There are excerpts from two stories I’m starting to shop around, a process I will detail in tomorrow’s post. As always, feedback is greatly appreciated.
The first, “Killer,” is a standalone short story. “Avi’s Room” is an excerpt from a novel I am working on.
After she decided it would be far kinder for her sister to never be born, it was only a matter of planning. Luce sat on the highest level of the driveway’s retaining wall and waited for Kathy to come home. Kathy Dahl kept no regular hours, making quick work of her children’s plans, but for now Luce was happy to sit and wait, kicking pink sandals against the rain soaked limestone—by her count there were six months still, and to a ten year old six months is a lifetime.
Luce “Lucy” Dahl was one of five children at 4 Westwood Lane, a semi-gated community huddled in the undergrowth of southern Mass. Of the kids—better known as the Dolls, residents of the titular Dollhouse—no two shared a father. Frederick, fourteen and the only boy; half-sisters Carmine (5), Kelli (6), Clarice (8) and Luce. Two summers ago the first ever Doll, Rose, turned sixteen and, in a cloud of Kool cigarette smoke, vanished. In the unspoken aftermath Frederick moodily took up the role of “oldest,” the responsibilities of which seemed limited to kicking his sisters out of the shadiest parts of the yard so he could read better. He was never violent with the girls, nor did he at all enjoy their company.
Without fathers and (most often) without a mother, the young Dolls were free to apply makeup as they wanted; to dress themselves in chiffon scarves, tube tops that wore like gowns, and Halloween regalia (Indian headdresses, lion tails, phantom capes); to drag the Radio Flyer wagon full of pond water and frog eggs throughout the neighborhood, advertising “Tadpole fetuses for sale!” The Dolls looked crazy, eccentric—alien daughters—and had the sympathies, if not the attentions, of the rest of Westwood.
No one on Westwood Lane seemed to mind the Dahl girls running unmarshalled through the world, kissing boys and throwing rocks and calling each other “Jewish” and “faggot.” No one seemed to notice as dinner bells rung one by one—the Fosters, the Wongs, the Reds—that the Dahl girls kept on playing in the yellow weeds of the cul-de-sac…lighting matches, burying toys, pulling each other’s hair as the sun set furiously on another day early in June. Maybe because they all had their own lives to overlook, their own families to mismanage, their own secrets to keep.
Avi Natalia Corsini, or Claribel Morales Vega, depending which birth certificate you went by, had come into Aleks Record’s life in the manner of Arctic Monkeys: some eighth grade rumor (“Check out the Spanish chick, seventh grader got bounce,” or “See that British band on SNL?”); three years later—the girl from Ipanema alone at her locker, who’s that girl walking the halls in those wagging black jeans while some snob chastises “You dug Humbug? Short your shit Records.” Finally, semi-suddenly, the kid had leashed the pole star, a miracle he’d hardly worked at—saw Polaris hanging there, winking, and it was his, under him, in his arms, scratching at the metal of his jeans while “No Buses” played on a shitty Sony Flip trapped between couch cushions. “You like these jeans?”
“I’d like them off.”
Who knew from which region of the Iberian Peninsula AC hailed—Gijion, Seville, Cordoba? Such cities ran her dreamy eyes while she poured over adoption papers. The manilla Microsoft folder, a Sweet Sixteen present, gifted with the misplaced intent of curbing the girl’s dangerous idea that she was unwanted, had been since the beginning and would be until the end (Avi only cut her legs, and despite “Shards of Pornography,” Aleks worried).
Avi’s adoptive parents had been poised over her shoulders since long before her (or Avi’s mother’s) birth—Leon Corsini, a scholar of Florence; Doutzen Bondarenko, the unattractive but well-built guide who led him on his Russian sojourn, 1981. They cohabited a modest Milan villa, briefly, before seeking out “big American money.” If Leon or Doutzen had committed to a communicable parenthood, if either of them had made themselves at all approachable, if they’d only shown the girl some affection…maybe things would’ve went down different.
But they were who they were. Euro brats hardened over two decades behind an industrial oven in the back of an East Baker pizza shop, slowly building a chain (Big Star Pizza) until they sold out in ’02 and alighted the house by the lake, where the adopted daughter was for laundry, for work without pay, for yelling at. As if to make up for the neglect and for never learning English (plus all subsequent parent/teacher conferences, cheerleader banquets, boyfriends), they handed over the papers.
Reviewing the erudite files concerning her mother’s decision in a Mexican hospital, 1991, to yield custody of Claribel Morales became a daily, nightly, hourly obsession for Avi. Minute to minute she worked new angles: “Maybe I have a brother?” “Maybe she’ll like if I call.” “Maybe….”
Once Aleks had dried the well of Shelby Wu, Harriet the Spy and Penny Gadget jokes, he sat back and endured the miserable third season of The O.C. while Avi buried herself deeper, bags beneath her eyes a little blacker, tight snare head of her stomach assuming just the slightest suggestion of flab.
One thing Aleks asked about, early on, was Avi. Leon, bitter king, named his brown baby girl not for the Hebrew connotation “Abraham, father of nations,” but after the eponymous Newbery medalist. To Avi, life rushed back to this retitling, like her existence beforehand had ended in that Mexican hospital and she was now just a copy of Claribel, a cover of who she was supposed to be, or maybe the hospital…Aleks couldn’t figure it out; for him, Avi didn’t exist before he met her. This all too much for a seventeen year old who just wanted head. This, only the beginning of the beautiful, disastrous Avi affair.