The Island Of Lote

Episode 2: Adjusting

HAVE YOU EVER heard of the saying, "Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back"? That saying is merely implying that sometimes when people, or cats, become so curious that they stick their human nose, or kitty nose, into something they shouldn't, and end up getting in trouble. However, they can get out of that trouble by having whoever they are in trouble with change their minds. That last part does not happen very often, though, and the "cats" usually stay "killed". This is why people usually just say, "Curiosity killed the cat." We have long forgotten about the part, "But satisfaction brought it back."

That saying can be interpreted another way; that's the way it was for Milo. Each time that she let her curiosity overthrow her common sense, she felt a little bit of herself getting killed. Occasion ally she did find the satisfaction to bring back those little bits of herself, but it was never much satisfaction.

For instance, when she first stepped into her apartment, a tiny bit of her died when she saw that one of her bedroom windows had a hole in it, like some vengeful individual threw a rock through it. Oddly enough, nothing else in the apartment was harmed. Milo found a little satisfaction though; it was the beginning of June and very hot at night, so the hole in the window was appreciated rather than shunned.

When Milo finally worked up enough curiosity to walk into the school for her first day, a small part of her died when she saw that all the children in her class, and the whole school in fact, wore a snarl and XXL pants. Milo felt like a piece of angel hair spaghetti in a pot of killer meatballs, but she was somewhat satisfied to be back in school. All of the teachers were very nice, the total reverse of their irate pupils, and, also oddly enough, were just about as thin as Milo was.

The reason for this, Milo discovered, was that the entire twentyseventh floor was a gym. All of the grown-ups in the building visited it regularly and were extremely fit. But children under the age of twenty weren't allowed to go there, it apparently being a safe haven for the adult population, and even if they could Milo had a feeling that they wouldn't.

When Milo's curiosity got the better of her and she travelled to the fourteenth floor, where the restaurants were located, a little bit of her spluttered out when she saw almost every single kid in her class at B.K. She didn't dare go in, especially when a boy with sinister eyebrows close to the entrance growled at her. She did, however, find some satisfaction when she went to O.G. and saw that their prices were half of what they were outside.

And finally, she got soooo curious, and bored, that she went down to the basement. Once there, an itty-bitty chunk of her died when she saw nearly all the kids in the building hanging out at the miniature mall, which she quickly learned they did basically every day. The way they glared at her made her so uncomfortable that she couldn't bring herself to enter. But she achieved some satisfaction when she went into the Wal-Mart and saw that very few other kids were there. She was also delighted to find a grocery store attached to it.

She bought ingredients for one of her favorite pasta recipes, and went straight up to her apartment to make it. When she arrived, though, a little bit of her died harshly when she realized they had not installed the oven yet. Frustrated, she put her ingredients in the refrigerator, which thankfully had been install, and grabbed her diary and little radio, deciding to go up to the garden. But when she got into the elevator, she saw that there was no button to take her to the roof. Milo, on the verge of utter exasperation, abandoned the elevator and took the stairs, which were rusty and noticeably neglected.

"She was right when she said that nobody uses these anymore," Milo muttered, referring to Miz Ricca. Every couple of steps or so, she had to wipe flecks of rust and dust off her hand on her jeans.

After stepping out onto the roof, quite a bit of her died woefully as she took in the garden. It was extremely overgrown and a haphazard mess, as if nobody had gardened there in decades.

There were weeds everywhere; in the path, in the flower beds, which had perhaps once held pretty, vibrant flowers, and they took over the grass. The bushes and shrubs looked like someone had stopped pruning them a long time ago. Vines grew all over and constricted the two lovely fountains, which were both cracked and dirt encrusted. The leaves from years of roof top autumns had not been raked, making a thick carpet of matted crumbling, brown leaves and coarse weeds on the ground. A tree that had grown so old and rotted that it had fallen in a swoon had not been removed, or trimmed down, and vines and lichen had claimed it for their own.

