The Subheroes Chapter 13: The Sultans Of Chop, Part II
At three-ish the next day, Lionel dialed the wall phone.
"Tell Marie she needs to come over," Miranda said, and Lionel nodded. "Tell Marie to tell Diz –"
"Hey, Marie, it's Lionel," and he waved his arm at Miranda to shush her. "Can you –"
"And tell Marie to tell Diz he needs to come too."
"Miranda wants to know if you can –"
"And tell Marie to tell Diz to bring a butterfly net."
Lionel clapped his hand over the mouthpiece. "You want me to tell Marie to tell Diz to tell the butterfly net something too or can I talk on the phone for five seconds."
"You shut up."
"Both of you shut up. Is this beer old?" Tjinder said with his head in the mini-fridge.
"You shut up. I bought it last week," Miranda said to Tjinder, and to Lionel she said, "Gimme!" and flapped her hand.
"Guys," said Marie's tinny voice.
"Just gimme it!"
"No! Gimme this, tell Marie that, shut up yourself, let go of my ear!"
"Guys?" said Marie's tinny voice, and the receiver said, "[Bink]" as it hit the floor, and Tjinder's Schaefer said, "[Pfssht]" as Tjinder stepped over his wrestling siblings and picked up the phone.
"Hi, Marie. Can you come over? Miranda needs you as bait to test these kids."
"No. What? No."
"Diz can drive you," Tjinder said.
"No he can't, he's driving the Lady Dragons today, and what bait, what kids?"
"Just come over, we'll go for lobster roll after. I have to go, Lionel's getting bitey. Don't forget to tell Diz."
"I'm not comi–"
"Great, see you guys in an hour. … Dudes!" Tjinder stepped on Miranda's sweatshirt hood to pin her and pried Lionel away in the other direction by the belt loops.
An hour later, Marie arrived, picking fluff off her tights.
"This had better be good, I had to get a ride with Gio and that truck is like debtor's prison. What's going on?"
Miranda said to Lionel, "So?" and Lionel walked up close to Marie to inspect her hair. Marie had long curly blond hair, like she does now, and that day she had it done up in a veritable hive of bitty butterfly clips.
"This is a good one, this style, where'd you get this one?" Lionel said, making a note on his pad. Marie collected hair styles then, like she does now, sometimes copying girls on the train, other times pinning a picture from a magazine to the mirror and working off that.
"Documentary on Pompeii," Marie said. "I know, it needs work."
"No, it's good," Lionel said, reaching for a Bic ballpoint jammed into the back seemingly at random, but Marie said, "Don't move the pen, it's holding the whole thing together," and Lionel withdrew his hand and made another note. "Like I said. It needs work."
"It's great, really," Lionel said, and eyebrowed Miranda, who said, "Great, let's go."
"Lionel, don't forget the –"
"I got it."
"Guys, go where?"
Miranda, Marie, and Lionel walked to the park. On the way, Miranda explained about the kids and how she thought they'd make good additions to the team.
"Okay," Marie said, "but how come they have to rummage around in my hair?"
Miranda showed her the note with "CORNROWS, PLEASE" block-printed on it. "Because they work fast, and if I can't keep them under that tree for a few minutes, I won't be able to talk to them."
"Oh. What if they give me a perm?"
"They won't give you a perm."
"They might give her a perm," Lionel said.
"They won't give her a perm, Lionel."
"What if they kidnap me? What if they take me back to their lair?"
"They don't have a lair," Miranda said.
"This is their lair," Lionel said.
"Oh, okay, that's great. We're just going to march into their lair?"
"They have a lair!"
"It's a nine-year-old lair."
"It's a lair."
"It's not even a lair, really. It's a, it's a spot! Right, Lionel?"
"It's a lair," Lionel said.
"You shut up."
"Both of you shut up, is it a lair or is it a spot?"
"It's just this place, under a tree," Miranda said.
"Under a tree?"
"See, that says 'lair' to me," Lionel said.
"They are nine!" Miranda said.
"In terms of its lair-ishness –"
"Fine, fine, it is a lair, but it is a small, unthreatening, it's, it's a My First Lair. It's an EZ Bake Lair!"
"They…don't cook," Miranda said.
"They could cook," Lionel said. "They could very well cook."
"Lionel, I swear to God."
"That would be cool, if they cooked," Marie said, and Lionel made a "yeah, you're welcome" face at Miranda, and Miranda said, "Yeah, it would be cool," and Lionel said, "If they can chop a busted vac that fast, think how fast they could get crabmeat into cherry tomatoes," and Miranda remembered Lionel trying to get a patent on the Dollop Shooter and gave him an "okay, thanks" look.
