not labeled for individual retail sale

22.6.06

get that apron over your face

I should seriously learn more math. I've gotten way too slothful for my own good. In other news, the bidding guide is finished at last. Very happy about that. xD

Excited about playing Multi2NT. Slovakia should be fun.

On another note: hmm... I think the tables might turn. I'm ready.

Go get them.

17.6.06

prada in san gabriel, ripples in apartment pool, bad taste in music

Okay, this was hard to do - since I don't specialize in emotionally charged fics. Will polish and revise later. Haven't had time to look it over. Inspiriation is like a crowded fancy tapas restaurant. The owners rush you like crazy to finish so they can fit other customers. No room to think, just write. It's crazy. I feel so pressured by my own muse.

~*~

This was how she worked: halving problems, then halving the half-problems, and halving the halved half-problems. Her colleagues began to wonder how she eventually managed to pin down those problems. Small problems get under skins as badly as invisible dust mites. If no one can see the grime, how can anyone possibly begin to eradicate it? But Miri, in her spare time, rebelled against the status quo. As soon as she locked her brave fingernails around a problem she caught, she did her best to mince it into meson-like proportions. Even though at those levels, the problem suddenly decides it has a right to hide irascibly, much like the pea and the princess, Miri finds it all the more reason to find it and smother it – with every fragment of motivation.

Miri felt her childhood fly by in a small sailboat, one whose lone sail spiked the Neapolitan sky. On the sailboat was a young girl scout who stood next to a conspicuous white kitten, continuously yelling and waving at the shore, laughing as the colorful ribbed paper (glued crudely on the sail) flew through the air.

Can you hear me? the girl mouthed silently, dangling an object around her fingers. I’ve got your house keys, you fucking irresponsible daughter of Mercury! Hahaha...

Her laughter rolled beyond the necessary recipient. Miri watched and watched, she watched her childhood fly by in a small sailboat. She felt satisfied, as soon as it drifted away into a speck that couldn’t be reduced any further. One more problem checked off the list.

Josie leaned over her shoulder, smiling.

“Nice work, Miriena,” Josie said. “You’ve finished.”

Miri got up from her seat wordlessly, looking at the puzzle from a larger height. She appreciated how the corners were done – shaved and rounded, so the entire picture seemed to carry a subtle oval frame. Her fingernails – the same ones so well-suited for holding problems and picking up sushi – pried a random chunk from the middle out, dropping it in her purse.

“Why?” asked Josie.

Miri looked up, smiling impishly. She put a finger to her mouth. “Shhh!”

Then the girl put a reassuring hand on Josie’s shoulder, gently pushing her friend aside so she could make her way upstairs.

Josie looked at the puzzle.

She lifted another piece from the picture, this time with more ease, since Miri had already cleared a path with her initial hole. Josie’s dexterity tickled the piece; the piece responded by flashing once from the skylight above and then vanishing into her clenched fist. Her thoughts strayed at the edge of a funny abyss. No no, that line goes after a few paragraphs. It was eleven thirty-four. Earlier Claude had sent everyone a flamboyant message online about Subway and special deals that end in eighty-six minutes. Josie swapped the puzzle piece for her car keys.

***

Miri sat upstairs, rocking in a chair that barely allowed her comparatively large frame. Her elbows were tucked against her ribs so tightly, her bones could meet each other and said hello.

“Hello,” Miri answered for her bones, giving herself another push. The chair squeaked unappreciatively. Obviously it was straining to uphold the weight Miri presented, while she blithely flipped through a book called Could it Be Autism?: A Parent’s Guide to the First Signs and the Next Steps. Miri ignored the chirping. She wondered why the mother of this infant hadn’t bothered to feed her child, quell its fears of such a heavy customer, or at least replace the peeling paint that was making indiscriminate patterns on the carpet.

