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JoAnne May Michaels hates “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott with a passion. She has no idea why teachers keep assigning it. But then a little green little women fan club arrives to change her mind . . . —BTS

Little (Green) Women

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

First, let me say, I hated Little Women. Oh my God. Awful. And—Spoiler Alert!—by the time Beth died, seriously? I was ready to kill her myself. I have no idea why you teachers still assign this book, except maybe to introduce us to Louisa May Alcott, the woman, who is a hell of a lot more interesting than any book she ever wrote. (Sorry about the “hell,” Mrs. McGill, but really, I mean, sometimes you gotta say what you gotta say. And oops, yeah, I know, this aside should be its own paragraph. It looks weird that way, so I’m not going to do it.)

Second, here’s the stuff you asked for, even though we both know you know it:

My name is JoAnne May Michaels, and yes, it’s a coincidence that my first name is similar to the first name of the “heroine” in Little Women. The similarity stops there. First, no one calls me Jo and lives. I’m J-May, thank you very much, except when I’m in trouble, and then my mom calls me JoAnne (if it’s not that bad), JoAnne May (if it’s bad) and JoAnne May Michaels Get Your Butt Over Here (if it’s life-and-death bad).

My parents, sisters, and I live in Alamaloosa, Oregon, and, since we’re pretending that the person who’s reading this doesn’t know me, I’ll tell you where Alamaloosa is. It’s in the foothills of Siskiyou Mountain Range, not too far from where they butt up against the Cascade Mountain Range. If you can say The End of Nowhere, you’re seriously understating where I live.

But the schools are good, because Alamaloosa is what my mom calls “a bedroom community” of Ashland, Oregon. I looked it up: Mom’s wrong, because Alamaloosa existed before Ashland and has an industry (mining) and besides, Ashland, with a population of 20,000, isn’t big enough for a bedroom community, but it’s snobby enough for a bedroom community, so I guess that counts.

The reason I’m telling you about the schools (even though the real you knows the schools) is pretty simple: My parents, who love the backwoods and The End of Nowhere, moved here to get me a good education. Not Portland (2.5 million in the metro area) or even Eugene (350,000 in their metro area). Nooo. My parents moved here, because it was the only place in Oregon with good schools and nothing surrounding them except mountains, trees, and the occasional lost Shakespeare enthusiast. (Because Ashland is the home of the largest regional repertory theater in the United States, and that dang theater [which we students have to go to every year whether we want to or not] specializes in Shakespeare.)

So why am I doing this, like, totally 19th century introduction to this totally 21st century essay? Because (1) I can and because (2) I don’t expect you to believe me and because (3) it’s a freakin’ assignment. (Thought I forgot, didn’t you, Mrs. McGill?)

Here’re the details:

From: Mrs. McGill’s Honors English, home of this year’s stupid Little Women assignment (with asides by J-May, addressing the audience, whoever they may be, including Mrs. McGill, who already knows I hate Little Women with a burning passion. [And yeah, I know what an aside is. I’ve seen too much Shakespeare]).

Assignment: Here it is, verbatim, underlines, italics and all:

Write about the most unusual day of the past year.

Establish what your real life is like.

Show why the unusual day was unusual.

Convince me that this unusual day is worth remembering.

Use one of the essay formats we’ve seen in our reading.

Okay, so what I’ve got here, is an informal essay, almost like a letter, addressed to a real audience. Got that, Mrs. McGill?

Except I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say that I’m not really using one of the essay formats from class, and you’d be right. I’m a heavy reader and I love essays and I know this is a real essay format, but it’s not one of the ones you assigned, and screw it, anyway.

I’m really not using one of your essay formats, because I already know I’m going to fail this damn thing. (Pardon my French, or should I say my Old French, since the word comes from that language [not German, like I originally thought].)

I know I’m going to fail, even though I’m following the rest of the assignment to the letter. Got that, Mrs. McGill? I’m doing what you ask.

It’s not my fault you’re not going to believe me.

