Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Paper Towns - Chapter 10

I’d been asleep for just about thirty minutes when my alarm clock went off at 6:32. But I did not personally
notice that my alarm clock was going off for seventeen minutes, not until I felt hands on my shoulders
and heard the distant voice of my mother saying, “Good morning, sleepyhead.”
“Uhh,” I responded. I felt significantly more tired than I had back at 5:55, and I would have skipped
school, except I had perfect attendance, and while I realized that perfect attendance is not particularly impressive
or even necessarily admirable, I wanted to keep the streak alive. Plus, I wanted to see how Margo
would act around me.
When I walked into the kitchen, Dad was telling Mom something while they ate at the breakfast counter.
Dad paused when he saw me and said, “How’d you sleep?”
“I slept fantastically,” I said, which was true. Briefly, but well.
He smiled. “I was just telling your mom that I have this recurring anxiety dream,” he said. “So I’m in
college. And I’m taking a Hebrew class, except the professor doesn’t speak Hebrew, and the tests aren’t
in Hebrew—they’re in gibberish. But everyone is acting like this made-up language with a made-up alphabet
is Hebrew. And so I have this test, and I have to write in a language I don’t know using an alphabet
I can’t decipher.”
“Interesting,” I said, although in point of fact it wasn’t. Nothing is as boring as other people’s dreams.
“It’s a metaphor for adolescence,” my mother piped up. “Writing in a language—adulthood—you
can’t comprehend, using an alphabet—mature social interaction—you can’t recognize.” My mother
worked with crazy teenagers in juvenile detention centers and prisons. I think that’s why she never really
worried about me—as long as I wasn’t ritually decapitating gerbils or urinating on my own face, she
figured I was a success.
A normal mother might have said, “Hey, I notice you look like you’re coming down off a meth binge
and smell vaguely of algae. Were you perchance dancing with a snakebit Margo Roth Spiegelman a
couple hours ago?” But no. They preferred dreams.
I showered, put on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. I was late, but then again, I was always late.
“You’re late,” Mom said when I made it back to the kitchen. I tried to shake the fog in my brain
enough to remember how to tie my sneakers.
“I am aware,” I answered groggily.
Mom drove me to school. I sat in the seat that had been Margo’s. Mom was mostly quiet on the drive,
which was good, because I was entirely asleep, the side of my head against the minivan window.
As Mom pulled up to school, I saw Margo’s usual spot empty in the senior parking lot. Couldn’t blame
her for being late, really. Her friends didn’t gather as early as mine.
As I walked up toward the band kids, Ben shouted, “Jacobsen, was I dreaming or did you—” I gave
him the slightest shake of my head, and he changed gears midsentence— “and me go on a wild adventure
in French Polynesia last night, traveling in a sailboat made of bananas?”
“That was one delicious sailboat,” I answered. Radar raised his eyes at me and ambled into the shade
of a tree. I followed him. “Asked Angela about a date for Ben. No dice.” I glanced over at Ben, who was
talking animatedly, a coffee stirrer dancing in his mouth as he spoke.
“That sucks,” I said. “It’s all good, though. He and I will hang out and have a marathon session of
Resurrection or something.”
Ben came over then, and said, “Are you trying to be subtle? Because I know you’re talking about
the honeybunnyless prom tragedy that is my life.” He turned around and headed inside. Radar and I followed
him, talking as we went past the band room, where freshmen and sophomores were sitting and
chatting amid a slew of instrument cases.
“Why do you even want to go?” I asked.
“Bro, it’s our senior prom. It’s my last best chance to be some honeybunny’s fondest high school
memory.” I rolled my eyes.
The first bell rang, meaning five minutes to class, and like Pavlov’s dogs, people started rushing
around, filling up the hallways. Ben and Radar and I stood by Radar’s locker. “So why’d you call me at
three in the morning for Chuck Parson’s address?”
I was mulling over how to best answer that question when I saw Chuck Parson walking toward us.
I elbowed Ben’s side and cut my eyes toward Chuck. Chuck, incidentally, had decided that the best
strategy was to shave off Lefty. “Holy shitstickers,” Ben said.
Soon enough, Chuck was in my face as I scrunched back against the locker, his forehead deliciously
hairless. “What are you assholes looking at?”
