Angelina Jolie was so amazed. It was only once in a while that she saw something that really made her feel real. It was so hard to feel real sometimes. Pancakes sometimes made her feel real. But pancakes were troublesome. A slippery slope. She wrote that down in her blue Moleskine book. “Pancakes are a slippery slope.”
She put her pen down and thoughtfully chewed the silky inside of her left cheek. She stared hard at the photo on her iPod of those beautiful, strong young African women who had just invented this amazing generator that made electricity out of human urine. She shook her head. It was amazing the things that people did in the face of adversity. She continued shaking her head, trying to comprehend the humanity of humanity.
“Be careful shaking your head,” said her son Maddox, who was sitting on the other side of the enormous bed, watching “Homeland” on his iPad. “A shard of your beauty just hit me in the face.” She barely heard him. She let her eye cast around the room for a moment. All her children were here, Maddox, Zahara, Shiloh, Pax, each with his or her iPad. Maddox was next to her on the bed, Zahara was stretched out along the foot. Pax was on one corner of a pink velvet couch, Shiloh on the other. All four were staring at their iPads. In the bedroom foyer, Knox and Vivienne were making a cat out of wooden blocks.
Angelina traced a pointer finger, its perfect oval nail painted with the Essie new-for-fall dark grey hue called “Stylenomics” lovingly over her own iPad screen. She cleared her throat. “These girls,” she said, out loud to no one in particular. “Look at these girls. What amazing, strong young women. They have been through so much, but they still made this amazing generator that creates electricity out of urine.”
“What have they been through?” Maddox asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “All I know is that they never let anything keep them down, despite so many odds. They remind me of me.” A perfect tear formed in the corner of her eye, and as it started to make its silvery way down her cheek. Maddox and Zahara both lunged at her.
“I get to drink Mom’s sorrow nectar,” Zahara screeched.
But Maddox won. Smacking his lips, he said, “I’m going to grow up to be so much more empathetic than you,” he bragged.
“Whatever,” Zahara said. She went back to her own iPad, where she was uploading photos of vintage Cartier watches to her Pinterest.
“What’s going on out here?”
The door to the man’s master bath opened, and there stood Brad Pitt. In one hand was an iPad, in the other, a vaporizer.
“Oh Brad,” Angie said, leaping up, running over to him, pulling at the sash of her red Galliano sweater with one hand, clutching her iPad with the other. “You have to look at these amazing inspiring young women. Look at them.”
“Oh yeah. I read about that. Pretty cool.”
Her face grew stern. “Brad, I need to understand that when you gaze at these girls, you see that their faces glow with fortitude, a stalwart commitment to dignity, and the resolve to create a better life for people everywhere.”
He looked at the photo for a second. “Okay,” he said. “Yeah. I…” Then he paused. He touched the pads of his fingers to his graying beard. “Wait, it says here that four girls created a generator that makes electricity outta pee. Well, there are only three girls in this here picture. Where’s the fourth one?”
“Oh my God,” she said. “Brad. Where is she?”
“I don’t know, I was only joking. Hey, it’s okay.”
“Brad, I don’t think this is okay. I think it’s not okay, okay?”
“Ange. I think she’s just… not in the picture. I think she just went to, I don’t know, get a soda or something.”
She seemed reassured for a minute. She lay one finger on the rosy cushion of her lips, then let it trail down over her round, firm chin, down the length of her neck, and then to the hollow at the base of her throat, where it made worried circles. “Maybe that girl is okay, but if this is a true competitor to petroleum, those girls are in danger. We have to get to them.”
The room was silent for a moment except for the sound of clicking.
“Brad,” Angelina said. “We’re going to Africa.”
Fuck, he thought. “Okay,” he said.
The eight of them left that night. The kids walked behind in the Los Angeles Tom Bradley International Terminal. Angelina huddled close to her fiancé, holding his arm. “Thanks for being so understanding,” she said.
“These girls do seem really cool,” he said. He wasn’t feeling so bad. There were those chocolates you could get now, at a dispensary in Marina del Rey. Marina del Rey was actually pretty cute, and, of course, this had made it cuter.
“Brad,” Angie said, looking into his eyes as he walked. This was actually one of the things he’d loved about her, that she could gaze into his eyes and walk at the same time, a skill to which Jennifer Aniston had never even aspired. (“Guess what’s not happening? Me crashing into shit just so you can, like, see my soul.”) Angelina spoke, her eyes as deep and opaque as trailing ponds. “Before we see those girls, I need to know that when you look at them, you see that their faces glow with fortitude, a stalwart commitment to dignity, and the resolve to create a better life for people everywhere.”
Brad nodded. This sounded familiar. Then he coughed a little. “Yeah, sure. Fine. Wait. I mean. Can I see the picture again?”
In London, waiting in the first-class Lufthansa lounge, as he absentmindedly tried to prevent Shiloh from making a kabob out of lemon slices on a coffee stirrer, Brad’s phone made its little cricket sound. It was George. He didn’t know whether to answer or not. He did.
“What’s up,” George said.
“Oh nothing,” Brad said. “Just hanging out by the pool.”
