Show and Tell

By Greg van Eekhout

Teacher is an old-fashioned bug with a blue carapace and eyes like two domes of gold beads. She is very pretty and smells like follow, but when she flutters her wings you better look smart or you'll get her stinger in your belly.

So we are quiet. We are three rows of quiet children, blinking slowly and steadily, as is polite.

"Today, we are having Show and Tell," Teacher says, bending her antennae towards us. "I am certain you have all brought wonderful shows."

She doesn't need to tell me it is Show and Tell. I have thought of nothing else for many days. Show and Tell is my worst subject. I nearly failed it last year and almost did not advance. Father says I need to plan my shows better. He says I don't put enough thought and effort into them, and that is why I get low marks. I say I get low marks because we are poor and have little to show.

Brindi goes first. Brindi is thin as a tube and covered with ginger fur that her mother decorates with lilac ribbons. Brindi was my girlfriend last summer until she met an orbit boy she liked more. Father says orbit boys are old-fashioned and perverted and believe strange things. I think they must be at least a little regular, though, because Brindi likes her orbit boy very much.

Brindi's show is a gun.

A gun is a black object made of plastic and bent at a right angle. Brindi says it's an old-fashioned weapon that her orbit boy gave her. I figure I should go up to visit her orbit boy and give him something, is what I should do.

Teacher asks Brindi how the gun works and Brindi points it at a kid in the front row named Dex and does something with her finger. The gun works by going BOOM. Dex's head-noodles go whip-whip-whip, and he catches a little nugget of metal.

"That's a bullet," Brindi says, "and if you're slow it goes into the meat part and kills you."

Dex asks if he can keep the bullet, and Brindi says to give it back, and Teacher reminds her to say please. Brindi agrees to throw bullets at the rest of us, so she does the thing with her finger and it's BOOM, BOOM, BOOM and whip-whip-whip for the next few minutes.

When she's done there's smoke in the air and it stinks and we applaud and give back her bullets. Brindi has had a great show, and I don't know how anyone can beat it.

Show and Tell is important because it prepares us to be impressive.

It's Gibb's turn next. This year Gibb is splashy with broad planes of changing colors. Last year he was a little less elaborated and was my best friend. Gibb's show is an odor which he's brought in a membrane that grows from his ribs. He holds up a long silver needle and says he'll let someone pierce his membrane, and everyone starts fluttering their head-noodles. I do so only half-heartedly, as I know Gibb won't call on me.

But Teacher tells Gibb to let me do it.

I am secretly in love with Teacher.

Everyone's head-noodles sag (rudely, I think) and Gibb turns cold purple. When I go to the front of the room he hands me the needle. "Just prick my sac," he hisses. "Don't go too deep."

I would like to jam the needle deep into his side, all the way in so he has to send something crawling after it if he wants it back. But I do like he says. Just a little poke.

He releases a twirling, spinning, buzzing smell. It smells like falling down a spiral slide on a hot day when you've had too much melon juice. I stick out my tongue and pant, it's so gross. I think it's one of the worst shows I've ever seen.

But Teacher says, "Very good, Gibb. Where did you find your smell?" And Gibb says he made it last night after homework, which is a lie, because when Gibb and I were best friends and I went to his place, his sisters would always be making bad smells, and this is probably just one of their rejects.

Teacher says he may sit down and we applaud.

Now it is Mung-Mung's turn. Mung-Mung is really two children who share their noodles. Though not strictly new, it is unusual and they will stay that way until their Advancement, at which time there will be a party and they will be separated.

Mung-Mung is mostly quiet and nice and okay.

Mung-Mung's mother works at the zoo, and Mung-Mung has brought spiders in a zoo box. Mung-Mung places the box on Teacher's desk and opens the lid. Hundreds of little black spiders spill out and scuttle up the curve of the wall. They arrange themselves into letters which spell out Hello Class. Nobody is impressed. This is what Mung-Mung showed last year. The exact same thing. This is not new. Our head-noodles wave nervously and Teacher's wings begin to flutter. Mung-Mung looks stricken, and tears pool in Mung-Mung's eyes. But then the air fills with an itchy-scratchy whining noise that gradually gets louder, and the whining noise becomes many voices, and the voices say, "Hello, Class."

