Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Upside-Down

by Emma Horn


It doesn't seem fair that in sports, every little statistic, every minor coincidence is recorded.

Well, Jim, this is a big game for the Wallabies. Five out of their eighteen losses have occurred on the third Wednesday of the month, and on four out of those five occasions P Diddy had just gotten a new tattoo. Do you know what it was this time? I believe it was another dollar sign, making nineteen money-referencing tattoos in all, the number of losses this team will have if they don't win tonight...

And these sports fanatics know things like how many yards some guy has thrown in his career, and also how many times he's cheated on his wife, and even how that affects his game. But in real life, where much more interesting phenomena than the anniversary of the birth of a rapper's tattoo happen every day, there just aren't enough nosy people searching for them. Just last week, in fact, almost a quarter of the world's population was in a bathroom at the same time (or some third world variant of a bathroom), shattering the previous record, and no one knew. Molly Collins, age 20 from Liverpool, England, should have her own record for most times saying the word "effervescent" before reaching legal voting age. I gotta say though, maybe my favorite one took place on Bittersweet Lane, Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2109. One of those death things, you know, those puffs that randomly wipe out neighborhoods, swept that little street clean. Or at least it tried to. But at that final moment, someone in all four houses was doing a handstand. And apparently, if you're upside down, the puff just lets you off with a warning. Isn't that wild? It's the kind of ironic good luck that they usually only give to people who ask for things but don't really deserve them.

1 Bittersweet Lane

George and Sarah McCane had six children, none of whom ever seemed to demonstrate much common sense in the clutch. I suppose they can't be blamed, because they were all under the age of twelve, one had Downs, one had Aspergers, and the others liked to pretend they did. Since the spike in disabilities, there had also been a spike in kids pretending to have them, inversely proportional to the drop in special needs programs. All these books had been published about how it was good to spoil your disabled children since they didn't have much chance of getting to Australia, but then the other kids just wanted in on the infinite cookies and trips to Six Flags. The four normal, but still relatively senseless McCane kids had become rather talented performers.

One day (you know the day I mean), little Andrew McCane made a bet with his sister Red (she wouldn't let anyone call her anything else). If you can walk to the Seven Eleven butt naked, buy a potato and come home without getting brought back by a cop, I'll give you fifty cents, he said. If you can't do it, you give me fifty. Then, of course, they had to argue about whether they even sold potatoes at the Seven Eleven, and they agreed, since they weren't sure, that Red would buy a slushie instead. At this point, the dollar was incredibly strong, and with fifty cents you could buy ten gallons of gas. Not that Red was interested in gas. She was saving up for a koala.

Once Red set off, Andrew realized that you should not bet the first person you happen to see, even if you are only twelve dollars away from a plane ticket to Melbourne. Red was so good at pulling off retardation, he was sure if one of the hundreds of cops in the area saw her (the government was a little paranoid after that almost-nuclear war set off the death puffs), they'd give her a sticker and send her on her merry way. Andrew had worked himself into a cold sweat trying to figure out a way out of it by the time a still nude Red marched victoriously through the door with her slushie, marsupials on the mind. She held out her hand to Andrew, who considered running, but knew he didn't have a chance. It was his last fifty cents; he'd recently gambled five dollars away. In a moment of impulse he shoved the fifty cents down his throat. Red stayed relatively calm. Well, she didn't hit him anyway.

"You broke the McCane code, and I'm not gonna sit here and let you digest my money. I'm, I'm telling Terry. No, I'm telling Vince!"

"What's Vince gonna do, huh?" said Andrew, who was secretly so disgusted with himself he knew he was probably going to have to go back to that therapist to get over this one. He was becoming one of the kids from "A Smile Can Make a Child's Day. Autistics are Just Like You and Me, if Not Better." He never watched that show again, even though he ended up watching TV all day for many years in an attempt to forget about his pain.

But Red was already upstairs beckoning their brother, Vince, the bruiser. He came down happily. Making people vomit up things was one of his favorite pass-times.

It came while Andrew's legs were being held in the air by Red, and Vince was punching him in the stomach in a painful attempt to get the money out. At first Andrew thought they were just giving up, but he figured it out pretty quickly. They looked asleep, but a sibling just knows.

2 Bittersweet Lane

Amelia Rob ran a daycare that was attended by children from far and wide. The NAACS (National Association Against Childhood Stupidity) ranked the institute as "Day care most likely to live up to parents' expectations" every year. The most precocious kids from 5 counties came to Amelia's humble home and walked out at five years old with their almost guaranteed tickets to University of Sidney, or Queensland College, and those were not easy to come by. Some kids went there until the third grade, which was technically not legal, and neither was having one caregiver for thirty-eight children, but enforcing codes and regulations were a thing of the past. A lot of people thought Amelia herself could have gone to Australia with her exceptional teaching abilities, but she always said that somebody had to stay home and weed out the geniuses in her good old state of Arkansas, so this world could have a better chance of surviving, for lord's sake. When the pending nuclear war came, as everyone knew it would eventually, it had been decided that Australia would be left alone, and if you happened to be on it, you would survive. That was five years before, and since then much of the world had become a trivia-filled game show trying to figure out who was smart enough to disable nuclear weapons, and create alternate energies and that sort of thing. And Amelia Rob could smell potential like an ultrasound can smell a kid with Downs.

