MORNING AT THE APPLEBY’S
I could hear them through my shut bedroom door. Out in the hallway.
It didn’t matter who said what. How anyone can be so Goddamn cheerful in the morning is beyond me. I don’t give a fuck if it’s Friday.
I knew the knock was coming. Every morning the dreaded knock, like a gunshot splitting the fine air of a breathless day in some far away marshland where I wanted to be.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.
For Godsakes Doris, do you honestly think I don’t know it’s a school day, do you honestly think I need you to remind me? She probably just needed to justify her existence, to give herself something to do, to make herself useful, to feel necessary. It was sad, really. My response was always the same, a grunt loud enough to acknowledge her, and grumpy enough to make my feelings known. So there it was, our morning ritual through my closed bedroom door. Now piss off, Doris. I was busy as usual with my book, something to lose myself in before the unbearable reality of the day, something to ease my transition from that wonderful dream to the horrible boredom that was my life. That day’s book: Possession: A History of Voodoo.
A little exposition here, if I may. Ever since I can remember, I have always undertaken the literary pursuits, rejecting popular media, technology and communications for the delights of the written word on the page, which to me seemed never prosaic, unlike the obsessions of others my own age. And by “books” I meant actual books, none of this electronic laser-beam crap of glowing tablets, phones and screens. That light is a cancer, I’m sure, whilst books gave me connection to all the wondrous eyes before me, centuries of minds engaging words on pages, centuries of imaginations unfettered. Not faces beholden to the screens’ glow, dying in some unseen radiation searing their brains. No. I’m talking actual engagement, a relationship that you can hold in your hands, in an equitable exchange, ideas spawning ideas, lives given to you and reinvented anew. This was reading. And it required organics, a history, and respect.
Which is not to say I wasn’t a critical reader. Not every page could speak to me, even if it had my respect. Upon reflection, it soon became clear to me that my books were filling holes in my life, holes left by my lackings, things others had that I didn’t — like a singular existence, as I have already discussed. In books, I could soar alone, momentarily forgetting the weight of my other/self, imagining myself free and one, given life in a bubble of infinitely valuable solitude, just me and thoughts swirling, coalescing, seeping back through my skin. Soon it became clear what kind of books would transport me to this Eden. They needed to speak to my longing, they needed the potential of some promise of fulfillment, just the hint of possibility, so long as that hint was real. Now of course this is a subjective topic, for what’s real to me rings false to others. But even the mere process sang out to me and called me special. I was one! The thoughts were my own! Here I am! Me! When I read, I was discovering me!
I leapt into this rapport. I could read fiction or non-fiction, for I loved histories as well as confessions. I regurgitated ancient authors and the new. I wasn’t afraid to chuck aside something I found too arrogant, boastful or preachy. There was too much else to read. Epistolary novels I was especially fond of. The idea of writing letters in a far away time, when it was all one could do to feel a part of the world — my God, there was blood in that writing. Blood and bodily fluid splattered down in words upon a page. It wasn’t long before I too was writing, more or less letters to myself, a journal of sorts, I don’t know. I tried to never be too conscious of it, it was mere exercise, and writing wasn’t a goal of mine, in those earlier days. It wasn’t therapy, it wasn’t anything I needed to do. It was just fun, mimicking those before me, becoming part of some timeline stretching back toward the beginning of expression. I just wanted to be a part of that league. Just the action of writing something, anything, made it so. But I favored reading above all. Other kids went to the mall. I went to the library.
Before long, books were taking the place of people for me, and were becoming my family and friends. I mean, there’s nothing in people that you can’t find in books, right? I would take this statement even further — I would say there’s more in books. Think about it. Books represent an immense wealth of information, emotion, pathos, ethos, advice both good and bad, written by thousands upon thousands of authors over many thousands of years. How can the few people in my social and familial circle ever compare to that? The juxtaposition is just not flattering to them. On one side, endless volumes of thought through the ages, and on the other, greedy, drooling flesh-bots, enslaved as we all are to money, lust and power, trapped inside these revolting caricatures of ourselves, with no ability to transcend, just the most awkward and pathetic creatures, slowly plodding toward death. Books don’t have those problems. Books are reborn every time they are read. Books don’t judge. Books never die.