It's coming from the wall. Mung-Mung's spiders can talk.

The Teacher moves all her arms and the class applauds. After a while the voices die down and the spiders march single file back to their box. Relieved and proud, Mung-Mung takes her seat.

The Show and Tell goes on like that. Everybody has something good. Peter has grown a mouth in his palm and he eats cookies with it. Trahn has a glass belly. Fish swim inside, circling a little fake castle. Bardo has brought a tray of eyes, like eggs in a carton, and he puts them on the ends of his stalks and waggles them around at us.

And then, finally, it is my turn. Teacher looks at me with her big gold eyes and says, "Where is your show? I do not see your show."

The class snickers with their noodles.

"My show is outside," I say. "It's out in the hall. My grandfather is bringing my show."

Teacher tells me to go get it, so I go into the corridor, and I see my grandfather there, and my heart sinks, as he is empty-handed.

"Where is my show?" I say. "You said you would bring me a show. You said this year I would have the best show of the entire class, and you wouldn't tell me what it was, but you said 'Trust me' and I did, and now I have no show!"

I start to cry, but softly, because I don't want the class to hear me cry.

Grandfather puts a hand on my shoulder. "Tut-tut" he says. "There now."

His hand is a flat pink slab with short nubs growing out of it. His body is sheathed in cloth, and his head-noodles are short, thin strands that do not move. He is so weird. He is not at all elaborated. Mother and father keep saying they will send him to a home for the unelaborated, but he still lives in a room below our floor.

"Tut-tut," Grandfather says. "I said you'd have a show they'd never forget. I said your show would have some substance. Some fiber. And by God, it shall. I am a man of my word. Take me in, boy. Show me to your class."

It is futile. I am doomed.

I go back into the room with Grandfather. We stand in front. Head-noodles freeze in place. Teacher's carapace turns green.

Grandfather spreads his mouth open and shows his teeth. Brindi gasps. "Go on, boy," Grandfather says. "Introduce me."

Wheezing, I look down at my feet. "This is George H. Davidson," I mutter. "This is my grandfather. This is my show."

On each hand he has one nub that is shorter and fatter than the rest. He raises these short, fat nubs in the air and says, "Heeeeeeyyyyy!"

And when there is only silence, he looks at my classmates as if each of them has done something odd. As if each one of them is the strangest thing he's ever seen. This is the same way he acts at home around my parents and me and my sister. There's a thing he often says at home that I hope he does not say now: If I'd known I was gonna spawn monsters I woulda never shtupped Irene, God rest her soul.

Irene is my grandmother. She is not dead. She is made of glass and lives in Pensacola.

"Well, kids," he says. "Go on. Take a good look now. You focus your beady little eyes and your big pineapple eyes and your squawking stalk-eyes on an honest-to-god man. When was the last time you saw something like me, hah? I got lousy hearing, and I got rheumatoid arthritis, and I got a stiff little fig for a bladder, but I am a man. Unelaborated and humbly glorious, the way God made me."

The class is upset. Their head-noodles whip around in a frenzy. Dex and Mung-Mung are crying.

Now I am terrified that I will not pass. This year, I will not pass Show and Tell. I will not advance. When the new class comes in at the start of next year I will be an old boy. There was an old boy in second grade. He'd done satisfactorily in Show and Tell, but he could not dance, and he got held back. Nobody liked him. Nobody would talk to him. He got beat up every day. They made him eat rocks. He was an old boy.

Teacher is fluttering her wings. She wiggles her butt, her stinger shivering.

"Wait!" I cry. "My grandfather lies. He is elaborated. He is."

Grandfather wrinkles the meat above his eyes at me. "What are you talking about, boy? Don't you go fibbing, now. I don't know what they're teaching you in school, but you're a Davidson. Show some pride."

"But you are elaborated," I insist. "Your eyes. Didn't you have them replaced before I was born?"

