UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 07/2009
Felipe and the Archaeologist
“So you see what it looks like?” Macie's mother said.
Macie leaned over and spread hers.
“No, no, not that, here in the pictures.”
Her mother's well-used medical dictionary had detailed drawings of vaginas that seemed a lot more real than the strange warm thing that Macie couldn't see. The pencil lines were very straight and sharp and made it seem it was etched out of pink rock.
“It's very special,” her mother said. “And someday boys will see it, but you only want them to be the right boys. They should be boys that you really love.”
“Hey!” Macie's father banged on the door. “I need to get in there!”
Her mother sighed. “At least the first one,” she said. “The first one should be a boy that you love.”
“It's like this,” Macie said, drawing for Alec. “It starts at the top, and it comes down on the side all thin and raggedy.”
“I know what it looks like!” Alec said. “You don't think I've seen one before? I just need the details.”
“Whose have you seen?”
“A girl at school.”
Alec's pet lizard Felipe hopped around the back of his neck from one shoulder to the other. It was a finger-sized thing that Alec bought thinking that it could change colors, but really it could only change from brown to green. If you put it in front of a white wall, it would turn green. Alec said it was stupid and that he would get rid of it for two weeks but thereafter he loved it and would keep it on his person at all times unless someone yelled at him.
“Do you know what colors it is?” Macie asked.
“It depends on the person,” Alec said. “If you're black, it's black. If you're Asian, it's yellow.”
“Nope. It's pink all the time, and when you get closer inside it's almost orange, it's so pink.”
“Show me,” Alec said. He dug out his colored pencils from his messy desk. He kept balls of money in there, and torn baseball cards. Macie carefully selected three colors. Alec took them and started with a straight black line. Then he drew wavy lines like sideways soft hills on each side. From Macie's position, looking across, it looked exactly like a pair of lips.
“That's good, but it's all complicated inside,” she said. “There's all kinds of lines.”
Alec started putting in cross-hatching.
“Not normal lines! Squiggly lines like on your fingers!”
Alec decided to erase a little, but of course, when you erase, you lose a medical drawing completely. Felipe jumped back to his other shoulder as he got pissed off, scraggled his pencil all over the paper, and balled it up. He put the crunchy ball in his desk.
“Do you want me to try?”
“No!” he said. “It's my project! Tell me how it looks again.”
And she did, but every subsequent try was worse than the first.
The Wins lived in a complicated and disorderly household where everything that could potentially clean up was broken. The vacuum cleaner was broken; the Dustbuster was broken; there were three broken brooms, which Alec had to explain to his friends: one was cracked in the middle, one had no broom thing at the bottom, and one was straw and made more mess than it picked up. The medical textbook was kept safe on top of a treacherous pile of books and board games that leaned over the living room like a tidal wave.
“Get the step-stool,” Alec said. Macie went into the kitchen but her father was there watching fishing on TV.
“What do you want?” he asked. “If you're trying to ask me something about your private parts, you have to wait until your mother comes back.”
“There's a monster under my bed,” Macie said.
“What? It's four in the afternoon.”
“It's still there.”
“Well I can get to it at night when I can see it.”
“You can see it now.”
“No you can't. You can only see monsters at night. Everyone knows that. Now go away, Daddy's trying to watch television.”
“Pleeeease?” She tugged on her father's leg.
“God damn it.”
Macie smiled. It had taken her years to get to the point where she didn't need to do five minutes of convincing, where she could just put on a certain tone of voice and ensure that her dad understood that she would not stop until she got her way and he might as well just give in.
“Well, aren't you coming?” he asked as he walked down the hall.
“No, I'm scared.”
“You're not going to come watch me get rid of the monster?”
“No, that's the whole point. And you have to take a picture. With your BlackBerry. So I know that it's really not there.”
“Jesus.” He disappeared into her room and with rampant glee Macie grabbed the step-stool, ran it over to her brother, and got behind him as he climbed to the top step.
“No monsters here!” her father called out.
