Multiple Muse Disorder: 1970

Chapter Three: Change of Venue

• 22 July - Tuesday - Tulsa

The next morning we took a taxi to the Greyhound bus station downtown, then bought tickets for the bus to Smalton, Missouri. The first part of the trip, along the Will Rogers Turnpike toward Joplin, was pretty boring, so I just stared out the window and thought about my situation.

After the initial shock had worn off, and I'd realized where we were and what had happened to me, I went through several sets of emotions. At first, I was elated to be a teenage girl in good health, on an adventure with two companions. True, my life had sucked in 1970, and evidently still did in this timeline, but it looked as if we could simply leave it behind and go off on our own.

"What are you thinking about, Lisa?" asked Resu, leaning over the seat in front of me.

"Oh, I'm just wondering how much things have changed for me, really."

"Huh? You have your life to live over again! Anything can change. Fall in love, get married, have children. Become a famous writer, or comic artist or photographer. We'll still be your muses."

"Let's say I do fall in love with someone. What would I tell them? When would I tell them?"

"Ah, well. Would you have to?"

"Leaving aside the ethics of being in a committed relationship without revealing my past, even if my past is in the future, how could I live with someone for decades without letting anything slip? And how would they feel when they realized that I'd been concealing something of that magnitude? It's exactly the conundrum every trans person faces when beginning a relationship.

"If I tried to tell someone before the relationship became serious, at best they'd think I was crazy. Even if they went along with it and accepted me, there's no way they would understand how different I am and what it could mean for the relationship.

"And no, there's no social media yet, but any time someone rejected me I'd have to leave that town to escape the rumors. There are trans people in this time period, and that's what they have to live with.

"In addition to that, I've seen so many things, know so many things, almost fifty years of experience that I can't share with anyone here. Even you two don't know about most of what I've lived through. It's like being a lonely old person with no one to talk with except myself. How am I going to cope with this, Resu?"

She had no answer. I returned to looking out the window, watching the mile markers come and go.

— ∴ —

After the bus arrived in Joplin we stretched our legs, had lunch, then took a different bus for the final leg of the trip. Smalton didn't have an actual bus station, so I was hoping someone would be meeting us. As it turned out, the entire O'Malley family was waiting at the restaurant where the bus stopped.

The O'Malley family, sketch by Lisa Lees.

"Hello, Lisa!" said Patrick O'Malley, the father. "Just one one between the three of you? That's traveling pretty light."

The O'Malley teens, Sean and Nan, gave Anna and Maggie a looking over. "Who are these people, Lisa?" said Nan. "They look just a wee bit suspicious. Did they just beam down from orbit?"

Darn it! I should have thought this through and paid more attention to details.

"I apologize for our evident unease," said Maggie. "We did not beam down to your planet, at least not in the sense you seem to be thinking." Risa rolled her eyes and elbowed her.

Sean and Nan exchanged raised eyebrows. "You even talk like Spock," said Nan. "But you don't look like the Captain," she said, peering closely at Anna. "Sulu, maybe."

Sarah O'Malley, the mother, said, "That's enough Nan. Are these perhaps some of your theater friends, Lisa?"

"You might say that, Aunt Sarah," I replied. "This is Maggie, and this is Anna. The three of us need some time away from Tulsa and a chance to do some thinking. It's kind of a long story." Which I had neglected to make up, or talk over with Resu and Risa.

"Well, you can stay with us at least for tonight. Perhaps over supper you can tell us your tale," said Mrs. O'Malley. "It'll be a squeeze fitting all of us into the station wagon, but it's not a long trip. We opened the jump seats in the way-back. Sean and Nan, why don't you take those and let Lisa and her friends take the middle row?"

"Thank you," I said. "I realize this is sudden and you don't know my friends. I'm sorry, but I don't know where else to go."

Mrs. O'Malley gave me a long look. "Will you help me and Nan fix supper?"

