“Darla,” continued Prue’s dad, “I have to say this comes as a complete shock to us, I mean …” Sproing. “It’s been a difficult few months, for sure, but we feel like this is inevitable, considering the kind of …” Sproing. “Craziness that we’d all been through at the beginning of the year and …” Sproing. He paused, noticing that Darla’s attention was being forcibly diverted to the bouncing child in the baby seat with every contraction of the seat’s spring.
“Sweetheart,” he said, finally, to his wife, “would you mind taking Mac out of that thing for a second?”
Once Mac had been removed from the bouncing chair and Prue’s mother had returned to the kitchen, the discussion recommenced. Darla Thennis: “Listen, I know what you’re going through—this is all very normal for a child of her age—we just don’t want her to fall too far behind.”
Prue remained silent. She studied the three adults intently. They were talking about her as if she weren’t even in the room. It made her all the more disinclined to include herself. She kicked her Wellies against the cork-tiled floor and attempted to imagine her three interrogators away. She envisioned an earthquake sending a jagged crack through the middle of the kitchen, consuming the adults in one swift tremor.
Darla evidently caught on to Prue’s disconnectedness and began speaking directly to her. “Hon, your final exams last semester were dismal; it’s like you’re not even there in class, like your head is just somewhere else—in some faraway place.”
It is, thought Prue.
“And don’t even get me started on your absences,” said Darla, looking over at Prue’s parents.
“Absences?” This came from Prue’s mother. “What absences?”
Darla fixed her gaze on Prue.
“You want to tell them?”
“Well,” said Prue, looking up from her boots, “there have been just a few days…”
“A few days?” sputtered her dad, staring at his daughter in disbelief.
“A few days where I didn’t quite make it in time and I thought, Well, that means I miss homeroom, and if I miss homeroom, that means I won’t be ready for World Studies, and if I wasn’t ready for that—how was I going to manage in math?” She waved her hands in front of her face, as if conjuring the disorienting mists of a dense fog. “It was like a long line of dominoes falling. I decided to just bag it and read at the coffee shop.”
Prue’s father smiled sheepishly and looked at Ms. Thennis. “At least she’s reading, right?”
His wife ignored the comment. “And this … this … domino thing—happened on several occasions?” she asked, her eyes boring into Prue’s bangs, which were now conveniently covering her downcast face.
“Five, to be precise,” answered Ms. Thennis.
“Five?” pronounced Prue’s father and mother, in unison.
“FITHE!” came Mac’s voice from the living room. “POO! FITHE!”
“Ugh,” said Prue.
But the truth was that she hadn’t been reading at the coffee shop. And she hadn’t really even “not made it in time” to school. The truth was that Prue McKeel, twelve years old, would sometimes wake up in her comfortable bed, in her comfortable house, with her comfortable family, and feel a very sudden and very sharp tug. On those days, she’d pull herself out of bed and try her best to go through the repetitions of her daily life—to ignore this mysterious tug—but sometimes she’d get as far as her bike and she’d feel compelled to pedal it in the opposite direction of her school. And this tug would be guiding the way. It would tug her down Lombard and tug her past the opening shops and tug her down Willamette and tug her past the college until this strange tug would deposit her, bike and all, on the bluff, overlooking that vast fabric of trees across the river that was the Impassable Wilderness. And that’s where she would spend the better part of the day, just staring at that wide field of green. Remembering. On those days, the thought of going to school seemed perfectly out of the question.
The snap of a finger. “Hellooo?” chimed her mother. “I swear it’s like your brain’s been abducted by aliens or something.”
Prue calmly looked each of the three adults in the eye, one after another. “Mom,” she said, “Dad, Ms. Thennis—I’m sorry, Darla. I appreciate you bringing these concerns to my attention, and I’m sorry for any disappointment I might’ve caused. Excuse me, but I’d like to go on a walk right now. I will meditate on everything you guys have said.”
And with that, she turned heel and walked out the back door, leaving a flummoxed huddle of grown-ups watching her depart.
The Messenger; Another I.W.
They were an odd assemblage: the two young boys, the two young girls, the large man in a top hat, the skinny bearded man in a dress, and the rat. They stood in a line in the middle of the wide, snow-covered road, watching as two riders approached on horseback. When the riders arrived and had dismounted, the man in the dress stepped forward from the line.
“Brendan,” he said, in greeting. He was visibly shivering; the chiffon of his frayed gown rippled in the chill breeze. His posture was hunched, his arms folded across his chest.
“William,” replied the man, serious, nodding a chin that was forested in a deep tangle of red whiskers. He wore a fairly dirty officer’s coat and a pair of riding britches, patched at the knees. A blue-black tattoo snaked up the side of his forehead. He studied the salmon-gowned man for a time before a smirk rolled out across his mouth. “The pink,” he said, “really … brings out your eyes.”
The top-hatted man stifled a laugh. Curtis, standing just behind the bandit William, joined in on the laughter; he was rewarded for this by a penetrating glare from Brendan.