Forecast is being serialized semiweekly across 42 web sites. For a full list of participants and links to live chapters, please visit www.shyascanlon.com/forecast
Until she rolled through the revolving doors and onto 5th Avenue, Zara maintained her composure. She parted the stream of people pouring down the hallway toward her without even the smallest insult or shove, and joined the crowd whose show had just ended without visible impatience, its glacial pace pushing her forward, her face a crystal of expressionless ice. Though I'd only begun to watch her, I already had a sense of how rare this was. I turned up the volume, hoping to catch an invective, and mother-hovered over the monitor.
Zara hit 5th and broke into a little jog to release energy. She made it to the South corner of the block, stopped, and turned back with the same bewildered expression she'd worn when dismissed from the theater. She still didn't quite understand what had happened. She'd been distracted enough by the theater itself, by the great cavernous space and the awkward formality, by even Asseem's ease in such a foreign environment, that she hadn't paid much attention to Luke's warning--or rather, she'd heard it, but hadn't understood its place in the intricate fiction around her. Zara paced back and forth on the corner, now without the grace that prevented her from bruising up against people on the way out of the building. Mothers gathered their children and veered to the side. Fathers slowed down and looked between her and the eyes of other men, glad she wasn't one of theirs. Should she go back and wait for him outside of the door? Give him another shot to the gut for being an asshole? Zara began to grow angry at the fact that she'd simply walked out when asked. Why hadn't she protested? Why hadn't she challenged Asseem, or even Mr. Stiles? Who the fuck did that guy think he was? She grew increasingly worked up, her face like a fist. No. She wasn't going to wait around for him. Fuck that. Why let him know that she cares? She thought of the books on S&M her mother had given her, and how power could be held by the “bottom” despite their physically compromised position. She needed to maintain a balance. But she couldn't think of anything to do that didn't feel reactive. Run away? Wait around? Lash out? Cry? She felt sick to her stomach. Her parents would love this, she thought. Their daughter, hysterical on the corner of 5th and University, flailing around and scaring the plebeians. Though Zara was never sure whether their ridicule in circumstances like this was due to a natural response mechanism or an intentional “parenting” approach they'd read about--or developed--either way she never heard the end of it. She watched the families amble by, each more insipid than the last. The more she watched them, and the more she considered her own, the more she realized that her afternoon would, in fact, make a good story. At her expense, but still. She could tell them about the punch (the punch!) and how he'd bought her food despite being completely broke (which she could tell by his expression of profound loss.) They'd be thrilled by the awkward intricacy of her courtship ritual. She could see them, then, laughing as she described her own look of horror at being excused. Dismissed! She'd play it up--she wasn't above teasing herself. It was ridiculous anyway. All of it. How love in loving tries to undo the very thing that undoing proves. Zara was now walking quickly south down 5th. They'd howl at her scathing description of the back of Mr. Stiles' head, and offer her a glass of wine--she was wound up--and ask her to tell the story again.
Marshall would scold her for even stepping foot in the theater--an abomination, he'd probably say. Jennifer would delight in the details Zara would give about the strange costumes worn by the theater employees, and make raunchy fetish jokes about popular culture. Zara normally loathed such jokes, and her mother for trying to “bridge the gap” by telling them, but she thought of it warmly now as she marched east after having made it to down to Jackson.
As she headed toward her neighborhood Zara grew less tense and her pace slowed. She passed by the familiar, broken faces of people she'd walked by a thousand times, and by the fire cans--still unlit in the early evening--smelling like the trash from last night's burn. She passed by a man stooped over a bunch of brightly colored paper, all torn and crumpled, and watched him stuff as much of it as he could into one of the cans, smothering what may have been left to smolder. She thought about that breezy tap on the shoulder she'd received after school, and of turning to find Asseem, smiling, for a moment unbearably innocent. Zara stepped over a few torn sheets of the paper being gathered for tonight's fire. Was he schizophrenic?
Perhaps she was being too hard on him, and the poor kid just wasn't in control of himself. She'd seen his parents. She'd seen the source of his scowl--his father's hardened face too serious for parent-teacher night. She'd seen his mother, or rather, not seen her, plain grey cloth covering every inch of skin. Zara crested Jackson Street and was about to break off the arterial and head toward her house when she passed a pole completely covered in the loud paper she now realized, after taking a look around, was everywhere. She looked up and down the street. It plastered most of the poles and several abandoned buildings. It was all over the ground, torn down by people wanting to tear something down. And by those needing something to burn. It was being collected not only by the man she'd passed, but by all the men and women on the street for all the fire cans in sight, which now glowed as brightly stuffed with unlit paper as they would later lit by flame. Zara walked up to the nearest pole and looked closer.
