Chapter Description: A new Language Therapy Trick emerges that Clark tries to subvert, or is he himself subverted?
In terms of class and therapy, most of the week was unremarkable. Just like with work, confinement, conditioning, and resisting said confinement and conditioning take on a kind of daily grind. Things aren’t ‘fine’, but you might say they were if nothing of note happened. Even torture can become unremarkable after a few weeks.
The time in the classroom with Beouf. After the shakeup involving Ambrose and an actual factual crying child, Beouf doubled down to try and recondition us and stabilize emotions. I caught the barest mutterings of her complaining to Zoge about “disrupting routines”. Beouf still casually complained about work, she just made sure to do it more quietly and in coded language when she knew I was around.
The other Littles seemed off for a day or two afterwards as well. A four year old had been traumatized right in front of them and bawled about how he wasn’t one of us. That had shattered more than one illusion. It’s hard to pretend the plastic bowl on your head is a helmet when you’re standing in front of a real suit of armor. It’s hard to think of yourself as a baby when an actual child is freaking out right in front of you.
It’s hard to imagine yourself and believe that you’re cute and cuddly and adorable and everything is right with the world in a soft pastel palette when someone looks at your situation and cries in sharing it. Elmer’s justified freak out disrupted more than just the center schedule that day.
I’m getting off track, though.
The room’s routine went back to normal, relatively speaking, even if there was still this lingering underlying tension.
Therapy was ‘fine’, too. It was downright boring compared to the week before.
I was separated from my peers for both Occupational and Physical Therapy for one on one sessions. Physical therapy was me being forced to crawl up stairs and balance on a platform swing, (thankfully with my clothes on). Nothing to talk about.
Occupational Therapy was picking beads out of extremely stiff and sticky putty. Great stuff for developing fine motor strength, if the stuff wasn’t practically cement to Little digits. Great. Another thing that I needed help with! The stuff was so thick that it rivaled the tapes on diapers. I could tell that Sosa was enjoying watching me struggle, but she kept her mouth shut about it beyond asking if I wanted help every now and then. She didn’t give me much to work with, so I decided to mirror the relative emotional distance.
Sosa also stayed off of her phone.
Sosa also looked tired. Really tired. Bags under her eyes that rivaled my own. She didn’t crinkle like me, and her pants were neither puffier nor baggier to hide any extra padding, but she was definitely off.
Someone had been staying up late. Someone had been having trouble sleeping. Fighting with their partner maybe? Arguments about pets perhaps? I didn’t dare ask. I’d wrapped Winters around my finger and lit the fuse. If Sosa knew about my involvement, she’d likely snuff it right out.
The strength of that particular sabotage was in my marks not knowing that I was trying to sabotage them. Fitting considering how Sosa operated with Littles. In a weird way it made me appreciate her relative finesse compared to some of her peers.
But no, I didn’t give into temptation to rub it in. I asked neither one about the other. I mentioned nothing about dogs or birds or phones or anything that would so much as sprinkle salt into any wounds I’d created. Maybe later. Not this week.
I was quit proud of my restraint.
That’s how Sosa and Winters went.
With Skinner, I was beginning to think I’d get to miss out on a week with her. Skinner didn’t come to Beouf’s room to collect anyone. Not me. Not the A.L.L. Not the regs. I was beginning to wonder if she was sick, except that I caught fleeting glances of her around campus during transition times. It did my ego good to think that I’d already broken her enough that she’d skip a week. Being one-on-one with Sosa and Winters limited me to a degree; being alone in a room with Skinner would have empowered me. Skinner was the type that I could just demolish if I was alone in a room.
Being one-on-one with Skinner was also a lot less likely, I reminded myself. Skinner had a larger caseload on campus than either of the other therapists. There were a lot more kids in Oakshire who had speech impediments or language delays than kids with fine motor delays or muscular dystrophy. Getting a single student, even if it was me, to herself when she had mountains upon mountains of kids to work with was a luxury she didn’t have.
Right alongside my ego, my paranoia was whispering in the back of me. Ambrose had been a sharp reminder that I didn’t have to see them for the giants to be doing awful things. If she wasn’t seeing her regular caseloads. What was she doing?
Prepping a counter attack, evidently. Changing up the routine. Trying to catch us off guard.
It was just after morning whole group instruction when Skinner came in through the front door. “Hello, hello! Ready for some speech?”
Ivy perked up immediately and raised her hand in the air. “Me too? Me too?”
“Yes, Ivy,” Skinner said. “You too.”
Even Tommy and Sandra Lynn threw her shady glances. Ivy didn’t go to therapy sessions. She’d pretty much ‘graduated’ Beouf’s program and was being kept as professional courtesy to Zoge. That same professional courtesy would keep me trapped there, too, thanks to Janet.
