Family Life and Sexual Health Christine Texeira
Elle sat in her classroom, wide-eyed, watching her teacher pull folded pieces of paper from their completely anonymous-anything goes-let’s be open and ask questions-sex box. “Dick,” “wiener” and “crotch” fell from the teacher’s mouth in such aurally disgusting, rapid and surprising succession that Elle found herself struggling to understand and apply definitions about genital organs and reproduction and copulation to these words that were tucked into the crevices of her mind. The scientific terms sounded more comfortable in her ears. Maybe because they carried a functional mystery—still rugged, with hard vowels, but curving around themselves, shiny and iridescent, like a spiral seashell right at the tide line or a cat cleaning itself. Fallopian.
Week two of fifth grade FAMILY LIFE AND SEXUAL HEALTH focused on Family. Strangely, it was here that Elle realized, for the first conscious time, that it would be impossible to acquire an older brother. It had always been obvious that finding him was one option, but now it was the only option. Elle existed and therefore an older brother should already exist were he to exist at all. The way time went forward all the time. Her brother was a situation that seemed to only exist in that path between her brain and her heart, the line that allowed her brain to say, and her heart to hear, “Beat, beat. Live.”
Even before she could remember, before she started school or could even write her full name, Elle’s tantrums arose from that brotherly desire made so vivid by the memories of him haunting her head. No matter that her mother was sure she did not have a sibling of any kind—Elle knew he was out there, elsewhere.
Also in Family week Elle learned that most of the other girls had seen a penis before. They nodded and looked down not wanting to see each other, or perhaps to make it seem like they were thinking seriously about the question. Elle kept her head up and still—thinking about the natural and perplexing connection between family and penises.
“It goes inside, right?”
Elle shook her head, “I don’t think so. I think it’s kind of like a hotdog in a bun.” Amma looked down at her desk, thinking. Biting her bottom lip, she pointed at the diagram worksheet between them, straddling the awkward height difference of their respective desks, “This is like a tunnel though. How does the sperm get up there?”
“Like a hotdog slamming really hard into a bun.” Elle points to the vagina, “They drip in. It’s more like a river than a tunnel.”
“Maybe we should ask?” Amma rips a piece of paper from her notebook and glances at the ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ROOTS page in her folder. She writes, What do you mean by and stops.
Elle keeps her eyes on the paper, “Sex?”
A few uncomfortable attempts and she finally figured out the angle at which something could go inside. She quickly removed her finger. That was that. Ok, definitely a tunnel. And then it happened. That thing where whenever she looked at a certain boy she thought about that angle and it was a little embarrassing and still confusing, but also mostly ok. Her body possessed a ram’s skull, a blooming iris but it was all so unknown.
Elle walked across an empty playground, returning to her classroom. There he was, walking in her direction with a bright yellow slip in his right hand. They passed each other and he said something, anything, who could remember, looking at her.
Elle turned toward him, “Yep. Good.” They faced each other and walked backward in opposite directions. She yelled, “See you back there.” Then she thought. And the back of her body ran directly into a tetherball pole and she turned around with such ungraceful fervor that she practically hit the pole with the front of her body, too. At that moment, she was grateful to be alone.
The Museum of Mysteries was in the city. Amma saw an ad in the yellow pages and realized an unknown desire within her to play a Theremin. In fact, that is all she told Elle about the museum.
“It’s a musical instrument. They have one there that you can play. Look.” She showed Elle the page ripped from the phonebook. It was an ugly ad with nearly indiscernible gothic font, but she was right. TRY OUT A THEREMIN! Elle deciphered.
“So, it’s not a mystery?”
“Well, no, but it’s weird. You don’t even touch it!”
“You just play it with your mind? That’s cool.”
“Well, no, you play it with your hands.”
“Like an instrument. Like regular instruments?”
Amma was agitated, but seemed to recognize the logic in Elle’s confusion. “You move your hands in the air around the Theremin and it makes sounds. Weird sounds.”
It was still dark when the two girls climbed on to the bus. They could make it from their suburban neighborhood to The Museum of Mysteries in forty-five minutes and be there as soon as the museum opened. They hoped to be back before afternoon and their absence was noticed.
“I guess my mom could have driven us.” Elle watched the street slowly turn into freeway.
