New York Times Book Review
A debut collection of linked stories about an adolescent girl in Florida and her sexual awakening.
New York Times Book Review
- Sarabande Books
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In the good days, my family lived in a condo, on the twenty�third floor of Pleasure Towers in Ormond Beach, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
One afternoon, when we got home from school, my mother was up against the stove, her hands behind her, fingers laced across the cool burners. My father rifled through my mother's orderly Tupperwared leftovers in the fridge, yelling at her, "Why can't you have fun? Why?"
Since I had turned twelve, they'd been fighting. And actually, I noticed, they'd always been fighting. Whenever one walked in the room, the other one was already mad. "I think our parents might be mental cases," I confided to Sid. "I hope no one ever finds out."
Sid thought no one would find out. "They never go anywhere," he reminded me.
"Well, I wish they would," I'd said. "We'd be better off on our own." I had in mind Austrian get-ups, Sid sporting a green pointed felt hat, a cute little house in the woods, lots of pets, newspaper articles on Sid and Georgia Jackson, the amazing fairy tale of two children making it on their own! Here in the heart of Daytona Beach in the middle of 1976!
I stood in the doorway to our galley kitchen, leaning in. But my body was out. I was in. I swung my hips to the side to keep Sid from entering the kitchen, and bent myself into a C in the doorway. They did not see me, their flexible daughter, their daughter in the shape of a good letter.
Sid scooted between my legs and went to the fridge.
"Scuse," he said.
I could see the ocean between my mother and my father.
I thought he was about to wheel around and hit her.
"Get out." I wanted to say.
I realized I was talking to myself.
My brother and I were wet in those days, always something of us was wet. Well, me anyway. Sid was dark; he dried faster. My long planks of yellow hair held water like seaweed does, and it was nearly down to the small of my back, where I wanted it. My palms sweated, balls of juice came out of my armpits, and the soles of my feet felt sweet and squishy. Welp, I thought, I'm a girl. Such is my lot.
At night, in the room we shared, Sid would feel the back of my neck, and the wet mats of hair under my topcoat of hair.
"You'll mildew before you're forty," he said. "Your hair is going to rot, you know. You're going to get that crud on your neck, like old people."
"Well, at least I have a brain."
"We should be nice to each other," he said.
"You start first," I said.
Every day, we went from the condo to the pool to the ocean to school, and back, through the pool, up to the condo for cheese and water, and to the ocean, and back for dinner, and then back to the sea until dark.
To Sid, my dark bristly brother, I said, "People will think you're a vermin, and shoot you."
We'd tussle, embarrassed, rolling around on the long white shag carpet; we were too old to be sharing a room, too old to be fighting like dogs, like that.
In my family, the father wasn't supposed to get out of bed before the kids were off to school.
"But don't dads go to work in the morning?" I asked, eating my favorite breakfast, shrimp on toast.
"I get him off after you two are processed," my mother said. She woke us up at six in the morning; we had time to race the elevators (Pleasure Towers had two) down to the Pool Level, dive in, then run down to the beach, and throw ourselves into the cold green sea. Then, we ran across the hard sand, always on the eye�out for shark teeth, raced the waiting elevators, back upstairs, and put our school clothes on. "Our skin could rot off," I thought. But that's the only really bad thing I thought could happen. Or, sometimes, because we never showered, rarely bathed, I thought we might dissolve. Like maybe it was too much swimming, too much salt drying to powder on our skin, too much lying on the bottom of the pool and watching the sun become a free kaleidoscope, a little too much pulsing with the waves. As though we might stop being children at all.
On Friday at 11:00 A.M. there was another space launch down the road at Canaveral. School was canceled so we could go with our families to see the launch.
"Why not us?" Sid said. We were sitting in the condo. It was late morning, and odd to be on the sofa with my mother. My father's snoring came from their bedroom. My mother's nest of blue blankets was still on the white circular sofa, where she'd slept, curled in the curve of the rented sofa.
"We aren't the kind of family all that interested in space," my mother said.
I said, "I'm very interested in space. I am studying the galaxy."
"You aren't," Sid said.
"I want to someday. I want to be a deep�sea diver."
"Then study the ocean, which you don't know anything about." ��"It's all related, Sid. Mom, tell him, it's all related."
"It's all related." I flung myself to the floor and executed a perfect backbend. My shorts pulled up, and I let them, I let the seam tighten between my legs, like I was inside a rubber band. "Tell him!" I felt good and strange, too.
Sid was playing the spoons at the table. My mother drifted to the floor, slunk down. She sprawled out on her side, like a nursery schooler at nap. She put her head down. I sprang onto her.
"Honey," she said softly, not kindly. "I am utterly exhausted. Play with Sid?"
I could see she was exhausted. I could taste her exhaustion. She put her hands over her ears, like I was a shout, just being on her. "I'm too old to play with him," I said.
We'd already been swimming. My braid lay on my back like a wet horse tail. I looked out the sliding glass doors: these were our walls, all along the front and side of the condo. Glass walls! I didn't belong here at all. I belonged at the space launch, and not with the kids. I belonged in the rocket. I vowed to start studying the sky. Forget jockeying for the position of keeper of the homonym bulletin board -- why was I wasting my time on fifth grade?
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