She grabbed Alec's back and then his head. Felipe scrambled down to his stomach and stayed clinging to his shirt, looking up. She got herself on his shoulders and saw the book, at the tippy-top of the pile on a box of shoes. She grabbed for it just as her father returned to the room to show her his BlackBerry. “No! Go away!” she said, and the effort of yelling knocked the pile back. It teetered, came forward, and collapsed on her and her brother in a spreading heap, while Felipe made an invisible leap and ran up the wall and stayed in the corner and turned green.
“Well what are we going to do now?” Alec asked. They'd managed to get through the interrogation by sticking to a plausible tale: they'd wanted to pull down their old Hungry Hungry Hippos game.
“I don't know,” Macie said. “Can we look on the internet at the library?”
“It's Sunday. I'm gonna get an F. You realize what this means? Things that I do are starting to count for college now.”
Macie hated college. It seemed to be like jail. You had to go and it cost money to get out. It was the number one excuse why her parents didn't buy her what she wanted.
“C'mon,” her brother said. “Just show it to me.”
“Why not? You're my sister! You're allowed to.”
“No. Mom said no.”
“It's for class!”
“She said I'm only supposed to show it to a special boy who I love.”
Alec squinted. “You don't love me?”
“Not since you burned Mister Darcy!”
“God.” Alec hung his head. “How many times do I have to apologize for that?”
“Five hundred thousand million.”
He sat back. “You're seriously not going to show me?”
“Then who would you show it to?”
“No! I hate Dad!”
Alec sighed. Macie sat down and put her chin in one hand and doodled on her knee with the other.
“I love the puppies at the pet store.”
“Fine.” Alec grabbed his jacket. “Let's go.”
The pet store was close by; Dad and Mom were happy to have them out of the house. The summer sun shone down through fat fresh leaves. A little bell jingled as they went in; the guy behind the counter rolled his eyes.
“We're here to see the puppies!” Macie announced.
“You can see 'em right there, in the window.”
“We need to see them closer up,” Alec said. Felipe looked around and Alec looked at him expectantly, which Macie thought was hilarious because he was just a lizard and lizards don't remember where they're born.
The guy got out from behind the counter and came to them at the back of the puppy pen. He clearly didn't like to divert his puppies from what they were supposed to be doing, which was jumping around at the window whoring themselves. Macie leaned forward and started naming them, which she did every time she passed by; sometimes a puppy would be there for weeks and she'd never forget which one it was.
“Kermit! Henry! Butterball!” They ran up to her and jumped all over one another as she leaned out and tousled them with her stubby pink hands. “Do you want to look at a particular one?” the guy asked.
The guy picked up the shaggy white Bichon Frisé and put him in her arms. Macie did love him; she had loved him since she laid eyes on him, bounding up against the glass at her. She knew he loved her, too, and was the perfect fit for the project.
“I need to look at him in the back,” she said.
“What do you need to look at him in the back for?”
“To inspect if he's good enough for me to buy.”
Macie started walking to the back of the store, by the snakes and fish. The counter guy opened his mouth to say something, but then just shrugged and went back behind the cash register. “You're sister's crazy, you know,” he said to Alec.
Alec looked at the big lizards. He felt guilty about it because of Felipe, but they really were cool--they could change to any color they wanted, and they had huge tongues that went like across the room.
“Seriously, what is she doing back there?” the guy asked.
Alec shrugged. This lizard was awesome. He had spiky horns all over him. He looked like a dinosaur. Alec wondered what it would be like when he was older, when he had his job. He wondered how it would feel in the desert, inside his little tent, sweeping the dust off the dinosaur bones with the pretty ladies who would assist him. Every time he saw dinosaur hunters on TV there were pretty ladies. He knew from school what it felt like to have a girl next to you and to feel while she accidentally leaned over you to get something for a biology demonstration or the last chicken nugget at lunch. Girls were hot and soft and he knew that out in the desert there wouldn't be anyone around to stop him from doing whatever he wanted with them. Only of course he wouldn't have to try. He would be the Dinosaur Hunter and they would want to do things with him. He would have three of them, out in Mongolia. They would be all alone and thirsty. He would come into the tent with an amazing new bone that meant a whole new species, and the girls would go “Oh my God!” and “Wow!” and “Let me see!” But then they wouldn't look at the bone at all; they would grab him and dismantle the tent and use the posts that held it up to tie down his hands and feet. Then they would take off their pants and rub their private parts all over him, and he would get his moisture in the desert from sucking whatever came out of them, because he knew it was juice and he knew it was special.
