Lacy Dawn's father relives the Gulf War, her mother's teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in the hollow is hard. She has one advantage -- an android was inserted into her life and is working with her to cure her parents. But, he wants something in exchange. It's up to her to save the Universe. Lacy Dawn doesn't mind saving the universe, but her family and friends come first.
Rarity from the Hollow is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy, comedy and satire. A Children’s Story. For Adults.
Chapter 4: The End of Perfect School Attendance
Scene Prologue: Lacy Dawn, the protagonist, begins the story as an eleven year old victim of child maltreatment, poverty, and family dysfunction. Her father is a war damaged Vet suffering from PTSD, night terrors, and anger outbursts. Her mother is
downtrodden, undereducated, and doing the best that she can. Lacy is also a most unlikely savior of the universe, a genetic spawn of attributes manipulated for millennia by Universal Management. An android named DotCom, the name is a recurring pun in the story, was sent to Earth to recruit and train Lacy to fulfill her destiny. He lives in a spaceship hidden in a cave up the hill behind the family’s home in an Appalachian hollow and has been training her since she was five. At this point in the story, Lacy realizes that she has a romantic crush on the android. In this scene, she applies some of the logic that she has learned from DotCom to face what she feels is a personal crisis, missing school.
Despite the same bad dream, Lacy Dawn slept well. The next morning, she was up early, got 100% on a math test at school, and nobody got beat up.
The world's a better place.
That evening, her father came home late, went straight to bed, and cried himself to sleep. It took two hours, kept her awake long past bedtime, and the next morning she didn't wake up on time for school. It was the first time since Head Start that she'd missed.
At 9:00 a.m., her parents were still asleep. She tiptoed to the back porch and lay down to talk to her dog. “What would DotCom do if he was me?” she asked Brownie through a crack in the floor boards. “I bet he’s never missed one day of work in his whole life, and that’s a real long time.”
He's taught me so much—plugged me into libraries. I’ve learned a lot but I don’t know how to deal with this. Maybe….
DotCom had taught her logic so she made up an excuse.
How could I be expected to get up on time to catch the bus after I spent the entire night hiding under my bed? My daddy was acting so weird....
She got up, tiptoed into the living room, and punched a hole in the wall with her fist. Although it looked like other holes made by her father, it was lower. She rubbed her knuckles, found the old NAPA calendar that she'd taken down the week before and turned the page to find her father's favorite picture. She hung a 1966 Dodge truck over the new hole on a nail that was already in the right place. She gave it the finger.
I've been through a lot worse than last night and still made it to school.
DotCom had taught her advanced mathematics. She went to her bedroom, got out a textbook she’d bought at Goodwill, and did a college calculus problem that no sixth grader or even her teacher could have done. Five minutes later, she closed the book.
If I'm so smart, why couldn’t I figure out how to make it to school today?
DotCom had taught her about the power of love so she returned to the back porch and tried to love Brownie.
“Pfllt,” he farted and wouldn't come out from under the porch.
Brownie knows I should be in school.
DotCom had taught her about how work is healthy and that people are happier when busy on things they think are important.
I'll clean house for Mommy.
She walked through the house and looked for a project: two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a tiny bathroom attached to the creek side of the kitchen. Her bedroom was also used for storage. Cardboard boxes were stacked to the ceiling. She didn't bother to look for a project there. Her parents’ bedroom was occupied so she skipped it too. She blew off the dust on top of wood stove in the living room, replaced the beer can used as an ashtray with an empty one, and rubbed her finger across the mantle but found no project there, either.
In the kitchen, she emptied the mop bucket into the back yard, set it back in the corner beside the sack of potatoes, and looked around. Except to straighten a school picture held onto the refrigerator with a magnet, there was no project there. Clean cups and glasses were in the dish drainer, but there was no more room in the cabinets to put them away. She tightened the assortment of stuff that was always on the kitchen table—spices and canned goods that wouldn't fit under the sink. She looked in the bathroom where everything shined.
Ain't nothing dirty. Mommy would be scared if the house wasn't clean.
