Willful Creatures Part 5

When she left to go mail a letter or pick up some groceries, the potato visitors went to the windows like dogs do, and watched her walk off. When she returned, they were back at the window, or still at the window, waiting. Their big potato heads turning as she walked up and opened the door. Eyes blinking fast to welcome her home. She went through her mail and fell into a corner of the rotting old red sofa and they walked over and put rough hands on her shoulders, her knees, her hair. The five of them spent the winter like that, together in the small house, watching the snow fall. She tried to send them outside, to find their fortune, but they always turned right around and came back. They only slept when she slept, making burbling noises like the sound of water warming up. They were dreamless, and woke once she awoke.

On the first day of spring, the bountiful neighbor came over with lilies woven into her hair, asking to borrow some matches. The woman had the four hide in the bathroom. She tried to talk to the neighbor but had very little to say and instead the neighbor filled the small house with chatter. The neighbor was in love! The neighbor liked the weather! The neighbor asked to use the bathroom and the woman said sorry, her bathroom was broken. The neighbor talked at length about broken bathrooms, and how difficult, and if she, the woman, ever needed to use her bathroom, she was welcome anytime. Thank you. You're welcome! When the neighbor left, the woman's ears were ringing. She went into the bathroom to pee and was somehow startled to see the four still in there, blinking beneath the silver towel rack.

"Get," she said, brushing them off. "Get away from me. Go!"

They b.u.mped out the door and waited in the living room. She put them in the closet and went about her day, and there they stayed, waiting, until the guilt drove her to let them out. The following morning, after a sleepless night where they gazed at her with white pupils, she pushed them out the front door to the side of the house where there was a strip of dirt that the neighbor could not see. The woman picked up her gardening shovel and dug a hole in the earth, as deep as her knee. She looked at One.

"Get in," she said.

He stepped into the hole.

"Lie down," she said. He looked up at her with wondering eyes and she filled the hole with dirt over him.

"Go back to where you came from," she said, as she shoved more dirt over his grayish body. She looked at Two. Built another hole. "Go," she said, "and don't you come out," and her voice shook as she said it. Two hopped in without pause. As did Three and then Four. She filled the holes up fast and then strode into her house and locked the door. Fine, she said to herself. Fine. Fine. FINE. She ate dinner alone and slept alone and woke alone, and the cast-iron pot was empty when she checked. They wouldn't fit in it anymore anyway. She couldn't even eat them now, could she? They would just walk right out of the oven, right out of her mouth. Go back to where you came from, she told herself. Thank you, Goodbye, Excuse me. She swept endlessly, and trucks moved past her window.

In the morning, with spring rolling off the hillsides in bright puffs, she went outside to the strip of dirt. No movement at all. She set a rock at each site, one rock for One, two for Two, etc. She sat for long spells, over the course of the next week, and watched the sky drift overhead. It all felt very familiar, and she recognized the shape and texture of her life before, but it was as if someone had put her old life in the laundry and washed it wrong. The color was slightly off. The sleeves were now too short.

At the end of the week, she kicked off the stones and got out her big shovel. Her neighbor was hanging up clothing on her laundry line, green dresses and blue scarves. The wind whisked her hair around.

"How's that broken bathroom?" she yelled.

"Oh," said the woman. "Well. There never was any broken bathroom."

The neighbor raised her eyebrows.

"I was hiding my children from you," said our woman.

"Children? What children?" said the neighbor, wrapping her neck in a rose-colored scarf. "I had no idea! How sweet! How many? Where are they?"

"I buried them," said the woman, waving her shovel.

"You what?"

"I buried them," said the woman. "And now I am going to dig them back up."

She went to the side of the house, and dug up One first. He sat right when the shovel touched his arm and dirt fell from his face and legs. He blinked at her, as if no time had pa.s.sed at all, and she held out her hand and pulled him out. She dug up Three, and Four. She thought briefly of leaving Two there forever, letting weeds grow all over him, but the other three were looking at his spot expectantly, so she dug up Two too.

The woman looked at each in turn. The layers of dirt became them.

"Okay," she said.

They stepped into her open arms, solemn as monks. As they nestled and burrowed into her neck, the neighbor poked her head around corner of the house, draped in a clean sheet.

"Oh!" she said. "Look at this!"

The woman glanced over with Three on her back and Four clinging to her shoe.

"I didn't think you could be serious," said the neighbor.

