Month: April 2016

Prologue

This is the first completed section of the novel I’m currently working on. 

Sarah gazes at the trees patiently, waiting for their agnate green to curdle and disperse. The blue of the sky seems cold. She stands behind the screen door and closes her eyes. She breathes the air and it feels like Fall. She thinks of her acceptance letter from the University of Virginia, tucked into the front cover of The Inner Game of Tennis on the shelf above her bed, where it has remained for a year and a half. Maybe this year she’ll go. Maybe it will be as if she had just graduated high school. She’ll stand in the driveway and slam closed the trunk of her car, brimming with pillows, books, and a new racket. She’ll look down the street at all her former classmates and share with them in all the excitement and entitlement of fresh young academics. This past month will never have happened. She won’t be angry, she won’t be trapped, her brother won’t leave her.

She opens the screen door and steps onto the concrete. A window shade snaps shut in the house across the street. Two doors down, the Allens shift uncomfortably on their lawn and make as though they haven’t been staring at the house. Trini Parker turns abruptly and disappears behind her garage. A door slams. Smoke rises from behind the other houses, where the neighbors have relocated their festivities. On the front lawns are trashed streamers torn from picnic tables, abandoned children’s toys, silenced speakers. Through the sublime calm drifts the nascent smell of barbecue. It isn’t autumn, after all, it’s the Fourth of July, and the understanding that two full months of summer stretch yet ahead of her thrusts Sarah downward. She finds herself crouching on the front step, gulping hard. Hasn’t June been enough? Hasn’t she loved enough to fulfill a summer fling, hasn’t she worked enough days to compile a summer montage, hasn’t she punched through enough walls to constitute a breakthrough. Hasn’t she sweat enough drops in fear, blinked enough tears in betrayal, lost enough blood in hospital bags. Hasn’t it been enough?

At the foot of the stoop she notices the glass shards and dark liquid stains from the pitcher of sun tea. She selects the largest pieces one by one and sets them in her palm. Tea winds down her wrist. With the tips of her fingers she gently scoots the smaller pieces into a little pile in the center of the puddle. Among them is a rounder something, the color of ivory, crusted in blood. A tooth. She rears back and vomits on the step.

When she raises her head, she is five years old, and she is watching from across the kitchen as her mother extracts a wee incisor from the crust of a bagel. Behind her, Sarah’s four-year-old brother reveals his mint gap-toothed smile. Earlier that day, Shayna Faris had just lost the fourth collective tooth of Sarah’s kindergarten class. She stood in front of the red and yellow tooth chart beside the chalkboard, holding her accomplishment in a Ziploc bag, and in a newly discovered jealous depth of her soul Sarah swore the greatest oath she could conceive: she would never, ever, ever name one of her hamsters Shayna. Standing in the kitchen, faced with the evidence of her brother’s betrayal, she marches to the table and with uncanny strength breaks the first chair leg of her illustrious career. As the older sibling, she should experience all of her firsts first, and this conviction inspires her to lose her first tooth directly and by any means available.

After serving her punishment for the chair leg incident, she seeks out her brother to enlist his help. With an unsteady hand she affixes one end of a string to her bedroom doorknob, and the other she wraps around her right front tooth. She paces back until the string is taut. Her brother has been instructed to pull the door shut with all his might but as she feels the slight tug of the line in her gums, her mind immediately changes, and she begins to quake. “Bryan!” she calls, “Nevermind! Don’t do it!” It doesn’t occur to her to step forward, or to untie the line. Bryan peers around the frame, and a strange light sweeps through his eyes. He yanks the handle.

She should have known right then.

She grits herself to give another look to Bryan’s tooth on the tea-blackened concrete. Then she rises from her crouch. The same window shade snaps again across the street. She turns into the house and throws the glass fragments into the trash. She returns to the stoop with a dustpan and scrapes up the rest, and the tooth. She gets the hose and sprays the vomit into the grass. She picks up the grill from where it lies upended near the sidewalk. She rakes the charcoal and ashes into a pile and shovels them onto the fire pit. Then she goes into the house, sits down on the couch, and waits.