On the other hand, the mother of said chair wondered why, lately, Miri had taken up the obsession of trying to diagnose herself autistic. While she may know that Miri’s faith in life has caused immeasurable pain in many others, she did not know how much Miri’s cleverness has landed her into a junkyard of trouble. Miri wanted a better excuse to wreak havoc. She was sick of the raining accusations, the you’re fifteen now, act like you’ve had at least some toilet training, the if you keep this up, you’ll be a failure, the why are you digging through a dumpster?, and the infamous, is that your Airport card?

Downstairs, a door shut. The entrance was snug – as confirmed by sound of insulator disappearing into insulator. A black-haired boy took his shoes off using his heels. He held a bag mysteriously clouded by a tall fountain drink.

“Josie,” he called.

Josie perked up from the typewriter, not wanting to let go of her rough draft. “Yes, Luke?”

“Didn’t know you were back already. Where is Miri?”

“She’s upstairs, but she looks busy.”

As if, Luke thought. He walked up the steps leading to Miri’s bedroom, making his feet sound as unobtrusive as possible. For a moment, Luke didn’t want to amble into Miri’s room holding a foot-long Subway sandwich. He watched her face, her unguarded smile as she scrutinized her own brown curls with infinite patience. Once upon a time he would have ignored people like her, especially if they sat on a plain green bench waiting for the next metro to arrive. Her quiet did not translate into snobbishness, for example, as his dictionary formerly dictated. Her vitality did not translate into inexperience either. Luke finally rattled the paper, strewn diagonally with the company’s logo, with as little pressure and as much noise as he could produce, preferring to communicate with the lonely girl through unemotional sounds rather than human voice. Miri looked up from her book. She smiled at Luke congenially, surprised that he was kind enough to remember her afternoon needs. Luke, however, stopped mid-stride when he discovered what Miri was reading.

“Miriena,” he said, pointing at her lap. “What is that?”

“My crotch?” she asked. “I thought you didn’t like in that way me, Luke.”

Luke slammed the sandwich on the table, yanking the book out of her grasp. Miri made no attempt to intercept his violence; she merely shrugged and looked outside at a small girl being facetiously taught how to mow the lawn by her daddy. That’s sweet, she thought. My father should have made me feel important when I was that age. Maybe this is why I grew up crooked?

“At six months, does your child exhibit fascination in people, and turn his head toward interesting noises?” Luke read disgustedly. He glared at Miri over the spine, but her head was turned toward the window, eyes glazed over with an amber calm. “Why are you reading this?”

Miri seemed for a moment as if she was not going to answer. Suddenly, after the motor outside started again, Miri jumped, her entire face lighting up.

“Oh, Luke!” she exclaimed. “I just remembered! I have made a very important discovery!”

Luke glowered, his fragile frame almost unable to contain the anger he felt.

“It’s not about the conjecture, silly,” Miri rushed on. “You know I would never take that away from you, even if I could prove it before you had a chance to fiddle with it. It’s about me!

Still Luke was silent, his heart aging into a crinkled piece of silk that spent too much time bent in the same gymnastic pose, waiting naïvely for a faerie princess to lift him up and wear him to a ball. How much longer could he remain? The sanguinity of her words, the untrue sparkle of her eyes, Miriena fought bitterly against his comfort for his few spare white blood cells. She had the ability to put him down using the purest intentions. He wished she were less greedy. He hated her fatuousness, the way she sang through the souls of sirens. If he didn’t pay so much attention to her, he could swear that her voice split into three different wavelengths. Luke stopped rolling the film through his mind and dared to behold her long enough to regret what he couldn’t see. He missed the face of his student.

“You see, I’ve been flipping through these books I grabbed from the local library. Josie was nice enough to drive me there since I don’t have a license. Did I tell you? Her car is the nicest smelling place in this universe. Anyway, she dropped me off for a couple of hours, thinking I’d just mellow out in the mathematics section and if I didn’t come back on my own accord, some poor old grandma would find me unconscious on the floor. She was wrong! Haha,” Miri paused to savor a moment with herself. “I headed straight for the psychology section as soon as I saw her pulling away, and I found a couple of excellent books catered to my situation.”

“You don’t have a ‘situation’,” Luke snapped. He attempted to be spiteful. Wasn’t his taste.

