blue lines


Uncle Russ was never any one’s favorite uncle.  Even so, he showed up at each and every one of the WinterKorn family parties in his beat up old cadillac.  He was consistent, that much could be said about him. Smoke had billowed from the tailpipe of his old cadillac as long as Rosemary could remember.  In that old jalopy you could hear him coming all the way down Fruit Street. He’d amble out of the car, pass by the periphery of the party attendees at a safe distance, where no one could hold him with any sort of engaging conversation.  Russ would merely raise his hand in the general direction of the family, as if that counted as an individual greeting to each person.  Uncle Russ would then go inside whoevers house the party was held at, find the most comfortable armchair he could, well away from any television or any other people if he could manage (even if this meant being in someone’s private room), and hunker down staring aimlessly into space for the duration of an hour.  He would then leave without saying goodbye.

And yet, he never came empty handed. So he was always invited.  His gifts were always hit or miss.  Sometimes you got the latest gaming console, sometimes you got an upside down orange cake.  Also, without fail he’d always give the kid a generic hallmark card with five dollars in it.  He must have stockpiled them in the 70’s, they were always set to an atrocious beige and green backdrop, and as a baby in this WinterKorn's families life progressed around birthday seven to eight the cards began to repeat themselves   If it was an adult’s party, say, their 30th birthday, Russ would give them a twenty.  Then they could just buy what they wanted.

When Russ set down the well worn wooden box on the table, someone, probably Aunt susan being critical as usual, croons at him from across the yard “Couldn’t spring for some wrapping paper?”

“Oh, it’s wrapped” he replied. It looked poorly made, like it had been waterlogged for a decade.  But there was a mysterious quality about it that made it the topic of many a conversation at this party. Probably the musky smell of it’s oldness, like he had carved it out of old nasty driftwood even older than himself. 

Rosie was too excited to notice Russ entering the backyard, as her mother and father had rented a moonbounce for her and all the other children to play in for the duration of the party.  It bobbed around dwarfing her neighbors backyard fences, like an invitation to all the other kids rocking friendly in the wind. Many of these children flipping and crashing around in her moounbounce Rosie did not even know by name.  But she was queen of the castle. Bouncing backwards, Rosie accidentally nails someone with a flying elbow from across the room.  His nose is bleeding but he couldn’t look happier, keeps right on bouncing!

Rosie and her best friend, Jessica, exit the moonbounce panting, looking for the punch bowl to quench their thirst.

“My mood ring just turned purple; see! it works! Purple means I’m tired, probably because of the jumping.” Jessica insists.  Her eyes are hostile blue almonds.

Rosie grabs her glasses from inside her shoe and puts them on in an attempt to make her eyes look bigger. She was never seen without the glasses if she could help it.  Often Rosie would stand in front of the mirror, raising her eyebrows as high as they would go and holding them there, thinking that by doing so it would stretch her eyelids,  making her eyes appear bigger.  It seemed to help, but actually only succeeded in giving her chronic headaches.

“Mood rings don’t work” Rosie says dismissively, “besides, purple means you’re mystified in the instruction manual” Rosie says scooping a glass of punch for Jessica.

Jessica accepts the punch, replying “It does to work. And purple means you’re tired” she asserts.

“Hey!” Ben Tarnick calls from the moon bounce “You’re it Jessica! You can’t just quit cause i got you, that's not fair!”

“I call timeout” Jessica calls back.

“You kids having fun?!” Rosie’s dad asks in passing, popping the top off a beer.

“Yes mr. Winterkorn!” Jessica responds cheerily.

Rosie sips her punch and her dad hugs her.  She makes no motion to raise her own arms “Happy birthday sweetie” he says, before going off to drink with his buddies on the patio.

“He’s so friendly when other family is watching” Rosie mutters “Anyway, I have the mood ring instruction manual in my room” Rosie says, acidic “I’ll show you”

Jessica drains and tosses her plastic cup, “Betcha a pog you’re wrong” she says, socking Rosie in the arm.


‘“Plenty more where that came from--birthday punches!” Jessica says, socking her again before charging back to the moonbounce and tackling Ben.

Rosie runs up the ugly plush stairs and enters her room, excited to shove it in Jessica’s face that she is once again wrong about something.  However, as Rosie goes through one of her pink pony desk drawers, she sees something out of place in her periphery, some foreign object.  She jumps when she sees that it is respirating; Uncle Russ is sitting in her puffy princess pony chair.  

“Hiya” he says.  His skin is dark and sagging, it stretches and contracts as he wheezes.  Though he hasn’t smoked in years, his gums are stuck with the rot scent of cigars.  

“Hi uncle Russ” Rosie mutters begrudgingly, opening up her drawer.

He hacks up some mucus onto the carpet “don’t matter that i quit, the damage to my windbags is done” Russ says merrily.

Rosie doesn’t respond; she’s busy rifling through the papers in her top drawer, determined to prove Jessica wrong.

“I hear you’re quite the intelligent young lady” he says in that condescending adult tone, as if she didn’t understand.  “They tell me you’re reading comprehension is already at a collegiate level?  Not too bad for a ten year old”

“I’m eleven” she can’t be asked.

“Your mommy and daddy even got you a tutor, and volumes of encyclopedias, and that private after school program for gifted children.” he notes these in a sing song voice.

“I can’t stand that stuff” she looks him in the eye to show she’s big now and he can’t talk to her like a kid anymore.

He smiles “You know, I was a smart kid too, but did my parents give a damn?  Nope!” he loosens up another couple amoebas of mucus from his chest, “No, if I wanted to talk to someone smarter than a rock, I had to ride my bike to the university.  There was an old janitor used to work nights, used to let me do the rounds with him after his boss left.” 

Rosie sighs.  She was in for it now.  Russ goes on “Couldn’t sleep in my own bed most nights, My dad was always knockin me around, screamin Quit that book readin’ and get yourself a job!  He had a shot of whiskey with a raw egg in it for breakfast every day.  Every day!  Can you imagine? At your age? Getting beat up by a grown man, and told to get job?”  the rapidity with which he suddenly spoke made Rosie question how self aware he was in his age. As if he was trying to hold her responsible.

Russ goes on, “I know, you don’t have time for an old man’s stories.  You’re more concerned with your Eye Apple’s and your Robot Screens.  But you listen here and listen good. Rosie!” he snapped with such force that she could not help but jump and look him in the eye. 

“This world devours intellectuals” he says “Society abhors us.  You’ll have a hard life if you keep going down the path you are; it’s true of all ages.  You know Galileo was imprisoned for discovering that the earth revolved around the sun? Even though he was right?!”

“Actually Copernicus discovered that long before Galileo,” Rosie replies, “but yes, I knew that” she has located the instruction manual to the mood ring and tries to make her escape.

Russ nods warmly “You’re just like me--except you’re screwed---you’re going to be even smarter! My gifts were left to rot; it was only by fierce determination that I was entered into college and became an engineer.  But you, you will go far beyond! You have the benefit of people encouraging your intellect.”

“No pressure.  Can I go now?”

