Multiple Muse Disorder: 1970

Chapter Four: Out on a Limb

• 6 June - Saturday - Smalton

I woke early the next morning, to the smell of coffee and baking. Anna and Maggie were still asleep, or pretending to be, so I dressed and went downstairs to the kitchen.

"Good morning, Aunt Sarah! Anything I can do to help?"

"Oh, Lisa! You're up early. I just put the coffee cake in the oven. Would you like some coffee? I want to sit a spell before I wash up."

"That would be great. I was pretty exhausted yesterday, so I slept soundly. I'm usually up early, maybe from habit, to have some creative time in the morning before I have to interact with other people." We sat at the kitchen table. I waited for Aunt Sarah to speak.

"Are your friends still asleep?"

"Probably. They wouldn't want to come down, anyway. They're rather terrified now that they realize the mess we're in. Me, I'm on an adventure unlooked for, but they are afraid they may be trapped in a world that is very strange to them.

"If all else fails, I could hop a bus to San Francisco, put flowers in my hair, say I lost my memory on a bad trip, man, and somehow stumble along. Which I think they're worried I might do. They are totally clueless about this world, and I shudder to think what would happen to them without me.

"Not that I would abandon them. Aside from my feelings for them, they are the only people who know I'm not crazy, and who know anything about the timeline I'm from. I have to figure out what the three of us can safely do to survive here and now."

"You haven't finished high school, Lisa."

"Sarah, I mean Aunt Sarah. I finished high school with a D+ average. I finished college with a B+ average. I completed a masters degree in computer science in December of 1976, with a year and a half of study. I need to finish high school in Tulsa like I need a hole in my head. Come on, I know how you and Uncle Patrick feel about traditional schools.

"You know I've already dropped out of high school twice, right?"

"Yes, but not all the reasons."

"Since the end of grade school, I've felt out of step with everyone. It's like suddenly all the other kids were playing by new rules that I didn't know about, with nuances and subtext that meant nothing to me."

Middle school, by Lisa Lees.  

"Then my parents forced me to change schools for middle school, which made things surreal. I went from having 30 people in my one class grade who I'd known for years to being one among a thousand strangers in seventh grade. I spent three years trying to be invisible. Mostly I succeeded.

"Then in high school for some reason people began picking on me, teasing me, calling me names, saying I was queer. I was beat up once when I tried to make it stop. It was relentless and one day I just refused to go any longer.

"My parents put me back in the private school, and I managed to finish out the year. When the next year began, I realized that being surrounded by people who had known me since third grade was another kind of hell, and again I refused to go. This time my parents forced me into counseling.

"I'd almost reached the point of opening up to the psychiatrist when he decided I was just another mixed up smart kid, and shunted me off to a dork of a psychologist who I did not trust.

"After a year I agreed to go back to the private school. I was in a different class, which helped. But the phys ed instructors decided it was their job to make my life miserable. So when I realized that the public schools did not require phys ed for seniors, I threatened to transfer if I had to take it again, and they called my bluff. Which is where I'm at in this timeline.

"My future in Tulsa looks like a gaping pit of doom right now. There is no way in hell I'm going to go through what I know my senior year would be like."

High school, by Lisa Lees.

Twelfth grade creative writing
class in 1970, by Lisa Lees.

"Last summer you talked some about college," said Aunt Sarah. "Your mother just told me you're a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, and I know your Aunt Francis has some college money saved up for you. There are ways to skip finishing high school, since you'll be eighteen in a couple of weeks."

"Yes, that's true. But I don't see how I could go to college. I know too much about the subjects that I majored in, though come to think on it, I would no longer want to major in philosophy or minor in psychology or physics, and I'd certainly have to stay away from computer science courses. I've always loved languages and literature, so I could go that route.

"But what would Anna and Maggie do? How could I explain having them with me? They have no identity, no history here, no skills, no common sense, in the literal meaning of the phrase."

"I don't think those are insoluble problems, Lisa. There are plenty of community and urban colleges where students live off-campus. Patrick and I have quite a few contacts in academia, especially in the less traditional institutions."

— ∴ —

I went back upstairs to talk with Risa and Resu before breakfast. They were up, and had evidently been talking with each other for a while. Risa looked up when I came into the room.