“No, but you don’t understand!” Miri’s eyes widened. “I’m autistic!”

“Shut up.”

“Think about it,” Miri stood up, leaning into his face. “Why am I so good with mathematics?”

“Intrinsic ability,” he dismissed quickly.

“Then why am I so awkward?”

“Mathematicians are awkward by default. Look, I don’t have time to play along with your childish games. I have to finish the code for Claude before sunrise.”

“Wait a moment!” Miri said, tugging at his sleeve. “At four months, I know for a fact I didn’t exhibit interest in people.”

“At six months, Eric also slapped the fuck out of his neighboring peers. Does this prove he has anger management problems?”

Miri scowled. “But at twelve months, I didn’t make the milestone either! I tended to ignore my parents when they called my name. I certainly didn’t make sounds, like 'ma', or 'ga'. And I didn’t giggle when they blew bubbles, like this book said I was supposed to.”

Luke sighed, unsure how long he would allow her to storm at him with nonsensical evidence.

“And at fifteen months! I still didn’t know more than two words and I abhorred playing social games, like dressing up dolls. I really didn’t care much for eye contact either. The only way my parents knew I was listening was if I walked away.”

“How ironic,” said Luke sarcastically.

“Please believe me,” Miri said, her tone now wheedling. “When I was three months old, I never smiled at colors and varying shades of light. I wasn’t even intrigued.”

The girl fell silent for a few seconds.

“You used to believe in me so much,” she remarked quietly.

Luke felt like he was stabbed. Damn right, he used to believe in her. Miri showed him on a daily basis just how swift he might run out of material. His waters were deep, that was doubtless – but no divers had ever tested them. The moment she placed a hesitant toe in his pool, Luke knew she was not going to be easy. Didn’t she know he was exhausted? Was she so unappreciative she forgot how to respect her teacher? More broadly, did she respect anyone at all?

“Humans lose faith, especially around people like you.”

“Really?” Miri looked up. “That’s all the more reason why I should be autistic. I cause others to be exasperated with my social incompetence.”

“Miri, you are not autistic!” Luke yelled.

“Yes I am!”

“Your tantrums were cute for a while –“

“– I AM NOT THROWING A TANTRUM!” Miri screamed. Her outburst brought Josie, Claude and the rest of the group to the doorway. There was a brief, riveting moment when everyone’s mouths were sealed with a thick transparent paste. Josie was the first to speak.

“Is everything okay here?”

She took one glance at Miri, the unopened sandwich on the table, and the forlorn self-diagnosis book before she turned around blankly. Her throat made swallowing saliva feel more like tasting a significantly pruned raisin. Her eyes roved uncertainly toward Luke. “Oh my God,” she said. “I am so sorry.”

Luke glared at her.

“I am so sorry, Luke. She asked me to drive her to the library, so I agreed, because I knew she was doing some research on coincidence theory. I didn’t expect her to get a hold of something that would cause this again.”

“It’s not your fault,” he replied unconvincingly. “Though for your information, she finished with coincidence theory last year.”

“Last year?” Josie echoed. “But we need that stuff now! Especially with José –”

“– Shh!” Claude covered her mouth. “You know how Miri gets when we mention his name!”

“I HAVE ALWAYS FOUND OBJECTS MORE INTERESTING –”

“Oh dear,” Josie said. “There she goes.”

Luke struggled against Miri’s clawing, which were growing increasingly in strength. “I SERIOUSLY DO NOT UNDERSTAND BODY LANG –”

“– I’m really sorry,” Josie repeated. “I know she’s been throwing fits for weeks now, I should have been more on my toes –”

“– AT TWENTY-FOUR MONTHS I SURE AS HELL DIDN’T EXCHANGE FACIAL EXPR –”

“– I appreciate your thoughts in the project, but Miri –” Luke yelled over Miri’s fragments from the book. He grabbed a hold of her shoulders and attempted to compress her elbows against her sides, like the chair did a few minutes ago. Miri twisted her wrists around and held tightly to Luke’s arms.

“You will never be as elegant as the chair is,” she whispered violently into his ear.

