stepped out of the hospitals revolving glass doors. They
spun on in glittering circles after she pulled a wallet and a
broken watch out of her duffel bag.
Damn it, damn it, damn it
as a thin old man in shirtsleeves and suspenders pushed past her.
She rolled her eyes and kept walking. The streets were unusually
dark for six at night, with small yellow streetlights held by
skinny, grey arms. Three old women hobbled down the sidewalk,
backpacks strapped to their hunched backs. Chelsea kept walking.
With every step she took, she thought: There is another old person
walking down the street with duffel bags and suitcases. It began
to rain. Chelsea could feel her own bag become heavy with its
own small tides, everything that survived confiscation at the
hospital sloshing around the bottom. She began to run. Small rivers
formed where the sidewalks had cracks, disappearing as Chelsea
jumped over them. She knew that if the old people were going somewhere,
it would be on the news. And if there was a radio somewhere in
this city, and she would find it. Looking in each shop window
on the street, Chelsea began to slow down. Her breath became heavy
and dry. She opened her mouth and let the water dribble in. Looking
up, the sign above her said: BEST BUY.
the automated doors shut behind her, a teenaged boy with zits
and coke bottle glasses rushed over to Chelsea. Hi you should
try our new ipod charger because it really works if you buy one
you get this free reward card that accumulates points and
Chelsea rolled her eyes. She smiled her most winsome smile. Hi.
I want to buy a television. She put her duffel bag down
and walked over to a big screen. The remote sat unused on top
of a DVD player. Chelsea grabbed it and switched the channel until
she saw the evening news. Chelsea thought: I can spot those news
anchors comb-over haircuts and second hand suits anywhere.
watched, enthralled, as the camera switched from the bald man
in his cheap suit to a young blonde woman with long hair and a
short, pastel pink skirt. She grinned her cap-toothed grin. Just
in from Miami, we have been informed of an outbreak of mutinies
in nursing homes. Elderly ladies and gentlemen are climbing through
windows, injuring staff, and going north for unknown reasons.
More from gerontologist Kaye Flynn. The blonde woman kept
smiling. Chelsea thought: Shell be grinning long after the
cameras are done rolling.
Lindsey, the gerontologist said, grinning back at the blonde.
Medical professionals based at Harvard University have developed
a new, highly controversial procedure that significantly reduces
age related health problems. The gerontologist continued,
talking faster and faster into the KMBC microphone. This
new treatment, hailed as a miracle by patients, has the religious
community in uproar because of its use of stem-cell related techniques
in developing the procedure. She clicked the television
off. Each window, black with rain and dead leaves, seemed ready
to burst. Chelsea thought: It really was the devil whod
been in her room that night she ran away, and hed apparently
gone to med school. Chelsea knew that the doctor had a pipe and
peach-fuzz mustache without having to watch any more news-clips.
sat in one of the automated massage chairs near the television,
her mouth drooping in disbelief. Her father had been right all
along. The devil was here, taking in old people and doctors, probably
performing plastic surgery on the side. Chelsea decided to call
her parents. Maybe the two of them, worried that she might be
injured in a nursing home mutiny, would come pick her up. She
wondered, though, if it was really her parents' prayers that had
turned her hair from blue to its mousy shade of brown that night
in the hotel room. But homelessness in the middle of these strange
migrations just wasnt an option. She would call her parents,
and whatever prayers they dished out, Chelsea could handle it.
She thought, Hey, its worth a shot.
* * *
Dad? Its me, Chelsea. She breathed in a long, nervous
breath of musty Florida air.
Where have you been? Your mother and Ive been looking everywhere
for you. We were just short of calling in the S.W.A.T. team.
She could hear David Ambrose sniffle on the other end.
thought for a second. Dad, I know I argued with you a lot
about church stuff, but I just wanted to tell you that you were
right all along. Im in Florida. These old people are crazy.
Theyre leaving in droves to see that Harvard guy.
Youre in Florida? How the fuck did you get to Florida?
