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Summer/Fall 2001Volume II Issue III

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Matthew Cheney teaches English and theatre at The New Hampton School in central New Hampshire. 

He has attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Workshop, has published in English Journal, and recently finished writing a novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Getting a Date for Amelia

Matthew Cheney

 

I felt bad about trying to sell Amelia, so I thought I could make it up to her by getting her a date.  I figured, she may be a tard, but even a tard ought to be able to find somebody to love.  So I told her, "Amelia, I'm sorry I took you out on the street the other day and tried to sell you for a dollar, but I'm going to make it up to you."  She smiled, but I don't think she really understood.

Mom told me to stop picking on Amelia, it's not her fault she's mentally deficient.  (Mom never calls her a tard, and she gets mad at me when I do.  "At the least call her a retard," she says, but that sounds a lot worse to me, because I know re- is from the Greek and means "again", which would mean that in a former life Amelia was a tard and now she's a tard again, and I prefer to think that in a former life Amelia was smarter than any of us, though she might not have been as happy as she is now, because even though she's a tard and people can be insensitive, she's always seemed happy.  Mom's pretty smart and Mom's never happy, at least when I'm around.)  So I went out into the backyard and threw rocks at squirrels, which is my way of doing deep thinking.  I was trying to figure out how I could get Amelia a date.  It's not like we live in a town full of tards.

My friend Billy's an idiot, so I figured maybe I could get him to go on a date with her, take her to a movie or something.  I told him people would think he was really sexy because he was dating a woman who was twenty-four.  I told him all sorts of girls would want to date him after that.  I told him he wouldn't even have to worry about coming up with something to talk about, because Amelia wasn't used to people talking to her about stuff.  But he wouldn't have anything to do with it, even if I paid him my allowance for the week (only a dollar, but I figured it's better than nothing, and I'd take a tard out on a date for a dollar).  "I'm not going anywhere near that tard sister of yours," he said.  "She might drool on me and make me into a tard, too."  Then he pushed me onto the ground and stole my allowance, which he hadn't done for a few months, so I realized we weren't friends anymore and maybe I should be more subtle about how I ask people to go on a date with Amelia.

I decided to try my friend Max next, because he'd helped me come up with the whole idea of selling Amelia in the first place. Max got angry when I told him I felt bad about trying to sell her, and said he thought I must be turning into a liberal, because they always feel sorry for people.

Max is probably my best friend, and he's certainly the smartest person I know.  He skipped third grade and once Mrs. Klein couldn't help herself and told our whole class that Max's reading tests indicated he was reading at a college level, that his vocabulary score was the highest in the school, but that we should all be very sensitive in our interpersonal encounters with him because his emotional intelligence score was not as advanced as many of our own (that afternoon, Billy beat Max up and tried to carve the word "nerd" in his forehead with a screwdriver, but Mrs. Klein stopped him just in time and sent him to the Time Out Corner because he'd had a negative impact on another student-citizen's self esteem). Max told me he thought my attempt to sell Amelia had demonstrated a good entrepreneurial spirit, which is very American, but that like many liberals I was now feeling guilt for commodifying one of my family members.  "You shouldn't let conscience impede your business sense," he said.  "After all, your mother gets to take Amelia as a tax deduction, so why shouldn't you benefit from her status as well?"

I thought about this for a few days, but I still felt bad.

After Billy stole my allowance, I went to Max and said, "Do you want to take Amelia out on a date?  She likes to watch the numbers at the bottom of the screen during the financial news."

Max gave me a look like he'd just swallowed snot, and then his cell phone rang so he couldn't talk to me anymore.  In any case, I didn't think Amelia would like Max, since he didn't seem like he'd be all that interesting on a date.

On the bus ride home, I asked Jenny Bixby if she would go on a date with Amelia, since I thought Amelia might be a lesbian, and people at school said Jenny was a lesbian.  Jenny punched me in the nose.  The bus driver saw her punch me, and he stopped the bus, walked down the aisle, grabbed Jenny's hair, and dragged her outside.  "You can walk!" he said to her, then stomped back into the bus, and we drove off while Jenny sat on the side of the road and cried.

