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IMPROVING MY AVERAGE / Kate Wheeler THE PROP PLANE LABORED up the Andes' blue and white spine, at the mercy of blasts and vacuums. My scrambled eggs jittered in their dish, like the coarse yellow foam that storms leave on a beach. I had no intention of eating them: I was counting cities on my fingers, dividing in my head. After calculating backwards twice, I'd just gotten it straight. Being twelve years old, having lived in eight places, I'd inhabited each location of my childhood for one and four-eighths years, eighteen months, too long. When I'd arrived where we were now leaving, I was seven and had lived in seven places. I'd been in a state of perfect balance, I now realized, like the Golden Age of Pericles: I couldn't remember having worried about anything. But then my dad's company kept him five years in Terremotos, Perú. In the yellow desert of the north, I grew old enough for first loves—skinny Mike Grady, who could walk on his knees in lotus pose, and the Pacific Ocean, which almost claimed me one day in an undertow. Time stretched out so long in Terremotos, I forgot it was dragging me toward this, the day of departure. Now we were moving to Cartagena, Colombia, on the bathtubshallow Caribbean. My father's company had promoted him to manage a plant that extruded polyethylene. I'd be able to see Plásticos Revo across the bay from my own balcony, promised my mother, who'd made a househunting trip a month ago and rented the same house my father's predecessor had lived in. "I hope we leave it soon," I said meanly when she showed me the picture of the house, pink and modern, with a rubber tree over the garage. "You jackal, I worked so hard," she said, and burst into tears. "Eat those eggs," she told me now. "A protein breakfast is the best gift you can give your brain." Before I could hesitate, my father's eye rolled over onto me, and I heard him clear his throat. "Lila." I stabbed them, wishing I could throw them out the sealed window for condors to eat. The plane's silver wing hung over the Cordillera Blanca, perfectly static, as if we weren't really moving. If we crashed, Td touch snow for the first time. I imagined search parties of cholos fanning The Missouri Review · 142 out over a glacier, chewing coca leaves for endurance. By the time they found us, most of the passengers would be frozen, dreaming their way deeper and deeper into total darkness. Not me—I'd read in Jack London how to bury yourself in a drift and remain alive, insulated by snow itself. Incas' descendants would adopt me; I'd live the rest of my life on the altiplano, playing a quena among stone ruins. We landed, and Cartagena clapped itself around us like a boiled towel. The Customs official smirked as he ran his hands under my mother's nighties, examined the soles of my U.S.—made saddle shoes for marks of use. He envied us, I knew. Still, I wanted to explain that I'd been born in the jungle in Venezuela, and so wasn't blood-connected with this mortifying mountain of imported goods. Because our main shipment wasn't due for several months, my mother had packed everything from aspirin to bedspreads in fifteen suitcases. My father's new driver took charge of us outside Customs. His name was Cosme Leña. He was the color of a plum and had no voice, only a kind of hiccup like the catch between sobs. As he gesticulated at the porters, my mother explained that Cosme had had a tracheotomy, and so lacked vocal cords. The operation was performed on the HOPE ship, a fact Cosme was proud of, my mom said, with a minuscule lifting of her eyebrows. I saw the scar in the pit of his throat, darker-purple, thickened skin, like a splash of glaze on ceramic. Mom and I squeezed in back with five suitcases. Cosme babied the company Fairlane along ruts...


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