Among Others: 4th Chapter

Wow, before day’s end I will break 10k! That means lots of great reading for all you writer blog readers and NaNoWriMo lovers.

So I can get back to doing what I do worst, typing, I’ll just present you with Chapter 4:

(edited and revised 12/17/11)

Rather than go to her office and try unsuccessfully to work on her research, Collins grabbed her collapsible grocery cart and crept to the closest super center department store for supplies. Supplies, she thought, like prepping for a hurricane or some time stopping snow storm. No bread or water or milk or even canned goods. No. This trip was to include only rations of meat. Meat of every sort and cut. Inklings of why these cravings persisted echoed in her head, or through the store loudspeakers, or both.
Over the store’s speakers played messages from local authorities peppered with giblets of the President’s speech. All comments were pointed, even dire.
“Be on the look out for sloth-like individuals.”
“Keep your children and loved ones away from these dirty infecteds.”
“If you’re infected, you’re just as bad as the terrorists themselves.”
Collins picked up her pace into what felt like jogging to her in hopes of appearing less ‘sloth-like’.
The cart basin was filled to the brim with cuts of meat. Even for regular meat eaters, this had to look suspicious. To hide her fleshy finds she detoured to a seasonal isle for two platters of peanuts, assorted sausage slices and decorative crackers. More meat yet well hidden by the guise of a huge manly barbecue or sports party. All she needed now was a stash of concealer.
The cosmetics counter made Collins even more uncomfortable were that possible. Years passed since last she stepped foot near said counter, or one like it.
How can a place so full of beautifying pencils, clarifying gels and colorful powders make one so hateful of their own skin.
She tucked a tuft of hair behind her right ear, being careful not to smudge or disrupt her concealing mask. Collins could afford more concealer but thought it too conspicuous to purchase large quantities, especially given an already unusual pile of protein. Instead she settled on a few different brands, most of which came in the form of gift sets. Christmas gift sets cost more but drew less attention when purchased in groups larger than one.
Register lines stretched further than she hoped. Waiting in line with rather conspicuous items and caked on concealing creams put the fear of death into Collins. She was not sweating though. Hoodie, heavy pants, and nerves that would drop anyone healthy, any normal person would sweat buckets. Perhaps it was the slowed heartbeat. Maybe the concealer just clogged her pores. Collins convinced herself the latter was true. The former implied circumstances she was net yet willing to entertain.
It all happened without incident. No one figured out who Collins pretended not to be. Walking home with her pull-cart of meat and cosmetic gift sets, she passed the south end of campus where a young man stood holding a sign that stopped Collins dead in her track: Protect the Nation, Finish the Abomination.
For the first time since she lived under her parents’ roof, she was scared. This man hated her but did not know her. She was not dead, or even undead. She had a pulse like any normal human being. Not as fast, to be certain. But highly active people have slow pulse rates. Nobody accuses them of being against nature, or worse, against God.  Ignorance and fear go a long way.
“The end is upon us,” he barked from across the street. Collins could not help but walk even faster toward her apartment. Of course, her run appeared as an awkward wobbly walk to any uninfected person.
Back home, Collins cried her way through two red cube steaks. Yet, somehow, two steaks did not quell her thirst for more. She feared her thirst might actually be for human flesh. Like a heroin addict at a methadone clinic, her hands shook, her bones demanded something more, something else. She realized cube steaks, as disgusting as their raw concept was to her a week ago, were still better than the unthinkable alternative.
Not deeply religious, the thought of being considered an abomination still dug into her conscience and ate at her innards. None of this happened by choice. Were it up to its host, Collins would happily choose to follow the majority. Freaks never fair well in society, no matter how advanced that society claims it is.
Collins had no intention of leaving the apartment until the next day when she decided she needed to get back to work. Still she kept her concealer on. Not because it was comfortable or she forgot she wore it. To the contrary, it felt heavy. It itched. She wanted nothing more than wipe it off. Like dripping water faucets echoing around midnight, it did not leave her thoughts. The more she tried to ignore it, the more it taunted her to remove it. Even in her own home embarrassment kept her hidden behind her mask. Not a vane person, this new sensation befuddled Collins. How could a grown woman with a doctorate in Western History feel like an awkward teenager struggling through puberty?

