Milo Loses His Pencil (73)

The green knit sweater with the holes had just come into the kitchen and Milo no longer had any idea what he was doing. It was a cable knit. Dark green. Sort of a hunter green. Panels with twisted cords. He didn’t know about knitting. It was coming unraveled in places. Someone should really put some charms on that. Or some nail polish. They had some clear nail polish backstage at the Black Orchid. For runs in stockings. Maybe that would work on the sweater. There was a white shirt underneath. And… And… you could kind of tell… a person.

There seemed to be some talking going on. That was very bad and very good. He liked the talking associated with the green sweater, he liked the sound of it, but it was hard for him to understand it and work out what he was supposed to be doing about it, and that made him nervous. Everything associated with the green sweater was very painful and difficult, and warm, like trying to read etchings on the surface of the sun. It was terrifying and he absolutely wanted to run away from it — that was why he’d gone back to living out of a suitcase for a little — but Hyacinth had talked to Ann about it and — okay — he guessed he really couldn’t do that and…

And he kind of liked it a little.

Why did he taste canned ravioli? Was it possible he was having a stroke?

She had a white piece of paper and she seemed to be extremely excited about it. He focused on it. She drew things. She used to do that for a living. Was she showing him a…?

She flattened it on the table in front of him.

Oh. It was one of his improvements for a windless watch. The enchantments he did at work were so cheap and stupid. Here was a better one that would fit in the same gears and the same space and exactly how. And what it would do. Apart from winding the watch it would also play ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’ at the top of every hour. Or something else, if you didn’t like, ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway,’ but who wouldn’t like that?

He did a lot of stupid stuff like that, things he didn’t even intend on building, especially about the watches. He was just blowing off steam. He had to do a lot of really stupid enchantments on watches — bad ones, not just silly ones like this one.

“Milo, did you draw this?” she said.

Did I draw…? Did I…? How else would I…? He blinked and glanced at approximately her. Mainly at the sweater. How would it be here if I didn’t draw it?

Was it possible she was mad he had drawn it?

Oh, gods, now he had to look at her face.

He had to do that very carefully. A lot of glancing. Pieces. Any time he saw eyes had had to bail out. It seemed to be a nice face, as faces went. There were some freckles. The nose turned up slightly. There was a delicate pair of rimless glasses perched on the end of it. Okay. Um. There appeared to be smiling going on! She was happy about the drawing!

He liked that. He liked that she liked his drawing. It was warm, warmer. But it was also scary because he didn’t know what he was supposed to do about it.

Oh my gods, I did something right! Help!

There did not appear to be any help. But Ann could have been screaming advice in his ear with a megaphone loud enough to blow back his hair and he wouldn’t have been able to process it.

Calliope was saying a lot of things about his improvement for the windless watch. Not anything about the enchantments or the magical notation or ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway.’ She was all about this part over here with how to put together a watch. She was liking ‘the circles.’ Those were functions. Some of them were mechanical motion and some of them were theoretical, like code, so he could see how the enchantments would stack. She thought they were pretty. But she had a lot of words for pretty. She was taking apart ‘pretty’ with her mouth like he took apart the watch with his pencil.

I… Okay. I don’t know. That makes me really happy. I like pretty things. I like you and I like that you think those are pretty. I did not draw those to be pretty. I wanted to have a watch that winds itself and plays music with cheap gears and a small space. That’s what that is. It’s like a game. You are telling me my crossword puzzle is pretty. I don’t know if I should be nodding or shaking my head. I don’t think I am doing anything. I… I think I may be just sitting here staring creepily.

She didn’t seem to notice if he was. When he checked she was still smiling.

Now she was asking if he wanted to see some of her drawings.

That, he knew.

Yes!

He removed the whole uneaten ravioli from his mouth with the fork and he put both back in the can. He nodded. She hooked him by the arm and dragged him out of the kitchen via the dining room. He stared at the table and the chair and the can and the fork.

Oh my gods, was I sitting there eating canned ravioli the whole time?

No. He was sitting there not eating canned ravioli the whole time. Holding the fork in his mouth.

It must be lunchtime, he thought. I would’ve been eating cereal.

