About the Author

Lisa Gabriele

Books by this Author
Tempting Faith Di Napoli
Excerpt

Chapter One

These are the things I remember about the city. The crumbly, brown-bricked houses in our neighborhood were stacked so closely together, I used to pretend when I was four, they were the chipped, rotting teeth lining the mouth of an urban ogre, and the people who lived inside were busy little cavities. It was as though we all lived in the same house. If we were bad and sent to bed early, we could easily peek across the street into the Trevis’ living room and finish watching the TV show with them, guessing at the dialogue.

Privacy was something only rich people enjoyed.

Our house, in Little Italy, shared a wall with the Rossis’ next door, and our clothesline connected with the Pilettis’ behind us. My mother used to say that if one of the neighbors’ houses was swallowed up by hell, we would all be pulled down with them. When I was little, I didn’t understand her jokes, so I would include Mr. Piletti in my prayers, whispering, “Also, God, please make Mr. Piletti stop beating his wife in the face, because Mom says he’s gonna go to hell, which means that so will we.”

In the city, the four of us kids were always together, not just because our house was small and we had no choice, but because when we were small, we weren’t given any. My mother only had one goddamn set of eyes, two hands, for chrissakes, and four bloody kids. So stick together, she’d say, don’t you ever, ever let go of my hand. And don’t let go of each other’s, either, she’d say, or I’ll kill you. There was all that traffic and those perverts and the crowds to contend with. And always a lot left for her to do before the day was out.

In the city, the four of us kids were all the same people. We had the same bodies, the same moods, and the same ideas. For ten years, we had the same parents, who did and said the same things to each other and us. It was the only time in our lives when we could pretend to be like everyone else, which I came to believe was the gift of the city. In the city, it’s difficult to stand out, unless you were like my mother. But her uniqueness was an accident of birth, and completely unintentional, which was true with us, too, but we just didn’t realize it at the time.

I remember being small enough that the first things I saw when my mom entered the room were her dirty pink slippers. I got bigger and it was her knees, scabbed and puckered. Then bigger, and there’s me grabbing her macramé belt and my little brother’s hand as we’d scramble across a busy street because my mother was the type who never crossed at the lights.

Then, church became my measuring stick. At first I couldn’t kneel, as I wouldn’t be able to see Father Pete or the pretty hats. Then my chin fit perfectly over the back of the pew in front of me. Soon after, all the prayers and songs were in my head, permanently, despite the fact that I don’t remember anyone putting them there on purpose. I don’t know how old I was when I realized I could not legally marry Jesus, but one day it, too, became something I knew for a fact.

In the city, buildings got built around us or torn down. Nothing ever seemed finished. And unlike God on the seventh day, no one stood back from the city and said, “There, I’m done.” But after our seventh year in the city, our neighborhood began to treat my mother like it was done with her. When that happens, I’ve learned, there’s nothing left to do but leave.

My mother told me that ever since she was little she knew she was going to have four kids. All boys. Other people are born with moles or left-handedness, but my mother said she was born with the knowledge that she would have four boys. For proof, she showed us her high school yearbook. Under her graduation picture, next to “Future Plans,” it says, “Mother to the Four Tops (only white).” Someone had written next to it: “Sure, Nan, we’ll see about that. [Signed] Johnny Mathis.”

My mother’s name was Nancy Maria Franco.

Back then, Johnny Mathis and being Catholic were her hobbies. In fact, she came up with the names for her four boys in Sunday school: Matthew, Mark, Luke, then John–to be called Johnny, because of her favorite singer. It was there, in Sunday school, that she first fell in love with a boy. Also, in Sunday school, she got into deep religious debates with her younger sister, my auntie Linda, about who was a sexier Jesus, Max von Sydow or Jeffrey Hunter. This debate continued well into my own childhood, my mother sometimes opting for the Jesus on my Bible, who looked to be a calmer type of hippie, and not like the long-haired American kids we’d see dancing naked on the TV. My mother would watch them for a second, roll her eyes, and switch the channel. Though she was around the same age as they were, she always said, “Know who has time to be a hippie? Bored, rich people, that’s who. And me, I’m neither.”

One of the first stories I memorized about my mother was how she met my dad. It was at her church, Most Precious Blood. Grandpa had forced my mother and her sister to attend Italian mass, after the both of them slept through the earlier English one. They had been out late the night before, celebrating Auntie Linda’s eighteenth birthday. My mom noticed the back of my dad’s head, liked his black curly hair, and the way he swayed during hymns. My auntie Linda noticed that my dad kept turning around to stare at my mother.

