I begged to use the carriage but my mother refused and so we walked into town. Jane carried a sack full of other empty sacks, and Isabelle and I trotted alongside. We had tried to bring our swords but my mother wouldn’t let us do that, either.
From the little road that connected the manor to the main road we could see the whole of Bungay, and a couple of other towns that appeared as brown smudges in the distance. At more-or-less random places in the grass sunlight glinted off the river, which must have been terribly curvy to appear in so many places at once. Small boats sailed up and down, and where the river was hidden by the meadows it appeared as if the boats were sailing across grass.
I had expected the market to be something small and shameful, but instead the heart of town was a riot of activity. On one end was a mass of people selling butter, and on the far end a similar mass selling flour, and in between was a jumble of voices and clanging and singing and shouting. The only difference between this market and the one I knew from home was the absence of street children; the few children I saw here were all busy.
Continue reading “Chapter 8: Julian”
My father grew up in a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a six-story building on Jane Street in Greenwich Village. The apartment had been purchased by his father in 1944, and nobody was ever able to explain how a Steinway Vertegrand ended up in the living room. It had come with the apartment, and the sole attempt to remove it, sometime in the early 1950s, led to the discovery that while it could fit just fine through the front door, there wasn’t enough room in the hallway to turn it around so it could go down the stairs. Some giant could probably lift it over the railing and onto the stairs, but between our landing and the exit to Jane Street there were seven hairpin turns, and the piano would have to go up and over the railings each time.
The potential buyer had his money returned and the piano was shoved back into its space, where it was covered with muslin and used to display pictures and houseplants in front of the window that didn’t lead to the fire escape.
Continue reading “The Girl With the Flaxen Hair”
By the end they were in her dreams, too. She felt herself taken along by a warm current, a tug that seemed to come from inside of her somehow, first playful but then urgent and frightening, and finally a hard surge that forced her farther into the limitless blue void. At first she felt free, and the ocean carried her like an expecting mother; then her throat closed in terror and her muscles from her legs to her chest clenched tight and the sea dragged her down to the cold darkness of the Leviathan.
Zolzaya woke with a start and gripped the sheets hard enough that her fingers hurt. She still felt the swells even though her eyes insisted that she was home in her bed. All of her muscles, even her jaw and her toes, were clenched.
She had to make a decision, and in the still clarity of the early morning she forced herself to draw a deep, burning breath and decide.
With trembling legs she rose from her bed and got dressed, not at all calm but still somehow reassured. Her fingers shook as she buttoned her shirt. They’d been shaking for days, she realized as she looked at them. Bones rattling under thin skin. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and got started.
Continue reading “Zolzaya and the Apple Thieves”
Alan Smalky, ten years old and sporting a fresh sunburn on his cheeks and shoulders, came in through the back door with a juice box he had taken from the cooler on the deck. Lanky and graceless, a bit of a mouth-breather, he came into the living room and plopped down on the armchair near the sofa.
Jonathan Smalky was on the couch, not watching the news on TV and not reading the paper on his phone at the same time. His wife Karen was curled up next to him with her head resting on his thigh, either half-asleep or trying to be. At this time of year the sunlight poured onto the couch for a few hours in the early afternoon, and it was rare for them to be able to sit and enjoy it together.
Neither one noticed their son’s presence for a few minutes, and since he wasn’t doing anything to draw attention to himself they didn’t feel any particular need to acknowledge him, either, but eventually the child’s continued silence became a provocation in itself so Jonathan mumbled something that sounded vaguely parental. Even a second later he couldn’t remember what he’d said, but it was enough to prompt Karen to try again.
“Where’s your sister?” she asked dreamily without opening her eyes. It was a question that implied a command: “Go play with her, leave us alone.”
Alan didn’t answer her. He just burst into tears, and his parents’ pleasant afternoon came to an abrupt end.
Continue reading “The Children’s Empire”
During a period in my life that I refer to as my Second Lost Period (like most sequels, it was longer, more expensive, and less interesting that the sweet and almost romantic First Lost Period), I spent a few long nights-and-into-the-early-mornings reading Trotsky’s autobiography, which some helpful Communists had posted online in its entirety.
