Chapter Description: Clark retreats to lick his wounds and talk to the one of the few people in his life he feels will genuinely listen to him.
“And then what happened?” Amy asked.
I bowed my head. “I don’t want to talk about it…” I tried tucking my head in between my knees but that only made me think of how naked my legs were. It was Thursday night and I was approaching forty-eight hours wearing nothing but a t-shirt and diaper.
Janet had changed my shirt after school so that instead of the plain red I’d worn all thursday, I now had a light brown shirt with a yellow smiley face that read “I’m In My Happy Place.” Outside of the sneakers, all I had was my diaper. Amy was wearing a blue onesie with yellow rubber ducks on it. I never thought I’d want to kill for the chance to wear a blue onesie with yellow rubber ducks on it.
As had become habit, I was sulking in the back of the Community Center’s rent-a-nursery while the Amazons swapped mind fucking strategies. No doubt Janet was talking about me and all the ‘challenges’ I was facing or some such coded talk for me not being babyish enough to her liking yet.
I should have been doing something to assert my dominance here like I had in Beouf’s classroom, or at least schmooze to make the right connections. But once a week with half-an-hour at best wasn’t enough to do anything too complicated beyond blending in. Besides, it’s hard to plot and bully and schmooze and make connections when you’re so deep in your own rollercoastering emotions.
I sat there with Amy while in the lap of a Tweener sized teddy bear next to an equally large stuffed bunny, both propped up against the wall as makeshift recliners. Amy had crawled up to me and propped herself up next to me. No shouts of “Hi Clark!” or nothing. She just came up to me, planted herself in the big bunny’s lap and asked how I was doing.
So I told her…
“Did the other kids make fun of you for being embarrassed, were they wearing just diapers too, did Ivy cry the rest of the day is Jessennia okay, is there any difference in the blue Hippobottomuses than the pink ones, what was for breakfast that day, does Mrs. Beouf talk about me, do you have any non-gluten free cookies, did you know that a giant invisible bunny is called a pooka?”
I looked up and turned my head to meet her unblinking hyper-focused gaze. “You’ve been waiting the entire story to ask those questions, haven’t you?”
That almost made me laugh. I managed a weak smile. “Thanks.”
“Welcome,” Amy said. “Now about those questions.”
“I said…” My voice was rising. I was on the verge of shouting. I took a deep breath. Amy didn’t deserve that. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay.” She said. She leaned back and away from me, relaxing. “Do you want to tell me about school today?”
It was more of the same without the shock value. “No…”
“Do you want me to tell you the upsides? Like pants are overrated or how diapers can be a legitimate fashion choice?”
“I haven’t done an experiment, most of my experiments are mouth experiments, but I think I get changed more often when Grown-Ups can see mine, so that’s a plu-”
“I don’t wanna talk about it.” I was trying really, really, hard not to growl. My fuse was burned down to the nub and I didn’t want to explode today. Not at another LIttle, even if they were almost as mindfucked as Ivy. My face felt hot. I’d really bit her…
“Want me to tell you about the daycare lady that really gets me upset? All our food comes at once but she never lets me eat the pudding first.” A shocked look came over her face. “Oh. Oh fudge. I think I just gave away the entire story, what if I complained about how most of our clothes don’t have pockets but we’re not supposed to put things up our nose or in our hair, how else am I supposed to make sure the other kids don’t use my crayons before I’m done with them, why do they have scented markers but not flavored markers? I think that just gives us false hope.”
“I don’t want you to complain,” I said flatly.
“Oh,” she said. “Do you still want to complain?”
The white haired kid toddled up. His romper came down to just above his knees. Color me jealous. “Hi guys, what are you up to?”
“Not now, Dawson,” Amy said softly. “I’m working.”
“Ugh. Whatever.” He went back the way he came.
Amy shifted and tilted over the bunny. She crawled around in a tight circle like a puppy and layed on her stomach so that she was still looking at me. “So what do you want to talk about?”
