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Nayira and the Idiots

Scrapin' in under the deadline....

April Week One, Brigit's Flame: Dog Days

Nayira and the Idiots

Sun suckered the sweat out of her, sticking her heavy black shift to the back of her neck and sending a tendril of sweat down her spine.

Things had been bad since the Event. They weren't allowed to talk about it directly, of course. that was strictly forbidden. She had seen a few people disappear as a result. That didn't bother her-- it actually worked to her advantage. It was, after all, rather difficult being the Minister of Information in a dictatorship. In the freedom of her own head she could be honest, after all, that's what it was. A dictatorship. If the secret police wanted to do her the favor of removing those stupid enough to speak out against the regime, that was fine with her.

"Nayira." She snapped calmly back to attention. Though his voice had startled her, her face was placid, one with the sea on a calm day. "Nayira I need to know what your envoys have been telling those damned mainlanders."

"Of course, my liege." She curtsied a little bit before beginning. He may hate the mainlanders, but the old king loved their fussy court customs. That, at least, had not gone out with the previous regime a hundred years ago. She folded her delicate, bronze hands in front of herself and began. "On the East coast we have been campaigning that the Event was an earthquake, which has been predicted by priests. Only the magnitude surprised us. In places of scholarship we have been inquiring diligently about earthquakes and the different methods we might use in the future to prevent them."

"And the refugees?"

"I do not know, your grace." She curtsied. It wasn't her job to know that. It was her job to spin the truth into a fine thread of gold and cut it up so many ways so that the rumors cast the regime in a positive, if a bit naive, light. It was her job to control their image, not their population. "You would have to ask the Minister of Travel."

"I have been informed that several thousand people have made it to the mainland." Nayira watched as his gnarled old fingers drummed at the edge of his chair, and his bottom lip quivered with anger. How delicately could she remind him that it was not her job? Not delicately enough, it seemed.

"And the Iris?" His wild eyebrows descended like a slow storm over his leaden eyes. He didn't seem to care that none of this was her concern.

She swallowed her exhaustion, and kept her face as tranquil as the summer breeze. "I do not know, your grace. You would have to ask your brother, and his secret police. I have heard no news." Information, she wanted to shake the sour old king. My job is information! Missing priestesses, or oracles, or fortunetellers, or witches--or whatever on the island the Prince's Iris was at that particular moment in time-- were also not her concern. She was just glad the girl was missing. She had been a troublesome source of misinformation and rebellion. "We have kept her out of our reports. The mainlanders have no reason to know that she even exists. As it is, they deride our gods as false, your honor. You need not worry about her. She is likely dead."

He sighed, picking at his beard, staring out the window at the rising summer heat. Smoke was still lingering over the city, like a fox toying with its prey before devouring it. The jagged skyline disappeared and reappeared through the shimmering curtain of smog. "They cannot see the smoke from the mainland?"

"No my liege, they are quite far away." Nayira engaged her voice in a challenge to remain its sweetest through sarcasm, and won. Fortunately.

Even this room, thought Nayira, which the sun never came into, never stopped on, was oppressed by the heat. She kept her head down a moment longer before asking the king's large silver boots, "Is there anything else I can assist you with today, my liege?"

He sighed again, still picking at that ratty grey and brown beard. "I suppose there may be. My idiot nephew has suggested a woman from the city to go with you to find him a bride."

Nayira's smile remained delicate and light, as a bird riding the ocean currents. If she hated the senile, brutal old man in front of her, she abhorred his garrulous and quixotic nephew. The boy never knew when to shut up. Last year she had been tasked with finding the boy a bride on the mainland, and the results had been disasterous. She had been laughed out of more than one dinner.

