. It seemed like it took us forever to get there, but I wasn’t in any state to give her directions. I had my eyes clamped shut the whole way, terrified that if I opened them, the goblins would come back. She found the center eventually and stopped the car in front of it.
I opened my eyes and looked at her, and then looked out the windows, checking. Nothing. I didn’t want to let go of her hand, but I had to. If Anna saw us holding hands like that, it would be really, really bad. I let go of her and then whipped my head around, checking again for goblins. “Nothing,” I said.
As Frank spoke to Anna, he could hear the familiar sound of feet stomping in unison, and he knew the patients must be in the room with her walking in place. This was not the normal time for their daily exercise but with everything that had happened with Sara, no one had gotten them going that morning, so they were doing it now.
“Good. Clarity’s back,” Anna said, and then Frank heard her talking to his daughter. “I got a hold of your dad in Italy. He wants to talk to you but be quick. His cell service keeps cutting out.”
Clarity took the phone. “Hi, Daddy,” his little girl said.
Frank was on a moving walkway in the airport in Italy. The airport was crowded with people of all ages, nearly all wearing gloves, and many with unfriendly, vaguely suspicious expressions. “Hi, honey. Are you okay?”
“I’m okay,” she answered, but her voice sounded uncertain.
“I’m so sorry this is happening, and now of all times,” said Frank as the walkway took him past a couple in hazmat suits. “I’m coming back as soon as I can. I’m going to see about getting a ticket right now.”
“But I don’t know,” said Frank, passing by a woman with a baby in a stroller. “They’ve had some cancellations for weather. It might be hard to get out.” The baby pulled a small rubber mitten off his hand and gurgled, waving it in the air. The woman grabbed the glove and put it back on, scolding the child.
“Oh,” said Clarity.
Passing by a uniformed police officer with a machine gun, Frank said, “but I’m going to try,” and stepped off at the end of the walkway.
“Okay, just get here as soon as you can.”
“I love you,” said Frank.
“I love—“ she answered, and there was a double beep as the service cut out again.
“—you too.” I looked at the phone and then seeing that the call was really lost, handed it back to Anna. Then I walked to the doorway of my mother’s room and looked in. “How is she?”
“No change,” Anna answered.
I turned back. Audrey was still standing by the front door. She hadn’t moved since we’d come in. I felt awkward. “You want to see my room?” I asked.
She hesitated for a moment before answering, “Sure.”
I led her up the stairs and past Dad’s office, down the hall toward my room. I stepped through the doorway, and looked around, wondering what she would think. It was somewhat small and bright with a large window. It wasn’t exactly messy, but it wasn’t super neat either. The furniture was comfortable and mismatched. We’d bought it at yard sales, not in a fancy furniture store. There was my bed, a computer desk, my dresser. On a side *table,_ [[*there was a lamp with a pastel elephant base, which I’d had since I was a baby. The elephant’s toenails]_] were messily painted with bright pink nail polish. The walls were covered with band posters.
I sat on the edge of the bed, and Audrey sat in the computer chair, backward, her arms resting on the chair back.
“So this is my room,” I said.
She looked around. “It’s cool,” she said. “We like a lot of the same bands.” She paused for a second when she noticed the small, CD case sized picture of her own band, Benjamy, that I’d tacked up. She quickly looked away.
We sat for a *while,] [[*and Audrey tapped her fingers on the back of the chair. “So, you see goblins…”]
I flinched and pressed my lips together, then nodded. “But when you grabbed my hand they disappeared.” I looked away, grabbing my “Goblin Market” book off the side table and flipping through it.
“Look at this,” I said, showing it to Audrey. “My mom made this for me when she was pregnant.”
She looked at it. “Your mom did all the illustrations?”
Audrey flipped through the pages, and I pointed to one in the middle. “See,” I said, “after Laura eats the fruit, she craves it, and when she can’t get anymore she gets sick and almost dies.”
Audrey nodded turning the page.
I went on. “Lizzie goes to get fruit for *her,_ but the goblins attack her with it, getting juice and pulp all over her. She takes it back to Laura, [[*and it makes her better.” I reached out and turned the page for her. “Look, here, on the last page—When Laura tells her kids about it years later it says she ‘would tell them how her sister stood in deadly peril to do her good, and win the fiery antidote. Then joining hands to little hands would bid them cling together.’”]_]
“Cling together…” said Audrey. “You think this is about you seeing goblins and us holding hands?”
I sat back. I didn’t know what I thought. I was forming these ideas as I was speaking them. “I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe my mom made this for me because she was trying to tell me something about goblins, and fruit…” Or maybe I was just making it all up, I thought, looking for any explanation for what had happened that wasn’t my insanity. “I don’t know,” I finished.
“Maybe…” Audrey shook her head sadly. “Or maybe you just saw goblins because you’ve seen them in this book a lot, and you’re stressed about your mom, and…”
“And I’m losing my mind,” I said.
She didn’t answer. She looked away, glancing back at the book.
“Rossetti’s father was *Italian,_ [[*and the drug first appeared in Italy,” I said, “and they’ve found a plant there that contains the chemical. Maybe it was there all along.”]_]
“Maybe,” said Audrey.
I could tell she didn’t think it was very likely, but I could also see that she felt sorry for me. This was all I had to hold on to, and in a *way,_ [[*it was Audrey’s only hope too. Inevitably, if something]_] *weren’t done*, something dramatic, in time her brother would be in the same place my mother was now. He’d be dying, and people would be standing around shaking their heads, knowing that there was nothing anyone could do.
Maybe she was almost as willing to accept crazy ideas, to try crazy things, as I was. I looked up. “Maybe Rossetti’s dad told her about *it,_ [[*and she wrote the poem!”]_]
“Maybe. It’s possible.” She gave a small smile but then frowned a second later. “I don’t know how it could have to do with you seeing *goblins,_ though, [[*unless you’ve taken fruit…”]_]
I felt like she’d slapped me.
“I’m not accusing,” she said.
“I haven’t taken it,” I said. “*Of course,] [[*I haven’t.” I looked her in the eye. “I don’t know how it could be connected either, but holding your hand made them go away, and my mother saw] *goblins,_ [[*and she gave me the book.” I took it back from]_] her and held it against my chest. “If this book means something, it seems to be saying that goblin fruit is the cure for goblin fruit…as weird as that sounds. Maybe we could save my mother. Maybe we could save all the patients, everyone.”
She just stared at me, and for a second I panicked, thinking that she didn’t believe me, that she might go and tell Anna I was losing my mind, but then she said, “Hasn’t anyone ever tried it?”
“I don’t think so,” I answered. “The cure for a poison isn’t usually more poison.”
She stood up and started pacing, thinking it over. “If your mom weren’t dying, I’d say wait, talk to Doctor Harman about it, but there may not be time for that.” She stopped by the window and looked out, past the yard to the darkened school playground visible beyond.
“But where will we get the fruit?” I asked. “I think Nick and Marcos scared that dealer away.”
“Todd’s having a party tonight,” she answered. “He told me not to go. He said there wouldn’t be fruit there, but his friend Pete will be there, and he might know where we can buy some.”
I bit my nails. I’d been avoiding just this kind of situation for months now. I’d essentially broken up with my friends over not wanting to be around drugs, but this was an emergency, and I was incredibly desperate. “Let’s try it,” I said.
As we walked slowly down the *stairs,] [[*we could see Anna bustling around the patients in the living room, adjusting their positions, checking their vitals. She stopped by Heather, who was standing frozen near the side of the room. “Such small hands,” she said, as she pulled a dangling glove from the woman’s fingers and replaced it with a new one, dropping the old one into a biohazard bag. She turned and walked down the hall toward the incinerator.]
“I’ll tell her we’re going out again,” I said following after Anna.
Audrey nodded and sat beside her brother on the couch. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed. We had agreed that she would tell her mom she was spending the night since we didn’t know how long it would take to get the fruit.
