About the Author

Jessica Raya

Books by this Author
Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit

This will probably come as a surprise to many, but not once in all the time that I knew her did Carol Closter ask me if I believed in God. She simply assumed I did, the way I once assumed that everyone listened to the Carpenters. Which isn't to say that I didn't believe in God, only that I didn't believe in Carol's God. Back then, my God was a sort of Santa Claus, a kindly robed hippie who went around granting good grades and sweet-sixteen convertibles. But, like I said, in the two years that I knew her, Carol Closter never asked and I never offered. If I reached spiritual enlightenment by listening to "We've Only Just Begun" over and over until my mom pleaded with me to please, please, please stop before she threw herself off the roof, well, that was nobody's business but mine. We've only just begun to live / white lace and promises. I'm sure the Bible has some catchy lines, but God's no Karen and Richard. My dad's favourite line: We're all just one bad decision away from disaster. You won't find it in a Carpenters song. That one was pure Jim Fisher.
     "We're all just one bad decision away from disaster." This was the epilogue to every story about another poor sap who'd gotten himself maimed or blinded or worse. Jim Fisher sold insurance, and being a man who didn't know how to talk to children, including his one and only daughter, he spoke to me as he would a client, spouting the facts of life, death, and dismemberment the way other men did baseball scores. Being a girl who didn't know how to talk to men, especially her one and only father, I listened, my tender mind whirring to catalogue these catastrophes under Bad Things That Happen to Other People. I grew up knowing that more toddlers drowned in backyard pools like ours than in the canal that split our town in two. I knew my chances of choking on a hot dog or slipping in the tub. For years, I thought "stop, drop, and roll" was a game all families played. My mom thought this kind of talk would frighten me. I thought his knowledge of the world's secret workings would keep us safe. So I kept my dolls mummified in bubble wrap and cut my hot dogs into bite-sized pieces and waited for my Barbie Dreamhouse life to take shape. 
     By the time I met Carol Closter I'd stopped worrying about the kinds of things you can insure yourself against. I was fourteen years old at the start of 1971, and as far as I could tell each new day was another chance to completely screw up my life in ways my dad couldn't even imagine. What was a little earthquake or electrocution compared to the daily hazards of high school? Anyway, by then the man was living in a pool. He was hardly in a position to be offering advice.
     I used to blame Neil Armstrong. The night he walked on the moon, my family had camped in front of the television like the rest of the country. It was July 1969, and some of us still believed the stars had all the answers. Mom had bitten her Patti nails and wept quietly. She wasn't one of those mothers who cried all the time. When Nixon was sworn into office, girls at school said their mothers had blubbered like babies. Mine had turned off the TV and gone to bed with a headache. My mom was from Canada and Canadians couldn't vote. If my history textbooks were right, Canadians didn't do much of anything. She probably cried on the night of the moon landing because she realized nobody from her country would ever step foot off this planet. My dad, on the other hand, was one hundred per cent American. He sat quietly gripping the arms of his favourite chair as if he was sitting up there in the Lunar Module between Buzz and Neil. When Old Glory was planted in Swiss cheese, Dad stood and saluted the set. "Well, how about that?" he said. "How about that." Then he picked up a throw pillow and took his own earth-bound steps through the sliding doors. He spent the rest of the night outside on a lounge chair, gazing up at Neil's moon. The next night he was there again, wrapped up in an old sleeping bag. By September, he'd claimed the thin mattress of the pool house cot. One small step for man, one giant leap for Jim Fisher.

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