Seattle has always had a rather coarse approach to propaganda. Very little nuance. Very little to mask the crude point being made. And an excessive use of different fonts, underlining, bold, italics, and misplaced quotes. Zara's eyes bounced around between the various fluorescent colored sheets until she landed on a shade that didn't result in an immediate headache. It was an official notification. She rolled her eyes at the idiotic Indian head used to indicate Seattle's “brand.” As if the chief would have wanted anything to do with this colossal cooperative failure! The notice was unbearably cheery. It read:
Citizens of Seattle! A revolution is upon us! An energy revolution! Emotional transfer is now a “reality,” and Emotional Transfer Machines (ETMs) will be placed in convenient locations throughout the city.* Each citizen will receive a converter and personal energy storage device.** The ETM location nearest you will be on 15th Ave. and Jackson St. Check with a city official for a complete list of locations. Get ready for the end of darkness! Get ready for emotional energy!!
*Please refrain from bothering or distracting the ETM crews. Each crew will be monitored and protected by a city Protective Services officer.
**Certain batteries may also be used for storage, so empty out your “junk drawer!”
Zara tore the notice down, dropping it at her feet. Great, she thought, walking again. Handpepper will be grossly overjoyed. She flashed on his creepy enthusiasm and could almost feel it seeping through the classroom air as it would, no doubt, the next morning, his orange curls aquiver as he'd describe in borrowed authority what little he knows about the city's implementation plan, his leatherwear tightening around his testicles as he talks. Yuck. The man needed to be put down.
Zara finally reached her street and smiled at the dull light sifting through the curtains of her house. They were home. She walked more quickly. As she approached the property, she noticed that the pathway from the street to the structure had been cleared. Weeds lay to either side, uprooted and simply dropped. In some places an actual tool had been used. Writer's block? Marshall had begun to paint their bathroom once after encountering some kind of difficulty in his work, and had, after having one of what he liked to call his “ah-ha moments,” abandoned the project mid-wall. The paint sill clung to the wall in patches, applied too thickly and stuck in mid-slide. Zara climbed the front steps and grabbed the door knob. Her body lurched against the door. It was locked. Her anger spiked.
“Mom! Dad!” she called, banging.
Zara tried to look through the high window adjacent to the doorway but all she could see was the ceiling and one row of books. Two if she stood on her toes. Zara's third instinct drove her ear to the door, and she held her breath, listening to footsteps and indistinguishable murmurs. Zara's parents never locked the door even if they weren't home--they'd always told her that it was an expression of trust in their community, though she'd always suspected it was just because they grew up so rich they'd never learned the habit. Either way, to be actually home with the door locked was practically a silent scream that something good was going on. Zara reluctantly drew a breath. Ear to wood and face to the street, she gazed back down the trail carved in the lawn from the front steps to the sidewalk and remembered the only other time they'd cleared a path like that. It had been for a friend of Jen's parents, a large, lumbering woman wearing too many clothes and jerking her head around nervously while her car waited, running. Her father had had the idea of getting some money from this woman somehow, but hadn't been able to contain his judgment of “all she stood for,” and after a series of insults he hadn't bothered to explain he'd simply kicked her out. The house had been silent afterward, both parents retreating to different areas, sulking. “The ash of bridges makes great fertilizer for the growth of independent pursuits!” Marshal had finally said, in a raised voice, to no one in particular. Her mother had only gotten piss drunk and curled up with a crisp clean copy of the Communist Manifesto.
The doorknob clicked and Zara leapt back. She took a seat on the stairs and summoned the most sincere expression of boredom she had. The door opened to her father's voice in mid-sentence, saying “…everything to us.”
Jen agreed, “Yes, Professor, thank you.”
“Not at all,” a throaty voice responded. “I just thought it was right.”
A pause followed, and Zara felt the wood sag behind her. This guest was fat too.
“Ah, Zara, hello.”
Zara didn't turn around. She was bored bored bored. “Hey.”
The throaty voice let out a throaty laugh. “She's so big!”
Big? What's that supposed to mean? “Watch it.” Zara said.
