“April opened up her dictionary and gasped. ‘Jackson!’ she screamed. Her friends thought it odd to have a pet caterpillar, but it was amusing sometimes. This was not one of those times. ‘Jackson!!’ she screamed, even louder this time. She finally saw him on the corner of the table. ‘There you are Jackson. How many times have I told you not to eat my dictionary!'”
Chapter One: The Earthquake
April opened up her dictionary and gasped. “Jackson!” she screamed. Her friends thought it odd to have a pet caterpillar, but it was amusing sometimes. This was not one of those times. “Jackson!!” she screamed, even louder this time. She finally saw him on the corner of the table. “There you are Jackson. How many times have I told you not to eat my dictionary!” She glanced at the dictionary, which was covered in holes. It looked like an expert piece of lace. She wagged her finger in Jackson’s face, knowing that he most likely could not understand her, but she enjoyed it anyway. She set him back down in his tray, which was full of as much foliage as possible. April knew that it was not very comfortable for a caterpillar to live in an apartment, so she tried to make it as luxurious as possible. She frowned at her dictionary, but moved on, and sat back down on her bed. She picked up her book, and flew instantly into a land of danger and suspense. How could Lord Jeffrey marry Grace when they were in two different social classes and their parents forbid it? How dramatic, how unresolved! April knew it was time for dinner, but she had to read another chapter. And that was when the earthquake struck. It heaved the earth from side to side, making it dance like a clumsy ballerina. Books slid off of April’s bolted-in shelves, and she flew out from her bedsheets to hide under her bed. She heard some of the old, unstable complex crumbling elsewhere, but she didn’t dare move from her position. After what seemed like an eternity of worry, it stopped. The ballerina stopped her dance, the earth stopped its heaving. She crept out from under her bed, only to hear her mother tearing through the door.
“Honey, honey, are you okay? Are you hurt? Did anything hurt you?” her mother shouted.
“Yeah, yeah, Mom. I’m fine.” April suddenly remembered Jackson and rushed over to his tray. He was happily munching away on some leaves, oblivious of what disaster had just struck. April let out a breath of relief, only to become worried once again. “Is the rest of the complex okay?” she asked her mother, her voice shaking.
“I don’t know, sweetie. I didn’t check yet,” her mom said, confused. April rushed down the stairs and out the door, only to have the color drain from her face. Half of the apartment building was cracked and crumbling, including the apartment next door. April ran back inside to get the key that she had to her best friend Erica’s apartment. She tore back to apartment five, the one next door to hers, and thrust the key into the lock. She frantically opened the door, and instead of seeing the home she practically grew up in, the couch she sat on, the floor she walked on, she saw rubble. Where her memories were made was just rubble. When her mom was at work, when her mom was broken down crying, when her dad left after April was born, Erica and her family were there. But now it was all reduced to rubble. And then she heard a shout.
“Help! I’m stuck!” It sounded like Erica was in tears. She sounded broken, like the building around her.
“I’m coming! I’m right here!” April shouted as she pushed away at the pile of rubble that was surrounding Erica’s voice. She finally saw her friend’s face, a circle of dust broken by streaks of tears.
“April! April. Thank you. I missed you. I just I can’t… ” her speech was broken by a fit of sobs. April sat down next to her and rubbed her back. She stood there for ten minutes or so, just comforting her friend. After all those years of comfort from Erica, the roles were reversed.
“Are you okay? Is anything broken?” April said calmly. Erica didn’t answer. “Is anything broken?” April repeated, lightly tapping her friend on the shoulder. Erica looked up at her, a confused look plastered on her face. “Is anything broken?” April said frantically. Erica just kept looking at April with her confused, worried eyes.
“Oh god, oh god. I’m calling 911,” April said, frightened that her friend could no longer hear her words of comfort. “It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay,” April whispered, more for herself than for Erica.
The next few hours were a numb blur of flashing lights and loud noises for April. If you talked to April now, she would tell you that the moment everything came into focus was when the doctor walked into the waiting room.
“I’m afraid she has permanent ear damage and will not be able to hear anything from now on,” the doctor said solemnly. Erica’s mom fell down sobbing into Erica’s dad.
April heard a quiet, “If we hadn’t gone out… ” coming from Erica’s mom. April’s mom looked at her, not sad for Erica, but sad for April. April needed to go into the hospital ward. She needed to see Erica. The doctor was so calm about it, like this happens every day to him. How could he be calm about this? Too many dangerous thoughts were floating through April’s head. She started feeling dizzy, like she was inside of another earthquake. Like the earth was dancing another deadly dance. She shrieked, then crashed to the floor. She woke up later, to her mother fanning her face.
