Adults are Stories for Kids:
The settlement was so small that it was difficult to find even if you had been there before. There were hardly any houses and these were more patched up than original constructions, built on top of the remains of what must have been a simple coastal village next to a stream. Anything minimally useful had been utilised to resolve structural problems, and Kalani had made a hobby out of repairing things and leaving a colourful signature on her work. She had learnt basic mechanics more due to distrust than curiosity, and to read out of pure love, how to use a bath in order to check empirically what seemed fascinating at a theoretical level, a little history, numbers and letters for practical reasons, and to be surrounded by people because reality had taken over. Almost one hundred and fifty people lived there, devoting their time to study, livestock farming and the most elementary kind of survival. Thus, within two weeks of her arrival, the girl had set up a small network of bartering and favours.
At night, the village enjoyed electric light, shielded by the valleys and mountains that surrounded it, although most of the energy was used in the manufacture of ammunition, as this guaranteed that the inhabitants had something to offer the outside world. In turn, the outside world could choose how to acquire its ammunition and, above all, whether to risk coming and taking the bullets themselves. Lastly, the lighthouse, though its light was permanently off, stood high above a cove, collecting all there was to know as if it were a library, thus guaranteeing that the villagers had something to offer to themselves.
Kalani had spent three years in that place, ignoring almost everything and living a life which became increasingly more bizarre: hardly anyone wanted to kill her ever, they only got cross with her. Yet to tell the truth, she would have given her all for the settlement: they had books and hot water. It was the kind of place in which everybody knew each other and hung out their washing wherever they wanted.
That summer’s day, the girl woke up mid-morning which, in her lazy terms, was extremely early.
She then got into trouble.
“What have you done to your face, Kalani?” exclaimed Rhys, one of the village doctors, alarmed, hurrying to the fridge and stumbling in his drowsiness.
“I fell on a good right hook,” she answered. “If you don’t believe me, I have other punchy excuses...”
The health centre was the third largest building in the village after the lighthouse-library and the factory, and the second best-tended place after the hydroelectric generators in the river.
“No reports?” he enquired in a voice that dragged itself through his exhaustion while he applied a little ice on the swelling. “Hold this against it with the cloth” he said in a slightly lower voice, his words thick as unrefined oil.
“No reports, if possible” said Kalani.
They sat down on two chairs.
“I need a favour,” he began.
“Do you want me to undress and cover myself in yogurt?” asked the girl mischievously. “It’s a little exotic, but I accept if you can get hold of the yoghurt.”
“Kalani, focus that distillery about to explode that you have for a brain a little, please!” his weariness was not up to her acid humour.
“Sorry, a serious matter, go on.” Kalani pushed her own words aside.
“We have to go to the city.”
“What for?” she asked, willing and resolute.
He stood up with an effort and looked through the glass door that separated them from the next room in which a patient was lying on a stretcher; the doctor maintained an eloquent silence.
“I need simeprevir, or alternatively, interferon and ribavirin.” he told her. Kalani looked at him in askance. “They are medicines for the treatment of Hepatitis C, for Shannon; it can derive in cryoglobulinemia, hepatocarcinoma or leukytoclastic vasculitis”.
Kalani nodded as if she had completely understood everything that he was saying, leaving only a glimmer of irony as… well, it was a serious matter.
“And we hardly have the means to diagnose or treat anything. The medicines are on the list we made of the inventory in cold storage, were you here then?”
Kalami nodded again.
“I hope they are still there. I don’t even want to think what will happen when the medical reserves run out.” he admitted, overwhelmed by the idea.
“Shannon is… you know that he lost his brother as a result of the accident with your revolver.”
“Yes… Steve will be ostracised for sure.”
“Adele is very stern with stupidity and that kid seems to feed exclusively on his own idiocy” he declared, while leafing through some medical notes.
“The truth is that it’s one of the few things about which I fully agree with Adele: stupidity never works in one’s favour, it’s plain to see” cautioned Kalani, unable to let go of her macabre thoughts. “Who will be going?” she asked with curiosity.
“You, Audrey and I.”
“When are we leaving? Only the three of us? I would prefer it if someone else came too… Doctor Pistachio III would come for sure, and we will have to find at least one car.”
“Tomorrow morning.” he said.