Entering the hall, I stopped short. I watched Anna drop the biohazard bag into her purse and then open and close the incinerator door, pretending to incinerate the glove.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
She flinched and then turned, a sheepish expression on her face. She hesitated and then gestured toward the open bathroom door. “Let’s talk in here.”
I went into the bathroom,] _*and Anna came in behind me, closing and locking the door. I could tell how nervous she was. She wrung her hands [*and then spoke all in a rush. “I collect the gloves for Nick. His lab’s looking for a cure for catatonia, but the disposal laws are so strict it’s hard for them to get any samples to test.”]_]
I stared at her. The laws were strict. My dad didn’t agree with them, but I’d heard him talking more than once about how carefully we had to follow them. Improper handling of goblin fruit contaminants was a criminal offense. The catatonia center could be shut down. Or worse. “How long have you been doing this?”
She steeled herself before answering. It looked like every muscle in her body was tense. “A long time,” she said finally.
Holy crap. “And my dad…”
She shook her head. “He doesn’t know. Frank’s very exact about following regulations.”
I sighed and folded my arms around myself. I couldn’t deal with this right now. My mom was dying, I’d seen goblins, I was about to buy fruit, and now Anna was sneaking around behind my dad’s back. I didn’t know how much more my world could be turned upside down without me falling out into space. “You don’t want me to tell him?” I asked.
“I’d prefer if you didn’t,” said Anna.
I shook my head. “When I was younger you told me that if someone asked me not to tell my dad something—“
“You should say you won’t tell and then tell,” she finished. She nodded, though I could tell she didn’t like it. “I’m not asking you not to tell him, but I am asking you to think about it first and make sure it’s the right thing to do.” She paused, looking at me. “Nick wants the same thing Frank wants, to help catatonia patients. He thinks he’s close to *a cure,_ [[*but the residue from the gloves is very important to his research.”]_]
“I’ll think about it,” I said. “I’ll let you know before…if I do anything.”
“Good,” she said and smiled. She hugged me and her cell phone rang. I could feel it vibrating in her pocket.
*Releasing me, she looked at the phone and then put it to her ear._ [[“Maria?” she said, as I turned to leave. “Oh no.”*]_]
I stopped, turning back.
“No,” said Anna, “Of course you need to be with him.” She paused, listening. “Yeah, that’s fine. Just come over for a few minutes so I can run home and get an overnight bag.” There was another pause. “Okay. Hang in there. I’ll see you soon.”
Hanging up, she looked at me. “Maria’s father has taken a turn for the worse. He’s not doing very well.”
“Oh,” I said. I knew I should probably feel bad about that, but I just felt numb. It was all too much too fast. I couldn’t process more bad news. “Audrey and I are going out again for a little while.”
“So late?” said Anna. “It’s dark out.”
I shrugged. I didn’t think she had any business lecturing me, given what I’d just found out she was doing.
“Okay,” said Anna. “Well, be careful. Don’t stay out too long.”
I nodded and went back into the living room.
Audrey was wrapping up the conversation with her mother. “I love you too, Mom. You don’t need to worry. It’s just a sleep-over…Okay. Bye.” She hung up the phone and looked at me. “She worries all the time since what happened to Andrew, but she’s going to let me spend the night.”
As we approached Todd’s house,] _*we could hear loud music, laughter, and shouts coming from inside. Audrey hesitated at the front door [*like she didn’t know whether to knock or just go in. She was reaching for the door handle when a voice came from behind us, and we both jumped and turned around. “Audrey,” Todd said. He was sitting on the stonework that comprised his front porch, leaning against one of the tall pillars. His face]_] was bruised and swollen, and there was blood dripping from a split eyebrow into his eye.
“Todd! What the hell happened to you?” she asked.
He grimaced, shaking slightly, with repressed anger. “Some piece-of-trash-freaking-fruit-dealer kicked the crap out of me in my own house.”
“What?” Audrey asked, kneeling down beside him. “Why?”
“Pete brought him here,” he said. “Pete brought that scum to my party. I wasn’t going to let him in with that poison he had with him, and I told him that, and then he just started wailing on me. Pete just stood there and laughed while the guy beat the crap out of me.”
Todd was kind of hard to *look at*. He’d been pretty badly beaten up, and he looked rough, but it was hard for me to feel sorry for him. I mean, I had my own stuff going on, and if you asked me, Todd had been asking for a butt kicking for a while now.
Audrey didn’t seem to feel the way I did. “I’m sorry,” she said, touching him on the shoulder.
I rolled my eyes. “Is he still in there?” I asked “The dealer?”
Todd gave a small nod and then grimaced again, touching his head. “I’m sitting here thinking I should call the freaking cops, but this is my house, and if I do that I’ll be ass deep in trouble too.”
“Well, we should at least go in,” said Audrey. “We should check that everyone’s okay.”
Todd looked at her. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I wanted to come,” I said. “You know, I love a good party.”
Of course, I was lying, and, of course, Todd didn’t believe me. “*No,] [[*you don’t,” he said. “Jamie and] them are always making fun of what a prude you are.”
I could feel the blood in my cheeks. “I’m not…Look, my dad’s out of town so I thought I’d go out.”
“Oh,” said Todd. “He’s strict like my mom.”
“Yeah,” I said. That was a lie, too, but one Todd believed.
He stood up. “I guess we better see what’s happening in there.”
What was happening was bedlam. Everyone was already drunk or high. Many of them were from school,] _*but there were some older, shady looking people there as well. There was a thick plume of marijuana smoke filling the living room. A clump of people was dancing ungracefully in the middle of the floor. Some sort of wrestling [*match / brawl]_] was going on at the side of the room. Two barely clothed sophomore girls were making out on the couch, and a group of boys and one creepy looking bearded guy were cheering them on.
We made our way past all that and into the family room, where there was a staircase leading up. Todd thought the fruit dealer might be upstairs, but before we reached the stairway, I saw something that made me forget all about the dealer. It was Jamie. I screamed and ran to her. She was lying half on and half off the couch. Her eyes were closed, and someone had drawn a mustache on her with a magic marker. She was asleep, or unconscious, or maybe catatonic. There was a bright orange liquid dribbling from the corner of her mouth, and that really, really scared me.
Audrey’s stomach turned as she saw the intensely colored orange juice on the girl’s mouth, and realized what it meant. She’d taken goblin fruit. She was catatonic, and there was nothing they could do for her. As Clarity and Todd leaned over Jamie, uselessly trying to help her, Audrey backed away, and then turned and climbed the stairs.
She found the fruit dealer in the upstairs master bedroom. On the bed there were two women, or girls—she didn’t recognize them, but they looked very young—stretched out and giggling softly to themselves. Their eyes were wide, and they kept glancing around like they were looking at something Audrey couldn’t see. On the floor, the dresser, on the bed, even draped over the girls’ legs, were clothes—shirts, dress pants, ties—and standing near the closet door gazing at himself in the mirror was a man dressed in a tuxedo. He turned when Audrey came in the room, and she recognized him as the same fruit dealer who’d been on the playground. He was much cleaner now. His hair was wet, and he smelled strongly of soap and cologne.
“Why, if it isn’t the little girl from the catatonia center,” he said. “What can I do for you little girl?”
Audrey was terrified but hesitated only a moment. “I want to buy some fruit,” she said.
The fruit dealer laughed uproariously. “Why sure, little lady.” He flung the clothes from the foot of the bed to the floor. “But you don’t have to pay. Take a seat, and I’ll fill you up with all the fruit your little mouth can hold.”
“N-no,” said Audrey, taking cash from her pocket. “I don’t want to take it here. I’ll pay and take it at home.”
“You don’t want it now.” He eyed the bills, and came slowly closer, his hand in the pocket of the tuxedo. “You’ll take it at home,” he said.
“Right,” said Audrey, and then suddenly the dealer sprang at her. She stumbled backward and opened her mouth to scream, but in an instant his hand was over her mouth, and he’d shoved a fruit capsule in between her lips. The large, soft capsule burst between her teeth and she gagged and spat. The vibrant colored juice ran down her chin.