“You have two choices” Russ holds up two bent fingers “You either find a job working for the system, find a way They can use your intellect. OR, you hang it up now and pretend your an idiot for the rest of your life.  Otherwise your going to die alone and every one will hate you!” he spoke with such ferocity that he was basically yelling.  

Rosie’s father pops his head in the room.  “Everything okay in here?” her Father asks. 

“I’d choose option two.  Much easier” Russ finishes.

“Yeah dad” and Rosie answers Father as she brushes past him, exiting the room.

Rosie’s father stays in the room a moment more, with an accusatory look at Uncle Russ before exiting.  “We’re about to open gifts and cut the cake” Father says dryly.

“Bah” Russ dismisses him with a wave of his hand, pushes himself noisily out of the pony chair “Bout time I get goin before rush hour.”

In the yard, in the crowd, returned to the sunshine, immersed in conversations about celebrities and television, Rosie tries to forget the encounter with Russ, not about to let him ruin her birthday.  She marches triumphantly up to the moon bounce.  At least she can finally make Jessica admit she was wrong about something; she has irrefutable proof. “Jessica!” she calls.  “Purple means mystified, like I said! Jessica!”

Jessica pokes her head out the entrance of the moon bounce “What?” Jessica feigns ignorance.  Her black hair is sticking to the beads of sweat on her sunstained cheek.

“You were wrong about the mood ring” Rosie smiles impishly.

One of Jessica’s eyebrow rises “Well what do i care? My rings Red now.” From behind tiny arms envelop Jessica’s torso, she is pulled forcefully back into the moon bounce by Kyle 

Rosie can only stand there, full of lunacy and confusion. She notices Randon Crabshaw, Jessica’s stepfather, looking her up in down in that creepy way he always does when she comes over.  Rosie shudders and goes to hide in the Moonbounce. 

Once the party has finished and all the guests have left, Rosie surveys her loot at the kitchen  table.  She got an easy bake oven and an extra battery for her cell phone as well as a load of barbies she had already decided to return to the store.  Her parents watch her amiably as she paws through her gifts.  All the while her parents float about the house doing dishes and cleaning the trash.  Rosie scrutinizes the strange, gnarled wooden box that Russ gave her.

“Is this some sort of joke?” Rosie wonders aloud.

Her mother surmises, somewhat disinterestedly  “Russ always was a fan of puzzles.  My guess is it’s some sort of three dimensional puzzle box”.  Mother is busy scrubbing the burned portion of the green bean casserole off of her favorite glass pan.

Rosie turns the wooden box over and over in her hands, looking for an opening, or a divot, a handle, anything to give her an idea of what this thing is.  She can’t even discern where the slats of wood have been sealed together.  Her father peaks over her shoulder  “Your uncle russ was quite the craftsmen in his time.  I’m not surprised just getting the darn thing open is a task.”

Rosie feels more like she’s lost something than received a gift. She can hear Ruses voice in her head, wheezing “If you’re so smart, why can’t you open the box?”.  Her cheeks turn red.  She squeezes the box, she tries to pull out it’s corners.  When that doesn't work she raises it above her head.  Before her father can stop her she slams it down on the kitchen table with all her might.  

On impact Rosie feels a surge through her body, like she was simultaneously paralyzed and stuck to the box.  Rosie jumps back off her chair with a screech and begins to cry.

Her mother drops the glass pan in the sink and comes to Rosie’s side “What’s wrong honey?”

Rosie looks to her father for consolation and he’s looking at the box not so much with surprise as recognition. Rosie howls “I don't know. It was like I was stuck to the box--like I couldn’t let go of it!”

Her father picks it up and bangs it against the table; he jumps “It shocks you!” he exclaims, marvelling “how did old Russ get wood to conduct electricity so well?”

Her mother's jaw drops before she can wipe away Rosie’s tears.  Angrily Mother says “What kind of a sick uncle gives his niece a toy that hurts her for her birthday?” she squints at her husband, as if he were partly responsible. Russ is actually Father’s uncle; Rosie just calls him Uncle Russ for simplicity’s sake.

“It didn’t hurt me” Rosie corrects Mother through her sniffling, thinking it actually felt kind of cool  “It just startled me.”

“It’s dangerous! Why Russ would give this to a child..” Mother sounds like she’s going to go on one of her tirades but Father interrupts by placing his hand firmly on Mother’s shoulder. He kneels down to meet Rosie’s face.

“.. I think sometimes Russ means well but ends up setting the bar too high for most people.”  Father says “As a smart child in the 50’s he didn’t have it nearly as good as you do now” there Father goes again, feeling like there always needs to be a definite explanation.  Mother coddles Rosie and Father exits the room with the mysterious box. As if Rosie won’t notice it’s gone.

Leaves begin to fall and shatter like stained glass across the freshly paved blacktop at the fire station down the block.  The sweet smell of decay is back along with school. Around this time is when Jessica began to show up to school with bruises.  She was avoidant and dismissive when Rosie questioned her about it; Jessica was eager to impress all the most fashionable girls, because of this she couldn’t stand to have rumors of abuse going round about her.

September 11th, 2001 came and went.  Americans were really afraid of everything and the media wouldn’t stop reminding them how afraid they were.  United we stood, divided we fell.  Everyone was glued to the TV, they couldn’t get enough information about the horrible tragedy that had occurred on that day.  All the while the commercials in between the tragedies coverage kept right on playing in their oblivious consumer world.  In commercials, everything is truly fine.

The teacher in Social Studies had students writing the name of a country on a yellow star.  These stars were then tacked on a large board in the hallway, as a constant reminder of all the countries that were united against terrorism.  Most of the kids wrote the countries their great grandparents came from, such as Italy, Mexico, or Poland.  Rosie was going to write New Zealand, as that had always been a place she wanted to visit.  She looked over and saw Jessica had wrote ‘Amarica’, which seemed more fitting than Tony writing ‘Italy’, as he was only ten percent Italian and had never been to the place.

Rosie sees that the brother of her friend Mia, Arif, had also wrote America on his star.  

“Why don’t you write Afghanistan, isn’t that where your mother and father are from?” Rosie asks him.

Arif looks at her alarmed, as if she had attacked him.  He misunderstood at first, but seeing she did not mean any harm with her question,  “Yes, i was born there. I don’t remember it. But based on what just happened in New York City, I thought it better not to” looking over his shoulder “draw attention to my family history”.

Rosie gets angry “But it’s not like all the people of Afghanistan are against Americans, even if Al Qaeda did start there.  But who even knows given the history of the middle east?  The news channels don’t really know anything for sure yet.”

“My father told me the facts of Afghanistan's involvement are not important.  It’s what our neighbors believe right now that is important. Maybe you know the citizens of Afghanistan are not the enemy, but Ben and his friends are already threatening to beat me up every time they hear my arabic last name.” Arif answers solemnly.

Rosie finds herself writing furiously in large capital letters AFGHANISTAN on her star.  Seeing her do this, Arif says in a whisper “Don’t mention me; remember, I’m mexican.”

