Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 2
Reclining on a pile of pillows on her bed, Zera’s thoughts rotated like a carousel — through the events of yesterday, that morning, then back around. For the sixth time that hour, she ran her fingers through her auburn hair, which was now streaked with an inch-wide swath of electric-green. Her heart bolted each time she glimpsed herself in the mirror, in dread of Tiffany’s reaction, but underneath the dread was determination.
I had to do this, to show I have a right — to something. The carousel started again and her thoughts returned to Biology, fourth period. Plant Chick. Mrs. Tinsel never did “get to the bottom of it,” and the zinnias remained a mystery. Zera took the test after school, and, as she expected when she checked her grade that night online, she aced it. Ms. Casey had her plant a new pot with spinach seeds, and when she got home, her uncle hardly mentioned the event. Still, it bothered her, not knowing what had happened.
She twisted the strand of green hair around her finger.
Sitting up on the bed, Zera scratched the back of her neck where the collar of the hideous dress itched. The synthetic fabric of the watermelon-hued frock irritated the skin around her neck and arms. She lifted the material at the hem, her lips twisting with distaste. The dress had been the final straw. They don’t care that it’s my birthday, that I don’t want to go. She thought about how pleased her uncle’s girlfriend had been presenting her with the poofy-sleeved gift. “It’s from the 1980s, Zera! An Italian designer! This style is so in right now.” Tiffany had looked so happy that Zera couldn’t say what she thought, I don’t want it. Tiffany Taylor divided her life into four passions: vintage couture shop owner at the Cyber-Mall, Faces of Success cosmetic distributor, desperate bachelorette determined to marry The Toad (she practically lived with them, even though she had her own place), and, in Tiffany’s mind, Zera’s much-needed female role model. Dark thoughts galloped through Zera’s mind, images of Tiffany wearing the famous designer dress and having no hair.
Getting the dye was easy. Tiffany had given her a whole drawer full of Faces of Success beauty supplies long ago: gels, sprays, creams, potions, and paints. Of course she’d been disappointed that Zera didn’t take much of an interest in them, but that never stopped her from buying more. Dye & Go, a temporary dye, was the only product not in a pink container. It came in a leaf-shaped bottle and was made with plant extracts. Tiffany had added Dye & Go to the rest of the drawer’s contents only because it was something Zera’s uncle had developed at BioTech Multinational. Zera remembered how Tiffany had held up the bottle with a kind of dismissive air. “It’s not Faces of Success or anything,” she said, “but maybe it’ll come in handy for, I don’t know, Halloween?”
Using the dye was as easy as its name suggested, and matching her nail polish to her hair color was not a problem. Zera just opened a plastic case holding 101 bottles, Tiffany’s Christmas gift to her last year.
Now I’ve got to spend my birthday at some big deal event for a bunch of scientist nerds. That morning The Toad had actually wanted to let her take a pass on going.
“She doesn’t have to be there, Tiffany,” he said. “She could celebrate her birthday with her friend Abby, while we’re gone.”
But Tiffany insisted. “She’s your niece, Theodore, one of the last members of the Green family. She should be there, spending her birthday with her family.” As usual, when Tiffany cracked the whip, The Toad backed down.
Zera slid off the bed and walked over to her white, gold-paint-trimmed, fake Louis-the-whatever-it-was style desk. She opened a drawer and rifled through it. The only good things that have happened today were the calls. First, Nonny had called that morning with a birthday greeting. She was joined by Hattie Goodacre, her mom’s best friend, and Hattie’s son, Ben, who had come to visit Nonny just to call Zera (Hattie didn’t have a video-phone). Zera and Ben had grown up together in Ute Springs. Zera noticed Ben’s looks were changing; the boyishness was fading and his voice was different too, deeper. He had seemed almost shy talking to her. He was probably just preoccupied, thinking about what he has going on for spring break. Then, around noon, Abby called. Seeing them all had made her very happy, for awhile anyway.
Zera picked up a bottle of Fruit Punch flavored Bubblemaniac Bubble Gum. She popped open the top and shook out a tiny capsule, frowning as she noted that the gum was the same color as her frock. She popped the capsule into her mouth. As it contacted the moisture of her saliva it grew twenty-five times its size, as big and squishy as a marshmallow with a sweet-tartness that made her mouth water. The curious sensations made her grin in spite of herself.
Zera looked around her hated bedroom, a pink and white monstrosity of ruffles that Tiffany insisted on decorating when Zera came to live with her uncle. It’ll be three years in April. Would The Toad have even taken me in if Tiffany had not pushed him? She doubted it, and that was another reason to resent Tiffany. If Tiffany hadn’t butted in, she would be living with her grandmother. Zera walked to her window and moved aside a frilly curtain. The street below was frigid, wet . . . ominous. Village Glen, their suburban neighborhood, stretched before her in all its sameness, rolling expanses of lawns, cookie-cutter shrubs dotting the corners of each near-identical townhouse, all the townhouses in predictable earth-tone colors. Normally, she would find a cold, wet spring day like this mysterious and a welcome change from always-sunny, always-dry Colorado weather. Today it just seemed depressing.