A Day in The Life of J-May Michaels:

I get up. I go to school. I go to The Watering Hole, which is the tavern my parents own, where I sit at the bar and do my homework. I do not drink. I do not let my friends into the tavern to drink. We all know that I’m not supposed to be there, but I am there, because my parents need cheap help, and the county sheriff spends his off hours in the booth behind the antique jukebox that came with the tavern, and he doesn’t care, so no one else cares either, so, as my dad would say, Mrs. McG, don’t get your undies in a bundle.

I clean the stockroom, sweep everything before the evening “rush” (the locals, who arrive after work for burgers, and the occasional lost Shakespearean, looking for atmosphere), bus tables, and report any creep who grabs my butt. Everyone’s usually gone by 10, and my dad locks up, not that it means much, since we’re in—hello!—Alamaloosa and — double hello! — we live upstairs.

Weekends, not much different, except no school, but usually extracurriculars or something “special” down in Ashland at the university or at the Shakespeare Festival. Then more cleaning, sometimes homework, and a date. (I wish. Just kidding on the date thing.)

There it is, the exciting life of J-May Michaels.

Now, enter Little Green Men.

Too soon?

Okay, let’s back up some.

It’s February. I’m sitting at the bar, crouched over pre-calc, which isn’t that bad, even though everybody says it’s bad, but Mr. Cohen, he says I have a gift for mathematics and I should take pity on everyone, and by pity, he means I should tutor the less fortunate, but I’d rather poke my eyes out with a stick or sweep the bar every afternoon, whichever keeps me out of the Learning Lab with the Lame-os.

There’s a Diet Coke fizzing to my left and a plate of nachos cooling at my right, and my tablet already has some sticky fingerprints on it, which Mom will yell at me about, because she says I shouldn’t eat and do homework on the iPad at the same time.

So I’m trying to figure out the always-true, never-changing trig identities because, gifted or not, sometimes I don’t remember everything right away, when something plops into my soda and I jump.

Because at the Watering Hole, we get spiders. Big huge garden spiders that look like they’re straight out of the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter, but they’re harmless and annoying, and I hate it when they just fall randomly off the ceiling.

So I pick up my glass, hoping that maybe ice cracked loudly or something instead of falling spiders, and I stir the soda a little with my straw.

And that’s when I see a little green hand, waving the universal sign for “help-I’m-drowning” around an ice cube.

I’m thinking that the wavy-thing is an effect, caused by me stirring the soda, so I pull the straw out of the liquid, and the hand reaches around, paws at the ice cube and then slides off the edge.

I pick up the glass and squint at it, holding it toward the frosted glass window of the main door so I can get a least a little natural light into those fizzy brown depths. And I see something that shouldn’t be there, something that is about the size of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, only it’s flailing, which makes me think it might be drowning, or maybe it was that hand and the fact that appendages hang off it like legs and they’re kicking weakly.

I’m not sure if I’m grossed out or intrigued, but either way, I’m not drinking more of that Diet Coke. So I lower the glass a little so I can still see what’s under the surface, then stick the straw back in and push it against the side of the glass, underneath the kicking Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. The thing stops moving for a half-second, then leans forward and, I swear to God, wraps its appendages around the straw.

Okay, I admit, I actually had one of those moments, y’know, the kind you see in Lit-Raht-Shure, where the protagonist knows she’s making a choice that could go one way or the other. (See, Mrs. McG? I learn. “Protagonist,” not “hero.” Heh.)

I know I could use the straw to keep that Peanut Butter thing underwater (underCoke?) but I don’t. I haul the whole straw-Peanut Butter thing up with one hand while I’m setting the glass down with the other. Then, as the straw bends under the thing’s weight, I slip my hand underneath it (half afraid that I’m grabbing a spider) and lift it the rest of the way.

The Peanut Butter thing looks like one of those disk-like kid’s toys. You know the kind. The round toys like a coaster or a gigantic coin, but with arms and legs and little white shoes and little white gloves where the hands are and a tiny round head perched on top.

The Peanut Butter thing looks like one of those things, but it isn’t one of those things. First off, it’s squishy, not rubbery. Squishy like a frog, you know, the kind of squishy that means you could shove your fingers through it and do some serious damage.

