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Jan/Feb 2013 Spotlight

Pablo, Pablito – a novella

Chapter Three

by Steven Schutzman


Miss Pamela's door closes on Pablo and the girl like you wake up with a start and forget your dreams except for the pungent smell of herbs and the trailing sound of bells which stand for everything you can't remember.

It's like a holy shrine in there, she says.

What do you mean?

If you can't live in this world, you make a shrine to another world and worship at it.

Yeah, people do that, all right, Pablo says and then thinks, Me too, without knowing exactly why.

The birthday cake was older than the birthday girl. Like a rock, no one could eat. A shrine to the dead, the girl says. You have an interesting life.

Not really.

Uh huh. Yes, you do. A very interesting life.

I like things quiet and regular, you know.

No, I don't think so.

Okay now, you listen up.

Now here comes the part where you tell me to go back to school again. Go ahead. Give me the talk. I'm listening.

You're smart, I can tell. Real smart. How you fast pick up on things. And so you probably realize yourself by now you have to go back to school and continue your education so you can use your intelligence and it won't go to waste.

Let's pretend you're the only one who can see me like an imaginary friend.

But that's just the point: Everyone can see you and that can get me in trouble, big time. Miss Pamela already said something to me about your age and school uniform, because like the whole world knows where you're supposed to be in the middle of the day.

I'll change out of it, into something of yours.

No. You look like you're twelve years old, at the most, maybe.

I'm fifteen.

Whatever. That's not the point. You're still jail bait.

You really should stop putting it to that woman, Pablo. She's crazy.

Instead of asking himself how the girl knows this unless Miss Pamela told her or she saw them clinched in the hall, Pablo all of a sudden remembers where they are, right outside the door with hearts and cups backed up behind it like a surging tide of crafts, and where they could hurt Miss Pamela's feelings. He feels a sharp foreboding like Harvey is about to call on him in class and he hasn't studied the material.

You are one freaking crazy dude, Pablo. I like you a lot. Let's go steady.

Shhh, he says. Quiet.

Pablo looks up at the green door's little peephole and thinks for sure there's an eye up, Miss Pamela, taking it all in for future use. He doesn't know where he can go with the girl to try to talk some logic into her head. He knows he can't stay by Miss Pamela's door or bring her up to his apartment or go outside where the fat cop might be snooping around all out of breath and sweaty and pissed off, right, and ready to arrest him for a child molester.

The girl, meantime, has wrapped herself in the red sleeping bag again, her hand at her neck holding it closed and the long rest of it trailing behind her. She looks like a little Indian maid with seaweed for hair. Her coffee-with-plenty-of-cream skin looks pure and delicious, drinking it in with his eyes. She must have washed the dirt off her face at Miss Pamela's.

Pablo understands that the girl is one of those people who are always in a movie, smiling like she knows something you never will, and you won't because it's a secret soundtrack in her head. You can make such people go to civilized places, like a puppy on a leash, but it won't matter because there will always be playing and romping on their minds. You can talk to such people until you're blue in the face, blah, blah, blah, about the way things are and what must happen, and see in their eyes that all they're thinking is, When do the games start? You can reprimand such people and make them ashamed and sad for a few seconds but right after you stop talking they forget everything you just said. Nothing sinks in. Ever. Such people don't try to be well-behaved as Pablo has always been well behaved, keeping his own stray movie thoughts to himself. Or considerate of other people's feelings like he is. You can be mean to such people, as the girl posts on the soccer field were mean by pushing the soccer girl down in the mud, trying to break her spirit because they don't have spirits of their own. He would never do that to her. He couldn't stand what those girls did. He remembers how this girl lifted his spirit as she darted around on the soccer field this lousy day. The pure joy of running is a wonderful thing to have in yourself and to watch in other people. He knows she breaks into runs for no good reason, just like he used to as a boy, when no one is watching, because no one is watching and your body and spirit feel so alive. Freedom.