The teacher goes down the row of desks robotically calling each child by their first name, so they can come tack their star on the board and say something about the country they chose.  When it’s Rosie’s turn she holds the star up above her head so everyone can see, having wrote as large as she could.

Rosie speaks loudly so every one can hear, so that there is no mistake “The talking heads on TV would have you believe Afghanistan as a whole is the enemy.  But do you yourself support the innocent children that are bombed, shot, and detained indefinitely by American soldiers in the middle east?  Your parent’s taxes pay for bullets.  Do you yourself support the school increasing lunch money from 1.80 to two whole dollars?  Of course not.  My point is that  not every person supports every decision their organization makes.  Likewise, citizens do not always support the decisions their government make.” The teacher tries to usher Rosie back to her seat, but Rosie shakes her off “I know that Afghanistan exports most of the worlds heroin.  But that doesn’t mean the innocent children and families who live there want a war with america.  It doesn’t mean they wanted 6,000 innocent lives to parish in New York City on that fateful day”

“That’s great! Wow, okay, back to your desk Rosie”  the teacher interrupts, aggressively pushing Rosie down toward her desk.  The teacher’s anger toward Rosie is clearly visible on her face. “Timmy, your turn, come on up.  What ya got there? Oh, Russia!  Come on up comrade.” Teacher salutes.

But no one’s listening to Timmy.  As Rosie returns to her seat she sees the entire class, even Jessica, seems to be ridiculing her, whispering to each other with malicious glances.

After school, Rosie liked to walk home, to actually feel like she had some free time to zone out in the sunshine before her private lessons.  She turns the corner of a building to find Arif on his hands and knees, blood drizzling from his mouth.  “Oh no!”  she kneels down before him and he sits up.  In the distance she sees Ben and his friends running off.

Rosie screams after them “Fascist Pigs! See if i ever have you at another one of my parties!”

Arif smacks her hands away, straightens himself up into a crouch. “You dumb white girl, you understand nothing!  I am culturally american now, I have no reason to take responsibility for where I was born!  I just want to forget it!” she tries to apologize but he keeps right on tearing into her “you suburban americans who have experienced nothing, who have no culture, feel constantly like you have to stand up for ‘minorities’” he scare quotes with his fingers, “because you think we are weak!  We are not weak!  We are no different than you!” he stands up and she follows.  She tries to apologize again but Arif runs off with tears in his eyes.  

Years pass. Instead of meeting people along the way, Rosie finds herself walking to school alone.  Only because Jessica lived on the other side of town; she would never abandon Rosie.  They’d shared their growing pains; how could you throw away a relationship like that?  And Rosie always thought it was much better to have one very close friend than a slew of acquaintances.  So what if Jessica constantly belittled Rosie? Jessica interrupted her constantly, and held both Rosie and others to a higher standard than she held herself.  But at least Jessica stood by Rosie’s side unconditionally.

Last night they had had a sleepover, and spent all night watching the dreadful show ‘desperate housewives’, because Jessica wanted to. So today, according to their new system which they’d just formulated this morning, it was Rosie’s turn to choose what to do.  Rosie decided she wanted to go walking in the woods.  So here they are walking up congress ave into the forested northern sanctuary; the sun shines brightly on the green pines waiting at the side of the road, the wind is gentle, there’s the soft lull of bees and birds meandering in the branches.  But all Jessica wants to do is keep texting away on her cell phone.

Rosie had taken to walking in front of Jessica, as talking to Jessica in one of her pouty moods was no use.  She’d just asked Jessica, again, about the bruises on her arms and thighs, and Jessica had shut completely down when an argument ensued about the accuracy of Jessica’s explanation. Jessica would just as soon ice you out and look at her cell phone than allow herself to be vulnerable.  Everytime Jessica receives a new text with a ‘pa’king!’ noise Rosie can’t help but wince.

Rosie mutters “You know, you might want to look up at your environment every now and then. If you should wander into the road get hit by a car, I’m not taking responsibility”

“Mmm” Jessica hums, as if she heard Rosie. ‘Pa’king!’ Jessica laughs at the text message.

Rosie stops to face Jessica, and Jessica, gaze fixed down at her phone, runs right into Rosie.  “Ow, Watch it!” Jessica protests.

“Look!” Rosie points up into the branch of a tree, at a mama cardinal feeding her babies.  Her body is so tiny compared to the enormity of the trees, but her feather’s so bright that she’s the focal point of the scene.

“Big deal” Jessica hardly glances before returning to her phone  “Why look at it in real life in this low resolution when i can see birds on youtube close up, in HD, anytime I want?”

“A reasonable question.”  Rosie answers playfully “Because that’s an actual living thing there. it’s not a dead, inanimate screen.  Right now, we’re actually participating in reality, rather than observing some simulation..” but Rosie lets her thoughts trail off.  It’s a waste of breath.

They enter the forest path, strewn with old leaves and broken sticks.  The chaotic architecture of nature; so random yet so latent with it’s own inherent symmetry.  Jessica rolls up her sleeves to at least catch a tan out here. “Slow poke!” Jessica says, bounding forward suddenly with another p’king!

“See?  I told you so, if you just come out here and allow yourself, you will enjoy it!” Rosie chases her, both of them giggling.  

There’s a shallow river strewn with boulders and spittled with stone. It’s bank widens in ponds and shrinks to strings of water bouncing down through pebbles if you follow it.  There used to be a trail along it, but time and erosion have made this river’s shape erratic and unstable. 

To Rosie’s horror, when she catches up, she sees a baby squirrel incapacitated.  It was left to twitch on the rocks, by these boys perched above on a slab of granite. They each held a BB gun like it was their penis.  The grey and blue hues of the stones around their granite slab are splintered with crimson blood. 

Rosie nearly faints.  She is stunned for a moment before she wails at the boys “What the hell is wrong with you?!”  Rosie looks to Jessica, who doesn’t even seem to have noticed the squirrel; she’s hugging Ben.

“Gross!”  Jessica exclaims, noticing it.

Tyler says, “Fighting is the law of nature.  We’re learning to become men.  How can you survive if you don’t learn to make something submit?” He’s trying to make his voice sound deeper than it is.  His balls had yet to drop.  He cleans the blood off his BB gun like he would his whistle.  

Rodney takes a shot at a squirrel up high in a branch across the river.  It’s about as loud as a pea blown out of a straw. ‘P’king!’

Rosie is staring diamonds at them, increduloud.  “Aw why you so uptight? Don’t get your smarty panties in a bunch” Tony laughs, “That thing was half dead when we found it.  It was the runt of the litter, born with bowed legs.”

“That’s not for you to decide.” Rosie says.

“We’re puttin it out of it’s misery” Tyler says quietly, not wanting a full frontal debate with the brainiac of the school.

“You guys are sick.  Let’s go Jessica” Rosie orders.  Jessica has phased the whole thing out, and her attention is absorbed in her phone “Jessica!”

“You don't get to boss me around” Jessica responds, not actually understanding, just responding on intuition.