He had not progressed to realizing that Calliope was holding him by the arm by the time she pulled him into her room and let him go. This was fortunate, because he would not have handled it well. He probably would’ve run off and hidden in his closet and rocked back and forth hugging a shoe for a few hours. And Calliope would’ve been confused by the running off and Milo would’ve been confused by human contact making him want to hug a shoe, and that would’ve been weird for both of them. What ended up happening instead was also weird, but mainly for Milo, and more helpful than hugging a shoe.

Calliope had done some redecorating in the short time she’d been at the house, not of a strenuous sort, given her condition. The big things that needed doing to Room 103 had involved the whole house, mainly getting the boxes out and finding a bed for it and doing something about the smell. Milo had not been around for that, but Ann had, and he had an inkling there had been some kind of an animal living in Room 103. Named Gary? Anyway, Mordecai claimed to have made Gary’s acquaintance and said it had ‘issues.’ Room 103 definitely had ‘issues.’ Milo thought he probably could’ve fixed it, he could’ve built something to do it, but he wasn’t there. They let the General do it. There were some scorch marks on the walls. Calliope had modified some of them with charcoal. She made them look like whatever she thought they ought to look like. There was a fish and a cat. Some of them she had left alone and just given accessories. A faceless black blob with little running legs under it, or one with angel wings. She had also copied a scorch-mark, mirrored exactly, beside its twin. Maybe she liked that one.

She also liked some of the things in the boxes. Yule ornaments they didn’t know they had, tin ones that weren’t any good for fixing people (dire emergencies aside) and blown glass. A few dead mage lights, too, dusty paper lanterns whose wire hangers had been used up, a torn lampshade that was likewise de-metaled and discarded (someone must’ve thought they might use those for lights again, so they ended up here instead of smashed for windows or burned for warmth). She had rescued some colored glass bottles from the yard and put tissue paper flowers in them. (Calliope had given him one of those, for Ann, so he knew how they were made, with copper wire. Hyacinth would eventually come after them, but they were small and they’d go until there was a big emergency. The record player, sitting open in its blue bakelite case, was a lot more obvious. It wasn’t in the kitchen, it wouldn’t go right away like the toaster, but Hyacinth would probably start taking pieces of it before she went after the stove. It wasn’t essential. He would have to do something to the record player so that Calliope could still have records without metal. Then he noted the trailing electrical cord. Aha. He would have to do something to the record player so that Calliope could have records at all.) There had been some wadded up old clothes in the boxes and Calliope had rescued some of these, too, and charmed them to the walls in various positions like empty people. Well, she had the General do it for her. This one exactly like this, please. Scarves flying away on nonexistent breezes. Flat sleeves waving invisible hands. A stained trenchcoat dancing with a threadbare housedress. (The housedress gave Milo a bit of a start. It had blue and green flowers.)

In the corner by closet was a chamber pot surrounded by newspapers. She was adjusting to the no-plumbing in the house. There had been a couple of accidents and this was her solution: some newspapers and a couple walls to lean against for help with balance. She was training herself like a puppy, but she didn’t seem to mind about it. It was just practical.

(There was a paper flower hanging over the lip of the chamber pot. Maybe that was a joke…?)

And everywhere, there were pictures. There were the rescued canvases from her previous living arrangement, of course. The one with the lobster and all the cave-painting people dancing around it was affixed proudly over the headboard of the bed. (She had the General do that, too.) There had been two new painted additions, small ones (a green orange and a blue apple, everything else normal, just weird colors), and one large one in progress (possibly another lobster? but a lot of weird colors going on there, too) and a lot more in charcoal and black ink. Room 103 had developed a new and somewhat dizzy odor of paint and permanent marker. (And, a couple other faint, less pleasant things. Incense? Skunk? Was the animal in Room 103 a skunk?)

Calliope was showing him things that he did not understand in the least. He was having kind of a hard time with just the room. He always had a very hard time with Calliope, and words coming out of Calliope. Now there was art coming out of Calliope. Milo did not have what you would call a real well-rounded education. Milo did not have any kind of education past the age of about twelve as regarding anything he was not interested in. Milo was interested in math, magic, machines, and drawing things with a pencil. With Ann, he shared a passion for dresses and shoes and fabric, although not in exactly the same way. He had experienced a brief mania for dinosaurs after finding out they were real. And that was it. No art history. No humanities. No symbolism. Certainly no post-modernist reinterpretation of stuffy old classical art forms. He had no idea what ancient buildings Calliope was gleefully engaged in burning down. He didn’t know there were any buildings. He could not have found the street.