David sounded more surprised than angry from the other end.
wasnt sure how to explain it. I met a guy and he bought
me a plane ticket. We boarded the wrong plane. I was kind of in
the hospital for awhile. Chelsea rolled her eyes. Her change
would run out before she could get through everything that had
are you? Your mom and I are going to come pick you up.
looked around. Im in Tampa. At the Best Buy on Beach
Street. Its closing, so Ill just wait somewhere.
going to get on a plane right now, so just call my cell phone
when you find somewhere safe to wait. Okay, Chelsea? Her
father sounded slightly sad.
said, Okay, Dad, and hung up the pay phone.
didnt know where she could wait without being harassed by
crotchety old men seeking a cure for their swollen joints and
heartburn. Walking along Beach Street, she saw little old ladies
who looked like librarians, with their glasses chains and button
down sweaters. There were women who werent even very old,
maybe forty or fifty, taking to the streets in a mad dash for
wrinkle cream. Bald men and people with liver-spots dotted the
streets for miles, lurching forward like a glacier.
into a phone booth, Chelsea closed the door and breathed out a
long, dehydrated sigh. She hoped they would find her before Florida
became a trampled, footprint-ridden wasteland. The litter and
bottle-caps from ladies in walkers already spotted the street
like nervous stars. Even though Chelsea had admitted, outwardly
and even to herself, that her father had been right, she still
couldnt fathom having made a single mistake. From the ladder
outside of her bedroom to the botched plane-ride, she would have
done it all the same way if it happened again in a week. When
she noticed an ad for a credit card on the side of the booth,
she smiled. Chelsea looked again at the street, cluttered and
jammed with Buicks and Oldsmobile four-door sedans. She thought:
Im going to grow old naturally, blue-haired with purple
eyeliner between my wrinkles.
* * *
hours later, Chelsea had fallen asleep in the phone-booth after
locking the door with her toothbrush and a rubber band. She jumped
as one of the old men tapped his cane at the backside of the booth.
When Chelsea turned around, she saw her dad, only bearded and
with a large wooden cross necklace that was apparently new. His
hair had grown shaggy.
How did you
Chelseas mouth hung open, her eyes
case you were wondering, we got your hospital bills. Hop in the
car, Chelsea. When she looked up at his face, she was surprised
by its complete lack of anything: anger, happiness, even movement
of his mouth or a faint twitch of the brow.
opened the door of the rental car, a white Ford Aveo that looked
like it was made entirely of painted plastic and shag carpeting.
How are we getting home? Chelsea asked, her thin legs
shaking and covered in gooseflesh. These people are everywhere.
going to take this car back to Carbondale. The corporates wont
miss it with all this going on. He turned his head back
at Chelsea and asked, You alright?
good. Thanks for asking. I thought Id be stranded.
She tried to smile. How are you and Mom?
clicked his turn signal on and shifted lanes. Your mother
is good. Going to church every week, even stopped shopping. She
hasnt bought a single pair of shoes since you left.
eyes widened. Seriously? You guys must be loaded then, I
mean without having to maintain that shoe collection. What about
Ambrose sighed. Were living in the end, Chelsea. Weve
all made things right with God, even Lannagan. Ill be expecting
the same from you, you know.
About everything. You were right. She
had begun to look down and scrutinize the jagged ends of her mouse-brown
twisted his neck and looked back at his daughter. You should
have just trusted me, Chelsea. Its all written down. In
the Good Book.
mouth gaped open. Even the old guys?
in the Psalms. Biblical plagues are what theyre called.
He nodded his head as a hymn sounded on the radio.
I cant just, like, convert, though. Even though you
were right. I dont feel anything when this stuff is on T.V.,
or the radio. Or even when I read it.
Ambrose was quiet for a minute. He replied, You just dont
understand it, honey. Its not about feelings. Its
about the truth. You dont feel anything about a math problem,
but theres only one answer.
rolled her eyes. Maybe there isnt an answer. But you
just need to believe something to keep going. I mean, everyone
does. I believe in medicine, or at least I used to. She
breathed in and continued, Curing people helps them, and
doesnt make them feel flames and pitchforks on the bottoms
of their feet at night, Dad.
stared straight forward and didnt take his eyes off the
road. Miles piled up behind them. Soon they were in Kentucky,
the streets still lined with insecure housewives, over-aged playboys,
and the truly old.
clock on the dashboard read: 11:12 p.m. David Ambrose turned off
the radio, a loud yawn sounding from his now-visible throat.
going to just park in this lot and keep going come morning. Okay,
Chelsea? He looked at her with the same blank face, its
lines and crevices telling her nothing.