"I am always serious," said our woman.

The neighbor crouched down and smiled at Four. "Are you okay, honey?" she asked. Four looked past the neighbor and then climbed onto our woman's back, pushing off One who fell lightly to the ground.

"They look so pale," said the neighbor, her voice unsure where to drop, into which voice box positioned between curiosity and righteousness. "You might want to call a doctor," she said. "I know a good one, who can be here within the hour."

Four curled his hand around our woman's neck, and began tugging on the lobe of her ear. Our woman barely smiled at her neighbor. It was a smile not made of pity, and it was not made of envy, even though the two had merged, for years now, on her lips. This smile instead was built of a weariness, of the particular quiet of the body after a long bout of weeping or illness. Certain things endured, and somehow she had ended up with four.

From the ground, Two leaped up to swing gently from her wrist.

"They need no doctors," she said, walking to her front door. "Trust me."

Inside, the woman dressed the group in clothing even though they had no hair or blood and would never look normal, dressed or undressed. Still she put them in pants and shirts she had sewn herself; in hats and shoes and belts.

She took their slow-moving hands and walked out the door again. They blinked and ducked under the lemony March sun. Already, like clockwork, the very first buds of green were pushing up from the soil, a ring of nasturtiums and dead potato babies to border her house. Halfway down the block, she turned and glanced at the neighbor, who was wearing a straw hat now, planting tomatoes. The four glanced with her. Thinking of the doctor had been a kind idea; she would thank the neighbor later. Living next to abundance was not so awful after all. It was contagious, in its own way.

The rest of the town was quiet and drowsy as the five walked past the cemetery, where they waved to the headstones, and over to the edge of the county. The air smelled ripe with spring. At the county line, the potato children stood by the fence posts and laid their hands on the dirt. They seemed interested, even pleased, by the new setting. They had no traumatic recollections of their past week buried alive. Instead, they brought fingers dusted with soil to their noses and smelled appreciatively.

They all crossed over, and began walking. A farmer pulling a wheelbarrow full of corn stopped and said h.e.l.lo.

"Good day," said the woman.

His eyes flicked to the bluish figures at her side, but he was a polite farmer and didn't say anything.

"How's the corn?"

"Fine," said the farmer. "Should be a good growing season. Good weather."

He kept his eyes steady on her face.

"These are my children," said the woman, giving him permission to look. "Children," she said, "say h.e.l.lo to the nice farmer." The four lifted their hands to touch him, and the farmer, familiar best with things of the earth, felt a wave of fluency, inexplicable, wash through him. His own son ran to catch up with them. "Here's mine," he said helplessly.

She shook the boy's hand, the boy who was fixed on looking at the potato children, and who, the way children do, immediately felt ent.i.tled to touch their nubbly elbows.

"Do they talk?" asked the boy, and the woman shook her head, no.

"Do they have magic powers?" asked the boy, and she shook her head again.

"They stay," she told the boy.

The farmer touched each potato child on the shoulder, and then waved goodbye to return to his work. He gave his son the day off. "Enjoy yourself," he said, surprised by the pang of longing in his voice. The group walked around the county, trailed by the farmer's boy; most things were very similar here except for the one movie theater showing a Western. In the interest of novelty, they all went to see it. The farmer's son ate popcorn. The cowboys rode along the prairie. There was a shoot-out at the saloon. The potato babies found it all amazing, and although they could not eat the popcorn, they clutched handfuls of it in their fat fingers until it dribbled in soft white shapes to the floor.

Afterward, the farmer's son ran home for dinner, and the family of five crossed back over. The sky was darkening with clouds, and halfway home, it began to rain. The woman tried to huddle the four under her arms, but they resisted, and held their bodies freely under the water. They seemed to enjoy it, tilting their faces to the sky. She had never seen them wet before, and rain, falling on their dirty potato bodies, smelled just like Mother at the sink, washing. Mother, who had died so many years ago, now as vivid as actual, scrubbing potatoes at the kitchen sink before breakfast. How many times had she done that? Year after year after year. Lighting the new fire of the morning. Humming. Her skirt so easy on her waist. Her hands so confident at the sink. They were that memory, created. Holding their potato hands up, they let the rain pour down their potato arms, their potato knees and legs, and the woman breathed in the smell of them, over and over, as deeply as she could. For here was grandmother, greeting her grandchildren, gathering them in her arms, and covering their wide faces with kisses.