The family wanted a princess for the idiot Duke Abel. They had been pleased with the Countess they had found for his older brother, Neiren. She was about as unpleasant a person as Nayira could think of. They were a good match. Neiren could scoff at peasants from behind his opium pipe, and his Countess-bride could harass whomever she felt like from behind the safety of the royal name. They were next in line for the throne, as the King himself had no kids. They, also, were having trouble conceiving. Nayira had a bet going with an old friend that the death gods had smote his sperm and her eggs both, just to be on the safe side.

Given that Neiren was having trouble producing an heir, it stood to sick, horrible reason that his younger brother would be needing to get married, as well. With the luck that their country had, he'd single-handedly produce a race of bumbling, chattering morons without even the help of a bride to incubate them first.

"What manner of woman has he suggested, my liege?" She asked before the silence itself grew pregnant.

"A commoner. His mother suggested that your ways might be too stuffy for them." Nayira wanted to laugh. This old fool rarely left this room, and never left the island. He had no idea what these people thought, only that they were potential allies. Stuffy was not something she was, outside of his presence. Dignified, perhaps. Stuffy, no.

"It is an interesting proposal."

"I agree. My sister is screening her now, to make sure she is acceptable. I expect that she will be. You will train her in the ways of courtly etiquette, and teach her what an ideal bridal candidate should do, so that once you secure a candidate, she can attach herself to the woman and train her in our ways."

Nayira couldn't believe her ears. This had to be the stupidest thing this family had ever done. Hire a commoner to bring around a hostile princess, and convince her to leave her cushy mainlander apartments and castles for a backwards palace on an island that had inexplicably just attempted to blow itself up last month? This was leaving out the grand prize of marrying the idiot Duke Abel and having the responsibility of furthering the world's most hated royal line. They wanted some random peasant to sell this patchwork of disasters? Not to mention that it never should have been her assignment to find a bride for either one of these men to begin with. Her job was information, not marriage alliances. She curtsied again, and smiled like the sunrise: slow, warm, and bright. "I look forward to meeting her, my liege. Sincerely." She curtsied again.

Ten minutes later she was permitted back into the summer sun. Though it pierced through every opening, and though the stone walkways under her feet radiated up through her cloth shoes, she hardly felt it. The heat was off. Her back was cool. Somewhere, somehow, some foolish girl has just been persuaded to work for the most hated family anywhere. Let her worry about finding a bride for the idiot.
week three entry, fiction, 821 words.

Nothing Was Wrong. Nothing Was Broken.

Joline stood by the curb and watched it burn. She stared at it: the black smoke against the black sky reflected in her wide eyes. Somewhere far away she could hear Bob Dylan mumbling, but the roaring, explosive flames overpowered every other sensation.

A car stopped at the curb with an arresting squeal of friction. “Hey! Lady! You okay? Was anybody in there?”

Joline turned around, dimly aware that someone was talking to her. She pulled out her earbuds, and Bob Dylan’s voice grew even fainter. She stared at the flames’ reflection in the side of the car, watching as it created jagged, evanescent rays of color against the black sedan’s door.

“Hey! Lady? Lady, you okay? I said are you okay?”

Joline stared at the man leaning out of the car without understanding.

“Was anybody in there?”

Finally, some of the words penetrated through the roar of the fire. “No, just me.” She whispered. Only then did she realize that her hand was clenched so tight around the handle of the trash can she had been wheeling out to the dumpster that her nails were leaving an imprint in the cheap plastic. She released her grip, slowly.

Somewhere nearby she could hear the man in the car dialing the fire department on his cell phone, talking to a dispatcher.

In a stupefied haze Joline finished pushing the trash can to the dumpster, and unloaded the bags, one by one, and latched the dumpster closed again. What else could she do, she wondered. She stared at the empty plastic trashcan and decided to leave it next to the dumpster. She sat on the trunk of her car, attempting to avoid the realization that was nibbling its way into her thoughts: she could be dead right now.