"Ah, well, now. That hardly counts."

"You did! They stopped functioning, so you had new ones grown."

"Yes," he says, "but they're exactly like the old ones. They aren't elaborated at all." He turns to Teacher. "Would you call that elaborated, Miss?"

Teacher looks at me apologetically. "Not really," she says.

"What about your liver, then? You drank your liver away. Grandmother said so herself. You had to have it replaced with one from a pig."

The class is having none of this. Their head-noodles make waves in unison. They are laughing at me.

Think, I think. I don't want to eat rocks.

And then I have it. I am desperate, and it probably won't work. But it's all I've got.

I point an accusing noodle cluster at Grandfather. "You have a tattoo. I've seen it when you bathe."

Grandfather spreads his weird hands. "So?"

"So, it's an elaboration." I turn to the class. "Have any of you seen a tattoo? Hm?" I turn to Teacher. "What about you?"

"I don't even know what a tattoo is," she says.

"Show them," I say to Grandfather.

"Oh, I don't know," he says. "Nobody wants to see . . ."

I open my eyes as wide as I can. I am pleading with him. Begging. Grandfather mutters, using old words. He begins to remove his upper cloth sheathing. His face and ears become pink, which astonishes me. I didn't even know he could change colors. It makes him seem a little more like a regular person.

He stands before the class, showing his white flesh. It's mostly unelaborated. It's like looking at the pictures of fetuses they show us in Health class. Usually they show us only drawings, and we need permission slips from our parents to see them.

But Grandfather's chest is not completely unelaborated. There's a drawing on his chest. It is somewhat detailed.

"It's the Civil War," he says. "The whole shebang. Here's the firing on Fort Sumter. And here's the surrender of Captain Waddell at Liverpool." Suddenly he looks at Teacher. "You do teach them about the Civil War, don't you?" Teacher stares at him blankly, and he breathes out long and slow.

"That enough, boy?" he says after several moments.

I tell him it is enough and he begins to put his cloth sheathing back on.

"Well, that's the best I got, kid. Sorry I couldn't do more for you. I should have known better. Been around long enough, you'd think I'd have known better." He finishes fastening his sheath. "I gotta use the john now. I'll wait for you outside." He puts his weird hand on my shoulder again. "Good luck, kid. Tut-tut."

And he leaves the room.

Later, I find Grandfather in front of the school. He is on his hands and knees, staring at a bird. It crawls on the ground. A few of its legs are broken and missing their suction cups.

"Cat must've got it," he says, standing.

"They'll grow back," I say.

"Yeah. Yeah, I know." He seems sad. "So. Gonna be the old boy next year, are ya?"

"No," I say.

It takes him a moment to realize what I mean, and then his mouth gets wide and he shows his teeth. He sometimes does this when pleased. "I'll be damned," he says. "You know, I never really liked that tattoo much. I was drunk when I got it. Drunk for four days. Your grandma hated it."

"The class liked it a lot," I tell him. "Teacher did too. She thought it would be better if you had made it move, but it was enough to get me a passing grade."

Barely a passing grade. Just barely. But passing is passing.

Grandfather shakes his head. "Every time I think I got this world all figured out. I'm happy for you, boy."

"I'm thinking of getting a tattoo," I say. "Just like yours. Maybe for my birthday, or for Nailing Day."

He laughs. "I suppose that would be acceptable. I suppose, in a strange way, that might actually make me faintly proud."

My tattoo will be a little different, of course. It will have moving parts made of bone and muscle, and all the little soldiers will have little puckered mouths, and when I breathe out, they will scream in agony from their hurts.

But I do not tell him that now. Right now, I'm just happy to go home with my grandfather, walking in silence, holding his weird hand in a few of mine.


Copyright © 2002 Greg van Eekhout

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Greg van Eekhout is a graduate of the Viable Paradise Writers' Workshop. His short fiction has appeared or is scheduled to appear in Starlight 3, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He lives with his fiancée in Tempe, Arizona. For more about him, see his Web site.