Milo, who had always been a lover of nature and well-kept gardens, wanted to cry as she gazed around at everything. There were benches that had barely any paint left on them, the wood shrunken and splitting. Way off in a corner, there was a section of the garden that appeared big enough for a small game of soccer, but was at the second stage of becoming a swamp.

"Great!" Milo muttered dismally, sitting down on one of the benches.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you!" Bob the Conscience said, but he was too late. The bench creaked then cracked, sending Milo crashing through it.

"Ow!" she whined, groping for the iron arm of the bench.

"Thanks a lot, Bob!"

Despite a garden full of weeds, which was undoubtedly full of all kinds of insect life, and unstable benches, Milo found satisfaction in the fact that no one else was up there with her. She was at last completely alone. She found a moss covered rock under a tree and sat down. She slipped on her headphones, turned the radio on, and tuned into a good hip-hop station, since that was the music she liked best. She spent about two hours in the garden, scribbling ferociously in her diary. At about 4:45, she decided to go back.

As she stood up, she happened to brush off some moss from the rock and an engraving materialized. Curious, she took a closer look, scraping off more moss with her fingernails. It read:

"This garden is dedicated to the mayor of Shady Ally. Let us hope that when we get one, he will come here."

"Okay?"Milo said, confused. "That's nice, I guess. But . . . heck, if it's in this bad a condition, they probably never did get one!"

She straightened up and trudged back to door to the stairwell, but instead of going to B-1107, she rode the elevator down to the lobby. Once there, she carefully picked her way through the tinsel, finally making it to the desk. Miz Ricca being nowhere in sight, she located the bell and rang it three times. Miz Ricca came hurrying in from the hallway on the right side of the desk.

"Hello?" she said, puzzled, then put on her glasses. "Oh. Hi!" she exclaimed after seeing Milo. Milo gave a little wave.

"Good afternoon," Miz Ricca said cordially, her brow furrowing.

"I'm so sorry, but . . . who - I mean, what is your name . . .?"

"Milo," Milo said.

"Oh. Yes,"Miz Ricca said, chuckling pleasantly. "Of course, how could I have forgotten? Well, Mila, what can I do for you?"

"Actually it's MILO, trust me, and I was just wondering about the garden on the roof."

"Yes, what about it?" Miz Ricca asked, teetering towards a chair that didn't seem to have enough tinsel on it.

"Well,"Milo said slowly, watching her. "It seems a little, let's see, how shall I put it? Un-taken care of."

"You've been up there?" Miz Ricca cried, whisking around in alarm, her ankles almost giving way.

"Yes," Milo said, feeling uneasy. "Why? Is it off limits or something?"

"Oh. No," Miz Ricca admitted, patting gently at her hair, as if worried her sudden movement had disturbed it. "It's just that - well, the reason for it being so unruly is because we haven't really bothered to hire a gardener to keep it well groomed."

"Why not?" Milo asked, hoping she knew that they were talking about a garden and not a dog.

"Because, nobody goes up there," Miz Ricca said carelessly, flicking some tinsel off her sweater. "So it's not worth it. The new elevators don't even have a button that leads up there. I heard that it was once a very popular place in the building. You know; a place where the kids could go and get exercise. But then its splendor wore off, and people didn't care for it anymore. And besides, they were sick of paying the bills for it; so many other worthwhile things to have bills for. It was completely forgotten when the mall and restaurants came. But that's only what I heard."

"Oh," Milo said softly. She felt discouraged. "But it's okay if I go up there, right?"

"Hmm? Oh. Sure. But if I were you, I wouldn't. As you probably guessed, as Lobby Secretary I hear a lot of rumors, and one that I am always hearing is that the garden is full of lice!"

Milo's eyes widened. "Lice?" she croaked.

Miz Ricca nodded amiably. "Yep. Uh-huh. Just chock full."

Milo stiffened and began to walk backwards down the left hallway.

"Um, thanks, Miz Ricca," she said. Miz Ricca smiled and waved. "No problem, dear. Take care. See you later!"

"Yeah," Milo muttered, turning around. "Sure you will." She pressed the button for an elevator then checked to see that she was alone.