“Honey, are you okay? I think we need to get you back home,” her mother said
“No!” April half-shouted. “I need to see Erica!” She felt sick, but she would never leave until she could see Erica.
“I agree. I think you should get some rest,” the doctor said.
That stupid doctor with his stupid serious voice and his stupid ideas, April thought.
“I don’t want to go yet!” April shrieked, like a toddler throwing a tantrum. “I need to see Erica!” She felt her mother and the doctor pulling her toward the car while she flailed dramatically. She suddenly felt dizzy again and fell onto the waiting room couch next to her.
She woke up later to the smell of pancakes wafting into her room from the kitchen. The pancakes floated in, all by themselves, while a plate materialized in front of April. She dug into her pancakes, while a two-foot long Jackson rolled around at her feet. Suddenly, the earth was doing its dark dance again, and she spiraled into darkness. Her mom was in front of her, saying something, shouting something, but April couldn’t hear it. She was trapped in a cage, and she couldn’t get out, she couldn’t get out, until she woke up. But this time, it wasn’t her room.
Chapter Two: The Boxes
She still smelled pancakes, but it was a different room. She saw normal-sized Jackson on his tray, so she wasn’t dreaming anymore, but there was nothing else in her room. It was like a blank slate. “Moooooooooom!” she called. “Why is the room that I am in not my room?”
Her mom walked in, puzzled, until she finally realized what April was asking. “Oh, the complex was too dangerous to stay in, so we’re renting a different apartment for a little bit,” her mom answered calmly.
“How did I get here?” April asked groggily.
“After we came back from the hospital, you were knocked out cold. I think it was just from shock. I just slid you into bed.”
“But what about my stuff?” April asked frantically.
“It’s all in boxes in the living room.” Her mom nodded toward a few boxes marked “April” in the other room. April never realized how little she had until it was all put in boxes. Most of them were books, but a few boxes held sentimental objects, memories. Her first toys, her favorite stuffed animals, her thoughtful pictures. Her life could fit into a few small boxes. April heard a “Bye, sweetie!” and the sound of the apartment door closing. April sat up in her blank white bed and picked up “The Adventures of Lord Jeffrey,” which had been carefully placed on her white bedside table, probably by her mother. She contemplated reading it, but right now, her life was practically a storybook, and she didn’t want to forget her own tragedies. She crept into the kitchen, still wearing her worn-out clothes from yesterday. She took a plate out of the box marked “kitchen” and picked up some pancakes off of a plate her mother had prepared. Next to the plate was a note that read:
Had to leave early for work, hope you understand. There’s no school today, so you don’t have to worry about the Monday homework load (yay!). Don’t leave the house until I get home, and don’t do anything too mischievous. Enjoy your pancakes!
April would have put some whipped cream on her pancakes, but upon inspection of the fridge, all she could put on her pancakes was peanut butter, eggs, or milk. She sat at the pristine breakfast bar and ate in silence. After what had happened, she could only think. She trudged back to her room and sat on the white bed. She was unsure what to do. She didn’t want to do anything, but she was way too bored to do nothing. She got her phone and her speaker from one of the “April” boxes, and proceeded to play melancholy piano music. If someone else did this, April would sarcastically play an imaginary tiny violin while pouting exaggeratedly, but this was different. She was too emotional and too sleepy to play happy music. She thought that maybe she should do something productive and decided close her curtains and take a nap instead. She woke up much later to a tickle on her face.
“Jackson! How many times have I told you not to scare me like that!” She gently pulled the blue caterpillar off of her face and looked at his tray, which was now almost empty. “Oh you’re huuungry. That’s what it is.” She wanted to obey her mother’s instruction not to go outside, so instead she leaned out her window, and picked a few leaves off a few trees on the sidewalk that were planted by the state to “brighten things up a bit.” She placed them neatly on the tray and sat. And thought. Thought about Erica. Thought about the future. Thought about the past.
She never sat and thought this much, but she never finished, because her mom came in with a loud “Honey! I’m home!” April sighed and fell back against her bed. “Honey? Are you here?”
“Yup, I’m in my room that is not my room,” April replied jokingly. Her mom walked in, looking flustered, probably from traffic.
“How was your day?” she asked.
“Good. I slept. And ate. How was work?” April said groggily.