“Dude. Hey, I saw pictures of you guys at LAX yesterday. I know you’re not at home. What shithole have you been dragged off to today?”
Brad rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “Uh… we’re in London.” He put his hand in his back pocket and fished out his airline ticket. “We’re going to uh, Lagos,” he said.
George snorted. “What the fuck are you going to Lagos for?”
Brad let his head fall back so that his mouth was open to the sky. He was so exhausted. All he wanted to do was lie on the couch and read David Macaulay books and old Dwells.
“We’re here because… well, did you read in the paper about those girls who invented a generator that can make six hours of electricity out of, uh… pee?”
“I find that very fucking hard to believe. And no, I didn’t read that. Where did you see that?”
“It was a huge story. I bet Stacy read it.”
“Let’s take a quick look at the things Stacy does. ‘Works out.’ ‘Makes salad.’ ‘Blows me.’ Oh shit, we’re at the end of the list, and we never got to “Reading about little African chicks and their pee pee.”
“Hey,” Brad protested. Yeah, sure, he’d rather be back in LA right now, but he got a little sick of George underestimating Angie. “Look,” he said, feeling really weird for even trying to be authoritative with George, but he had to try. “If this generator is really an alternative to petroleum these girls could be in danger. And… and… ” Shit. There was something else Angie had said about why this trip was important. He started going through his pockets. He was pretty sure he’d written it down. He found a piece of paper crumpled in his pocket. He started to read from it.
“This sort of technology …could. Uhh.” Shit. He couldn’t read his writing.
“This sort of technology could enable disadvantaged women around the world to have greater self determination?” George said.
“Oh my God,” Brad said “How did you know it said that?”
“Hey. Hey. Wait up. Stacy is sending you a link. What, babe? Hey, Brad, you gotta read this. Hey. Stacy’s sending you a link, okay?”
A second later Brad heard his email chime. He didn’t look. Stacy’s sending you a link! He had just been sent a link from someone who had been cut out of Big Momma’s House 2, and he was actually supposed to read it?
He slept all the way from London to Lagos, dreaming of steel-framed coffee tables, the kind with storage underneath.
When they reached Maker Faire Africa, the expo where the girls had debuted their generator, Angelina took out the Ziploc bag of kerchiefs she kept in her bag and tied one around her head, and did the same to all the girls. She walked past some of the displays—a tiny battery-powered dump truck, a loom. She wasn’t sure what was so interesting about a loom?
Angelina finally found the girls. They were sitting around in plaid uniforms in their chairs, just like they had been in the picture. At first she just stared at them for a few minutes. “Hi, ” she finally said. “Can I come hang out with you guys for a second?”
The girls exchanged looks. One of them giggled into her plaid skirt. They nodded.
“I just want you girls to know that you’re my heroes. Did you know that your invention is going to save lives? Anyway. Do think you can turn my pee into electricity?”
The girls all laughed and nodded. “We can turn anyone’s pee into electricity.”
Angelina found a big truck and arranged for it to drive onto the expo floor. And then another big truck. And another one. She had them all park in a triangle around her and she peed in private. She paid each of the drivers 10,000 nairas, and went back to the girls with the pee.
One of the girls took it from her. The other one started to plug in the generator.
“Wait,” Angelina said. “I thought you made electricity with this.”
“Well,” one of the girls said, “We have to use electricity to get the electricity.”
Angelina stared at the cord as she watched her urine swirling around. “But… are you guys going to figure out how to… you must be working—on how to make it so you don’t have to use anything to make it run? Except pee? Because you know that’s… that’s what people think you have done!”
One of the girls laughed. “How are we supposed to make something run just using pee? That’s impossible!”
Soon they were back at the airport.
“All we ever do is go to the airport,” Pax said.
“Shut up,” Vivienne said.
Angie was despondent as they boarded the plane. “I really thought that women all over the world were going to find self-determination through their own pee.”
“Well, Ange, maybe they will someday,” Brad said, and kissed the top of her head. She smelled nice, like dust and cucumbers.
A few minutes before take off, his phone rang. It was George again.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” George said. “I bet you’re leaving Lagos. Hey, Angie should make a movie. Leaving Lagosvegas. Oh my God. That is so stupid. I love it.”
“How did you know we were leaving?”
“Did you ever read that link?”
“No,” he said. He felt bad for what he’d thought about Stacy and Big Momma’s House 2 earlier. Stacy was really nice, and she had taught him how to do squats so his back didn’t hurt. He opened the article. It was long, but the basic gist of it was that the African girls thing was just a clever high-school science project, and not much more.
“How did you find that?” he asked.
“I didn’t find it,” George said. “Stacy found it. She Googled, I don’t know, ‘girls, pee, Africa, bullshit.'”
“I should have done that,” he said.
“You should have done a lot of things,” George said.
They took off after midnight. The kids fell asleep almost as soon as they were tucked into their seats. Angelina curled up in his lap. “Brad?” she said.
“Yeah, babe?” He rubbed a grain of sand from her hair between his thumb and forefinger.
“Let’s have another baby.”
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Sarah Miller is the author of Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl, which are for teens but adults can read on the beach. She lives in Nevada City, CA. Photo by Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com.