“There’s no mystery in that.” Amma maintained eye contact with the window, only moving to check the schedule and map in her lap at every stop. In Georgetown, they disembarked.
“Do you two know where you’re going?” the bus driver looked down at them.
“Yes. The Museum of Mysteries.”
“Never heard of it. Have a good day,” and the doors closed behind them.
The museum was a one-room museum. One grey, mottled couch, display cases and images of Bruce Lee had somehow found their place in this crowded, windowless basement. Above everything were shelves of books, which the woman at the front encouraged them to read. Older books were in display cases and online articles were printed and taped to the wall, the word UPDATE in black marker across the top. Near the couch was a television, playing a muted documentary with evergreens and waterfalls, blacked-out pages and holes in the earth. She could smell coffee roasting from the café above, perfectly complementing the COFFEE CONSPIRACY poster above the television. Elle began to walk around the perimeter, reading the photocopied stories from newspapers, interviews typed on a typewriter; inspecting the large, rigid plaster casts of footprints and dark, yet terrifyingly vivid artist renderings.
She sounded out Manastash under her breath and heard a hum, faint and ethereal. Amma at the Thereminl—her arms waving as if without bones or tissue; flailing with untouchable pleasure through empty space. And the hum changed. It grew in intensity, the pitch adjusting with each swipe of her hand. Soon, Amma’s face was serious and her arms slow, finding themselves more comfortable in constraint, they rose and fell modestly in search of something specific, hollow and human. Elle felt too much a voyeur watching Amma’s body move and turned back to the wall. The sound of the Theremin forced Elle’s stomach into a trembling walnut, circling frantically in the space behind her bones.
And the walnut dropped. Just like that, the walnut fell straight through her body, through the floor. It still felt connected somehow, pulling her whole being closer to the ground, into a gutter, until her jaw dangled the smallest amount away from the rest of her skull. She knew this image of a man was not her brother; he was too old, his forehead too large. But he felt like her brother feels in her mind, distant and unattainable and real. She thought that if she could understand D.B. Cooper, if she could be close to this mysterious, missing man, if she could know him, maybe she would be able to find her brother, maybe she would understand where he had gone. D.B. Cooper, the skyjacker, the man no one could find. D.B. Cooper was elsewhere, and maybe her brother was, too. Elle began reading the informational packet hanging on the wall, enhancing and living every moment of it, vicariously, in her mind:
“Do you have a seat preference? Window or aisle?”
“Aisle, if possible.”
“Fantastic,” Peggy said. The ‘y’ was beginning to fade from her red and gold nametag. It was the way her index finger grazed it every time she pulled the right side of her shirt back toward center. Twice already. “This flight isn’t full so you can have the row to yourself. Will you be checking any luggage?”
“Oh, no. Thank you. Just a quick trip.”
“Of course.” She typed ‘0’ and ‘enter.’ “Visiting family?”
He smiled and let his shoulders relax. “Yes. Got out of work just in time.”
Another shirt adjustment as his ticket printed. “Have a wonderful flight.”
“Happy Holidays.” He took his ticket and walked straight through to the gate.
“Thank you for joining us today aboard Northwest Airlines flight 305 from Portland to Seattle. We will have an approximate airtime of thirty minutes with expected arrival at 3:20 pm, Pacific Standard Time. We might be able to pick up some time along the way, bringing you in to the Emerald City as early as 3:18.” The speaker crackled.
Dan buckled his seat belt and called for a flight attendant. Within moments the light above him switched off and a woman approached.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Bourbon and soda. Thanks.”
The woman nodded and walked toward the front of the cabin. Dan unzipped his rain jacket and kicked his attaché case snugly under the seat in front of him. Settling back, he lit a cigarette. When she returned she dropped off his drink and buckled herself into the jumpseat just behind Dan. Sounds of luggage shifting, as people moved themselves throughout the plane, spreading out among the empty seats. As they began to taxi, Dan pulled a notepad from his pocket and wrote carefully until the plane began its ascent. The no smoking sign bing-ed into existence and Dan smashed his butt intothe arm ashtray without looking. Finishing his writing he leaned back and closed his eyes. He kept them closed, imagining what he would dream if he did fall asleep. Something with a woman. And falling, maybe. Definitely falling or snow.
While thinking of ice, the no smoking sign bing-ed off and the lights of the cabin flickered on. He heard the attendant unfasten her seatbelt and leaned around his chair to hand her his slip of paper.