“Okay. Williams got the numbers messed up again, and Higgins is going to be furious… ”
“So now I have to fix everything and we had to move into a new office because of the earthquake and uuugh, it’s just chaos is what it is.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“Oh, it’s not your fault, it’s just darn Williams again!”
“That Williams! One day he’s going to be the death of the company!”
“You have no idea who I’m talking about, do you?”
“Well, thanks for the support.”
“Well, I’d better get dinner going… What do you feel like? You’re the real champ.” April’s mom punched her playfully.
“Well, I would love some peanut butter omelettes,” April said sarcastically.
“Oh my gosh, the groceries! I completely forgot… I am so sorry. Do you want takeout? Chinese?”
“Chinese sounds great. I’ll text you my order.” April used to just tell her mom her order, but after getting cow feet soup instead of chicken soup, she thought she should text it instead so her mom would remember.
“Okay, I’ll let you know when it arrives.”
“Thanks, Mom!” April’s mom left the room. April sat. And thought. When can I talk to Erica? was the main topic of this mental conversation with herself. But of course I can’t talk to her because she won’t hear me. But then how can I talk to her? She eventually decided she probably shouldn’t think these thoughts, especially with impending Chinese food. She didn’t want a relapse of her melancholy music moment this morning. So instead she played with Jackson for a while. There is only so much you can do with a caterpillar as a pet, but you can give it different objects, and see how it reacts. Right now, April was experimenting with a piece of hard candy before her mom shouted for her to come get Chinese food. When April walked into the kitchen, she saw candles and fancy napkins thoughtfully laid out on the breakfast bar. Usually, April and her mom ate separately because her mom had work to do, but on rare occasions, like birthdays, they would eat together.
“With all that’s going on, I thought we could eat together,” April’s mom said.
“Yeah yeah, that sounds great,” April said, kind of sad, but kind of happy that this meant less thinking time. They got plates out of the “kitchen” box and piled on chow mein, rice, and kung pao chicken. They sat down and dug in.
“So how long are we going to stay here?” April asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
“As long as necessary. We probably won’t be moving back to our old complex because it will take a while to rebuild. And most of it wasn’t earthquake safe anyways, which is why some of it crumbled. Plus, we were really close to the epicenter. Thank god our apartment was okay, though. It’s newer and more up to code,” her mom answered. April could feel all of her childhood memories slip away. All of the movie nights at Erica’s, gone with the rubble. The building could be rebuilt, but April’s memories stayed crumbled and dusty. “This building is far away from most of the damage though, and it is much newer and much more earthquake safe.” April didn’t really care that much about the building. She wanted to know about Erica.
“How’s Erica?” April asked, hoping for good news.
“Good. The communication specialists at the hospital are contemplating giving Erica ASL lessons so she can communicate better, and they were wondering if you want to join,” April’s mom said carefully.
“What’s ASL?” April said, confused and worried.
“American Sign Language. I just know you two are practically joined at the hip, and there is an interpreter, but they thought that maybe you two would want to be able to communicate without someone translating your every thought.”
“Yeah. Sounds great.” April picked at her Chinese food. She felt her eyes tear up, and soon drops of salt water started dripping into her chow mein. “Is Erica gonna get her hearing back?”
“Oh honey. The doctor doesn’t know. For kids her age, it’s hard to tell. And her parents might not able to afford an implant.” Her mom left her position at the breakfast bar to come hug April. “It’s okay.”
“I just want everything to be normal again,” April said, her voice breaking, glad to have her mom by her side again.
“It’s okay. I understand,” her mom said lovingly. April felt a surge of anger. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. Nobody understood. As much as she longed to be with her mom, she shoved her away.
“No you don’t understand! Nobody does!” April stormed off into her room. She sat. And fumed. And thought. And thought. And finally fell asleep.
Chapter Three: The Hospital
The most important night of Erica’s life was all a blur of sirens and people talking in serious voices. If you communicated with her now, she would say that the moment everything came into focus was when she woke up in a hospital bed. Her parents were across from her and hugged her as soon as her eyes opened. “Where’s April? I need to see her,” she said frantically. Or she thought she said. She couldn’t even have the comfort of her own voice. Her parents took out a pen and a pad of paper.
They wrote down, “You can’t see her right now. We are glad you are awake.” It took a while for them to write all of this, and when they finished, Erica started bawling. She looked up to see the doctor suddenly in the room. When did he get there? He stared down at her with a serious face and started making weird motions with his hands. Almost like… sign language?