Collins paced about her quiet studio apartment. Usually quiet soothed her nerves. Not today. She wondered how long she could continue her ruse. Sooner or later someone somewhere somehow would learn her secret.
The life of a researcher is often lonely. To survive and thrive as a scholar one must adjust to living without others with which to speak or share experiences. Most free time, when one calls it that, is spent in libraries, huddled over dusty books not opened for years, if ever.
Growing up in a deaf household, Collins embraced reading. Deaf people spend their time visually taking in their surroundings. When rebelling, typical hearing teenagers run to their room and blast their music to drown out pestering parents. Many deaf teenagers attempting to find themselves while grasping for control over their world do similarly. The bass vibrates the floor and their their skin. Added bonuses exist when the teenager is deaf but his or her parents are not. Not only do they redirect focus to the pounding bass notes, but their parents are annoyed through incredibly loud “devil music.” Having the opposite problem, Collins retreated into books and hated music.
Her deaf parents and mostly deaf younger brother played music so loud neighbors called local authorities on countless occasions. When she put two and two together as it were, it was not uncommon for Collins to make those same calls, particularly when irritated with her parents. And, like any teenager, one’s rebellion is inexplicably linked to the parents’ preferences, more accurately, their antithesis. If a parent is a business suit wearing, clean cut, high minded pillar of the greater community, said teenager revolts against that system. If that same parent is instead a free-love, drugs are okay, damn the man, hipster who bucks against the system with every action, that same said teenager will buck their parents’ system and join the system their parents built a wall around. Collins, in this respect, was no different.
Raised by parents who blasted any heavy beat laden music when angry, or happy, sibling to a younger brother who followed suit as he was still to young to realize a world other than that which his parents built for him to live within, Collins rebelled into silence and books. A dual rebellion on two fronts of the war.  
Music left Collins toes curling. Silence was her worldly controlling mechanism. Once she procured enough money, she ran out and purchased overpriced noise canceling headphones. For weeks she pretended to listen to whatever CD she found lying around the house, which in itself caused a backlash. Before long, though, Collins did not hide the fact she burrowed into a cave of silence like a teenager hiding for months their new tiny tattoo until gathering enough fortitude to display it proudly as a badge of honor and rebellion. Books just provided a secondary escape. Symptom of the first rebellion, one had to do something while hugging one’s knees on a bed in a cone of silence while waiting for the world to grow up around one’s self.
She loved how irate her father became every time he came upstairs to find her door closed and his daughter reading a book. His open door policy had nothing to do with privacy per say. It just happened to generate an added bonus to parenting.
No, the real reason was for communication. Without an ability to knock or scream from the base of the stairs that dinner was ready, one required open spaces where one grabbed another’s attention through movements or gestures. This struggle did not last long before her father, in another drunken rage, pulled Collins’ bedroom door straight off its hinges, leaving it by the curb for pick up, taunting her as she left for school three days before trash pick up carted it away. That is when Collins found refuge in piles of library books.
Books became virtual wooden doors her father could only do so much to unhinge. Most parents could only hope for such rebellion as a teen safely tucked away in confines of the home reading anything and everything their hormonal hands could grab. Then again the grass is always greener when you use plastic turf.
Now she felt this lifelong escape being pulled away from her. Yesterday, she tried reading a book she knew was difficult to any average person, but that she read most of already yet still could not understand much more than any single word. Sure, individual words made sense. Even a few short sentences jived, but long strains of million dollar words strung together in abstract thought around more complex concepts left her staring blankly at the page. Reading such complexities is an art form and escape. An art form she managed to perfect over decades, an escape she knew not how to deal without.
Perhaps yesterday I was not in my zone. Sometimes one just needs to focus with extra intensity to trudge through difficult texts.
Yesterday might have found Collins in one of those off moments. Besides, what else would she do? Reading employed her as well as entertained her. She needed to know if it was a weak moment or something more permanent.
Then Collins realized she still paced around her studio apartment.
What time was it?
Her cell said ten past seven in the morning. She paced all night. Fatigue did not stop her. At least not the sort of fatigue one associates with an end to the day.  She was not tired. Just hungry. Hungry for something she refused to put her cold finger on.

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