All he knew was Calliope was showing him concept sketches of a sewing box where the pin cushion had been replaced with some kind of spiny object called a ‘sea urchin’ (Is it…? Is it an animal? Is it there for people to pet it?) and he was supposed to like them.

He tried nodding. For extra emphasis, he patted the drawing.

Sure, I would like having something to pet in my sewing box! I haven’t had pins in a long time, anyway, I just soft-stick the hems. I wish I didn’t have to have needles. I’m always jabbing myself. I’m terrible at sewing. The ladies did the sewing. I just fixed the machines. I think if I had a sewing machine, I’d stitch right over my fingers. I’m sure a sea urchin is much safer!

Well, he couldn’t say that, but she seemed to like all the nodding. She took him around the room like they were touring a museum and she pointed and happily explained things and he nodded and utterly failed to understand.

He looked at some of the things that he did understand, just to give his brain a break. The ornaments. The paper flowers. The clothes. He had kind of run out of things to look at on Calliope’s clothes — they were so simple and the same a lot, and the raveled places on the green sweater bothered him. Maybe she had some nail polish around here somewhere and he could try to explain about fixing it.

There was a familiar flat box with twelve colors resting on the edge of the bed with a couple of curled up paint tubes and a red pencil.

Oh, thought Milo, with a pang. She has crayons.

Milo, those aren’t crayons. Look again.

He blinked. He looked again.

The box said, he read it very carefully, C-H-A-L-K P-A-S-T-E-L-S

Those aren’t crayons.

I can have those.

Take them.

He took the box. He put it down the front of his shirt. The things inside clicked softly. He clasped his hands in front of it and pressed the lid closed against him. He regarded Calliope sickly. She was talking about some weird ink drawing on the wall and she didn’t see. She was smiling. She smiled at him. She wanted to know if he liked it.

It was a trash heap with a lot of crumpled, ugly things and old tires and a very smart coat and tie underneath.

Milo nodded.

Calliope smiled. “That was my boss at the ad agency,” she said.

Milo nodded.

“I would love to draw things with you sometime, Milo,” she said. “You can show me how you do circles. But I want to try it by myself right now, just so I can get kind of an innocent impression, okay?”

I would love to draw things with you, too, Calliope, but I am stealing your chalk pastels, and I think you are not going to like me anymore when you figure it out, okay?

Milo nodded, and he left. He had a vague idea that she said it was okay for him to leave, but he was probably going to leave right then anyway because he was near the door and he had just stolen something. He did manage not to run. He had stolen a lot of things (he didn’t like to, he didn’t mean to, but he had) and he knew not to run. You would get caught and not have the thing you wanted if you ran. If you did not run…

Well, then you would be in your bedroom leaning on the dresser in front of the mirror with a box of chalk pastels. In twelve colors. Black, white, gray and brown, and then the good ones. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and pink. They were definitely not crayons. They were hard and brittle, squared off, with sharp corners and no wrappers. There was a little bit of dust in the box, but each piece fit almost exactly and was identical. The white and yellow were flawless and unmarred. She hadn’t even used them.

Ann… Why did you say take them?

Ann nodded smartly in the mirror. Because they’re not crayons and you can have them.

They’re not mine.

She wasn’t looking.

Milo shook his head at the box. That was right and wrong, too. I don’t have to take things anymore. It’s not the workhouse or the siege. I have a job. I have money. I can buy what I need. Paper. Dresses. Whatever these things are.

Ann smiled sweetly. You can just draw with them a little bit and then put them back. I bet you she won’t notice it. If you like them, you can buy some for yourself. You can ask her where she bought them.

Milo regarded the box. He really wanted. He really really wanted. The box. And the colors on the lid. And the way they were lined up like that. And he could have them.

Okay, they weren’t his, he couldn’t have them, but…

He worked his finger into the box and he picked up the pink one. He didn’t take it out, he just lifted it slightly. It felt new and strange and dusty. There was a little bit of powder in the bottom of the box like rouge. It left pink dust on his fingers. He rolled his thumb and forefinger together, feeling the texture, spreading the color. He wanted to press it against his cheek.