Zoge quickly beat feet back to the nap room. Beouf got up from the floor circle and jogged to her classroom closet. Both came back with their arms full of stuffed animals. Questions and exclamations bubbled out of everyone’s mouth and tripped over each other into a discorganized babbling, but the general consensus was ‘What’s going on? What are we doing?”
Skinner took the time to sit down where Beouf had been reading us a propaganda story moments ago. “We’re going to try doing something different, and hopefully kinda fun.” She said. “Instead of taking you all the way to the speech room, I’m pushing in here and will teach you all at once. Then, if Mrs. B. and Mrs.Zoge like it and you’re really good, it’s something they can do with you, too.”
“Everyone gets a stuffie,” Beouf said. “If you like your stuffie, you can use it next time. If not, you can get another one. But no whining right now. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. Make good choices.”
I braced myself and got ready to dig my fingernails into my forearms. There was no telling what was inside these monstrosities. Bells that assaulted the senses? Hypnotic songs when you squeezed? Pheromones maybe? Were pheromones really a thing? I didn’t know. Best not to discount the possibility. That’s how they got you.
“Clark,” Zoge cooed. “Your Mommy made sure to get this to us just after the buses came in.” She placed Lion right into my lap. The dumb stuffed animal had been smuggled from the edge of my crib and into the classroom.
“Awwww!” Billy mocked. “Gibson’s Mommy bwought him his own stuffie from home!”
I felt my ears go hot. “Got a problem with that?”
Billy stiffened. “Nope. Just sayin’.” Billy got a penguin shoved into his arms.
I started turning Lion around and examining him: Dangling him. Shaking him. Squeezing him. Sniffing in. Nope. Nothing different. Still my Lion.
“What are you doing?” asked Shauna.
“Checking for traps,” I said.
Shauna thought for a second, then said, “Good idea,” and started copying me.
“Before we continue,” Skinner said. “Why doesn’t everybody share what their new friends’ names are?”
“I don’t know,” Jesse said. It was a protest and a pout as much as anything else.
“Just listen,” Skinner said. “That’s what we’re doing today. We’re gonna listen to each other using our new friends.” Every Little with so much as two brain cells to rub together looked like Skinner had just peeled her own lips off. Ivy nodded thoughtfully.
What kind of pop-psychology hokum was this? Puppet therapy? Really?! And here I was thinking that Maturosis was the dumbest crackpot pseudoscience bullshit I’d be forced to participate in during my thirty-two years of life.
Sage on the stage that she was, Skinner took our collective silence as a cue to demonstrate. “Watch. I’ll do it.” She took a stuffed lamb and put it to her ear. “Oh? Oh. Okay. I’ll tell them.” She put the lamb back down in her lap. “Everyone. This is Velma.”
“Hi Velma!” Ivy, of course. Chances were she’d done this sort of thing before.
“And Velma wanted me to tell you that she’s really happy to be doing this and she has soooooo much to say and she’s ready to listen, too.” Skinner looked among us expectantly. “What’s everybody else’s name?” No one made a move or opened their mouths. Some of us decided now would be a good time to suck on a pacifier. “Go on. What’s their name? All you have to do is listen.”
Sandra Lynn broke first. “Clip Clop.” She held up the patchwork horse that looked so worn it might have actually rivaled her in age.
Then Shauna held up her panda. “Pam.”
And so it went like dominoes crashing down on themselves..
“Rex, I guess.”
“Miss Ella Bella. Ella for short.”
“I’m thinking this is Hansen.”
Ivy held her stuffie in a death grip, wrapping it around herself like it was a boa or a blanket. It was a purple stuffed octopus that had a top hat and monocle. “This is Akko,” she said. Wrong. She was wrong. She gave the dumb fake animal the wrong dumb fake name.
“What’s your lion’s name, Clark?”
“Hm?” I said. “Oh. Uh...Lion.”
“Yes,” Skinner said. “I know that it’s a lion. But what’s his name?”
“His name,” I repeated more firmly, “is Lion.”
“Pffft…” Chaz laughed into his teddy bear. He saw where I was going with this, or thought he did.
“Are you sure his name is Lion?” Skinner asked. “Maybe he’s a Walter? Or a Randal? Maybe his name was-?”
I held out my finger. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, Miss Skinner, but I’m trying to listen to my friend, over here.” I held the stuffie closer to my ear. “What’s that, Lion? You’re feeling invalidated that this stranger who sold you into slavery is now going so far as to suggest other names for you? She’s invalidating your identity? Your heritage? Your very sense of self? Wow, we have something in co-”
“Okay, okay, Clark,” Skinner interrupted. “You’re right. He’s your lion. He belongs to you. You can name him Lion.”