It would be hard to quantify, but Rosie’s cheeks flush at least as red as the blood on the stone “Oh yeah, I can’t boss you around--your deadbeat stepfather is the only one who gets to do that, when he’s beating you in an alcoholic fit.” Rosie immediately regrets saying it.  Rosie and Jessica stare at each other, it is a fierce flash exchange of information through their eyes.  Jessica breaks contact by chucking her phone at the ground.  The screen explodes against a rock.  Jessica crumbles onto the stones, wraps her arms around her knees, and begins to sob.

“I..” Rosie starts, but then there is only the sound of the river rushing by.

“I’m gonna piss” Tyler mutters, walking off.  The other boys act like the girls aren’t there, made uncomfortable by such a display of emotion.  But under the pressure of anxiety, neither of them could find anything to talk about.  In the confusion Rosie runs up, takes Tyler’s abandoned BB gun off the Granite slab 

“Hey!” Ben accosts her as she gives him a sarcastic smile. Rosie hurls the gun into the river.

Ben hollers, “Just cause you don’t like what we’re doing don’t give you the right to trash our stuff!” 

“It does if it protects innocent living--” but Rosie is not about to stand and argue, as Ben is closing the distance with his hand cocked.  He lunges at Rosie and she barely dodges his blow.  Rosie sprints toward the road as fast as her sluggish legs can move.

“I hate you! I hate you!” though she couldn’t make out the rest of the words, Rosie could hear Jessica’s ear piercing, infantile scream, long after she was out of the woods.  

Rosie arrives at home, panting wildly.  Her father is reading the paper on the stoop.  He folds the paper with a snap when he sees her coming “Whoa whoa, easy!” he says “You gonna try out for track after all?”

“….Jessica...bruises” she pants.

Father gets up and opens the front door for her. “Come on, let’s talk about it inside”

Safe in the kitchen, once she’s caught her breath Rosie explains the bruises on Jessica’s arm, the boys killing the squirrel.  Normally she’s rather reserved and tells her parents as little as possible. But once Rosie starts venting she finds herself talking about how ever since she stood up for Arif after Nine Eleven, everyone in the school hates her.

“They don’t hate you” Father replies. He pauses, taking time to stare out the window so he can compose his approach.  He knows Rosie is bright, and she’ll see right through any mediocre or generic response.  “The way i look at it, everyone has their own sort of bubble that they live in.  Inside this bubble is everything they are used to; their beliefs, their knowledge, their values.  In other words, inside this bubble is everything they feel safe with, even when the things that make them feel safe are harming them.  And because you, Rosie, are so..opinionated, and so articulate, I think often times people feel as though you’re trying to pop their bubble”

“Yes, because little girls don’t deserve to be beaten, and baby squirrels don’t deserve to be smashed.  These are conversations that need to happen, to make the world a better place.”

“But you have to understand, honey, you can’t control people.  They’re going to do what they want to do, even if it’s unhealthy and evil. And what’s more, at a certain point a person's conduct is their own business.”

“Even if it’s harming others?” she cries furiously

He shrugs “That’s the world we live in.  If you want people to like you, you have to respect their bubble.”

She leaps to her feet “Well this world sucks.  I don’t care if people like me.  I don’t want friends anymore.”  She sulks off, trying to think of a place where she won’t be found.

She climbs the stairs stealthily.  In the upper hall she has to jump to reach the cord that pulls down the stairs to the attic.  After she jumps at the ripcord a few times she finally catches and a cloud of dust falls from the hole left by a rickety pull-down staircase. She climbs into the overhead envelope of darkness. Rosie pulls the stairs up behind her, entombing herself in the sickly musk of mold and disuse.  The dying fury of a late afternoon sun filters through the yellowed window pane at the front of the house, fogged like a late stage glaucoma; the old house stares at the world.  Whoever built this place never bothered to run electricity up here, so otherwise there is no light source but the sad staring sun sinking out of view.  

Her light is running out.  The flesh on her skin begins to crawl.  She thinks she sees and feels webs, but they vanish as quickly as they appear, being so thin. It’s dim in here but flashes of her memory help her recognize her old abandoned toys; her toddler sized rocking horse, the swimming flippers from when they used to have an above ground pool, and her own girlily painted chest of drawers she abandoned when she decided to stop acting so girly.  

There’s an object at her feet that won't quite resolve into a definite shape.  She touches it and it feels rough, like it came from outside.  Luckily her flippers are bright yellow, so even at last light she can find them and slip her hands in.   She stoops down and grabs the foreign object using the flippers as gloves.  It crumbles in her hands.

She produces a match from her pocket and scrapes it against the box, puts the flame into a wax candle. The outer layers of the box had peeled.  As she thought she sees it is indeed the strange box Russ had given her years ago. Inside the rough, driftwood looking stuff was some well varnished mahogany. The patterned stains of resin on it, though intentional, made it look wild and alive, like a heart consumed by a brushfire. She can barely see it, so she takes off her rubber gloves and feels it with her hands. There’s some sort of plate attached to it; she can feel three bumps that might be screws...  

At this point there’s a screech as the stairs are being pulled back down, opening the wash of light to the main house “Rose? You--” coughing “You up here?”

Before she shoves the strange inner box into a drawer of her old girly dresser, the pattern and vivid red of the box imprint themselves in her mind, only to appear later in dreams.  The impression took an instant.  

“Yeah dad, i'm just checking out my old stuff”

“Come on down, I made pigs in a blanket.” he coughs “Wow,  I really gotta dust up here! You feel like making some signs?  We need to have a yard sale.”

Before the yard sale can happen Rosie manages to pilfer the box from the chest in the attic.  She cuts a hole in in the bottom of her mattress and hides the box in there.  She only brings it out when mom and dad aren’t home; they probably wouldn’t even know what it was, having shed it’s initial driftwood skin.   

Despite resolving to keep it hidden from the world, Rosie told Jessica immediately because she had to tell someone.  The box was sitting on the bed, the aura from it’s vibrancy filling the room.  Like it’s paint was infused with star dust.  “It looks foreign; maybe it came over with your uncle from Europe”  Jessica comments.  

“Shhh” Rosie hushes her; there are soft carpeted footsteps in the hallway accompanied by her dads idle humming.  “I usually only take it out when they’re not home”

Jessica flips her hair “You’re paranoid”

Rosie looks at Jessica seriously, despite Jessica’s stone facsimile.  Rosie already regretted telling her “This thing could be dangerous!”

“What?  It’s not like he would give you something that could harm you”

Rosie strikes the table “I’m not ruling that out!” 

“Relax!  You’re scaring me, Rosie!”

“Well then listen to me for a change.” Rosie says mock maniacally “I overheard my dad talking about Russ...Something about a lawsuit filed against him.. I think Russ may have done something horrible.  My parents are distrustful of him, not overtly--”  but she’d already lost Jessica, she was ‘liking’ away on social media, living inside her phone.

“Yeah” Jessica says without knowing the context.  There’s a crash downstairs “Shhh!” Rosie urges.  There’s laughing.  They both stare at the box, throwing that severe mahogany color across Rosie’s white desk. Jessica tosses her phone on the bed and walks over to to the box.

“The pattern doesn’t make any sense”  Rosie whispers.

“It’s a musical staff”  Jessica says.