The street was empty. She guessed most of the kids were probably spending their Saturday online at one of the Cyber-Malls, or playing in v-game rooms with friends, or watching movies on wall-screens. “Couldn’t have asked for a nicer day,” Zera said aloud. With a start, she remembered something. The story of the day she was born, one she’d heard at least once a year, but hadn’t heard now for three. Her mother said the day had been cold and rainy when Zera’s father drove her to the hospital. While her mom struggled with labor pains every few minutes, Zera’s father drove though the wet streets, saying, “It’s a beautiful day to have a baby!”
“I said to him, ‘No it’s not!’ but your father was so happy.” Her mom had laughed every time she told it.
Just like today, Zera thought between chomps of gum, perfect birthday weather. The sweet picture of her parents always brought, after a moment of joy, gloom. And the gloom brought another thought. The single thought that haunted her most, the one which smothered everything. She sent it out to her parents once more: Why did you have to die? Zera left the window and plopped back down on the bed.
Several minutes later, her spirits revived again. The unanswerable question never stayed for long, not anymore. It came and went, like an awful yet familiar ghost, a ghost who wore clunky boots and tromped in and out of her life like a bully. The bully pushed her around for a while and then left the playground. Zera sat up cross-legged, her head bobbing in time to heavy metal music from her Ear-Tunes, a small set of crystal-studded earrings with attached clear earplugs that played downloaded music from a bracelet-selector. The throbbing beat drowned out her thoughts, including what might lie ahead at her uncle’s big event. Zera stuck her tongue in the middle of the huge mass of gum, stretching it thin between her slightly open, puckered lips. Slowly, she began to blow. The bubble got bigger. And bigger. Zera’s dark blue eyes widened as she watched the bubble grow huge before her. Then she saw nothing but pink. Frickin’ awesome. She didn’t hear the door open.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Tiffany screeched.
Zera jolted, but didn’t turn toward the door. Despite the fact that Tiffany’s voice made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, even over the sound of heavy metal, Zera willed herself to not react.
“That is so low class, Zera,” Tiffany said, “so unbelievably gauche.”
Zera had looked up “gauche” a long time ago. It was one of Tiffany’s favorite words in describing Zera’s behavior. It meant “lacking social grace.” Zera’s lips eased into a smile, the defiance bringing a scary thrill that made her stomach feel ticklish. You may ruin every birthday, Tiff, but even you have to admit this is one hell of a bubble.
In her peripheral vision she saw Tiffany, arms crossed, in the doorway.
Zera pursed her lips to try to force a bit more air into her creation and phisssh . . . As the bubble deflated, a few bits stuck. . . to her cheeks. The bottom floated down past her chin and stuck to a spot on her neck.
“I cannot believe it!” shrieked Tiffany. “Oh . . . my . . . God. What have you done to your hair?! Zera, turn off those E-Tunes now!”
Zera couldn’t help but laugh, a burst that released her tension like the exploded bubble. The laughter stopped when she turned toward Tiffany. Dressed in a strapless gown and flawlessly made up, blonde Barbie-like Tiffany would have been the perfect vision of femininity if not for two things, the sub-zero scowl contorting her face, and her double chin, her only physical flaw. Tiffany’s small hands, placed squarely on her hips, showed pink-tipped claws almost digging in as she glared with tilted cat-like eyes. Menacing. Very menacing. Zera’s skin turned to gooseflesh. She imagined for a second that Tiffany might pounce and pop her like a bubble. How can my uncle be with someone so scary? she thought, for the umpteenth time.
Zera pressed a button on her bracelet, turning off the music. “It’s just a little color,” she said, pulling off the deflated gum. “You gave me the dye.”
“Not the nails too!” Tiffany’s eyes pierced holes into the ten electric-green fingernails.
“You gave me that, too.”
“We’re leaving in ten minutes for the opening,” Tiffany growled the words, her pink-painted mouth snarling. “Get yourself cleaned up, throw away that gum, and get downstairs. There’s no time to fix what you’ve done to yourself, but I promise, you will answer for this.” She took a step toward Zera, lowering her voice. “You’re fifteen today, Zera. Fifteen. You went through something big this week, a rite of passage. I understand that. But I really thought that you might begin acting a little more mature.” Casting a last contemptuous look, Tiffany turned on her high heels and exited the room.
Zera got up, went over to the mirror above the fake Louis dresser, and began picking off the remaining bits of gum. Mom and Dad would have laughed . . .
She rolled the accumulated gum into a ball and checked the mirror for any wayward pieces adhering to her lightly freckled, heart-shaped face. If I could just go back to live with Nonny. That was the impossible dream; she had barely been allowed to see her grandmother in all this time. Their only contact, for almost three years, had been through the v-phone, v-mail, and twice-a-year visits — a week during summer, and a week during Christmas break. Theodore and Tiffany always had some excuse for not letting her stay longer.
Tonight’s going to suck, Zera said to herself, throwing the wad of gum, hard, into her room’s flamingo-hued plastic trash can. All for Tiffany, all for The Toad. . .
To purchase your own copy of Zera and the Green Man, visit the official website now. Paperback and Kindle versions are now available.
Zera and the Green Man is a novel by Sandra Knauf, a local author and sustainability advocate living in Colorado Springs.
Published via US Represented by consent of the publisher:
Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC
P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80934-6587, U.S.A.
First published in the United States of America
Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013
All rights reserved
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-0-8 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-1-5 (ebook)
Cover drawing by Paul Spielman.
Cover photography by CanStockPhoto 11569383
Cover and interior design by Zora Knauf.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.