She's just a free-type spirit, Pablo thinks. It won't work on her but I have to try anyway.

Come on, he says gently, putting a hand behind the girl's back to guide her across the lobby to the door of the building. She shoulders him hard in his chest, making him stumble backward.

Hands off.

What?

Hands off me. Pervert.

Okay. Chill, girl.

She smiles, a closed-lipped smear across her close, blurry face, helpless, please understand me, then comes closer and pecks him on the cheek again.

Hand off. Don't touch me, she says.

You're schizo.

Hands off me, if you want to live.

Jesus, girl. What's your problem?

Pablo doesn't get this girl and her changeable ways. Still he leads her into the echoing space between the lobby door and outside door, a middle ground of dirty floor tiles and stained walls, where the buzzer buttons are and mail boxes and piles of store circulars and a corner drift of dead leaves, where he intends to explain the value of a good education to her.

Go ahead and give me the talk, she says, all pretend nice now. I'm listening.

Now me and Little Grandmother...

Who?

My Grandmother, who raised me, okay? I have no parents either, except her. We had nothing for a while and I had to go to public school and work all at the same time since I was twelve. I wanted to learn so I could get ahead and I got myself a good job because of it. So if I were you I'd use my brains and take advantage of the wonderful opportunity you have in that school to learn and get ahead, and not take it for granted like you're doing. See?

The girl's eyes are depthless and dark and, looking at him without any interest in what he is saying, pulling at him underneath with her own mute yet articulate appeal against a shared oppressor.

Like if you were poor, girl, and never had a pair of socks in your life, not drawers full of socks from the Wal-Mart, three pair for six dollars, your feet cold all the time and pebbles and scraping against your shoes, and then you got a job and some cash and finally bought yourself some socks, you would really appreciate...

What?

The soft. The warmth. The comfort.

What are you talking about?

About socks. About taking things for granted, kid. Like you're taking your education for granted by running away from a great school.

I know what taking things for granted means. Socks. God. I'm not eleven. I'm on a full scholarship because I'm gifted and talented and a ward of the state. But I have to eat and sleep there and everything because I have no other home to go to. Some kids board there, some don't.

What do they do?

They go home for the night, stupid, and come back for school the next day.

Oh. Right.

It's more like a prison than a school. From the dark ages. With spoiled, rich girls meaner than the meanest prisoners.

Yeah. I saw what they did to you out on the soccer field.

Mean. Mean with tits. The more tits, the more meanness. That gang of three. Because I don't have any. Because I'm small for my age and undeveloped. Because I'm the smartest in the class and like to learn. Because I'm into sports and play hard at them. Because I don't care about boys which is all they care about in this world. So I tell them they're conceited, empty-headed idiots who ought to have more pride in themselves than to just give it up to a boy. But denying boys to them is like denying god to Sister Anne. Heresy. Know what I mean?

I know what heresy is.

Define heresy.

Get real. I already graduated. Who's Sister Anne?

Head of the school. Like the principal but more. Leads the prayers in the morning. Says the homily. Her glance feels like a hard pinch to the skin on your face. If she ever smiled, she'd break.

So you don't like boys, huh?

The ones I've met are even stupider than the girls.

Then you ought to know better than to go around kissing strangers. The next one might not be so nice.

I didn't kiss a stranger. I kissed you.

Stranger to you.

I don't think so.

You know what I mean. I'm a grown man.

Not very.

What're you going around kissing strange men for?

I don't.

And you say you don't like boys? You're worse than those other girls. A hypocrite.

Define hypocrite.

At least they admit what they like.

I don't like boys. I like you.

I give up.

Standing there between glass doors, to Pablo it's more like they have landed on a playground in the middle of an argument that has no beginning or end, like the sun could go down and the streetlights come on and the moon come up and this girl still wouldn't run out of smart answers.

You cheered for me, she says.

So?