DotCom had taught her about human mental disorders and how disease can cause violence. She went to the living room, moved an extra fuel pump for the truck that was sitting on top of a cardboard box, and got out the psychiatric manual that Dwayne had stolen from the public library – DSM IV. After finding the right page, she tiptoed into her parents’ bedroom.
“A psychological reaction occurring after a stressing event that is characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, and avoidance of reminders of the event,” she read to her mother about post-traumatic stress disorders. Jenny was still asleep. Lacy Dawn tiptoed back out.
There ain't no answers in this book.
Lacy Dawn went back to bed.
Maybe DotCom can help me get over this shit.
After Lacy Dawn heard noises, she got out of bed. Jenny, her mother, was sitting on the commode in the bathroom with a washrag held on her right eye. Another rag cooled in the sink.
“Can’t you see I’m using it?” Jenny reached for the toilet paper.
Jenny's panties were up and not in the right place to pee. She blew her nose on the toilet paper and waved her daughter to leave. The motion drew the attention of a yellow jacket which defended its nest in the crack of the corner of the bathroom wall. The block had settled after the bathroom had been added to the house and created the perfect habitat for nests of this and that.
“Go peel some potatoes, Lacy Dawn, right now," Jenny said.
God, I wish this bathroom had a door.
Lacy Dawn backed out of the doorway into the kitchen. After a moment, Jenny came in, opened the dented refrigerator door, got out four brown eggs, washed them again, and hugged Lacy Dawn. They started lunch.
Mommy's smart. She’s not book smart, but maybe she can help me feel better about missing school today.
“Hell, I was pregnant with you before the middle of the eighth grade. It’s not so bad missing one day of school. Just make up for it tomorrow by doing great.”
“I know you will. Your dad used to do so good in school—he graduated and everything. He was good looking, smart, popular, and on the basketball team. I was in crazy love. He was all I could think about. Everybody thought he would be a big success one day. He was sane. You know all this stuff because I've told you a zillion times.”
"I still like to hear about it – especially the part about when he tried to kiss you the first time and you wouldn't let him.”
That’s what I’m going to do to when DotCom tries to kiss me one of these days.
Jenny reached up and pulled another piece of loose latex from a ceiling board. Lacy Dawn held open the plastic Kroger garbage bag already full of potato peels and took it to the burn pile. They washed their hands under the faucet drip that caused the electric bill to be high because the water pump ran so much.
“It’s all on account of that Gulf War,” Jenny said.
"I know, Mommy."
“Last night, it was an accident. I’m for real. He was asleep and didn’t realize that he’d hit me. Honest, Honey. I rubbed his shoulder because I thought that maybe it'd help him stop crying. He rolled over on his side and his elbow hit my eye. He didn’t mean to this time. It was my fault. I touched him without asking first.”
“I know, Mommy.”
DotCom don’t sleep so he’ll never hit me by mistake.
Lacy Dawn scooped more potato peels and egg shells into a new Kroger bag that she’d gotten from the metal sink base. She tried to turn on the faucet to wash her hands, gave up, and washed them again under the drip.
I wish I could tell you about DotCom. He knows a lot more than us about the types of chemicals used in human wars.
DotCom had drawn maps on his monitors, provided details, and answered as many questions as she could think of to ask about the Gulf War. It was a lot of questions. Despite several months of studies, every now and then Lacy Dawn would think of a new question to ask about her father's military experience.
DotCom is going to help us fix Daddy.
Coffee had brewed. Jenny got a cup and sat down. Lacy Dawn stroked her mother's hair.
I've studied amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. I don't understand it yet. One thing I know for sure is that when Daddy’s speech slurs, that’s why he wants to kill the world.
"Not now. You might get hair in lunch. Don't forget to wipe down the counter top before you slice the potatoes. I wish we could afford a new one," Jenny said.
"I do, too. This counter's gross."
The counter top was covered with left-over linoleum pieces that used to match the floor. The heads of the tacks that held it down had rusted but the flowers on it were much brighter because they had not been walked on. Lacy Dawn wiped.
I know more about post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve got it too. Like DotCom said, I’ll turn it into an advantage when it’s time.
Lacy Dawn threw away the envelope for her father's VA check that had been left on the counter and got the cutting board off the wall. It was a wobbly square that he wouldn't let them burn because it was made in ninth grade shop class. She tried to whistle Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers to America.”
