Loopholes, Chapter 39

(Start here.) (Or just go backwards.)

It was cold inside the box. The seat was glass, or something like it, so smooth and polished I almost slipped off. I lowered my backpack to the floor where it settled with a clank. I leaned back and let my head rest against the cold, glass wall. He slid the door shut with a smooth chunk and walked away at that same, measured pace.

And then we were alone in our side-by-side boxes. Me and my mother—or what used to be my mother. She stared ahead with her face set. And even though it was maybe just the outside of her, I just wished I could talk to her again, that she would somehow, some way, be OK. “Hey,” I said. Nothing. “Hey!”

I grabbed for the handle of the door. Except there was no handle on the inside, it was nothing but cool, smooth thick glass. I hit it with my hand, hard. Nothing. Again. Nothing. It made me so mad!

I kicked my stupid backpack and banged my toe so hard tears came to my eyes. I grabbed my foot and then I stopped and let it go. Because my backpack clanked. And when I kicked it, I hurt my toe: the frying pan.

I opened my backpack and there it was, the heaviest one, Grandma’s cast-iron special. I hefted it—it was heavy. Then I stood up. “Mom?” I called. She looked over at me, her face twisted and mistrustful and full of venom. It scared me, but I said, “I’m going to get us out of here, hang on!” Her face didn’t change. But maybe it would, I told myself. Maybe it still could. Or else why was she still there?

I hauled the frying pan over my shoulder, lifted it up, and swung it into the wall. The pan shuddered in my hands and the glass made a dull cracking sound. But nothing, no change. My mom—if it was still my mom—kept watching. I hauled the pan back again, swung it high above my head, and brought it down. The impact was so intense I staggered. But again: nothing. I brought it back and shut my eyes, every frustration built so high in me, and I wailed it down with a long, hoarse scream. It whacked into the wall with a thunderous crack. The glass shimmered in the air for a moment, then dropped like a curtain, shattering.

The air washed over me. I shook myself, like I’d just gotten out of the water, taking huge gasps of air.

“Mom.” I came over to her box, lugging the frying pan and my backpack. I tried to pretend she wasn’t looking at me the way she was, that it would change when I got her out of there. My arms were weak and trembling. I still held the frying pan. I put my hand up against the glass. If I blurred out her face, she looked like herself. Her profile was the same. It was her, it had to be her. My throat got tight. My arms were heavy with exhaustion. “Mom?” My voice caught in my throat. “Mom, be careful. Now!”

I swung the frying pan over my head and smashed it into her wall. A long crack flashed up the side. Her eyes followed it.

“Mom!” I called. “Cover yourself!” She just looked to where the crack had almost reached the top of the glass wall. Her face didn’t change. Then with all my might and a crazy, desperate yowl I slammed the pan right into the crack and the wall exploded with a heavy echoing crash.

Glass showered down around us. The air from inside the box smelled cold and stale. “Mom?” Her face was turned to me. She had tiny pieces of glass in her hair like jewels.

“Mom?” I reached in to where she sat—she hadn’t moved. A thin line of blood ran down her face from where a fleck of glass had struck her forehead. I touched her shoulder. It felt loose but alive. The awful, angry look was gone, but in its place was a look of sick and profound exhaustion. “Mom?” Her lips were moving, just the tiniest bit. I leaned in close. “Mom?”

She put out her hand towards me, then she landed on the floor in a heap.

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