“Nothing,” said Radar. “We’re certainly not looking at your eyebrows.” Chuck flicked Radar off,
slammed an open palm against the locker next to me, and walked away.
“You did that?” Ben asked, incredulous.
“You can never tell anyone,” I said to both of them. And then quietly added, “I was with Margo Roth
Ben’s voice rose with excitement. “You were with Margo Roth Spiegelman last night? At THREE
A.M.?” I nodded. “Alone?” I nodded. “Oh my God, if you hooked up with her, you have to tell me
every single thing that happened. You have to write me a term paper on the look and feel of Margo Roth
Spiegelman’s breasts. Thirty pages, minimum!”
“I want you to do a photo-realistic pencil drawing,” Radar said.
“A sculpture would also be acceptable,” Ben added.
Radar half raised his hand. I dutifully called on him. “Yes, I was wondering if it would be possible
for you to write a sestina about Margo Roth Spiegelman’s breasts? Your six words are: pink, round,
firmness, succulent, supple, and pillowy.”
“Personally,” Ben said, “I think at least one of the words should be buhbuhbuhbuh.”
“I don’t think I’m familiar with that word,” I said.
“It’s the sound my mouth makes when I’m giving a honey-bunny the patented Ben Starling Speedboat.”
At which point Ben mimicked what he would do in the unlikely event that his face ever encountered
“Right now,” I said, “although they have no idea why, thousands of girls all across America are feeling
a chill of fear and disgust run down their spines. Anyway, I didn’t hook up with her, perv.”
“Typical,” Ben said. “I’m the only guy I know with the balls to give a honeybunny what she wants,
and the only one with no opportunities.”
“What an amazing coincidence,” I said. It was life as it had always been—only more fatigued. I had
hoped that last night would change my life, but it hadn’t—at least not yet.
The second bell rang. We hustled off to class.
I became extremely tired during calc first period. I mean, I had been tired since waking, but combining
fatigue with calculus seemed unfair. To stay awake, I was scribbling a note to Margo— nothing I’d ever
send to her, just a summary of my favorite moments from the night before—but even that could not
keep me awake. At some point, my pen just stopped moving, and I found my field of vision shrinking
and shrinking, and then I was trying to remember if tunnel vision was a symptom of fatigue. I decided
it must be, because there was only one thing in front of me, and it was Mr. Jiminez at the blackboard,
and this was the only thing that my brain could process, and so when Mr. Jiminez said, “Quentin?” I
was extraordinarily confused, because the one thing happening in my universe was Mr. Jiminez writing
on the blackboard, and I couldn’t fathom how he could be both an auditory and a visual presence in my
“Yes?” I asked.
“Did you hear the question?”
“Yes?” I asked again.
“And you raised your hand to answer it?” I looked up, and sure enough my hand was raised, but I
did not know how it had come to be raised, and I only sort of knew how to go about de-raising it. But
then after considerable struggle, my brain was able to tell my arm to lower itself, and my arm was able
to do so, and then finally I said, “I just needed to ask to go to the bathroom?”
And he said, “Go ahead,” and then someone else raised a hand and answered some question about some
kind of differential equation.
I walked to the bathroom, splashed water on my face, and then leaned over the sink, close to the
mirror, and appraised myself. I tried to rub the bloodshotedness out of my eyes, but I couldn’t. And then
I had a brilliant idea. I went into a stall, put the seat down, sat down, leaned against the side, and fell
asleep. The sleep lasted for about sixteen milliseconds before the second period bell rang. I got up and
walked to Latin, and then to physics, and then finally it was fourth period, and I found Ben in the cafeteria
and said, “I really need a nap or something.”
“Let’s have lunch with RHAPAW,” he answered.
RHAPAW was a fifteen-year-old Buick that had been driven with impunity by all three of Ben’s older
siblings and was, by the time it reached Ben, composed primarily out of duct tape and spackle. Her full
name was Rode Hard And Put Away Wet, but we called her RHAPAW for short. RHAPAW ran not
on gasoline, but on the inexhaustible fuel of human hope. You would sit on the blisteringly hot vinyl
seat and hope she would start, and then Ben would turn the key and the engine would turn over a couple
times, like a fish on land making its last, meager, dying flops. And then you would hope harder, and the
engine would turn over a couple more times. You hoped some more, and it would finally catch.