She forced a smile, “Thank you, sir,” and dropped it into her handbag below her seat. She stood and, maintaining her smile, began to walk up the aisle.
Dan reached for her wrist and spoke upward with the still and serious voice of a frozen lake: “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” He released his grip immediately and sat back in his chair, drinking the remains of his bourbon and soda.
She took the few steps to the back of the cabin and retrieved the slip of paper, apparently not a phone number or a crude one liner designed to guide her smooth curves into the love lounge or bathroom. She read the note, refolded it and slid it into her front pocket, nestled among thirty cocktail napkins and a bag of lightly salted peanuts. With a deep breath she maneuvered around Dan and his chair to occupy seat 18B to his left.
“Can I please see.” Not a question and not a request, but a prolonging of the moment. A gross extension of the time and space between Dan and her in which it was still possible he was just trying to be close to a body, to speak intimately with a woman in uniform.
But instead of looking at the variable space between her breasts, fluctuating rapidly with each breath, Dan squeezed himself awkwardly against the seat in front of him and unlatched his case. Inside were four canisters, red wires, menace. Then the demands: money, parachutes, fuel; nothing outrageous. When the attendant returned after relaying his message, Dan had pulled a pair of sunglasses from his jacket and wore them, nodding to her and pleased as ever by her presence.
Elle continued reading, formulating the scenes in her head. There was something about the face, the pencil-drawn lines and hinted tie that forced her forward through the dense packet of text attached to the wall. D.B. ordered another drink and paid his tab. The plane circled Seattle until the money, parachutes and fuel were ready. But when the plane landed in Reno, D.B. was already gone.
“Listen. I think I’ve composed.” Amma’s voice floated into the cabin and Elle stumbled back into the bitter air of the museum.
Amma began to dance with the Theremin, her hands around its invisible and impossible shoulders. But soon she motioned for the Theremin to sit and she appeared to be performing illusions, hiding and revealing rabbits, coins and scarves that were never there. Her performance was extended and seemed to make a certain amount of aural sense; despite the confusing story her body seemed to be trying so hard to tell. Listening, Elle placed the music inside the cabin of the plane. She imagined pilots and police walking, single-file, through it all the way to the airstair, open and exposed to the tarmac. A plane unpopulated.
Elle clapped. Blushing, Amma moved to inspect a deck of tarot cards on a table behind the Theremin. Turning back, gazing seriously at his rendering, Elle imagined Dan coming home. She replaced her brother’s face with Dan’s in her sibling fantasies. She would be working on homework at the dinner table, her mother preparing side dishes and scheduling for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving meal beneath the warm, old bulbs of the kitchen. The drawers and cupboards would all be open, their oak encroaching on the little linoleum rectangle of space in which her mother could move. The rest of the house dark, windows and curtains closed against the rain. There would be footsteps. Elle would hear them coming up the drive, distinct and hurried amidst the patterned drops of rain. He would open the door, bags in hand, dripping and bloody. Elle would stand, maybe her pencil would drop to the floor, and their mother would rush from the kitchen, worried and relieved. She would hug him, but he could not respond with his hands full of bomb. He would set them down and let one arm fall casually and naturally around Elle’s shoulder, using her for balance while he caught his breath and cleaned his wounds. He would be there, real, and no one else would know who he was or that he even existed outside of the cabin of Flight 305. But he would be there. He would be right there.
Even before the skyjacking, in an earlier fantasy, Elle placed Dan in the role of her brother. Elle and Dan writing in their individual notebooks, him at the end of the rectangular dining room table and her at the side. Sometimes their writing elbows would collide at the corner and he would flick his pencil at her arm, make fun of her for being right-handed before going back to his equations, his wind speed and altitudes. And she would know he was joking. Maybe she would even say something back. It was stupid, silly things like that that Elle wanted the most.
She knew the time was wrong. How time always moves forward. How Dan would be old or dead now.
“If you’re interested in D.B., you should visit with Tom Kaye at the Burke. He and some others are still investigating the case—Citizen Sleuths.” The woman behind the counter of tarot cards and postcards for purchase smiled over to Elle, immovable in front of a photocopy of a photocopy of a sketch of someone’s memory.