Fire trucks pulled up into the bus circle, and she watched as they started to aim the fire hoses. Last week she had kicked out a couple of hooligans who had been sneaking around the kindergarten rooms. What was she thinking? It couldn’t have been those kids. One of them broke down into tears when she started lecturing them about trespassing. A fireman was running over to her, his coat flapping loudly behind him, scattering gravel as he went.

 “She’s in shock!” She heard him scream to someone else, from very far away.

Somewhere near her neck Bob Dylan responded, “There’s too much confusion!”

It could have been the boiler, she thought vaguely. It had only barely scraped by in the inspection, but the principal had told the inspector that there were no problems with it, that there never had been. With those assurances, it had passed. Joline had heard the principal say to her secretary later that day, “What we really need to worry about is the fire alarms. As long as those are good, we should be in the clear.”

“No reason to get excited” Bob Dylan assured her, as the fireman shook her roughly by the arm, trying to get her to look at him, trying to get her to respond somehow. She could see the orange light rattling across his yellow helmet and coat, and could smell the fire on him, but couldn’t make herself understand what he was saying.

“It’s so loud.” She said, staring at him helplessly. She gazed at his glossy black boots, her eyes following the stilted orange highlight dancing hypnotically across their tops.

“What happened here?”

“I was just taking out the trash.” She said blankly, staring at him.

A second fireman ran over to see what the hold up was, his face more panic-stricken than the first fireman’s was. He looked young, he was breathing hard, and fidgeting with his helmet. “Who’s she?”

“Janitor, looks like.”

“Sanitation engineer.” She corrected him automatically. The distinction was important, she thought stubbornly. She always corrected her family when they called her a janitor. Someone wrapped something heavy and warm around her, and she went back to watching the flames fold around the wings of the building. It hadn’t been that big before, she thought dismally, watching the water arc up and splay out across the flames.

“Outside in the cold distance a wildcat did growl” Bob Dylan reminded her, and she nodded instinctively to the music. Her feet were chilled inside old boots, but her face was warm from the blaze. “And the wind began to howl.”

The smell made her tear up, and she coughed as the wind pushed the smoke towards the parking lot. Sirens jabbed through the fire’s growl, and she listened as more firemen joined the battle, more tires squealed to a halt, and more voices started shouting frantically to each other. She coughed harder, and realized she was alone again.

She looked up into the stifled stars, and announced feebly, unable to see anything more than the thickening darkness through her tears, “I don’t know what happened. Nothing was wrong. Nothing was broken.”

Authorial Post Script: based loosely on true events. My friend's elementary school burnt down this week, likely because of a boiler explosion. Bob Dylan lyrics borrowed from "All Along the Watchtower"
Authorial Post Post Script: I noticed after I began reading a few other entries this week that my inner grammar nazi seemed to have gone on autopilot, and changed the prompt into a proper English. I fixed it now, but still. It's pretty amusing to me that I typed "If it's not broken" instead of "If it ain't broke."

Author's note: consider every "**" a short jump through time. I figure that should be readily apparent, but for clarity's sake I thought I'd state that up front. All jumps are chronological except the first. We all jump backwards to step forwards, right? Thought so. :) Cheers.

A Fool and His Money

“If it isn’t Mr. St. James!” Nickleby coughed into his glove while attempting to smile at a man walking by in a grey pinstriped suit. “How’s the morning find you, my friend?”

The man smiled very slightly at Nickleby, and said, “Well enough, Mr. Nickleby. I hope your evening was well-spent and warm?”

Mr. Nickleby nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, it was a hell of a night. One of these days I’ll tell you about it.”

St. James gave him a restrained nod, and rubbed his hands together for warmth. “I’m about to head into the coffee shop. Shall I get you the usual?” Nickleby made an appreciative noise, and St. James disappeared for a moment, returning a little while later with two cups of coffee. He sat down next to his friend, and drank silently for a moment or two, holding his hat in his hand.

“How’s your daughter?”

“Which one?” He laughed. “I've got three now.”          

