Perhaps not surprisingly, Maria finds herself listless and bored soon after her arrival in Beaufort, and a summer job seems like a cure. She has kept close watch on the couple she chose to adopt her daughter—they live mere blocks away—and, as opportunity demands, she accepts a position as their nanny. Maria ingratiates herself into the family—hesitantly, at first, and then with all the confused and chaotic fervor of a mother separated from her child.
In Every Way is a heartfelt novel that brings to light the unknowing destruction that heartache can manifest, and brims with the redemptive power of new.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.90(d)|
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Maria is four minutes late to Life Drawing. It's the first time in two weeks she has even attended the class. The professor has been told that this is because Maria is not comfortable drawing the nude male model — a pale little specimen with a limp ponytail and an overabundance of moles — but that is a lie. Maria is no prude. Truth is, Maria's been avoiding her ex-boyfriend, Jack, and her own mother, both of whom are enrolled in the class.
Maria is nineteen. Notes in ballpoint pen tattoo her hands. A thick veil of bangs hangs just below her eyes. Usually she would keep her eyes there hidden, cast down upon her dirty red Keds, but today she's tingling with a rush of rare confidence. In her portfolio are six charcoal drawings of herself wearing nothing but a Hello Kitty mask. They vibe from her bag like hot-wired batteries of possession. So she brushes aside her bangs and steps into the studio as the eyes of her classmates rise.
At the long, paint-spattered drafting table where Maria usually sits, her mother and Jack are seated together.
"Hey," Jack says.
"Hey," Maria says.
These terrifying words are the first they've spoken in weeks.
Jack wears a Detroit Tigers baseball hat askew atop a frozen explosion of teased blond hair. He's all sinew and angles. He says that he was born full-grown, that he's going to wang chung. That he has tapped into the source. Maria doesn't always know what he means, but she knows he must be right because he looks so cool that it makes her chest feel hollow when she looks at him. Thing is, Jack hates stressing out and he has to make it stop. Maria knows this because he told her so the last time they spoke. He said, "If this is going to make me feel stressed out, then I have to make it stop."
"You mean us?" Maria said.
The reason Jack was stressed out is because he got Maria pregnant.
But today, on this soft March morning, Jack doesn't look stressed out. He smiles. The light shines through the wide black plug in his earlobe. Maria remembers the night he placed her finger in that hole. "You're inside me," he'd said, "but you aren't even touching me."
Jack pulls up a stool and motions for Maria to sit. For a moment she considers not doing so, but cannot see any other option. The room is full, there are no seats left, and she does not have the fortitude to turn and walk out of the class. She tells herself to show no fear. And she sits.
"I've been reading The Three Musketeers," Jack says. "Total mind fuck, m'lady. God your mom was right."
"M'lady?" Maria says. Jack has a short list of favored lingo, but this — m'lady — is one she has yet to hear. It is, to Maria, the sound of two weeks apart.
"Dumas style," Jack says, in proud explanation.
"Gross," Maria says, the very name of the author reviving years of oversaturation. Her mother, an English professor, is what they call the leading Alexandre Dumas scholar in America. Not the world. Claude Schopp in Paris has the world. But her mother has the States. Or did. Now she's retired and ten months into life with stage four breast cancer. Both of the diseased breasts were removed months ago, but the cancer has spread to places that cannot be cut off. Since the operation, Maria's mother has had her daughter's name tattooed onto her wrist. She has visited her old college roommate three times. She has created a Facebook profile. She has enrolled in Maria's section of Life Drawing. She says she has never before been this alive.
Despite Maria's lack of interest in Dumas, Jack's still worked up. He says, "But it's good. Seriously. I had no idea. It's all about fighting and getting pussy."
"Jack," says Maria's mother. At the drafting table beside him she sighs.
Jack lightly punches Maria's mother on the shoulder and she laughs girlishly. A laugh that never before existed. A laugh that has appeared only since her sickness, like some spark sent up from a slowly burning house.
JACK FIRST APPEARED to Maria on a friend's porch arguing about the drummer for Wilco. He blew his bubble gum into an enormous orb and then popped it with a lit cigarette. Eleven weeks later Maria took a pregnancy test in the bathroom of the Carrboro Harris Teeter. Through a sheen of her own urine, a red cross appeared like a message delivered from God. She considers it a testament to her mother's judicial personality — one that imbued the house with frank discussions of conception and religion from the earliest ages memorable — that Maria's first instinct was to go home.
At the kitchen table, her mother was brushing loose hair from her scalp, collecting the limp gray strands in a stainless steel mixing bowl.
Maria said, "I'm totally screwed."
"Who isn't?" her mother said, twirling her hair like spaghetti.
"I'm pregnant," Maria said.
Maria's mother set her hairbrush on the table. She had not yet thinned the left side of her scalp, and it was significantly more full of hair than the other. Maria considered the fact that so many of those strands were already dead, just hanging on to their few surviving neighbors like some weave made from her mother's own locks.
"Well shit," her mother said.
Sitting in her old chair at the table, her own initials carved into the food-stained oak before her, Maria said, "It's like three weeks since I missed my period. So it's too late for the morning-after pill or anything."
