~^!^~$##: Your Childhood, Again,
m: You are eleven years old. You are in your bedroom. It looks the way you remember apart from two things. 1: It is much smaller than you thought. 2: The other thing. Please describe your room.
a: This first thing I notice is the goldfish. There are so many. At some point I must have mastered tossing ping-pong balls into goldfish bowls at county fairs. Some of them are in bowls like those. Others are in water glasses, old yogurt containers, hidden in cereal bowls so that I can only see them from the top. They cover every surface, the water rippling in concentric circles every time I move.
m: Then there is the other thing that's different: a hole in your ceiling. The hole is a hole in the shape of your body. It is the outline of an adult body. Like yours, now, your real body, but perhaps a little heavier, a little broader, a little more bulky. Your shoes look very large. Exits are south (the door to your hallway) and east (your closet door).
m: You open your closet door. You might expect more goldfish but in fact there are no goldfish. There is only one outfit: a yellow dress with a white flower print, appropriate in size and style for a girl of eleven. It occurs to you, looking at the dress, that you are currently wearing a t-shirt you bought from a band touring in 2007. But if you are eleven then it is not 2007! You could give someone a real scare. The dress is pretty small, though. The closet is otherwise empty: there are several bare hangers, there is lint on the carpet, there is a little dust on the air. Exits are west.
a: Change into the dress.
m: You put on the dress. It's a little chilly in there.
m: You have one dress, one change of anachronistic clothes, one pair of tennis shoes, a pack of gum, several dollars in loose, rumpled bills, a pocket flashlight, and a rape whistle.
m: You go back to your room. Some of the fish seem to watch you come in. Others are indifferent. Exits are south and east.
m: You are in the hallway of your childhood home. It is a house or it is an apartment. It is in disrepair or your mother has recently cleaned it. Or your father. Or someone else. There are pictures on the wall of things you don't remember. Maybe it's been too long. In this one, you are standing on your brother's head. In this one, you are pulling his hair. In this one, you are the only one in the Christmas picture who did not wear a Santa hat. In this one, you are participating in competitive eating. In this one, you are asleep on the couch; in all of the pictures, you are large, weirdly shaped, awkward with heavy breasts and gut, weird, boxy hips, thick thighs, thick arms, hairy knuckles. Your face is your face but you worry a lot. Now you remember. … Exits are west (your brother's room) south (the bathroom) and east (the living room).
a: Take the pictures out of their frames. Head S to bathroom.
m: One by one, you remove the frames from the wall, take out the pictures, and replace the frames. On the back of every picture you see that someone has written a hateful word that does not bear repeating. The word was written in your hand. … You go south to the bathroom. In the bathroom there is a shower that is also a bath. There is the toilet, where you can see hints of things you know you've done. There are little black hairs on the sink. There are various razors. There is soap in a Darth-Vader-head-shaped soap dispenser. There is you in the mirror. … The dress is just long enough to cover your panties. It bursts at the seams, revealing angry red skin and unshaven armpits. You have all the pictures.
a: Examine mirror.
m: There are toothpaste stains in the mirror from someone's spit. There is your body. There are your pores. There is your acne. There is a stray hair, dark and thick, on your shoulder. You try but cannot make the face you mean to make; your mirror face; the one that makes you pretty; the one you hold, in your memory, as your real face.
a: Break mirror with flashlight.
m: The flashlight helps, but it's mainly your massive hand that does the job. This causes some bleeding. But it's strange, looking at the place where your skin parts, how thick it really is.
a: Wrap hand in anachronistic t-shirt. Tear up pictures. Put in toilet.
m: The photos seem to run in the toilet. The water turns many colors.
a: Put on pants.
m: You are wearing your pants. Now the little dress is almost stylish. Or so you assume—the mirror is broken.
a: Pick up glass fragments.
m: You have the glass fragments. Does it make you feel dangerous or afraid? Don't answer that.
