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For Connor, Fiona, and Beckett
It was August. For years it was August.
We heard the cicadas all that summer, but their song seemed densest in August. The month that was like thirty-one Sundays stretched end to end to end.
I can't explain it properly, except to say something in Fawn made something in me right again. With her I wasn't the tragic girl who kept her asthma inhaler in her lunch box, who read too much and spent too much time alone and was sad all the time.
Fawn was like a magic potion, a walking, talking human elixir who made everything all right even when it was dead wrong. This is why I couldn't walk away—even when the summer went to shit, when I knew she was tugging me toward absolute disaster, when I knew Fawn would betray me as quick as look at me.
As I handled the pages, an unspoken question seemed to move back and forth between me and the gray faces of my estranged family, and that question was, Who are you?
They had a farmhouse ten miles outside of Bakersfield, which was built by somebody's father's father and looked it. Pocked yellow paint shed itself in long strips. The front porch was hangdog, and sets of four-paned windows pitched in and toward each other like tired eyes. It was a house to be old in, that seemed done-in by simply standing still, holding its bones together.
The house was eerily mute. And I'll confess that what I most wanted at that moment was to ignore the noise and the silence and the dropped-cement-bag feeling in my stomach and disappear down the hall to my room. But I knew things had to go another way, knew it the way we always know when something bad has happened, and that we have to walk toward that bad thing as toward a half-open door in a dream.
She was transferred to a long-term care facility with pee-smelling hallways and pureed-squash dinner hours, where old women sat by windows with wrinkled-fruit skin and white, electrified hair, waiting not for visitors but for the day to be done with already.
She laughed a dark, shrill laugh that alluded to a darker private joke, and then began crying softly and steadily, not so much into her end of the receiver as into Raymond's ear.
He told himself he had no choice. Being born into the same family meant they belonged to each other. No matter how messy things got or how it looked to other people, this was an indestructible fact.
What Fawn did or didn't think of me was to become my principal obsession that summer, so much so that it would fully eclipse and cancel out its reverse: what I thought of her.
Blown-rubber smithereens twitched on the roadside like prehistoric reptiles cast in tar.
I learned to like the way my ears felt flushing from the rims inward when I came in from the cold, and how the forced heat smelled, linty and socklike. How it ticked coming on, and shuddered shutting off, and whirred loudly in the spaces between.
My memories of it were growing more and more remote, as if they were someone else's memories lined up in a slide show and projected on a far-off wall, black-and-white and hopelessly out of focus.
I told Fawn stuff too, though it felt decidedly strange to have someone listening after years of hiding out, scuttling and silent as some underground spy.
I had become an expert at forgetting I even had parents, as if my conception was miraculous or extraplanetary, my birth as clean and controlled as the cracking open of an egglike pod.
I was lying, but that didn't matter. There was a sense of permission with Fawn, that if I kept talking, I'd ultimately arrive at the truth, but if I didn't, that was okay too.
I began to feel I was under construction, that behind this flawed surface—like a plywood facade at a building site—something wonderfully inevitable was happening.
He could see every spill stretching out behind and in front of her—like cartoon drawings brought to life when you flicked your thumb over the corner of a notebook.
And then she was gone again, throwing off the memory of her trouble like the afghan.
Raymond couldn't help but wonder, as the weeks passed with no word, what new drama she was investing herself too deeply in.
In the first years of her life, Suzette was nothing if not precocious.
It was funny, hearing his own words coming back at him, and soon Raymond understood that he didn't need to chide her at all, because she was doing it herself, vocalizing his counsel like a second conscience, an angel on her shoulder.
He was the kind of man who hoarded his words cautiously, and his affections even more so—though no one could call him unkind.
She stood then and ran off across the perfect grass, her signature laugh trailing behind her like a carnival balloon.
Fawn's laugh was becoming as familiar to me as the freckles on the back of my hand.
Fawn had this effect, a moth-to-flame thing. She gave off heat and light, a kind of pleasant buzzing that was not just addictive but catching.
There were no cars out, so we walked down the center of the street, the asphalt ringing hollowly under our sandals. All the way up, as far as I could see, streetlamps receded until they were radiant, haloed toothpicks. The asphalt unfurled toward that end, a gummy black carpet or runway absent of anything that might fly.
They were still about eight feet away, held in place by an invisible but distinct social force field.
I woke up at seven thirty the next morning feeling like someone had whacked me in the head with a shovel and then shoved dirty socks in my mouth.
And that's when something clicked, one abacus bead in my brain coming down against another solidly to deliver this simple math: Collin remembered me, noticed me. He was noticing me now and it felt good, felt like a kind of power.
Later, I knew, the gutters would bake dry, leaving eddy marks in the mud as if they were finger-sculpted there.
And later that evening, as I looked out the front screen at a red-tinged and sinking sun, I thought I could still see Collin there by the mailbox, like a statue. Like something that didn't belong in the yard, in my summer, my world even, but was there nonetheless, tender and solid. Perfectly, magically still.
It probably was fate, Raymond thought later, but not the good kind.
Through the open windows of the houses we passed, we could see the occasional blue rinse of TV light, but most of the world was asleep around us.
But I was soon to learn that all the barriers, nets, and fail-safes I'd always just assumed were in place to keep someone like me from getting into real trouble were purely theoretical.
If anything, what prevailed there and everywhere over the coming weeks was a feeling of permissiveness, of silent and not-so-silent invitation.
I didn't know how old the other guys in the band were. Before the first set, they all seemed haggard and ancient to me, but song by song, the years fell away. They became gods, particularly after my third or fourth cocktail, and then there was only the music, vibrating from amps not ten feet from my head, and the syrupy taste of grenadine on my tongue, and a lovely fading sensation as everything grew edgeless.
