The eraser room. Smell of chalk dust and inchoate sexual memories. I see something that looks foreign on Liz’s neck.
Dushka, i say, That is the biggest hickey i have ever seen. Did i give you that? I hope so, because if i didnt, then…
Of course you gave it to me but i didnt know it was there.
Has anyone else seen it? People been looking at you real funny?
Well, it’s not that easy to see because your hair covers it. Here. Let me fix that…
I put my left index finger on what is really a creepy looking lesion and there is a muted flash of green and the hickey disappears.
Thanks, Max, she says.
My pleasure, i say. Now open wide.
When she does i put my tongue in her mouth and everything in my visual field changes…scenes that look ancient but are not even a century old yet old enough that everyone in them looks like intruders from another age. The desert. Smoking ruins of a twisted metal thing. Soldiers from a 1940s movie scrambling out of jeeps with drawn weapons. Perspective changes and i am looking up out of a shallow grave inside a transparent plastic coffin. Dirt being thrown hurriedly over the coffin as the soldiers sprint toward something unknown…
And then the eraser room door is flung open and a seething Pruneface glares at us. A face that is usually merely unspeakable becomes unthinkable.
Uh-oh, Liz says.
Outside a glass windowed room where Liz’s mom and my mom are in with a mellow voiced teacher. I am fidgeting because i am never in trouble at school and dont know what to expect. Liz sits beside me and holds her arms rigidly in front of her and looks at the glass wall poker faced.
It’s your fault, i say. If you hadnt been so fuckin loud…
She turns on me angrily and starts to speak until she sees that i am smiling.
Just wanted to lighten things up, i say, yawning and stretching.
She laughs and shakes her head. I’ll never be bored with you, Max. You’re different every day of your life.
Is that good or bad? I say.
Liz says nothing. When they start talking in the glass room we can hear easily.
What exactly is an eraser room? Liz’s mom demands.
It’s a small room we use to clean the erasers so chalk dust doesnt get all over the school, the even voiced teacher says. In this dry climate it can get to be a bit much.
I’m a little lost, my mom says.
She is lost because she is a dingbat. I love my foster mother but she has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Was Max in there with Liz cleaning erasers? She says and breaks off when the truth begins dawn on her.
No, the teachers says calmly in a golden voice. They were, uh…making out. Foreplay, not erasers. Why dont we go out and talk to them?
He does not wait for an answer but opens the door and walks out and smiles at us.
Miss Evans? Mr. Parker? He says with a toothpaste ad smile.
This is all completely wrong, Liz says adamantly, shaking her head.
What did i get wrong, Liz? Teacher says.
It’s wrong that we’re here at all, Liz says indignantly.
Then perhaps, he says expansively, you should have been quieter.
I think i’ve heard enough, Liz’s mom says.
Mom, this is not what you think, Liz says. Dont you believe me?
What is it then?
It’s a misunderstanding, Liz says.
They also cut a class, Teacher says. Now, Max and Liz are both honor students and i know we’d all like to keep it that way.
I’m sure there’s an explanation for it, my dingbat mother says. Max would never miss a class unless there was a good reason. Max?
Liz and her mother walk stiffly toward the the back exit past faces Liz has come to hate and to live for the day when they are but bitter aftertaste of a regimented but vacuous time.
Mom, this isnt as bad as it looks.
U already said that.
It’s not like i never kissed a boy before in my whole life.
Liz, i dont think it was the kissing so much as the volume.
This is being blown out of proportion, Liz says in frustration.
We’ll talk about this later tonight, Mom says. Come straight home, understand?
I cant. I have detention.
Then come home right after that, Mom says. Then she walks out the exit without looking back. Liz stares after her while everyone works hard at not looking at her. And Liz feels the trepidation and chill of a mortal loss anyone feels when a bridge has been burned behind them. Alea iacta est.
Later, at home. Liz scowls and tries to do homework but she is too tightly wrapped and just fidgets and chews on a pencil. Her mother putters around her like she’s working herself up to something. Finally she seems to come to some kind of decision and starts walking toward Liz. Liz throws a dagger look at her that is halfway between leave me alone and drop fucking dead but Mom keeps right on.
Mom stops in front of Liz and says, Honey?
Yes? Liz says coldly.
You really have strong feelings for this boy, dont you? Max, i mean.
I have a very hard time talking about these things, Liz says, avoiding Mom’s eyes.
Well. I have to talk about this so if you cant talk just listen. Can you do that?
I guess so.
Dont ever have sex, Mom says earnestly. Dont ever leave this house. Dont ever stop being my baby girl.
Because once you enter that world, you know, sexual intimacy, everything changes…
I just want you to know that you never have to lie to me about these things. Really. Okay?