Let's face it. The dead bodies were clearly acts of easy murder, done by the husband to the wife, then the wife to the husband. I found them face-to-face, cold, on the living-room carpet. There is nothing here to solve. The only mystery I can see I have addressed in my report, which will soon be on the desk of my superior, and has to do with the number of salt and pepper shakers in a household of two people. Fourteen seems to me excessive. That, in my opinion, is the living core of this mystery. If you want a motive, I will write it out: the husband hated his wife because she had stopped speaking to him years ago; the wife hated the husband because he was stupid with their money. All this has been verified by various neighbors, relatives, and friends. No one I spoke to was particularly shocked by the double murder, seemingly planned on the same day which, if nothing else, seems to show a sense of kinship between the two. But! No one, including the neighbor, the doctor, and the bosses, understood why two people who paid a live-in chef to the very edge of their budget, and whose blood pressure kept climbing up the ladder into the red zone, would collect salt and pepper shakers, in ceramic, wood, gla.s.s, and metal. Does this mystery put anyone at risk? No. Will I get reprimanded again for not sticking to the outlines of the report? Of course. But I believe that mysteries surface in unexpected forms, and if I am to be a genuine investigator, then I must follow what I feel needs investigation.

I spent the night in their house staring at the rows of salt and pepper shakers while the bodies were being examined at the morgue. The cook was away for the night, and I slept in the guest bedroom, on top of the comforter, not moving any evidence but just resting and listening, as the only way to get a true feel of a house and its residents is to stay in it overnight. This model was fairly standard for the neighborhood: one story, ranch style, two bedrooms and an office. The pictures on the walls were restful landscapes, and in the guest room, I slept beneath a watercolor of horses running. Every piece of furniture and decor was slippery to the mind and would not stick. I can hardly recall the sofa or the chairs, so un.o.btrusive was their style, and so involved was I with examining those shakers. Several pairs were masterfully crafted, with zigzag patterns of mahogany and oak, or cut diamonds of crystal, and must have cost quite a pile. One was a humorous set, each a green ceramic frog: salt with a cane, pepper with a hat. Each held varying levels of grain. The house grew so quiet that I could hear the movement of cats next door, paws treading softly on the sidewalk.

In the morning, I awoke to a call from the coroner. He confirmed that the husband was knifed in the stomach at five p.m., while the wife had been poisoned at a quarter to three, with a poison that took exactly 2.5 hours to kick in. They both died within about a minute of each other. Her late lunch had been a small chicken potpie, unsalted, a green salad, peppered, and a gla.s.s of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. He had skipped lunch, worried as he was about the exact.i.tude of the poison, which he had slipped into her water bottle. Her fingertips, as she carefully cut and chewed her chicken and carrots, were covered with bandages from all the blade-checking she'd done over the course of the morning. She was described by several sources as a thorough type.

The coroner is an upstanding fellow. He fought in Vietnam and raises orchids. I thanked him repeatedly but he gets embarra.s.sed by grat.i.tude and hung up.

After I ordered in a bowl of tomato soup and a sandwich, I spent several hours in the living room, sitting with the stain from his wound. It spread over the carpet in a curling line, as if he'd put his arm around her with his blood.

Now, she could not have known she was poisoned when she knifed him, as he had chosen a poison that is silent and causes no suffering, and he had hidden the bottle somewhere very difficult to find, as we had not yet found it. In fact, their greatest difference was revealed through their choice of murder weapon, in that she wanted to make him suffer and be aware of her murderous inclinations, choosing the overt and physical technique, while he selected the secretive method, one of the few available where she would die without fully realizing what was happening. He perhaps was more ashamed of his loathing, and also he did not want her to feel pain. Their greatest similarity, however, was revealed in their choice of occasion, since each conceived of the exact month and moment of death fully independent of the other. Certainly that was something. And I imagine that as they lay on the carpet next to each other, one bleeding from the gut, the other foaming from the mouth, they saw something meaningful and linked in the eyes of the other. The nature of hate is as elusive as love's. I for one am just pleased they did not have children.