"Bob!" she hissed. "Bob! Answer me! I know you're there! You can't be anywhere else!" "Actually," Bob the Conscience whispered ruefully, "I was in the membrane preparing my dinner. Oh, Milo! I'm sorry. How was I supposed to know that it was a lice garden?"

"I don't know!" she hissed back. "You knew that bench was crap and you told me!"

"Well, that one was obvious!"

"And a weed-filled garden isn't?"

Bob the Conscience, for once in his life, was speechless. That's not a good thing for a conscience to be. Bob the Conscience was aware of that, so he spoke anyway.

"Okay! So I didn't see it. But you didn't either. I thought you had more sense than that."

"I do!" she shouted by accident. "I do," she hissed, glancing around hastily, seeing if anyone had heard. The elevator opened and she stepped in. "It's just that you are my conscience and now thanks to you lice may be partying all over me! Now look, boi! If you don't perk up and pull your act together, I'm going to find a new conscience!"

Bob the Conscience gasped in horror. "You wouldn't dare!"

"Oh, yes I would! Get it?"

Bob the Conscience groaned. "Yes, ma'am."

"Good," Milo said tartly, as the elevator stopped at a floor different from the one she had punched in. Somebody else had called it there, and as the doors parted she saw who. Five kids from her class stalked into the elevator and began their habitual glaring.

"Well," one of the boys said loudly as the doors closed. "Look who it is! Otis!"

Milo gulped. "That's Milo," she said, quaking.

The boy growled low in his throat. "Right," he said. "Milo, the little shrimp who decided to die!"

"Actually, no," Milo replied, her voice getting higher. "I don't. Not that it wasn't nice of you to offer!" she added quickly. "It's just that I would prefer not to die. Not that I believe that you would actually kill me!"

She chuckled weakly, clutching her diary to her chest, her eyes shifting from one face to another.

The boy leaned forward, leering, and said, "What makes you so sure?"

"She's such a snob!" a girl piped up. "Always eating at the Olive Garden alone and not talking to anyone in class!"

Milo wanted to explain why she was doing such things, but thought it better not to. Right then, accusing them of anything didn't seem like the best way to get out of the situation.

"Well," the boy said, grinning evilly. "We know what to do with snobs!"

"I told you, you should have taken the stairs," Bob the Conscience said grimly.

. . . . . .

"You could have called for help," Milo's mother said to her some time later back at B-1107.

"I was in an elevator!" Milo cried. She was sitting on a counter, holding an ice pack to her head, while at the same time nursing both a nose-bleed and split lip. Her parents hadn't exactly been thrilled to come home to find their daughter in such a battered state. This was far from the first time, and quite frankly they were getting quite tired of it.

"That's not the point, Milo!" her father said. He had a tone in his voice that was purposely not comforting her. He had taken a wide stance in front of her, arms crossed. "I am sick of you always getting into fights! It seems to happen everywhere we go!"

"Hey, it's not my fault this fight happened!" she said defensively.

"Why do you always do this?" her father asked, ignoring what she said. "Is it because you want attention? I always thought you liked to be alone; to be by yourself. Not that I think it's good for you to always be alone. I would prefer it if you were active in a group or something. You don't get into groups by picking fights. You only get into gangs that way and you certainly are not joining a gang! You also don't make friends this way. I thought you wanted to make friends?"

"I do!" Milo said, fuming. "I told you, this wasn't my fault! I didn't cause it! I don't go around picking fights. They come to me!"

"Nonsense!" her father said dismissively. He raised his chin and looked down his nose at her. "I don't believe you. You know what I heard from your teacher? That you don't 'interact' with the other students! Look, Milo, I am not raising a stuck-up child! For some reason I always thought that you were a shy, sweet little girl. My little girl. My little baby girl! Now what's a father to think when his little baby girl is always coming home with black eyes and broken bones?"

"First of all,"Milo said, wincing as she moved her lip. "I only got a black eye once, and I've never had any broken bones!"