“A staff?”

“It’s what you read music on.  The notes are like little dots” Jessica’s hand flourishes, drawing notes in the air “What, I knew something that you didn’t?” Jessica laughs.

“I don’t care about music” Rosie “you know I used to be in chorus and I hated it”  

Jessica sings her response in the melody transcribed on the box “You only hated it because you’ve always been tone deaf!”

A wet cleaving noise issues from the box. The mahogany outer layer of the box peels away, crashing against the floor. 

The girls look at one another. “Dinner is on!” Mother calls up the stairs.  The pieces of the box that fell off look almost like puzzle pieces scattered across the floor, each with it’s own unique shape and size.  The mahogany pieces strewn about the box highlight the sharp contrast between the outer mahogany pieces and the pop of yellow squash splotches adorning the newest layer.  It looked like if you bit into the soft inner belly of a dandelion.

They scramble to study the pieces, “There’s a message”  Jessica says excitedly.  Indeed, words were scrawled haphazardly on the backs of the pieces.  

Rosie eyes Jessica jealousy, feeling suddenly that these puzzles and messages were meant for her and her alone.  After all, the box was a present to Rosie.  “You know, we’d better put it away; my dad comes up to grab me if i’ve got my nose stuck in a book during the dinner call.”

Jessica’s smile fades.  She hands over the pieces to Rosie’s outstretched hand, grabs her phone off Rosie’s bed.  “You’re just pissed because I solved that layer.”  Jessica begins to storm out.

Rosie calls “You know my family set a place for you at the table”  but in response she only get’s the beam easing shatter of her room’s door slamming.

Rosie was patient.  She coveted moments for the next two weeks when her parents would leave to go grocery shopping, and in the peace and silence she could begin to assemble the fragmented pieces of the most recent layer.  The shapes were rather irregular, and just when Rosie thought the message was going to resolve into something it turned out that isnt where the piece fit at all.  It was a puzzle that appeared to have multiple solutions, but it felt like she was always giving them up to move toward the one, true solution.

It was a rainy April morning.  Rosie feigned sickness to stay home while mom and dad went to see grandma.  She wrote the message out as the last piece came into place.

Geniuses recognize the genius in every one.  We are all retarded, and we are all amazingly brilliant at the same.

In the summer heat everything started growing.  Even the suburban teenagers began to sprout as they incubate in their air conditioning.  High school was right around the corner, and Rosie waiting in the suburban sunshine boredom was ready for it to begin.  Even Jessica no longer seemed to have time for Rosie.  Rosie had spent the summer reading from the classic literature list.  She’d refused to wear makeup, well, maybe once or twice she’d attempted at sleepovers she’d been dragged to by Jessica.  Rosie always wound up sulking in a dark corner of the house, wishing she could sleep in her own bed, while the other girls pranced around in front of the mirror taking group selfies.   Rosie doesn’t bother to look at herself in the mirror.  She’d rather look at the window as she brushes her teeth.  

The Winterkorn family is celebrating Rosie’s fourteenth birthday.  There is no moon bounce this time, as it’s a challenge for the parents to get their techbound teens to want to do anything in the real world.  It was always the same lame robot cousins, the same lame kisses from aunts and uncles.  Rosie erroneously felt no familiarity from them. What gifts could anyone possibly give Rosie at this juncture?  Did they consider anything about environmental sustainability in choosing their offering? 

“Oh thanks, you destroyed a tree to give me a copy of the Bible.  As if Christ hadn’t already been rammed down my throat”  Rosie mumbles scornfully at her bedroom window.  The only friends who showed up to her party were Denise and Jessica, as a matter of rote.  Because of the proximity of their lives, Jessica and Rosie had a blood pact from when they were eight years old.  Even if they no longer liked each other, Jessica was exactly that ride or die sort of friend for Rosie. 

As for Denise; her father worked with Rosie’s father at the plant. “I told them I didn't even want a party.” Rosie explains to Denise.  Denise had long curly blonde hair, almost down to the floor as she sits in a chair.  Any woman would kill for that hair, but Denise does not ‘keep up with it’ as Jessica put it. Rosie stands casting disgusted glances out the window onto the backyard, like some general exulting their power over her soldiers.  Look at those wretches stuffing their fat faces with cake. 

Rosie scoffs, “We love you, so we’re going to spend a lot of money and create waste.  What a strange ritual”

Jessica grunts. “I’ll take your presents, if it makes you feel any better” taking selfies of her own butt in the mirror. Denise waits petrified in the corner, wishing the hammer would drop already on the present opening. Denise should’ve just stayed with her family for the duration of the hour they had committed beforehand to being here.  Jessica bullied Denise before hand into going.

“I know she’s a bitch, but I grew up with her.”  Jessica told Denise “But Rosie’s harmless.  She’ll snap out of it when she gets a boyfriend”

 Rosie rambles on “They could send all the money they spent on this frivolous display to starving children in Africa, but no.  My parents and extended family choose to spend it on streamers and balloons that will just be thrown away tomorrow, wind up in the texas sized trash island out spinning in the pacific.”

“You have parents who care enough to throw you a party” Jessica states emphatically.

Rosie takes the ‘im the birthday girl’ ribbon someone had pinned on her, tacks it to Jessica’s boob.  “There you go.  Want to trade lives? At least your parents give you space.”

“Ow.  Why are so negative all of a sudden?” Jessica smirks “I didn’t throw this stupid party”

“Don’t call my stupid party stupid!” Rosie quips, relaxing into her loveseat.

“They’re just trying to show how much they love you.  Maybe they don’t have all the words to tell you; they don’t get to sit around reading books on child psychology because they have to work. So they show love with gifts and decorations.  They’re not trying to piss you off, they’re trying to make you feel special

“Well, it’s a big freaking waste, because i'm not special.” Rosie responds sarcastically.

Jessica shakes her head “You’re so depressing.  Stop whining.” Before Rosie can respond, Jessica turns “Come on Denise, let’s get some cake”

Denise nods, happy to do anything, be anywhere, but trapped in a room with these two.

Just when the situation seems hopeless in the loneliness of her thoughts, hiding from her loved ones, Rosie hears the old rattle of a tired engine lumbering up the block. She runs to her easternmost window and sure enough, there’s Russ in her driveway, struggling to get out of the driver's seat of his battered jalopy.  It takes him a good while to hobble up the driveway--longer than Rosie’s ever seen. 

Rosie takes a couple deep breaths as Russ hobbles up the stairs.  She had lost sleep rehearsing all that she wanted to say to him.  Now that he was finally here she couldn’t remember anything. 

She hastily leaves her room, positioning the pony chair he had sat in years ago closer to the doorway complete with a wool blanket.  Rosie didn’t want to scare Russ off by hanging in there.  She makes a loop around the hall to use her parents bathroom which only the most privy of guests knew about. 

Rosie re-enters her room and sure enough, Russ is plopped down on her old pony chair.  The past couple family gatherings Rosie hadn’t run across him, as she was earthbound, out playing with beloved friends and cousins.