“Tomorrow I’m meant to be going to the woods to lay traps… and to cut the corn.” she added uncertainly, “but someone else can do it if we are getting the drugs. I will ask Cole if he wants to come!” exclaimed the girl, enthusiastically.
“Kalani…” The reproachful tone got lost somewhere before the last syllable.
“He is black!” she answered, stretching out her arms and smiling confidently. “He will make our expedition more diverse.”
“I am sure that that is discriminatory.”
“Oh no! You found me out! Come on, what the fuck, I am also against it: all discrimination seems to be the same. He can’t come because he’s black?”
“Is there any rule that you haven’t yet broken?”
“Come on!” she exclaimed indignantly, “The rules and I started very young!”
“Kalani…” Just saying her name seemed like a sermon.
“I’ll counter-attack as I am getting bored: I’m pretty sure you haven’t slept for at least two days!” she said, indicating the bags under his eyes –she felt reality crawling through his mind with great difficulty– “and that has damaged your intellectual capabilities. Have you seen how well I speak? Helping people is great and all that, and if we don’t do it, we can’t survive, but you should be the first on your list, like Radha and Carmen.” Kalani was referring to the other two doctors.
“Carmen has a fixation for hypodermic needles that escapes me…”
“Wonderful. Do you want to know what I think?”
“Ummm… no.” said Rhys.
“That you can’t save the fucking world, you shouldn’t even try, it’s selfish, it’s…inhuman. Just do what you have to do: try to make people kick the bucket less with you than without you!” she said, her hand leaning against the doorframe. “If you don’t sleep, you can’t come with us,” she warned, while making signs that she was going to dance or leave, which where Kalani was concerned, basically meant the same thing.
“Why… why selfish?” he asked, puzzled.
“Because,” she stopped there, in the doorway, to give herself time to carefully consider what she was going to say, “if you really think about it, if you assume someone else’s responsibility, you deny that person the space to be himself and to develop; what’s more, the way we treat others is a reflection of how we treat ourselves… well, not always. So one could think that you are covering their needs because you are needy, that sounds good, doesn’t it? Give me a lolly, go on!” she said with a quick shrug and a smile.
“If I wasn’t a slave to my needs, I would have to be responsible, and I prefer to be indebted to my cynicism than to my morals.”
“There’s no keeping you from your needs, is there?” teased Kalani.
“Shit! And what about my lolly?”
The room opened out onto the balcony, it was simple and spacious; a bed, a low table, cushions lying about everywhere, dust dancing in the sunbeams, clothes all over the floor and two rucksacks leaning against the wall. The walls were covered in drawings and messages mainly from different hands. Most of them were about love. There were also various games of noughts and crosses with a clear win to the noughts. The window let in the afternoon sunlight; the stairs led down to the ground floor.
“Come on mate, I only deal in worthless things” insisted Kalani, sporting an enormous bruise below her lip. “The best things in life are free! Make love, dance, enjoy a good steak, watch the sunset, bite a dog…”
“Yes, but Kalani, seriously, using your own jargon: your face is in a state” said Cole, looking at her with his barely thirteen years from the balcony and his dreadlocks –she roared with laughter– “and sometimes you do shady business with people that are not sure whether five is more or less than four even when counting on their fingers. Don’t you think it could be dangerous?”
“For them, of course: I certainly know how to count and what’s more I have awesome psychic powers.”
“It’s not very sensible to go broadcasting it.”
“I can be extremely subtle, Cole” she assured him, with a teasing superiority. “Would you know if I was manipulating you to wonder if I was manipulating you?” He fell into her trap.
“You see?” said Kalani with a triumphant smile. Cole roared with laughter. “Your mind is mine, screw you!”
“I don’t know whether your humour is ingenious or stupid.” he admitted.
“Stupid,” declared the girl, “I don’t like to leave anyone unhappy. Returning to poor Steve,…” Kalani sighed with a nostalgia full of indulgence, “don’t worry, my cheek has faced up to him”.
“Nah… that’s not funny” Cole grumbled, approaching her.
“You’re right, it would have been funnier if it had been someone else’s cheek”.
He couldn’t help laughing.
“Adolescents…” remarked the boy with a snort, as if that word explained all the complexities of the situation.
“Go on,” she said, naked on the bed.