I guess so, Liz says with extreme caution, wondering if she is being set-up.
After a few long looks Mom gets up and leaves and Liz sighs with relief. But Mom stops at the door and turns round and starts to speak.
What? Liz says crossly.
It’s just that one moment i look at you and you’re my baby and the next you’re…
Liz laughs harshly. She says, Stop trying to control me.
I’m trying to keep you safe, Mom says. When have i ever tried to control you ?
Because you never had to! Cause i’ve always done everything you want and you think it’ll always be that way. You dont even see me.
Then help me see you. Talk to me! Mom says and walks over and touches Liz’s face. She says, Liz, you’re warm. You must be getting sick.
You’re not fine. You’re burning up.
Stop it, Mom. This is my body and i dont have to tell you everything about it. One day i may have this same conversation with my daughter and i may look back and regret saying this. But that’s some day and right now i cant talk to you.
With that Liz flounces into the bathroom and slams the door and curses in layered whispers. She thinks of these half alien kids and the passion they have for finding home. Michael’s taciturn relentlessness, Max’s bend-but-dont-break-craziness, Isabel’s Borg Queen malevolence and how much they want to find what they never will have here. And that’s when she realizes with sorrow that discovery and loss are both the same thing.
What did you see, Liz? I say.
What did you see, Max?
No. You first. I dont want to put thoughts in your head.
The crash, she says. Some kind of wrecked ship that really looked alien. Soldiers from the 1940s running toward it. Then i was looking up from a grave while somebody threw dirt over it.
That’s what i saw.
There was more, Liz says. I sketched it…
I take the sketch from her and look at it and say, i know where this is. Been hiding from us all the time. It’s the old radio tower on Highway 42.
Max, isnt Highway 42…
Yes, i say gravely. Just a couple of miles from the crash.
There’s something buried there.
Yes there is. I should go to Michael.
Is that really what you want to do? Liz says with a flash of atypical coyness.
Nah. Fuck that.
Because if we’re gonna do this it has to be tonight. Mom’s really suspicious and may ground me for all i know.
Come on, then, i say. Let’s hope what’s out there isnt just where somebody buried their dead parakeet.
I fidget as i drive and fumble with the player until i find Bitter Sweet Symphony by the Verve.
I didnt think you listened to music like that, Liz says.
Anything less than a hundred years old.
Doesnt have to be that old. As long as it’s older than me. I just had a yen for something from the roaring 90s.
Lost in the nineties, RU?
No, i say, shaking my head violently. Just lost. As usual. IDK what’s wrong.
At least you’re not listening to Chopin.
You do that when you feel the shittiest.
What i’m feeling is beyond shitty. It’s right here…
As i pull off the road and into the creosote desert i am glad i’m driving a jeep with new tires. I get two shovels and a trenching tool and walk a few feet to where whatever it is is buried.
What now? She says.
Now we dig, i say, handing her a shovel.
The vault of heaven is sable strewn with diamonds. Against the gunmetal firmament a meteor flames and dies. The universe, cold and indifferent. The biological world where life strains and seethes at the roots of meaning and desire. A coyote yips and a train comes on miles away and howls for the crossing like a soul damned of all salvation.
Just before my shovel hits metal i see a glow in the ground and know that this trip was not for nothing. A metal thing effulgent and throbbing and radiant with a brilliance that seems alien and inimical. I shovel off the fine soil and the glow seems to coalesce into a coherent beam that seeks an unknown ubiety in the heavens. Liz reaches down and picks it up and it doesnt so much to die as crawl into itself.
Give it to me, i say curtly.
When i touch it it seems to thump as it comes alive with the peculiar radiance of the pendant that i touched in the cave with River Dog. The artifact is metallic and the size and shape of a humongous egg. It bears the same glowing symbol that was on the pendant and on the cave walls.
Is this from your home? Liz says.
IDK. I dont think it’s from this earth.
Maybe it’s a signal, she says.
We walk in roiling silence to the jeep and i put the artifact away. I stop and stare at the ground and say, I’m tired.
I’m not, she chirps.
I get the sleeping bag and unroll it onto the ground.
I dont want to go home, i say.
I dont either, she says. We both deserve this.
Sure we do, i say. They’ll kill us when we get home.
Do we care? She says.
No. We do not.
After we make love she slides off easily into the cavern of sleep but i fret and fidget and it’s near dawn when i finally pass out.
I was asleep when night’s velour curtain was drawn back from a red and gold morning on a wasteland barren, silent, godless as the plains of Gomorrah. I open my eyes and see Liz staring at something. The sun is blocked by a human silhouette with a cowboy hat. I cannot see his face nor any feature as he stands six feet away.
He finally says, This is private property. You kids better get on home.