And, importantly, books can provide teaching and guidance, which is what my book, Possession: A History of Voodoo, was doing for me that fateful morning, despite Doris’ incessant pounding. My fascination with religious texts went well back into my childhood. It wasn’t that these “holy” books were there to provide me with the answers to life’s mysteries. No, I was absorbed by the fact that there could be so many Goddamn versions of the truth. All these books, and all of them proclaiming to have the answer! The Bible, the Torah, the Quran, the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It’s easy to surmise that humans need some Goddamn answers. But I didn’t really want answers, I was just comforted by the fact that other people did. All this questing was going on, out there. Me? I was cool.
Or so I thought. My quest for more truth versions would inevitably carry me into more tangential regions of spirituality. These areas held me in thrall, and I passed no judgment upon their legitimacy, to me they were all the same questing. In fact, I respected more the courage one needed to undertake such a path as Driudism, Yahweh, or even just your plain old garden-variety Witchcraft. And why not dabble? I was young, isn’t that what I was supposed to do? Experiment, and figure shit out? Rituals were especially appealing. The idea that one could chant a few words, rub on some ointment, burn a few herbs, do a little dance, and be transformed? Hell yeah, I’m in! I drew pagan shapes on the ground, I purchased ingredients from the grocery store (blood, roots, matches), I memorized ancient texts, I mixed potions, and I’m sure I did everything half-assed and wrong, but that wasn’t the point. It was important simply to participate, to feel that sense of the quest, for when I did, it was like being the author of my very own religious living text. It was alive, and it was me.
But that morning I remember an even more devious prospect was filling my brain, for one cannot spread oneself across so many quests, pagan or otherwise, without feeling some sort of power of the process. Which is a way of saying that I still had faith, that one day, there would be fruition, and something would work. The way I figured it, I could spend my entire life trying out every ritual ever put down to page, and I still wouldn’t have enough time. But no matter, the living is in the seeking, right? (Anna Appleby! Junior Philosopher!) And that morning, I was using my curious knowledge to address a very practical problem. James. The James from my dream. James Callifano. Adonis. Quarterback. Unspoken originator of a thousand wayward fantasies, filling all days with equal parts hope and despair.
Look, I know I had only been back in southeastern Ohio for less than two weeks. But James was a Universal Law Unto Himself. Everyone knew it. Every single woman/girl within a fifty mile radius knew it. It was carved into the stone at Griffin Hills High School. “O and James Callifano will be lusted over, like no man/boy in the history of the Universe, so it is written, so shall it be.” I’m only surprised that any girls at all survive in this town, much less the school. You would think they would all murder each other in some bloodlust orgy over James.
It’s simple, really. All any of you have to do is close your eyes and think really hard about the one person whose very presence on Earth drove you into some mad frenzy of such unabashed and embarrassing full-scale lust that it took every cell of your inadequate existence to keep from stalking this person forever until one night you couldn’t help it and you found yourself in some dark corner of the world sobbing over the murdered and mutilated remains of the perfection you could never attain, touch, or soil with your own putrid defectiveness. And for those of you who have never felt this way, you have my utmost pity.
Maybe it’s easy for some of you to shrug my feelings off as some adolescent hormone party. Mine and Chloe’s blood broke at a normal age, after all, and we were thusly governed by the same reproductive urges as any suffering depository. But of course, as you may have already guessed, Chloe and I responded quite differently to the horrors of our feminine nature. It was just another example of Chloe furthering the division between us, perhaps once and for all. She recognized the power that womanhood bestows, simple and true. It came easy to her. Accord yourself the necessary accouterments, and voila! A slut is born! For me, on the other hand, I could never impose myself so brusquely. I was absolutely content to allow fate to take its course. After all, Chloe’s new slut persona proved that I must have some sort of man-drawing power, somewhere within me. Essentially, we looked the same. We smelled the same. It seemed only a matter of time before I would have to fend somebody off, and laugh coyly about it. I could wait until then.
But then James happened. Let me rephrase.
Then Chloe and James happened.
It must have been the “new girl” thing, if such a thing exists. We had been in southeastern Ohio for only two weeks. We were new blood. Maybe James just had to conquer Chloe, but now I’m dragging James through the mud, forgive me. James is just a human God after all, prone to human needs, and Chloe is an exceptional slut. Enough about that, shudder, barf.
The weird thing was, Chloe’s conquest of James (in mere days!) actually filled me with hope. Once James could see the unformed, dense, slutty clay of a work-in-progress like Chloe, surely he would move on to the more refined, sophisticated brio of yours truly.