"Now just a minute," her mother said. "What exactly do you want?"
"Not a baby," Maria said. She chuckled. She started to cry.
"Seems you already have one of those," her mother said.
"It's just a blob."
Maria's mother shrugged. She lifted a handful of hair from the bowl, then dropped it back in. "It Jack's?" she said.
Maria nodded, dragging the back of her index finger across her now running nose. She then instinctively wiped it under the table, only to discover the harsh topography of a miniature inverted mountain range built from the petrified chewing gum of her own childhood.
"He's a good guy," her mother said. "People wait their whole lives for that."
"What are you saying?" Maria said.
"When you're dying," her mother said, "you just start to think about babies. You see the whole world through hippie glasses."
The doctor had said her mother could expect another six months. Maria did the math. There would be no overlap, even if having a child were anything more than some weird slumming fantasy.
"You suddenly pro-life?" Maria said.
"Yes," her mother said. "In like every way."
"ON THE WALL," the professor says to the class. "Hang 'em if you got 'em."
He says this every class before critique. He considers himself wacky. His name is Milton Rigby. He is elderly and the most celebrated professor in the department, yet still teaches intro classes by choice. Rumor has it he teaches for only one dollar a semester, but Maria has her doubts. It's all campus myth. But unlike most of the students who are now delicately removing drawings from their portfolios and pinning them to a long corkboard, Maria and her mother have known Rigby for decades. Maria has seen his paintings in the Museum of Modern Art. She thinks of him as a species of human perfection and aspires to his achievement. But it is not celebrity that Maria admires — it is his skill. She is embarrassed that her situation with Jack has kept her out of his class. She is ashamed that she has lied to him.
Jack makes no motion to hang any drawings. Instead, he lifts a thirty-two-ounce Bojangles iced tea from a Florida-shaped puddle on the desk and sucks at the straw until it gurgles. Maria wonders if the life growing inside her is already engineered for stupidity.
"So, m'lady," Jack says, and leans his head back until the Tigers hat falls to the floor. He spits a piece of ice high into the air and then catches it in his mouth as it falls. He gazes down the bridge of his nose at Maria and exhales dramatically, air hissing through his teeth. He motions at her stomach and says, "You OK?" Because they have not spoken, Jack does not even know if the pregnancy is still a pregnancy. He does not know that Maria has done nothing about it, spoken about it with no one other than her sick mother. He does not know that she has cried almost every night, sometimes while knitting, sometimes while streaming Masterpiece off PBS, sometimes while comparing the rates for abortion in Chapel Hill, sometimes while reading the canned internet messaging of adoption services and teen pregnancy helplines. She feels like she has yet to even convince herself of the truth of the situation she's in. It is an indisputable fact that she is pregnant, but what exactly will that fact mean? This is the mystery filling her days.
"I don't know," Maria says. "I haven't done anything."
Jack nods, as if all is as expected. He retrieves his hat and spins it upon a finger.
Maria hangs her drawings. They are immaculate and precise and so much better than anything else in the class that Professor Rigby has, more than once, told the other students that compared with Maria's, their drawings all look like seismograph readouts. She has always excelled at the transformation of life into line and color. Youth for her was a continual preparation for art school. She started private lessons in fourth grade, spent two summers at North Carolina School of the Arts, attended Governor's School the previous June. During each summer vacation to Beaufort, a small town on the coast, she spent her days not sunbathing or surfing or volleyballing in the sand, but instead painting seascapes.
When Maria was in high school, Rigby told her several times that she should apply to Yale. It is where he went. He seemed to think it was obvious she should just go there too. Maria was embarrassed to even ask if he thought she might stand a real chance of admission, although she wanted to, good God she wanted to, she wanted to qualify for her dreams, because something like Yale is indeed what she dreamed of — a flight into a studio not in North Carolina, not populated with sorority girls lovely and soft and fine, but with others whose dreams like hers seemed in search of some cosmic travel agent. But when her mother grew sick, Maria knew that Yale was not going to be an option. Maria's father died when she was two, her grandparents passed away long ago, the University of North Carolina is in her hometown, and tuition is discounted for children of faculty. And so she is here. The decision was never even a decision.
A red bandana dangles from Jack's back left pocket as he leans in closely to inspect her drawings.
"Damn you're good," he says.
In each drawing, Maria appears at a three-quarter profile, Hello Kitty mask turned to the viewer, small bare breasts catching the light from her upturned desk lamp. Jack stares in silence for a moment, then says, "Hot dog, Sweetcakes. I miss you."
"You're a baby," Maria says, proud of the sudden magic worked by this rendering of her own body.
Jack removes a ballpoint pen from the front pocket of his red plaid shirt and gently takes Maria's forearm in hand. The nib tickles her flesh as he writes on it. When finished, a full sentence crawls across her skin. It reads I carry you through the threshold and do my duty, happy ending Sleeping Beauty.
It sounds remotely familiar but Maria cannot place it.
"That's what?" she says.
"Dumas," Jack says, then points at the quote and nods. He whispers, "I'm serious. Or like, the way I wish it was. I know I'm a failure."