After the service, the church was holding the annual Giovanni Caboto Day picnic. Normally they never went, but to spite my grandpa, my mother and my aunt stayed and mingled with the other Italians. Someone whispered to my mom that my dad and his family had come from a particularly war-torn part of Italy. The DiNapolis, they said, arrived with almost nothing except the clothes on their back and nobody spoke very much English, even though they’d been in this country for more than a year. My mom was Italian, too, but in name only. She never learned to speak a word of the language, because what for? This is not the Old Country, my grandpa Franco would say. His own family had left Italy a thousand million years earlier, so my mother’s only Italian legacy was a vowel at the end of her name. And as her father continually pointed out, nobody gave them a thing when they moved here. Nothing. Sure, my mother’s mother, when she was alive, cooked spaghetti, but she served it with Ragú. She used vegetable oil, never olive oil, as it was too expensive. Same with prosciutto. Baloney was good enough. And she passed these fine family traditions down to her two Italian-in-name-only daughters.

My aunt said when my mother finally spoke to my dad, she knew those two would marry. But she knew it in a bad way. A way that made her nauseous and hot-faced. My mother felt the same and told my aunt that she had to sit down a lot while they were dating. Everyone was nice to my dad when he started to come around, but Auntie Linda was disappointed in my mother. Not that she didn’t want her sister to fall in love and have children, but not right now, with this all-wrong man. He was a construction worker, not a businessman. He lived with his parents, and he hadn’t learned to drive.

The bank where my aunt and my mother had just started to work was on the bottom floor of the second tallest building in downtown Detroit. But the big plans the two sisters had had about moving into the very tallest one simply began to vanish.

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The Almost Archer Sisters
Excerpt

Chapter One

Until she left the farm for good, I never thought much about what made me different from my sister, what set me apart from her beyond our looks, beyond her hair color (unnatural blond) and mine (unremarkable brown), her body type (tall, thin) and mine (neither). She had always been fickle where I had been firm – mean to my kind. She shone brighter than me, for sure, but sometimes painfully so, like the way the sun hurts to look at when you have a head cold.

But it wasn’t until I left the farm years later that another difference made itself clear: unlike with Beth, men had mostly been good to me; it was women who broke my heart. First our mother, then Beth.

I was almost sixteen the morning she left Lou and me for school in New York, her packing so purposeful that the whole house seemed windy with her escape. As I watched her, my slippered feet swinging off the side of her bed, I don’t remember thinking that I’d never leave myself. I hadn’t planned to stay forever in the same house, town, and country in which I was born. Do stayers do that? Do we toddle around as babies, then children, then teenagers, fingering the chipped Formica, the cat-mangled armchairs, the muggy drapes, thinking, I’m pretty sure this old house and these burnt fields are as good as it’s ever going to get for me, think I’ll stay? I didn’t do that. That’s not how it happened.

“Throw me that belt, Peach,” Beth said, half-awake, sipping coffee Lou had carried upstairs on a tray. “Dammit, I hate my clothes. I’m gonna have to steal some new outfits.”

“Go ahead. Dad says you’re old enough to go to jail now and he won’t bail you out this time.”

She gave me an arch look.

“Want these?” She excavated her roller skates from the bowels of her closet and was holding them up in her clothespinned fingers. “Can’t be bombing around campus in these. Or can I? Maybe that could be a cool way of getting around. Short shorts. Maybe a little felt cap?”

I could picture it too, Beth on the way to class roller-skating backward, wearing her Walkman.

“Nah, on second thought, they’re stinky and old. You have them,” she said, gently tossing them with the rest of her castoffs engulfing me on the bed. That’s how Beth parted with things. Even then, I was aware that in order for Beth to let go of something she had to convince herself that she had never wanted it to begin with.

“How about this?” she asked, pressing her long silver prom dress to my shoulders. It was an unsettlingly grown-up gown, a mermaid-style confection she had daringly paired with hippy-type sandals and rows of leather bracelets on her upper arms. Beth had also brought an actual grown-up to the gala, a twenty-four-year-old professional hockey player with a drinking problem and an ex-wife. “Maybe someone will ask you next year if you put down a book and put on some lipstick. And if they do, Peachy, go, okay?”