He laughed and said, “There’s your fruit!” and then he grabbed the money from Audrey’s hand, counted it quickly, and tossed a baggie containing several more fruit capsules toward her.
Audrey knelt and picked up the baggie, slipping it into her jacket pocket. The goblin fruit dealer went back to examining himself in the mirror. The girls continued to giggle softly on the bed. Audrey stumbled from the room. She went into the bathroom and quickly washed the juice from her chin and rinsed out her mouth. Then she splashed water on her face, trying to clear her head. The world was reeling as she made her way down the stairs.
In the family room, there was a strong odor of alcohol and citrus, and a puddle of vomit lay by Jamie, though she still seemed to be unconscious.
“It’s just jello shots,” Clarity said, with a big, relieved smile.
Audrey nodded and pulled a corner of the baggie out of her pocket, surreptitiously letting her see it.
Clarity nodded and looked at Todd. “Help me get her to the car,” she said, “and I’ll take her to the hospital.”
“I can take her,” said Todd. “I haven’t had anything to drink. You and Audrey go home.”
“Okay,” said Clarity. “Have you heard from your mom today?”
He shook his head. “She’s been calling, but I haven’t answered.”
“You need to call her,” Clarity told him. “Your grandpa’s in bad shape.”
“Okay,” he said. Then he lifted Jamie and started walking toward the door.
In the living room, Clarity switched off the music. Todd yelled, “The police are coming!” and everyone started to scatter.
They went outside. He loaded Jamie into his car and drove away. Audrey had driven on the way to the party, but that was not an option on the way back. She was still clear-headed enough to know that her head was foggy and getting foggier. She got into the passengers’ side.
“What are you doing?” said Clarity, standing uncertainly outside the car. “I can’t drive. They might come back.” She looked around herself nervously.
“Yes, you can,” said Audrey. “And you have to cause I can’t. I’m shaken up from talking to the fruit dealer.”
Clarity looked at her closely. “You’re right. You’re shaking.”
Audrey looked down at her hands in surprise. They were shaking. She hadn’t noticed. The world seemed to be moving, not her.
“What happened in there?” asked Clarity.
“Nothing,” said Audrey. “Everything’s fine. Just drive. I don’t think you’ll see any more goblins now. I have a feeling.”
Actually, Audrey didn’t have any idea what Clarity would or wouldn’t see, or what she herself might see for that matter, but Clarity seemed reassured. She got in the driver’s seat, and they drove back toward the center.
Anna carried her overnight bag from her bedroom into the living room, which was huge, immaculate, and modern. Nick had hired a decorator to make it like that, and a maid to keep it that way. The few homey touches that Anna had insisted on—a vase of silk sunflowers, a cute nurse statuette from the sister of one of her patients, and one of Clarity’s drawings—seemed out of place in a room that otherwise felt unlived in.
Anna fed the cat, its food and water in fancy, spill-free, silver dispensers. She scratched behind its ears and then picked up her overnight bag from where she’d set in the entryway. Switching off the light, she opened the door.
She gasped and stepped back, as two dark figures, one huge and hulking, loomed at her out of the darkness. Dropping the overnight bag, she reached into her purse, grasping for her stun gun. The figures stepped into the light.
“Nick. You scared me half to death!” Anna said.
“Sorry,” said Nick, and Marcos smiled sheepishly.
Nick stepped forward. “Where are you going, sweetheart?”
“Back to the center. I want to be there to support Clarity.”
Nodding, he said, “Good. We’ll go with you.”
“What about your meeting?”
“I postponed it. You want to be there to support Clarity, and I want to be there to support you.”
Anna’s eyes watered, and she threw her arms around him. “Thank you,” she said.
Still holding onto him, she looked up into his face, her expression nervous. “Clarity knows I’ve been giving you the gloves.”
Nick stepped back, anger flickering momentarily across his face before his expression calmed. “Is she going to tell Frank?”
“I don’t know. She said she’d think about it and tell me before she did anything.”
“Good,” said Nick, with a glance to Marcos.
“I’m so sorry, Nick,” said Anna. “I know how important those gloves are to your research.”
“That’s okay, honey,” he said, folding her again into his arms. “You don’t need to worry about that now.”
Audrey was quiet in the car, but the world around her was loud and vibrant. The sky flashed with lightning—in electric shades of blues, yellows, pinks, and oranges. The thunder clapped and gooey droplets of candy-colored rain fell from the sky but never seemed to hit the car or the ground. Shadows moved around the vehicle, running with it, outlines of men and animals. Audrey thought she should find it frightening but instead it was beautiful, and with every second it became more and more real. She wondered if she’d ever see the world the same way again.
They reached the catatonia center and went inside, Clarity leading, Audrey trailing behind. The shadows were still with them, following them every step of the way, and clearer now; she caught glimpses of fur, whiskers, and not-quite-human eyes.
Inside they walked past the dining room doorway, through which they could see Maria supervising the patients’ dinner. Clarity said a few words to her as they went by and then she led Audrey into her mother’s room, shutting the door behind them.
Audrey felt as if Clarity were moving at high speed like she was watching her on fast forward. Sprint-walking to the wall, Clarity pulled gloves from the dispenser and put them on. Then she pulled on the corner of the baggie, and it slid from Audrey’s pocket. If Clarity seemed sped up, Audrey felt slowed down. Acting instinctively, she flailed after Clarity, trying to get the baggie back, but her arms seemed heavy and slow, as though the air had turned into jelly.
Clarity’s back was turned to Audrey, and she didn’t notice. Her hand shaking, she set the baggie on the bed, took a capsule from it, and put it into her mother’s mouth. Audrey grabbed the baggie back.
As the girls watched, the capsule in the woman’s mouth melted and disappeared, apparently absorbed. Clarity looked at Audrey. “I don’t know how long it will take. If it’s too late for her…we might need to try it on someone else.”
“Andrew?” said Audrey. Her voice in her own head sounded booming, like grating stone.
“Yeah,” said Clarity in a squeaky, chipmunk voice, “but like you said, it’s dangerous. We should wait for my dad.”
Seeing movement in the corner of the room, Audrey glanced away. The shadows were gone and in their places were goblins, creatures remarkably similar to those Audrey had seen in Clarity’s book. There was a snail-like one in the corner and another rat-like one climbing the wall.
“You don’t want anything to happen to Andrew,” Clarity said.
The rat-like goblin scuttled along the wall until it was beside the vase of flowers Marcos had brought a few days before. It sniffed the flowers, taking a big breath and then sneezed. The blossoms exploded, filling the air with pink, yellow, and lavender petals for one brief moment, and then they vanished.
Audrey looked back at the bouquet, and it was completely intact like nothing had happened. The rat goblin rolled its eyes. It twitched and kept twitching, moving its body in a rhythmic sort of way, thumping its tail against the wall. The snail creature took up the beat, moving back and forth in its place in the corner. Both goblins grinned like they were having a great time.
Suddenly, Audrey began to hear music, the beat of a drum, a guitar part starting up—Andrew’s guitar part. It was “First of Many.” She laughed out loud, her voice rocky and deep.
“Are you okay?” said Clarity.
Audrey stumbled backward through the door and then turned and staggered through the living room, past a wombat-goblin and into the dining room where the patients were eating. Maria looked up in surprise when Audrey came in.
Andrew ate mindlessly, shoveling food into his mouth with the other patients, completely oblivious to the very large cat-like goblin dancing impossibly on the top of his head.
“Audrey!” Clarity said, coming up behind her.
Audrey stared at her brother.
The goblin stopped dancing and stood still, staring back. It looked like it weighed forty or fifty pounds, but it balanced weightlessly on Andrew’s head as though suspended from invisible strings. As Audrey watched, it raised its hand toward its mouth repeatedly, pantomiming a spoon, and then pointed down at Andrew.
Audrey shook her head.