“That’s right, Adrienne gave birth, didn’t she? Her first child. She must be thrilled.”         

St. James shook his head in disbelief. “That’s one way of looking at it.” He sighed, rubbing his eyes. “We’re both pretty well wrung-out.”          

Nickleby snorted, and slapped his companion on the shoulder. “Sounds right. Where you off to this morning?”          

“The school the next block over.” He sighed. “I have to go and participate in a behavioral intervention for a client. It’s a drag, between you and me, Nickleby.”

“These kids of yours…they ever going to know how much you do for them?”

“Does anyone, really?” St. James asked with a wry smile. Silence lapsed between them for a while, and they watched pedestrians. A woman with her dog walked by, and fixed them with a strange look. St. James bowed his head respectfully as she passed. She picked up her pace and began nervously chiding her dog. A couple of high school kids on their way to the bus stop nudged each other, and stifled laughter.          

“How was the shelter last night?” St. James asked finally.

“Didn’t make it there.” Nickleby admitted. “I’ll go today, honest.”          

St. James shook his head, and said, “That’s okay.”

 “It’s just…could I maybe borrow a little bit more?”         

His friend pulled out his wallet, and pressed sixty dollars into Nickleby’s hand. “Try to get inside tonight, hmm? I’d hate to think that you froze on my dime.”          

Nickleby nodded, quickly secreted the money away inside his coat, and said, “Haven’t heard the wall people in a long time, you know. I’m starting to think they went away again. Or maybe they moved deeper into their tunnels so I can’t hear them anymore. Do you think they can tell if someone’s listening?”          

St. James shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m glad they’re not bothering you, though.” It was no use telling Nickleby that the wall people didn’t exist—he just got mad, and then an entire morning’s work was wasted for nothing. As he aged, Nickleby’s mind got worse and worse.           

“Me too. Say, do you know when—”          

“Reuben?” A woman in a tweed suit stopped in front of them. “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be at Wagner middle school in five minutes.”          

St. James checked his watch, raised his eyebrows, and stood up. “Pardon me, Nickleby, I must be off. Shall I see you tomorrow?           

“Tomorrow is the day of the Wibbleworth March. I must be away. After that there’s the wall people’s festival, so I must be scarce, I’m afraid. The day after, maybe.”           

“I’ll look for you.” St. James waved cordially, and walked away alongside the woman in tweed.          

Once they were out of earshot, she muttered, “You’re welcome. Christ, what were you thinking?”           

He blinked at her. “I’m sorry?”           

“You were sitting there on a piece of cardboard, talking to a homeless man whose face hasn’t been shaved since Woodstock. He was talking about wall people. I heard him.” She shook her head.          


“So he’s bat shit crazy, and you’re lucky he didn’t pick pocket you or maul you or something.”          

“Mr. Nickleby’s a fine old man."         

“You’re fucking weird sometimes, Reuben. My god. I could smell the liquor on him from ten feet away.” She muttered scornfully. “I can’t believe you’re wasting time next to a collapsed, crazy old drunk.”          

St. James didn’t try to argue with her. Instead, he said, “That’s a nice new outfit. You look lovely.”          

“Thanks,” she glowed instantly at the praise, adjusting the hem of her jacket as she spoke. “I picked it up at Saks last week.”           

“Of course. What a good use of money.” He said softly.           

“I know. I needed a treat, right?”

Nickleby watched his friend go, and smiled a little behind his coffee cup, remembering the first time he had met him, before eavesdropping on the wall people had become a part of his daily regimen. His fingers reaching into his coat to feel for an old photograph, a postcard, three quarters, and a bill.




“Lost, are you?” Nickleby could always spot a tourist. Tourists were his favorite, by far—they were usually willing to pass a few bills into his hands for a point in the right direction. 

