novel

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.