Running away from home hasn’t solved Iphigenia Murphy’s problems. In fact, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll catch up with her. Iffy is desperate to find her long-lost mother, and, so far, in spite of the need to forage for food and shelter and fend off an unending number of creeps, living in Queens’ Forest Park has felt safer than living at home. But as the summer days get shorter, it all threatens to fall apart.
A novel that explores the sustaining love of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and the indelible bond of family, Iphigenia Murphy captures the gritty side of 1992 Queens, the most diverse borough in New York City. Just like Iffy, the friends she makes in the parkAngel, a stray dog with the most ridiculous tail; Corinne, a young trans woman who is escaping her own abusive situation; and Anthony, a former foster kid from upstate whose parents are addictseach seek a place where they feel at home. Whether fate or coincidence has brought them together, within this community of misfits Iffy can finally be herself, but she still has to face the effects of abandonment and abuseand the possibility that she may be pregnant. During what turns out to be a remarkable journey to find her mother, will Iffy ultimately discover herself?
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|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Sara Hosey holds a PhD in American literature from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and is an associate professor of English and women and gender studies at Nassau Community College. Her book, Home Is Where the Hurt Is: Media Depictions of Wives and Mothers (McFarland, 2019), looks at representations of the domestic in popular culture. Sara grew up in Queens and now lives in Sea Cliff, New York, with her partner and their children. She is working on a second novel.
Read an Excerpt
On the couch that was also my bed in the apartment I'd lived in all my life. I sat, sucking my thumb, thinking of the terrible things he'd said to me, using them to ignite a small fire, to get myself warm and moving, to get myself going, to get myself gone.
But, cold and numb, I sat listening hard to the noises: the train rumbling down Roosevelt Avenue, a bus squealing its brakes and then its tired engine sighing and heaving back to life, the water running in the pipes over my head and then the padding footsteps of our upstairs neighbor, my stepmother's whistle-snores through her bedroom door.
My empty stomach churned. Vaguely, I knew that if I sat there long enough, someone would wake up, emerge bleary-eyed, and ask me what was going on. What's that stupid look on your face, Iffy? Answer me. Sucked teeth. Dumb skank.
I took my thumb away from my mouth. I touched my eye and my clammy fingers stayed there, gently exploring. It was sore from where I had fallen against the edge of my stepbrother's dresser the day before.
My backpack sat on the floor beside me. This morning, I'd gotten up and packed — clothes and underwear and bathroom stuff. I'd folded and stowed my sheet, gone to the bathroom and brushed my teeth and hair. But then, when it was time to leave, I sat back down on the couch, cold and quiet inside.
Remembering myself, I took my hand, reached for the straps of my backpack.
There was a flutter and then a scratching noise from across the room; my stepmother's bird was moving under the rust-colored blanket draped over its cage. I felt something moving inside me too — maybe something kindling in me as I thought about my stepmother. Although she'd often loudly insisted on her love for them and spent quite a bit of money buying them, my stepmother averaged about one parakeet every three months. A pretty short life expectancy, right there. I honestly wondered whether she realized that they were unhappy. That their cage was too small and too dirty and that they were neglected. That she was killing them. Did she not know that? Or did she just not care?
There was a noise from my stepbrother's room, something falling, maybe a sneaker or a beer bottle kicked from the bed. Then, a low moan. Layla's still asleep. I almost smiled. Something was warming inside me.
Layla was a neighborhood girl, and she and my stepbrother had been running around for weeks behind the back of her scary-as-hell boyfriend, Oscar. It was late when they'd come in last night and I'd been sleeping on the couch when the door clicked open. My whole body had tensed, then relaxed when I realized Layla was with him. They went straight back to his room. Through the thin wall, I could hear them fooling around, and then playing video games, and then fooling around again, for hours.
I'd lain awake for the rest of the night, listening to the pounding Mortal Kombat music and Layla's murmured Oh, Marcos. I would have put my headphones on, except I needed to save my batteries. But lying there, I had resolved to follow through on the scheme I'd come up with.
And hearing the bird, thinking of that scheme, finally I jumped from the couch, moving decisively around the apartment one last time.
I took a piece of loose-leaf out of my backpack, went into the kitchen and scrawled a note: Staying at Lizette's. Be home on Sunday. Iff.
I slapped the note down on the kitchen counter and grabbed one of my stepmother's Pop-Tarts, knowing that'd piss her off. Thinking better of it, I grabbed a second packet and shoved them both in my hoodie pocket, carefully returning the empty box to the cupboard. Now that would piss her off.