Second, it’s got a neck. Just a little one, and the head is like a giant gumball, with round plastic-looking eyes that have a little too much black in them and a perfect circle of . . . well, not white, exactly, more like a really pale green. It doesn’t have a nose, but it does have two little black dots above a big mouth. The thing is gasping and spitting out Diet Coke, and the top of its torso (disk?) is flapping like ducts on a bad heating system.

Third, it’s not wearing shoes. It has arched green feet with three long toes. It’s not wearing gloves either. Its little hands are clenched into fists.

I’m both queasy and fascinated. I look around the Watering Hole to see if anyone else notices, but I’m the only person in the place at the moment. Mom isn’t even behind the bar. She’s probably doing the accounts in the back or something. She probably even told me to holler for her if someone came in, and I probably ignored her.

I don’t think this little guy (and God knows why I think it’s a guy, but it’s giving off guy energy, and no, Mrs. McG, don’t ask me to explain that) counts as “someone.” Mom would probably scream at it and squash it with a plate or something.

“What the hell are you?” I ask, not expecting an answer. I was asking it the way you ask some kind of bug crawling across the table what it is. You know, rhetorically, or just to hear your own voice.

“What the hell are you?” the thing snaps back.

I push away from the bar, startled, and nearly spill the Diet Coke all over my tablet. Okay, now I’m beginning to think I’m either crazy or dreaming.

I decide to go with dreaming.

“I’m . . . ah . . . human?” I say sounding a little unsure, because when have you ever had to identify yourself by species? I mean, I never have before (or since, to be really honest), and I certainly didn’t expect to do it in my parents’ bar.

“Are you a human or aren’t you?” the thing snaps. Jeez, I don’t like its tone. The little thing is beginning to piss me off. (And Mrs. McG, I already figure you’re going to mark me down for language, so just deal, okay?)

“I’m human,” I say a lot more decisively, “and I asked first. So what are you?”

It makes a sound between a sneeze, a gargle, and someone choking to death. Then it adds, “But I would suppose you can call me a Glorp.”

“Oh, well, thank you,” I say, sarcastically. “Let me ask again. What the hell is a Glorp?”

“Me,” it says.

I roll my eyes. It’s like talking to my three-year-old sister. “So, are you a bug, or what?” I ask, still going with the dream.

“Bug?” it repeats. Then it grins as if it’s suddenly understood. “Oh! Insect. No, I’m not. I’m . . . .” It sighs and sounds just a little annoyed. “I guess you would call me a . . . a . . . a fan.”

“A fan?” I ask. “Of what?”

Little Women,” it says, and now I know I’m dreaming. “We came to see the house.”

“The . . . house?” I ask slowly.

“Orchard House?” The Glorp-thing is frowning, which is really weird because those round eyes now have corners, and there’s a line that runs from the top of its gumball head to those two little black dots.

“This is the Watering Hole,” I say, and then realize that we might be having language issues, so I add, “It’s a bar.”

“A bar. A tavern,” it says. “For libations.”

“I guess,” I say.

“Well, direct me and my friends to Orchard House, and we shall depart,” it says.

“Friends?” I ask. I hear a chittering sound, and see two dozen of these little Glorp-things standing on the bar. I hadn’t noticed them land, although as I’m watching, two more haul themselves over the lip of the bar, using the water gun as leverage.

I look at the one Glorp in front of me. The SpokesGlorp, I guess.

“What is this, some kind of invasion?” I ask.

“No,” it says, sounding offended. “We’re on a tour of famous literary sites throughout the galaxy. We have opted for the ship-to-planet excursion, Literary Women in Modern America, and we expect to see Orchard House, a few Civil War battlefields, and the historical sites around Concord. We understand that the battle of Lexington/Concord belongs to some other arcane war, but Louisa mentions it in her papers and—”

I wave my hands, shutting the SpokesGlorp up entirely. Then I sputter. I mean I really can’t get any words out in any sensible fashion.

Finally, I take a drink of the Diet Coke before I remember that the SpokesGlorp had floated in it, and I spit the liquid back into the glass. Okay, I’m grossed out and annoyed, and confused, which helps me find my voice.