Dad. Chelsea leaned back and rested her head on the duffel
bag. After examining the roof of the Ford Aveo, Chelsea felt sleep
dribble into her eyes. She swatted a bug from her arm as the car
and her father became soundless and grey.
* * *
awoke to a preacher shouting: The devil is a gerontologist!
The devil is a plastic surgeon! Aging Americans, beware
Stretching her arms, she closed her eyes and turned her back to
her father and the radio. She knew that eventually the verses
would leak into her ears and she would begin to listen, but this
would not be the day. Chelsea thought: Five more minutes.
wake up. You should be listening to this, David said as
the preacher continued. He looked as though hed been awake
for some time, wearing a different t-shirt and his hair neatly
parted down the side.
Okay, Chelsea yawned. Sitting up straight, she stared straight
forward, trying to give it a fair chance.
man on the radio shouted at the top of his lungs: These are
the plagues foretold in the Bible! We are living in the end of
life as we know! Satan will tempt you with a tummy-tuck, he will
try to lure you with liposuction, but you will say no! You will
say, I have been born again into something eternal!
Chelsea rubbed her eyes. She yawned, thinking: It might be
true, but not today. Not now. Harvard is just a school; it is
not Hell. Gerontologists with peach-fuzz mustaches are merely
nerdy doctors, not angels of darkness. When my time comes, I will
grow old gracefully, end of story.
Ambrose leaned back in his chair, twisting his neck to get a good
look at Chelsea. What do you think, honey?
. Hes got a good preaching voice.
I mean about what hes saying. Chelsea noticed that
David was unusually patient with her remarks.
can understand why people think that, but Im not one of
them. She tried to look him in the eye, but didnt.
that, Chelsea noticed that David Ambrose was extremely quiet.
He leaned forward in the drivers seat, hunched over the
wheel, nodding his head to the radio. Feeling that she had failed
him, Chelsea slouched against the car door, pretending to be asleep.
For the two hours she faked a nap, she thought, over and over:
The Harvard guy is just a doctor.
* * *
here, Chelsea. David Ambrose took the keys out of the ignition
and opened the door. Rubbing her eyes after another feigned nap,
she grabbed her duffel bag and walked to the front door. When
Chelsea reached her hand out to ring the bell, her father pushed
the door open himself and shouted, AURELIE! LANNAGAN! GET
DOWN HERE NOW!
took her time walking from the kitchen to the living room, her
stiletto heels making neat little clicks on the hardwood floor.
Chelseas jaws dropped when her mother emerged slightly red-faced
from the room where shed been baking. Shed expected
her mother to be eerily enthusiastic about cookies and dusting,
but Chelsea hadnt anticipated her moms rumpled appearance.
Aurelias giant hair-bow was crooked, strands of her hair
loose and fuzzy in her strange state. The apron she wore was blackened
with roasts, barbeques, and casseroles, the blisters on her feet
visible beneath the straps of her high-heels.
What happened? Chelsea exclaimed, her duffel bag falling
to the floor.
smiled. What do you mean, Chelsea? Ive just been cleaning
the stove and I guess I got
a bit of Lysol on my clothes. She turned to walk back to
the kitchen. The back of her dress was buttoned crooked.
my gosh! Do you have Granny jeans now too? Chelseas
eyes widened, her hand covering her mouth in shock.
Jeans? Ive never heard of that brand name, Chelsea.