“What are you doing? I don’t understand. Can you write it down?” He sighed, clearly disappointed that she didn’t understand already, and handed her a wooden clipboard with papers attached to it, and a pen tucked into the top. It read:
Patient: Erica Edelman .
Gender: Female .
Age: 14 .
Town of Origin: Paducah, Kentucky .
Diagnosis: Severe hearing loss .
Cause of Diagnosis: Broken eardrum .
Status of Diagnosis: Permanent? .
Medication: None .
Potential Operations: Cochlear implant? .
It was the first time in Erica’s life that she was speechless. The world seemed like it was spinning around her. She fell into a fit of sobs and then she saw the doctor and her parents speaking. She felt a needle in her arm and fell into a deep sleep. She woke up later to the sound of sirens, again, only this time, it was dark. She was sitting, alone in a field. The sirens grew louder and louder and louder until she fell, like Alice, into the rabbit hole. Curiouser and curiouser, until she woke up. She was alone, in her hospital bed. She saw a vase of roses (her favorite) on a little table beside her. Across from her, there was a cheesy ballon that said “get better monsoon!” and it had little painted-in rain droplets. Sitting on her bedside table, next to her roses, was her teddy bear Max. Part of his ear was coming off, and he had been washed so many times that his fur felt like trodden-down carpet, but he was comforting nonetheless. She picked him up and hugged him as hard as she could, happy that he was here, but unsure of what would come next.
Chapter Four: The Meeting
April was sitting on the bench reading her book, when she saw a girl out of the corner of her eyes, bawling, holding a teddy bear. April was invested in her book, but she wanted to help this girl, so she put her bookmark (a piece of scrap paper) into her book, and nestled it in her arm. She skipped over to this girl, her brown curls bouncing behind her, and knelt down beside her. “Why are you crying?” she asked this little girl.
“I got this new” — gulp — “teddy bear” — gulp — “and I named him Max,” April glanced down at the fluffy teddy bear the girl was holding, “and this girl came over and said he was — he was” — gulp — “stu-hu-hu-pid,” the girl said, her speech broken by her intense bawling.
“Well, sometimes people have different opinions, and we just have to be proud of our opinions, and not let it bother us.”
“I mean, I guess so,” the girl said, finally calming down.
“I’m April, by the way.”
“I’m Erica. Do you think Max is stupid?”
“I think he’s great,” said April.
Chapter Five: The Memories
April had brought the boxes into her room and was almost done unpacking her books. Today was another day off of school, because the school had been damaged by the earthquake as well. Until now, she had been happily sleeping, but she decided she should get some work done. “There,” she said as she placed her last book onto her bookshelves. “It’s finally starting to feel like home.” But now she had to face the boxes that held her memories, her emotions. She was afraid that when she opened her other boxes, it would open her, and she didn’t want to deal with that. But she had to, eventually. She got her scissors and carefully slid them under the tape that separated her and her memories. The first thing she pulled out was an empty mini popcorn box. She had been saving this for ten years, since she and Erica were only four, and she was invited to her first movie night. The popcorn had been warm and buttery and coated with a thin layer of sugar, unlike the microwave popcorn April’s mom had time to make. They sank into the dark green couch and started Kung Fu Panda. The idea was ridiculous, but also hilarious, and they laughed and laughed until their last drop of laughter was spent for the night. When it was finally time for April to leave, she and Erica refused, and they insisted that April stayed for a sleepover. Her mom agreed, and April and Erica spent all night talking. All night. Drop. Tears spattered the red and white stripes of the mini popcorn box. April set it back in its place. She would unwrap her memories another day.
Chapter Six: The Email
A tray was set in front of Erica. It held her favorite food in the whole world: popcorn. It was warm and buttery and coated with a thin layer of sugar, just like her dad made it for movie nights. Next to the popcorn was a tablet. It had “Kentucky Hospital” written on the back, and the screen had a few scratches, but it was intact. She pressed the large “on” button on the side, and the screen lit up. It had a few different large boxes displayed on it, each in a different color. One of the boxes read “games” while another read “communications.” There was a small gray box in the corner which read “email.” Erica clicked on that and was sent to a familiar email screen. The first email she sent was, of course, to April. It read:
Hello! I hope you are okay. I am having lots of fun at the hospital, in case you are wondering (can you hear my sarcasm?). How’s Jackson? Is he still adorable? I sure hope so 😉
forever and always,
Chapter Seven: The Ice Cream
April picked at her sandwich. It was her favorite, ham and cheese; she thought she might treat herself after the popcorn box incident. She heard a rumble from her stomach region and decided she should probably eat something. She took a bite from her ham and cheese sandwich and decided she wasn’t hungry. She decided that if she didn’t want to eat a ham and cheese sandwich, she probably didn’t want to eat anything. Her mind flitted to ice cream and lingered there for a moment. She opened up the freezer and frowned, as the only kind of ice cream they had was coffee. “Blech,” she whispered to herself. She’d have to go out for ice cream. Her mom was already out, so she texted her. The conversation read:
– Yooooo! Hope you are having a good day. I was just wondering if I could maybe go out to get some ice cream? (Also do you know of any good places around here?)