Russ looks alarmingly pale.  His skin is much saggier, and the wheezing has become a sort of weak roar that issued from his diaphragm.  It reminded Rosie of last night, the sound of a dying lion on nat geo.  

“Hey uncle Russ”  she says quietly, as if a loud noise might shatter him to bits. Rosie cocks an eye. “Hey Russ!” she hollers.

He gives a start and peers up at her “Oh, is that you Patricia?  Didn’t see you come in.”

She sits down on her bed in front of him.  “No uncle Russ, Patricia is my aunt. I’m your niece, Rosemary.”

He hacks into a handkerchief “Rosemary? Why, my grandmother Rosemary has been dead for twenty, thirty years”

Convinced his inability to recognize her was some sort of joke, Rosemary presses him “Yeah, I think I’m named after great great aunt Rosemary. I’m the daughter of your nephew, Jacob.  You remember your brothers son, Jacob?”

“Little bastard” he mutters

Rosemary snorts, trying not to laugh in his face “I’m Jacob’s daughter.  Remember? You made me a puzzle box for my tenth birthday?”

He looks like a grumpy old man who has crapped himself, but then his face relaxes.  He says peacefully, “I’ve made a few puzzle boxes in my day, yes.  But only for very special people.”  For the first time since they began talking, he really looks at her up and down.  Though Rosemary had her mother’s face, her curly hair was kept short for manageability, and she had the lanky rail frame of a male bodied individual “What’s so special about you?” Russ wonders aloud.  “Why would I make you a box?”

“I guess you thought I was gifted.  Smart like you, reputedly.”

Russ taps his noggin “Smart enough to fool the cops!”  he sinks back into his chair and resumes brooding.

“I got through the first layer of your puzzle box.” Rosemary continues.

“That so?”

“Yeah, I realized i needed to use something rubber to take it apart, to neutralize the charge”

Russ giggles shrilly “That’s not how it starts” he coughs and hacks.  His eyes flash and suddenly the color returns to his cheeks “You said i gave that to you years ago.  When it shocked your little grubby kid hands I take it your parents hid it in the attic.  A natural reaction, to protect you from what they perceive as harm.  I know damn well that attic of your fathers is full of mold; I built it! And what’s more, I know at the time of construction I was drinking heavily, so i didn’t seal it properly!  Mold has a taste for the binder I used to meld the outer layer of the box together; in other words, that first layer crumbling had nothing to do with your own ingenuity.  The first layer had a shelf life; it’d off come off even if you did nothing.”

He speaks slowly, as if every word was the end of his statement. “You see, sometimes, smart people’s heads get so big they attribute every problem solved to their own intentions and actions.  But really that’s not the case. Sometimes there are no problems to be solved, but smarties see the solutions so we create problems. We are always willing to take credit for solutions, even if we didn’t come up with them.  You’ll learn; most of the things that happen around you have nothing to do with you”

Rosemary sits there stupefied “Well surely, I’m the one who found that it had been solved”

Russ grabs a magazine, rolls it, and smacks her on the head with it “I told you to take the damn first route!  Play dumb!  Don’t let people know how smart you are” he sighs “Now it’s too late.  You’ve chosen your path and with that big old head of yours no one will be able to turn you around.  Now, if you want to find peace, you’re going to have to solve the whole box”

Rosemary composes herself, staring out at all the sheepish party goers.  She says “I wish I could just play dumb.  I’ve experienced nothing but condemnation for speaking my mind.  But I think it would be worse to bottle it all up, hold it inside, pretend I'm something I'm not”

Russ nods “I knew that about you since you were in diapers”

She looks at him critically “I thought you didn’t know who i was?”

He shrugs “My memory comes and goes”

Rosie goes on to tell him about the incident with September 11th.  Russ responds “You damn liberals will defend outright villains to the death.  You weren’t being intelligent; you were being a left-wing crack-pot.  How do you expect people who’ve lived in comfort and safety all their lives to react to a terrorist attack on their soil?”

“I wasn’t standing up for terrorists, i was standing up for innocent civilians”

Russ shakes his head “Afghani’s hate us.  Trust me, i’ve been there, Bush senior bought me a ticket back in desert storm.  Listen;” he leans close “Your best bet sometimes is to just keep quiet.  Also, don’t pretend you know what you don’t know.  There’s nothing wrong with a reserved silence.”

Rosemary has to admit it’s sound advice.  She then goes on to tell him about the kids killing the squirrels, and Jessica’s bruises.

Russ says dismissively, “People have been killing animals since the dawn of time.  It’s the law of nature that everything boils down to; kill or be killed.  Don’t you realize the italian beefs you just ate” indicating her plate with a shred of meat still on it “were once living animals?”

“I guess i hadn’t considered..”

“In fact, i think those boys connecting with the violence of the hunt are better off than you.  People are so far removed from what’s on their plate these days.  And you’ve got all this liberal nonsense about hunting bans.  Don’t you think it’s more humane to let animals be hunted as they roam the wild freely?  Cause the alternative is they’re born in a filthy cage and that’s it; they never taste freedom”

Rosemary actually started to shake.  She wanted to start screaming at him, but it might give him a heart attack.  And after all, deep down, she knew he had a point.  

Rosemary blurts “Oh yeah so i should just stand by while a bunch of sadistic misogynist pigs decimate the land, just because i'm a hypocrite.  I should just shut my big mouth and then maybe people will like me, and i can be as fake as all these consumer whores standing out there stuffing their fat faces”

“Your damn right you should” Russ asserts, banging his cane on the floor “You’ve lived thirteen years and you think you know every damn thing under the sun! I know, i was just like you!” he laughs heartily.

“Fourteen you old coot! Yeah! And i should just stand by silently while my best friend is beaten by her drunken shell of a wage slave stepfather!  Just act like the teachers and therapists; nobody sees it!” the tears are streaming down her face.

Russ’s eyes go wide “well now hold on a minute missy? What was that?” 

“And you know, name calling, calling me a liberal, does nothing to my argument.  I can’t wait for all you baby boomers to just die so we can start to clean up your mess from the fallout of the industrial apocalypse.  Just put the plug that old colostomy of yours and croak already you old piece of shit”  she runs out of the room bawling, slamming through the crowd that has gathered outside her door to watch the argument.

Russ sits there absorbed, unaware of the people watching him.  He just looks out the window, nodding. 

Rosemary sees Arif entering her party as she runs out of the house.  To his surprise she wraps her arms around him and weeps on his shoulder. 

Another Summer comes and goes.  Rosemary will never forget he tears in her mother's eyes when she announced she was dropping her extra curricular activities.  Rosemary went from AP to simple honors courses, much to the dismay of Counselor Miss Magpie at school.  Rosemary began to spend all her time in the woods alone.  After awhile she stopped bringing books.  She had a far walk to get to the places that weren’t poisoned by the river’s flood.  The plants and animals had all turned grey with the soot of exhaust and industry.  It was more like walking through a perfectly preserved mausoleum than a living forest.  Everything was still on the days without wind.  The toad’s her and jessica used to catch had vanished because of the pollution.  