"I hear Dumas?" Maria's mother says, stepping closer. She traces her finger along the words on Maria's forearm. Maria is embarrassed at the touch. Her mother laughs and says, "All my live brothers is locked down with high numbers."
"Damn," Jack says. "You're right."
"Care to let me in?" Maria says, as Jack and her mother share a smile. Maria resents even the briefest exchange between the two that she cannot follow and again feels the time apart from Jack emerge in this new and confusing sound bite. "What are you right about?"
"That's not Dumas," her mother says, looking Maria in the eye. She squeezes Maria's arm softly, as if testing for ripeness. "That's the Wu."
"What?" Maria says. She hears her mother speaking the confusing code of Jack.
"You getting into it?" Jack says.
"It's like taking my brain to the gym," Maria's mother says.
"The Wu-Tang Clan?" Maria says, invoking the name of one of Jack's favorites, a group of rappers that makes Maria wonder about the hordes of people who understand something about music that she apparently cannot. She cannot quite believe her mother is quoting the Wu-Tang Clan. But she is.
"What about it?" her mother says.
Jack shrugs and flips his thumb. "Yeah," he says, "I just dumped some on her iPod."
AFTER DINNER, MARIA goes to Rite Aid and to Whole Foods. She picks up her mother's prescriptions, fish oil, a gallon of milk, four bananas, a seven-grain loaf, six eggs, kale, and quinoa. Maria's carefully negotiated guardianship of her '96 Volvo wagon is contingent upon these deliveries. Her mother no longer drives. Before delivery, Maria returns to her dorm. In the past two weeks, since she's known she was pregnant, she has delivered her mother's groceries late, after her mother is asleep, so as to avoid contact.
When Maria arrives in her dorm room, she finds Jack sitting at her desk. She calmly places the shopping bags on her bed.
"So you buddies with my mom now?" she says.
Jack removes one orange pill bottle from the Rite Aid bag. He squints at the label, then reads aloud: "Talwin." He smells the lid. "It work?"
"I don't know," Maria says.
Jack shakes two pills into his palm and swallows them with a mouthful of old coffee. Maria closely inspects the pill bottle. There is a warning about drinking alcohol. That one should not operate a motor vehicle. That women who are pregnant should not take it. She is suddenly afraid of the container, astonished to have found herself in any category that can now thus be poisoned.
"Seriously," she says, putting the bottle back into the bag.
"Why's my mom listening to the Wu-Tang Clan?"
"Why not?" Jack says.
"She asked me what I was into."
"What are you into?" Maria says.
"That thing on your arm?" Jack says. "I'm serious as shit."
"You're immature," Maria says. "And irresponsible." She feels her words dissipate like so much breath into cold air. She has longed for Jack to appear to her like this, but now that she has him, she can think of nothing to say. In a desperate effort to connect, she conjures the Wu. "Vivid thoughts," she says, "devils resort to trick knowledge. They kick garbage, lust for chicks and quick dollars."
"You rapping?" Jack says.
Maria nods. Yes, she is rapping.
"Come on," Jack says. "You don't even like them." He takes Maria's hand. "I know what you're saying, though. I do. Put on Hello Kitty. Seriously. No, I'm just kidding. But seriously, though. Yeah, put it on."
Maria lifts the Hello Kitty mask from its perch on her bedpost and places it on her cold face. Jack pops the elastic on the widest part of her skull.
"Now say something," he says. "No rapping. Say it in Maria."
"You're a piece of crap," Maria says.
Jack kisses her neck.
"I tell you to pull out," Maria says. "And you what? You don't pull out."
Jack pushes her onto the bed. Maria adjusts herself so that he may lie more comfortably atop her.
"I should put razorblades inside me so that your wiener shreds if you ever do me again," she says.
"I know," Jack says. "I know."
"You read my mom's books while I cry in Art History and everyone fucking stares at me," she says.
"I know," Jack says. "I know."
"I am so stupid," Maria says. She cries under her mask, thrilled and confused with desire. "This is so messed up."
"I know," Jack says.
"What am I going to do?" Maria says, running her hands inside Jack's shirt.
"I know," Jack says.
"I asked you," Maria says.
"Don't think about it," Jack says, kissing her neck. "We have time."
They make love for more than five minutes. Afterward, Jack says, "Jump in. The Talwin's perfect." He licks his lips and runs his fingertips across Maria's eyelids. She considers revealing that, unlike him, she actually read the label and cannot in fact take the drug even if she wanted to.
MARIA'S PHONE RINGS. It is close to 1:00 AM. Calls at this hour are not uncommon. With chemotherapy, her mother's sleep schedule has become erratic. But the phone has been silent since Maria told her mother she was pregnant. It is a pattern her mother repeats often, falling silent for days when confronted with decisions or complex family drama, trusting time as the best tool for perspective. The pregnancy has triggered the latest stretch of silence, but it has all been expected. Maria has been avoided, and has thus avoided back. This phone call now signals the resumption of normal relations.
"It was so good to see you today," her mother says. "I have to know what you did."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "In Every Way"
Copyright © 2015 Nic Brown.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
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