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Igms issue 4, p.12

IGMS Issue 4, page 12


IGMS Issue 4

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  Mother got up from the table and returned to her room.

  Alessandra finished her homework and put it into her backpack and then went and sat on the sofa and stared at the nonfunctioning television. She remembered coming home every day from school, for all these years, and there was Mother, every time, flitting through the house, full of silly talk about fairies and magic and all the beautiful things she did during the day and all the while, the thing she did during the day was fight the monster to keep it from getting into the house, getting its clutches on little Alessandra.

  It explained the hunger. It explained the electricity. It explained everything.

  It didn't mean Mother wasn't crazy. But now the craziness made a kind of sense. And the colony meant that finally Mother would be free. It wasn't Alessandra who was ready for emancipation.

  She got up and went to the door and tapped on it. "I say we sleep during the voyage."

  A long wait. Then, from the other side of the door, "That's what I think, too." After a moment, Mother added, "There'll be a young man for you in that colony. A fine young man with prospects."

  "I believe there will," said Alessandra. "And I know he'll adore my happy, crazy mother. And my wonderful mother will love him too."

  And then silence.

  It was unbearably hot inside the flat. Even with the windows open, the air wasn't stirring so there was no relief for it. Alessandra lay on the sofa in her underwear, wishing the upholstery weren't so soft and clinging. She lay on the floor, thinking that maybe the air was a tiny bit cooler there because hot air rises. Only the hot air in the flat below must be rising and heating the floor so it didn't help, and the floor was too hard.

  Or maybe it wasn't, because the next morning she woke up on the floor and there was a breath of a breeze coming in off the Adriatic and Mother was frying something in the kitchen.

  "Where did you get eggs?" asked Alessandra after she came back from the toilet.

  "I begged," said Mother.

  "One of the neighbors?"

  "A couple of the neighbors' chickens," said Mother.

  "No one saw you?"

  "No one stopped me, whether they saw me or not."

  Alessandra laughed and hugged her. She went to school and this time was not too proud to eat the charity lunch, because she thought: My mother paid for this food for me.

  That night there was food on the table, and not just food, but fish and sauce and fresh vegetables. So Mother must have turned in the final papers and received the signing bonus. They were going.

  Mother was scrupulous. She took Alessandra with her when she went to both of the neighbors' houses where chickens were kept, and thanked them for not calling the police on her, and paid them for the eggs she had taken. They tried to refuse, but she insisted that she could not leave town with such a debt unpaid, that their kindness was still counted for them in heaven, and there was kissing and crying and Mother walked, not in her pretend fairy way, but light of step, a woman who has had a burden taken from her shoulders.

  Two weeks later, Alessandra was on the net at school and she learned something that made her gasp out loud, right there in the library, so that several people rushed toward her and she had to flick to another view and then they were all sure she had been looking at pornography but she didn't care, she couldn't wait to get home and tell Mother the news.

  "Do you know who the governor of our colony is going to be?"

  Mother did not know. "Does it matter? He'll be an old fat man. Or a bold adventurer."

  "What if it's not a man at all? What if it's a boy, a mere boy of thirteen or fourteen, a boy so brilliantly smart and good that he saved the human race?"

  "What are you saying?"

  "They've announced the crew of our colony ship. The pilot of the ship will be Mazer Rackham, and the governor of the colony will be Ender Wiggin."

  Now it was Mother's turn to gasp. "A boy? They make a boy the governor?"

  "He commanded the fleet in the war, he can certainly govern a colony," said Alessandra.

  "A boy. A little boy."

  "Not so little. My age."

  Mother turned to her. "What, you're so big?"

  "I'm big enough, you know. As you said -- of child-bearing age!"

  Mother's face turned reflective. "And the same age as Ender Wiggin."

  Alessandra felt her face turning red. "Mother! Don't think what I know you're thinking!"

  "And why not think it? He'll have to marry somebody on that distant lonely world. Why not you?" Then Mother's face also turned red and she fluttered her hands against her cheeks. "Oh, oh, Alessandra, I was so afraid to tell you, and now I'm glad, and you'll be glad!"

  "Tell me what?"

  "You know how we decided to sleep through the voyage? Well, I got to the office to turn in the paper, but I saw that I had accidentally checked the other box, to stay awake and study and be in the first wave of colonists. And I thought, what if they don't let me change the paper? And I decided, I'll make them change it! But when I sat there with the woman I became afraid and I didn't even mention it, I just turned it in like a coward. But now I see I wasn't a coward, it was God guiding my hand, it truly was. Because now you'll be awake through the whole voyage. How many fourteen-year-olds will there be on the ship, awake? You and Ender, that's what I think. The two of you."

  "He's not going to fall in love with a stupid girl like me."

  "You get very good grades and besides, a smart boy isn't looking for a girl who is even smarter, he's looking for a girl who will love him. He's a soldier who will never come home from the war. You will become his friend. A good friend. It will be years before it's time for him and you to marry. But when that time comes he'll know you."

  "Maybe you'll marry Mazer Rackham."

