Desperately searching for a way to recover her memory, a young American woman on the run must unlock a terrible secret from her past
Discovered in a ditch by the side of a country road in France, Eve has only good American dentistry and a ferry ticket scribbled with Arabic letters to suggest her identity. That, and a bullet wound in her brain that she miraculously survives, even as it destroys her memory. Only a few scattered violent images remain—or are they dreams?—along with one undeniable physical fact: she has had a child.
When the nuns who have sheltered her for a year are brutally massacred, Eve realizes that whoever she was in her past life, she had powerful enemies. Just half a step ahead of her pursuers, she lights out for Morocco in an attempt to retrace her steps and discover her past. Away from the convent, she begins to discover things that startle her—among them, her capacity for violence and her facility with guns. Was she a spy? Who is the dying man in her nightmares? As she searches through spice-scented souks and glamorous nightclubs for clues to her past, she has to figure out who is after her, and why—before it’s too late.
Within scenes of heart-stopping terror, Jenny Siler’s lyrical writing and memorable images stand out. As Marilyn Stasio said of Easy Money in The New York Times Book Review, Siler’s is “a voice that gets your attention like a rifle shot.”
|Publisher:||Roca Ediciones S.A.|
|Edition description:||Spanish-language Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 9.14(h) x 1.08(d)|
About the Author
The critically acclaimed author of Easy Money (0-312-97686-0), Iced (0-312-97952-5), and Shot (0-8050-7203-9), Jenny Siler lives in Missoula, Montana.
Read an Excerpt
Sister Heloise got up from her place at the back of the nave and made the sign of the cross. It was compline, her favorite of the hours, and normally she stayed till the sweet and bitter end, till most of the other sisters had left and the chapel was dark and hushed. But tonight, with Eve gone, there was the work of two to be finished before bed.
"Your anger has overrun me," she heard Sister Magdalene read as she turned and headed for the door, "your terrors have broken me." It was the end of the Eighty-seventh Psalm, the prayer of the gravely ill.
"They have flowed round me like water, they have besieged me all day long. You have taken my friends and those close to me: all I have left is shadows."
It was a dark prayer, Heloise thought as she stepped out into the cold air, dark and beautiful at the same time. What was it St. Benedict had said? Something about living constantly with death. The door swung closed behind her, muffling the voices of the other sisters. "I cry out to you, Lord, by day and by night. Alleluia."
It was the first week of Advent, the fifth day of December, and winter had closed in tight. There was a white rime of frost on the grass and on the bare tree branches. A thin shard of moon hung in the crystalline sky. In the time-carved niches of the stone church wall dozens of red votive candles flickered and glowed.
Pressing the flaps of her wool coat up around her bare neck, Heloise started across the icy lawn toward the priory kitchen. There were thirty-five of them, plus some two dozen visitors from a women's church group in Dijon who'd be arriving in the morning. That made sixty mouths to feed, some twenty-odd loaves of bread she'd need for the day, not to mention the usual breakfast. She'd be up half the night.
From the farm just below the convent came the sound of a dog barking and another answering, both of them urgent and purposeful. Monsieur Tane's two watchdogs, most likely running off the fox. It was not like Heloise to begrudge any creature a meal, but the sisters had lost three good laying hens in the last week and she found herself hoping the dogs would succeed. She had a soft spot for the guileless birds.
Protectively, she glanced toward the dark shape of the henhouse. Everything was still and quiet. Or was it? Halfway across the yard she stopped walking and stood in the lacy halo of her own cold breath. She had heard something. She was certain of it. A stutter in the pea gravel on the far side of the priory. Was it the fox, chased up the hill and looking for an evening snack? Or just one of the sisters, forgoing compline, out for a late stroll or a cigarette? Heloise sometimes found herself tempted to do the same.