Getting a date for Amelia wasn't going to be easy, and I began to think that the only way she was going to get a date was if I took her out myself.

When I got home, Amelia was in the midst of water therapy, which meant she sat in the tub upstairs and blew bubbles in the water while her case worker talked to her boyfriend in Fiji on the phone in my parents' room, which was right next to the bathroom, so the case worker could hear if Amelia drowned.

I went upstairs and into the bathroom and said, "Come on, Amelia, get dressed.  We're going out on a date."  I don't mind seeing Amelia naked, because I don't think she looks much different from the big green Buddha sculpture Mom bought for the living room, but I've heard Mom and the case worker both talk about how much they hate having to see Amelia without clothes, as if she's some sort of freak or something out of Jurassic Park and not just a tard.  (Mom's meatloaf's a whole lot grosser to look at than naked Amelia.)  She spends most of her time sitting around the house looking out the window in her room, watching the birds in the woods behind the house, so her body's gotten flabby enough that she jiggles when she walks around, and Max told me one day that he thinks her legs may become vestigial, so they'll just flop all around like dead chickens.  I told him all families have problems. Amelia sputtered something in parrot-voice and began to get out of the tub.  She's got two voices: parrot-voice and frog-voice. Parrot-voice is when she's excited; she coughs out the beginnings of a bunch of words and usually gets so worked up that her voice just keeps rising and rising till all the pieces of the words flow together in a single machinegun shriek.  Frog-voice is what she uses when she's tired or sad (or drunk - before he drove off the bridge, Dad used to make Amelia drink with him), and it's kind of like the sound of a movie in slow-motion, like somebody trying to talk through their own throw-up after eating a bag of caramel candies. I helped Amelia put her blue sweatpants and cranberry T-shirt on, and then we waved to the case worker, who was still on the phone.  She waved back, and Amelia and I walked outside. 

"I don't have any money, or I'd take you to the movies," I said.  "I tried to get a few other people to take you out on a date, but they were all busy, so I thought maybe I should do it myself.  I figure I've got to make up for trying to sell you somehow, so. . ."

Amelia smiled and drooled a little bit, then said something halfway between parrot-voice and frog-voice, which is a rare thing, and it made me feel good about myself. 

I took Amelia down to the woods out behind our house.  Max told me once that our property is a fine approximation of the Arcadian ideal of pastoral America constructed within the confines of the post-modern suburban template, but he doesn't like mosquitoes and has been trying to convince his parents to move into Boston, so I don't really trust his judgment.  We've got seven acres, which is more than most of the people around us, and it looks a lot like a rainforest now that Dad's dead, because he was always the one who would spend whole weekends carving the place up with his brushcutter and chainsaw.  Mom said the woods are probably full of wildlife now, and we may have to move soon.

Amelia and I walked far enough into the woods so that we couldn't see the house, then sat down next to a little brook in the shade.  It wasn't summer yet, but it sure was hot.  Amelia splashed her feet in the brook and got her pink sneakers covered with mud and brown water.  I laughed, and she did too.

"So, Amelia," I said, trying to be a good date, "what do you like to do in your spare time?"

She ignored me and continued to splash her feet, so that now the bottoms of her blue sweatpants were as wet and muddy as her sneakers.  We both laughed.

"Do you have a favorite band or something?" I said.

She was still laughing.  I realized it was useless to pretend to be a date for her.  I was never going to make up for trying to sell her.  To use one of Max's favorite expressions, I was on the negative side of the progress equation.

"Come on, Amelia," I said, "let's go back home.  I'm a rotten date for you."  I stood up, but she didn't.  She was still laughing and splashing her feet.

I decided to leave her there.  She'd know how to get home, and she seemed happy.  Looking back now, with 20/20 hindsight, I can see that it was not a smart decision, in fact it's obviously the decision of somebody who shares genes with a tard, but she seemed so happy.