"That's not the point," her father shouted at her, his temper flaring up. "The point is that instead of shaking hand, you use yours to make a fist."

"Second of all," Milo continued through her teeth, forcing herself to ignore him. "I was never your shy, sweet little girl. I am not shy or sweet, and you have never considered me your 'baby girl'. I've always been 'hon'! You never have been there to comfort me. It seems like you just blame me to make parenting easier for you!"

"That's enough, Milo!" her mother said sharply. "You have no right to talk to your father that way! I am very disappointed in you!"

"As am I!" her father agreed. "How dare you say such a thing? You ought to be ashamed of yourself! The utter ingratitude! We bring you to this wondrous place, supplied with everything you would ever need. Friends included, but for some reason you seem to think that every person on the planet is against you."

"No," Milo objected, shifting the ice pack on her forehead. "Only anyone who gives me the stink eye."

"Is that so? And exactly what evidence have you seen that proves that any child in this building is a bully?"

"Have you seen the kids in this building?!" Milo asked in astonishment.

"That's not nice, Milo!" her mother said. "Just because the chil - dren here are slightly obese, doesn't give you the right to talk so."

"Slightly?" Milo said dubiously, even though she had meant their irate attitudes.

"Milo!"

"Enough!" her father shouted. He ran his fingers through his hair, thoroughly worked up. "Milo, I am disgusted with you! And what's more, you are grounded for a week!"

"What?!" she cried, almost toppling off the counter. "That's not fair. . . . At all!"

"Provoking kids with cruel remarks is what's not fair. When you say things like that to them, of course they are going to release their hurt inappropriately."

"I didn't . . . I - I would never do something like that!"

"No? Then how come you came home absolutely injured?" her mother inquired smartly.

"Because!" Milo cried out desperately. "They're all bullies! They growl at me whenever I'm around them for Pete's sake! Like pit bulls! I don't know why they did this to me! Who knows? Maybe they're jealous of me or something. Jealous of how I look."

"Jealous of how you look?" her father said incredulously.

"Well, why not?" her mother asked, briefly siding with her daughter. "I can imagine why they would be. She is a lovely girl."

"That's not what I mean," Milo said, gingerly touching the bump on her lip.

"That still wouldn't be enough to provoke them," her father insisted skeptically.

"Why not?" Milo spat, though she didn't mean to and used her ice pack to wipe it off the counter top. "I always told you, Mom, that some day my looks would get me into trouble! And I guarantee you that this won't be the last time!"

Although Milo didn't actually know this, it was quite true.

"Unbelievable!" her father exclaimed, rubbing one temple and starting to pace. "The excuses you come up with! The ungratefulness! Everything you would want; everything you would need! One place! Nothing but trouble, always!"

"Not everything I need is here," Milo interjected, pointing to the empty corner in the kitchen.

"The oven isn't installed." Her father glanced at the desolate corner, then back at her.

"There are well priced restaurants on one of the floors. You don't need an oven," he stated.

"I need an oven," she insisted.

He rolled his eyes. "Fine!" he said. "If you need one that badly, then you can buy one at the mall in the basement."

"I don't have money for something like that!" Milo cried in protest, sliding off the counter onto her feet.

"Well," her father said, at last looking pleased. "Isn't that your problem?"

"For your needed information," Milo snarled, "cooking happens to be my most favorite thing in the world! But of course you wouldn't know that, because you continuously find short-cuts around parenting!"

"ENOUGH!" both her parents yelled at once.

"Go to your room!" her mother shouted, face flushed from either shame or rage, or both.

"You mean my naturally air-conditioned room?!" Milo asked savagely.

"Yes!" her father snapped. "And you are still grounded for a week!"

Milo grabbed her ice pack, then stormed into her room and slammed the door. This is a very loud and rude gesture, but after all that had occurred, slamming her door made Milo feel quite good.

"Well, look on the bright side," Bob the Conscience said brightly.

"What bright side?" Milo moaned, flopping onto her bed, her head aching for two different reasons.

"You probably gave them all lice!"

And that made Milo feel very good.

By Emily Kinney

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