Paper’s in the basement, Milo.

Now, he ran.

———

Mordecai had found the half-eaten tin of ravioli in the kitchen when he was getting ready for dinner. He was aware that this meant Milo had come up with something really interesting in the middle of lunch again, and he warned Hyacinth that she was going to have to pry the man out of the basement with a crowbar for dinner. Hyacinth was therefore surprised to find Milo not in the basement. Nor any new drawings stuck to the wall or evidence of coffee.

Okay. If this was not a new project, this might be some kind of situation.

Hyacinth proceeded immediately to Milo’s room. Milo might be hiding in the closet. Milo tried to hide the fact that he hid in the closet, but she knew he did that sometimes when something particularly upsetting had happened. She wasn’t sure what she was gonna do if he was in there, but she’d at least have a better idea of what was going on.

She knocked on the door first. She remembered to do that. After all, he might not be in the closet.

———

He didn’t know what happened.

No. Okay. He had perfect episodic memory of what happened. He just didn’t know why he kept doing the things he remembered.

No. He knew that, too. Because he wanted to. And that had progressed into needing to. And it had gone back and forth and sometimes been both, even when he started crying and he couldn’t stop.

Okay, but, now he had done this thing. This really big thing. He wasn’t going to be able to fix it, or hide it, and someone was going to see it.

He meant to draw on the paper. He really, really, really meant to draw on the paper. Something very small on the paper. A blue glass bottle with a flower. Like the paper flowers in Calliope’s room. Like the pink one with Ann’s dress in the closet. He had started to draw on the paper. On the floor. Just, on his hands and knees on the floor, because it wasn’t comfortable on the dresser and it was too soft on the bed and the floor was hard and stable so that was why the paper had been on the floor and the drawing had gone off the paper because…

Because it needed to be more.

Okay. Yeah. It was more now. It was everywhere. This was not good. This was really not good.

(It felt really good.)

There was sort of a blue glass bottle on the paper. There was a little bit of uncertain sketching with the blue, then some fingerprints and smudging and an attempt at blending, then he started over a few inches away, a little bit bigger and a little bit better and he added some highlights with the white chalk and he thought that came out pretty nice so he did a little shadow with the black, and he thought maybe he was getting the hang of it. He started over again, even bigger, and this attempt was distorted, as if someone had grabbed the lip of the bottle and yanked it, because midway through sketching the outline he decided it needed to be way bigger. Not with his brain. Somewhere in his hand and his arm. Like they had screamed at him. Like he had tried to pick up a hot coal. Except instead of STOP THAT! it was DO THIS NOW! And, it seemed reasonable. It actually seemed really great.

And, he-e-ey, there was some paper on the wall. Some nice heavy textured paper. That would be much better with these things than this drafting-type paper he had for the pencils. He didn’t mind about the stripes.

It was like someone had sneaked in while he was distracted by the box and given him a shot. Some of that really awful stuff that would have him drooling and contentedly admiring the ceiling for hours. Except a) not awful, b) rational episodic memory with no gaps, and c) entire wall full of multi-colored flowers.

He had also done his bedsheets and pillowcase and shirt and face and hands. Not flowers. Just color. On purpose. He hadn’t started on purpose, not like the wall. He had been doing the wall, and he noticed chalk on his shirt cuffs. He had a white shirt. He had a white shirt and a gray shirt but he was wearing the white one. He used to have a red shirt but he couldn’t have that anymore because Ann had all the colors. But, the chalk on his shirt cuffs wasn’t like that. There was some blue and pink and purple — and a little black — smudged and swirled. That was an accident. That was a stain. Like ketchup. Or machine oil. He was absolutely allowed to have a shirt with stains on it, color or no color. He had never been bothered about that, and neither had Ann.

He had quite a lot of chalk on his hands and he pressed one against the shirt and made another stain. He admired that in the mirror, smiling, and he made more stains until he had cleaned off his hands, then he returned to the wall and drew flowers until his hands were completely coated and then he made more stains. When he ran out of shirt, the bed offered more white surfaces. He had been really happy about coloring the bed. Such a thing had never occurred to him before, and it was so easy. Even the bed! Even the bed! I can sleep here! That was when the crying started and it never really stopped — even now, when the smile had finally faded. There were pale tear-streaks on his face that wouldn’t stay colored no matter how many times he pressed his hands against them.

