Multigenerational

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Broken Strings
Excerpt

The bell sounded. People jumped to their feet and gathered their things.
“And don’t forget there’s a unit test on Friday!” Mr. Herman, our math teacher, called out over the noise.
A collective groan rose up from the class. Some people started to argue for a postponement till Monday to give them more time to study. On any other day I would have stuck around and joined in the argument. But not today. Today I needed to get out of the classroom as fast as I could. I had something more important to think about than a math test. I threw my books into my bag and joined the crowd funneling out of the room. I’d gone only a few steps when I almost bumped into Natasha, my best friend. She flashed me a big smile. Smiling was the last thing on my mind.
“Are you ready, Shirli?” Natasha asked.
“No!”
“We don’t have to go,” she said. “We could go to the mall, get a soda instead, maybe buy something.”
“And just not look at the cast list?” I asked.
“It’ll still be there tomorrow.”
“Tash, I’ve waited all week. Do you really think I can wait another day?”
She flashed that smile again. “Patience is a virtue.”
“This coming from you, the least patient person I know?” I asked.
“Okay, you’re right, and I was just joking. Let’s go and look.”
The hallway was packed, and it felt as if we were salmon fighting our way upstream. We were the largest junior high in New Jersey, but the building didn’t seem big enough to hold all 1,600 of us who called this place our home away from home. We squirmed and shuffled our way forward.
“You know you have nothing to worry about,” Natasha said.
“Thanks. Neither do you.”
“Oh, I’m not worried, Shirli. You know that.”
Natasha and I had been friends, and pretty much inseparable, since third grade—like two peas in a pod, or peanut butter and jam. But there was a big difference between us. Natasha had never been in a school show before. In fact, she had only tried out this time because I’d practically dragged her to the auditions. It really didn’t matter to her whether she got a part or not. The problem was that for me it mattered way too much.
“Ms. Ramsey really likes you,” she pointed out. I knew she was trying to reassure me.
“She likes everybody,” I said.
“It’s more than that. I think she sees herself when she looks at you.”
I laughed. “Like she’s looking in some sort of fun-house mirror?”
Ms. Ramsey was our drama teacher. She was in her early thirties but looked a lot younger. She was blond and slim and moved in this slinky, smooth way like someone who’d had years of dance training. We couldn’t have been more different in appearance, but I guess I had the same way of moving, thanks to my own dance classes.
“I didn’t mean the way you two look,” Natasha continued. “Ms. Ramsey is so beautiful.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“Come on, you know what I mean. You’re really pretty, but not like her. You look more like me!”
Well, true, we did look a lot alike, even though my family was eastern European and Jewish, and Natasha’s was Portuguese and Catholic. But where the heck was this going?
“I mean she sees you as being talented like her.”
“Thanks, Tash.” Now that was a compliment.

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The Painting
Excerpt

CLAIRE
I was cold. I struggled up through a dream of long white corridors and breaking glass into my freezing bedroom, which was filled with the white light of the full moon. An icy Atlantic breeze inched its way through the gaps in the window frame and slithered around my bed.
I jumped up, ran to the trunk in the corner and hauled out a red woolen blanket. As I turned to get back in bed, the moon pulled at me, and I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders and sat down in the big stuffed armchair. The glowing disc of the moon spilled light in a wide path across the water.
The beacon from the lighthouse flashed over the silver sea, a steady rhythm, every five seconds. Like a heartbeat. Like a drum.
“Annie,” I whispered. “Where are you?”

ANNIE
The first time I had the dream was the night of Mom’s accident. The house was quiet. A stillness spread out from my parents’ room.
I lay there for a long time, listening. The curtains were open and a full, silvery moon shone in the window, as bright as a streetlight. Its beam fell on the painting of a Newfoundland lighthouse opposite my bed. It looked different than it did in daylight, transformed by the moonlight into black and white, with sharper outlines and deeper shadows.
A white seabird with black-tipped wings swooped across the dark clouds—I blinked. For just a second I thought I had actually seen the bird moving across the painted surface. I sat up. As I watched, another bird leaped forward and dived into the silver ocean with a splash.
“Annie!” called a faraway voice. I scrambled out of bed.
“Annie!” called the voice again. There was something familiar about it, but it wasn’t coming from downstairs, nor from my parents’ bedroom down the hall. I turned and stared at the painting. I took a step toward it. Now I could see more details: patches of wildflowers by the side of the road leading to the lighthouse, a few sheep grazing on the hill, lights glowing behind the windows of the keeper’s house.
Suddenly the blades of grass in the foreground trembled. A wave passed through the meadow grasses. Then another. I felt a gust of wind on my face, and a wild, unfamiliar smell filled the room. I could taste salt on my lips and I could hear the seabirds crying as they swooped across the sky.
“Annie!” cried the voice again. “Come!”
I took a step forward.
Then I was inside the painting, standing on the road to the lighthouse, with a surprised sheep raising its head to stare at me and the dark ocean stretching away as far as I could see.

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