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I am outside the principal’s office. My heart beats fast like a frightened rabbit’s, my palms are sweaty. I think about how strong my Father’s heartbeat is; hammer against cloth, ruthless and tough just like his calloused hands even when he- no, I mustn’t say it.
Why am I here? What am I doing here, inside my school, when I should be home preparing dinner for Father’s arrival? I glance around the room I am sitting in. A ticking clock, second-hand, professional furniture, a television complete with security footage of the school premises, discarded Kleenex tissues scattered around the trashcan, shoes skid outside the door, laughs in the parking lot, click of nails against a keyboard, the smell of pine trees; it all blurs together in my mind. On the walls; pictures of the sun and the moon, smiles and sunglasses, ponies, lights, colors, these children who drew them are happy.
What if they found out? What would they say? If they only knew! This isn’t me. My fingers drum against the wooden armrest of my chair, I trace the ruts running in the oak, stretching upwards, reaching, reaching, reaching.
“He’ll be with you shortly,” the receptionist says. She’s looking at me. She’s staring. Her eyes; long lashes, thick and hard with black mascara, corners dried with maquillage. I won’t understand why women wear makeup. It’s dishonest. Maybe if I wore bottles of pale, liquid skin, I would be able to hide. Hide what’s written on my face. She reads all my secrets, so I turn from her. I look at my naked wrists, veins thud with anxiety.
“Do you need anything?” she asks. What? What does she mean? Water? A tissue? Or something more? I can’t tell. I want to look at her face but I’m too ashamed. Does she know I’ve been wearing the same socks for six days? Same underwear? Is she disgusted? Does she want me to leave?
“No, I don’t need anything.” What a lie! What a joke! Ask me again and maybe I can tell you the truth!
‘’Are you sure?” she presses, but she’s turned back to her work. Her thin, painted eyebrows have relaxed. She’s taken the precautionary measures, she has done her part. She no longer feels liable for me. And who am I to inconvenience her? I am only a child. A silly child. Another set of eyes, a hollow heart, and bare- padded feet.
‘’I want to leave,” I dare to utter. I am a coward. I’m stupid. I’m an idiot.
“Really?” she inquires coolly, the top of her bleached head bobs under the surface of her desk. I see the reflection of her computer screen in the principal’s shaded windows. (Entertainment Tonight! Hollywood stories, she wore what? She broke up with who? He did what? Whose party? Who got arrested) Such a fantasy! A movie star! Wow! What amazement! What travels I would have!
I realize I am still sitting when she asks again, “Are you sure? You really want to leave? He’ll be out in a minute, and then you can talk to him about whatever you wanted to.”
Is she trying to persuade me to stay? Oh, I will! Just look me in the eyes and I will. I’ll stay! I’ll tell everything! Please just look me in the eye!
She nods her head towards the door; her eyes don’t leave her computer screen. “…Well, if you’re sure, you can leave now.”
I am heartbroken. No, I’m not sure. Are you crazy? Help me! I’m not sure. No! No! No!
“Yes, “I say, “I’m sure.”
And that was the third time I chickened out this year.
“Augusten!”Father calls from the living room. He’s sitting on the couch, his shirt tail un-tucked; his intelligent eyes spinning maliciously. The room is dark, static sounds in my head as if I’m dying slowly, blacking out. But it’s not me. It’s the television; it’s short-circuited and crawling with gray-noise. It’s hypnotizing.
“Do something, Augusten. Don’t just stand there like an idiot. You’re smart aren’t you? That’s why I’m sending you to school.”
I tamper with the television, but I know nothing of it, I am and have always been interested in space travel. Not electronics. I succeed in nothing. I reposition antennas, push remote buttons, but there’s only noise, noise, noise, my fingers begin to slip up, the back of my neck perspires. I know he’s watching. I know that impatient tittering of his tongue against his lips.
I turn my head a little, “There’s nothing I can do, Father,” I choke out. He clenches his teeth together and closes his eyes. For a fraction of a second, he is at peace, almost as if he were sleeping, and then he awakens, an enraged bear, and hurls his plate at me, hitting me in the jaw.