“Adolescents” he began, “are not the children referred to in stories and journals, nor are adults what they are supposed to be, they take refuge in the space that they deny to the world, the control they have is born from the same illusion that obliges them to contemplate an imperfect reality. It’s only a theory, give me a couple of years and I’ll verify it for you”.
“You idiot, dude.” she answered, joining in his laughter. “Do you have to explain all your thoughts in such a poetic way for them to be understood?” she joked, wiggling her hands expressively, “or am I an idiot and nobody has told me? Come on, don’t be an asshole and tell me the truth. Is there anything you like doing apart from listening to yourself?” she asked with her mouth open and a bovine expression, only because it was an expression she wore sometimes.
“I suppose there must be something…” answered Cole hesitantly, moving his hand vaguely. “I like you, and Tania and her cake-trafficking and her belly, which is now pregnant; I like freckly Shaun because he moves better than he looks, and the Emily who wears socks,” –all of them were teenagers around the same age as Kalani– “and I like books and interesting conversations. It’s a difficult question. But you…” –Kalani could see herself inside Cole’s mind, shining out– “It’s more than that, listen, the other day I was thinking about you: when you learnt to read, you told me that people read whole words whereas you read syllables: “it wears me out”, you said. My question is: did you cheat when learning to read, with the help of your powers, white girl? The results are incredible in someone of your age.”
“Let’s see… If I could teleport myself, to get to a place which I had never seen, it would be… somewhere between stupid and dangerous, wouldn’t it?”
“Wait a minute, is this some kind of revenge for my poetic figures of speech?”
“Yes” confirmed Kalani with a smile that overflowed into the word. “And if you consider yourself so intelligent, think of a metaphor about your stupidity.”
“Okay, okay…” he gave in, putting up his hands, then raised an eyebrow to add “Technical draw?”
“You should be so lucky. And now, clever boy, come here.” Kalani invaded the bed.
“How can it be so big bearing in mind the amount you talk?” she wondered, her pupils reflecting her desire.
“Don’t you like it, Ka? I’ve only got it in this size…”
“Cole, man,” she said, drawing closer to him and taking hold of his hand while laughing, “We are going to do something that I know it is very difficult for both of us, but we are going to shut up and we are going to quietly shag for a couple of hours, I repeat: quietly, and groaning and so on” she added with an unconcerned shrug, “and then you are going to tell me why Emily traffics cakes and I didn’t know about it”.
“It’s Tania that traffics cakes” he clarified.
“I have been with Emily-socks, she does it really well. And she’s jealous that we are together: you are very sought-after” she told him kissing and hugging him.
After a few rather busy moments with the summer on their lips, the conversation tried to get back on track:
“But Tania gives you cake afterwards” indicated Cole.
“I am beginning to suspect…”
“… that this being silent is not working shit” muttered Cole, imitating Kalani’s way of grumbling.
“Can you read my mind too, black boy? Because I have thought about what I am going to make for Audrey when she comes for dinner and I need your help.” Calm gave way to an explosion of energy. “The other day I discovered what the best thing is about being one of the ugliest girls in the whole village!”
“That no-one expects any good of me!” she exclaimed laughing. “On your knees!” The explosion of energy vanished, giving way to a quiet enthusiasm. “Although you should know I like my face, I have a rabbit face: big teeth that are incapable of coming with me when I shut my mouth, yum, yum, charming chubby cheeks, punky hair and then there’s my big blue eyes.
“Can’t you focus on one thing for any longer than thirty seconds?”
“Can you...? Oooh…! Yes I can…”
Audrey looked through the glass as she took off her hood and noisily took a bite out of a tart, green, apple. She could hear the steps of Jerry and Tiara patrolling along the exterior walkway, a little further down.
She spat as she saw Kalani between some houses, running naked behind a pack of dogs, among which was Boatswain, her Newfoundland, which the girl had decided to call Doctor Pistachio III.
She followed him dancing and jumping, shouting and barking. Boatswain, who right from the start had accepted his nickname with resignation, happily approached Kalani who hugged him. The dog then zigzagged until finding a stick, which he dropped at the girl’s feet and began to charge back and forth at it until she picked it up and threw it for him.
Although the top floor of the lighthouse did not officially serve as a library, its shelves were full of books, so many that there was not room for them all, and some volumes were piled up on the floor. Other than that, the room only contained a threadbare rug, a sofa, two chairs and a plain well-worn desk.