“I didn’t name him Lion,” I said. “That’s just his name. I listened.” I’d like to think that in the distant future, there will be a word that has evolved and bastardized itself but still has roots traceable back to ‘Clark Gibson’ and that it will have a singular meaning that roughly translates to ‘malicious compliance’.
“Okay, Clark.” Skinner bunched. “You and Lion have a very good point. I’m sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing to me?”
Skinner bent over and made a little bow. “I’m sorry, Lion.” Everyone else giggled. Skinner blushed. She sat back up to her full height. “What Clark was doing was very good, though, boys and girls. He listened to Lion, told me how Lion was feeling, and spoke up for him while not being rude about it.”
“Mmmm...hmmm…” I looked up. I hadn’t realized that Beouf was standing right behind me, quietly tapping her foot. “Not overly rude.”
I gave my best ‘I’m just a baby’ smile to my ex-mentor. She wasn’t buying it, shaking her head and closing her eyes. I didn’t very much care.
“So what do we do now?” Mandy asked.
“Let’s practice,” Skinner said. “We can all try taking turns listening to our Speech Buddies. And if there’s anything we want to say for them, or they want to say for us, they can. Just make sure to be clear who’s saying what.”
I exhaled. Someone had to say it. “This is fucking stupid.”
I tensed up. That was literally the sternest I’d ever heard Zoge speak to anyone, and she did it saying my kinda-sorta-name. “It wasn’t me!” I said, pointing to the stuffed king of the jungle. “It was Lion. Honest! I was quoting him!”
“Maybe Lion should take a breather, then,” Skinner said. I shot her a challenging look, daring her to take my stuffie away from me when she’d insisted I get it. She broke eye contact first.
Beouf knelt down and gently placed her hand on my shoulder. “No,” she said. “No. Let Lion stay, Miss Skinner. Lion’s not a part of our class and isn’t subject to the same rules. Lion’s a Grown-Up and should know to phrase things better around babies, but he’s free to speak his mind.”
“Did you…?” I was shaking with anticipation. “Did you…?”
Chaz saw the opening. “The rules don’t apply to the stuffies!”
“Mookie says we should get changed more often,” Mandy shouted. “She says that even though Sandra Lynn is only wet, she can smell Sandra’s pee pee pants two spaces away.” Mandy softened and leaned back. “No offense.”
“That’s okay,” Sandra Lynn said. “You didn’t say it, Mookie did. And she’s right.”
“Chomper thinks its dumb that we have to eat all our food at breakfast and lunch.” Tommy said, wagging his alligator. “We’re not gonna get any bigger or stronger. If we’re not hungry we’re not hungry, and I...I mean he...I mean he says...grr...it’s hard to do stuff when you got a tummy ache.”
“Wow, that’s some big feelings,” Skinner replied, on scripts “Velma thinks-”
“Velma had her turn,” I said.
“So did Lion.”
“Lion’s not talking. I am. And I’m trying to listen to everybody else.”
Skinner looked to Beouf like a drowning woman looks at a lifeguard. The lifeguard seemed unphased to the plight.
“The books are boring and never change, Jason says. It’s why nobody ever reads them and just stares off to space or poops during reading time.”
“Pam wants to go out to play first thing in the morning when it’s cooler and fewer people can see us. That or be allowed to strip if it’s too hot.”
And on it went.
“Rex wonders why we gotta sit in our mess if it happens in the cafeteria? Every bathroom here has changing tables. Would it be that hard to pack a damn diaper bag with some spares and put it on the fucking cart” Billy held out his dinosaur like he was trying not to associate with it. “I’m quoting. I’m quoting! He’s right though…”
And it kept going.
“Sometimes Clip Clop thinks that Mrs. B. and Mrs. Zoge are just going through the motions. That’s why we have nap time, even though our bodies don’t really need naps. Also Clark snores.”
“Hansen told me to tell you that this place is like a cage,” Chaz said. “We go to this school because it’s the same building, but we’re not a part of it. We don’t do anything with the others and are just shut away here most of the time. We’re display pieces. Freaks. Just look at how that one kid acted when he got dragged here.”
“Ella wants a less demeaning verb for this Bee-Ess. ‘condition’,” Annie said. “I’m not ‘suffering’ from Maturosis. I’m not ‘afflicted’ with it. I don’t even really have it.” I sucked in my breath. Now, Beouf would lower the boom. She didn’t and Annie kept rambling. “How am I supposed to be a baby to you and a victim of some kind of disease? Ella wants to know. Is it some weird attempt at love, or is it an excuse not to listen to me? If you think I’m just a child, then why use words and terminology like something is wrong with me? Amazons talk to me like I’m a toddler but use language to describe me like I’m a...a…”
“A leper?” I suggested.