Ben started RHAPAW and turned the AC on high. Three of the four windows didn’t even open, but
the air conditioner worked magnificently, though for the first few minutes it was just hot air blasting out
of the vents and mixing with the hot stale air in the car. I reclined the passenger seat all the way back,
so that I was almost lying down, and I told him everything: Margo at my window, the Wal-Mart, the
revenge, the SunTrust Building, entering the wrong house, SeaWorld, the I-will-miss-hanging-out-withyou.
He didn’t interrupt me once—Ben was a good friend in the not-interrupting way—but when I finished,
he immediately asked me the most pressing question in his mind.
“Wait, so about Jase Worthington, how small are we talking?”
“Shrinkage may have played a role, since he was under significant anxiety, but have you ever seen
a pencil?” I asked him, and Ben nodded. “Well, have you ever seen a pencil eraser?” He nodded again.
“Well, have you ever seen the little shavings of rubber left on the paper after you erase something?”
More nodding. “I’d say three shavings long and one shaving wide,” I said. Ben had taken a lot of crap
from guys like Jason Worthington and Chuck Parson, so I figured he was entitled to enjoy it a little. But
he didn’t even laugh. He was just shaking his head slowly, awestruck.
“God, she is such a badass.”
“I know.”
“She’s the kind of person who either dies tragically at twenty-seven, like Jimi Hendrix and Janis
Joplin, or else grows up to win, like, the first-ever Nobel Prize for Awesome.”
“Yeah,” I said. I rarely tired of talking about Margo Roth Spiegelman, but I was rarely this tired. I
leaned back against the cracked vinyl headrest and fell immediately asleep. When I woke up, a Wendy’s
hamburger was sitting in my lap with a note. Had to go to class, bro. See you after band.
Later, after my last class, I translated Ovid while sitting up against the cinder-block wall outside the
band room, trying to ignore the groaning cacophony coming from inside. I always hung around school
for the extra hour during band practice, because to leave before Ben and Radar meant enduring the unbearable
humiliation of being the lone senior on the bus.
After they got out, Ben dropped Radar off at his house right by the Jefferson Park “village center,”
near where Lacey lived. Then he took me home. I noticed Margo’s car was not parked in her driveway,
either. So she hadn’t skipped school to sleep. She’d skipped school for another adventure—a me-less
adventure. She’d probably spent her day spreading hair-removal cream on the pillows of other enemies
or something. I felt a little left out as I walked into the house, but of course she knew I would never have
joined her anyway—I cared too much about a day of school. And who even knew if it would be just a
day for Margo. Maybe she was off on another three-day jaunt to Mississippi, or temporarily joining the
circus. But it wasn’t either of those, of course. It was something I couldn’t imagine, that I would never
imagine, because I couldn’t be Margo.
I wondered what stories she would come home with this time. And I wondered if she would tell them
to me, sitting across from me at lunch. Maybe, I thought, this is what she meant by I will miss hanging
out with you. She knew she was heading somewhere for another of her brief respites from Orlando’s
paperness. But when she came back, who knew? She couldn’t spend the last weeks of school with the
friends she’d always had, so maybe she would spend them with me after all.
She didn’t have to be gone long for the rumors to start. Ben called me that night after dinner. “I hear
she’s not answering her phone. Someone on Facebook said she’d told them she might move into a secret
storage room in Tomorrowland at Disney.”
“That’s idiotic,” I said.
“I know. I mean, Tomorrowland is by far the crappiest of the Lands. Someone else said she met a
guy online.”
“Ridiculous,” I said.
“Okay, fine, but what?”
“She’s somewhere by herself having the kind of fun we can only imagine,” I said.
Ben giggled. “Are you saying that she’s playing with herself?”
I groaned. “Come on, Ben. I mean she’s just doing Margo stuff. Making stories. Rocking worlds.”
That night, I lay on my side, staring out the window into the invisible world outside. I kept trying to
fall asleep, but then my eyes would dart open, just to check. I couldn’t help but hope that Margo Roth
Spiegelman would return to my window and drag my tired ass through one more night I’d never forget.


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