Alec turned at the sound of his sister's voice. He looked at the cash register and knew everything that had happened immediately. He took half a second to make sure that Felipe was on his shoulder and then he reached into the lizard tank with the giant chameleon and pulled out the big stick it was sitting on. The chameleon fell back into the tank with surprising torpor and gracelessness. Alec ran past the fish (saltwater on the left, freshwater on the right) and pushed open the cheap wooden door that said “Employees Only.” Inside, among crates and bags of dog food, he saw the cashier guy leaning over his sister, with his thing out, pointing it at her under her dress. The dog hopped around oblivious. His thing was soft, like Alec's always was; he was just sort of trying to smush it against her.
“Alec!” she yelled.
“What the fuck!” the guy yelled, and Alec reared back and hit him with the stick. He held his hand up to block it and Macie scrambled away, knocking over a broom that fell right onto Alec's back. He grabbed it and swung it forward and it was a lot better than the stick. We're just like a superhero team! he thought, as he beat the cashier and Macie ran outside to call for whoever.
After the police had left and Macie's mother had held her close and whispered that she loved her over and over and that she would be okay, and Macie's dad had walked around the house looking confused and angry at himself, she climbed out of bed and knocked on Alec's door. He wasn't asleep. He couldn't sleep. He was sitting at the table drawing it as if he had any better idea what to do. Each version was stranger and more abstract than the one before.
“Yeah?” he whispered.
“Let me in!”
Alec opened the door as quietly as he could. Macie slipped in in her nightgown and sat on the floor. “Are you okay?” Alec asked.
She nodded. “I'm finer than everyone thinks I am. They just keep going on and on and on. It's not like anything happened.”
“Yeah, but you must be scared.”
“You know. People. People, from now on.”
“No, it's okay. I knew nothing was going to happen.”
“Yeah.” She looked up. “You were there.”
Alec tried to chuckle to himself, but he couldn't find a way to be funny or humble about it. The fact is, he was there, and he saved her, and many times during the afternoon and evening the pretty women in the tent in his mind had rewarded him for it.
“But it's horrible!” Macie said. She leaned forward and grabbed her brother's leg. “He saw it first!”
“Oh, shhh.” He petted her soft hair. “It's okay.”
“Kermit was supposed to see, but I couldn't get him to stay still. And then he came in and saw me and shushed Kermit away.”
“It's not your fault.”
“I know, but now I ruined everything. I don't think I can get married now.”
Alec laughed. “I'm pretty sure you can still get married.”
“Well anyway.” She looked up. “Do you want to see it now?”
“Yeah, sure. I don't want you to get an F.”
Alec got up off his chair and put Felipe on his desk. Macie lay down on the ground and spread her legs like she had for the dog in the store. Alec peered up her skirt and shook his head--it was the most bizarre thing he had ever seen. It looked like a really bad cut. He was very thankful that he didn't have it.
He took down his pad and the pencils she had selected. He drew it very carefully in the soft light of his desk lamp. It didn't take long. “I love you,” Macie said at some point.
“I know,” he said. “Me too.”
When he was done drawing, he decided it didn't look like a cut so much; it looked like a mouth. So he leaned in and kissed it very lightly. Then Macie stood up and smoothed out her dress, and he went back to his desk to sign his name, and they never talked about it again, even at their weddings.
Ned Vizzini is the author of It's Kind of a Funny Story, Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah.... He speaks at schools, universities, and libraries across the US about writing and mental health.
© 2004-2009 Underground Voices