Am I happy? Am I sad?

He was worried, but not yet afraid. He was too confused about it.

One thing was certain, he was done. There was a tiny sliver of white left, a nubbin of black, and maybe an inch of brown. (Milo and Ann had never had much use for brown, they hadn’t even bothered to divide it up. It was good for eyes and shoes, acceptable as pants, and not at all a good flower. But it had helped shade in a couple places and conserve the red and black chalk.) The gray was whole and untouched. All the good colors were gone. He had used them until he was only rubbing his fingertips on the wall. Pink carnations. Red roses. Yellow daffodils. Blue sunflowers and green violets, and whatever else he wanted because he had all these colors and he was damn well going to use them. Moonflowers.

He felt a bit sick. Like, not only had he eaten the entire cake, he had eaten the entire cake that he was supposed to share with his friends.

He wasn’t going to be able to put the box back and pretend he didn’t steal it.

Ann? Did you know this was going to happen?

Ann? Are you evil?

Before Ann could say anything (as if she would) someone knocked on the door.

“Hey, Milo?” said Hyacinth. “Is it you in there? Are you okay?”

Milo’s eyes widened.

It clicked.

He stopped crying.

I have drawn on the wall. This is not my wall to draw on. This is Hyacinth’s wall. She will hit my hands and take these away from me. Milo can’t have chalk pastels. I won’t have colors. I won’t have colors anymore ever. I will go insane. I will have a straitjacket and a metal bed.

I have to have colors! PLEASE DON’T TAKE MY COLORS!

“I’m just going to peek in for a second. I want to make sure you’re okay. It’s dinner and it looks like you didn’t finish lunch…”

Milo clapped the lid on the near-empty box (I need all these colors. Twelve colors in a line like that.) and stuffed it back down his shirt. He wrapped both arms protectively around it like he was already wearing the jacket. He shook his head. No.

Hyacinth, peeking in, caught a brief glimpse of Milo, or possibly some kind of poorly-camouflaged lizard-person, before he disappeared into the closet with a panicked thud. Then she saw the flowers.

It was as if David, a true sadist, had handed her a tangled bundle of wires — with a little bit of spaghetti mixed in to make it interesting. Sort these out for me, won’t you, Alice? Quickly, please.

Well, she had to do something. She attempted logic.

All right. We’ve got… Wall full of flowers. Upset Milo. Could someone have broken in and drawn flowers and he thinks I’m going to blame him?

Nooo. When people did vandalism to this house they did not do flowers. Trouble was, Milo did not do flowers, either. Milo didn’t do anything without gears, and not in color, and not on the wall.

Okay, but he would not be covered in… whatever that is he is covered in if he didn’t do it. If he was trying to take it off, there would be some damage done to it. And he would’ve pitched magic at it. He wouldn’t have gotten messy doing that.

So, he did it and he thinks I’m going to be mad about it.

“Milo?” she called in. “Honey? I’m not mad.”

No reply, but of course there wouldn’t be. She had to go in and find him. Maybe see if she could get him to draw something about it, but even yes and no would be of assistance. She couldn’t get anything out of Milo if she couldn’t see him.

She crept in quietly on her cheap shoes with the glued-on soles.

What the hell happened to the bed?

The bed was the same approximate color as Milo, bruise with pink and green overtones and occasional black.

No, whatever happened to the bed, she did not think it was going to help her get Milo out of the closet. That was irrelevant information. The important thing here was that he thought she was going to be mad. She was not mad. He needed to know she was not mad and she needed to know he knew that. Everything else was spaghetti.

“Those are some really nice flowers on the wall,” she said gently, smiling. She could see some legs curled up under the dresses in the closet, and some loose shoes, but no part of Milo that gave answers. She approached them, reaching out a hand to shift the dresses. Then she could see him, and he’d be able to see her, and see that she wasn’t mad. “Did you draw those?”

The legs withdrew. There was a shuddering thump from inside the closet. There followed another. Then another, at regular intervals.