The goblin snickered and leaped. Its movement was ridiculously graceful, an imitation of a ballerina. Landing on Kevin’s head it perched there, motionless, and pointed down again. It winked.
Audrey hustled forward and set a goblin fruit capsule on Kevin’s spoon.
“What are you doing?” said Maria, watching horrified as Kevin put the spoon in his mouth and ate the capsule, bright juice dribbling down his chin.
Audrey laughed, and Clarity and Maria stared as the spoon dropped from Kevin’s hand to the floor. A long moment passed and then Kevin blinked and looked around the room and at each of them in turn.
“Kevin?” said Maria, taking a step toward him.
Kevin looked at her and stood up, pulling the gloves off his hands. He wiped the vibrant orange juice from his chin and lips and then reached toward her with a juice covered finger.
She stepped back. “No.”
He lurched toward her, and she ran from him around the table. She grabbed Clarity, who stood frozen and staring, and pulled her along.
Audrey stood still by the wall. “Hey man,” she said dazedly, “knock it off,” and then she slid down the wall and sat leaning against it on the floor.
Clarity and Maria ran into the kitchen and locked the door behind them. Kevin beat on the door with his fist, as they slid the wooden island toward it. Pans stored in the bottom of the island tumbled out, crashing onto the tile floor, but it didn’t drown out Kevin’s pounding and great feral, animal-like cries. They got the island in front of the door and leaned against it with all their weight.
Nick and Anna heard Kevin’s pounding as they came in the front door. “What is going on?” said Anna, walking toward the dining room. Peering in, she saw patients at the table shoveling air into their mouths from emptied bowls and Audrey on the floor, her back against the wall, talking to herself. Anna screamed as Kevin lurched toward her.
“What?” said Nick, coming up behind her.
She pulled the stun gun from her purse, aimed and fired it. The metal electrodes hit and attached to Kevin’s chest, and he began to jerk and then fell to the floor. He lay still, his eyes open but unseeing, his chest moving steadily up and down.
Anna stared at Kevin, eyes wide, frozen in place.
Nick sidestepped his wife and, coming into the room, surveyed it coldly. He flipped open his phone and pressed a button. Putting the phone to his ear, he said “Marcos, get in here. There’s a mess.” Hanging up, he walked briskly to the kitchen door and looked in through a hole Kevin had pounded into it. Clarity and Maria were crouched behind an island, still pushing against it to keep the door closed. “You can come out,” Nick said. “It’s safe.”
“Nick?” said Clarity, her voice shaking.
“Yes, and Anna’s here as well.”
Maria and Clarity pulled the island away from the door. Maria peeked through the hole and then unlocked it, and she and Clarity came out, their eyes fastened on Kevin’s limp body.
“Good,” said Nick as Marcos came into the room. He turned and gestured toward Kevin. “Take that one to bed and guard him just in case.”
“Wait!” said Anna, rushing forward. She knelt beside Kevin and put on a pair of gloves she pulled from her pocket. Carefully she removed the electrodes from Kevin’s chest. Two small circles of blood formed on his shirt where they had been, but he didn’t react at all.
“Okay,” said Anna, getting to her feet and backing away. Marcos grabbed Kevin under the shoulders and dragged him out of the room.
By the wall, Audrey started to giggle. She shook her arms and shrieked, imitating Kevin getting shocked. “That was great,” she said. She kept talking, muttering to herself, too quiet for the others to understand.
Nick looked at her and then at Maria and Clarity, who hadn’t moved since they left the kitchen. “So, what happened here?”
“She…” Clarity glanced at Audrey and back at Nick. She stepped forward. “We went to a party to buy goblin fruit to give to my mom. We thought it might help her.”
“You gave her goblin fruit?” said Maria.
“Yeah, but I mean, I didn’t think it could do any harm. She’s dying anyway.”
Anna shook her head and left the room. The others followed her into the living room and watched through the doorway as she checked Sara’s vital signs.
Coming back into the living room, Anna said, “She seems unchanged, but I can’t believe you. Why on earth would you think that was a good idea?”
“The storybook Mom made me, in it the girl is saved by eating more fruit.”
“It’s just a story,” said Anna. “Why didn’t you talk to anyone first? Your dad?”
“I didn’t think there was time.”
“Then you should have talked to me.”
Clarity nodded, near tears.
“Audrey gave goblin fruit to Kevin,” said Maria.
“Audrey’s on fruit herself,” said Nick.
“The fruit dealer must have made her take it,” said Clarity, shaking her head. “She wouldn’t have…not with her brother catatonic. I was going to go with her to buy it, but Jamie was there, at the party, and she needed help.”
“Thank goodness you didn’t go!” said Anna. “You promised your dad you’d be careful.”
“I know,” Clarity said and started to cry.
The phone rang.
Anna answered it. “Hello…Hi Frank…” her voice was strained. “No, everything’s fine,” she said. “Will you be back soon?” She smiled. “Tomorrow. Great.” There was a pause, and Anna glanced at Clarity. “Clara’s busy right now. Can I have her call you back later? Great. Bye.”
Hanging up the phone, Anna walked over to Clarity and wrapped her arms around her. “I know you’re having a hard time. I shouldn’t have let you leave.”
Clarity shook her head, wiping at her tears. “I should have told you our plan. Thank you for not telling dad what happened.’
Clarity stepped back. “Kevin came out of his catatonia,” she said.
Nick grunted. “He’s back in it now, and he attacked you.”
“But it has to mean something, right?” Clarity said, looking at Anna. “Maybe it’s a clue about the cure.”
Anna looked away. “Maybe. Why don’t you sit down and rest? Nick and I will take care of things.” She looked at Maria. “Do you need to get home?”
Maria gave a sharp intake of breath. “Ay! Yes, my father. I need to go.”
“I’m sorry,” she said several times as she made her way to the door.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Anna. “Be with your father,” and Maria left.
“Audrey?” said Clarity.
Nick stepped forward. “I’ll put her to bed in Frank’s room.”
Clarity sat down on the couch and Nick and Anna got to work, Nick getting Audrey to bed, Anna doing the same for the patients. Nick put disposable sheets on Frank’s bed, fetched gloves for Audrey, and firmly ordered her to put them on. Then he half led, half supported Audrey out of the dining room and across the living room where Clarity was wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket, her book open on her lap and sipping hot lemon tea.
Nick led Audrey up the stairs. “There are goblins everywhere, man,” she said as he helped her into the bed. Nick shook his head and turned to leave.
“I thought Clarity was crazy,” she said.
Nick turned back. “What?”
“Crazy,” Audrey said, chuckling. “I thought she was crazy.”
Nick stared. “Does Clarity see goblins?”
She was nodding off. “Goblins…” she muttered.
Nick grabbed her by the shoulder, shaking her roughly. “Audrey, does Clarity see goblins?”
She opened her eyes, blinking several times. “She sees goblins. There are goblins everywhere, man.” Her eyes closed again, and she started to snore.
Nick stepped back and stared down at her, noticing the corner of a baggie sticking out of Audrey’s pocket. He left her there and went down the stairs.
In the living room, Clarity was talking to her dad on the phone. “I’m alright,” she said. “I was just upset about…Mom. That’s why I couldn’t talk, but I’m glad you’ll be back tomorrow.”
Nick pulled a pair of gloves from the dispenser on the wall.
“No,” Clarity said. “Save your battery. I love you, too. See you soon. Bye.” She hung up, and Nick headed back up the stairs.
In Frank’s room, without putting it on, Nick used one of the gloves to grab the corner of the baggie, and he pulled it from Audrey’s pocket. He held it out in front of him, seeing that it contained a single remaining capsule. Gingerly, he placed the glove and the baggie into his own jacket pocket and then headed back to the living room.
Marcos watched Kevin lie in bed. He didn’t do anything except lie there and be catatonic. After many minutes, Marcos shook his head and left the room. Heading down the hall, he paused by an open patient door, peering in as Anna tended to a patient. He moved on, stopping at the end of the hallway and looking into the living room.