$1,724.58 a month ain’t enough disability check for what he went through.
Jenny left the kitchen to check on her husband. Lacy Dawn sliced potatoes, cut bacon from the slab they’d been given by a neighbor who raised pigs for slaughter, peeled onion, and cooked. Aroma filled the space. She gave up on the tune.
I'm depressed. I hope DotCom can help. I wish he could smell.
"He's breathing," Jenny yelled from the bedroom.
"That's a good sign," Lacy Dawn said.
War is bad.
DotCom and Lacy Dawn had discussed how this or that politician thought this or that war was either good or bad. It was part of her Earth World History plug-in lessons and included how some people made money off war and others paid. Despite her best efforts to start an argument about war, DotCom like Switzerland, always maintained neutrality on the topic.
“It’s not fair if you don’t pick a side,” she said to the skillet of potatoes.
"Just turn them when they brown, Honey. I'll be there in a minute."
Nothing's fair in love or war. I hate it when DotCom says that.
"Put in a little more bacon grease if you need to."
I'd better turn down the burner to reduce my moral anger. I get so emotional and he always stays so calm. I guess it’s in his programming.
She flipped the potatoes.
Since he won’t take a side, I'll never win an argument about war anyway.
"Nothing's fair in love and war," she said to the skillet, turned to the open kitchen window and yelled loud enough for the maple tree to hear, "He loves me!"
"Are you okay?" Jenny asked from the bedroom.
"I'm just playing with Brownie."
It's his way of telling me he loves me. Just like war, our love ain't fair either. One of these days, I'm going to tell him that I love him back.
Lacy Dawn flipped the potatoes again and started the bacon. Almost immediately, it competed with the redolence of frying onions. She grinned for a moment.
Sometimes love ain't enough. There's got to be something practical or magical that DotCom taught me that'll make me feel better about missing school today.
Most of her plug-in lessons were presented by DotCom because Lacy Dawn kept asking one question: "Why?" He would plug her in to the next lesson plan. A tiny port had been installed on her spine below her shirt collar. She could reach it when she stretched. It was the exact same color as her skin.
“Why is blood red?” she asked the bacon.
"Because God made it that color," Jenny answered from the bedroom.
Lacy Dawn gave Heaven the finger.
That ain't why. It's because of the iron in it. DotCom told me so and he would never lie about bacon or anything else.
Lacy Dawn checked to see if the potatoes were browning and flipped the bacon.
DotCom knows everything about everything. But, sometimes he's like the psychiatric manual that Daddy stole. Knowing everything doesn’t mean that a person has a true answer to an actual question. He's been doing the same thing since I was five—telling me why even when I don't ask.
She flipped the bacon again.
Like Oak said, I don't learn nothing at that school. DotCom is my true education. I just hope I didn’t mess it all up by missing school today. He’s bound to be disappointed in me.
"Is Daddy okay?" Lacy Dawn asked.
How about the how part? Sometimes, DotCom’s answers take so long that I have to go home before he gets to the how part. When he gets to the how part, sometimes there're so many that I can’t sort them all out.
"He'd never lie to me!" Lacy Dawn yelled through the open window to the maple tree.
"Never trust a man," Jenny smacked her on the butt. "Dwayne's alive. I gave up on getting him out of bed to eat lunch."
They ate and did the dishes. Jenny washed. Lacy Dawn dried and stacked. Every now and then there was a whimper from the bedroom.
“Go outside and play with Brownie. I want to check on your dad again.”
Lacy Dawn bolted out the back door. "C'mon Brownie, let's go Roundabend to as DotCom why I missed school today." Brownie came out from under the back porch.
I heard the whimpers too. It’s safe.
Brownie looked like a beagle with floppy ears and squat body, brown and tan, but often acted like his daddy—a German shepherd a foot taller who guarded the next farm down. The shepherd had been caught in the act with Brownie's mother, who was killed by truck tire because of her compulsion to chase them. Brownie’s name came from when he stole a brownie instead of a wiener from Lacy Dawn's plate that she'd put on the back porch floor during a cook-out. He was still a puppy. Lacy Dawn got switched for it. Brownie was rewarded with the rest of that wiener and Lacy Dawn’s next one, too.