“Okay, you’re telling me that there’s literary tourism for aliens, and you have come for Little Women because . . . you like that book?” And okay, Mrs. McG, full disclosure here: I’m having more trouble with the fact that there’s a gigantic universal fan base for Little Women than I am with the fact that there are maybe thirty Glorp on my parents’ shiny bar top.

“Of course, we like the book. It is a window into your society,” the SpokesGlorp says. “We understand that the book is something you call fiction, but that there are elements of truth to it, and we sincerely hope that the truth does not involve Beth’s death, but rather the existence of Marmee and Jo and—”

“They’re made up,” I snap. “They’re sanctimonious and made up and I hate them.”

The SpokesGlorp sits down. Or rather, it plunks down, as if the force of my words has knocked it over.

It reaches out a hand, and one of the other Glorp grabs it, pulling the SpokesGlorp to its tiny feet. It dusts itself off, or rather, wipes itself off, since it fell in a puddle of condensation from the Diet Coke glass.

“Well,” the SpokesGlorp says. “Clearly the book can’t be fiction as we understand it, since you feel so passionately about it. Surely untruths would not provoke such passion in any creature, even the overly emotional human variety.”

There’s so much wrong with what the SpokesGlorp says that I don’t even know where to start. I sputter some more, and before I can manage some real words, the SpokesGlorp takes a step closer to me.

“Since we’ve clearly ended up in the wrong location, please give us directions and we shall leave your establishment.”

I stare at it. I can’t help it. I have to ask. “How did you read Little Women?”

It straightens and raises its gumball head a bit, revealing a neck that actually has a tiny gumball inside it, like a tiny Adam’s apple.

“I read 5,734 languages fluently,” it says.

Well, goodie for you, I think. I have enough trouble with English. But I don’t say that, because—well. Because.

Instead, I say, “I don’t mean how did you learn English. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good question. I mean, why the hell did you read Little Women? It’s such a—”

“Such a classic,” the SpokesGlorp says with reverence. “Filled with such important characters. Any species can write about its wars and its warriors, and most do, but to write about those who support them, those who love them, with such passion and heartache, well, we of the”—and then he made that sneezy gargly choky sound again—“Literary Society prefer works that make us cry to works that make us think. We do enough thinking already.”

“You cry?” I ask, and then realize that’s rude. I’m about to apologize when it opens its little hands, in a what-can-I-say? gesture. At least, on a human that would be what-can-I-say. Who knows what it is for a Glorp.

“To answer your initial question as I understand it,” the SpokesGlorp says, “all of us first read the book in our introduction to Backwards Earth Societies Literature class in what you would probably call university. We—”

“Excuse me,” I say, “Backwards what?”

“Earth Societies,” it says, being ruder than I was, and probably not even realizing it. “So many of your societies have evolved beyond the primitive, but some of you are delightfully unfettered still. And the emotions . . .”

It puts two fingers to its mouth, makes a kissing sound, and then says, “Bellissima! Truly.”

I smack the heel of my hand against my forehead but that doesn’t wake me up. It only makes my forehead hurt.

“How did you get the book?” I ask, because you know me, Mrs. McG. I ask too many questions.

“Oh,” the SpokesGlorp says. “The Library of the Galaxy, of course. Where else would you take literature classes in obscure societies?”

“Where else,” I mutter.

“Exactly,” it says, and its mouth widens. I’m hoping that’s a smile, because the thing has pale green teeth too, and they look like shark teeth. “So, point us in the right direction, and we shall march out your door and never see you again.”

“I dunno,” I say, because I don’t know. Alamaloosa is a weird place and I don’t know all of it, and for all I know, Mrs. McG, you teachers have set up some shrine to Louisa May Alcott for reasons I’ll never understand. “Where’s this house exactly?”

“Orchard House,” the SpokesGlorp says slowly, as if I’m the stupid one. “Where Louisa May Alcott lived. In Concord, Massachusetts, North America. I thought you studied this—”

“Massachusetts?” I ask. “You think you’re in Massachusetts?”