Back to the dilemma of the spices. I finished my lunch and called up both their hairdressers, and spoke to one very unfriendly sibling, and no one had any interest in discussing these salt and pepper shakers, and in fact I could feel a stirring annoyance in the voices of the questioned, one which I am used to but still resent. I went home to shower, and spoke briefly with my girlfriend who was half asleep, and seemed distracted, and only right before I dozed off in my own bed did a phone call come in and tell me that the missing bottle of poison had been discovered in the chef's quarters, underneath her bathroom sink. Curious. I had not met her yet; she had taken off several days to grieve, and was returning the following morning to begin the slow process of packing up her bags. This couple had not been exceedingly wealthy, but the luxury of a live-in cook was something both felt was important to their happiness. So they shared a car, and rarely ate out or vacationed.

I found the cook in the kitchen, making afternoon snacks. Nothing was packed yet, and the house was just as I had left it. The couple had been married for twenty-five years and the cook was older than I expected, with a head of silver hair, although her fingers were still swift and nimble. She seemed saddened by the loss of her employers, but perhaps not sad enough. I was not ready to rule her out as a possible accomplice, particularly now with that poison bottle, wrapped in plastic, sitting bulbous atop the coroner's desk. While we were talking she made us a perfect turkey sandwich, on a triangle of bread, grilled lightly on the stove.

"The wife liked salt and the husband liked pepper," she said, "and the salt and pepper pair served as a symbol of their relationship." She briskly flipped the sandwich on the grill and then scooped it onto one yellow plate and one red plate which she handed over to me.

"Thank you," I said. The bread had crisped to a fine golden color around the edges. I waited until she took a bite of hers until I tried mine. "How so?"

"Well," she said, swallowing carefully, "they used salt and pepper as their model ideal. In their wedding vows, they said she was salt-she intensified the existing flavor-and he was pepper-he added a new kick-and that every fine table needed both.

"In fact," she said, leaning in, "instead of a man and woman atop their wedding cake, they had a pair of miniature salt and pepper shakers."

"No kidding," I mumbled, chewing.

She nodded. "I can show you photos." She started toward the living room, and before I could take another bite, she had the white wedding alb.u.m open, full of smiling attractive faces, and there was the cake, with those shakers on top. "It was a white cake with strawberry cream filling," she said. "Quite light."

"Did you have any reason to dislike either one of them?" I asked casually. "Were they good employers?"

"Yes," she said. "I liked them just fine. Isn't the case solved?"

"Seems to be," I said. "It's just that no one else remembered the shakers." I tried to keep sandwich crumbs off the photos. "This is delicious, by the way."

She shrugged. "I've been here since the wedding," she said, pointing to herself with a full head of very brown hair in the photo alb.u.m, serving plates of cake, "and that was their gift to each other every single anniversary."

She shut the book. "Case closed," she said.

I opened the book back up. "Except," I said, pointing to the date on the invitation, "there are only fourteen pairs of shakers, and I believe they were married for twenty-five years ..."

"Twenty-six," she said, pulling a clear bag of lemons up from the floor. "Well.

"What happened," the cook said, now slicing lemons in half, "was that after about fourteen years of marriage, he, as people do, grew sensitive to spicy food, and her blood pressure went up so high that she had to abandon salt. She could only use pepper, he only salt. He did not like the salt, it seemed to him redundant, which hurt her feelings. She did not like the pepper, as it seemed to distract from the true nature of the dish. This made him feel discounted.

"After some time, she grew less vibrant, and he less stimulating."


"From my perspective," said the cook, "it actually seemed to be true."

I pressed my finger into the plate to pick up the last crumbs of sandwich.

"And did this fill you with a strange hatred?" I asked.

She smiled at me. "No," she said. "Why, you don't believe they killed each other?"

"We found the bottle of poison in your room," I said.

She sat back down in her chair. I said nothing. At moments like this, it is always best to say nothing. Her eyes faded and lost focus.

"I'm not so surprised," she said softly after a while. "I'm sure he put it there on purpose. He had always hoped that I would be able to fix it all. I tried," she said. "It is a chef's job, this," she said, squeezing lemon juice into a pitcher.

She sighed now, with some elegance in her shoulders, and stirred the growing pitcher of lemonade with a wooden spoon.

"But a good chef must let go of the salt/pepper ratios," she said. "It's uncontrollable. It is a chef's nightmare to see the saltshaker dump itself all over a perfectly salted piece of meat or to see the pepper dirty up what is an ideal wave of bechamel. It is a chef's sleeplessness, right there," she said.