On a roll, I went and opened the kitchen window. I took the three short steps back to the living room and undraped the birdcage. Tweetie flapped its little wings and looked at me. I eased open the sliding gate and stuck my pointer finger in; even though we didn't interact a whole lot, the bird seemed to sense what was happening and hopped right on to my finger.
I carried the bird carefully back to the kitchen, one hand cupped around it as though I was holding a lit candle, and I set my hand out the window.
That bird didn't hesitate. It got gone.
I watched it perch on the neighbor's fire escape before setting out for real and flapping down 83rd street. "Good luck," I whispered.
I had no idea if that bird would make it through the summer, if it would live to see 1993, or if it would fly south or find a new family or what, but its odds were a lot better out there than they'd ever been in here.
And I was right behind it.
I redraped the cage and headed to the door. They probably wouldn't even notice that cage was empty 'til tomorrow. I picked up my school bag and popped my skateboard under my arm.
I opened the apartment door and pushed the little button by the deadbolt so that it would stay unlocked. I went into the hallway and pulled the door quietly behind me. I became lighter with each step I took, as though ropes that had held me loosened and frayed and snapped off the farther I got from that door. I jogged down the three flights, jumped the last few steps, holding the railing and swooping down, like I've always done, since I was a little kid. I was weightless.
My breath was short, my heart fluttering when I burst from the service entry into the sunny morning. They — my stepbrother, Layla, my stepmother — were still asleep, I knew, but nevertheless I felt pursued, a fugitive. I dropped my board and stepped on it. Other folks were just starting to emerge into the day, the dog walkers and deliverymen hustling around. I put on my head- phones, holding the bright-yellow Walkman in my hand as I kicked off to the opening notes of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" I thought more about that bird as I skated the three blocks over to the playground to meet my friend Lizette once last time.
I was getting gone too.CHAPTER 2
I was never going back there. Never going back. The words repeated in my head to the rhythm of the board over the lines that divided up the sidewalk squares, never going back,never going back. And then I crossed the street and the rhythm shifted and the words changed. Gotta find her. Gotta find her. Gotta find Mom.
I was a little bit less of a wreck when I got to the playground. I sat on my swing and tried to get ahold of my breathing. I wondered if other people had to work so hard to try to seem normal all the time.
Me and Lizette met at the swings every morning before school, eating breakfast — usually one of those individually wrapped doughnuts or coffee cakes from the bodega — and steeling ourselves for the day to come. Tenth grade wasn't a pleasant place for either us: I was skinny and weird and the teachers thought I was stupid. Lizette was fat and weird and the teachers thought she was stupid. Needless to say, it wasn't like we had a big social group or anything like that.
Sitting there, I considered for a moment just leaving without seeing Lizette. But no, she was my girl, my best friend. I had to see her. And I didn't want to have her going over to the apartment looking for me when I didn't show up at school.
As I waited, I thought of my stepbrother, and I thought of when he'd pushed me and I'd hit my head, hard, on the dresser. I thought of him saying to me, "You should be thanking me. You're so ugly, no one else is gonna want to touch that."
And then there was Lizette, skating right up to the swings, a little awkward on her board, scowling and talking even before stepping off.
"— get those glasses, too," she was saying, starting right in the middle, her speech fast and clipped, but she stopped abruptly and sucked in her breath. She pulled a face, like something smelled bad. "Your stepmother do that to your eye?"
I shrugged and tried to smile.
"Here," she sighed, taking the big old movie star shades perched on the top of her head. "You wear my sunglasses." She clucked her tongue and then asked, "You bring anything for breakfast? And can you stop looking so ... I don't know ... creepy for, like, one second please?"
Lizette's default attitude was exasperated. Sometimes she was even exasperated about having to be so exasperated all the time.
I pretended to laugh, snorting a little, and handed her a packet of Pop-Tarts. She took the gum out of her mouth and stuck it under her swing. That swing, the one Lizette always sat on, was probably a couple of inches thicker than any other swing in the world 'cause of all the gum she'd parked down there.
The playground was empty except for the skinny dude who played handball all by himself every morning. The slap and pop of the ball was like our background music, our soundtrack.
"Lizette," I started. I waited while Lizette tore open the foil packet and took a bite.
"Mmmph — I hate strawberry," she said with her mouth full. She was quiet for a moment, chewing, and she gazed off past the basketball courts.
I started again. "You know, sometimes I think about trying to find my mother. You know?"
Lizette waited for me to go on.