"Of course! I'd be happy to help. I'm afraid Maggie and Anna wouldn't be much use, though."

"That's okay. Five would be too many cooks. But I'm glad you're willing to help." Her expression seemed skeptical.

On the short walk to the car I tried to remember more about the times I'd visited in my now distant past. The subtext was clearly saying that we weren't particularly welcome, and I wasn't expected to behave well. Had I really been that much of a pain as a teenager?

Sean and Nan were quiet on the walk, but seemed to be communicating with each other using a series of expressions and nudges. Anna grabbed Maggie's hand, walking close beside her.

At the car Sean opened a rear door, then he and Nan scrambled over the seat into the back, where the jump seats faced each other.

"Maggie, slide all the way over," I said. "Anna, please take the middle." Once they were in place I got in and shut the door. "Look for your seat belts. You may be sitting on them, or they may have worked themselves under the cushion." I busied myself finding and buckling mine, after first reaching by habit for a non-existent shoulder belt, then I realized that Anna and Maggie were still sitting, watching me.

Sean and Nan had also noticed, and Nan said, "I always thought it was odd that the Enterprise and the Galileo didn't have seat belts. I guess you haven't used them before?"

Anna twisted around and growled, "Buses don't have belts, and we've never been in a car before. How would we know?"

"Risa! Calm down!" said Maggie. "I mean Anna."

Anna faced front and stared at the floor, while Maggie found her belts and I fumbled around helping Anna with hers. Sean and Nan were whispering to each other and giggling in the back seat. Anna slumped against Maggie, sniffling. Maggie put her arm around her and with a quick glance toward Sean and Nan muttered, "Would you two please shut up?"

Both the parents were watching us. "Okay," I sighed. "I don't think this is going to work. Let's just get out and take the next bus to wherever it's going and figure things out from there."

"No, you'd better come with us to the house," said Mr. O'Malley. "I don't want to have to explain to your mother that you didn't stay with us and we don't know where you are."

"You don't have to explain anything! I'm eighteen now, and I can do whatever I want."

"Well, that's the Lisa I remember," said Mrs. O'Malley.

"And how old are your friends?" asked Mr. O'Malley.

I just sighed again and shook my head.

"I may still be able to..." began Maggie.

"No! You promised!" yelled Anna, fists clenched.

"Well, we have to do something. I don't like being trapped like this!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa." said Mr. O'Malley. "I don't know what is going on, but please calm down. Sean and Nan, no more teasing! You know how that feels."

"I wasn't teasing!" protested Nan. "I was making acute observations."

"Sorry, Dad," said Sean, "but something's obviously very strange here. You, Lisa, are acting like you've had a mind transplant since last summer, and your friends truly are acting like they're from another planet."

"Sean!"

"Dad, it's true!"

I held up my hands in surrender. "I'm willing to try and explain, but it's going to take time," I said.

"How can you explain?" said Maggie. "They can't possibly believe you."

"I don't know, but I can try. It was stupid of me not to realize this would blow up in our faces so quickly. We're just too out of phase here. But this is our only chance. These are the most reasonable people I know. It's either try this, or hit the road on our own. And what you're thinking about is not an option, Maggie."

"I'm not convinced it would work now, anyway," grumbled Maggie.

"You are absolutely not going to try! Understand?"

"Yes, I know. Anna would kill me, anyway, if the attempt itself didn't."

Looking from Sean and Nan to their parents, I said, "I guess I was even more of an anti-social nut job as a teenager than I remember. Look. We've been on a bus for hours. If we're not going to the house, the three of us need to get out of the car and find a restroom."

After a moment's silence, Mrs. O'Malley, turned back toward the front and said, "Let's go, dear." Everyone was silent after that.

— ∴ —

At the house, Mrs. O'Malley said, "You remember where the guest room is, upstairs? I'm afraid there are only two beds."

"That's fine," I said, "Maggie and Anna always sleep together. I'll come down to the kitchen in a few minutes."