Nick stood by the couch, looking down at Clarity as she stared at her book.
“Laura sacrificed herself,” she said.
She glanced up at him. “Lizzie. She was willing to endanger her life to save Laura’s. That’s what made the fruit its own cure, Lizzie’s love, her sacrifice.”
Nick shook his head. “You and that book. It’s weird.” Covertly he pulled a glove from his pocket.
I was looking at my book and talking to Nick; I was sitting on the *couch,_ and he was standing beside it [[*when all of the sudden, Marcos barged in and pinned Nick up against the wall, his arm pressing up against Nick’s throat.]_]
“What are you doing?” I said. “Stop it!”
“He was going to make you take goblin fruit,” Marcos told me.
“What?” said Anna, who had just run into the room. “That’s crazy.”
Coming forward, she grabbed her purse from where she’d set it on an end table and pulled the stun gun from it. She disconnected the spent cartridge, its wires dangling, and rummaged hurriedly in her bag for the spare.
Nick was turning purple. “Let go of his throat!” I said. “He can’t breathe!”
Marcos eased up on Nick’s throat, and he coughed and sputtered.
Anna found the cartridge and attached it to the stun gun.
“You bastard!” Nick said, between gasps.
“I’m calling the police,” I said, moving toward the phone.
“No!” Nick said, and that stopped me. Why wouldn’t he want me to call the police?
“That’s not necessary,” he said, still a little short of breath. “If Marcos will just let me go everything will be fine.” He looked at Marcos. “I’m not going to give fruit to anyone.’
Slowly Marcos let go of Nick and stepped back.
Anna relaxed, lowering the stun gun, and moved closer to make sure Nick was ok.
Suddenly, Nick hit Marcos with a wicked right hook. The bodyguard was bigger than Nick, but it was not for nothing that Nick worked out seven days a week. Marcos stumbled backward. Grabbing the stun gun from Anna, Nick fired it at him. The electrodes hit him in the chest, attaching there. He shook violently and then fell to the floor and lay still.
“Nick!” Anna screamed. “His heart!”
Nick shook his head, seeming completely calm. He pulled a latex glove off the hand he had punched *Marcos with*. His knuckles were bleeding. Squatting, he put his fingers to Marcos’s neck. “He’s alive,” he said and stood back up.
“Why were you wearing a glove?” Anna asked.
Nick gave her an annoyed look. “I wanted to be safe putting Audrey to bed.”
I shook my head. That was a lie. “You weren’t wearing it earlier,[” I said.]
He didn’t answer. 75 He seemed at a loss for words. Nick, charming, smooth-talking Nick, had nothing to say.
For a second no one moved. We all just stared at each other. I decided I didn’t care what Nick said, I was calling the cops. I edged toward the couch and grabbed the cell phone off its arm.
Nick sprang at me. He ripped the phone from my hand, and it fell to the floor and slid away. Holding onto me with one hand, he tried to pull something from his pocket with the other. I tugged on my arm and pried at his *hand,] [[*but I couldn’t get away. He was hurting me.] He was so strong.
Anna grabbed him from behind, trying to pull him away from me, but Nick elbowed her in the face. Blood gushed from her mouth, from a split lip, as she stumbled backward. He let go of me for a second, turned and hit her again. She fell to the floor.
I ran toward the door, but Nick grabbed me. He forced me to the floor, and then he got on top of me. His knees were on top of my arms, pinning them down.
Tears were running down my face from pain and shock. I’d known Nick my whole life. He was Anna’s loving husband. She adored him. He was like a part of my family. “Why are you doing this?” I asked.
He laughed coldly. “You see goblins.”
I didn’t know how he knew that, or what it could possibly have to do with the horrible things he was doing now, but I didn’t deny it. “So?” I asked.
He took a glove out of his pocket. “So, aside from being crazy, you have the genetic trait I need. As soon as your body’s introduced to goblin *fruit,_ [[*it’ll start to make the chemical in pure form.” He put the]_] glove on.
I had a sick feeling in my stomach. “My mother?”
He nodded. “She saw goblins too.”
He smiled, as though he were having a fond memory. “One drop in her water and I got my own fruit factory.” He looked down at me. “But she’s dying, and I need a new factory” He pulled the baggie containing the goblin fruit capsule from his pocket.
I shut my mouth tight.
He pushed the capsule against my lips, trying to force it in, but it burst and leaked, smearing juice across my mouth. I could smell it. It smelled like citrus and cloves, like earth and summer, like a cool glass of juice on a hot day, and more, so much more than that. It smelled wonderful. Like sunshine, and home, and, I realized, a bit like my mother. How could something that smelled that good be dangerous? Wasn’t our sense of smell designed to tell us what would be good for us and what wouldn’t?
I very nearly opened my lips and ate the goblin fruit. I would have, but just then the smell was cut off, and I came back to my senses. Nick had pinched my nose closed, cutting off my air. My body screamed for oxygen, but I kept my mouth firmly closed. Nick stared down at me, casually watching as I suffocated…
Nick smiled when Clarity passed out, and her lips finally parted. He was moving to shove what remained of the capsule into her mouth when he was shot from behind.
Anna crawled across the floor to her husband and checked his pulse. She looked at Marcos, standing on his feet, the smoking gun in his hand. “He’s dead,” she said.
She moved to Clarity and put her fingers to her neck. “Alive.”
She knelt over the girl, put her face in front of Clarity’s and looked at her chest, watching for the rise and fall that meant respiration. She didn’t see it.
“She’s not breathing.” She wiped the goblin fruit juice from Clarity’s mouth quickly with her sleeve and then began rescue breathing—mouth to mouth resuscitation.
After a short time, she stopped and checked again for respiration. She nodded her head. “Okay. Okay. Alright. She’s breathing.”
She moved back and looked at Marcos. He hadn’t stirred since shooting Nick but stood watching the scene, in statuesque silence.
Anna tasted blood and something else. She reached a hand up to her mouth, and then stared at her fingers, at a drop of vibrant juice, mingling with her blood. She hadn’t been thorough enough wiping it from Clarity’s face. She looked a final time at Nick and then began to convulse. She fell backward to the floor and went limp.
“Oh hell!” said Marcos, finally moving. He tucked the gun into his pocket and ran forward. “Anna. Anna!” He shook her, and she didn’t respond. She was breathing; her eyes were open but unseeing. Picking her up, he carried her to an empty bed in a patient room and tucked her in—the center’s newest patient.
I came to and screamed, scrambling away from Nick’s body to the side of the room. I didn’t know what had happened. Marcos was gone. Anna was gone. There was Nick on the floor. Blood.
*Marcos came into the room carrying a sheet and a damp towel. I stared at him,_ [[*horror-stricken]*. He worked for Nick. He was his bodyguard, his friend. He had to be in on it all.*_]
Slowly, he laid the sheet over Nick’s body and then squatted down in front of me. “Are you okay?” he asked, reaching out with the towel.
I flinched away from him.
“It’s for your face,” he said, still holding it out.
Slowly, I took it and wiped at my face.
“You stopped breathing for a little while,” Marcos said. “Anna had to resuscitate you.”
My face wiped clean, I dropped my arm to my *side,] [[*and the towel fell to the floor. I stared again at Nick’s sheet-covered body. I didn’t know how to feel. I’d known Nick my whole life, but I hadn’t known him at all.] It had all been a lie.
Marcos turned, looked at the body and then back at me. “I had to do it, Clarity. He would have made you a zombie. I couldn’t let him.”
“He…” I shook my head. I looked at him. “He was making goblin fruit.”
Marcos opened his mouth, about to respond, but then Audrey stumbled down the stairs, interrupting him.
“Hey what are you guys doing down here?” she said. “I heard…” She laughed. “Sounds.”
She didn’t seem to notice the body. She ignored it like it was a piece of furniture, not the single most life-shattering thing that had ever happened to me.
Marcos stood, looking at her. “Nothing. Everything’s fine. Please go back to sleep.”