Minimalism, The Powerball, and Many Funerals

My husband is obsessed with minimalism. In the evenings he sits on the back porch with a cigar and listens to minimalist podcasts. They tell him what to keep and what to throw away. They tell him to count his belongings. When he comes back inside he smells like tobacco and determination. Boxes pile up around me. They are filled with books and clothes. “I’m never going to read this,” he tells me. “When was the last time I wore this?” he asks. The boxes are packed up and carted off, and my possessions spillover seamlessly into the spaces his have left.

I collect things. I have two bookshelves stocked with books and journals. I have a third bookshelf for movies and CDs. I have a chest stuffed with extra pillows and blankets. I have two boxes of teacups in storage in my parent’s attic.  I have five shoeboxes of letters and postcards. I have nineteen spare lip balms. I have twenty colors of nail polish, five sunglasses, a drawer full of fuzzy socks. I have two back up shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and facial cleansers and scrubs. I have too many perfumes to count. I have fiesta ware, sketchbooks, pens, bags, and six blue dress shirts.

The minimalists say that you shouldn’t keep anything on hand that you could purchase if necessary for under twenty dollars. For example, a roll of duct tape. Why burden yourself with a roll of cumbersome duct tape that you only use once in a great while? “Jettison it!” they cry, and I can picture them tossing their half-used duct tape into the air, and celebrating their newfound freedom, and buying another roll of duct tape, and using half of it, and getting rid of it, and buying another roll, and using half, and getting rid of it over and over and over again in an endless cycle of waste. Minimalism strikes me as a folly of the wealthy.

In mid-January the Powerball reaches an all-time record high jackpot of 1.6 billion dollars. The entire country is manic. Kim K tweets about it. I hear about it on the radio on the way to work. My coworkers can’t stop talking about it. “My dad bought like sixty dollars’ worth of tickets for me,” my manager says. “What would you do if you won?” is the topic of the day. Most answers involve tropical destinations, private jets, and extravagant purchases. All I can think about is all the things I would be able to get rid of. I wouldn’t have to hold on to poorly made clothes because I couldn’t afford nicer ones. I wouldn’t have to stockpile every little thing for fear that if I ever ran out, I wouldn’t be able to buy more. I wouldn’t have anxiety about student loans or car payments or rent or emergency funds. I wouldn’t have to worry.

During my shift I watch customers heap items on my counter. They pick up odds and ends as they stand in line. Hair ties, combs, lip glosses, other things that they might need. A girl buys a bath sponge because it matches the sweater she has on that day. One woman buys camisoles in every color available. Another woman buys five pairs of black leggings. “I’m always losing these things,” she says. I can’t help but think that she might keep better track of them if she limited herself to only one pair. My lifestyle doesn’t look so appealing when I see it on other people.

When I get home I decide not to live in fear. I tear apart my bedroom and find six identical headbands. Why do I have these? In case something happens to the first one. I chuck them in a box. What else do I own just in case? A stack of spiral bound notebooks (in case I go to grad school) go sailing into the box. They are followed by a pack of basic white v-neck tees (in case of stains) and a large duffel bag (in case I take up a sport). I rifle through my closet and pull out a drab stone-colored dress.

In case someone else dies.

In the past four years I’ve worn this dress for four deaths. I wore it to my cousin’s funeral and my aunt’s viewing. I wore it to my friend’s memorial service and my classmate’s tribute. The fabric feels stiff and thick as though it’s been saturated by a buildup of repeated grief. I need this dress. Just like I will always need more bobby pins, or pairs of underwear, or toothbrushes, I will always need this dress, because someone will always die. It occurs to me that a dress cannot prepare me for death. I drop it into the box, pack it up, and take it to Goodwill.

The next day at work I discover that the Powerball has gone down. Three winners in California, Florida, and Tennessee have split the jackpot. No one seems disappointed or fazed. No one really counted on winning. On the sales floor, customers shop as usual. A woman asks for my help detangling a necklace. I focus on the task and hold it up for her when I’m finished. “Thanks,” she smiles. She’s wearing my dress.