The boy smiled at him earnestly. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen, with short, neat blond hair. He was sporting a primly-pressed jacket with a designer logo over a grey turtleneck. His shoes were pointy. European, for sure, thought Nickleby. “Not lost, really, no.” He fixed Nickleby with a curious look. “Actually, people are always spouting off about how nice Americans are, and I wonder if you’d do me a good turn. I’ll pay you back, I swear. I need a few coins to call a car. How much is it to phone someone?”

Nickleby stared at him. No one had ever asked him for money before—well, at least not for a very long time. Not many people asked you for money when you lived on a piece of flattened cardboard, and all your most precious worldly possessions were gathered up in the pockets of your coat. “Ah, I don’t really—”

“I’m terribly sorry.” The young man cut him off. “That was really rather rude of me, wasn’t it? I don’t hardly know you at all, and I've got my hand out. What kind of person does that, after all?”

Nickleby flushed, but said nothing.

“I’m Reuben St. James. Lovely to meet you, Mr.--?” 

“Tom. Tom Nickleby.” He shook St. James’ proffered hand.

St. James smiled. “Terribly sorry again, but really, do you have the coins? It’s quite urgent.”

Nickleby reached into his pocket, and pulled out three quarters. 

St. James snatched the coins, and thanked him before hurrying away.

Nickleby stared at his hand, where the coins had previously been, and felt distinctly as if he had just been conned.




Several months later Nickleby found winter creeping into the city. Women were bundled and complaining about the cold before October had ceded to November. For Nickleby the only differences in garb were a hat and a pair of sturdy leather gloves he had purloined from a dumpster a few years before. 

That morning was particularly chilly, and when Nickleby woke up he noted that the windows were glazed with a thin sheen of ice, just beginning to melt in the morning sun. A shadow slipped across the sun, and Nickleby looked up to see a vaguely familiar face.

“I don’t suppose you remember me?”

“You’re the bastard who took my quarters.”

St. James did his best not to look too amused, and sat down at the edge of Nickleby’s cardboard mat. “I brought you something. Do you like coffee?” His hair had grown out somewhat, and was disshelved—it didn’t look (or smell) like he had showered in a while. Nickleby didn’t mind, though. He didn’t smell too grand himself, either. “I just picked these up.” He set a plastic cup in front of Nickleby, and raised his own.

Nickleby picked up the cup hesitantly, and knocked it against the young man’s. “Cheers.” He muttered. “Did you bring me my quarters?” 

“Sorry, no.” St. James smiled. “I did want you to see this, though.” He unzipped his plaid jacket a little and showed his clavicle, where two birds had been etched in black ink. “My first tattoo. Not bad, right?” It was still glossy with scabs, and he confided, “It itches like you wouldn’t believe.”

Nickleby’s grizzled face widened into an expansive grin. His teeth sat straight as piano keys, only a little yellowed from neglect. “Look at this, then.” He rolled back his sleeve and showed him an old, blurry tattoo. “It was a mermaid. Got it in the service.”




“Mr. Nickleby?” A woman in a post office uniform asked him hesitantly. 

Nickleby raised his head and slid the bottle out of sight. “Who wants to know?” 

“I, um, have some mail for you.” His eyes widened. “You’re Mr. Tom Nickleby? This postcard was left at the post office with very specific instructions that it should be brought to you here.” She handed him a flimsy postcard—it wasn’t even one of the nice ones that came in a fancy shape or had a glossy picture on it. It was incredibly plain, with a print of a pencil drawing of the Statue of Liberty on it. 

He read it, dumbfounded. “How did he—?” 

“He paid me three-hundred dollars to deliver it.” 

Nickleby blinked incredulously, and wondered whose quarters St. James was stealing now.




St. James was growing up to be a nice young scoundrel, Nickleby often thought on the occasions when the boy decided to show up. He didn’t know where St. James lived, or where he went to school, and he never asked. 

“Come on, we’re going to a bar.” He said once, with no preamble. 

