The following is an excerpt from Chris, a work in progress by Kami Melton.

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I hang up the phone, careful to not touch anything I don’t have to.
Why does my mom always sound chipper and happy? It makes me mad. No one can have a perfect life. Why do some people pretend to? I mean, it’s one thing to have a generally decent life and be generally happy. But it’s another thing to have fake cheerfulness all the time. Annoying.
“What did she want?” Anthony steps closer and whispers. “She didn’t ask you about me or the secret plans, did she?”

“I don’t think we’ve made our secret plans yet.”
“…I know. But we made plans to make secret plans, and that’s almost the same thing.”
I smile and manage to stifle a chuckle.
“Don’t worry. You can count on me to keep the plans a secret.”
Anthony smiles back. “I know. …I guess I’m just nervous because I know they’re looking for me and they want the map, no matter what they have to do to get it.”
“Anthony…” I stop mid-sentence. Paul walks up to us.

“Group, guys,” he orders.

I wait till he passes and goes into the large TV room.
“Anthony,” I direct myself to him again, “What exactly does the map show? Or…where does it show us to go?”

Anthony thinks for a moment.
“I’m not sure. I haven’t studied it enough. But…”
Adeshia saunters past, grinning, and disappears through the same doorway as Paul.
“But…” he lowers his voice to a whisper as he leans in so I can hear him.
Ewww. Breath like vegetable beef soup gone bad.

“…I think it has something to do with the plans the U.N. has for turning Antarctica into a nuclear testing area.” His eyes have gotten wider. He stares at me, unblinking and unmoving.
“Umm…” I say, glancing toward the big room, “Shouldn’t we be getting to group?”
“Oh. Well, you can. Not me, though. They threw me out last time.”
I want to ask him what they threw him out for, but I squelch my curiosity and merely glance toward the door.

“Oh. Alright, then. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Anthony gives me another of his inverted nods. I turn and enter the big room.
I take in the circle of chairs clockwise.

Ryan is slouching as far as possible in his chair, staring at the floor and cleaning his fingernails, which are really rather long. Funny I didn’t notice before. Jeane is talking to Ryan about the “way to heaven” even though she’s being ignored. Paul has a binder opened on his knee. Michael takes notes on a piece of paper that’s already been written on so much that it’s almost solid silvery-black from his pencil. Adeshia sits behind Ruth, whose hair she’s putting into cornrows.

I take a seat between Jeane and Ryan. Maybe I’ll break it up before it becomes a problem.
“Welcome to group today, everyone.” Paul smiles broadly at each of us as he marks down our names in his binder.

Michael’s ankles cross, then unfold and cross again. The fifth time, I decide I’m going to find something more interesting to watch.

Jeane is reverently quiet. I begin to scan the room past her until she suddenly stands and grandly begins to sing “A Mighty Fortress” as if she’s on some broadway stage without a microphone. Even holds out the notes longer at the end of the first phrase. Funny.
“Okay, Jeane. That’s enough.”

She keeps singing, all the louder.
Paul stands as well, face becoming flush. “Jeane? Jeane?!”
“Our Helper, he, amid the floooooooooood…”
“…Of mortal ills prevaaaailiiiiiiinng…”
Adeshia begins to snort rhythmically.
One of the younger nurses sticks her head in and asks Paul if things are alright.
“Yes! I mean, yes.” He turns back to Jeane.
The nurse leaves, closing the door.
“…and armed with crew-ellll haaaaaaaate. On earth is…”
“Jeane, would you please sit down?” He asks calmly this time.
Ryan’s gotten up, turned on the t.v. and is surfing cable channels. He ends up turning it up all the way and sitting close to the screen, sucking on the white plastic he had before.
Huh! Impressive. She knows the second verse…or is it the third?

Michael throws his papers into the air, watches as they float to the floor. He laughs like a dog panting with occasional squeaks.
I bet a person could graph all the possibilities of different patterns traced by a single piece of that paper…but, then you’d have to factor in the air currents. Especially the way Jeane keeps bellowing. Hah. Funny.

Adeshia keeps working on Ruth’s hair as if nothing’s going on. Then Michael drops to the floor and crawls on his knees toward them, sniffing the floor, which is just a mass of grey and white now that it’s covered. Nicer than the speckled linoleum tiles, and more interesting. Bet you could graph that, too. Could manufacture linoleum that looked like stuff was all over it.
Could be fairly useful in the food service industry…even more useful for public restrooms. But, then there’s the smell to figure out how to mask…

“…beeeeee? Christ Jesus it is heeeeeeee. Lord Sabaoth his naaaaaaaaame…”

Paul sits down and waits for the song to end, bouncing his knee more quickly now.
Michael screams.
Jeane stops.
Paul leaps.
Adeshia mutters.
Ruth crosses her arms with a satisfied look.
Ryan is engrossed in a soap opera.

Complete silence except, “But! How could you?!! What do you mean that she’s not our daughter, was switched with another at birth and our real daughter is now somewhere in the Mediterranean on a cruise ship with her skanky fifty-year-old boyfriend?!?!”

I didn’t know ‘skanky’ was a word. Wonder how it’s spelled? Well, maybe I can figure it out later. After we stop the blood coming out of Michael’s nose. Why doesn’t Paul do something?
“Hey! Can I get a couple of you in here?!” he hollers down the hall, once he opens the door.
Immediately, two younger nurses appear, leave, then appear again with latex gloves and a couple towels. I like the detail on the shorter one’s uniform.

Snowflakes. I wonder what season it is on the outside the building.

“Yes,” blares the television, “and you can’t come with me. I said I am going alone. Got it?”
“But she’s my daughter too!”
“Not anymore. You gave up that right when you married Ariel while I was on life support!”
I start laughing, and can’t stop.

A commercial breaks up the drama with, “Need a divorce lawyer who will get you what you deserve? We will file and clean up the mess for just two-hundred dollars! That’s right! Just two-hundred dollars. For a lawyer who cares, just call…”

Ryan turns, wiping his eyes with the backs of his hands. He’s been crying? Even funnier!
The nurses pull Michael to his feet and walk him across the floor and out the door to get some medical attention.

Paul maneuvers beside Ryan, grabs the remote and clicks the room into silence.
None of us look at the others, except Adeshia who keeps working the corn rows behind Ruth.

I look towards the old woman, checking to see if she got blood on her snuggly pink socks.
Yep. But just barely. One little drop on her right foot.

“Ruth. You broke his nose.” Paul puts his hands on his hips, coming close to old woman, who is still smiling smugly. He squats down to her level. “Do you understand what you did?”
She rolls her eyes.

Adeshia reverse-snorts, but just once.
“There’s some blood on your sock,” I say levelly. “Not that one—the other…”
“Thanks.” She says in as crisp a voice as her age can manage then reaches down and helps her right ankle to rest across her knee. She strips off the sock and the under layer (a nude-colored crew sock) also comes with it.

She has a wooden-ended prosthetic.
“You broke his nose!” Paul repeats.

“So it seems,” she pronounces as loudly as her wobbly voice is able. “And if anyone else wants to try to lick my toes, I’ll break their nose and more than that!” She holds her nose high and demurely wheels herself out the door, with half of her locks in tiny flat braids and the other half in greasy tendrils stuck to her doily-like collar.

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