During this time she took up smoking.  She never liked it and the habit didn’t last long. She spent a lot of time watching the ripples in the river, studying the dendritic patterns of the branches.  She tried not to think.  Rosemary wanted to be an unthinking plant.  She had read the tao te ching multiple times and it still made no sense to her.  Maybe that was the idea.  She tried to forget everything she had learned about literature and trigonometry.  None of these things had helped her.  She didn’t want to be successful.  She didn’t want to be used by this corporate world.  Look at the state of her beloved forest.  Was the ruin of nature man’s greatest aspiration?

Rosemary watched a spider drowning in the river and came to the realization that the universe does not care about organic life any more than it cares about minerals.  It can not hear our cries.

When school starts again Rosemary is summoned by her counselor.  Multiple people in her classes have begun to complain about her body odor, and her teachers have become concerned with her overall effect.   

“Have a seat Rosie!” her bright cheery highlight haired hoop earring wearing counselor, Miss Magpie, says.

Rosemary sits, doesn’t bother to correct the childish shortening of her name.  

“How have you been?” Magpie asks.

Rosemary shrugs “Good”

“You know Rosie, that’s not a feeling word.”

Rosemary sighs “That’s my way of communicating, I guess i’m not articulate enough to please your master’s level psych vocabulary”

“Rosie--i’ve been working with you for a decade, I know you’re more articulate than that.”

“I want to express myself non verbally”

“Very well, i can dig it” Magpie laughs and Rosie has to struggle not to cringe. Magpie has never seen Rosie like this; she chalked it up immediately to that time of the month, that time of life.  “So I called you in here because some of your friends have been expressing concern about your..hygiene, not to mention some very emotional poetry you’ve been reading”

“Not just reading, I wrote them”

Magpie had read one about wanting to die in the forest so the starving wolves can feed on her carcass.  “Are you sure your doing ‘good’? Your friends are worried about you”

“I don’t have any friends”

“Well now, you’re being unreasonable; that’s just not true.  Just the other day, someone came in and said they think your having a really hard time--”

“--it was Jessica”

“Well See? You have at least one friend”

“Friend typically denotes a mutual respect and sympathy for one another.  Such a relationship no longer exists between Jessica and I.  I have no such relationship with any one”

“I can’t speak for her, honey; you should talk to her”

“Why haven’t you reported her bruises to CPS?” Rosemary asks pointedly.

And suddenly bright and cheery Magpie frowns “I’m not at liberty to discuss another student’s personal situation with you”

“Just like they’d find a way to fire you if you wrongly accused Randon Crabshaw of assaulting his stepdaughter”

“You are way out of line, missy” Magpie snaps.

“At least i have a spine, and im not some pussy useless counselor showing compliance with child abuse.”

And then Magpie screams “Report and proof is a long arduous process! Do you know how counselors are implicated in law suits? I could lose my license! What do you know, you little spoiled upperclass brat?!”

Rosemary smiles, nodding.  She removes the recorder from her pocket and hits stop.  “You’re going to help me get that scumbag out of Jessica’s house, or I’ll take your verbal assault on my already fragile ego to the principal”

Now Magpie was really on the ropes “You don’t know what you’re doing; you’re out of your element.  Do you know how this destroys people’s lives?”

Rosie chuckles “Do you know what it means to be a designated reporter?”  Magpie tries to make a grab for the recorder, but Rosemary slips out of the office.

Rosemary had to get on the horn and threaten negligence to even get CPS to come investigate.  Magpie had minimal involvement, only enough to get CPS to check it out.  The night the cops showed up at Jessica’s, Rosemary was waiting on the corner on her bicycle.  She knew they would find the needles lying all over the coffee table inside the home, with stuff cooked and ready to go.  Everytime Rosemary came by the rigs were out.  Randon sold to kids all over the neighborhood, as young as 11.  

They took him out in cuffs.  Had the local boys in blue over with lights blaring.  The whole neighborhood came out, it was a real show.  Rosemary smoked and ate Juju’s in the sickly street lamp light down the block and for the first time in her life felt that she had surely done the right thing.  The guy’d even tried to lay hands on Rosemary once, when she was so young she didn’t understand what had happened.  In the glow of the sirens Randon Crabshaw looked over at thin Rosemary, leaning like a ghost haunting the fluorescent yellow streets.  And he must have known it was her, judging by the scowl he gave her as the cops shoved his head into the backseat.

In the glow of her room Jessica was crying in the window.  Rosemary couldn’t tell if Jessica saw her.

A few days later, on her walk to school, Rosemary heard a shout behind her.  “Are you happy now?!”

Rosie turns just in time to see Jessica’s face low like a bull before Rosemary’s tackled onto her back onto someone's lawn.  Her glasses go flying.  “You just have to meddle in people’s lives, control everything, do what you think is right” Jessica raves, kicking Rosemary in the ribs “Now my mother is alone and the nightmares are coming back.  She can’t work because of her hand, so now we have to get on public assistance and live in section 8 housing in the ghetto, did you ever think of that?!”

She spits on Rosie, whose face is already wet from crying.  It smells like vodka “Have you been drinking?” Rosie asks.

“All these strangers, these counselors opening all these wounds and dragging up all this shit and abuse i don’t want to talk about”

“So what if your suddenly poor?  Isn’t being healthy more important?”

“At least he provided for us.  Bought me makeup.  Kept my mom in her dresses.  He was going to buy me a car, you dumb bitch!”

“You know those were empty promises.”

“Fuck you Rosie.  Stay out of my life” Jessica left her there, covered in blood and spit.  

Rosie lays in bed bruised, wearing a headlamp.  She stares out her window at the opened sky, globs of rain released onto the masses.  The wind blows and gets knocked over and babies get swept away in the current and nobody cares. Rosie told her family that she fell down the stairs.  Rosie could tell mom knew it was a lie; indeed, Mom behaved as if she understood exactly what happened.  She was friends with Jessica’s mother on facebook after all.  Her parents gave Rosie the benefit of the doubt and let her stay home from school.  Mom was downstairs toiling in the kitchen, Dad was at whatever he called work.  

Rosie snuck off the mattress, got on her knees and lifted it enough to reach into it and snatch the box.  She gets under the covers with it and in the dark red glow from the sunlight shining through her blanket she turns on her headlamp.  This layer of the box is yellow like the rust on a full moon.  Is surface is also craterous, less like the impact of a meteorite than the trails of a microscopic fungus eating away at the wood.  

With the box she stashed the previous pieces that had fallen away.  One side was the vivid red, the other carved into with the message.  The pieces seemed to want to fit together in ways other than how they were, like there were magnets in the wood they would fasten and become stuck.  Eventually Rosie was left with the message tool and an elongated chunk of puzzle pieces shaped like a screwdriver.

She searches around feeling on the surface of the craterous luminary object.  Inside the fungus eaten craters she feels with her fingertips that there are right angled notches.  The strange puzzle too could find a grip in there at first.  Rosie reversed the side and it caught.

