by Geoff Schutt
(an excerpt from the novel, The Girl Behind The Glass)
Eleanor says: I am not family entertainment. I watched my mother leave. I watched my father act like everything was normal. I waited for something big to happen and nothing did. When I was little, my father told me fairytales. When I was little, my mother taught me how to be a good actor, how to pretend I didn’t feel what I really did, no matter what the situation. I miss pretending. I miss the fairytales.
Eleanor says: Today, earlier today, I took a walk, as far as I could go. I went way past anything that looked familiar. I am really surprised I’m back here to tell you this, because I should still be lost. I walked so far I thought I would end up in China or something like that — somewhere across the world, and nobody would speak the same language I spoke but we’d smile and we’d nod our heads and we wouldn’t be rude or anything like that. We would grow to understand each other without talking. We would learn to communicate without our voices. I was hoping I would walk this far, past the fairytales and past the pretending, because at some point along my walk, I stopped missing them. Just like that. It was kind of amazing, or a revelation. The fairytales and the pretending — I stopped missing everything old. And that’s maybe when I had the real revelation, that I was serious about this. I mean, I wanted everything new, everything I could not understand, everything I would never be able to fully understand and yet — well, I could still be part of something without understanding it fully, you know? I think that’s possible, at least. Don’t you?
Eleanor says: I walked until my feet were sore. I walked until I had blisters. I walked until I was so thirsty I thought I was going to fall over, and then, when they found me, anyone at all, they’d just shake their head and say, Well, I guess she was so thirsty she just fell over. Too bad, they’d say, because there’s this park right around the corner, with drinking fountains and swing sets and lots of grass and people just hanging out enjoying themselves and some of them even playing the guitar and singing songs and any one of these people would have been happy to help her, if only she didn’t have to fall over from thirst so soon. Pity.
Eleanor says: I think there comes a time when you realize that you can’t walk from one end of the world to the other. You can fly there, but that would just be cheating. Those people who walk around the world, those adventurer types or the people trying to make money for their causes and everything, they’re not the same either. The average person, as in me, well, I can’t walk far enough past what’s familiar, even if it’s not my particular, specific familiar, close as it might seem. I still speak the same language you know, is what I am saying I guess. But I am not family entertainment. I am not the lost girl somebody found who didn’t fall over from thirst but kept going, blisters on her feet and everything.
Eleanor says: But the thing is, that did not happen. I wasn’t found by the people who look for strangers like me. They want to spread their good karma, these people. They say, pass it on, we just want to pass it on, but they try so damn hard to pass it on, I think the good karma gets diluted along the way. Really — you can’t spend your days waiting for some lost and tired and thirsty girl to walk into your neighborhood. You can’t. That would be just wrong — waiting to be good, when you don’t have to wait to be good, I mean. You just might hit the jackpot, you good karma hunters. You just might find that she actually wants to tell you all about her family. But you would be the first person to say, this girl is not family entertainment. You would be the first person to say, is there something I can do? Yes. You would be the first person to say, is there anything you need, right now, because even though it’s out of my way and I’m on this tight schedule, you know, I want to help you. I want to be here for you. Yes, you would say this in your own words of course. That’s good karma. Good karma happens when it is not convenient, and you can quote me on this. Go ahead — quote me.
Eleanor says: Well, I walked back. I sat on the front steps. I waited for my father to come home from work. I looked a mess, I’m sure of it. But because I was sitting on our own front steps, I suppose it all seemed so normal. My father didn’t see what a mess I was because he was used to seeing me one way, and that’s the way he always saw me. The funny thing was, I smiled back. I smiled, but I said to him, I am not family entertainment, and he stood there for a second or two — you know, thinking about what just I said, this sort of nonsense, really — along with whatever other thoughts he had going around in his head — and then he finally ended up not saying a word, but he held out his hand. I started crying. I just could not stop crying. I just could not stop myself from holding up my hand, reaching for him, wanting to feel his fingers, wanting to be right where I was, which was home.
Geoff Schutt’s short fiction has appeared in The Quarterly (edited by Gordon Lish for Vintage Books/Random House), The Best of Writers at Work, The Wastelands Review and The Laurel Review, among others. He has received three artist grants for his fiction-as-performance art from The Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. After living in Ohio for many years, he now resides in the Washington, D.C. area, where he has completed his first novel, which is represented by James McGinniss of McGinniss Associates Literary Agency, New York City. More about Geoff Schutt is available at his blog, “This Side of Paradise,” at http://geoffschutt.blogspot.com