Hyacinth staggered back a pace. Several paces. With her hands up. “Ah, no. Don’t. Okay, don’t.” She hit the bed and sat down on it. “No, please don’t. It’s okay.”

The sounds stopped.

“Milo, please don’t do that. I’m not mad about the flowers. I’m not mad about anything. Are you hearing me? Are you understanding the words that are coming out of my mouth right now? I am not a mad person. I am a worried person. Are you hearing the difference?”

Silence.

“Can I just come over? I think if you just see me, you’ll…”

She took two steps. Maybe one and a half.

Thud… Thud… Thud…

“Okay-okay-okay. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do. Let me think. Can I just talk to you?”

———

Maybe ten minutes later, Hyacinth stumbled into the kitchen. Dazed. Defeated.

Mordecai was dishing out plates at the kitchen counter. Macaroni and cheese and sliced carrots and something green and suspicious. Maggie and the General had already been served and were sitting at the table. Erik was accepting his plate. Calliope was eating an apple at the counter, oblivious to the fact that Mordecai had dished her a nicely-balanced plate of dinner that was sitting next to her and getting cold. He seemed to be tolerant of this. He occasionally looked over at her and smiled. An apple was a perfectly healthy thing to have and dinner could be warmed up again later. She could have an apple and dinner, if she wanted it. Standing up or sitting down.

Hyacinth ran an absent hand through her hair. She had been doing that. She had lost the tie somewhere in Milo’s room. “Okay,” she said. “So, Milo drew a whole bunch of flowers all over his wall. And… now he’s hiding in the closet. And he won’t let me talk to him. And every time I get near him he starts hitting himself. So I am open to suggestions.”

“Milo drew something?” Calliope cried. She abandoned her half-eaten apple in her plate of macaroni and cheese and ran out.

“I,” said Hyacinth. She blinked and wobbled. “She… Did she just…?”

“Leave?” Erik offered her, since something seemed to be required.

Hyacinth wheeled and shouted after her, “Calliope, that is not the operative part of that information!” And she ran out, too.

Mordecai stood holding a wooden spoon and trying to untangle the situation and react appropriately to it at the same time. A small amount of macaroni and cheese fell onto the tile floor.

“I think it is possible everyone’s dinner is going to need to be warmed up again,” he said.

“I can accomplish this easily,” the General preempted him. “Please refrain from scraping everything back into the pot.”

“Oh, it’s not as if you’ve had any of it in your mouth!” he snapped.

Erik edged sideways and put his fork under his thumb. He had eaten a little macaroni and cheese while everyone was talking. He hadn’t put any in his mouth and then back on the plate, though.

———

By the time Hyacinth skidded to a halt in the front room (cheap shoes, not a lot of traction) Calliope was already at the top of the stairs and opening the door to Milo’s room.

My gods, she moves fast for a pregnant lady!

Calliope regarded the flowers with a hand to her mouth. She instantly liked them. She took a few moments to dissect why. They weren’t like the watch and the other things in the basement, which were quite exact and careful and clinical. Bloodless, except for all those circles, which were like magic. No, maybe more like a mad scientist. Like he was trying to cram souls and meaning into the watch. Give my creation li-i-ife! That was great. The flowers weren’t like that at all. The flowers were the opposite of that. There was no control here at all.

These were hysteria flowers.

Laughing so hard you were crying. Rocking back and forth in a straitjacket. Needing to say something so badly you didn’t care if it made sense.

Yeah, it was nuts, but it was eloquent. It was powerful.

Oh, man, I wish I was crazy like this.

The best she could do was try to reconstruct it out of spare parts. Here are some weird things that kind of make my brain feel this way. Maybe they’ll make your brain feel this way, too. It was the carnival ride version.

These flowers were way better. Technically, they were not the best — it didn’t look like he’d done a lot with chalk pastels before — but the emotion was incredible. She wondered what he’d do with some colored pencils.

She also approved of what he’d done with the bed. That would make an awesome installation.

“Hey, Milo,” she said, “this stuff is pretty great.”

