[Kat wandered into my consciousness on Wednesday, probably through a door marked Do Not Enter. And now that I have her on my hands... I don't know what to do with her. Any suggestions?]
I'm sure you did, once. They're everywhere.
EMERGENCY EXIT. DO NOT ENTER. EMPLOYEES ONLY. NO UNAUTHORIZED VEHICLES BEYOND THIS POINT. ALARM WILL SOUND. They're the curiosity-killers, designed to keep the dangerous, the secret, the fragile and fascinating things out of the public eye.
If you're an adult, you don't really see them any more -- your eye subliminally recognizes the don't-touch verbiage and slips right past whatever the object is, because it's off limits. Congratulations. Your curiosity is officially dead.
Or maybe you're a teenager who's been punished repeatedly for ignoring the No Trespassing sign, trying the locked door, pulling the fire alarm. Everyone from your parents to the police chief has made it clear that these things are off limits. You're breaking the law. You know you should stop. But some part of you just has to know. At this point it might be possible to resuscitate you, or you might fade away into the polite docility of adulthood and never touch the don't-touch things again.
Very rarely do you come across someone over the age of 12 who still possesses a wholly childlike curiosity -- who is constantly asking, What happens if I eat this bug? Why won't you let me mix these chemicals together? If I jump off the monkey bars, will I fly? What's beyond that gated road? Where does this door lead? The very stuff of life: the heady desire to uncover the esoteric and forbidden, just because it's there. But, as I say, it's very rare in adults. In fact I know of only one documented case.
Which, I guess, is why I'm spending the night in the tank again. I don't mind jail any more; it gets much easier after the first time, plus I've spent far worse nights in youth hostels. My lawyer will arrive in the morning, sigh, mutter, and post my bail. The record will note that I didn't steal anything, I'll happily pay to have the window fixed, and by the time it all goes to trial I'll be ready with a perfectly reasonable, believable explanation for what I did. Never mind that not a word of it will be true. Because no one would believe the truth: I just really wanted to know whether Dexter Jewelers had a silent or audible burglar alarm, so I smashed a display window to find out. (Turns out it's silent. But it got the police there really fast.)
That's not to say my curiosity always lands me in jail. I've wandered into restaurant kitchens more than once, wondering where my meal was coming from. Sometimes the chef screams at you and chases you out, but sometimes he just makes you scrub up and puts you to work, and that's kind of fun. I've learned all kinds of food prep tricks, and you'd be amazed at some of the antics that go on in a professional kitchen -- but you'll probably never know because that EMPLOYEES ONLY sign is physically stopping you, right?
I've heard all the standard shame lectures from my parents, my teachers, my professors, my lawyer, and just about every local member of the criminal justice system. I'm shaming my family's good name. I'm wasting my talent and intelligence. I'm too old for this sort of thing. No one has enough time or money to learn only from her own mistakes (to which I replied, "What, you think this was a mistake? I did it on purpose!" and got fined extra for mouthing off to a judge). Or my personal favorite: one day I'm going to do something really dangerous and end up dead. Well, then their problem will be solved, won't it? None of these lectures addressed the real question, which is How else am I supposed to find things out?
People never believe me when I say this, but honestly, it isn't personal. I've never set out to hurt or embarrass anybody. But they don't understand what makes me tick. It's very simple, really -- I have to know.
And so I lie here on a hard cot, not quite tired enough to sleep and not quite awake enough to start anything interesting. Just thinking. Wondering. Listening. Some of the prisoners are already asleep, and one's started to snore. Someone nearby is sniffling quietly. It's probably her first time in jail, poor thing. And there's the creepy old lady in the cell across from mine, who never seems to move or even breathe -- all she's done, for the last three hours, is stare at the bars. She's starting to weird me out.
I pull the blanket up over me, trying for a little privacy.
It's a husky, authoritative voice, in a register so deep it's almost masculine, and it hits my spine like the first blast of a cold shower. I hold very still, with the same kind of paralysis you feel after waking from a nightmare.
"You over there." That voice again. It has to be the old lady. I lean up a bit, and for the first time in three hours she's staring at something else. Me. It isn't an improvement. But now I've caught her unblinking eyes and I can't just lie back down.
Her mouth opens slowly in what has to be called a smile, and her teeth look like broken piano keys. It's hideous the way a train wreck is hideous. I can't look away.
"Do you want to know a secret?" she asks.