“Okay,” said Audrey, flopping onto the couch, her arm hanging over the edge. She started to snore softly.
Marcos shook his head and knelt back down in front of me. “Nick got the chemical to make it from your mother’s hands, her gloves.”
I nodded, trying to process it all, to understand. “Anna gave them to him.”
“She thought he was trying to find a cure,” I said. I looked at him. “Didn’t she?”
He looked sad. “Yes.”
“Poor Anna.” I looked around. “Where is she?”
“She’s upset,” he answered. “She went home to rest.” He cleared his throat. “You should get some rest, too.”
I shook my head. “Nick gave my mother the goblin fruit?”
“Snuck it to her, I think,” he said. “In the hospital.”
I blinked. My mind was reeling. My mother hadn’t been a fruit addict. She hadn’t taken fruit at all. It had been snuck to her. “How did he know she…” I began.
“I told him,” said Marcos, and I gasped, despite myself. I knew Marcos was in on it; I knew he must know that Nick was making the fruit, but I hadn’t thought about my mother. I thought he loved her…All those flowers he’d been bringing her for all those years. Was it guilt?
He went on. “We *dated,_ [[*your mother and me. I thought I was in love with her, but when she told me about seeing goblins, I thought she was crazy. I broke it off and told Nick about it.”]_]
He looked down, not meeting my eyes. “Nick was real involved in the drug scene during his trip to Italy. I didn’t know he’d found out how they were making the fruit or that he’d snuck a capsule back. I didn’t know…Your mother…” He paused, collecting himself. “After we broke up she disappeared for a while. I tried to find her…Nick must have been looking for her too, but he didn’t know where she was until the hospital.”
I took a deep breath. Something occurred to me again, something I’d asked him before, but he could easily have lied when he’d answered. Now he seemed to be telling me the truth, so I’d ask again. “You…” I began. “Are you…”
He shook his head. “The timing’s not right. I’m not your father.”
I nodded and didn’t question him further. I was relieved.
“I don’t know who your father is. Sara was always a free spirit.” He stood up. “I have a record,” he said. “I’m not supposed to have a gun.” He looked at the body and back at me. “I’m not going to ask you to keep quiet about this. I’ll turn myself in, but not here. The center doesn’t need that kind of scrutiny. I’ll take him to his lab and call from there.”
He looked at Nick. “He was my best friend,” he said, quietly. “Since we were kids…But it’s time this ended.” Looking back at me, he gave a bitter laugh. “It’s bad for my heart, this line of work.”
Folding the ends of the rug Nick was on, around him, Marcos dragged the bundle toward the front door, a smear of blood trailing it. He paused before going out. “Go in your room and lock the door as soon as I leave,” he said. “Your dad will be back in the morning, okay?”
“Maybe you could write to me sometimes,” he said. “When I’m in jail.”
I didn’t answer him at first, and he didn’t suggest it again. He opened the door and backed through it pulling the body out with him. He shut the door and was gone.
“Maybe,” I said.
I heard the car trunk slam and Marcos drive away. I sat where I was for I don’t know how long—a long time—but eventually I got up and took a few steps toward the stairs. I stared at the blood smear on the floor. Should I clean it up? My stomach heaved, and I turned and ran to the bathroom. I vomited until there was nothing left in my stomach.
I wiped my face with a wet paper towel and then walked out of the bathroom. On the way back down the hall, something stopped me, and I looked into a patient room, at a bed that should have been empty, but wasn’t. I went in the *room,_ [[*and I saw Anna—zombie Anna. I stumbled back, leaning against the wall. “Oh God,” I said, touching my mouth. I knew what had happened. “Oh God.”]_]
I backed away and went back in the living room. I wasn’t crying. I felt strangely absent, outside myself, but my legs were shaking. I sat on a chair near the couch where Audrey lay unconscious. I picked up my “Goblin Market” book and flipped through the pages. I stopped on the page where Lizzie tries to buy fruit for her sister and the goblins attack her. I read the words, “Held her hands and squeez’d their fruits against her mouth to make her eat.” I flipped forward to the place where Lizzie returns to her sister and the words, “For your sake I have braved the glen and had to do with goblin merchant men.”
I looked up. At the side of the room, the rat goblin stood staring at me. He looked serious, solemn, maybe concerned. He looked down at the floor in front of his feet, and following his gaze, I saw the goblin fruit capsule Nick had tried to make me eat laying there in a small pool of bright juice.
“Sacrifice,” I said, but I didn’t yet understand.
I stood up, set the book on the chair, and went to the glove dispenser where I pulled out a pair of gloves and put them on. Hesitantly, I approached the goblin and knelt in front of it. It didn’t move but stood like a statue as I scooped the capsule and as much juice as I could into my gloved hand.
I went into my mother’s room and stood looking down at her. The room was dim, illuminated only by the light in the living room, and the street light outside, but I could see her chest moving slowly. She was still breathing. “One more try, Mom, but just a little,” I said. “I have to save the rest for Anna.” I dipped my gloved finger into the juice and put one small drop into my mother’s open mouth.
Nothing happened. I pulled my hand away but then stopped, staring down at it, opening and closing my fingers. “Joining hands…bid them cling together.” I stared at my mother’s face. “It’s about sacrifice,” I said again, and then I knew.
I pulled the glove off one of her hands. Then quickly, I put my hand to my own mouth, devoured the goblin fruit capsule, and licked at the juice.
I pulled my gloves off and threw them to the floor, staring at my palms. They seemed to have a faint orange tinge, as though the chemical were *being exuded*. I grabbed onto my mother’s hand and stared at her. “Wake up,” I said. “Wake up!”
But she didn’t wake.
I flung her hand away and ran to the door. “Anna!” I screamed.
Audrey was in front of me in the doorway, blocking my way. “What’s going on? Are you okay?” she said.
“Move!” I said and shoved her. “I have to save Anna.”
She staggered back, letting me past.
“Anna?” I said again.
*I stumbled in the doorway to the room where Anna was lying and fell to my knees._ I felt so dizzy. [[“She gave me mouth to mouth…” I said, trying to explain. I tried to crawl to*]_] Anna but fell on my face.
Audrey knelt beside me.
“It’s about sacrifice,” I told her. “Joining hands…”
Clarity began to convulse.
“No!” said Audrey, turning her over and resting her in her lap. Taking her gloves off and throwing them aside, she grabbed onto Clarity hands, squeezing. “No this is my fault. Don’t.” But Clarity went limp, and Audrey started to sob, clutching onto her.
Soft footsteps came down the hall and a shadow cut across the light in the doorway. “Hey, is she okay?” said a friendly, female voice.
At first, Audrey couldn’t see who it was in the lighting, but it became clear as she knelt down before her, and smoothed the hair out of Clarity’s face.
Audrey stared at Clarity’s mother, open mouthed.
“She’s beautiful,” said Sara, looking down at her daughter.
A long moment passed, and then Audrey said, “Yes. She is,” and laughed joyously. She knew what to do. She lifted Clarity up. Sara stepped out of the way, and Audrey set her on the bed beside Anna and folded their hands together.
As her mom and Audrey stood side by side, staring down at her, Clarity opened her eyes. “Mom?” she said.
The woman blinked several times, an amazed expression on her face. “Clara?”
Clarity was thrilled. “It worked!” She laughed and started to sit up, but then looked down at her hand, realizing for the first time that she was holding onto someone. She looked at Anna and, still smiling, said, “Wake up.”
But Anna didn’t wake up.
Clarity’s smile began to fade. “Anna, we found the cure. Wake up.”
“Clarity,” said Audrey.
Clarity didn’t look at her. “I took the goblin fruit to save you,” she said to Anna. “Why don’t you wake up?”
“Clarity,” Audrey said, her voice sad. “I don’t think she’s going to wake up.”
Clarity looked at Anna and back at Audrey. She gasped. “Anna beat me to it. She saved me first.”
“What?” said Audrey.