“Oh! Watch it!” more throaty chuckles. “Indeed I will, young Zara. Consider me warned.”
She didn't like this man, and she'd never even seen him.
“Goodbye, then, Marshal; Jennifer.”
The sagging body moved to the side and began down the stairs, then a blurry figure brushed by. Zara avoided looking at him. The man smelled old. Once he was past her she stood up, turned around, and bumped by her parents, heading for her room. She should have known her parents were going to be preoccupied with their own fucking lives just when she'd wanted to tell them about hers. How stupid could she be? Zara stormed down the hallway and almost screamed at how clean her room was, recalling in disgust the length to which, just that morning, she'd picked things up and put things away and thrown things out and it all mounted inside her like a giant fucking injustice and she reached over and swept her arm across the top shelf of a bookcase by the door. The books and papers and odds and ends made an incredibly satisfying crash, cascaded across the floor, and shot under the bed with Zara right behind them with a leap. She landed on the mattress and bounced, bounced, her face buried in soft oblivion. How her parents managed, every single time there was anything important to tell them, to cap Zara's story with something bigger, more interesting, or more important, was beyond her. But it was like clockwork. She was an idiot for expecting to be taken seriously, or taken anywhere at all for that matter. Zara screamed into the pillow and kicked her feet to get another bounce from the springy bed, its motion known to calm her.
Her parents had come to stand at the open bedroom door, knowing better than to enter.
“Honey…” her father began, “Honey we're sorry about the lock.”
Zara remained silent.
Her mother took a different approach, “Zara come on. It wasn't like you were out there all night.”
“Zara dear,” Marshall continued, “we know you're probably curious about who that man was, and, well, your mother and I have discussed it and we've decided that rather than lie to you--”
“Which we could have easily done!”
“Jennifer. Zara dear rather than lie to you we've decided to simply not tell you who that man was.”
“Nothing gained, nothing lost,” added her mother, clearly misusing the phrase.
“Idiot,” thought Zara.
“Soooo dear if don't have any questions I guess we should just, you know,” Marshall was at a loss.
Forget about it!” said Jennifer.
“Right. Forget. Remember what Nietzsche said about forgetting. It's just a--”
Zara rolled over, unable, finally, to contain herself. “A way to make room for new things. Right dad. A total fucking misappropriation of Nietzsche's idea, but let's just go ahead and use it since hey, we're on a roll with stupid misappropriation.”
This behavior was not at all abnormal, of course, and Zara's parents took it in stride--in a way much more comfortable dealing with their daughter's anger than with her pain.
Jennifer stepped in to defend her husband. “Fine. Don't forget. Obsess about it if that's how you'd like to cope. We're not here for a philosophical argument, Zara.”
“Well that's good because you're ill-prepared.”
Jennifer stomped off, knowing the limits of her patience.
“Zara dear we're sorry about this, really, but please respect our right to keep this information from you. Don't pretend you don't keep things from us. We're just being up front about it to set an example.” Her father stood by the door, a worried look puckering his face but his arms akimbo, trying for an authoritative pose.
Zara made him wait. As curious as she was about the man who'd been in her house, what she really wanted was to redirect into her sob story about Asseem. But with Marshall no doubt hoping for just such an opportunity to, as he'd put it, make room for new things, Zara knew that bringing up her afternoon would meet her father's needs, and let him off the hook. It just wasn't fucking fair.
Zara glowered at her father and clutched her comforter for comfort. As he stood there, vague and helpless, she had a chance to really look at him, full body--the kind of stock-taking that doesn't normally happen between people who live so closely together. Marshall was most often either a lower body spilling out from behind a newspaper or a head and torso sitting at the table. Both versions of her father, in leaving parts of him to the imagination (his expression, his height) conferred some authority. But just then, standing at her bedroom door with his worried eyes and his ear-hair, with his short legs ending in absurd hedgehog house slippers she'd given him years ago, with his plaid shirt patched at both elbows, just then he seemed so small and harmless that she couldn't stay angry, and her glower slowly melted into a fond warm glow. Which she kind of hated too, but not as much.
“Oh dad,” she said, and threw a pillow at Marshall which he failed to catch.
“My precious girl,” he said, sounding old, and bent over to pick it up. “You know your mother and I care a great deal about you, dear. We'd never keep anything from you if it wasn't absolutely necessary.”