Prom night had turned into a lost weekend for Beth, during which time we received no fewer than a dozen phone calls from her date’s ex, threatening murder. As for me, I’d spend my own prom night with Lou, coaxing a wounded raccoon out from underneath the porch. We had seen it get hit by a car on the highway, had watched it quickly amble to the farmhouse, ducking under a break in the lattice. For days Lou hunkered under the house to move the flashlight across its face to see if the raccoon’s eyes reflected back at him. I would periodically place sardines on the end of my field hockey stick and wave it in front of its nose, pleading with it to take a bite, Just a bite, come on, please?
Poor thing took four days to die. We buried it in a laundry bag by the willow stump that served as the farm’s morbidly crowded animal cemetery. Maybe because of the encroaching subdivisions and widening highways, the farm became a kind of last-stop refuge for these luckless creatures, a place where the wounded could get a bit of comfort before dying. And I became, like Lou, a talented cheerleader for those who’d arrive at our doorstep on their last legs.

Beth took a dusty, unframed picture of our mother off a high shelf, its edges curled from resting slumped in a corner. In it Nell’s on a beach shielding her eyes from the sun, the other hand holding up three fingers – the number of months she was pregnant with Beth. On the back someone had scribbled “Santa Cruz ’71.” I wish I could say Beth became mournfully reflective. I would like to have remembered that moment as one infused with tender sadness over our mother’s death, one of the few things we shared. But instead Beth flung it in my direction like a Frisbee.

“Want this?”

Before I could answer, Lou struck a knuckle on her doorjamb, the dog peeking around his legs with endearing curiosity. Scoots had long given up entering Beth’s room alone. It had been off-limits to him since he was introduced to us a year earlier, when even he seemed to sense Beth’s ambivalence toward anything cute or kind. She wasn’t a cooer or a petter, so Lou’s attempt to use a puppy to keep his errant oldest closer to home had failed miserably. In fact, that’s how he got his name, from Beth kicking him away from her, saying, “Scoot, dog. Get out of here. Stop licking my feet.”

“Your ride called,” Lou said. “I’m gonna go meet them.”

At orientation a month earlier Beth had met a girl from Leamington whose parents were also sending her to school in New York to study fashion and design. They offered to bring Beth over the border with them in their big pickup truck with the passenger cab, but it meant she’d be limited to two boxes and two suitcases. The rest Lou and I would have to ship.

Beth gave them directions to the Starlite, the convenience store in the center of town. It was easy to find; the farm wasn’t. We knew how to get ourselves home, but when we had trouble guiding people over the train tracks, past the highway, over two county roads and several concessions, it was best to just send them to the store, where one of us would drive the ten minutes to fetch them. The store used to dazzle Beth. Its clean neon sign and plain white stucco exterior belied a busy inside; narrow aisles with saggy metal shelves were stuffed with loud metallic bags of junk food, sewing supplies, kitchen utensils, and cheap games and toys made in foreign countries. It was a place crowded with choices and Beth loved it. And for a long time our mother could use a trip to the Starlite to get her to behave in a hurry. But after our mother died, the toys began to look used and poor to Beth, the doll’s hair plugs apparent through the dusty plastic, their stenciled eyes and mouths misaligned and kind of menacing. Soon after, Lou’s own promises to stop at the Starlite were greeted by bored sighs and blank stares out the car window.

Lou moved sheepishly about the house looking for his keys, all of us aware that political stubbornness was the only thing preventing him from driving Beth to New York himself.

Lou hadn’t stepped foot in the United States in almost eighteen years, not since arriving on Canadian shores as a welcome draft dodger and proud coward. But Beth didn’t seem to mind that morning. I had often wondered if her love affair with America wasn’t partly fueled by the knowledge that her shabby kin couldn’t, or in my case, wouldn’t, follow her there.

“Okay, gals, be back in ten!” he yelled, the front door slamming behind him.

“I think that’s it,” Beth said, surveying the room, fists at her hips. Then she plopped down next to me on a bed piled high with her past. “Peachy, I need to tell you something, okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, shrugging my shoulders up to my ears, bracing myself against potential poignancy. It wasn’t that we weren’t close, but her adolescence had left me battle-weary. Discussions about periods, orgasms, heartbreaks, and hangovers had always been completely one-sided and uncomfortably forthcoming.

Beth took a deep breath.