Luke flinched at the comeback. It was at moments like these when he was reminded sharply of Miri’s acumen; just because she had lost control of her superficiality didn’t mean she was careless about choosing her words.

“Behave,” Luke ordered.

“You wish,” Miri said. Then she took a step back from Luke, drawing a deep breath until her entire stomach arched with the outlandish combination of nitrogen, fear, and exhalation. “AT FOUR MONTHS I STILL DIDN’T RECOGNIZE MY MOTHER’S FACE –”

Josie winced. “When did she start?”

“When I questioned her,” Luke said, between her gasp of “ – WHILE PUSHING OTHERS OUT OF FRUSTRATION –”

“Jesus,” Claude intoned. He quickly handed a roll of duct tape to Josie, who passed it on to Luke.

“Be gentle,” she said.

Luke caught the tape. It screeched between his fingers until he ripped a promising seam with his teeth.

“Not good enough,” Miri replied scathingly, before he could attack her. She stole the piece from him and stapled it to his mouth. Josie gasped.

“Smile for me!”

Miri laughed, tracing his lips that were locked tightly with sweet silver adhesive, clearly making fun of his shortcomings. As soon as she grew bored of drawing rebellious smiles on the tape, she began to scream facts about her autistic condition again. Eric shook his head, looking at Nicolai with his face unnaturally creased. Josie took Claude’s hand, as if any unhesitating action would somehow yield Miri’s tranquility. Heidi was still clutching the fax she printed. Her imprints on the paper, the shadows of her knuckles, every small crevice – was beginning to blur from sweat. They all grimaced helplessly. This was their punishment for not taking Miri seriously during the day. Eventually, when everything draws to a cloudless end, they will have sold what is left of their souls for the sanity of a brilliant girl. Luke tore off the tape.

“AT FOUR MONTHS –” Miri continued.

“She’s beginning to repeat herself,” Josie remarked. “Luke,” she said. Luke met her eyes unequivocally. “I’m starting to worry that maybe Miri has a condition, like she claims. It’s a far cry from autism, but her behavior seems beyond her control –”

“ – I HATE HAVING TO EXPRESS MYSELF –”

Josie permitted Miri to finish the sentence. Each word seemed eternally bitter; they hung in the air too long for comfort, like bitter hair spray or bitter perfume or bitter antibacterial product. “See? She’s really worrying me, Luke. I know she was just pretending for a while, but how long has this really gone on?” She watched his expression turn slightly gray while she continued. “Maybe we should take her to the hospital –”

“– There is nothing wrong with Miri,” Luke interrupted.

“Luke, I know you’re very proud of your model student, but that doesn’t disprove the fact that she may have lost –”

“ – THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH MIRI!” insisted Luke, and his harsh tone seemed to kill eternity, even though there were small enough corners for eternity to hide.

“Luke...” approached Josie.

But Luke pushed Miri backwards and set her down on the bed. Miri blinked a few times, genuinely confused by his anger. After a few more blinks she swallowed her breath and belted out, “I HAVE MEDICAL TRANSCRIPTS TO SUPPORT MY DIAGNOSIS –”

“ – Stop it!” Josie yelled. For the first time, one could see small, round droplets denting her eyelashes, much like the way water isolates itself on a waxed cookie sheet. She clumsily pulled out her mobile phone. “Luke, I’m going to call in for an appointment –”

“– No you are not,” Luke said, and he lunged from where he knelt, snatching the phone out of Josie’s fingers. He looked at Josie – from her manicured nails, down to her mildly oversized sandals. He stood there for a moment. Josie did the same. She saw only his windswept hair; it engulfed her view. He must be very lonely, Josie thought. The way they hang, it’s like he’s trying to impress other people. The way he doesn’t question whether or not someone he loves might be offended, or unhappy. “There is nothing wrong with Miri,” Luke repeated.

Josie considered his sentence again. “Your voice is tearing up,” she said quietly.

“So is yours.”

“But I’m on my side,” she replied.

“And not on Miriena’s?”