m: You are in the hallway with all the empty frames, through which you see paler squares of wall. Exits are west, south, east, and north.
m: You try your brother's door but the door is locked. The knob jiggles in your hand; it might be loose. "SOMEONE'S IN HERE," he shouts from inside.
a: Ask: Can I come in? Say: I need some help.
m: "HOW DO I KNOW IT WON'T BE LIKE LAST TIME"
a: Say: It won't. I promise.
m: He opens the door just a crack. Peers at you from the other side through coke-bottle lenses, one of which has a very thin crack dividing it down the middle. Wonder who did that. … "What do you need?"
a: Say: Look at me.
m: He looks at you with the exact expression of someone who knows for a fact he is going to get punched.
a: Say: Do I look strange to you?
m: He slams the door closed immediately and locks it. "I KNOW BETTER THAN TO ANSWER THAT ONE."
m: "Yes you look strange! You've always looked strange as long as I can remember! And if you think you can make me believe you're crying then you must not know me very well! Every time I think you're crying, I get punched!"
a: Offer him some gum.
m: He immediately opens the door all the way. Your brother has kind of a sick thing for gum. His rodent teeth are showing and his lower lip is wet with spit.
a: Push past him into the room. Oh, and give him some gum.
m: He takes the stick of gum and chews it loudly, his jaw popping with every motion. He stands at the doorway as he chews, regarding you with suspicion and jealousy, as if you might take the gum back or try to escape without giving you more. His walls are hung with pictures of beautiful women, artistically posed, totally nude. The pictures are pale in some places where the ink has been rubbed off a little. The places are not ones you like to look at. Your brother also has a backpack on his bed, and a bookshelf filled with books from several different encyclopedias. He is missing some letters entirely—no Rs, for instance—and has several copies of others, for instance I-J.
a: Look up "spontaneous time-travelling gigantism" in the encyclopedia.
m: Well, there's an entry for Spontaneous Tim, Traveling Giant. And there's also one for Spontaneous Title Underworld. But the page between has been torn out. What are the odds?
m: You shove past your brother and into the hallway. "The gum has lost all its flavor!" He chews it harder than ever. Exits are north, west, south, and east.
m: You go into the living room. Is it your mother passed out on the couch with an empty bottle of red wine clutched to its chest, or is it your father?
a: It is my mother! Shake her awake.
m: Your mother slowly comes too. When her eyes adjust to the light she slaps your cheek, but not hard enough to hurt even a little. The television set is off but you can see she's been watching the blank screen from the image of her eyes burnt into it. The floor is littered with toys you are too old to play with (but they are your toys). Exits are north (the kitchen) east (the master bedroom) and south (the front door).
a: Ask her about the goldfish.
m: "Your goldfish? Aren't they dead yet?" She tries to drink from the bottle but the bottle is empty.
a: Ask: Do you think I'm pretty?
m: Your mother tells you of course you are pretty in the exact tone of voice she uses to tell your father he hasn't gotten fat, the exact tone of voice she uses to tell your brother he will someday find a girlfriend, the exact tone of voice she uses on charity people ringing bells outside the Wal-Mart.
a: Ask her if she thinks she's pretty.
m: Your mother responds by running her hands slowly down her body—hefting her breasts and pushing them together for a moment, touching her stomach, pinching its flab, pushing the flab down like she is trying to smooth a blanket, feeling her thighs, feeling her spongy inner thighs, though in fact she is quite thin. She seems to forget your question. She seems not to know you are there.
m: You are in the master bedroom. The floor is covered with a pile of clothes so pervasive and thick that it is the floor, in practice: several inches of crushed socks, abandoned pants, poorly folded t-shirts, dish rags, cloth diapers, baseball caps, and bras with mangled underwires. The dresser's drawers are empty: they are stacked on top of the dresser. There is a family picture on the end table where you are the only one not wearing Easter bunny ears. There is a small television set on the center of the bed burned with the image of your father's eyes. Exits are south (the closet), southeast (the half-bath), and west.