I hear a crack; dislocation, and my mouth becomes a numb cesspool. My shoulders slacken and I fall back against the wall, holding my chin.
“Don’t act like you didn’t deserve that, I asked you to do a simple task.” He pauses, “And just pop it back.”
“Father,” I cry, “help me,” I plead.
The gray noise transitions suddenly to football announcers. I am covered in the remains of mash potatoes. I am staring at the floor, trying to collect my being.
“Clean this up and go to bed without dinner.” His bare feet emanate some sort of smell; his voice is vacant of emotion.
No! No, you old cow! No, you sicko! No, you fat slob!
“Yes, Father, “I say.
I scoop everything up in my palms: peas, potatoes, meat, hair, fluff, dirt, grime, and I run into the kitchen where I crouch by the trashcan to eat it. I eat it all up.
And that’s the fifth broken plate in two months.
I am in my room. It is Saturday. There are children outside playing. I can hear them through the dried blood in my ears; I can see them when I clean the grunge from my window. I have to stand on a wicker chair to reach the window, to hear and see them laugh and play and run. That is no place for me. I can’t imagine how my old bones would creak and wither and gripe in the sunlight. Old bones for an old soul. I feel as if I’ve lived a thousand years. I look in my mirror. I punch the glass. It doesn’t break, it only shivers, my reflection rippling like water.
“Who is that?” I ask myself.
Nobody answers me.
I take a cardboard box from the recycling bin and cut two holes out for eyes and put it on my head. I am a robot come down to Earth. Where is Augusten? Nowhere. I am a robot. I sloppily glue on buttons. I take a wire hanger and use it as antennas so that I can call command center and tell them the horrors of Earth. I teeter downstairs, sputtering instructions for the center, “Come down as soon as possible! You don’t want to make me wait do you!? I’ll shoot you with my laser!”
With each step I feel pounding in my head, and a boiling water burn shoots through my shoulder blades like a fire-breathing dragon, yet another testament of love from my father.
I finally am able to reach star command. They’ll send a spaceship for me, and I will finally be able to explore the Milky Way, touch the inky-black sky, bathe in sun-dripped stars, and fly past sleepy, luminary-dusted planets. It all seems so unreal to me, sitting on the bottom of a staircase, the tick-tock of Father’s watch resting on the pine desk lulling me into deep thought.
I hear the door slam and I am brutally awakened from my stupor. Father is home. He’s yelling into the phone. He’s lost an investment. I know to run. I skid around the corner in yellowing, holey socks when Father grabs my shirt, throws me to the floor.
“You stink like a pig! You can’t even keep yourself clean. And look at you- wearing trash on your head! You’re a disgrace! ”
Why Father? Stop Papa, stop Daddy, please Papa, please Daddy. From underneath his blows, I struggle to drag myself across the floor, clawing cool tile. If only I can reach the bathroom, I can lock him out. I can lock me in.
But Father will not have that. My skull becomes a wrecking ball against the side of the tub. My robot head is crushed! The buttons pop off! The wire hanger bends! This has gone too far! I know that he will stop soon. He never goes this far! I bite my lip, but I cannot help the teeth that fall, fall, fall, like rain. I think of broken piano keys as the faucet cuts open my chin. Father falls back into the tub, clutching onto the shower curtain, crying, sobbing; the tears of God’s wrath.
I stand on wobbly knees, on crumpled, cracked bones.
“Look at you. Look at you son. Look what you made me do,” Father cries with darkened eyes.
I don’t recognize my own self in the mirror. But that’s okay. I’ve radioed star command. They’ll fix me. I will be remanufactured as a robot. I won’t feel anything anymore, like the emotionless machine I am. And I want that more than anything. I fall hard against the tile, grabbing for my trampled robot. My Father is sobbing. They’ll send a spaceship for me.
Much later, I realize I had called them more than fifteen times that first week. Fifty-four this month. Eighty this year. But I know they will come for me.
Outside, in the trash can, raccoons live inside my decaying robot box.