"Roundabend, roundabend, roundabend…," she whizzed by one tree after another without acknowledgement. Brownie trotted up the hill. Less than a minute later, she sat in front of her monitor. She sobbed, wailed, screamed, cried, blew her nose and wiped snot on her forearm.
“I feel like such a failure. Always making it to school no matter what was the only thing that ever made me feel good about myself. Now, it’s gone.”
DotCom took a screw out of his mouse.
“And, I don’t want any more f**king psychological bull crap either. If you ever remind me about what my IQ is again, I swear I’ll unplug your monitor for a week. I ain’t kidding. And don’t tell me that I already know all the stuff they’re teaching in the sixth grade, the tenth grade, college or anything like that. It’s not the stuff. It’s the perseverance—the determination—the will—that’s what counts. I messed up. All I want you to tell me is why. I haven’t asked you why for a long time but this is killing me. I never want to feel this way ever again.”
Her head down, Lacy Dawn sank lower in her chair, sobbed, and waited. There was no answer from DotCom. She looked up at her monitor and watched data flash on the screen. Data also flashed on the screens of DotCom's monitor and the ten others hung around the ship.
“Well?” she said.
DotCom swiveled his chair and stood.
“I don’t know.” He sat back down. “My analyses found that you are the strongest human known by my people to have existed in this planet’s history. We have a detailed marketing directory which spans centuries by your calendar. Personal, socioeconomic, social, cultural, psychological, physical, health, environmental, and political factors were included. I found no correlates that could explain why you missed school today. As a friend—maybe you just overslept.”
“I love you, DotCom,” Lacy Dawn said.
He stood up again.
She has never said that to me before.
“I love you too, Lacy Dawn.”
His voice quivered. It's never done that before.
“Give me a hug bye-bye. I’ve got to get home to wash clothes because I ain't got no real clean jeans. I sure don’t want to miss school tomorrow and I want to look perfect.”
He ain't like other boys.
She extended her arms.
Daddy would be pissed if he found out that I let a naked older boy like DotCom hug on me.
She took a step toward him.
DotCom don’t say nasty things to be cute. He don't tease or try to touch my butt and never laughs at the loudest fart in class. Besides, he ain't got no private parts – not even a little bump. He'll be a perfect boyfriend for when I grow up.
They hugged goodbye and she left his ship. Outside, Brownie had treed a ‘coon and ignored her command to leave. He ran around the tree and barked until Lacy Dawn said, "Good dog."
“That guy sure is smart. I feel a lot better,” Lacy Dawn said to Brownie and chanted. Her feet elevated off the ground and Brownie chased her down the path. She beat him home by five minutes. Inside her house, she got Brownie some fresh water and table scraps. He dragged the scraps under the porch. Her father was still in bed, and supper, untouched, was on the stove. There was an occasional whimper. Jenny pretended to be asleep on the couch. Lacy Dawn ate and put the leftovers in the refrigerator.
There won't be no goodnight kiss tonight. Cool for a day that started out as the worst of my life. Failure feels worse than being hurt by others. It hurts more than being switched. But, it turned out okay. DotCom said he didn’t know the answer to a question. I never thought I'd ever hear him say that.
“Since DotCom don’t know everything, I’ve got a little room to mess up every now and then. Nobody’s perfect,” she said to Brownie through a crack in the back porch floor boards. He came out and rolled on his back. She rubbed his belly.
No more mistakes – straight A’s in school, and I’m going to fix this family too.
Lacy Dawn pulled the extension cord out the back door and plugged in the washer on the porch. She picked out school clothes that Jenny had left in the tub, wrung them, hung them on the line to dry overnight, unplugged the washer, and went to bed.
A nice house that is warm in the winter even if we run out of firewood. Daddy has a job and Mommy drives the truck.
It was her best dream ever.
About the Author
Robert Eggleton has served as a children's advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Locally, he is best known for his nonfiction about children’s programs and issues, much of which was published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997. Today, he is a retired children's psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome maltreatment and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel. Its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines. Author proceeds support the prevention of child maltreatment.