I huffed and puffed for half a second. “Last night sucked.”
“After Diaper Day?”
“We’re not calling it that.”
“Oh yeah,” she mused. “I guess every day is Diaper Day. How about the No Pants Party?”
I didn’t know if Amy was purposefully trolling me or if her head was just that empty. Were they mutually exclusive? “No. Moving on.”
“Okie doke,” Amy said. “Why was last night rough? Were all pants banned from your sight? Were you not allowed to watch T.V. that had pants in it?”
“What? No!” I said. Feeling silly, I added. “Muffets don’t wear pants anyways.”
Amy nodded as though I’d said something profound. “Ah yes. Can’t wear pants if you don’t technically have legs.” She tapped the side of her head and gave me a wry smirk.
“It’s not about the pants!” I gripped my hair and tugged at it, trying to keep my voice down.
None of the other Littles paid us much mind. They’d all learned to give me my space, at least. All except Amy, who was giving me someone to talk to, so I didn’t mind as much. If you feel the need to confess something, a witness lacking credibility is better than a priest or a therapist.
She gave no retort or reply. Her question was in the silent waiting she was doing while everyone else was clearly doing activities that to her would have been more engaging or interesting.
“Last night, Janet had a game night.”
I bristled. “My…y’know. My…” Amy showed no sign of recognition and every sign of infinite patience. “My Mommy.” My shoulders jerked up towards my ears and my upper lip curled. It felt like losing calling her that when she wasn’t around to be manipulated by it.
“Gotcha,” Amy said. “Your Mommy was playing games with you. What games? Go Fish? Yahtzee? Old Maid?”
“Not with me,” I said. “She was playing a game with Jessica and a couple other people. I don’t remember their names.”
“My babysitter,” I clarified. I forgot that I hadn’t told anyone about Jessica. “Her best friend. Likes to pretend she’s my Aunt.”
Amy rolled to her back and leaned her head so that she was staring at me upside down. “Is she your pretend Aunt because she’s not really related to your Mommy or is she your pretend Aunt because you think your Mommy is pretending to be your Mommy?”
“They’re not related,” I said. “They’re just best friends. Auntie Jessica is what she wants me to call her.” I caught myself. “Both! I mean both!”
“Gotcha. How do Grown-Ups even make friends?” Her eyes shot up to her bangs just scraping above the carpet. “I don’t get it. Where do they find the time?”
Considering that my entire friend network now numbered among my jailers, all I could do was run my hands through my hair and say, “I don’t know.”
After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, Amy redirected the conversation. “What kind of games did they play? Go Fish? Yahtzee? Old Maid? Is Old Maid still socially acceptable?” Her tongue fidgeted between the missing tooth gap at the top of her mouth.
“No,” I said. “None of those games. It was one of those weird…custom games.” I reached out into the air, imagining it.
The closest thing I had to a friend rolled back over so that she was looking at me upright. “Like kitty cat where you crawl between the big person’s legs? Or Why Day?”
“Huh?” I pouted my lips searching for the words. “No. This was like one of those fancy complicated games sold in hobby stores or whatever. Where before you play you’ve got to put together the entire board with all these props and pieces.” I started miming piecing together the three-dimensional puzzle monstrosity in my mind.
“And did your Mommy give you something to play with or perhaps something very tasty to chew? Or both?”
I was looking at Amy with my eyes, but not with my mind. “No,” I said.
Her brow furrowed “That’s unfortunate.”
“I just sat there at the kitchen table in Janet’s lap and-”
“You mean your Mommy?”
“-right, and there were these dice and special rules, and some dice had symbols and other times they were doing math in their heads and everybody moved several pieces around the board at once every turn” My eyes were crossing just reliving it. “And they were using terms that I didn’t know what they meant in context like arbiters and mages and breach challenges and and…” I clapped my hands to the side of my face. “And cube roots and imaginary numbers….and…I don’t even know. It all sounded like babble to me.”
“Sounds like a lot to take in.” Amy said.