Aurelie looked puzzled. She pulled a small catalogue out of her
apron pocket and began looking for Granny Jeans in the pants section.
not a brand, Mom. It just means the ones with elastic waistbands
and pleats in the back. Chelsea couldnt believe her
mother didnt know what Granny Jeans were. Aurelie had criticized
Kegans mother for wearing them on Parents Weekend
at the University of Chicago.
course I have pleated pants with elastic waistbands. Id
never get Lannagan to school on time if I had to squeeze into
my Gucci pair. Aurelie smiled her strange, robotic grin.
had become exasperated, her eyes narrowed into small slits across
her face. Mom, when did you ever care about getting Lannagan
to school? He took the bus while you thumbed through the Macys
book! Not knowing how to convince her mother that shed
been a martini-loving spendthrift all her life, and that this
overload of baked goods was just strange, Chelsea ran upstairs
to her room.
the door to her room, she gasped. All of her medical books, lab
supplies, and Betty Friedan books were gone. The first thing that
Chelsea noticed in their place was a set of posters, each showing
a man in a superhero cape and tights holding a Bible. The bottom
of each poster read: Its a bird
Its a plane
Its Bible Man! As she looked around, her feet and hands
grew numb. Chelsea thought: Damn it, what did Dad do to my room?!
Small Bible Man action figures lined her dresser. David had painted
it a pristine white to cover up the pro-choice bumper stickers
that she had stuck to the drawers. There were small, pale blue
crosses everywhere. Chelsea knew it couldnt be any worse,
and decided to crawl into bed and hide. She pulled the covers
back: Bible Man bedspreads.
jumped out of bed and suppressed a scream. Chelsea didnt
think when shed been surrounded by droves of escaped nursing
home residents that shed regret calling home. Now she did
regret it. Sinking into her new scripture-covered beanbag chair,
Chelsea turned on her television. She was surprised that David
hadnt cut the cord until she noticed that it only picked
up three stations. After flipping through the channels, Chelsea
saw she could pick from C-SPAN, the five oclock news, or
the interior decorating station. She decided it would be the five
little blonde weather girl pointed to clouds. Chelsea sighed.
Kaye, an older, but still blonde news anchor said, looking
straight into the camera. Im sure most of our viewers
are aware of the rush to Boston for age-related health consultations.
While it has been advised by the government to stay put, since
there arent enough resources to sustain everyone seeking
treatment at Harvard, people are still packing their belongings
and going northeast, she began, her oversized teeth glistening
under the fluorescent light. After the president declared
this situation a state of emergency, protests about
the treatment have emerged from both conservatives and liberals
flipped off the T.V. All that was left was the quiet, bleach-white
space between her stud-ridden ears. It echoed with empty space.
* * *
sat down in her beanbag chair, wiggling her toes inside of her
shoes. She thought: These sneakers must not be broken in yet.
After pulling them off her feet without bothering to undo the
laces, Chelsea yanked her socks off too. Something wasnt
right with her feet. After thinking for a second, she realized
that shed lost all seven of her toe-rings while she was
in Florida. Her mouth formed a perfect, round O when
she noticed that her feet had also been given a pedicure. Each
toenail, bright pink and neatly clipped and filed, made Chelsea
wonder if shed passed out at a slumber party somewhere.
What did you do to my feet! Chelsea screamed. She started
opening drawers in her whitewashed dresser looking for nail polish
wasnt any in her room. She felt her hands grow as cold as
a glass doorknob. Chelsea thought: It has to be the prayers.
LANNAGAN GET UP HERE NOW! she screamed. After she grabbed
the paper bag shed left in the wastebasket, Chelsea began
is it, Chelsea? Aurelie smiled a toothy smile.
Chelsea. You shouldnt be screaming. Its not ladylike.
Lannagan bent over to adjust her sweatpants they were folded
up at the bottom because they were too long.
was you! Chelsea exclaimed. Lannagan, you little snit,
you prayed for me to have pink toenails! And bad hair! She
wrapped her cold hands around his skinny neck for a second before
Aurelie restrained her.
I want a good sister. One thats a role model.