At the tree, Marie hesitated. "You're sure they're nine?"
"Nine tops," Miranda said, and handed Marie the note. "It'll be okay."
"Okay," Marie said, and trooped under the tree and sat down on an exposed root. Miranda and Lionel went up the path a bit and sat down on a bench. Miranda's butt had just started to fall asleep when one of the kids appeared. Miranda whapped Lionel lightly on the arm.
"Look, it's the one with the widow's peak."
Another one appeared, the one who always wore the red hat, and then the tall one, and then the smiling one, and then Marie disappeared from view in the middle of them. Miranda pitched forward off the bench and skulked towards the tree, still in a crouch, Lionel crouching along behind her. The shade of the tree made it sort of hard to see, but it looked like a cluster of baboons, grooming each other.
Crouching. Crouching. Lionel, wishing that Marie had brought Diz and that Diz had brought the butterfly net. Miranda, telling Lionel to shut up and peering as hard as she could into the shade.
She'd thought they'd run off. She didn't know why; she'd just assumed they wouldn't let her see how they did what they did, whatever it was. But they didn't run off. They let her see. As she got closer, she stood up, and she saw them, the four of them, the tall one pointing and turning his palms up or down from time to time, all four of them braiding, silently, Marie's flock of butterfly clips pinned to the necks of their shirts. Miranda stopped a few feet away and Lionel biffed into her from behind and stepped on her heel.
"Ow," Miranda said, but the braiding didn't stop.
Then the braiding stopped. The four boys stood back from Marie, and there she sat like she'd just gotten back from a Bahaman resort, blinking at Miranda, her butterfly clips lined up at the ends of her many tiny braids where normally the beads would go.
"Damn," Lionel said.
"Seriously," Miranda said.
They came closer, and the boys stood back further, and Miranda inspected the braids while Lionel made notes.
"Does it look bad?" Marie said. Her voice had a quaver.
"Braids all uniform size," Lionel said to himself, writing. "Part begins at median…twenty-five degrees to the forehead."
"Does it look bad?" Marie said.
"No, it looks great, it looks great," Miranda said. "All the clips accounted for?"
"All the clips accounted for," Lionel said, and put away his pad.
Marie felt her head. "Whoa, weird."
"It looks really good," Miranda said, to the boys this time. "How'd you — how do you guys do this stuff?"
The tall one shrugged.
"Listen, the three of us, we work together. Well, sort of. It's, the thing is, we could really use…" Miranda trailed off. "Do you guys…talk?"
Smiley and Red Hat looked at each other.
Lionel stepped forward and cleared his throat and said as if speaking over a bad transatlantic connection, "WHAT WE WANT TO KNOW IS –"
"Lionel, they're not deaf," Miranda said, and Red Hat made a jerk-off motion with his hand, and Miranda said, "I saw that," and then she said to the boys, "He means — we mean, with words," and the tall one rolled his eyes and stepped behind the tree and was gone.
"They don't talk with words," Marie said, and started to get up. Widow's Peak gave her a hand. Marie passed the note back to Lionel. It said, "NEXT TIME BRING A COMB." Widow's Peak and Red Hat waved to Marie, and Marie said, "You too — thanks!" and Widow's Peak and Red Hat and went behind the tree and were gone.
"But they talk," Miranda said, because she didn't know what else to say.
Smiley came up to her and Lionel, hands in his pockets. He eyed Lionel, then looked at Miranda.
"I know," she said. "We keep telling him, thirty-four inseam."
"Shut up," Lionel said, and then Lionel said, "Hey, they do –"
"You shut up," Miranda said, gently, and held her hand out, and Smiley gave her back the pen that had held up Marie's hair, and Miranda wanted to grab his wrist, to see his piano hands for herself, to try to feel how they worked, but she didn't. She just took the pen and said "thanks," and Smiley moseyed around Marie and behind the tree and was gone.
"That was cool," Lionel said.
"Are you sure this looks good?" Marie said.
"Sure," Lionel said. "Right, Mran?"
"It looks great," Miranda said. "Thanks for helping us."
"You're welcome," Marie said. "Hey, did you know that tall one's only in the fourth grade?"
"We heard," Miranda said, and Marie said, "Me too," and the three of them went down the hill to Captain Phil's for lobster roll, and at the table, they tried to talk to each other without speaking, and it went pretty well, except for when one of Marie's cornrows got in the cocktail sauce.
September 26, 2005
Tags: fiction Subheroes writing