The noise came again, and this time Heloise was certain it was human and not animal, someone walking on the gravel drive. Satisfied, she reached into her coat pocket, pulled out her heavy ring of keys, and continued forward. She'd have to remember to bring some bones down to the Tanes in the morning, a small reward for the dogs. She let her thoughts drift back to her baking. If she was quick in setting everything out to rise, she'd be able to get a few good hours of sleep.
The sound came again, closer this time, and the nun turned her head to see a dark figure coming around the corner of the priory. Heloise squinted, trying to read the person's features in what little light the building's windows offered. No, it wasn't one of the sisters. It was a man, definitely a man. He ducked into the shadows and disappeared.
"Monsieur Tane?" she called, receiving no answer.
Heloise felt suddenly afraid, a little girl alone in the dark. Keep us safe, while we are awake. She whispered the first lines of the canticle to herself and picked up her pace. The keys jangled in her hand.
And then, quick as a fox, he was upon her. Heloise started to scream, but a gloved palm covered her mouth.
"Quiet," the man whispered. His face was streaked with black greasepaint, his eyes hidden behind strange glasses. Robotic, Heloise thought, inhuman, to see in the dark. He looked like the characters in the American action films Sister Claire liked to watch. He grabbed the nun's coat, pulling her close to him.
Keep us safe, Lord, she prayed silently. Gripping the keys, she brought her right fist up hard to his face. The metal caught against the glasses, pushing them up, and his head snapped back. When he looked back down at her, she could see his eyes, the pale skin of his lids shining in the darkness. One of the keys had ripped his cheek, and he was bleeding. But she had accomplished little more than to make him angry.
"The American," he growled, pinning her arms to her sides. "Where is she?" He was foreign, his French slightly accented, though she couldn't tell how.
Heloise shook her head, trying to understand what he wanted.
He brought his face down toward hers. "Where is she?" he demanded, so forcefully that she thought he would hit her, but he didn't. Instead, he turned his head and looked toward the church, and Heloise looked with him. On the frosty lawn, heading slowly toward the chapel, were some dozen dim figures. In the hands of each man was a long black rod. Guns, Heloise thought. She tried once more to scream, but the man's hand tightened over her mouth.
Inside the chapel the sisters were saying an antiphon to Our Lady. Heloise could just make out Magdalene's call and the louder chorus of responses. The man started forward, dragging Heloise with him. In a single clear instant everything she might have felt was replaced by the knowledge that unless she did something to help herself, she was about to die.
Opening her mouth as wide as she could, she clamped down on the man's gloved hand and sank her teeth into the leather. He flinched, his arm relaxing instinctively, and Heloise jammed her knee up into the soft flesh of his groin. The man moved backward slightly, the look on his face more astonishment than anything else. Kicking him hard in the shins with her work boot, Heloise wrested herself from his grip and started for the tangle of woods that bordered the convent.
Run! she told herself. She could feel the man behind her, but she didn't look back. Keep us safe, Lord, she prayed again, her eyes on the dark trees, her arms and legs hammering her forward, her boots slipping on the hoary grass. There was a small explosion on the ground next to her, then another, and the muted sound of gunfire. Then suddenly she was in the dark underbrush, careening downward over roots and rocks.
What is the first thing you remember? The taste of the ocean, the cold shock of snow, or the face of your mother, young as she was and is no more? The first memory I have is of the hour I came into this world. Before that, there are just the ghosts of what I've forgotten.
I arrived on All Saints' Day, a little over a year ago, to a busload of aging virgins on a muddy roadside in Burgundy. How I got there is a mystery to all of us. What I remember is the smell of cattle, the rain-blurred outlines of twelve dark heads against the gray sky, and an unrelenting pain in the left side of my head. What they remember is a scraped-up body in a ditch, a face clouded by blood and bruises, and a young woman who fought them off in gutter English.