I led the way up the stairs and down the hall to the guest room. "The bathroom is across the hall. Lock the door while you're using it; there's only one upstairs. I'm going to go help in the kitchen, then I'll be back. It won't be long."

"How long are we going to stay here?" said Anna. "It's pretty clear they don't want us."

"Let's see how things go at dinner. I agree we're off to a rocky start, but believe me, if we strike out on our own with no help, we're going to have a very hard time of it."

— ∴ —

"What do you think is going to come of this?" said Risa.

"I don't know. I'm not even sure what we are, now. If this timeline is a trap, is there a way out? Would we regain our full powers if we were somewhere else? What if this is permanent? What if we're . . . mortal, now?"

"I agree those are the big questions. I go back and forth with myself wondering if our parents would really do that to us. I dunno. What do we do?"

"Whatever Lisa asks us to do. We don't know enough to do anything else."

"Exactly. But Resu, what if Lisa should decide that we're a liability? What would we do here without her?"

"I don't believe that's going to happen. We have each other, no matter what, but who does Lisa have? Without us it'd be like her entire previous life was just a dream."

"What if she wants to forget her future, and us, and start over? If things go bad with the O'Malley's, that might be easier for her. We're a serious amount of baggage. She could try to fit into her life here, or claim amnesia, if we weren't around."

"Risa, she won't do that. From her point of view, she created us. We're like children to her."

"Maybe."

"I'm certain of it. I have maternal instincts, remember. So let's concentrate on doing what Lisa wants us to do, for now, and try to cause as little trouble as possible."

"You mean I shouldn't punch Nan in the face the next time she makes fun of us?"

"That's exactly what I mean."

— ∴ —

"There isn't really that much to do, Lisa," said Mrs. O'Malley. "I've put the lasagna in the oven. Nan has the green beans well in hand. If you could just slice those two baguettes for garlic bread, we'll pop them in the oven to warm for a few minutes after the lasagna comes out."

Of course microwaves weren't in home kitchens yet. I found a bread knife and began slicing. "Should I butter the slices before we heat them?" I asked.

"That's the fastest way," agreed Mrs. O'Malley. "I don't have any garlic spread made up, but there's a half tub of margarin in the 'fridge you can use to make some."

"Uh, do you have butter I can use? Margarin isn't very healthy."

"What?" said Mrs. O'Malley. "I thought it was healthier. Less fat?"

"Well, that's what they thought, but it turns out that they really didn't understand the biochemistry of fats, and made the situation much worse. Trans fats, you know."

Nan and Mrs. O'Malley were staring at me with blank expressions.

"Trust me; don't eat anything that contains partially hydrogenated fats. It's real close to being deadly." I took a stick of butter out of the 'fridge. "Okay if I use some of this?"

"Yes, of course..."

"Who are you?" asked Nan. "And who are your friends? What are their real names?"

"I really am Lisa Lees. The names Risa and Resu are from the katakana way my name would be spelled in Japanese; resu risa; Lees, Lisa. As for what their true names are, I don't know; it's impolite to ask.

"If you think that sounds like A Wrinkle in Time, you're very much on target. But let's wait until we're all together before I say more."

Once the garlic bread was ready to go in the oven, I excused myself and went back upstairs to explain to Maggie and Anna how to behave during dinner. I hoped they would be scared enough to do as I said, for once.

— ∴ —

After food was served, I tried to explain. "Here's the short story. We're from the future, about fifty years from now. Maggie, Resu; and Anna, Risa; are stranger than that, but I see no point going into what they say their background truly is. We've been together for several years.

"As we arrived here unexpectedly, with no chance to bring anything with us, I have no way to prove anything. I of course know many things about what I assume will still be happening during the next fifty years, but I'm not a historian. I'm not certain I could remember any specific event from 1970. The only major events I remember from the beginning of the 1970's don't happen for a couple more years.