I scored a goal against the law. I went to you against the law. I kissed you against the law. I ran away from school against the law. From now on, I'm making all the laws. You cheered for me. I'm changing my life.

Go ahead and change it, for all I care. But it won't have me in it.

You're already in it.

No, I'm not in it.

Yes, you are because I know where you live.

Oh no. No, you don't. You can't come around here anymore or you'll get me in trouble with the cops. You're jail bait.

Why? How old are you?

Twenty. And hey, there's already a cop after us.

Captain Mike. Come on. He's a joke of a cop who sits behind a table at the front entrance of the school all day and gives out name tags to visitors and logs them in his book. He's supposed to protect us from danger, like rapists and terrorists, but the most dangerous thing that ever happens there is when a squirrel gets in one of our classrooms and he has to find a way to get it out. That's the best thing that ever happens in that school. I spend the whole time in World History class hoping for another squirrel. The first one fell five stories down, landed with a loud, belly flop and then ran up a tree like nothing happened.

What? Five stories down? That's not true.

Yeah it is. And then the squirrel, he started chattering like he was telling the story to the other animals in the trees. Even the World History nun, who kept a straight face when Captain Mike was crashing down the rows and throwing the desks aside, cracked up when the squirrel started chattering about it to everybody.

Sounds like a real funny time.

Captain Mike's so fat I'm surprised he can run thirty feet.

That's the cop they hired to protect a building full of girls and nuns?

Well, he's somebody's brother. You know. Nepotism. Define Nepotism.

You're nuts. This Captain Mike or whatever is still a cop.

Hired cop. Not a real one. Not the law. Came out of retirement to sit there all day. You think a guy like that could catch me? Only when I let him.

You mean you ran away before?

Yeah. Sure. Lots of times. But this time it's for good.

Pablo shakes his head at her.

The trouble for you is, she says, Captain Mike saw us kissing.

You kissed me. I was standing there minding my own business.

Doesn't matter.

It's the truth.

Doesn't matter. If you're a man.

And what are you doing kissing on me like that for anyway?

You kissed me back.

Pablo has no answer for that so he doesn't say anything.

That was my first kiss ever and I gave it to you as a gift, the girl goes on. Standing there with your eyes closed, all handsome and peaceful and calm, like an angel, like you were waiting for me to kiss you, and the bell ringing. Right there. So close. Something told me to and I didn't resist. I just knew what I had to do. And who are they going to believe? You or me? Hanging around a Girl's Catholic school in the middle of the day. Ha. I could get you arrested for a sick rapist.

What?

My first kiss ever and I chose you for it. You should feel honored.

Well, I don't.

Pablo can surely see that this isn't working and never will. He feels her spirit pulling at him underneath, as it did when he wanted to run onto the field and play soccer with her. The coach and the girl posts were there like the judgments he always listens to, even though they ignore him, while his spirit wanted to dart around them just like the girl was. The cheers that flew out of his mouth were his spirit cheering her spirit.

Okay, he says, you can come around but...

Yea, she squeals. Yea. Yea. Yea. She does a spin on her toes, the red sleeping bag twirling like a cape around her. I'm a dancer. I can act, play the flute and make a shirt for you too.

You can come around but as a friend, only as a friend, okay?

The girl lets the sleeping bag drop and starts to unbutton the top buttons of her white school shirt. Pablo can see the white undershirt underneath. No bra.

What are you doing?

I'm totally flat-chested, well, almost totally.

Stop that, will ya?

I got nothing there so you don't have to worry about anything like that, Sir. I will refuse womanhood until I'm good and ready.

You're crazy. Keep your shirt closed.

Yes, Dear, she says, all pretend sorry.

Don't be getting all weird on me, if you want to come around here.

I have a theory, Pablo: You know why I haven't gotten my period yet? Because my life is going slower than everyone else's life, on a different slope of time, a slower clock, and I will live for a very long time.