a: Find t-shirt. Find pants. Find socks.
m: You find a variety of clothes that may belong to your mother, may belong to your father, or may even belong to you. None of them would fit very well but they would fit. The shirt is a Mickey Mouse shirt.
a: Change into Mickey Mouse shirt.
m: You are now wearing the Mickey Mouse shirt. It's baggy. It hides your upper body well. Do you feel safe or do you feel more afraid? Don't answer that.
a: Use giant hands to tear up yellow dress. Deposit the pieces around the room like trail markers.
m: The dress makes a sound in your hands like skin as you pull it apart. Are you angry now? Are you going to hurt someone again?
m: You go into your parents' closet. Your father is in there, sitting cross-legged on the carpet in boxers with blue vertical stripes and an undershirt he didn't quite finish putting on. He is eating a cheese omelet with a plastic fork from a plate in his lap. There is Tabasco sauce on the omelet. The bottle is beside him.
a: Ask: Why aren't you at work?
m: Your father takes a bite of his omelet. "I'm getting ready, angel. Soon I will be ready for work."
a: Don't say: I know you will lose your job when I am 12. Don't say: I know you and mom will divorce when I am 13. Don't say: I know everything that happens.
m: You don't say any of those things. Your father does not hear them, either. What he doesn't say is you are beautiful to him, really, but that this brings him no pleasure, that instead it makes him worry there is something wrong with him, how beautiful he thinks you are.
m: You are back in your parents' room. Your father asks you to close the closet door on your way out. Exits are west, south, and southeast.
a: Close closet door. Go W.
m: You are in the living room. Exits are east, north, west, and south. You smell something coming from the kitchen. You hear sizzling. You could leave right now and go anywhere you wanted. You still have the Mickey Mouse shirt.
a: Think about leaving. Think about the giant steps I could take, how fast they would move me. Go N instead.
m: You are in the kitchen. There are chairs where a table should be but there is no table. Your mother is frying something on a pan. It smells like bacon. It is probably bacon.
a: Ask: Are you and dad still in love?
m: Your mother pulls out one of her hairs (her long, red, beautiful hair) and lets it fall to the floor.
a: Ask: Can I have some bacon?
m: She turns around and shows you the pan full of probably bacon. It looks and smells exactly like bacon. It's probably bacon.
a: Taste the stuff in the pan. Determine if it is bacon.
m: You are almost 99% sure that it is definitely bacon.
m: You are in the living room. Your brother is here now. He wants more gum but he does not want to say that he wants more gum. A glint in the crack in his left lens.
a: Tell him: I will give you this entire pack of gum in exchange for one sincere hug.
m: Your brother puts his hand out for the gum. The hand is shaking.
a: Tell him: Hug first.
m: Your brother opens his arms and waits to see what you will do.
a: Hug him. Feel what it's like for this body to be touched.
m: You can barely feel his arms as he wraps them around you. You think he is trying but maybe he is holding out. His body shakes all over.
a: Hold the hug for as long as he will let me.
m: Your brother is sure that when the hug is over you will kill him. He is certain of this. Will you ever end the hug?
a: I want to know what has happened. I want to know what's outside. I want to make my father look at my mother again. I want to know why I have this flashlight. I want someone to feed the goldfish and I want to sew the yellow dress back together again. But no. I will never end the hug. Soon, he will stop shaking. If I keep holding onto him then he will come to love me.
m: If you never end the hug then neither will he. You are sweating on his body. He is wrapped up in you. You and the Mickey Mouse t-shirt. You see yourself rising through the hole in your ceiling, but you are not rising. You are still here with him.
Bio: Aubrey Hirsch's stories, essays and poems have appeared in literary journals both in print and online, including American Short Fiction, Third Coast,Hobart, PANK, and others. Her first book, Why We Never Talk About Sugar, a collection of short fiction, will be released in the spring of 2012 by Big Wonderful Press.