"So let it go," she said. "I cannot worry about it excessively. I simply Can Not." She poured herself half a gla.s.s of lemonade and took a sip. "Too sweet," she said, cutting four more lemons precisely in half. "And if lemonade is too sweet," she said, "then we are somehow lost to the crush of anonymity."

Her face struck against itself, and her eyebrows folded in.

"Sir," she said, "I was here for twenty-six years. Had they trusted my expertise, perhaps none of this would have happened."

I found I wanted to comfort her but her eyes had shut down, and after I finished spiking the last crumb, I tried to thank her sincerely, but she had lost herself in thought, at the kitchen table, stirring four grains of sugar at a time into the pitcher, and tasting, repeatedly, with the large wooden spoon.

"Thank you for your time," I said, then, to no one.

It was not the chef. I believed her fully. The evidence was in. But if the mystery was solved, both big and small, then why was I still on it? That was what my boss kept asking over and over. He had a new case for me. This one involved a homicide on the west end of town, of a very old rich codger who had seven children and it seemed likely that one of the seven had killed him. But I was bored by that one. It will solve itself, like a hose releasing its pinch and letting the water flow. I bought some orchid food instead and went to see the coroner again, because my mind would not stop thinking of that end, when the husband and wife realized they were dying together, each by the hand of the other. In a way, they actually had swapped personalities, by killing the other in the manner of his or her favorite spice. The wife chose knifing, which is certainly "pepperlike" in its spicy attack on the body, and the coroner thanked me for the orchid food and confirmed my suspicions about the poison, by explaining how the one the husband had chosen killed by increasing the saline level of the bloodstream to such a degree that the person essentially dehydrated.

I myself have a girlfriend, as I have mentioned, which is perhaps why the salt and pepper pair do not leave my mind. The case is closed and the file cabinet locked but I still think of them all the time. The ranch-style house sold for cheap to a small family who moved here from Michigan and didn't hear the history. I believe the chef retired from family work, and now is doing private catering on her own, and if I ever get married, I will surely hire her, although my superst.i.tious girlfriend might not approve. I do love my girlfriend, for her differences and her similarities, but I do not know if one day the item that defines me in her eyes will no longer work. If my body will fail. If I will face her in bed and not know what to do, when now her body still seems infinite. If she will stop having that bright look in her eye at the parrot store, and instead lose herself circling letters in word searches. There are couples who commit suicide together and they are in line with Shakespeare's greatest lovers, but those who murder each other precisely at the same minute are written up in all the papers as crazy. Even their family members coughed and got off the phone as fast as they could. They would like to erase the whole rigamarole. I picked up more than one tone of disgust and superiority in my many interviews. But it seems to me beautiful. How right at the end, when everything was over, they realized they had reached the ultimate gesture of compromise, that their union had come full circle, and perhaps it was the sting of that bittersweetness that killed them most, crueler than any knife or poison.

The boy was born with fingers shaped like keys. All except one, the pinkie on the right hand, had sharp ridges running along the inner length, and a point at the tip. They were made of flesh, with nerves and pores, but of a tougher texture, more hardened and specific. As a child, the boy had a difficult time learning to hold a pen and use scissors, but he was resilient and figured out his own method fast enough. His true task was to find the nine doors.

Door one he found as a kid; it was his front-door key. He did not expect this because it seemed so obvious but one day he came home from school and was locked out; his mother, usually home, had just begun taking some kind of sculpture cla.s.s and was off molding clay and forgot to leave a key under the welcome mat. So he was unwelcome, in his own home. He cried for a bit and tromped on some pansies as revenge and got so frustrated staring at the lock, such a simple piece of metal separating him from his palace of food and bed and TV and telephone, that he stuck the index finger of his right hand inside. It shoved deep into the lock, b.u.mping around, trying to find a perfect spatial match. Nothing clicked. But he'd enjoyed the sensation so he tried the middle finger next. Too big. The pinkie on the left hand: too small; it wiggled inside like a wire. It was the ring finger on his right hand that slipped inside, easy as a glove, ridges filling the humps and the boy settled it deep, rotated his entire hand, heard the click, and the door opened cleanly. Inside. He ripped his finger from the door and let out some kind of vicious delighted laugh.

When his mother came home, two hours later, hands red with clay, he pulled her straight to the door and showed her the trick. Shove in, turn, click, open. His mother kept laughing. And I didn't even want to buy this house! she said, holding him close. And to imagine, what if we hadn't? The boy shrugged. He had no idea how to answer that question.