The case worker had left by the time I got home, and I sat on the couch and watched reruns of "Gilligan's Island" until Mom came home.  Some nights she stays in her office and sleeps under a desk, because she says if she ever wants to be anything other than a temp that's what she's got to do, but tonight she'd brought dinner from McDonald's and we'd finished the burgers and were almost done with the french fries when she said, "Have you seen Amelia today?"

"Yes," I said, "I took her on a date."

"What?"

"I wanted to make it up to her for trying to sell her for a dollar, so I asked people if they wanted to go out on a date with her, but nobody would, so I had to do it myself, so we went out back and she splashed her feet in the brook."

"Oh.  Good.  Well.  Where is she now?"

"Probably still there.  She hasn't come back.  I kind of forgot about her."

"She's out back?  Still?  Alone?"

"Yes," I said, sensing that perhaps my decision to leave her out there had been less than satisfactory.

I won't report what Mom said next, but I will say that I had grabbed a flashlight and run out back into the woods before she could even finish her sentence.  (Well, not that fast, but almost.)

I ran all through the woods, shining my flashlight everywhere, making shadows fly all through the trees so that everything around me danced - the trees and bushes and ground and sky all dancing as I ran.

Amelia wasn't there.  Mom and I searched through the night, or at least for a couple hours, but we couldn't find her.  Mom said she'd call the police in the morning if Amelia didn't show up.  We watched reruns of "The A-Team" for an hour, then went to bed.  I was excited, because I don't usually get to stay up so late on a school night.  At the same time, I had trouble falling asleep, because I was worried about Amelia.  I hoped she hadn't been eaten by wildlife.

In the morning, Mom called the police.  They seemed awfully concerned, and spent a lot of time in the woods.

Two weeks later, the chief of police suggested we should send Amelia's picture to the company that puts the pictures of missing kids on milk cartons.  "Nobody'd buy the milk," Mom said, so she didn't do it.

And then we forgot Amelia.  Every time I asked Mom about her, Mom would say, "We've forgotten her, Joe.  Remember that."  Mom came home every night from the office and cooked dinner.  "Life will be normal now," she said.

A year and a half after she disappeared, Amelia sent me an invitation to her wedding.  It was just a postcard with a map of Wyoming on it, an X written with a green marker over the town where the wedding would be, and a note on the back: "Dear Joe-  Getting married January 3 at 1pm.  Please come.  Love, Amelia."

Mom said it was a hoax.  I begged her to buy me a plane ticket to Wyoming, but she wouldn't do it.  "Amelia couldn't read or write.  It's probably a trap to lure you out there so that they can kidnap you and sell you to some Mexican meatpacker."

I tried to save up my money and buy the plane ticket myself, but at the end of a month I only had enough to get a Coke and a pack of baseball cards at the drugstore near the bus stop.  But in the bottom of a drawer in our kitchen I found a couple of postcards Dad had won in a poker game a few years ago, postcards with pictures of naked people chewing on each other, and I wrote Amelia a note: "I'm sorry I left you in the woods.  I'll make it up to you.  Hope you're okay.  Love, Joe."  I addressed it to Amelia in the town that was on the front of the postcard she'd sent us, and I asked Mom to mail it for me.  "Sometimes I just don't understand you," she said to me, but she mailed it anyway.

I waited and waited, but I didn't get another postcard from Amelia.  I thought about her a lot, and decided that she was probably pretty busy getting ready for the wedding.  It would be a big wedding, I was sure, because Amelia would have lots of friends in Wyoming, and she'd be marrying a guy who owned his own helicopter and lived in a mansion with a swimming pool inside, and I was sure Amelia would have a pet dolphin that swam with her in the swimming pool.  I never told Mom, though, because she'd just say I needed to cut down on my caffeine intake.

It snowed here on January 3, a whole lot more snow than I've ever seen.  It stopped everything.  Even the plowtrucks couldn't get through.  We all just had to wait for the sun to melt the snow enough for us to come out of our houses and for the trucks to push the snow into piles and haul it away.  It took an awful long time, and I didn't get to go back to school for two whole weeks, but eventually life was normal again.

2001 by Matthew Cheney