  "If he's lucky," said Mother. "But I'll be content with whatever old man asks me, as long as I can see you happy."

  "I will not marry Ender Wiggin, Mother. Don't hope for what isn't possible."

  "Don't you dare tell me what to hope for. But I will be content for you merely to become his friend."

  "I'll be content merely to see him and not wet my pants. He's the most famous human being in the world, the greatest hero in all of history."

  "Not wetting your pants, that's a good first step. Wet pants don't make a good impression."

  The school year ended. They received instructions and tickets. They would take the train to Napoli and then fly to Kenya, where the colonists from Europe and Africa were gathering to take the shuttle into space. Their last few days were spent in doing all the things they loved to do in Monopoli -- going to the wharf, to the little parks where she had played as a child, to the library, saying good-bye to everything that had been pleasant about their lives in the city. To Father's grave, to lay their last flowers there. "I wish you could have come with us," whispered Mother, but Alessandra wondered -- if he had not died, would they have needed to go into space to find happiness?

  They got home late on their last night in Monopoli, and when they reached the flat, there was Grandmother on the front stoop of the building. She rose to her feet the moment she saw them and began screaming, even before they were near enough to hear what she was saying.

  "Let's not go back," said Alessandra. "There's nothing there that we need."

  "We need clothing for the journey to Kenya," said Mother. "And besides, I'm not afraid of her."

  So they trudged on up the street, as neighbors looked out to see what was going on. Grandmother's voice became clearer and clearer. "Ungrateful daughter! You plan to steal away my beloved granddaughter and take her into space! I'll never see her again, and you didn't even tell me so I could say good-bye! What kind of monster does that! You never cared for me! You leave me alone in my old age -- what kind of duty is that? You in this neighborhood, what do you think of a daughter like that? What a monster has been living among you, a monster of ingratitude!" And on and on.

  But Alessandra felt no shame. Tomorrow these would not be her neig
hbors. She did not have to care. Besides, any of them with sense would realize: No wonder Dorabella Toscano is taking her daughter away from this vile witch. Space is barely far enough to get away from this hag.

  Grandmother got directly in front of Mother and screamed into her face. Mother did not speak, merely sidestepped around her and went to the door of the building. But she did not open the door. She turned around and held out her hand to stop Grandmother from speaking.

  Grandmother did not stop.

  But Mother simply continued to hold up her hand. Finally Grandmother wound up her rant by saying, "So now she wants to speak to me! She didn't want to speak to me for all these weeks that she's been planning to go into space, only when I come here with my broken heart and my bruised face will she bother to speak to me, only now! So speak already! What are you waiting for! Speak! I'm listening! Who's stopping you?"

  Finally Alessandra stepped between them and screamed into Grandmother's face, "Nobody can speak till you shut up!"

  Grandmother slapped Alessandra's face. It was a hard slap, and it knocked Alessandra a step to the side.

  Then Mother held out an envelope to grandmother. "Here is all the money that's left from our signing bonus. Everything I have in all the world except the clothes we take to Kenya. I give it to you. And now I'm done with you. You've taken the last thing you will ever get from me. Except this."

  She slapped Grandmother hard across the face.

  Grandmother staggered, and was about to start screaming when Mother, light-hearted fairy-born Dorabella Toscano, put her face into Grandmother's and screamed, "Nobody ever, ever, ever hits my little girl!" Then she jammed the envelope with the check in it into Grandmother's blouse, took her by the shoulders, turned her around, and gave her a shove down the street.

  Alessandra threw her arms around her mother and sobbed. "Mama, I never understood till now, I never knew."

  Mother held her tight and looked over her shoulder at the neighbors who were watching, awestruck. "Yes," she said, "I am a terrible daughter. But I am a very, very good mother!"

  Several of the neighbors applauded and laughed, though others clucked their tongues and turned away. Alessandra did not care.

  "Let me look at you," said Mother.

  Alessandra stepped back. Mother inspected her face. "A bruise, I think, but not too bad. It will heal quickly. I think there won't be a trace of it left by the time you meet that fine young man with prospects."

  Just Like Me

  by David Lubar

  Artwork by Lance Card

  * * *

  "Thanks. It's very nice," Deb said as she lifted the skirt from the box. She tried to sound pleased. It wasn't all that bad a skirt, but it was the sort of style she'd stopped wearing several years ago. Maybe she could exchange it for a something she liked.

  "You'll look so cute in it," her mom said. She pointed at the pile of empty boxes and smiled. "A present seems to be missing."

  "Really?" Deb asked. That was more like it. Each birthday, she got one very special gift from her mom. So far, there'd been no sign of it.

  "Stay right here. I've been saving the best for last." Her smile turned into a grin as she dashed out of the living room.

  Deb wondered whether her mother had gotten her the DVD player she'd asked for. Or maybe it was her own television for her bedroom. Either would be great. She knew it would be unreasonable to hope for both.

  A moment later, her mom returned with a package that was about twice the size of a shoe box. Deb's hopes slowly deflated as she took the present.