"Lisa? Don't worry about that chaos theory stuff. It doesn't apply to this situation at all. This is not your past; it's a branch timeline. The future here is not your future, or at least not the one you've already lived through. You can't affect that. It's done, up to the point of our disappearance."

"Oh? I don't suppose my disappearance will have much of an effect. I was practically a hermit. Just one of many unexplained disappearances. Though the smashed window might give the police a puzzle. But how does that work? If this isn't the past, then it's one of many?"

"I'm no metaphysics expert, and the Tree of Worlds is itself a thing of magic. All I know is that any forced change to a timeline causes a branch, or in our case more likely a new leaf on an existing branch. From now on, what we do affects only that leaf, nothing else."

"Really? So I could try to stop global warming, or prevent a certain someone from becoming President?"

"On this leaf only, yes. However, I'd suggest something realistic," said Resu.

"What do you mean?"

"Haven't you always tried to stop global warming?"

"True. Since high school I'd been sort of an environmental activist, on a personal level. Helped start the first recycling center in the town where I went to college. Always used my own bags when shopping. Gave up my driver's license in 1981.

"So, yeah, I guess you're right. I should just continue being the change I want to see. Doesn't seem to have done much good, though."

"And as far as butterflies go," said Risa, "that you're here as you are now, and Resu and I are visible and known to at least some other people, already makes this timeline different from yours. And..."

"And what?" I asked."

"Well, it's not certain," said Resu, "but we've been thinking that this timeline, this entire branch, might exist as a place to shunt people like us to so we're out of the way, and maybe under observation. If so, there might be a lot of minor differences from the Earth of 1970 that you remember, depending on what was done to create this branch."

"If you're trying to reassure me, that doesn't help. I'll just stay confused and try not to think about this leaf and branch stuff."

"Sorry. Is it time for breakfast?"

"Almost, and that brings us to something I've been thinking about. Considering Sean's and Nan's reaction when they met us yesterday, I think that you two need a change of appearance so you don't stand out so much in this time period. I'm surprised that no one hassled us on the bus or in the restaurant where we ate lunch yesterday."

"Uh, well, we didn't want to be hassled," said Resu.

"You used magic? I thought you two weren't using any!"

"I suppose it's magic," said Risa. "But you do it, too, when you want to be left alone."

"That's subtext; posture, expression, lack of eye contact, slow movements. Everybody does that. Or in some cases, the opposite."

"Are you sure about that, Lisa?" said Resu. "I remember you telling us that in middle school you had perfected the talent of sitting in a classroom for an entire year and never being called upon by the teacher or talked to by other students."

"Well, true, but there's always a couple of people like that in any group. And it doesn't work on people who actually know you or have a reason to talk to you."

"Exactly. Low-level avoidance glamour. Couldn't have described it better myself," said Resu.

"Whatever," I said, refusing to be drawn into another one of their circular discussions that only increased my confusion. "This is what I have in mind." I showed them the sketch I had doodled while we talked.

Anna and Maggie character design
sketch by Lisa Lees.

"It's not a huge change for you, Risa. Mainly loosing the Manic Panic hair, which really stands out in 1970, as it hadn't been invented yet. Then add a peasant blouse so it doesn't look like you'd really rather be walking around naked."

"Okay, but I am not wearing shoes!"

"Whatever. We'll pick up some sandals for you at some point. Resu, you can keep the combat boots, but the gothic lolita look has to go. I think an American tomboy ensemble suits your personality better."

"No problem," said Resu, and suddenly they looked like my sketch.

"Hey! That sure as hell is magic. Why?"

"Oh, sorry for startling you," said Resu, "but our appearance is magical. You designed us in the first place, and now you've changed the design."

"I am not even going to think about what just happened," I said. "And I don't want one of your explanations that doesn't explain anything!" I closed my eyes for a moment, thinking.

"Okay, we'll just run with this quick costume change."

"We probably should use more common names for you, too, at least in public. Any ideas or preferances?"

"How about Anna?" said Risa. "I'm probably more like Pippi Longstocking than Anne of Green Gables, but Anna is enough like Risa that it will be an easy change."

"And I'll go with Maggie," said Resu, "for secret reasons."

"Secret, hah! Not secret from me," whispered Anna.

"Shut up, runt!" said Maggie, smiling.

"Anna and Maggie it is, then," I said.

Anna and Maggie, by Lisa Lees.

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