– Sounds fun! There’s a place down the street called “Cold Stone Creamery” that I’ve heard is great!
The chocolate ice cream was cold against her tongue and a relief from the heat wave that had hit Kentucky. She had brought her book to the store and had started to read. April heard a plop! as dripping ice cream hit the pages of her book. “Ugh!” she said as she got up to get a napkin. She set her dripping ice cream against her glass of water, to hopefully try to make it stay upright. She saw people start to fill the store as it neared noon, the hottest time of the day. She was struggling to make it to the napkins through all the people, and right when she was about to get to the utensil table, she fell. She felt her nose crash against the floor, but it felt somehow unbroken.
“Oh my god, I’m so, so sorry. Are you okay?” a guy about her age turned to her, apologizing profusely. “I think I might have accidentally tripped you.”
“No, no I’m fine. Is my nose bleeding?” she said, her hand flying to her stinging nose.
“Yeah, here,” the guy said, handing her a napkin.
“Thanks,” she said, turning back to get her ice cream.
“Wait, what’s your name?” the guy said.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. She had a little bit of trouble holding the napkin under her nose while also holding her book and her ice cream, but she managed. She just wanted to leave the store as soon as possible. The door dinged as she left, and she immediately felt a wave of relief wash over her as she started to walk down the street. She saw all sorts of people walking along with her, like dog walkers, business people, and even people her age. She finished her ice cream halfway through her walk and threw away her wrapper into a nearby trash can. She was now finally free to look around! She saw buildings towering to her sides, and she felt intimidated. This was a newer area, so not a lot was affected by the earthquake; everything was still picture perfect. She made the decision to only look at the ground so she would feel better. After what seemed like an eternity of sidewalk, she arrived at “Liberty Point Apartments” and trudged toward her section of building. She turned the key, walked into the apartment, and plopped on the couch. Suddenly, she heard a ding! And she turned to her room, where the sound seemed to come from. She walked to her temporary desk and looked at her computer. She had an email! She opened it and discovered it was from Erica, of all people. April replied:
Greetings! Jackson is adorable, as always, and I am happy you are enjoying the hospital (sarcastically, of course). Also, my mom mentioned ASL lessons… what are your thoughts on the matter? Send my love to Max.
Forever and always,
Before she sent the email, April turned to look at Jackson, the real star of the email. But the tray was empty. Where could he be now? April thought, not sure what mischief the tiny caterpillar could be up to. It had been a full day since she checked in on him, so he could be long gone by now. Then she remembered, a few months ago, when she first got Jackson, she was scared he would run off, so she put a tracking sticker on him. It was tiny, and wouldn’t disturb him, but it was useful because the caterpillar could travel unusually long distances. She pulled out the little device that tracked the sticker and found he was in a hospital nearby to the apartment! How on earth did he get there? Well, no use dwelling on it now. She grabbed her key to the apartment and set off once again.
Chapter Eight: The Caterpillar
Erica was sitting in her bed, playing one of the little games the tablet provided for her, when she felt a tickle on her face. Erica pressed the “camera” button on her tablet and switched it to selfie mode. She gasped as she saw a chubby blue caterpillar on her face! But this wasn’t any blue caterpillar. Erica could recognize this caterpillar anywhere. “Jackson! How on Earth did you get here?” Erica said. She thought she might as well enjoy his company, if he’s here. She put him on one of her fingers and watched him crawl around for a while. Suddenly, Erica’s door burst open.
“Jackson! If you are disturbing a patient, I’ll… ” April stopped, mid sentence. Standing right in front of April, holding a tiny, blue caterpillar, was Erica. They stood, opened-mouthed, looking at each other. Erica felt tears coming down her face. April rushed over to her. They hugged. And hugged. The wait was over.