From there, Audrey could survey the whole settlement, precariously rebuilt on top of the ruins: a vast and still largely uninhabited terrain. She could also see the barbed-wire fencing in front of the stone walls, the meadows and the wood, and in the distance, the mountains all around. The sea stretched out endlessly behind her. She also had an excellent view of Adele, who could herself, in a way, be considered a landscape: not a particularly relaxing one, but she was quite a large woman, taking into account the amount of food available. She had a surly face, almost constantly set in a frown, but with a quick and bright look and wrinkles where a disbelieving smile began. She wore an elegant but worn-out cowboy suit with sinuous borders, a tie and a hat, although the latter now lay on the table.
“Kalani never does what she’s supposed to do,” declared Adele, without attempting to hide her disapproval.
“If you make a rule, she will find a way to break it right in front of you,” agreed Audrey.
“It’s natural that you should be friends” said her companion. “I don’t mind the fact that she doesn’t go to school like everyone else, but how can she sleep an average of ten hours a day?”
“The last time I asked her, she said that she has fun sleeping!”
Adele could not help her words sounding like a reproach:
“She is always playing, she never takes anything seriously and how old is she? Fifteen? She could be having children, like everyone else. What kind of adult is she?”
“Adults are stories for kids, Adele. Here we have survived. If we can’t do what we like, now that we have managed to keep breathing, what’s the point of living? Kalani doesn’t think we are any different from the bandits that kill each other.”
“That girl is not normal” insisted Adele.
“That’s why… what would you do if you had her powers?”
“Something responsible, for a start.”
“Well, I’m glad she doesn’t take anything seriously.” Audrey’s smile was a quiet challenge.
“You are the same, you think that good and evil are no different” replied Adele
“Well, one of the fundamental tragedies of mankind is that if you do good, you run the risk of ending up doing evil and if you do evil, you run the risk of ending up making a fortune.”
“But neither of you think that,” declared Adele.
“Of course not, good and evil are just words and the idea of a person amassing a fortune is ridiculous. What’s more, we are not ambitious, we prefer to be happy.
“Anyway, Kalani never stops defying me.”
“Her relationship with you is nothing personal: she would defy anyone who told her what to do” said Audrey, nonchalantly. “She lives out of a rucksack, her freedom is the only thing she has.” Adele remained thoughtful for a few moments and Audrey gazed back out of the window. “If the matter of the expedition has been cleared up, I am going to have lunch with Rhys, and tomorrow we’ll go and get the medicines.”
“Do you think you’ll find them there?” enquired Adele without much conviction. “It’s over a year since the inventory was made and that was the last visit to the city.”
“What are the chances that someone has taken them?” answered Audrey.
“About fifty percent, possibly. What does Kalani think?”
“Kalani is a thief, she thinks that someone will have taken them, but we have to try. For Shannon.”
“Tell me how much petrol you need.”
Kalani took a punch in the mouth.
A really hard one, one of those that makes a hollow sound and knocks your tooth out, roots and all.
She felt the blood filling up the tissue beneath the skin of her lip, she imagined the greenish-purple colour that the bruise would develop in a few hours, then she returned to the present, feeling the root of the bone coming away from the gum with a hot stabbing pain.
She spat out one of her lower incisors, red.
“Your friends are frightened,” she said steadily.
In reality, she too was frightened, not that much, because in the settlement everything was a second rate danger, but the fear meant that the mental rhythm of these idiotic kids who were holding her by the arms while Steve was looking at her as if he were going to punch her again focussed her brain.
The two boys stammered what from the context must have been an apology, let her go and left.
Steve did not know what was going on but he could not waste time in shouting at them to come back.
The asbestos shed where the school toilets were was not the best place in the world to make a scene.
She smiled, a few moments more and the scenario would follow the rhythm of her heart.
The truth is that a fearful mind, weakened by hunger or weariness, or simply driven to despair in a fit of rage, was always easier to control; often it was enough just to cast a doubt. What’s more, Kalani had recently had a revelation: if her own mental movement acquired a specific form –fear, for example– it was easier to shape this same form in the minds of others. It was like music, only the other way round, it was difficult to recall a song while another one was playing. On the other hand, if the minds of others were also beginning to acquire this form on their own, hardly even a nosebleed was needed to end up shaping and activating it. A shooting pain pierced her head. Although it was brief, it remained hanging from her neurons in an acute, sustained echo in the form of an intense ache, far too present for comfort.