Why cant you set a good example for me? Lannagan stuck
his lower lip out and made sad eyes.
going to fucking kill you! Chelsea whispered as she kicked
his bare shins as hard as she could.
screamed. Chelsea, Im going to keep praying! Youre
grinned her most wicked grin. You havent seen punk
* * *
knew that even though shed talked to her mother on the phone
the day her hair dye washed out, that Lannagan was behind the
prayers. Shed never even suspected him, the skinny, toothless,
freckle-faced son of a Valium-popping housewife. After digging
the keys to her Honda out of her purse, Chelsea ran downstairs,
thinking: I am going to fight to stay punk. The car was where
she left it: on the curb by her mothers new peonies, the
gas gauge on empty. She could have probably used her car more
than she did, but there was never cigarette money to be spared
for Phillips 66.
there was, though it was an emergency. She filled up her
tank and drove to Walgreens. The automated doors swung open
as Chelsea approached, an old man in suspenders grinning and shouting,
Welcome to Walgreens!
Chelsea said, I want to buy hair dye. Purple, blue, and
orange dye. Do you have that stuff? She looked hopeful,
her brown hair fuzzy with the coming rain.
old man grinned and pointed to a big, neon sign that read: HAIR
PRODUCTS. Chelsea thanked him and ran to the second aisle, passing
the pink and red dyes for the uglier shades.
she checked out, the petite blonde cashier asked, Are you
making Easter eggs? Apparently she was dead serious.
replied, No, I just need to touch up my hair. Where can
I get a good spiked belt?
cashier handed her the receipt, her eyebrows raised in horror.
the automatic doors squeaked open, Chelsea smiled. She loved to
shock helpless blondes like that. Driving home, she thought: Anything
Lannagan prays for, even if its pink shoelaces or no body
jewelry, I can match it. She pulled into the driveway and took
the key out of the ignition. When she walked in the front door,
Chelsea saw a pastor on the big screen T.V. Shed always
thought that guy had a good preaching voice he reminded
her of Barry White. David Ambrose turned around in his recliner.
Chelsea. Whats in the bag? He looked suspicious with
his wrinkled brow and both arms crossed over his chest.
Chelsea said, trying hard to sound casual. She turned and ascended
the stairs, looking at the pictures that hung neatly in a slanted
row as she climbed higher. They depicted Genesis in five installments.
There was a blank world at the beginning and a sparsely populated
world at the end, the rifts in the clouds giving way to perfectly
positioned rays of sunlight. Chelsea kept walking. When she reached
the top, she darted into her room to grab a hairbrush and shampoo,
then locked herself in the bathroom. Just to be sure, she jammed
the knob with the chair David Ambrose used to stack Auto-Trader
magazines on. She breathed out and closed her eyes. Soon her hair
would be back to normal. Chelsea turned the tap on and read the
directions to the hair dye, mixing it in the cup Aurelie kept
by the sink to rinse toothpaste out of her mouth after brushing.
it was all neatly applied in chunks, rows and stripes to Chelseas
sable head, she sat on the pink fuzzy toilet seat, trying not
to let her head drip. She rinsed her head and toweled it dry.
After she found the blow-dryer and turned it on, the buzzing droned
out Lannagans screams when he saw the waist-length rainbow
mass on top of Chelseas head.
shut the dryer off. Lannagan stood in front of her crying. Aurelie
comforted him, her eyes glazed and empty. David Ambrose had his
arms crossed and looked fierce, with his shaggy hair pushed back,
his eyes skinny and bright.
Chelsea stuttered as they
stared her down.
you, you. Thats all that comes out of your pinched little
mouth, Chelsea, Aurelie scolded, a blank smile still plastered
on her face.
forced his lower lip out, tears sparkling on his popsicle-smudged
face. Chelsea, I dont have anyone to look up to. Why
cant you be a good sister? He pouted, standing pigeon
toed before her.
do I have to look like a cheerleader to be role model? Cant
I do community service instead? Chelsea asked, her hand
on her hip. Her heart pounded with the injustice of her familys
lack of fashion sense.
looked Chelsea in the eye for a second before he said, You
have to do it all, Chelsea. Do it or well make you.
How are you going to make me? Chelsea thought of the first
time they caught her smoking and planned a family picnic. She
Lord is on our side, Chelsea. Youll see! Lannagan
shouted as he retreated to his room.
closed her door too. She noticed that her little brother had stolen
some of her Bible Man memorabilia. Its payback time, she
thought, her pink toes curling as remembered Lannagans lisping