Cool. Good for you.

I'm going to be a doctor and do lots of good in the world.

Not if you don't go back to school.

True.

I said we could be friends. So that means you keep your lips to yourself and your shirt on when you're with me and go back to school, okay?

Okay.

Now go.

No. Not today, please. Just one day off with you, please.

That's the deal. Take it or leave it. We can only be friends if you go back to school. Otherwise, there's no way.

They hardly ever let me out and if you try to come to the school to take me out you'll have to pass by Captain Mike.

I'll take you back there and explain everything that happened.

No, you won't. That would be very stupid.

Yeah, I will. Because you know what I think? I think they must know what a nut you are, running away, kissing strangers, unbuttoning shirts and everything. You're someone they already know they have to keep real close.

Okay. Okay. You win.

You'll go back?

Yeah.

Promise?

I promise. I'll go back.

Pablo doesn't believe her or he doesn't want to believe her because of their lively back and forth and because of her spirit drawing his spirit and that kiss and because of the sudden picture he gets of how nice it would be to hang with her all afternoon. He won, sure, but his win over her is a win over his own spirit.

Good, he says anyway.

See ya', she says, all sad in the movie now.

Hey, wait, you better take this sleeping bag back where you found it.

Why should I? It's just a piece of junk I found to hide my uniform, walking down the street like an escaped convict.

No. It might belong to somebody like a homeless person who's counting on it being there tonight when he comes back to sleep.

No way. It's just an old piece of junk. The zipper doesn't even work on it.

No, really. I bet there's a homeless guy who is probably counting on it to be there against the fence, along with his flashlight and magazines and the radio he has buried in the leaves next to his bed. His home, like, terrible but the only home he has.

I like you a lot. You are one freaking crazy dude with imagination. Nobody lives in a place like that.

Where have you been? There are plenty of homeless people who live like that and they don't need you stealing what little they have.

I didn't steal anything.

Just bring it back, okay?

Sure, I'll take it back, okay. I accept the task you have given me, she says, all happy in a movie again, gathering the slippery material up in a big ball and seeming real little behind it like a child refugee carrying all she owns in her arms.

Suddenly she drops the bag again and kicks it. Pablo shakes his head. Man. This girl puts him on high alert for any crazy thing a crazy person might do next.

So this is goodbye for now, she says, batting her eyes at him to make fun of girls who bat their eyes.

Yeah. You can come around when they let you out. We'll go for sodas and talk about your life at that school and your future.

Let me ask you something before I kiss you goodbye.

You're not kissing me goodbye. Friend don't kiss goodbye.

Sure they do. Now tell me: How'd you like that tongue action before?

What?

The tongue action?

Okay. I guess. Even though your tongue felt like a little black frog trying to slip and slide into my mouth.

Black frog? What?

Well, yeah, sort of, it did, like a black frog.

And you call me a nut. You're one freaking crazy dude. Let's go steady.

It did feel like a frog. Maybe there's a black frog living in your mouth pond, ever think of that, girl.

Sweet.

Pablo can't help laughing.

Good-bye for now, she says. Kiss. Kiss.

Okay. Like friends, on the cheek only.

They step toward each other and put their heads side by side as friends. She is just his height and the bones of her temple touch the bones of his temple with the urgency of a little animal who wants to hide. The feeling thrills Pablo for a short moment like when he used to meet animals in the city woods, animals suddenly more curious than scared. Rabbit, deer and fox, all of them living lives secret from the people close around them, choosing him.

Where'd you come up with a name like Dakota anyway? she asks after kissing his cheek.

I don't know. I always liked it.

I like it too.

What's your real name?

Not telling.

Why not?

Somebody else named me.

Everybody gets named by somebody.

Somebody I don't like. So I'd rather be named by you.

When the girl leaves, she doesn't forget to take the red bag with her.

So she does listen to something after all, thinks Pablo.

 

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