In fact, she sensed that she should learn to calm down and flow through her own mind in order to be more efficient. But she decided to leave her thoughts for a rather less risky time and launched a question into the air:
“Don’t you like the revolver, Steve?” Steve, who was a couple of years older than her, took a few steps backwards, disconcerted. “It isn’t easy to be an arms dealer, is it? And I clearly explained to you that the firing pin was a little loose. I clearly explained that you shouldn’t load it with six bullets. I clearly explained that this was why I was selling it a bit cheaper, remember? Hell, I explained everything fucking marvellously to you! I even threw in some bullets in spite of the fact that I don’t even like you, that’s what you would call winning customer loyalty or something like that, but what kind of dickhead aims at his boyfriend with a gun? It is a rhetorical question, which means you don’t have to answer,” she clarified. Kalani loved using all those words she had learnt. “Hand over my fucking revolver, you prick, the one that Eddie and Ben just took off me,” she ordered patiently, “the other one is yours and a deal is a deal.” He gave her the gun with a doubtful expression on his face, which radiated no more intelligence than that of a particularly resourceful pot of gladiolas.
“I’ll be kicked out,” he said defeatedly.
“If you’re lucky,” she reminded him, her eyes suddenly lighting up with a decided glow. “I tell you what, I won’t say anything if you give me the other revolver back. What do you think? And you could, as really that revolver isn’t contraband, it was mine, but I wanted to make myself out to be more exciting,” she explained. “Contraband stuff is difficult to get, generally it’s stupid to buy it and you couldn’t afford it anyway,” she said, scratching her eyebrow. “Contraband.., it sounds good but I’m not so sure… Supposedly it’s stuff that’s been in the hands of bandits or criminals, isn’t it?” Kalani stopped her thoughts at that point, she didn’t want to get side-tracked. “Well, that’s it: the revolver for my silence. Tell me it’s not a fucking awesome deal!” She smiled animatedly. “We’ll tell the others that you wanted to get rid of it because of the accident.
“Thanks…” he managed to say, without being sure of whether he should think about anything in particular, while giving her the weapon. She certainly knew what to think: for example, what happened to Eric, Steve’s boyfriend, was a stupid tragedy. “Thanks for letting me live,” Steve managed to finish. Kalani was impressed that the poor thing had appreciated the value of this latest transaction.
“Twice, I suppose, if you count this time, and you don’t even deserve it.” She fingered the incipient bruise, which was beginning to swell up. “It’s a pleasure doing business with you, believe me,” she said. “Remember that you have come out on top… all things considered…” She tried to comfort him with an unconvincing, friendly gesture and an erratic look. “By the way, when they do exile you, come and see me: I have provisions that you can pay for with things you won’t need.” And with that, Kalani danced away.
She loved savouring the word exile, probably due to the X, it gave it class. And the L, the L was good. And the fact that it was not being applied to her was rather comforting too: to tell the truth, she had always believed that one day, in spite of everything, she would be kicked out of there.
“I only have one question, Ka. Why did you let Steve punch you?
“I felt guilty,” answered Kalani, “for the death of his boyfriend and that: it was me that gave him the revolver, after all.” Her expression revealed a certain sadness on remembering this; she had decided to avoid getting involved in that kind of problem again. “But later, I went to see Rhys so he could treat my face for the beating they had given me and… I realised that I had made a mistake with my “I’m going to save the world” and all that, and in the fact that I now have one less tooth!” she added laughing, and then she became thoughtful for a few moments: she raised her eyebrow and her tongue appeared from under her top lip. “The reality is that we are free, Cole, right from the start. I am free even of myself. In fact we are so free and have been so for such a long time that in retrospect, I see myself as very young,” said Kalani, puzzled. He proffered a chuckle. “When all is said and done, that’s how thoughts move: they go their own way and are absolutely fine. That’s why I prefer to dance… And that you dance with me,” she ordered with a smile. “Listen, I almost forgot, will you come to the city to get medicine?”
Adults are Stories for Kids by Marta Roussel Perla is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://parafernaliablablabla.blogspot.ie/.