To Elle, it was logical and inevitable that she should go to the Columbia River. Somewhere north of Merlin Lake, where maybe Dan landed or maybe he didn’t, or maybe he did and he died. She was sure of going there where there was still undeniable mystery; where a little boy found Dan’s money. She was unsure of meeting a sleuth; someone who might have answers that were unusable, answers for questions too realistic and focused to be of any use. Who is Dan Cooper? No, Elle would say, where.
Ghost of Dan visited Elle in the night. She did not need to go to him. She knew she was not sleeping, because it was definitely Dan, all flesh-like and calm menace. She heard him, in the kitchen and, discerning her mother’s breathing through the wall, tiptoed out through the house. He was cooking, which had happened before.
“What are you making?” Elle asked and adjusted her slippers.
“A pot pie.”
Somehow he held everything—plates, spoons, a rolling pin—in the complete darkness. It was only that thick blackness pervading the kitchen that made him appear ghostlike and shadowy. Maybe he was real, and Dan had not yet died but was entering Elle’s home through an unlocked window in order to cook her a late dinner. But time again. He was not old; he was the same face Elle knew.
“What did you do today?” Elle asked.
“Probably the same as yesterday,” Dan poured a mixture from a bowl into a small piecrust. “Let’s see. I walked for a long time and then I bought a house.” Elle watched the half of his face illuminated by the open oven. It was the same answer as yesterday and similarly wistful, as though even he were unsure what he had done that day or yesterday or any day at all.
“What are you making?”
“A pot pie.”
“What did you do today?”
“Probably the same as yesterday.”
Dan pulled a pie out of the oven and walked past her to the dining room table.
“Would you grab me a fork?”
Elle pulled a clean one from the dishwasher and set it on the table between them.
Grabbing the fork, rotating it in his hands, Dan asked, “Would you like a bite?”
She took the fork from him and broke the crust. It was angular, flaky and flickeringly real.
Elle yawned. It was wide and long and satisfying.
Through the receiver Amma asked, “Do you ever sleep?”
“Not lately. He’s here every night.”
“I can’t stay over.”
“He’s not scary. He makes food.”
“I’m not scared. I get up early to work around the house. I’m saving money.”
“Nothing.” Amma’s response was quick. “I have to go.”
“Why is he there?” Amma began to sound sympathetic.
“I need him.”
“What are you making?” Elle did not even look at him; she sat at the table and waited for the pie to bake.
“A pot pie.”
“What did you do today?”
“Jumped out of a plane. Died, maybe.”
Elle turned and saw his face half lit by the light from the oven. He knew this was the truth and somehow it gave him more comfort to say it than his walks and new houses. The oven door closed and they both waited. Elle watched him, unable to distinguish anything aside from the white shirt between his black raincoat and tie. She tried to see him. It all felt so heavy.
Dan set the pie on the table and Elle gasped awake. “Would you grab me a fork?”
She did not get up. “What did you do today?”
“Probably the same as yesterday.” Dan smiled—he knew what she was doing. She was guiding him back to routine, to something comfortable and pleasurable, something that had already disappeared. “Let’s see. I walked for a long time and then I bought a house.”
“Where is your house?” Elle knew their script had unraveled.
“Would you grab me a fork?”
She got up and pulled a fork from the dishwasher. She placed it at the corner of the table between them. Dan grabbed it before Elle could move her hand.
Instead of falling asleep, Elle listened to her mother hum in the shower.
She heard a hairdryer and the closet doors and the soft sounds of breathing increase into ruffling snores. Then there was a wooden thud as a cupboard door closed. Dan was in the kitchen, but Elle stayed in bed. Things progressed without her and the potpies smelled warm and salty from her hiding place under her covers. There was a light knock on her door. She sat up and pulled her legs into her chest, wrapping her right hand around her left wrist. Dan distracted her. He had filled a role in that nighttime loneliness she usually occupied with those few memories of herbrother. But she could not let herself be distracted from finding him any longer.
“Dan.” She said. “I’m sorry, I really am.”
He came a few more nights, and she could feel him standing beyond her bedroom door, warm from the oven. He didn’t knock again; he just waited with his back against the door, eating the pie from its dish without a fork. She missed him and the heat in her throat from eating pot pies fresh from the oven.
And then he didn’t come at all. Elle slept through the night without waking from cold, or hunger or awareness that he was always gone.
Originally published in Moss: Volume One.