Later, the doctors would use the word miracle when referring to the single bullet that had pierced the bones of my skull. The tiny piece of lead that by all rights should have killed me had instead navigated the folds of my brain as deftly as a surgeon's blade, sparing my life, sparing my eyesight, sparing everything but the most mysterious of connections, the tender filament of memory.
What little I know about myself is only what the living body can tell, and that is not much. Not surprisingly, it's the mouth that says the most, and mine reveals that I was once loved, or at least well cared for. I have three fillings, no wisdom teeth, and a neat patina of decay preventative sealant on my molars. Someone paid for braces in my adolescence. On my upper left incisor is a cosmetic bond, and beneath it, a yellow scar in the enamel from a fall I took as a child. I have envisioned this mishap so many times now — a summer day, blue sky, green grass, the cool metal of the monkey bars, and a faceless father on a bench in the distance — that it has come to seem like a truth. And who's to say it isn't?
A very American set of teeth, a dentist in Lyon remarked, and given all the other evidence, my North American English, and the U.S. labels in my clothes, it would seem that he was right.
Except for the catastrophe that birthed me, I've come through life so far relatively unscathed. On the outside of my right ankle is a simple birthmark, three black dots that, if connected, might form a lopsided triangle. The skin on my upper arm is smooth, unblemished by the circular scar of a smallpox vaccination, confirming the fact that I was born no earlier than 1971. I do have one old scar, the healed remnants of a laceration that is at once my body's greatest mystery and its biggest clue. It's a small mark, unseeable unless one is looking, from a cut that was made on my perineum to allow a baby to pass through.
A child! Think of all the things you've forgotten and wish you hadn't: the exact weight and shape of your first kiss; the last time you saw your father, your grandfather, loved ones who aren't coming back. And yet, how could you forget your own child? How could you not remember such a thing? When they told me in the hospital, I insisted there had been a mistake.
The doctor who examined me was a woman, small and slightly round, with a spattering of fading freckles. Finally, she brought a mirror and held it so that I could see the scar, the faint, pale line of the episiotomy.
* * *
Whether my appearance in that field was accident or design has so far been impossible to determine. In the beginning it seemed inevitable that someone would come looking for me, and the violence of my arrival suggested that someone might not have the best intentions. Better not to advertise, the police had said, and so, other than a discreet correspondence with the U.S. Embassy in Paris, the nuns' discovery was kept quiet.
Don't worry, the U.S. consul told me confidently. People don't just disappear without someone wondering where they've gone to. Especially not people with children, people who have been so obviously cared for. Yes, I thought, hoping he was wrong, not knowing this past year would prove him so, and that in the end I'd wish him to have been right.
All I could feel then toward the dark life behind me was a flush of fear, a dread not just of those who might hurt me but of my own capacity for rage. Though I needn't have worried. In the thirteen months since that All Saints' Day no one has come forward to claim me. Not a soul has inquired about a brown-haired, blue-eyed, young American with a scarred front tooth.
The life I have now, and everything in it, including my name, has been given to me by the sisters. It took them some time, but in the end they settled on Eve. The first, they told me, the name given by God. It seems fitting to me, this moniker of one so irreparably divided from the life she once knew. Though often my own separation seems far more powerful than sin.
* * *
It was snowing in Lyon, a weak effort, flakes sputtering down from a low blanket of clouds, but snowing nonetheless, with the promise of more to come. Out the window of Dr. Delpay's office I could see the city's rooftops in their various shades of gray, flannel and slate, ash and charcoal.
"You're still planning on going?" Delpay asked from across the room.
I nodded, turning away from the window to face him. "I spoke to the consul last week. He's making arrangements."
"Do you know where they'll be sending you?"
I shook my head. I hadn't given the idea much thought. Somewhere quiet, I thought now, with mountains and pine trees, and the earnest and honorable people you see in movies about the American West. "It'll take some time. There was talk of finding me a sponsor. It's all a little tricky, the bureaucratic side of things."
"You seem relieved by that."