“Yeah,” I sunk lower in my bear recliner. “I didn’t understand anything that was going on.”
“Did you ask your Mommy to explain?”
“I tried,” I said. That part was mostly true. They were deep in gameplay when I finally realized I had no idea whatsoever. “She told me she’d explain later.”
I was almost naked, but I felt sunburnt. “I felt stupid,” I admitted. “I felt dumb. I felt like…like…” I bit down on my tongue and fiddled with the ever present pacifier dangling on its clip. “I felt like…”
“Like a baby?”
My reply was more of a hot breath. “Yeah…”
I half-expected Amy to tell me that I was a baby and that I should be okay with that. What I didn’t expect was what she did do. She crawled off her bunny to me, and asked if she could sit next to me. I scooted over and allowed her over. “That’s really tough, bud. Side hug?”
I nodded and let her throw an arm over my shoulders. I bit Ivy for touching my shoulder. Amy asked. Also I liked Amy better.
“It sucks.” I whispered.
Amy neither lowered her voice to match mine nor raised it. “Yeah. It does. Don’t feel bad. Amazons are just really smart with numbers and complicated science stuff and not so good at explaining it.”
“I really thought if I watched and listened enough,” I remembered, “that I’d catch on, but five minutes till my bedtime and I still wasn’t understanding what was going on. I just feel so stupid.”
“I getcha,” Amy said. “My Mommy works at the bank.” That earned her a double take from me. “What? Do you know how banks work? Six years and I still don’t know what her job is. She’s a Fiduciary something something executive dividends something asset allocation something standard deviation something manager. All I know is she doesn’t have the fun job of putting the money cylinders into the whooshy whooshy tubes.”
Helena Madra, Amy’s Mommy, was on daycare duty. Like a doting mother hen, she threw us- or rather Amy- a glance every thirty seconds, but she was keeping her distance while busily checking that every other brainwashed baby was playing nice. Hard to believe that people like her could be so obsessed with children’s songs and strollers and nursery rhymes, while doing complex mental equations math in base 16.
But they did. I knew it. I’d known about it for a while. Seeing it in action made the whole thing more real. That crazy natural instinct for STEM subjects had allowed them to act on their baby crazy instincts in ways that their size never could.
“You’re just throwing a bunch of words together,” I said, trying to reassure myself.
Amy ran her tongue between her teeth again. “I dunno. Maybe.”
Our conversation was interrupted yet again when a dark haired Little boy walked up and waved. “Hey Amy!”
Amy brightened up. “Hey Brad.”
The kid took a deep breath. “I don’t like to pee my pants!” The dude wasn’t even wearing any. He was less dressed than me. I still had my shoes and socks on.
“Join the club,” I said sarcastically. Amy quickly withdrew her arm and elbowed me sharply in the ribs. “What?”
“That’s great bud!” Amy ignored me. “You’re doin’ it!”
The manchild bent his knees like he was ready to jump for the ceiling, and tucked his elbows into his arm pits. He giggled and flapped his balled up fists, smiling like he’d won something. I legitimately thought he might cry happy tears. “Thanks!” He walked away. “I don’t like to pee my pants! I don’t like to pee my pants! I don’t like to pee my pants!
Too late, I remembered who I was talking to. That was Bradley. The poor schmuck who’d been sent to New Beginnings. A few weeks ago he’d only been able to say things like ‘Do it cause Mommy said so!’ and “I like to pee my pants!” This really was a big accomplishment for him…
Amy provided more context. “We go to the same daycare, now. He’s getting better. I think they got him out in time.”
“That’s good.” I remembered how Chaz had a lisp from some hypno cartoons every time he was wet. It might have become permanent if I hadn’t told Beouf. Happier times.
“How’d the game end?”
Amy repeated herself. “How’d the game end? Did your Mommy put you to bed before they finished?”