But that morning, feeling more alone than usual, I resolved to leave less to fate, such was the power James had over me. Possession: A History of Voodoo is not an extraordinary account by any means. It’s simply quite functional in its description of the history of actual rites and practices as they occurred in Haiti from the eighteenth century until the present day. It treats Voodoo (correct spelling “Vodou”) quite rightly as a living religion, with no more or less respectability and legitimacy than Christianity or Islam or any other religion. And no, I wasn’t a “believer” in Vodou at all. It was something fun to try for a while, before I moved on to something else. And besides, I remember thinking, participating in a small Vodou ritual that would force James to love me forever might just be the kind of soothing treatment I needed, something that would ease the wait I was having to endure for James to get over his Chloe fixation. I wasn’t immune to hope. I needed to feel less alone at times, like anyone else. The particular passage I was reading that morning centered around a ritual involving a piece of the object’s (James’) clothing. There was a quote in Haitian Creole: “Ou konn kouri, ou pa konn kache.” I translated it myself later as, “you run but you cannot hide.” How perfectly charming! But before I could relish any more of the page, morning-wrecker Doris was at it again.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Sweet Fucking Jesus! Alright then!
By far the most annoying thing about the pre-school morning routine is that since my room is right next door to Chloe’s, I have to suffer through the inane pop music she blares through the walls, a jack-hammer headache-creator punctuated only by blasts of her shrill hair dryer. I can feel her cloying positivity through the plaster. And every morning, my mind force feeds me this image: Chloe staring ever so lustfully at her locket, inside which is a picture of James, glowing. She puts the pendant around her neck, like a trophy to rub in my face, along with her sexually content, freshly-showered joy.
Me, I don’t do daily showers. What’s the point. That morning I did what I usually did. I too had a photo of James, but it was shitty, all crumpled, something I ripped from the previous year’s yearbook. I looked at it, and tried to think nothing. This was my meditation. For some unknown reason, that morning I also looked at a picture of my father, something Richard sent me when we moved, how weird is that. But still, he is my dad. I missed him. He wrote on the back of the photo: “Anna, enjoy your new home. I’ll visit soon. Don’t be a fish out of water. Love, Dad.” I like to think he favored me over Chloe, and I guess I honestly believed that. I needed him more, anyways, even though he was never there.
That morning me and Chloe exited our rooms at the same time, always an awkward moment. Chloe was wearing her old cheerleading uniform from California. It was the most insane shade of magenta, the most artificial and chemically-created color in the known universe.
“You’re not supposed to wear that,” I said, softly.
“WHAT?” yelled Chloe, “WHISPER MUCH?” She stormed off past me downstairs, adding so very loudly, “I’M ALLOWED!” I hated her loudness. I hated all loudness. I followed her, reluctantly.
Doris was downstairs cooking a Mom breakfast for all of us, I knew because I could smell the Goddamn bacon. When will she ever learn? I could also hear the Mom music she would listen to in the morning. Doesn’t anyone respect silence anymore? Thankfully once Chloe bounded into the kitchen she went straight for the little Mom boom-box and switched it off. Doris didn’t even seem to care, for really there was only one person in charge of this family unit. Doris saw Chloe’s cheer attire.
“You can’t wear that!” she said.
“I’m giving a cheer exhibition, and no breakfast for me. I have one week to lose five pounds for the prom, ball, dance, whatever the fuck they call it here.”
“Language!” said Doris in vain, who turned to me next. “How about you? Anna?” Seriously, Mom?
“I’m not hungry.”
Both Chloe and myself had at least one thing in common at that moment. And we were both heading for the door as well. But Doris wasn’t done with the Mom thing.
“Wait!” she cried. “Come here! Stand right here!” It was Mom line-up time. The only amusement I got from this ritual was imagining she was identifying us both out of a genuine police line-up, having finally given up, turning us both over to the cops for any random array of ultraviolent crimes. But for now, she just did her usual Mom-swoon.
“Look, you two,” she said, “ I just need to know that you’re doing okay, you know, with the new home, the new school. Is everything okay?”
Even Chloe would mumble with me on this one, in garbled near-unison: “yeah, geez, okay, yes…”
“And you’re both making new friends? Anna?” Always me. There was a horrible pregnant pause here, as I waited for Chloe to burst. It came.
“She’s scabbing on my friends, as usual!”
“Am not,” I whispered.
“Are too, bitch!” Chloe yelled.
“Hey!” interceded Doris, “I want none of that! You two need to…” Suddenly a car horn blared from just outside, and Chloe interrupted.
“JAMES!” screamed Chloe, who bolted out the door at light speed. I had to follow, of course, but at my own pace. That’s when I actually heard Doris utter these words.