Yes, I thought, though I didn't say it. It had been my decision, my idea to go to America, and yet I was guiltily happy to put it off.
Delpay settled into his chair. He was a kind man, fatherly in a no-nonsense way, not coddling, just always quietly there, and I didn't want to disappoint him.
"You know, you don't have to leave," he offered.
I thought of the few Americans I'd known, the consul and his red-haired secretary, a group of Benedictine sisters from Michigan who'd spent two weeks at the abbey. They were all foreigners to me, loud and overly friendly, and yet somehow suspicious at the same time. I couldn't imagine a country full of these people, could not imagine this place as my home. But it was, and somewhere in it, among those strange people, was a child. Mine.
"Yes," I said, "I know."
Delpay nodded, as if understanding some deep and complex problem. "What are you afraid of?"
I turned back to the window, touched my forehead to the glass, and peered straight down into the street toward the glazed hoods of the cars below, the pale pedestrians huddled against the wet December chill. I could taste Delpay's vasopressin in the back of my throat, the bitter pungency of the drug.
The doctor waited patiently for my answer. I heard him shift in his chair. The old radiators came on, clunking and hissing. Down below, a woman emerged from the front door of the hospital and climbed into a waiting cab.
"I had the dream again last night," I said, "the old one."
"The warehouse?" Delpay asked.
I nodded. It had been months since I'd last had the nightmare, and Delpay and I had chalked it up to the piracetam he'd prescribed when we had first begun to meet. I'd had the dream almost nightly then, a terrible, suffocating vision in which I was trapped in a deserted warehouse, running from someone or something.
"And the ending," Delpay prodded. "Still the same?"
"Yes." Instinctively, I touched my hand to my throat and felt the unblemished skin there. In the dream it was not so. In the last panicked seconds of my nightmare a blade flashed in the warehouse's dim light, then arced toward me, slicing across my neck. Again and again I woke to the great gaping throat of death, my fingers scrabbling to stanch the flow of blood.
In the end, we'd stopped the piracetam, and the dream had stopped as well. Now it was back, and I shuddered at the memory.
"And the man?" Delpay asked. "Are you still seeing him?"
"Yes," I told him. The man was a newer vision, no less persistent than the warehouse had been, and almost as disturbing.
"Tell me about him."
"I have," I said, turning once more from the window.
Delpay smiled. "Tell me again."
"It's the same as it always is," I explained. "We're up high, on a roof, I think. There are mountains around us."
"And the writing?"
"Yes. On the hillside. There's something written on the hillside."
"Can you read it?"
I shook my head. "It's not a language I know."
"But the letters? You can read the letters."
"No," I said, the frustration showing in my voice.
"It's okay. Tell me about the man. Is he young? Old?"
"He's young, close to my age, I think."
"He's an American?"
"I don't know."
I turned back to the window.
"What else, Eve?"
"He's been shot. There's blood everywhere." I swallowed hard, trying to clear my throat of the vasopressin tang, trying to rid my head of this memory I didn't want.
"What else, Eve?"
"I'm holding a gun in my hand, a pistol. I'm the one who has done this."
"You don't know that."
I turned to face Delpay once again. As much as I wanted to believe him, there was a part of me that was certain I was right. "It's the only thing I do know," I said.
* * *
I was late leaving the city. A theater near the hospital was showing a new American movie, and I went after my appointment, as I often did, hoping to catch a glimpse of something familiar on the big screen. My first few months at the convent I'd spent much of my time watching Sister Claire's collection of American movies, trying to kindle a spark of recognition. Occasionally, I saw places I knew, or at least thought I knew: parts of New York City, the desolate landscapes of the old westerns, or Sleepless in Seattle's rain-washed waterfront. But the rest of America, from the apocalyptic sprawl of Los Angeles to the arctic landscape of Fargo's Upper Midwest, seemed completely alien to me.
Excerpted from "Flashback"
Copyright © 2004 Jenny Siler.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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