She was peripherally aware that Milo was in the closet. In that he wasn’t in the room. She made no judgment call about him being in the closet, as she had made no judgment call about him sitting frozen with a fork in his mouth and staring into space while she talked to him about his drawing, or about him never speaking or wearing dresses and being Ann. Likewise she did not judge Mordecai for being red and playing the violin or Erik for having a metal eye or Hyacinth for having frizzy blonde hair. It just never occurred to her.

In the closet, Milo blinked and straightened. Calliope?

It was Hyacinth’s wall and Hyacinth had the ability to be mad about the wall and take the crayons… the chalk pastels away from him. He was scared of Hyacinth. But, Calliope… It was Calliope’s box and her colors and he had taken that away from her and he was sorry about that. He shouldn’t take things and he shouldn’t take things away.

He was scared of Calliope, too, that she would hate him and hurt him and not want to draw anything with him ever, but he needed to give back the box.

He crawled out of the closet and stood.

(Hyacinth had been about to hook an arm around Calliope and drag her away from poor fragile Milo — pregnant or no-pregnant — but then she saw poor fragile Milo coming out of the closet and she backed off very fast before he could see her and start hurting himself again.)

“Hey, awesome,” Calliope said with a laugh. Milo would make a pretty good installation, too.

Milo didn’t notice. He had his head down, ashamed. He drew the box out of his stained shirt and he took off the lid and he showed her what he’d done.

“Oh. Yeah. Those my chalk pastels?” She picked up the brown one and examined it.

He nodded.

“It’s okay. I don’t really like them, they were just on clearance. They’re kinda hard to control.” She shrugged and smiled. “I mean, obviously.”

He shook his head.

She regarded the wall. “You are gonna need, like, a lo-o-ot of fixative. I do not have that much fixative. Otherwise it’ll smear. I don’t think we can fix the bed, though. Or you. It’s too bad.”

He shook his head. He still wasn’t looking up. He didn’t know that she was smiling, or that she didn’t hate him.

“You wanna go down to Rust’s? That’s where I get all my art supplies. We can get you some fixative, and some more chalk pastels. I think I’d like to get you some colored pencils. It’s late tonight, and I guess Ann’s got work the next couple nights, but we could go on Sun’s Day.”

He looked up at her. It was an accident. She surprised him. She was a pretty girl. She had shoulder-length black hair and brown eyes and a heart-shaped face and freckles and a smile.

It was too much to hold at one time and he knew it. It hurt. It was terrifying. It was like being pushed off a bridge.

The pretty girl in the green sweater is a very pretty girl and she does not hate me and she would like to do art with me and she is smiling at me and she would like me to have a whole store full of colors and the store is called Rust’s and we will go there together and oh my gods is that what going on a date is is that a date I don’t know anything about going on a date I don’t know anything about art supplies I don’t know anything about art do I need new clothes do I need better clothes we are going in three days I only have two shirts I have ruined one of my shirts — Ann, help!

He had gone beyond Ann, and he was staring into space again.

Calliope shrugged. She put the brown chalk back in the box. “I mean, we don’t have to…”

Ahh! No!

Milo slammed the lid back on the box. He rapidly shook his head. He embraced the box. He gestured to the wall. He nodded and pointed at Calliope. Let’s get stuff for the wall! Like you said! And another box! He lifted the box and rattled the chalk inside.

Calliope smiled. “Yeah? Sun’s Day?”

Milo nodded.

“Awesomesauce.” She turned to go. But she paused and grinned and looked back over her shoulder. “Wait. So, which one of you is coming with me?”

Milo blinked. Ann. I could send Ann. Ann would not go on a date with Calliope. Ann would be two friends going shopping, and they could talk and like each other. And Ann has a lot of nice clothes to wear and look pretty in. Ann would not be hurt or scared even a little.

Ann would not care about going to a whole store full of colors even a little.

Milo shook his head and crossed both hands over his chest. Not Ann. He sighed.

He put the box of chalk pastels on the dresser. (Apparently Calliope did not want them back. He wouldn’t have wanted what was left of them back, either.) He straightened and slid his thumbs under his suspenders. He lifted his head. This guy. The idiot who doesn’t talk or have any idea what he’s doing.

Calliope gave him a thumbs up. “Great! See you at dinner.” She tripped lightly out of the room.

Milo slumped and regarded his streaked and colored and disheveled countenance in the mirror. But I wanted to be Ann for dinner…

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