The warm glow dimmed. “Yeah, whatever.” Zara didn't want to be reminded of that. In fact, she'd almost convinced herself to stop the conversation altogether until she flashed, once more, on Asseem's flat voice following him down the aisle toward the fat man, toward Mr. Stiles, after nodding for Zara to see herself out. Her cheeks burned, bringing the heat full circle, and seeing that her father was turning to leave, she made her move.
“Dad?” Zara paused, watching her father's expectation. The small man stood well within the doorframe. He leaned against it. What the hell was she doing? How could this person understand the last 24 hours of her day? Zara thought about the ridiculously romantic story her parents told about how they met: the long walk, the soapy hands, the tent. She thought of the forced, impractical way her mother had always tried to raise her--propping Zara in front of books beyond her own grasp, a mysterious and desirable Other that had somehow become equated with emancipation. But Jennifer wasn't emancipated. Neither of her parents were. Not really. They were the psychic equivalent of an R rated learn-from-my-mistakes nursery rhyme, quick to reveal the limitations of their imagination, and quick to point out how their privilege was at fault. What a bunch of fucking bullshit.
Besides, if they were going to keep secrets so was she.
“Never mind,” she said. Marshall shrugged and disappeared down the hall. Zara understood then that the most difficult part came next. It made her vaguely ill just to consider it. The only person she could think of who would understand her pain and frustration at that moment was the exact person who caused it. How could this be? It was like getting kicked to the curb and reaching right back up for a hand. As if one embarrassment wasn't enough. The whole notion was revolting. Zara lay on her bed and listened to the pointless murmur and shuffle of her parents. She looked around her (mostly) clean room, and down at the things she'd thrown to the floor. How could she even look Asseem in the eye? She swung her legs around to the floor, knelt down, and picked up all the books to put them, one by one, back on the shelf.
The next morning Zara pulled herself from bed and pushed out of the house. She'd slept terribly. She set out toward school but her feet formed unions with the passing grasses and root-raised cracks, protesting her movement with stumbles and trips. Zara plodded forward despite it, and paid no closer attention to the ground. She tried not to think about the day before and thought about nothing else, growing more sad and more angry by turns, finally settling for a comfortable tense resignation. This was not what she needed. It was difficult enough to drag herself back to the dopey dysfunction of Mr. Handpepper each day--now she'd made it worse. Why had she even considered the possibility that two people who share nothing but their outsider status would have any hope of getting along? She kicked a stick that was a root, stubbed her toe.
Mr. Handpepper was sitting on the corner of his desk, and Zara could see him nonchalantly grinding the steel point into his rectum as he welcomed his students to class. She walked by him and said, Go easy on it, cowboy, but he didn't hear. The kids already in class were already surfing the web, and the disgusting ETM was already gone. Zara was already sorry she'd come. She found a desk and watched Handpepper slowly rock back and forth on his little corner, smiling and greeting most kids by name. Zara, who'd made a point of forgetting everyone's name, listened to the stream of novelties pour from Handpepper's mouth: “Dope, Hate, Hickey…” She turned to look out the window, feeling increasingly hopeless. How could their parents let them change their names to these absurdist spectacles? Or had they actually named them this way? The thought almost brought her to tears. “Miss Miss, Chimp, Nice, X…” It had become foggy since she'd walked to school, and the fog was tangled in trees. Zara watched as it slowly overtook what was left of the leaves, and rolled in closer, across the parking lot, the thick blur engulfing cars and signposts. She tried to think of the last time she'd seen fog like that, and couldn't remember. It seemed extreme. “Tinette, JewBoy, Pistol…” No, she was sure she'd never seen fog so thick. She looked down and saw that it was actually depressing the grass and weeds as it slid by. It had actual heft. She saw something dark a few feet from the ground, and as it grew closer she realized that it was a tiny bird, pinched inside the fog. It was unsuccessfully trying to flap its wings, and chirping. What the hell? “Kinky, Gerbil, Asseem…” Zara bolted upright and looked toward the door. Sure enough, Asseem had entered the room. He passed by Handpepper, still rocking, and without looking up wound his way through the aisles, through the rows, growing closer to Zara's seat beside the windows. Her heart beat faster. She looked back outside but the fog had miraculously lifted, the bird was gone, and she turned back just as Asseem took the seat one row over, right next to her. He didn't speak, he didn't even look at her, but she knew. This was it. He was the one.