Privately, Nickleby was not convinced that St. James was old enough to drink (he was right), but all he said was, “Alright.” Some number of hours and drinks later, the reason for the evening’s festivities finally came out, with St. James sobbing over a glass of scotch (his fourth): he had knocked up his ex-girlfriend.




Several months later he came back with a picture. He held his thumb over the young mother’s face, but pointed out the infant proudly. “That’s my kid.” 

“You been to see her?”

“Not yet, but soon. They emailed it to me this morning.”

Nickleby flashed him a grin, and shook his head, taking hold of the picture. “She looks real red in the face. Think she’s a crier?”

“Dunno.” St. James admitted. “It’s all kind of bizarre, isn’t it?” His eyes crinkled a little bit, and the bits of metal he had put in his face caught the light. Nickleby thought they looked foolish, and thought that having a bit of metal sticking out under his bottom lip must have made eating really awkward for St. James. He watched sometimes to see if coffee would dribble out around the piercing.

He let go of the picture, and Nickleby saw what his thumb had been covering before: the mother was sobbing. Not many things can be seen for certain through a photograph, but Nickleby felt sure that those were not tears of joy.

“Well, what’s her name, kid?”

“Wilhemina. Mina for short.”

“Nice name.”

“Oh! I've got something for you.” He grinned, and dropped some coins into Nickleby’s hand. “You’ve gathered some interest, by the way. You ought to spend a night in doors for once.” He pulled a hundred dollar bill out of his jacket and stuffed it into Nickleby’s palm before getting up and striding away.



December 22

I saw four identical black wool pea coats today. At least, I would have if I was in New York. It always used to bother me, wandering around staring at blank black backs, receding into a monotonous white landscape—homogenous people in a homogenous space. It made me sick, really. Well, it didn’t make me sick, but I like to think it was a strong contributing factor to my current state of mental dereliction.

Winter was the season of sameness up north. Everyone wore the same coats—like their mothers got together and ordered them in bulk for the whole neighborhood. A baby in a pea coat: I swear I saw it. Too little to tell if little Terry was a boy or girl, and already s/he had been marked with the trappings of social standardization. Poor little Terry. A boring wardrobe for a boring baby. Terry’s a stupid name for a kid, any how.

December 28

Father came to see me yesterday. He said to me very plainly, “Lydia, you are too thin. You must be fatter now.” Only he said it in German, the way he does when he’s angry. Something about immigrants makes them forget their adopted languages when they’re angry. It’s like it’s in a contract they sign when they get their green cards or something. “When you’re angry you will ruthlessly slip into your mother tongue and watch your daughter’s head spin. The perverse joy you get out of her confusion should not lessen your rage. You should instead be angrier that she does not comprehend your staccato syllables the first time, or the second time, or the third time. After three times you may slow down so she can actually taste the exact flavor of today’s disappointment. Sign on the dotted line. God Bless America.”

He told me that if I do not stop being so skinny he will take away all of the things they brought to keep me company here. Those were his words: “keep me company.” You could suppose that some residual explosive disappointment caused him to mince his meaning. I think he meant it that way, though—like all this stuff—the flowers, the stuffed animals, the books, sketchpads, pencils, markers, and DVDs—are all willing conversation partners and friends of mine, and if we don’t play nicely together they’ll all have to go home from the sleepover early.

He also told me that I needed to fatten up so “nice German boy will someday fill your basket.” I like that he’s ignoring that some nice boy already did fill my basket. I tried to explain, and he waved it off. “This is nonsense, Lydia. Your friend is a nice boy, but he is not interested. And he is not German.” I remember I just stared at him. Who responds like that? My father, apparently: one in a million immigrant fathers waving despondently at their daughters across both the generation gap and the cultural divide.

January 14

I broke down. I phoned him. I hung up on him at least three times. He knew it was me. He kept picking up. I wish he wasn’t so patient. I hate that. I mean, I really hate that. At least he should have the decency to be mad at me. Instead, it’s just, “What’s the weather like in Dallas?” Is that how a normal person talks? Why does it always start with the weather? Is observing the changing whim of the sky the only safe topic anymore?