“Okay. In that box,” she said, pointing to one of four we’d be shipping, “is several thousand dollars’ worth of high-grade marijuana. A kind of mix between local skunk and Holland white widow that I’ve been growing out back behind the barn all summer. It’s been properly dried and wrapped in plastic. Then I sealed the bundles in some coffee tins I’ve been hoarding. If the border police find it, you could go to jail. But I’m ninety-five percent certain that they won’t. So no worries. And I’ll take the rap. That is, if they find me. But just make sure those boxes are completely sealed, okay? And make sure you ship them after me as soon as possible, today even, because I know how you and Lou procrastinate about going into town for errands. You guys put things off. I don’t want to wait two weeks for them. I need that box, Peachy. You understand what I’m telling you, right?”

During the cruel five seconds that passed before she burst into her wicked laughter – the kind that bent her completely forward onto her hands and knees on the floor of a bedroom we’d leave exactly as she left it – I actually pictured a SWAT team pulling up our long gravel driveway, brandishing rifles.

“Holy shit, Peachy, you should have seen your face! Oh my God, you kill me you are so fucking naïve.”

I punched the side of her arm hard.

“Ow!”

“Jesus, Beth. You are such a bitch! Why do you do that to me?”

“Oh my God,” she said, panting for air and rubbing the spot where I hit her. “Because I can.

We heard Lou’s Jeep turn into the driveway, followed by the Leamington family’s tires hitting the gravel. At a honk we sprang up and began to gather her things. Beth giggled as she loaded my shoulders with her carry-on and her knapsack. Lou appeared in the doorway with his sleeves rolled up over his downy white forearms. Beth hoisted one of the two smaller boxes she was bringing with her and pointed with a foot to the other one. Lou and I formed the not-so-reluctant caravan following her down the stairs, out the front door, across the porch, and into the cool August dawn.

Introductions were short and vague. The rich girl’s father began to ask Lou about the kind of crops growing on the acres that lushly surrounded our farmhouse. Before Lou could tell him they weren’t our crops, that much of the remaining land was leased after the outside acres had been sold to pay for Beth’s tuition, Beth swatted us back and away, far from the truck to make our private, awkward goodbye.

“Okay. So. I guess this is it,” she said, hooking an arm around Lou’s broad shoulders then mine. They were exactly the same height, both a full head taller than I. “I’ll call you when I get settled, Lou. And I’ll see you at Thanksgiving. The American one.”

“Well, my love,” Lou said, his blue eyes watered down with genuine tears. “We will miss you oh so much, you know?”

“Aw,” she said, cocking her head as though Lou had merely been her kindly landlord for seventeen years and not the man whose last name she shared, who had sold most of his property to pay for her dreams.

“I’ll miss you too, Beth. A little,” I said, still bruised by her prank. I tried hard to catch up to Lou’s emotions, to muster up at least a hint of something sad around my eyes, but I couldn’t. It’s not that I wouldn’t miss her, but in the weeks and months before her departure I was becoming curious about what life would be like on a Beth-less farm and in what direction I might grow if I ever got out from under her dense shadow. I had plans. University, and then the purchase of a car perhaps. I wanted to grow out my bangs, read in peace without Beth snatching my books and lobbing them across the room if she wanted my attention. Perhaps I’d visit Nana Beecher in Florida. Nothing dramatic. But plans nonetheless.

“Oh, you will miss me. Believe me, Peach. You just don’t know it yet,” she said.

And that was it. She was gone. I did the walk and wave, following the heavy truck backing out of the driveway, later joining Lou on the porch, where we watched the sun come all the way out, the two of us sipping coffees on Nana Beecher’s wicker chairs. It was so quiet the air felt tinged with religion. Still, we wasted no time in reminiscing, both of us laughing loud and hard at Beth’s pot prank.

“Oh, man,” Lou said, exhaling with a whistle, “you can call Beth Ann Archer a lot of things, but you can’t say she isn’t funny. That’s funny, Peach.”

“I know. I walked right into it too,” I said, shaking my head.

“Always do.”

“I know it.”

We took in some more silence.

“You need to check that box though,” Lou said, taking a sip of coffee, “before we send it.”

“Already did,” I said, leaning back to click his cup with mine. I left out the part about cutting open the box and finding a sealed envelope resting on top of a pile of sweaters, my real name, “Georgia,” printed in Beth’s neat scroll. Inside was a note.
Gotcha! I suppose I deserve it. I haven’t been all that trustworthy lately. Anyway, Miss Georgia Peach, I just wanted to tell you that I love you more than monkeys, mountains, or the moon, because I probably won’t be able to say it to you in person before I go. Be good. Or at least be gooder than me. XXOO Beth.
I placed the picture of Nell in the envelope and resealed the box. Later, Lou and I drove into town to ship them.