  "Thanks." She shook it. Something solid clunked against the sides of the box. It didn't feel heavy enough for a DVD player, and it was too small to be a television.

  "Careful," her mom said. "You'll hurt her."

  Her? Deb removed the paper. Since this was the last present, she didn't want to rush. Once the presents were opened, she felt that the rest of the birthday was pretty much just like any other day.

  Beneath the wrapping paper, she found a pink cardboard box. Curly white letters on the lid read, Just Like Me.

  Puzzled, Deb removed the lid. Then she pulled aside the pink tissue paper that covered the contents. "Oh my . . ." She found herself staring at her own face -- smaller, hard, and unmoving, but still her own face, right down to the dark brown bangs that covered her forehead and the light brown freckles that dusted her cheeks. Bangs? Not anymore. Deb put a hand to her head. She'd changed her hair style half a year ago.

  "Like it?" her mom asked.

  Deb nodded, though she wasn't sure how she felt. She was too old for dolls. She'd packed all of hers away the last time she'd cleaned her room. Looking more closely, she realized the doll appeared sort of young.

  "There's a man up in Gilford who makes them," her mom said. "He uses a photograph."

  "Which picture did you send?" Deb asked.

  "That wonderful shot from the summer before last. I think he did a fabulous job. It looks just like you."

  "It's great, Mom," Deb said. She picked up the doll, but she didn't hold it too close. She felt strangely uncomfortable when she looked into the small version of her own face. It was like last year, when she'd been in the school play. The first time she'd seen her face in a mirror wearing stage makeup, the site had made her feel weird. Everything was familiar, but also slightly odd.

  Her mom smiled. "I knew you'd like it. I couldn't wait to give it to you."

  Deb carried the doll up to her room and looked for a place to put it. She couldn't bring herself to give the thing a name. What could she call it? Little Deb? Deb the Second? Young Deb? No. For now, the doll was an it. But she needed a place for it. Deb knew her mom would be hurt if she stuck the doll in a closet. Or in the trash. She settled for putting it on the shelf that ran along the wall above her head board. That way, at least, she wouldn't see the doll when she was lying in bed.

  Before she went to sleep, she checked online. The company that made the doll had a web site. To her horror, she discovered the doll cost more than a DVD player and a TV put together. What a waste, she thought as she got in bed.

  When Deb woke up the next morning, she felt something hard next to her head. She reached out, her eyes still closed, and felt cold plastic. And wiry hair. Deb sat up fast, letting out a gasp.

  The doll was in bed with her. It must have fallen, Deb thought as she scooted away from it. But that wouldn't explain how the doll had ended up tucked under the blanket next to her. Deb didn't want to think about that. She put the doll back on the shelf and went down for breakfast.

  "Could you get the paper?" her mom asked when Deb walked into the kitchen.

  "Sure." Deb threw on her coat and went out to the front lawn.

  When she got back to the kitchen, she nearly dropped the paper. The doll was sitting at the kitchen table, perched in a chair, boosted by a stack of books.

  "I thought she should join us," Deb's mom said.

  Deb nodded and took a seat. She noticed her mom had set a place for the doll.

  "So," her mom asked. "Have you given her a name yet?"

  "No," Deb said. "I'm still thinking about it."

  "How about Jean?" her mom suggested.

  "But . . ." Deb said. Jean was her own middle name. Her dad had come up with Deb. Her mom had come up with Jean. So they'd named her Deborah Jean.

  Her mom stroked the doll's hair. "Yes. Jean. I like that. Don't you?"

  "Sure, Mom," Deb said. "Jean is a great name." She glanced up at the clock. "I'd better get going." She grabbed her back pack and hurried down the hall toward the front door. As she looked over her shoulder, she saw Jean sitting at the table, staring with eyes that never moved, waiting patiently for someone to pick her up or stroke her hair and tell her what a good girl she was.

  When Deb got home from school, she found Jean on the couch. Deb always sat on the left corner of the couch to do her homework. Her mom had put Jean there. Deb moved the doll to the other side of the room, into the large leather chair her dad had love
d to lounge in. The chair he'd always sat in before he'd left last year.

  Deb sat on the couch and started her homework. A few minutes later, she heard her mom coming down the hall. She realized her mom would want to know why she'd moved Jean. Deb ran over and brought Jean back to the couch, placing her on the middle cushion.

  "Oh, don't the two of you look cute," Deb's mom said. She walked over to the couch and gave Deb a hug. Then she reached down and patted Jean. "What an adorable pair." She raised her other hand, which held a brush, and started brushing Jean's hair.

  "We're not a pair," Deb muttered. Her own scalp tingled as she spoke. She turned away from the doll and continued working on her homework, trying to ignore the tuneless drone of her mother's humming.

  Jean joined the family for dinner that night. Once again, Deb's mom set a plate for the doll. At least she didn't give her any food, Deb thought as she ate her meal.

  That evening, after the three of them watched television, Deb's mom stood up and said, "Bed time, Deborah Jean."

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