And if occasionally I'd catch a glimpse of myself from the outside and not be able to recognize myself, or hear a pale inner voice asking, What are you doing? it was the faintest possible intervention, weak as starlight coming at me from a region of deep space.
She seemed to need a new guy to get over the old one the way addicts needed methadone to get over heroin.
She'd stormed off to her room then, the one she's simply taken over like a claim she'd usurped in the Yukon, ignoring Raymond's markers, his stake. Ignoring the fact of him.
It was as if she'd flipped compulsively forward from the beginning of one story to the beginning of another, and Raymond couldn't read the print of either clearly.
It was good to be out of the city, out of the apartment, but Raymond couldn't escape the confines of his own head long enough to enjoy it, even for the night.
Was he most happy when she was unhappy?
And he realized he hated her, hated something way down at the core of her, a brokeness that imposed itself everywhere, muddying the air wherever she walked and compromising anyone who got anywhere close to her.
In the dark, she looked like some kind of threatened animal.
Holly hovered nearby, smoke from her cigarette surrounding the three like a shredded halo.
Or was she simply, in her drug-hazed state, magnifying the scope of her loyalty to Benny, revising details, changing the arc and heart of her story with him?
There were too many unanswered questions, leaving Raymond feeling as mapless as he ever had with his sister.
She was a pro at hurting herself, over and over. She didn't need his help for that.
The morning was cold, bleary with fog.
Webby strands of light seemed to pulse over the ash-strewn fire pit and the tamped places in the grass where the tents had been the night before, but the tents themselves were gone, as was Leon's bike.
Everything was covered with dew and beautiful as abandoned civilizations are beautiful.
He paced back and forth in front of the muted TV until I thought he might be trying to dig a ditch to throw me into.
He looked at me once hard, as if I made him want to spit, and then he walked away down the hall.
Currents of grief ran through my body, quickening my muscles.
He led me back to the couch where I ducked my head, refusing to look at him, to let him see my need and my shame.
Once Raymond was free of the peninsula, it was a piercingly bright July day, the sun like hard candy.
The fight in the tent she had likely already forgotten—and matter-of-factly, the way children forget, as if her life was a mirror fogged over with her own breath and wiped clean with the edge of her sleeve.
Apparently, her second chances lined up endlessly, senseless ducks at a dime game on the midway.
He'd never been to Nebraska before, and found it unbelievably soothing. There was nothing whatsoever to see—just cornfields and wheat fields and the horizon line. The sky was immense, and under it he was wonderfully insignificant. He slept for twelve hours in a motel near North Platte and then began driving again, letting the flatness pull him on.
If Moline had had more to offer, he might not have begun to think of Suzette at all, but once he did, he couldn't turn the switch off in his head.
He couldn't hang up, and couldn't help feeling, as well, that somehow the planets had realigned themselves or the force of gravity had changed enough that he could be in his sister's place: on the blank end of an anonymous pay phone in a nowhere town.
The next thirty-six hours passed impossibly slowly, the way nightmares do, each moment of anxiety hanging on its fingernails before being replaced by the next.
He thought the first time he'd held Suzette and the last time, how much distance stood between those two moments, how much sadness and cowardice.
In the hospital bed, his sister slept like a broken bird.
He tried to still himself on the spinning world, to hold himself steady by watching a line of green dashes pulse over the face of a machine that was keeping his sister breathing; tried to hold himself above the line of thinking that would surely, if he'd let it, take him down.
He casts back, feeling for the memories between them that matter, for some essence of her, the person he'd known best, had loved more than anyone or anything—but when he does, his mind settles and shifts over an emptiness. It's like trying to gather handfuls of wet yarn. His yearning, his grief collapses on nothing. She's just not there.
Raymond insisted they were trying to protect me, but I didn't feel protected. I felt lied to.
The buildings seemed to whisper a history, to tell of the time before, when people, if not less complicated by nature, at least had fewer choices.
I'd never eaten in a restaurant alone before and it made me feel both grown up and terribly lonely.
I stood on a patch of grass in the square and turned slowly, taking in the panorama, such as it was, the benches and dirty-pewter pigeons, a toddler and his older brother fighting over a white balloon shaped like a rabbit's head, the barbershop with candy-striped pole and jar of combs on the windowsill, pickling in Windex-blue fluid, the parking meters casting big-eared shadows on the sidewalk.
His eyes were kind and his silence even kinder.
Was there anything sadder than starting your life?
I looked at Raymond and then at the window holding as much light as it could bear, and then at my two hands, the way my fingertips just knitted. This was my body, a sink of memory and doubt, a messy but salvageable bridge. A place to begin.(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061340510, Hardcover)
"It was August. For years it was August . . . . There was heat like wet gauze and a high, white sky and music coming from everywhere at once."
In the long, hot Illinois summer of 1973, insecure, motherless Jamie falls under the dangerous spell of her older, more worldly cousin Fawn, who's come to stay with Jamie and her uncle as penance for committing an "unmentionable act." It is a time of awakenings and corruptions, of tragedy and loss, as Jamie slowly discovers the extent to which Fawn will use anything and anyone to further her own ends—and recognizes, perhaps too late, her own complicity in the disaster that takes shape around them.
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:32 -0400)
Mesmerized by her older cousin Fawn, who has been sent to live with Jamie's family after a sex scandal involving a teacher, Jamie agrees to a makeover in order to win Fawn's approval but finds herself torn between her sexually awakened new self and the girl she used to be.… (more)
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