Always smiling—I hated that. He was so damned happy all the time. Sometimes I torture him for sport. I used to think of it like applying verbal thumbscrews. He’d just stare out at me from behind whatever pain I was putting him through and wait. I never understood that patience.

I liked him because deep down I felt like he was dysfunctional too. I spread rumors that he was gay all over school. I didn’t want anyone else to notice him the way I did. He knew it was me doing it, and he didn’t get mad. He never acknowledged it. Instead he played it up, making it a part of his act.

It would have been believable if he hadn’t been such a dude. You know what I mean. He couldn’t grow a beard to save his life, but he’d go a week without shaving just to show off the uneven multicolored peach fuzz sprouting from his face. He wore his hair long and messy because no one was around to force him to cut it. He had facial piercings and tattoos, and wore grungy, faded t-shirts that were more often than not purloined from dumpsters and thrift stores.

I asked if he’d come see me, and he was so silent that I thought I’d been disconnected. Finally he cleared his throat—an old tick that warned me the answer was no before he even opened his mouth. “I don’t think Adrienne would like that.”

So that was her name. The dime-a-dozen trollop he’d abandoned me for at the first opportunity. Adrienne. “It really sucks here. It’d be better if you were here. Just for a day.” He was silent, so I pressed. “Just a day. Just don’t tell Andrea.”


“Yeah, her. Just don’t tell her. She’ll think you’re out for the day, no big deal.”

More silence.

“I’ll throw myself down a flight of stairs.”

Silence, but I felt sure I’d won. Before I could really bask in my victory, however, the dial tone began bleating in my ear. I slammed the phone into its cradle and came over here to write. I guess I feel better now.

January 31

They let me come home yesterday, and I spent most of the day unpacking. Life seems like one series of suitcases after another sometimes—not that I mind. I’m just glad to be away from all the whitewashed walls. Hospitals always leave this acrid smell on everything. Even the flowers smell like fresh paint, sanitizer, and death. I can’t stand it.

I convinced my father to let me go to public school. He agreed that “in my condition” I can’t go back to New York. At least we agree on something. The public schools here won’t let me be in with normal kids. I get to go to special classes. There’s a prenatal seminar. I wonder if I should bring my own cyanide capsule, or if they’ll provide me one there?

February 8

I've been going to this program through the public school for a week now. It’s a joke. There’s four others in my “condition,” as my father so delicately puts it when talking to relatives, neighbors, and complete strangers.

Debrah is so big I couldn’t have guessed she was pregnant to begin with. Neither did she, apparently—she found out when she was too far along to do anything about it. She’s big, dumb, and seems to like me. In an alternate universe she’d be the perfect lackey.

Then there are Ana and Josephina, who are actually sisters. They got knocked up by different guys (yeah, I asked.) Ana is in the twelfth grade, this is her second. Josephina is a year younger, and much more upset about the situation—she didn’t want to end up like Ana. I like Josephina the best. Her English is better than Ana’s, and she gossips with me.

Last is Courtney B. She’s tiny—seven months along in the parasitic doom sequence, 5’10”, and only 130 pounds. She could be a supermodel if her breasts weren’t resting on a giant parasitic lump. She learned a few days before I joined the program that she was carrying triplets, not twins. I don’t think she’ll live to give birth to them. It’s got to be one or the other—there’s three of them, and one of her. The odds seem stacked against her.

I found myself wondering about belonging. Do I belong here, with these girls? Do I have more in common with them, unable to button up my jacket, than I do with the multitudes in black wool pea coats? Do I understand them better than the smiling boy who got me here? Do they make more sense than the garbled English-German that my father spews whenever he sees me now?

So it would seem, and, I suppose, so it goes.