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Turtles All the Way Down(5)
Author: John Green

We pulled into my driveway. I got out, walked to the garage door, squatted down, wriggled my fingers under the door, and then lifted it up. I got back into the car and parked, while Daisy kept telling me we were going to be rich.

The garage door exertion had gotten me sweating a bit, so when I got inside I headed straight for my room and turned on the window AC unit, sat cross-legged on my bed, and let the cold air blow against my back. My room was a cluttered mess, with dirty clothes everywhere and a spill of papers—worksheets, old tests, college pamphlets Mom brought home—that covered my desk and also sort of spread out along the floor. Daisy stood in the doorway. “You got any clothes around here that would fit me?” she asked. “I feel like you shouldn’t meet a billionaire in a Chuck E. Cheese uniform, or in a shirt stained pink by your hair, which are my only outfits at the moment.”

Daisy was about my mom’s size, so we decided to raid her closet, and as we tried to find the least Momish top and jeans combo available, Daisy talked. She talked a lot. “I’ve got a theory about uniforms. I think they design them so that you become, like, a nonperson, so that you’re not Daisy Ramirez, a Human Being, but instead a thing that brings people pizza and exchanges their tickets for plastic dinosaurs. It’s like the uniform is designed to hide me.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Fucking systemic oppression,” Daisy mumbled, and then pulled a hideous purple blouse out of the closet. “Your mom dresses like a ninth-grade math teacher.”

“Well, she is a ninth-grade math teacher.”

“That’s no excuse.”

“Maybe a dress?” I held up a calf-length black dress with pink paisleys. Just awful.

“I think I’m gonna roll with the uniform,” she said.

“Yeah.”

I heard Mom drive up, and even though she wouldn’t mind us borrowing clothes, I felt a jolt of nervousness. Daisy saw it and took me by the wrist. We snuck out to the backyard before Mom made it inside, and then picked our way through a little bramble of honeysuckle bushes at the edge of the yard.

It turned out we did still have that canoe, overturned and full of dead spiders. Daisy flipped it over, then wrenched the paddles and two once-orange life jackets from the ivy that had grown over them. She swept out the canoe by hand, tossed the paddles and the life jackets into it, and dragged the canoe toward the riverbank. Daisy was short and didn’t look fit, but she was super strong.

“The White River is so dirty,” I said.

“Holmesy, you’re being irrational. Help me with this thing.”

I grabbed the back part of the canoe. “It’s like fifty percent urine. And that’s the good half.”

“You’re the one,” she said again, then heaved the canoe over the riverbank into the water. She jumped down the bank onto a little peninsula of mud, wrapped a too-small life vest around her neck, and climbed into the front of the canoe.

I followed her, settled into the rear seat, and then used the paddle to push us out into the river. It had been a long time since I’d steered a canoe, but the water was low, and the river was so wide I didn’t have to do much. Daisy looked back at me and smiled with her mouth closed. Being on the river made me feel little again.

As kids, Daisy and I had played all up and down the riverbank when the water was low like this. We played a game called “river kids,” imagining we lived alone on the river, scavenging for our livelihood and hiding from the adults who wanted to put us in an orphanage. I remembered Daisy throwing daddy longlegs at me because she knew I hated them, and I’d scream and run away, flailing my arms but not actually scared, because back then all emotions felt like play, like I was experimenting with feeling rather than stuck with it. True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice in the matter.

“You know this river is the only reason Indianapolis even exists?” Daisy said. She turned around in the canoe to face me. “So, like, Indiana had just become a state, and they wanted to build a new city for the state capital, so everybody’s debating where it should be. The obvious compromise is to put it in the middle. So these dudes are looking at a map of their new state and they notice there is a river right here, smack in the center of the state, and they’re like—boom—perfect place for our capital, because it’s 1819 or whatever, and you need water to be a real city for shipping and stuff.

“So they announce, we’re gonna build a new city! On a river! And we’re gonna be clever and call it Indiana-polis! And it’s only after they make the announcement that they notice the White River is, like, six inches deep, and you can’t float a kayak down it, let alone a steamship. For a while, Indianapolis was the largest city in the world not on a navigable waterway.”

“How do you even know that?” I asked.

“My dad’s a big history nerd.” Right then her phone started ringing. “Holy shit. I just conjured him.” She held the phone up to her ear. “Hey, Papa. . . . Um, yeah, of course. . . . No, he won’t mind. . . . Cool, yeah, be home at six.” She slid her phone back into her pocket and turned around to me, squinting into the sunlight. “He was asking if I could switch shifts to watch Elena because Mom got extra hours, and I didn’t have to lie about already not being at work, and now my dad thinks I care about my sister. Holmesy, everything’s working out. Our destiny is coming into focus. We are about to live the American Dream, which is, of course, to benefit from someone else’s misfortune.”

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