“Yeah,” she pointed at my stuffie. “What the lion said.”
Peppered throughout there was plenty of, ‘cock’, ‘shit’, ‘motherfucker’, ‘twatwaffle’, ‘asshole’, ‘dingus’, and whatnot followed by smirking naughty grins and blaming it on the stuffed animal that such and such was translating for. I honestly expected Beouf or Zoge to slam on the breaks; to talk down to us; to stop our momentum or turn our language around on us. After every curse word or complaint or criticism, I waited for them to take away the stuffies or demean us or discredit us. It never came.
By the time it was over, Beouf and Skinner were hurriedly jotting things down on notepads. Skinner stopped performing whatever schtick and just directed traffic and conversation. She started pointing to us in turn for our stuffed animals to air our collective and individual grievances.
“The activities suck.”
“The rules don’t make sense.”
“Give us some kind of fuckin’ choice. We have literally none in our lives.”
For a solid thirty minutes, all we did was bitch at them.
“What’s that Akko? Akko wants to know why people aren’t allowed to kiss or hug or touch each other without permission, but we have to hold hands everyday when walking in line. That’s very hypocritical.”
Billy let out a low whistle. “Damn, Ivy.” He shook. “Rex said! Rex said! Not me!”
“What do you want us to do about it?” Skinner asked after everyone had said her piece.
“You’re supposed to be the adults,” I spat. “You hold way more cards than we do. Figure something out.” I inhaled. “And I said that. Not Lion. You don’t want me to quote what he said.”
The Speech Therapist stood up and dusted herself off. “I actually think this was very productive. Would it be okay if they brought their stuffies to speech from now on?” The question wasn’t directed at us.
Beouf looked vaguely thoughtful. “I think that might be a good idea. Is it okay if we used them in the classroom, too?’
“By all means!” Skinner looked delighted that some idea of hers had an application of some sort.
The three Amazons huddled up and started mumbling to each other. Likewise, my own peers started to gravitate towards me.
“Clark. Way to go, dude.” Tommy patted me on the back.
“That was pretty cool.” Jesse added.
“You should’ve seen Gibson last week,” Billy smirked. “Grade A shit. You had to be there.”
Annie pointed to the ground. “You dropped Rex.”
“Oh sh-!” My foul mouthed friend went over and retrieved his dinosaur. “Gotta keep this guy on me to uh...translate.”
I put Lion down by my feet. “Yeah…”
“Clark?” Chaz poked me in the knee. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” I didn’t mean it. Not one bit. I’d subverted the Amazons’ expectations and turned their game on them just like i’d wanted to. It was a victory. Classic Clark. Vintage Gibson. It didn’t feel like one, though. They weren’t angry enough. They weren’t distressed. They weren’t folding or lashing out to stuff us back into the neat little boxes they’d made for us. Their hypocrisy wasn’t laid bare for all to see.
I’d won. It just didn’t feel anything like a victory. Not at all. It just felt like I’d been allowed to whine and bitch and moan for half an hour.
And all my friends were loving it. Chaz handed Lion back up to me. Without thinking about it, I accepted the stuffie. All of my friends had found a renewed interest in stuffed animals.
“Akko says, ‘Domo’,” Ivy said. “That means ‘thank you’.”
I huffed. “I know what domo means, Ivy.” I felt my anger rising. “And that octopus doesn’t speak Yamatoan. He’s Albienese.” Irrational frustration was building. “Don’t you see the top hat and the monocle?!” Poor Ivy. “And his name isn’t Akko!” I shouted. “It’s Jessennia!”
Ivy positively deflated. She didn’t cry. She didn’t stomp. She didn’t whine. Just a bit of the happiness of being included leaked out of her face right before she slinked off. “Oh. Sorry. I didn’t...I didn’t know…”
Beouf turned around and looked back at me, seeming more than a little disturbed. I’d worked with Melony Beouf for ten years. She was unflappable. I’d already cussed her out and hit every pain point I’d known she might have from her personal and professional life and she remained completely unphased. She’d shoved me into a glass tube and fried every hair follicle off my body as I screamed myself hoarse and went right back to cooing at me while I passed out. She enrolled me in her class and gave me away like a decade of camaraderie had never happened.
Something about what I’d just said to Ivy had piqued her interest. More than ‘piqued’; it bothered her. Immensely. For some reason, Melony Beouf looked shaken.
And I had no clue why.