But Beddy realizes why she grasped at a likeness, an imagined twinhood. They’re both strapped in tight, being whisked toward ____ against their will by unknown forces. The longer Beddy thinks about the girl’s expression, the more she thinks it wasn’t just fear, but a very adult sadness, grieving for control.
When Beddy’s lunch periods would end at the Junior High she would idle, walk back as slowly as she could, feet lingering on each step, prolonging her return to class as long as she could, the picnic tables only occupied by the abandoned refuse, an nth of a square mile of muzzled silence. As long as she took, as many detours as she indulged, around the nurse’s office, around the library, she would still arrive where she did not want to be. And now, years later, after the illusion of choice, after thinking she could make good on vows, here again she was coming against her will, inexorably.
It’s at this moment that Beddy resolves that there is no present, only thousands upon millions upon kajillions of pasts, layered intimately and congruently until they resemble, superficially, the present. That’s all they share: a likeness.
For her, there are all these past Bedelias experiencing things in chorus with her current self and trying, and failing, at amicable coexistence. She keeps waiting for these old selves to leave her with a whish and swoosh, but they don’t. They linger like houseguests beyond their welcomes.
Even if she absconded to the world outside Osmond, and she had tried before, even if she could get continents away, the other Bedelias would follow. And the next time someone wronged or maimed her, it would be eight year-old Bedelia, or twelve year-old Bedelia, or five year-old Bedelia, crying out in pain. Her emotional threshold is aggregate.
Every year she gets a year older and yet, disappointingly, she is the same person. And what is that same person doing? The same things. Walking into obvious traps set by boys. And isn’t it really the same boy?
She gives herself a slap, right at the temple. Stupid. A reminder shot. It has been a while. It feels, if not good, then familiar enough to stand in for good. Another. Stupid. Another. Crackling light in her sightless vision. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid-
On the thirteenth slap, someone catches her hand. She opens her eyes. Her right ear is ringing.
They’re in a gas station again, but parked this time, the engine idling. Connie’s hand is around her wrist.
“Stop hitting yourself,” Di says. “We love you.”
“We love you even if you do,” Connie says. “But do you promise to stop?”
Connie lets go of her hand and turns toward the wheel again. Di continues to stay turned around in her seat, watching.
She had yelled in front of them and now she had hurt herself in front of them. So many exposures. Her soul feels stripped naked, and she cinches her hood closer. If she were an octopus, this would be the moment when she let out a cloud of ink and lammed it during her aggressor’s disorientation. She thinks briefly of bolting from the car, but she isn’t a runner, and she has no ink. Her friends would find her, and Connie would be even more late to Joey’s competition. Miss it, maybe. She doesn’t want that. She stays put, and the car jets out of the gas station and back onto the road.
Di is still watching her, and the pity is back in her face. Even her body. She is a monument to it. But Beddy knows that she will get carsick soon, and be forced to turn around. So she waits her out. Stares back into her unblinking, mammoth eyes. If this is a game of crying chicken, Di has already lost, because Beddy has pushed past self-recrimination into something replenishing, irritation, and Di’s abalone shell eyes look poised for waterworks. At the first burp, Beddy knows she’s safe. Di squeezes her knee and turns around to watch the road.
Beddy rests her head against the window and closes her eyes. The glass is cool against her flushed face. Her temple throbs. Her cheekbone aches.