Over the next few years, while Beth pledged passionate allegiance to a flag he hated, Lou refurbished a silver Airstream trailer and turned it into a hair salon he parked out back near the river. While Beth made out with strapping models in crimson darkrooms, married instructors in dim hotel rooms, and one Korean lesbian on a dare, I lost my virginity to seedy Dougie Beauchamp after a high school rock concert and some beer in a parked car. While Beth financed her first trip to the couture shows in Milan by taking a summer job selling ecstasy for an overleveraged bond trader, I began studying for a glamorous career in social work, chosen because Beth always said I was a good listener, a great helper, her favorite sidekick, and, like her, I should try to make a living at whatever came naturally to me.

So I began the daily commute to the university to study the art and science of helping people help themselves. There I would learn how to negotiate the psychological landmines of longing and loathing, and to dissect how families can easily fall into the throes of violence, poverty, and addiction. It was hard work, but I often felt like I’d be embarking upon something necessary, noble even, after graduation. So I acted smug rather than jealous when Beth called to say she had landed a high-paying job dressing vapid celebrities for national television. Sure, I would have liked to have gone to Rome or Paris on a press junket, and I wouldn’t have said no to meeting a movie star or eating a five-hundred-dollar meal. But I comforted myself with the knowledge that it was more important to help people be good than look good. Unlike several of my classmates, I actually read my expensive textbooks cover to cover, highlighting the parts I would later memorize, making it a priority to put a dent in the suggested readings list between the extra courses taken in an attempt to graduate a little earlier. Because Lou was right – managing the lives of the less fortunate felt like a thing I was born to do. I saw my name, Georgia Archer, before it was caboosed by Laliberté, with a B.S.W. on the end, followed perhaps by an M.S.W., and still later a Ph.D., because you never know. And I wanted it – really meant it – all the way up to the day I quit school, six credits shy of my degree, and a few months after the nicest guy in town knocked me up and married me at twenty.

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The Winters
Excerpt

One
Last night Rebekah tried to murder me again. It had been a while since I'd had that dream, not since we left Asherley, a place I called home for one winter and the bitterest part of spring, the dream only ever recurring when Max was gone and I'd find myself alone with Dani.

As always, the dream begins with Asherley in the distance, shining from afar in a bright clearing. There is no greenhouse, nor boathouse, just a stand of red canoes stabbed into the pebbly beach. In fact, the Asherley of my dream looks more like it might have back in its whaling days, when from the highest turret you could still spot tall ships dotting Gardiners Bay.

Overpowered by the urge to be inside the house again, I pass easily through the thicket of forest that surrounds the property. I want so badly to wander its wood-paneled halls, to feel its plush red carpets beneath my bare feet, to move my fingers in the play of sun through the stained-glass windows, but an invisible force keeps me out. I'm relegated to the bay, where I float like a sad specter, made to watch those who still haunt Asherley act out the same strange pantomime.

I can see Max, my Max, relaxing on an Adirondack, one in a line like white teeth dotting the silvery-green lawn. He's reading a newspaper, framed by the majestic spread of Asherley behind him, its walls of gray stones, its crowd of terra-cotta peaks, its dentils studded with carved rosettes, anchored by the heavy brow of its deep stone porch. Every lamp in every room of the house is lit. A fire roars in every fireplace. The circle of windows at the top of the high turret burns like a sentinel over the bay, as though the house were about to put on a great show for me.

I call for Max but he can't hear me. I want to go to him, to touch his face, to smell his hair, to fit my shoulder under his arm, our sides pressed together. My throat feels strangled with that longing.

On cue, she strides out the back door, carefully balancing a tray of lemonade. She's wearing a white lace dress with a red sash, her blond hair glinting in the sun, her face so eerily symmetrical she'd almost be odd-looking except for the singular perfection of each and every one of her features. Here is Rebekah making her way down to Max, changing her gait to accommodate the steep slope of the back lawn. Now Dani bolts from the house behind her, laughing, her chubby legs charging straight for the water and for me. She's three, maybe four, her hair, far too long for a child, is the same white blond as her mother's. I often wish I could have met Dani when she was this young and unformed. Things might have been very different between us.

My body instinctively thrusts forward to catch the girl, to prevent her from running too far into the bay and drowning.