The SpokesGlorp leans its head back, and I’m afraid it’ll topple over. It looks top heavy. “Are we not?”

“No, you’re not,” I say. “You’re barely in North America. You’re on the wrong side of the continent.”

One of the other Glorp (or Glorps. Who knows what the plural really is?) walks over and starts jibbering at the SpokesGlorp. They gesture and yell and spit and punch their little fists on the palms of their little hands and jump up and down a few times.

Then the SpokesGlorp turns back to me. “You are certain of this?”

“Um, e-yeah,” I say. “I live here.”

“But there was a sense of Little Women here,” the SpokesGlorp says.

“Here? In the bar?” I ask.

“Here, in the community,” it says.

I sigh. What, were we the only class in the country studying Little Women this week? “I can’t speak to that,” I say.

The other Glorp spits and sizzles and jumps up and down twice. The SpokesGlorp nods, but whether or not that’s an agreement, I’ll never know.

“I guess we just got coordinates wrong,” it says. “We are arguing over fees now. Is there anything to see here?”

“Related to Little Women?” I ask.

“Yes,” it says.

“No,” I say, probably more strongly than I should. “But there’s a Shakespearean theater about thirty miles from here.”

“Ah,” the SpokesGlorp says. “Stratford-upon-Avon. We have that scheduled for our next excursion, and it will screw up our itinerary if we attempt that.”

And it would screw up the rest of my afternoon if I try to explain to them that they’re nowhere near Stratford-upon-Avon. I guess, like most book people, book aliens are geography challenged as well.

“Wish I could help you,” I lie, “but I can’t. You should probably get out of here, though, before the dinner rush crowd shows up. They’ll think you’re appetizers, or maybe just some bar snacks.”

“Bar . . . snacks?” The SpokesGlorp looks at me in horror. Apparently horror translates across our species. “Thank you. No. We are not bar snacks.”

It turns toward the nearest Glorp and gestures. Then all of the Glorp face me and bow at the same time. It’s kind of glorious, in a Radio-City-Music-Hall kinda way. Little Green Rockettes, with gumball heads, bowing at the same time.

Then, one by one, they pop—and I mean pop like bubbles popping— out of existence.

Or at least, off the bar. They leave a bit of green goo behind, and some brown stuff that I’m hoping is something other than what I think it is.

I have to clean up the bar before Mom comes out, and I do, and later when she asks me if everything’s all right, I ask her, because I can’t help myself, “Do you like Little Women?”

“The book?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say.

She gives me one of those cautious looks she specializes in, and then says, “It’s a classic.”

“Jeez,” I say. “Obviously. For some reason I don’t understand.”

Mom gives me an indulgent smile. “Well, try to enjoy it,” she says, “and remember: Older books can be truly alien to us.”

I let out a snort. “No kidding,” I say.

Then I work my way behind the bar and pour myself another Diet Coke. I carry the glass back to my spot, but before I delve back into my homework, I put a napkin on top of the glass.

I don’t want anything falling in it.

In fact, I’ve put napkins on top of my glassware ever since. And that’s the only lingering effect.

I did Google Orchard House after the Glorp left, but there was no report of an alien invasion. Although I did read about the tourist attraction, which sounds more interesting than the damn book. (Not that that is hard, mind you.) And I’d love to travel there, if only to get the hell out of Oregon, and stupid expectations and classics.

So, there you go, Mrs. McG. My failure of an essay. Even though it does exactly what you asked.

And before you tell me to redo this thing or to write about a different day with unusual events or give me an F or something, let me add one thing.

I don’t usually have unusual days. (Okay, no one usually has unusual days, but you know what I mean.) Every day is exactly the same. Exactly. The. Same. With the exceptions I mentioned.

I can’t wait to get out of this podunk town. I can’t wait to have a real life. And I can’t wait to get out of school.

So if you make me try another essay on the same topic, I still won’t have anything to write about except this one day, and it really did happen, and it really is true, and if you can believe in Beth, and Jo, and Marmee, you can believe in little green aliens that call themselves Glorps.

Because I find them a lot more believable than the March clan.

Just sayin’.

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