The second key fit the lock of the bank deposit box that held all the securities of the family. The two had gone on a trip to the bank and the boy was bored in the room of security boxes while his mother spoke worriedly with an accountant. He stuck the pinkie on his left hand into their security box and ta da. He was very surprised. So was his mother. I didn't especially like this bank either, she said. Can I have some of this money? the boy asked, looking with interest at the large piece of gold sitting in the box like a glowing t.u.r.d. No, she said, but I'll buy you a burger. They went to his favorite burger joint where the lettuce was shredded and the soda ice crushed, and she told him about how she was making a clay version of him. It's you, she said, but you are surrounded by doors. You are standing on doors and wearing doors and your hand of keys is held up like a deck of cards. The boy splayed his fingers out on the table. Gin, he said.

The third, fourth, and fifth keys opened his camp trunk, the neighbor's car, and the storage room of the school cafeteria, respectively. He opened the cafeteria door one day at school when he was wandering around, not wanting to go home yet because there was nothing to do and no one to be with. All the other kids were off playing sports. The boy opened the back of the cafeteria with his right pointer, to his own almost dulled surprise, and sat with the frozen chicken nuggets for a while. It got boring quickly so he went home, opened the door with his other finger, and watched TV. His father was away at war. No one knew what war it was because it was an unannounced war, which made it worse because he could tell no one because that would cause great governmental problems. So he just held on to that information and when his friends asked where his dad was on Open House Night at school, he said, He's away on business. He wanted to yell out, The business of saving everyone's life! but he knew that would cause further questions so he kept his mouth shut.

His mother brought home the clay sculpture. It was about two feet tall and looked very little like him, and the doors resembled flying walls. One day when he was home alone and she wasn't back yet, having enrolled in another course, this one called How to Make Gla.s.s, he threw some baseb.a.l.l.s at the sculpture but the clay held strong. The boy was twelve now. His hands were growing, but his fingers still fit the same locks. Somehow they stayed the size they needed to be, while the rest of the hand-palm, knuckles, wrist-grew with him.

The sixth and seventh keys fit doors in France. His mother and he went to Paris to visit his father who was on leave from the mysterious war and together the three of them had lunch at a cafe surrounded by iron lamp poles and they ate crusty bread and soft cheese with red ripe tomatoes. His father looked older and stronger than ever, with big arms and a ruddy tan, and the boy stood next to him and wanted to push all his keys at once into the man's palm, to click and turn his father open, to make him tell what was happening. Secrets. His father and mother shared a room in the hotel and the boy had the room next door, with its strange-smelling comforter and a weird phone that had numbers in different configurations. He learned how to say Ou est la porte? which means Where is the door? and the porter at the hotel, after ignoring the question for the first five times, finally showed him a door, standing alone, on the lobby level, hoping to shut the boy up. Using the middle finger on his left hand, the boy opened to reveal just a closet, empty, with a few clothes hanging up and several swinging hangers. The porter babbled in amazement, Mais qu'est-ce que c'est que ca?! and took one of the hanging shirts straight away to the maitre d' at the restaurant who had been bemoaning the loss of it for more than a year and the boy said, to no one, I suppose I'm just going to sit here, and he went inside the closet and curled up on the floor. The porter, when he returned, brought the boy a gla.s.s of wine and a piece of apple. When his mother found him, asleep on the floor of the closet, she hugged him for a long time, and he showed her how his hand was international.

At the Louvre, the boy felt the pointer finger on his left hand itch after greeting Mona Lisa under gla.s.s. He found the docent room the way a hound finds blood, and played gin rummy with a p.o.o.ped guide whose earrings were little diamond stars. His father was off doing military business that day. When they returned to the hotel, the mother angry at the boy because he'd vanished, they found the father weary on the bed, looking worried, his ruddy tan fading like a bright couch left too long in the sun.

On the airplane home, the mother cried and the boy went to the bathroom and thought of his father as he peed, and then when he flushed he sent his pee like a message to his father because he imagined it flying out of the plane, free of him, into the world.

Go win the war, the boy thought, and come home. Or, he thought, don't win the war and come home. Or, he thought, don't come home but make Mother stop missing you. Or, he thought, make me stop missing you.

He rubbed his keys against his palm. He was almost thirteen. He washed his hands with the lavender airplane soap and returned to his seat.

He didn't fit his eighth key until he was twenty years old.

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