She only needed to unscrew two of the craters for the next layer to fall off.  Inside was a rock of what appeared to be onyx.  This would leave her stumped for some time. It would be a full year before she went to College and had access to a thermal imaging device via her dorm mate Stacy.  They will subject this small crystalline stone to thermal imaging analysis and find that the positioning of the metallic pieces, when plotted on an three dimensional XYZ plane, all intersect at a point whose coordinates correspond to a place not far from town.  They would have to hike up a couple thousand feet before they found the Geo-cash Russ meant for her.  On the way Rosie would have only her second kiss with a girl.  She would become a gold star among the lesbian community, having never touched a penis.  

Inside the Geocache was something that you would never give a seventeen year old, let alone a ten year old for her birthday--A hunting knife.  To get through the next layer they would have to wash the box in a warm deer's blood.  

Sometimes you gotta get violent if you want to survive.

But this was a long way in the future, a long way away from Rosie’s current bruised state.  For now she would toss around in bed, struggling with the box’s crystalline state, not knowing as a child that her own innocence was sealed within.  Through it’s surface you could view the edges of sharp metallic things suspended inside. 

Let go of the fear of being wrong, the fear of being the minority.  People will eventually listen to what you’re saying, they’ll just think they came to the conclusion on their own. 

They’ll label you as mentallly unstable, so that you second guess everything you do.  In the months that follow, her house gets egged, her mail box attacked.  She screws up the curve on all the test.  Teachers no longer feel the need to call on her.  It’s easier to tear something apart then it is to create something.  All young intellectuals start by rebelling at the structures that be.  If you want to make friends, you have to offer them something.   You cant just tear down their whole belief system and leave them stranded.

In the lonely years that followed her fight with Jessica, Rosemary spent much of her time learning to sing in the woods. Her cell phone was left under her bed at home.  She mostly liked to sing gospel and church hymns, though she hadn’t an ounce of religion or spirituality to be found anywhere within her bones.  She liked to lose herself in the melodies, embracing the flats and the sharps of her limited range, and pretend that she believed in something.

Though she wouldn’t let on, Rosemary paid close attention to Jessica in the halls during those final days of high school.  Jessica would not so much glance at Rosemary. Jessica looked like she was wasting away.  She had become skinny, almost to the point of anorexic, and the bruises on her arms and legs had been replaced with new marks, tracks they had started to call them.  

Rosemary felt no obligations toward anyone.  After having pushed herself so hard in her youth, she began to appreciate idleness and stoicism.  She began smoking weed frequently, always alone and in the woods.  The only things she read were for pleasure, usually fiction, and she often did not even bother to finish books.  She watched people lie to themselves each day, polluting the earth; she watched hunters leaving town on their way to kill some newly born babies for sport.  And she was at peace as she felt no particular way about it any longer; she had let go and given up on the earth. Just like everyone else, she figured.

Even television seemed suddenly appealing.  She watched the silly lifetime dramas with her mother, forced tears out to hug and cry.   She found it easier to relate to idealized actors than the people around her.  But all at once she knew deep down she was in a vast, empty labyrinth of ideas, and she was drowning, and if she didn’t come up for air soon some wonderful, bright part of her was going to break off and atrophy forever.

“Say dad, what’s uncle Russ’s number?” she finally worked up the courage to ask one day.

He studies her, perplexed “I don’t think he can hear you, even if he was conscious”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you get my text, Rose?”

She shrugs “I haven’t turned my phone on in weeks”

Father scratches his head in that way when she knows he’s stalling “Well, Russ is in the hospital.  His heart finally gave, again. He’s been fighting an uphill battle, well, since you were born.  I texted you about it because after that blow out at your fourteenth birthday,  I figured you wouldn’t be too concerned about him”

She nods and begins to walkaway, opens his car door and gets in the passenger seat.  “Come on, we’re going to see the old bastard.”

Father drops the knick knacks he’s holding on the table “What’s gotten into you?”

“Well, even if he’s not my favorite person, he’s family”

They really had him done up in the hospital.  All sorts of tubes going in and out of him.  An EKG wired into his chest.  A dilaudid drip.  Boy, this was the life, Rosemary thought.  Blissfully unconscious.  Or maybe, was his spirit hovering just over the ceiling, watching?

Her father had gotten onto talking about what he knew about Russ, unprovoked.  “He worked as an engineer for a major car manufacturer in Detroit during the big boom.  He was often down on the assembly line with the boys, making sure his automated equipment was functioning, always wanting to know the risk for the grunt assembly line employees.  He worried a lot about people, and what his machines could do to them”

“There was a huge stink about some faulty parts that came out of there.  In a collision the frame of the vehicle was about as useful as a saltine cracker at protecting it’s passengers.  Russ apparently tried to warn his Supervisor, who was headstrong, and also liked to get down on the assembly and do things himself if it wasn’t too dangerous. Russ had warned his supervisor numerous times how dangerous it was down there, and how when the line jammed it could lurch forward at any moment.”

“This supervisor had slept with one of Russ’s buddies wives at the plant.  Every body knew about it but the guy himself; he was gullible, trusting friend of Russ’s, but not all that bright.  This supervisor also was kept on the job because when changes to the manufacturing process that endangered both the employees and the consumers came around, the executives up in their ivory towers knew this supervisor would always give the green light.  He’d approve any of their changes and talk the changes up like they were beneficial to the people.  He was a real suck up”

“Russ never shared all the details about that day.  In fact he never said a damn thing.  But it was all over the news; they offered Russ plea deal after deal, negligence as opposed to second degree murder.  But he fought it and he won.  Russ would fight a lion with a broken mop.  That’s just the kind of guy he was, made him real hard to get along with, or even associate with at times.”

“Anyway, on that day, allegedly Russ had orchestrated a very intricate issue with the manufacturing line in the chasse department.  He had also the night before at work instructed all assembly line employees to under no circumstances, no matter how much the supervisor bitched, er, complained,  go on the assembly line to fix a jam on that day.  Well, the jam came, and after a couple hours at a standstill with dollar signs flying out the window, the supervisor decided to climb up there himself”

“Whatever it was that happened next you can look up yourself in the multiple testimonies of the employees who were there.  Russ had conveniently taken lunch on that hour.  But the story is, the assembly line juiced the supervisor.  I mean, there was nothing left of the supervisor.  Splat.  They had to clean up the mess with the mop, take what was left of him out in buckets.  They could never pin it on Russ, as his lawyer proved he was at least seven degrees of separation removed from the incident.  But it was just kind of always implied, based on the person Russ was..”

“He murdered an evil man”  Rosemary says thoughtfully.

Years later, around the time she is accepted into medical school, Rosie comes to the final layer of the box after dissolving the previous layer in her own bile.  The message read 

The final layer inside is nothing but a bomb.  Curiosity kills the cat every time.  You can only push your human brain so far before you hurt yourself and those around you.  I implore you to stop here.  It was never intended for you to get this far.  Please stop.  I love you.  

Just as Bull headed as Rosie always was, she goes about trying to figure out how to open it anyway.

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Dirty Freight Riding Crypto Man-Child Writer Reader Guy

Tales from the Mouth of the Horse
Tales from the Mouth of the Horse

Could be about anything, but none of it is necessarily True

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