Jarvis counts his fingers. He counts his toes. He gets to twenty-four and is pretty sure he’s made a mistake. He starts again. Mia is giggling in the corner. Her laughter makes him lose track. He forgot she was here. Now he remembers. She is pretty. So pretty. Grotesque. Noses are strange, bumptious organs, sticking out into the world, central to the face in that they can’t be ignored, can’t be gotten rid of. Jarvis has a sudden and itching desire to Google people without noses.
“I need your computer.”
Mia giggles at the wall.
She lies on her back and giggles at the ceiling.
She turns her face and giggles at him.
“I need your computer. Where is it?”
Jarvis decides Google can wait. He crawls to Mia’s prone face, as it grows bigger in his sight, but the intensity of her separating features becomes too much to bear so he stops halfway across the complicatedly patterned rug. He flops on his stomach. Pancake-position, like the pandas in the Washington Zoo he read about. They don’t know how to have sex. Sex is very strange, if he tries to think about it.
“Let’s go to Washington and join the pandas, Mia.”
“Okay.” She is serene now. Her voice is high and squeaky, Mickey Mouse in the old Disney cartoons when he looked creepy and long-legged, long-necked. Jarvis tries to remember what she normally sounds like, but there doesn’t seem to be a state other than this.
Mia’s face is sharp-planed, her cheeks smooth runways, the line from her cleft chin up to the dip above her lip a perfect landing strip. Her eyes are luminous blue control towers, her forehead the arrivals hall of a thousand pock marks of adolescent zits, a once-chronic condition she hides with leafy bangs.
Jarvis wants to fly away, somewhere. The yen for the journey hits him hardest in these moments, watching Mia. The only black girl in a small town, adopted by white-savior parents, she is beautifully innocent to him. He ruins her inch by inch, night after night, and she thanks him for it, making him feel more powerful than anything else could.
He is an inner-city kid. He marched around, beat his chest, and proclaimed himself to be Trayvon just months ago. His father is in prison. His mother is on and off welfare. He is a stereotype he cannot stand. Going to college isn’t working. It isn’t escaping. His mom calls and makes him feel guilty. His father is no less in prison here than anywhere else. Mia is the one good thing.
He sits up. It’s wearing off. He really wants to go see the pandas. Right now. “Mia, let’s go.”
“Okay.” She’s still lying down. “But you have to get insurance. Travel insurance.” She rolls from her side onto her back and lifts her legs into the air. There is a scar on her left knee that was there when she was given to her folks.
“To get to Washington?” Jarvis starts to laugh and it honks out of him. So not entirely worn off. He can’t stop laughing. He can hear how silly he sounds, though. That’s something.
“Mom always said to get travel insurance. Call-look-just-call.”
Jarvis finds a number for a company on his smartphone – he realizes now he could have found people without noses right in his pocket but his phone is still new and he’s not used to it. He calls.
“SmartFarm Insurance, this is Robbie speaking, how may I help you?”
“Hi yeah, I want to go to Washington with my girlfriend to see the pandas and she says I need to call to get travel insurance? Like we’re going to just go in the car or something. Maybe take a train. A bus. A plane. A motherfucking canoe. I don’t know.”
Robbie SmartFarm coughs. It’d been a long day. He knows that even with this kind of call, he is supposed to untangle what the customer wanted. But he doesn’t feel like it. His mother is ill, in the hospital, he doesn’t have a girlfriend to go to Washington with, and the vending machines are out of chocolate-covered pretzels. “Sorry, we can’t insure you for a journey like that.” He hangs up and waits for the next call to patch through.
Jarvis looks at the red “call-terminated” bar on his phone’s screen. “The guy said we don’t need insurance,” he says. “Told you. Let’s go.”