Clarity closed her eyes, holding back tears. “She gave me mouth to mouth. That’s how the goblin fruit got in her system. I was unconscious. Nick…” She shook her head. “She risked herself to save me. Maybe only one sacrifice works at a time. Maybe I can’t save her ‘cause she already saved me.” She started to cry in earnest, tears squeezing out between her eyelids and running down the sides of her face.
Tentatively, Sara touched her hand. Clarity looked down at it—she was still holding on to Anna—and then looked at her mother. Gently, Sara took Clarity’s hand from Anna’s. Then she grasped her other hand as well and helped her to stand. Clarity sobbed and wrapped her arms around her.
Sara stroked her hair and whispered that everything would be all right.
Audrey watched them for a moment and then quietly left the room. She approached her brother’s bed, removed Andrew’s glove and threw it aside, then grabbed onto his hand and stared down at his face. He looked so peaceful, almost healthy looking in sleep.
Todd’s grandfather was dying. He’d been dying slowly for a long time. Now he was doing it quickly. Todd’s mother, grandmother, and uncle, Hector, were gathered around his bed. A rattle that made Todd’s heart sink sounded with each of his grandfather’s breaths.
His mother turned as he came in the room. “Todd,” she said. “At last. I’ve tried and tried to call you.”
“I know,” he said, coming forward. “I’m sorry. I…” He was about to make an excuse, but he stopped himself. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
“Ay, mijo, what happened to your face?” his mother asked.
“Nothing important, Mama. It’s okay.”
His grandfather opened his eyes as Todd approached the bed. “Manuel,” he said.
Todd stopped. “No Abuelito. It’s me, Todd.”
“I know, Todd,” said Abuelito. “Manuel.”
Todd looked at his family questioningly.
“He wants us to take him into Manuel’s room,” said his mother, “but I don’t think it’s a good idea for Manuel to see Papa like this…” Her voice broke off, and she started to cry.
“Manuel can’t see anything, Mom,” Todd said. “I thought you should have put him in a center a long time ago, but Abuelito’s dying now. What’s the use keeping him away?”
Maria shook her head. “You don’t understand,” she said. “At the center tonight…” She fought for words.
“Manuel,” Abuelito said again.
And with that, Todd bent down and picked the old man up in his arms. He weighed barely more than a child. His family trailing behind and pushing the oxygen tank, Todd carried his grandfather into his Uncle Manuel’s room and laid him on the bed next to his son.
Todd had avoided seeing his uncle since he went catatonic. He didn’t want to think of him as one of the living dead, but Manuel didn’t look so bad. His eyes were closed, and in sleep, Todd couldn’t tell that there was anything wrong with him.
“Manuel,” Abuelito said again, grabbing at his son’s hand.
“No Papa,” said Maria, but Abuela stopped her.
“Let him be,” she said.
The old man fumbled impotently with his son’s glove, trying to pull it from his fingers.
Todd did it for him. His designer gloves were ruined now, but that was okay.
Abuelito took his son’s hand, and something happened. Or maybe it was nothing, just a puff of air passing through Manuel’s lips, but it sounded like, “Papa.” That’s certainly what Abuelito thought it was. He died with a smile and his son’s hand in his.
As the first light of morning illuminated the window, I found Audrey in Andrew’s room and stood beside her.
She glanced at me and then looked away, staring straight ahead. “Where’s your mother?” she asked.
“Lying down,” I told her. “She’s pretty weak.”
We were quiet for a while.
“She says she recognized me,” I said. “She wasn’t always totally out of it. Flashes would come through of things she liked, people she knew, Marcos’s flowers…music.”
“You risked your life to get the drug,” I said, “to find a cure, to save him.”
“I didn’t know the dealer was going to shove it in my mouth. You risked everything to save your mom and it worked.”
I shook my head. “Half worked. She wasn’t the only one I was trying to save.”
“I know.” She looked down at Andrew. “Maybe I need to take it again, on purpose this time. Maybe that’s the kind of sacrifice that turns the poison into the cure.”
“Do you think I should take it again to save Anna?” I asked.
She looked at me. “Hell no! Don’t do that.”
I smiled. “You don’t do it either.”
Frank wheeled his carry-on up the jetway with the other passengers. His clothes were wrinkled, he smelled a little rank, and he had dark circles under his eyes, but he was happy to be home. Leaving the jetway for the airport proper, he stopped, looking around. The normal business of the airport seemed to be frozen. There were no travelers hurrying toward their gates, no airport personnel making announcements on the loudspeakers. Instead, there were large, nearly silent groups of people clustered around the airport televisions, watching breathlessly.
Frank joined the nearest group and looked up at the TV, gasping when he saw a mug shot of Marcos appear on the screen. It was replaced by footage of Nick’s lab surrounded by police tape, a reporter in front. “For those of you just tuning in, an anonymous tip brought police last night to J.R. Brinkley Laboratories, where the dead body of researcher, Nick Doherty…” A smiling picture of Nick appeared on the screen. “…was found along with a large amount of goblin fruit and what is believed to be equipment used in its production. Due to the amount of the drug and the sophistication of the equipment, it has been speculated that J.R. Brinkley Laboratories may be the main or even the only supplier of the drug to North America.”
Frank didn’t collect his checked luggage. The first available cab took him home, and dropping his carry-on in the yard, he ran from the cab toward the front door.
“Hey!” the cab driver called after him.
He turned and speedily handed the driver some money, and then rushed inside.
Clarity was near the door, about to open it, when he came through, and he gave her a quick hug. Audrey stood off to the side, looking nervous.
“Anna,” said Frank. “Where’s Anna?” He glanced around. Patients were doing exercises together in the center of the living room.
Sara sat up from where she’d been lying on the couch. “Hey Frank,” she said. “Good to see you again.”
His eyes wide, he stepped toward her. “Sara … It’s … You’re … It’s amazing.”
She smiled sadly. “Every silver lining has a cloud, Frank.” She glanced toward one of the exercising patients, and Frank looked too, seeing her clearly for the first time.
At lunchtime, Dad scooped eggs from a frying pan onto plates in the dining room. There was no candlelight this time, and the flowers had wilted considerably in the vase. He picked them up and dumped them in the trash.
My mom, Audrey, and her mom were all there. Natalie had come that morning to see Andrew and stayed. There was a nervous tension in the air.
“Sorry we couldn’t do anything better than scrambled eggs on your first day back with us,” Dad said to Mom.
She smiled. “Best meal I’ve had in years.”
It made me feel odd, good-odd, seeing them together like that, like they were a couple or something, like I had a regular set of parents.
I spread jam on a piece of toast and then put my knife down. “Breakfast’s the best dinner in the world,” I said.
Audrey picked at her food, hardly eating.
Dad’s cell phone rang, and he took it from his pocket and looked at the caller ID. “It’s Maria,” he said answering it.
“I’m so sorry…”
“No, take all the time you need…”
“Okay. Get some rest…”
He hung up. “Maria’s father passed away last night.”
“Oh, poor Maria,” said Natalie.
“Poor Todd,” said Audrey.
I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t care less about Todd.
Dad nodded. “It looks like we’ll be managing things around here by ourselves for a little while.
“I can help out,” said Mom. “I’d be happy to.”
Audrey looked up from her plate. “I can too…if you want.”
Looking at her, Dad sighed. “Are you having cravings?” he asked.
It was the elephant in the room. As Natalie waited for her daughter to answer, there was real fear in her eyes.
Audrey hesitated before finally nodding. “Yes, sir. Like you wouldn’t believe.”
Mrs. Ortiz closed her eyes, and I could tell she was fighting for control. The revelations of the day—that someone, my mother, had been cured of catatonia, and that the goblin fruit manufacturer had finally *been discovered*—gave her some hope, but I could tell that she was terrified for her daughter.
Dad watched Audrey for a moment and then turned to me. “And what about you?”
“No,” I said, and that was the truth. “I never want anything to do with it again. It was horrible.”
“Your lack of cravings may be a result of the genetic trait Nick talked about,” Dad said. “The drug works differently for everyone.”