Since it was Friday, it was also fun day, where Amelia tried to make learning interesting instead of painful, as it usually was. In other words, Fridays were like every other day in preschools one hundred years before. And the curriculum was less based around planet saving.

"Who thinks it's possible to eat while standing on your head?"

Of course all 37 hands went up. They weren't stupid, after all.

Actually that's not true. Not the stupid part, the part where there were only 37 in the class. There were actually 38 little tykes in the class, but Wally never talked, never looked at anyone, or even breathed, it seemed, so it was easy to forget about him. When Amelia met him at the Seven Eleven, he was staring straight ahead. The optimistic would say he was calculating, the pessimistic would say bugs were eating his brain. Amelia had chosen him on the grounds that he was an autistic savant, though he showed no outward signs of brilliance. She had told his parents that she could feel it in her gut that he was going to do great things. It was a lie, of course; the boy was nothing special, but he offered a mystery for Amelia that no little genius could. He was like a bloody car accident. You can't look at it, and you can't tear yourself away. You wonder if anybody's alive in there.

Every day Amelia called on Wally constantly to answer questions, and each time he gave the other children more reason to resent him. He always got A's on his progress reports, and never had to do a lick of work. He was a brick that was treated like an incredibly precocious child.

"How about you Wally? What is the name of the property that allows this?"

Nothing. "Good guess, Wally. Did you mean peristalsis?"

All the other kids groaned and rolled their eyes. In their heads of course. They weren't idiots.

"Now", said Amelia, "I have a tub of Cheerios here, and whoever gets this riddle correct gets to do a handstand against the wall while your classmates feed you Cheerios." The class buzzed with excitement. Riddles were their specialty, and Cheerios didn't contain any omega 3 oils for brain development, which most of their diet was rich in.

"What is greater than God, more evil than the devil, the poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it, you'll die?"

Terry McCane said pi. Dianne Hanaway said the human mind. Christopher Robin (his parents were very eccentric) swore for a while and then cried. He'd never had a Cheerio before, and he'd heard they help lower cholesterol. Wally said nothing. It finally paid off for him, "nothing" being the answer and all. He eventually understood what Amelia wanted him to do after the twelfth demonstration, but he kept tipping over. The other kids were peeved, but lined up in a civil manner to put Cheerios in Waste-of-Life Wally's mouth. No one sneaked a Cheerio. They weren't Neanderthals.

And to top off everyone being dead except Wally who had never been far from it -- peristalsis didn't really work with him. He coughed for about ten minutes before he realized that the overly concerned Amelia should have been giving him the Heimlich by now.

3 Bittersweet Lane

Jeopardy! blared on the TV, a show that had quickly become too easy for its contestants, what with the recent influx of knowledge. Alex Trebek is 169, and is on his third larynx. Mr. and Mrs. Blowheart are doing what all the sensible people do in times of trouble. Living it up. Just that day Mr. Blowheart had bought the new PS15 with the six controller package, even though there were only two users, and paid an early evening visit to a certain Miss Rob who had no qualms about him having a wife. He had given her the whole hakuna matata speech and put her right in his pocket in the process. Also in his pocket was the picture of her that saved his life.

Being the romantic man that he was, Mr. Blowheart had asked Amelia for a picture of her, so he could forever be reminded of her thunderous beauty. I believe those were his exact words. An eager Amelia, besides a wallet size, also gave him a portrait-over-the-mantle size, and separate pictures of her drawn by every student in her class. Wally's looked more like a topiary shrub than a person.

"Who is the Lithuanian Prime minister!" shrieked Claudia Blowheart, with the look of someone who has just been tazed. Somehow the trivia train had not stopped at Mrs. B's station, and usually her Jeopardy! answers weren't even in the same language as the question, never mind category. Seems the common sense and working brain functions trains had passed her by as well.

Since none of the contestants could answer the question, old Alex, sounding like a young Cher, gave the answer. "What is plutonium," he sang.

"I knew it," said Claudia. Mr. Blowheart couldn't help but smile, even though this was nothing new.

"Dear, I'm going to change the channel during the commercial, okay?"

"No, we might miss the final Jeopardy."

"But the Razorbacks are playing and it's the third Wednesday of the month!" Mr. Blowheart was not about to miss the game that would be the difference between eighteen losses and nineteen losses. Nineteen was his second unluckiest number.

"No."

"I'll just go over to Amelia's then." Mrs. Blowheart considered this for a moment. She really liked Amelia, but she was becoming suspicious of her and her genius students. Judging by the huge portrait of her over their mantle, Amelia and Mr. B were more than friends. She was having trouble deciding between partners in crime, and Howard secretly being a member of her class.

