can’t afford the ticket

Let’s not go there. We can’t go. Jill is standing on the platform, wailing about how she was a good mother. She’s in no condition to make the trip. Never mind that the only way you can even begin to be a good mother is to admit that sometimes you’re not such a good mother (said the only non-mother in the group, under her breath).

I’ve got heaps of money, enough for all of us, but the ticket is more expensive than that.

Cindy suggests that I need to put on my Big Girl Panties. I gather all the monsters into my heart, holding them there with my open palm. All my sweet little monsters. I look at Cindy. “Darling,” I say, “I am wearing the most grown-up panties I own.”  Cindy frowns and continues chattering at me like a giant blue wind-up squirrel.

Can’t afford the ticket. It’ll cost you your chattering, your insistence that you were too a good mother, and probably some of your more precious monsters.

What if there were a vending machine that took monsters as currency? Not the axe-murdering child-raping monsters. Those are too big. The monsters that interrupt their friends, the ones that leave the shopping cart in the middle of the parking lot: what would those get you?  What would a vending machine like that sell?

I bet there’s one in this station somewhere. And anyway, we need to pick a new destination. Where can we go, since we clearly can’t afford the ticket to They-Don’t-Want-Me-Ville?  The Museum of Bad Art, maybe?  No.  Jill can’t go there either. She doesn’t even believe it exists.

“Can’t take that lady anywhere,” grumbles one of my monsters. She’s wearing a tiny top hat, and striped knee socks and Big Girl Panties, but not much else. Pot, meet Kettle.

Where is that vending machine?

Pigeons swoop down from the inside of the roof, followed by an announcement I can’t quite understand even though I think it’s in English. The voice is musical and soothing. With or without my attention, events are proceeding as scheduled. There is no need to panic. If this were an emergency, something would be making a much worse noise.

The pigeons swirl back up to the roof, having completed their investigation of someone’s breakfast crumbs.

Right. Where is that vending machine?

A young man brushes past me. He says something I don’t understand. It might be French. It sounds filthy. He’s gone before I can tell him, “And you too. And your mother, and the horse you rode in on. And your little dog.”

Then I turn around and discover that I’ve been standing in front of a row of vending machines all along. There are the usual snacks: chocolate, chips, soda, gum. And then there’s a series of machines selling ten pounds of Other People’s Opinions in five pound sacks. You wouldn’t think these would be popular, but they’re doing a brisk business. I have to admit, some of those packages look pretty appealing. But that’s not what I came here for. I want to spend one of my monsters.

It is a long walk to the end of the platform. There is a man chasing a departing train. He has an armful of hot dogs. He’s trying to toss them through the open windows of the very last car. Not my problem. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

I reach the end of the platform without finding the vending machine, but there’s a set of stairs. Instead of stopping at the ground between the tracks, the stairs lead down into a tunnel. It’s warm and humid and well-lit. It’s grungy and smells like oil. And there, finally, is the machine I’ve been looking for.

There’s no window showing what’s inside. The machine has only one button, and only one marking: a little monster icon next to a slot. The slot looks too small for my monster, who has been riding quietly on my shoulder. She lets me take her down. I study her for a moment, then look back at the slot. Could I fold her? Would she fit?  Yes, that’ll work. She falls into the machine and lands with a soft grunt. I press the button.


It doesn’t feel like a labyrinth. It doesn’t feel like I could find my way out just by trusting the path. Let’s call it a maze, then.

I feel like a Minotaur, a mythical half-human beast that nobody believes in.

“Oh, come on, you are not either a Minotaur. There’s no such thing.”

What’s a Minotaur anyway? Is that the one that’s half bull? Which half: the top or the bottom? Does it even matter?

Tell me again that there’s no such thing. I will tear your face off. I’ll take your house apart with my bare hands, assuming I can find it. That’s a pretty major assumption at this point: that I could find your house. Or that I even have hands.

The only thing I’m sure I have right now is a voice in my head that keeps saying “Jesus Fucking Christ” every time something happens. “Jesus Fucking Christ, there’s someone breathing over there. Make her stop.”

Apparently, I also have ears to hear this voice. Whose ears are they? What shape are they? How big? Are they furry?

Someone over there has feet. Jesus Fucking Christ. Make her stop. Who said she could have feet? Let’s chew them off at the ankles.

Who are all these people, and what are they doing in my fucking labyrinth or maze or paper bag or whatever this thing is that it feels like I will never find my way out of?

I am seven dwarves, strapped together to make a ridiculous monster: Grumpy, Stompy, Bitey, Screamy, Jumpy, Flinchy, and Smash. We live in a little plastic house under someone’s bed, in a forest of shoes and killer dust bunnies.  We are the monster under the bed, the monster at the center of the labyrinth, the monster at the end of the book.  Somebody made us in her image. Why did she do it? Why didn’t someone make her stop?

Why doesn’t someone make me stop? I’d like to see them try.

Grumpy, Stompy, Bitey, Screamy, Jumpy, Flinchy, and Smash can’t figure out how to unstrap themselves, so they all sleep in one gigantic bed. It takes up a whole room. In the morning, they eat leftovers for breakfast. What were they, before they were leftovers? They were leftovers-to-be, kid. Shut up and eat your breakfast.

After breakfast, they go to work. Sometimes they work in the trash mines, and sometimes they go to the factory where things are made from trash they mined the day before. The rusty tools, the moldy cardboard boxes, the moth-eaten rugs.

What do they make? That’s a secret. They don’t know. They couldn’t tell you even if they wanted to. Their mother would like to know. They can only shrug and go back to work. Or to lunch, which is (you guessed it) more leftovers. And then home again to wash off the dirt and fall into bed and dream.

They dream about being lost, or being in a high place and not knowing how they got there or how to get down, or looking for someone they can’t find because they don’t remember who it is. “Jesus Fucking Christ,” says Grumpy.  It is exhausting even when they’re asleep.

Stompy is always kicking Bitey in the spleen. Smash throws the blankets off, and Flinchy stretches out of the bed to retrieve them. Screamy bites the pillow, which turns out to be Jumpy’s leg. Oops. And then they all wake up in the plastic house in the maze in the forest of shoes, and they eat leftovers for breakfast again.

What were they before they were leftovers? When does repetition become change? Are we there yet? Is there even a there to get to?

Jesus Fucking Christ.