(As an aside, last year I accidentally dove down an Internet rabbit hole of conspiracy theories from the 1950s and 60s, and for the next two weeks the ads in my browser seemed tailored to a budding domestic terrorist, which was a bit frightening. My insomniac dabbling in Trotskyism was done in a comparatively more innocent time. But I digress.)
All these years later I can remember clearly lying on my bed and reading off the screen and thinking to myself, “Nobody will ever want to read a book on a computer screen,” but of the text itself I can only remember one very minor anecdote tucked away near the end of the book. More than any of his screeds against the oppressor or nostalgia for the excitement of birthing a new world order, this short aside struck me and stuck with me.
Continue reading “On the dust tossed away by the sweep of history”
Sing to me, Muse, of the anger of Daniela, and how she raged in the dark at her alarm clock, which did not sit upon the sacred throne of her nightstand but was instead held captive in exile on the dresser all the way on the other side of the room, the first misstep in an ill-conceived plan to seize the day and get out of bed before the sun came up, instead of waiting until she desperately needed to use the bathroom, get a drink, or both.
Tell me, Goddess, how she cursed Zeus and Thor and Ra and the whole pantheon of gods and heroes as she sprinted barefoot across the cold floor because at that moment she would do anything, bear any pain, pay any price, to stop that obnoxious beeping. “Super loud alarm sound for heavy sleepers!” the box said. It didn’t say, “Worst noise in the world! Perfect for early morning!”
Continue reading “The Danielaiad”
In the morning I found footprints in the snow. I followed them from my bedroom window to the edge of the woods. I wasn’t allowed to go into the woods without an adult, and because this rule seemed reasonable to me I turned around and followed the footprints back.
Examined side-by-side there wasn’t much of a difference between my prints and these others. They were a little bit bigger, maybe. I put my foot inside one to check, and then walked in the footsteps until that became a game. I lost my balance halfway back across the yard and as I pinwheeled my arms to stay up the barest glimmer of a thought shot across my consciousness:
The footsteps go to my window and then stop. They don’t go back.
And then I hit the snow and the thought blew away. The powder puffed up around me in a crystalline cloud and fell back into my face. I had to turn to one side and then the other in order to build enough momentum to flip over so I could stand, and once I was up I stomped across the yard kicking up the biggest plumes of snow that I could with my new pink snow boots. I heard my mother inside and went in to demand cocoa.
“Are there are other kids around here?” I asked her.
“I don’t know, sweetie,” she said. “Did you see any when you were outside?”
“I thought I saw one last night, in my window.”
Continue reading “Footprints/Madeline”
The way the story was passed down to me, when I was born I weighed four pounds seven ounces and was addicted to heroin. My mother gave birth in a crackhouse on Bedford, but it wasn’t clear if she went into labor while shooting up or if she just crawled into the first place she could find once her water broke. A junkie ran out and got a cop, and the fiends and chickenheads all cleared out while the ambulance crew tried to muscle in past them. I was in intensive care for the next year. My father visited once. On that day, in the hallway outside my room, he and my mother got into a screaming match that ended with her nearly clawing out his eye with a long fingernail. He said she was lucky he hadn’t brought his gun. Sometime later, a few days or maybe a few weeks, he was arrested for possession of crack and sent upstate for two years. During that time my mother lived with her mother in a walkup on Gates Avenue. My mother claimed to be a model and my grandmother described herself as a beautician. Neither one ever worked as far as anybody could tell, as models or hairdressers or anything. For a few of those years a man named Edwin lived with them. He was killed on Flatbush in a hail of bullets that made the front page of the New York Times.
When I was eighteen months old I weighed eleven pounds, and when I was two years old I weighed fifteen. By the time I was three my weight had crept up to twenty pounds, but only barely. My mother probably only weighed ninety pounds herself, and my grandmother maybe slightly less. It was hard to tell which was older; they both looked like old trees twisted by hard wind and rain. Of the two I was more afraid of my grandmother, whose face and body were gruesome with rage and hate. My mother wasn’t much different, but at times she could laugh like a little girl and show a hint of the beautiful woman she might have been in a different life. At least once before I was three my mother tried to sell me for drug money. The police said it got her about seventy-five dollars. Child Services took me back to my grandmother; my mother rejoined us soon after.
Continue reading “Toons and Little Worm”