Yes and no. “I flipped the board.” That gave me a nasty smile remembering it. The tinkling sound of a hundred tiny pieces hitting the kitchen floor. The fluttering of a thousand game cards wafting in the air, some caught by the fan, going this way and that in the central air conditioning. The looks on the giant ladies’ faces. The shrieks of surprise. “They did not like that. Not one bit.” My face was beginning to ache, but in a good way now.
“What happened then?” Amy asked, not seeming half as excited as I was feeling. “Time out? Vegetables? Did they make you pick up the mess all by yourself?”
I felt like a supervillain in those old timey comic books. “That’s the brilliant part. It was so close to my bedtime that my Mommy had to just put me to bed.” I looked down at myself. “That and I think she’s being a tad spiteful by keeping me like this outside of school. But that’s it so far.”
“That’s neat.” From the sound of her voice she didn’t really think so. “Would have been neater if you’d swallowed something that way they wouldn’t get all the pieces back until later.”
“I don’t think any of those pieces were edible,” I told her.
“Anything’s edible if you can eat it!” She punctuated the statement by flashing me two thumbs up.
“Um…maybe next time.” There would be no next time. Not even close. Gross.
If Amy felt the same way she didn’t show it. “So when you bit Ivy, how did she taste? Salty? I remember her hand being salty, I’m not big into eating people but I’m genuinely curious as to how her hand has aged, I thought it would taste sweeter than it did.” She held out her hands in front of her like she was holding a sandwich, her eyes scanning something that wasn’t there while she remembered her own past. “I was also a rattlebutt snake at the time, and they don’t taste sweet very well. It’s very sad. I get very sad that they can’t taste cookies or candy sometimes, but they get to have a rattle and that’s lots of fun. Ivy should have just listened to the warning of the rattlebutt.”
“Why did you bite her?” I asked. I could still imagine the solid push of her finger on my teeth. Despite her freakish strength she still screamed like anybody else. Some itching nagging sensation at the back of my memory thought she’d mentioned it once already.
Amy lowered her hands. “She tried to take my sandwich. I shook the rattle at her and even told her not to take the sandwich that was in my diaper. However when I took it out to take a bite, everything happened so fast. The rattlebutt snake can strike at 3 meters per second, and an average Ivy can strike at one table length per second so it was pretty evenly matched, but she got bit. Sadly the ol’ rattlebutt snake had no venom, musta been defanged….” She looked sadly at the floor.
A realization. Amy had bit Ivy. I’d bit Ivy too. I felt myself scooting away. Very slowly.
A random thought made its way from my brain and out my mouth before I had time to shut my trap. “How’d you bite, Ivy?” I asked.
“I opened my mouth, and just chomped on it. It was really fast.”
There was no easy way to say this. “With…what…teeth?”
“My front teeth,” Amy explained. “I used to have them. Now I don’t.”
There was an intrusive thought I didn’t want. Mittens were placed over my hands whenever I got too messy or destructive with them. The Amazons were more than willing to hold off on punishments until it was a convenient time and place for them. What if biting Ivy had earned me a trip this weekend to an Amazon Pediatric Dentist? “How’d you lose your teeth?”
The woman-child, the nuisance, the nutter, the carefree Little girl that had absolutely no sense of embarrassment or shame; her face darkened. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay.” I backed up a little more. Not enough to show fear or resentment, just enough to respect personal space…or get bit. Molars could still hurt. My escape instinct was flaring up, but I was out of time this week. “What daycare did you say you go to?”
“Tiny Tots.” And just like that the old Amy was back. “Why?”
“Do any of these other kids go to Tiny Tots?”
I looked at the clock. The back half of the meeting would be out any minute now. “Could you tell me the names of the other local daycares and tell me which kids go where?”
“Oh, and Amy.” I said before she started babbling out information.
“Talking to me.” I said. “And listening.” Right as it was ending, it occurred to me that I had just had the first actual conversation I’d had with no ulterior motive in a long time. Or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. Some tiny part of me that still had a shred of empathy felt that it would be right to thank her for the kindness.
“Aw,” Amy smiled softly the same way she had at Bradley. “You’re welcome, bud.”