"However, as you've already observed, I'm not the Lisa you knew last summer, and Maggie and Anna are quite naïve about this time and place. Perhaps if I try to pull things from my memories of music, science fiction, comics, electronics, photography and computer programming, I might hit upon something. Or I could try to amaze and terrify you with stories of what is to come, but I doubt that is a good idea."

"It didn't work in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," said Mr. O'Malley.

"Clever that you can't prove anything," said Nan.

"But also obvious that something very strange is going on," said Sean.

"What you said in the kitchen, about, what was it Nan?" said Mrs. O'Malley.

"Partially hydrogenated fats," said Nan. "You called them trans fats."

"Yes. I'm sure I know a lot of things like that, and many details about computer programming and electronics, that would convince authorities in those fields that my knowledge far exceeds what is probable or even possible for a teenage girl in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Heck, I can read Japanese. I still remember half-a-dozen computer programming languages from the early days of computing. I can design digital logic using 7400 series TTL integrated circuits. How could I have secretly learned that kind of thing in Tulsa? You have no idea how limited access to information is in this time period!"

"So, what, you speak to computers fifty years from now?" said Nan.

"If you want to, yes. Hundreds of millions of people carry computers in their pockets that are as powerful as the one on the Enterprise, and all of those computers are linked to each other and to unimaginably huge databanks of information."

"I have to agree," said Sean, "that you're not the Lisa that I . . . knew at Christmas. But you look exactly like her. You've always been a little odd, but not this odd."

"That's exactly my problem," I said. "There is no way I can pretend to be the person you expect me to be.

"Yeah, you're acting strange, Lisa, but when I look at Anna and Maggie, especially Anna, I seem to hear a sound of far off thunder."

"Not with the poetry now, Nan! Sheesh!" said Sean.

Anna made a face at Nan. Maggie shook her head to warn Anna to keep quiet.

"No, dummy. A Sound of Thunder, by Ray Bradbury," said Nan.

"Ah, chaos theory," nodded Sean. "Well, it looks like my future has changed, for sure."

I was making no sense of Sean's comments. "Right now we need a safe place to stay while we think about what's happened to us. And I need some advice. We have to figure out how and where we're going to live. Even though my mind is sixty-five years old, I look like a teenager. That's going to be hard to deal with. I absolutely must take care of Maggie and Anna. Can you put up with us for a few days? Give us some advice?" I looked at Uncle Patrick, then Aunt Sarah.

"You actually want advice?" asked Sarah.

"Absolutely. I'm too sandbagged by this happening suddenly to think straight. It always helps to talks things through, if possible. There are so many details I don't remember about this time period. I'm sure I'll make terrible mistakes if we just strike out on our own."

"Well, then. Of course you can stay a while, dear, and we'll talk," she said, after a nod from Mr. O'Malley and a stern look at Nan and Sean.

I deflected further talk about myself and my muses, asking about the O'Malley's recent doings. I was too tired to think any more, and knowing more about our hosts would be helpful to Maggie and Anna. By the time we finished dinner I was almost asleep in my chair.

"I'll help wash up, then I think we'll just take a short walk outside and head to bed, if that's all right with you folks. It's been a really long, stressful couple of days for us."

— ∴ —

After the dishes had been put away, we set out on our walk. Our route took us across a park. The stars were brilliant; not much light pollution yet in southern Missouri. I noticed Risa looking up.

"Pretty, isn't it?" I said.

Risa pointed. "See that little smudge by Orion's belt, on the Alnitak side? That's where we're from."

"A star?"

"No, a nebula. That's were stars are born, dummy."

"Your backstory isn't very consistent," I said. "Are you stars or gods?"

"Well, the gods were your people's ancient creation, to explain things they couldn't understand. Same thing with stars, actually."

I decided not to respond to that statement.

Origin story, by Lisa Lees.

We walked around the park for about fifteen minutes, then headed back to the house and bed. I hoped tomorrow would go better than today had ended.


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