"Fine. Change it to your stupid games. But when the end of the world comes and you don't know what plutonium is, you'll be sorry." There, now I've got him, she thought. Howard sighed; he had hoped she wouldn't relent.

At that moment the pizza delivery man rang the doorbell. It was funny, Howard never remembered ordering pizza, and his wife was not allowed near the phone after she dropped the receiver in boiling water and tried to fish it out for the fourth time. And the pizza man always seemed to for get to put the pizza in the box. "Finally, our pizza is here. I called at least three hours ago!" Howard would be the last to admit his memory was going. He paid the man, who then ran to his car and sped away. Maybe he has to go to the bathroom and is too embarrassed to ask to use ours, Howard always thought.

Wallet in hand, Howard dejectedly walked to the TV to change the channel, knowing the next hour would be filled with inane questions from his wife about slow motion replays. She just couldn't grasp the concept that they were recordings, and not actually happening. As Mr. B changed the channel, his photo of Amelia fell out of his wallet and floated to the floor behind the TV. Though he had made ten copies of this picture, he thought this one best highlighted her rosy cheeks and wouldn't lose it for the world. He reached behind the TV, but being a shortish man, could not reach his darling.

"Claudia, come here and give me a push so I can reach," he said. Claudia rolled her eyes and waddled over.

"Hey, that's Amelia's picture!" she shouted. "I know what you two are up to and I won't let you do it! If you've been stealing the potatoes from the Seven Eleven, you could have at least told me!" At a spur of the moment decision, she had decided on partners in crime, because people were always saying Howard's potato salad was so good it must be a crime.

"Dear, they don't sell potatoes at the Seven Eleven." said Howard.

"Oh, all right then. Well don't I feel foolish," said Claudia. "I'm sorry I ever doubted you." She then hoisted his legs way into the air over the TV, a little more than what Howard had intended. It is tragic that, even though Howard Blowheart was saved, a half a second later the television crashed down on his head, squashing it flat. He had an antique from 1999, and it must have weighed 200 pounds.

4 Bittersweet Lane

DeShawn and Tanya Williams knew, though one had an unfair advantage, and it was wreaking havoc on their marriage. They had known for a year and a half, and were being forced to choose between the two different interpretations of the right thing.

"Last chance, there's still time," DeShawn pleaded, as he had been all day, all week, maybe even his whole life. "If you loved me you would at least tell little Red McCane. If that girl dies, I'll never forgive either of us."

"You won't have to, sweetie; remember, we're going to Jesus as well."

"What about in heaven? We'll have eternity to feel bad then."

"Nobody feels bad in heaven."

DeShawn paused. He didn't like to fight, but if there was ever any time to do it, that was now. He felt like he was poking an angry bear mother with a cattle prod. "What if..." he had been waiting so long to say this, he couldn't back down. Not yet. "What if there is no heaven. What if we just...die? Doesn't that scare you at all, pumpkin?"

She stopped, as if this thought had never occurred to her. She spoke harshly, but smoothly at the same time. "What does your life matter anyway, you're just a vegetable. You're right, not even heaven could cure you. But what does it matter, since obviously you're going to hell."

He snapped. And it wasn't even his wife's harsh words. Sure, maybe they were the last straw, but all the other straws were the thought of little, clever, funny, amazing Red McCane. DeShawn had always been so gentle, too gentle, which is why he married his wife, a woman who knew how to take charge, and wouldn't let anyone take advantage of him anymore. Which is why paralyzed me is no different from old me, he thought. If he was mobile he would have socked her there and then. No, he wouldn't have, but he liked to think he was in charge on occasion. "Aren't you so special? You and God got a close little relationship, where he tells you who dies, and who lives over tea and crumpets!"

"They're going to die anyway, it might as well be painless!"

"That could be years from now!" He paused. "You hate them, you want them to die."

"No."

"You hate me." With Tanya's lack of an answer, he went on blindly and savagely. "Yes, yes you're willing to sacrifice all those lives, as a way of justifying my death! You don't care about God, you just want my helpless, no good excuse for a life out of the picture!" But then he stopped. "But why would you care? You'll be dead too."

There was a long awkward silence where both minds seemed to be contemplating taking it all back. But it was literally the end of the day. All cards on the table. "Do you really want to know? You could go quietly in relative peace."

"So I was right..." DeShawn trailed off. He had tried not to be a burden, tried so hard. But when you can't even scratch yourself, it becomes a challenge. "I want to know."

"Do you?"

"No."

"It's probably best. Hey, look at the clock. Thirty seconds. Are you ready?"

"I love you."

Tanya stood up against the kitchen wall, took a deep breath, and hoisted herself up into a handstand. Her hair hung down to her hands.

"What are you doing...?"

"I used to love you, DeShawn."

And then he was gone. She stayed up a few minutes more, crying upside-down tears. God knows, why, it's not like she was a murderer. But being the sensitive person she was, she expected to cry. She'd planned for it, so why in the world was she crying?

THE END


© 2010 Emma Horn

Bio: Emma Horn is a high school sophomore, living in the Boston area.

E-mail: Emma Horn

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