“Miriena can’t see herself.”

Luke glared at Josie for the second time that afternoon. “Miriena can’t see herself?”

“I HAVE LANGUAGE IMPEDIMENTS, I TEND TO SPEAK ICONOCLASTICALLY, I HAVE NO VERBAL ABILITIES APART FROM A STRANGELY LARGE LEXICON –”

As Miri listed common traits seen in adults with high-functioning autism, she began to cry, rocking herself with her knees to her chin and her feet teetering at the edge of the bed. Luke nearly slapped her across the cheek. She would not stop.

“DOES YOUR CHILD, AT SIX MONTHS, RELATE TO YOU WITH REAL JOY? I CERTAINLY DON’T KNOW WHAT REAL JOY IS, LET ALONE WHAT IT MEANT AT SIX MONTHS! DID I COO OR BABBLE WHEN HAPPY? WHAT ABOUT CRYING WHEN I WAS UNHAPPY? WHAT THE FUCK IS COO? CAN SOMEONE DO A DEMONSTRATION, PLEASE?”

Suddenly, a red-haired girl shoved Claude aside and strode into the room wearing a white Sanrio apron, her hands still wrapped in a pair of heat mittens. Her hair was tucked away fiercely in a confusing bun, away from her face that was still pink from baking.

“What’s going on in here?” she demanded.

Nobody spoke.

Finally Miri curled her toes around the metal frame, softened by inches of bedding material. “Oh Phoenix,” Miri sniffed loudly, “It’s them. They won’t believe me.”

“Who?” Phoenix took off her mittens and smiled kindly at Miri. “Who won’t believe you?”

“Them.” Miri pointed.

Phoenix turned around. The first person she saw was Josie, who shook her head wordlessly. She mouthed something to Phoenix, but it was too quick, too fleeting.

“Tell them. Tell them I’m autistic, Phoenix.”

A fragile wind blew into the room, causing the window sheers to bend forward. Phoenix still had her back turned to Miri. “No,” she said.

Immediately, the group crowded around the tiny doorframe shuffled angrily. Their expressions were of outrage, their fingers twitching nervously, now that the last unexpected hope had imploded. As Josie opened her mouth, as did several of her friends, the word “no” died on her lips. No, Josie thought. No, Phoenix. You were supposed to say yes.

“You...” Miri began weakly. “You don’t believe me...either?”

“You don’t have autism,” Phoenix replied. A few remaining spangles of her hair where carried forward with the sheers. She held her mittens at her hip. Miri pretend she was a skinny teapot.

“WHY?” Miri cried.

“Because you’re not autistic.”

Miri began to whimper again. “BUT I AM! I HAVE FACTS TO SHOW YOU! AT FOUR MONTHS I DIDN’T RESPOND TO COLOR OR FACES –”

“ – YOU ARE NOT AUTISTIC!” Phoenix whirled to face Miri, her voice having a strange quality.

Miri choked on her last syllable. She fell silent – not defeated, but sedated. She tried to speak. “I – I think I forgot to –”

“ – Shh,” Phoenix reassured her, sitting next to her.

“But the apples in the fridge –”

“ – They can wait.”

Phoenix smiled, stroking Miri’s back lightly, rocking her according to her predetermined rhythm. The difference Phoenix made was astonishing. Her full potential was never realized, even when she paused for a moment to set her mittens aside.

“Shh,” she whispered, when she resumed cradling Miri.

“The apples, I forgot –” Miri whispered, eyes tearing up once more.

“– Forgot nothing.”

“But –”

“Hush!” Phoenix said. “Don’t worry about it.”

Miri glanced over the M of her knees. She couldn’t see a thing without it being somehow glass-like in quality. Her tears had stopped overflowing onto her khakis, but they were still caught in between miniscule places, like eternity was supposed to be caught in corners, but was accidentally freed by Luke’s defense. “I’m so sorry,” she hiccupped. “I – I’m so sorry, I just got really wistful –”

“ – Shh, we know.”

And the mother in Phoenix’s voice was so apparent, Miri did not argue, from that day on until her death.