Rebekah yells, "Be careful, sweetheart," which Max repeats. She puts the tray down. From behind, she wraps her arms around Max's shoulders and warmly kisses his neck. He places a reassuring hand on her forearm. They both watch as Dani splashes in the shallow water, screaming and laughing, calling, "Look at me, I can swim."

Then, as she always does in the dream, Rebekah becomes the only one who spots me bobbing in the bay, too near her daughter for her liking. She straightens up and walks towards the water, stalking me like a lion not wanting to disturb its prey. Still in her dress, she wades into the water, moving past a frolicking, oblivious Dani, until we are finally face-to-face. Her eyes narrow, forming that familiar dimple over her left brow.

I try to flee but my legs are useless.

"Who are you?" she asks. "You don't belong here."

Rebekah's mouth is close enough to kiss, a woman I'd seen in hundreds of photos, whose every contour I'd memorized, whose every expression I'd studied and sometimes unconsciously mimicked in my darker days, when my obsession was most acute and I had no idea how to live at Asherley, how to be a wife to Max, or a friend to Dani.

"I do belong here. She needs me," I say, pointing to Dani, my impudence surprising even me. I try to move but my feet are rooted in the sand below, arms floating beside me like weeds.

"She doesn't need you," Rebekah says, placing her hands on my shoulders in a reassuring manner. "She needs her mother."

Then she rears back slightly. Using all of her weight, Rebekah shoves me under the waves with a sudden violence, flooding my vision with air bubbles. I fight for the surface, to scream for Max to help me, but she's stronger than me, her hands a vise on my shoulders, her arms steely and rigid. In my dream, she's not angry. Rebekah kills me slowly and methodically, not with hate or fear. She's being practical. I am channeling vital resources away from her, rerouting Dani's feelings, altering Max's fate. My murder is conducted with dispassion and efficiency. And though I don't want to die, I can't imagine going on like this either, careful of my every move, looking over my shoulder, afraid to touch anything, break anything, love anything, worried his past will surface again and ruin what I've worked so hard for, what we've worked so hard for. Her task complete, my body painlessly dissolves into the waves and I disappear. I am dead and made of nothing. I am gone.

I woke up gasping for air, my hand at my throat. I kept reminding myself that everything is okay, we are okay, that we are alive and she is dead, cursing the fact that the dream had followed us here, our last stop, I hoped, for a good long while.

***
 
My back ached when I stretched that morning, unfamiliar beds the only downside to our decision to travel for the rest of the year to shake loose the recent tragedies. We found it helped to establish a routine. I would get up first and make us breakfast, for we only stayed in places with kitchens, a homemade meal the best way to start our wide-open days. We tried not to think too much about the past, about Asherley. It was gone, along with all of its secrets. We were building new memories, creating new stories, ones we might find ourselves telling new friends one day, finishing each other's sentences, saying, No, you go, you tell it. No, you-you tell it better.

Mostly our days were languid; sometimes I'd plan a museum tour or we'd take a long drive past ruins. Our nights were spent reading rather than watching TV, sharing the couch even if armchairs were available, our toes gently touching. There were few conflicts, though I was no longer naive enough to believe two people as different as we were, who'd spent as much time together as we had, would never bicker. But the truth was we were still getting to know each other.

Waiting for the omelet to thicken, I poked my head into the bedroom, resisting the urge to caress that thatch of dark hair that I had come to love in a quiet, calm way, a marked difference from how I loved just a short while ago. Hard to believe it had been less than a year since I'd met Max Winter, a man whose love seized me by the shoulders and shook me out of a state of dormancy, and who ushered in another emotion I had yet to meet in my young life: jealousy, the kind that grows like kudzu, vining around the heart, squeezing all the air out, fusing with my thoughts and dreams, so that by the time I understood what was happening to me it was almost too late.

I carefully closed the bedroom door, padded across the cool tile floors of the living area, with its dark armoires and overstuffed armchairs, and threw open the musty blackout curtains. I stepped barefoot onto the hot stone terrace, the sun so bright it hurt my eyes. In the distance, warm air steamed off the sea. From below, I could hear the Spanish-speaking shopkeepers already arguing over sidewalk space, and I was gut-punched by long-ago memories of a mother who sang to me in her mother's language and a father with sunburned shoulders, pulling fish out of the sea, their silver bodies violently jackknifing on the scarred deck of the boat we once lived on, our sleeping quarters the size of the smallest pantry you could find at Asherley. I could have fainted from an old grief. Here they were again, coming at me from afar, watery mirages of the people who once loved me, and I them, their long shadows cast by a low morning sun.

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