He looked at Audrey. “You’re very lucky, amazingly lucky, that they found the source of the drug. You hold out a few days and there won’t be any goblin fruit to be had at any price. You’ll be *uncomfortable,_ [[*but you’ll be safe.”]_]
Natalie nodded, looking calmer. “Oh, she’ll hold out,” she said. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Dad smiled and took a bite of his food. We all returned to our food, eating in silence.
Finally, he turned back to Audrey. “We’ll be happy to have your help. Goodness knows things are going to get crazy around here when we inform the press that someone’s come out of catatonia.”
I choked and coughed, taking a sip of water. “You’re going to tell them?”
“The world needs to know that someone’s been cured, that a cure is possible. Studies need to *be done*.”
“But if there’s no more goblin fruit…”
He shrugged. “The government seized enough of the drug to supply any number of studies.”
“But who’s going to sacrifice…” I began.
He shook his head. “Clarity what you did horrifies me. It makes me feel sick.”
I looked down, rearranging my eggs with my fork. I felt sick, too. I didn’t know what I could have done differently. I could have done nothing and let my mother die, I supposed. If I’d done that, Anna might be fine, but then again, she might still be supplying Nick with the gloves he needed to make the drug. I hated Dad being upset with me.
He went on, “But it was a really kind thing you were trying to do. It’s amazing that your mother’s book somehow helped you realize how to counteract the drug.”
Mom made a small *sound,] [[*and we looked at her. A tear was running down her face. “Rosetti’s poem—I loved it. I saw goblins since I was a teenager. They never hurt me, but they’re scary. I thought if you ever saw them too, the book might help you be less afraid. I never thought that you would have to save me.”]
I patted my mom’s back. “Thank you for the book,” I said. “It was a miracle.”
Dad nodded. “The miracle was that you knew what to do, not what happened after you did it. Antivenoms for snakes and spider bites are derived from venom. I think you two coming out of it had more to do with the reintroduction of the drug than with sacrifice or anything metaphysical.”
“But what about Kevin?” I asked. “The drug made him crazy and then he went catatonic again.”
“That was a much bigger dose,” Dad said. “It may be that a very small amount administered through the palms is what’s needed.”
“But what about Andrew and Anna?” Audrey asked.
“Everyone’s different,” said Dad. “The treatments for everyone will be a little different. “According to Nick, Clarity and Sara have an unusual genetic trait. That trait may have had a role in their recovery.”
“Oh,” said Audrey, looking away.
“Audrey,” Dad said. “More research needs to *be done,_ [[*but there’s a lot more hope now than ever before that a cure will]_] be found for everyone.”
*I nodded, smiling. Seeing a movement in the corner of the room, I turned. The rat goblin was back, a horrible,_ [[*sharp-toothed]_] grin on its face, sticky orange juice staining its lips. I looked at my mom, and I knew that she could see it too because she was staring at the exact same spot. Wordlessly, I grabbed her hand under the table. She looked at me in surprise, and then we both looked back at the place where the goblin had been standing. It was gone.
Audrey, Todd, and I got together on a Saturday to do the mural. That wasn’t what the original terms of our punishment were, but Mrs. Nelson was understanding. We hadn’t been to school much with everything that had happened with Nick, and my mom, and Anna, and Todd’s grandpa. Todd’s uncle was a patient at the center now, and part of my dad’s new experimental trial. He was still catatonic, of course. With the exception of my mom, all the patients were still catatonic, but Dad was very hopeful. I’d been surprised to learn that Todd had a catatonic uncle and that Anna was in on hiding him, but I wasn’t shocked. Nothing shocked me anymore.
I drew the last scene of the poem, as I imagined it, Laura sitting under a tree with her children, the little ones all holding hands. It would be controversial, but I thought we’d get away with it. The taboo against hand holding hadn’t disappeared overnight. Some people might think it was obscene, but things were different now. My mother’s recovery had given people a new optimism. Everyone thought that a cure was just around the corner.
It took us all day and much of the evening to paint the mural. We used bright colors and filled it with sunshine and flowers. It was so beautiful, so full of hope. It felt like a new beginning.
By Christina Rossetti
MORNING and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
All ripe together
In summer weather—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy;
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye,
Come buy, come buy.”
Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bowed her head to hear,
Lizzie veiled her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger-tips.
“Lie close,” Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”
“Come buy,” call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
“O! cried Lizzie, Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men.”
Lizzie covered up her eyes
Covered close lest they should look;
Laura reared her glossy head,
And whispered like the restless brook:
“Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds’ weight.
How fair the vine must grow
Whose grapes are so luscious;
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes.”
“No,” said Lizzie, “no, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat’s face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat’s pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry-scurry.
Lizzie heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.
Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.
Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
“Come buy, come buy.”
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
“Come buy, come buy,” was still their cry.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Longed but had no money:
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr’d,
The rat-paced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried “Pretty Goblin” still for “Pretty Polly”;
One whistled like a bird.
But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
“Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather.”
“You have much gold upon your head,”
They answered altogether:
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore,
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away,
But gathered up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turned home alone.
Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
“Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the moonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so.”
“Nay hush,” said Laura.
“Nay hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more,” and kissed her.
“Have done with sorrow;
I’ll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons, icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink,
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap.”
Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down, in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fallen snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars beamed in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.
Early in the morning
When the first cock crowed his warning,
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
Aired and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
Talked as modest maidens should
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day’s delight,
One longing for the night.
At length slow evening came—
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep
Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags,
Then turning homeward said: “The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep.”
But Laura loitered still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.
And said the hour was early still,
The dew not fallen, the wind not chill:
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
“Come buy, come buy,”
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single,
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.
Till Lizzie urged, “O Laura, come,
I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glow-worm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark;
For clouds may gather even
Though this is summer weather,
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?”
Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
“Come buy our fruits, come buy.”
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
But peering thro’ the dimness, naught discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent ‘til Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for balked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.
Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain,
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
“Come buy, come buy,”
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and gray;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay, and burn
Her fire away.
One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth
With shade of leaf-crowned trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.
She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.
Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister’s cankerous care,
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins’ cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy.”
Beside the brook, along the glen
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The voice and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,
But feared to pay too dear,
She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter-time,
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp winter-time.
Till Laura, dwindling,
Seemed knocking at Death’s door:
Then Lizzie weighed no more
Better and worse,
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook,
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.
Laughed every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes, —
Hugged her and kissed her;
Squeezed and caressed her;
Stretched up their dishes,
Panniers and plates:
“Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
“Good folk,” said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie,
“Give me much and many”; —
Held out her apron,
Tossed them her penny.
“Nay, take a seat with us,
Honor and eat with us,”
They answered grinning;
“Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavor would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us.”
“Thank you,” said Lizzie; “but one waits
At home alone for me:
So, without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee.”
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One called her proud,
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.
White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
Lashed by tides obstreperously, —
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire, —
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee, —
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet
Mad to tear her standard down.
One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syruped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot.
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple.
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.
In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore through the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse, —
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she feared some goblin man
Dogged her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
But not one goblin skurried after,
Nor was she pricked by fear;
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.
She cried “Laura,” up the garden,
“Did you miss me ?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.”
Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutched her hair:
“Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruined in my ruin;
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?”
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.
Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.
Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame,
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Like a foam-topped water-spout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life ?
Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse’s flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of gray,
Her breath was sweet as May,
And light danced in her eyes.
Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat,
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
“For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.
Goblin Market 164
Copyright © 2012 S.E. Burr
All rights reserved.
What if the "drug epidemic" actually WAS an epidemic? What if you could catch an addiction as easily as you catch the stomach flu? What if the drug you wanted more than anything in the world would turn you into a zombie, able to move and eat, but not think? 16-year-old Clara's mother is a catatonia patient, a.k.a. zombie. So is Audrey's brother. Together, they're desperate to find a cure before it's too late. Their only clues are in the 150 year old poem, "Goblin Market."