sidebrow

from Transformer

Lutz Junior


Lutz Junior closed the bathroom door and locked it. The window was half open above the bathroom sink and she saw a solid dirt wall behind the window with a thin shard of a crack in it. Carrying her pail, she climbed onto the sink and shimmied through the crack until she was outside pinioned to the roof. She climbed down a pipe on the side of the low, black building until she was standing, panting, in the lot.


It was hazy and noiseless. There was a groggy, dirty pigeon limping with a metal ring around one claw. Lutz Junior leaned against the building for a moment, and closed her eyes. She walked around to the front door pretending that Sorrel would be there but she knew she would not be.


Lutz Junior looked at the front of the building. The door they’d walked through not fifteen minutes earlier had melded with the walls. The sun was high.


She circumnavigated the building, counting the number of steps it took to get around it. There were a set of stairs on each side of the building, four sets all told, and at the top of each small flight, a door with no outer handle and stained glass depictions of gods, behind mesh. She climbed to the roof of the building where she found a lattice of four skylights. She gingerly crept, on her stomach, over the glass looking down.


In one room, she saw a family eating breakfast. A little girl was eating cereal with a mother and father. They drank orange juice and coffee. There was nothing in the room but the table, the food, the juice, the crockery, the cutlery, a pitcher, and the people, sitting on small wooden benches. Every time the little girl opened her mouth to speak, Lutz heard very small bells chiming. When the father spoke, Lutz heard a vibrating gong. When the mother spoke, she heard tinkling, suggestive chimes. They absorbed each other’s vocal resonances as meaning.


The child appeared to be asking the same question over and over, and the parents appeared to be giving the same response. The child smiled.


Lutz crawled a little further along on her belly to see over another family. There was a crowd, maybe twenty-five people in a courtyard, many adults, teenagers, and children running all over, as well as animal babies, old people and old animals, laying or sitting in corners observing, or tending to some personal chore.


Lutz sidled along the glass to see down into a bedroom where a few grown people, several children, and a couple of babies slept in one giant bed. A baby was awake. It kicked quietly and it’s eyes looked up at Lutz. A young woman sat up slowly, picked up the baby, wrapped its blanket tighter and crooned a lullaby: you appear/ like a dream/ I do not know/ whose dream/ you are here/ my own dear/ mystery/ you and me/ who are we?


Lutz continued, keeping her body light so as not to crack the glass, she inched over to the last window. There she saw Hare, the cat, and the two stick-thin men. They were in the long ill lit hall, watching television. Where was she? Suddenly they all looked up.







[television]







Lutz Junior quickly climbed down from the roof and ran to The Swan but it was closed. She walked two blocks further and came to a sandwich board in front of a gate, at the side of a faded mansion. The sign pointed to the back of the mansion. In colored chalk, there was a drawing of the back of a girls’ head, with a slit in it. Underneath it said something that Lutz Junior could not read. Lutz Junior looked around behind the house and saw something she had never seen before, a small, canvas dome with a fluttering, multicolored carapace.







[sign with back of girls’ head with slit in it]







Dido


Dido had cut sixth grade more than her other friends and was finally expelled. She had skipped five grades, but was so much taller and more talkative than her classmates, that no one guessed her true age was seven. Her parents also seemed to have forgotten. They asked her if she would rather join the military or go to boarding school. Neither, she said, I’d like to live on my own, but I don’t have any money yet. Her parents said, why don’t you stay with us, get a job, save money, and then move out. That’s what teenagers usually do. Can I stay in the backyard? She asked. No way, her mother said. There isn’t enough room in the yard for you, what with our weekend parquet games, her father said. But there’s plenty of room and I’ll only be in a tent, Dido protested. If you promise you’ll stick to your tent then I guess it’s OK, her father said. Yes, alright, her mother said, you can stay in the yard but only in the tent. You promise? Dido said. Yes, they repeated in unison, looking at their watches. Swear to God? And they hesitated. For that meant something to them. They were scared of God and wouldn’t dare lie to him, because he could sneak in and catch them. He was a policeman. Yes, they said reverently with their heads rolling back and their hands on their eyes, we swear to God you can live in the yard in a tent. Dido left them in a trance of absorption and went and bought a small circus tent from a local circus with her mother’s credit card. She hid the tent under a truck with no engine.


When her parents left she set up the circus tent and a sandwich board in front of the house with a sign. When her first patron came Dido was ready with a trick. She ushered her audience into a seat and sat across from her. Dido said, and now, I will tell you what you are thinking. The girl nodded her head agreeing. You were thinking about how you were going to narrate this experience to someone, am I right? The girl nodded. And now, for a quarter, I will tell you what you are thinking, again. The girl handed her a quarter. You are thinking how you will narrate that you were thinking that you would narrate this experience, and then that I told you so, true? The girl nodded, beamed and handed over another quarter. You want me to tell you what you are thinking again? The girl nodded. You are thinking how you will narrate that you were going to narrate that you were thinking that you would narrate this experience, and that I knew it, yes? She paused. The girl nodded again, smiling hugely. Dido asked do you speak English? Lutz Junior shrugged. She drew a picture of a blue van on blocks. Dido made her a map.




Lutz Junior


Lutz Junior followed the map. She recognized a corner store that she had stolen candy from, and suddenly she knew where she was, she knew the way home. She walked fast until she saw the blue van parked on blocks in the park. She ran to the van and then snuck up to it. She peeked in the window and saw her mother listening to an interview on the radio, tears rolling down her face. Lutz Junior could not understand the questions, they were muffled, mumbled as if from behind a thick hand, but she heard the respondent clearly:


Subordinated children learn early that relations are likely to be betrayed. To protect the feelings of intimates, they use a veil of lies. They must mobilize lies, because even though the lies shake everything up, it is a form of survival, when there is no time not to react to threat. They must lie to whomever has control over resources they do not have but need.


They have an aspiration for normalcy, which is to say, safety, a future. Lacking a ballast they learn to improvise.


People have children even if they don’t want them because they want to represent or attempt continuity. They try to reproduce normalcy formally, gesturally because they don’t really trust that people are with them.


One holds the space open for the possibility that one could be loved. The fantasy of having emotional reciprocity is all that’s left. Gestures of gallantry signify a world of possible conviviality: the world could be kind, maybe.


All of the forms of ballast are like zombie forms–when all of human creativity is caught up in not drowning, you live as if. 1


The mother listened avidly, nodding her head and wringing her hands, a blown glass teardrop hanging suspended above her head shapely and limpid, so realistic. If that tear dropped over her head, it seemed like it would envelope her and she would suffocate.


Lutz Junior went around to the van door and pushed it open. Her mother turned and her face dropped. She shook her head vigorously from side to side. The tear quivered but did not fall. Lutz Junior yelled out. Her mother yelled back, I don’t want to. Lutz Junior yelled, I want my mommy! Her mother yelled louder, no words at all, a yell that wouldn’t stop. Her mouth was a grizzled cave of refusal. Why do you demand the impossible? She shrieked. That is the last line: what could possibly follow? We are not in a loop anymore, or on a trajectory, but in a scene unchanged.





1 Paraphrased and cut-up from a lecture on La Promesse given at University of Chicago by Lauren Berlant