When I didn't, she swallowed and asked, "When was the last time you saw her?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. She left for real when I was a kid, but sometimes she would come back ..."
Lizette faced me and got right down to business. "Okay, so where do you think she is?"
I shrugged again. I wanted to tell Lizette, but I didn't have the words. "I think she's ... around."
I didn't tell Lizette that I had once seen my mother outside of my junior high school. That when I saw her, I'd turned away and gone back into the school.
My mother had looked like a crazy person. She had looked homeless, all skinny and strung out. I was afraid of her. And, even more shameful, I was embarrassed by her.
Another time, she had turned up at the apartment. My stepmother threatened to call the cops. My father told her to get her junkie ass back to the park.
But I didn't tell Lizette all that, and Lizette, for once in her life, seemed to not know what to say. I looked at her and she looked back, confused, but her face was also softer, more open than usual.
"What are you gonna do, Iff?"
She stared at me. Then she said, sharper than I usually gave her credit for, "You know you can just stay with me and my mom if things are bad."
But we both knew that wasn't really true. Two nights, maybe three tops, before Lizette's mom would start frowning, sighing. Four nights max and she would say outright it was time for me to go.
I looked into the distance and nodded. "I know, Zette. Thanks."
A part of me wished that Lizette would press me, ask me more questions. Demand that I tell her what I was thinking of doing. But she didn't. Because, in the end, neither of us was any good at talking for real. Lizette made up for it by chattering all the time; I made up for it by just staying quiet. On the one hand, sometimes it seemed as though we already knew all the important stuff, we didn't need to speak it out loud. I knew her mother's boyfriend beat her mother up. I knew that when Lizette showed up tired and cranky and she said, "Yeah, David showed up at like three a.m.," that she had had a bad night at home. I didn't have to make her say it.
But on the other hand, maybe if we had tried a little harder, we could have taught each other how to talk about that stuff. Maybe it would have helped.
That day, though, we sat for a moment and then Lizette informed me, like I should care, that Beverly Hills, 90210 was going to be on at a different time. "You should come over and watch it with me because it's so dumb, I love it, and don't worry, I'll fill you in on everything." And then she checked her watch and announced, "We gotta get going," so I got off the hook for having to lie about why a 90210 TV night wasn't going to happen.
We were almost always a little late to school; that was another thing we had never said out loud, but rolling in at the very last minute freed us from having to wait for the bell in the cafeteria, where it was like a whole other version of lunch hell, complete with a hierarchy of tables segregated by race, coolness, and clique. We didn't have a "table" — I wasn't Irish or Italian enough for the girls who organized themselves that way; the black and Spanish girls wanted nothing to do with us either. Lizette didn't fit in any- where either. A lot of people, cruelly, called her "the Missing Link." I wasn't even completely sure what that meant, but it seemed a dis that Lizette didn't know who or what her father was. How the kids at our school knew this about Lizette, I could only guess.
That we both got into skateboarding probably made it even worse, maybe making us not really true girls, even. Sometimes we saw them, our classmates, watching us out of the corners of their eyes. Sometimes they looked at us fully, but then it was always with contempt, disgust.
So, if we came in at the last possible minute, rushing to grab our seats in our homerooms, maybe they wouldn't even notice us at all.
We got up from the swings, grabbed our backpacks from the pavement.
Then I said, "Uh, oh shoot. I gotta go back home. Forgot my history book."
Lizette frowned, dropped her head in annoyance and disbelief. "Iffy. Really?"
We looked at each other. Ask me, I thought, but I didn't have any idea what I'd tell her.
"You gonna show up later?"
I got busy with my knapsack and shrugged.
"All right," she sighed, put out, then scolded, "You know you can't miss any more."
"Yeah," I agreed. If she only knew. I was failing every single one of my classes. But it didn't matter — I was never going back anyway.
"All right," she said again, disappointed. I went to take the sunglasses off and hand them to her, but she waved them away. "Just borrow them." I smiled to say a silent apology for knowing she'd probably never get them back.
"Zette ... don't come over this weekend or anything. I mean, if I don't make it to school today. My stepmother's in a mood is all."
Lizette pulled her lips to one side and raised her eyebrows. "Okay."
I stepped on my board and she got on hers and we both started off in opposite directions.
I'd covered half the playground when she hollered, "I'm serious! You better come to school later!"
I turned around, waving and nodding.
"Stay sweet, Lizzie," I called.
"Stay sweet, Iffy," she yelled back, like we do.
And as I left her behind, I imagined telling Lizette what I had done, what I was doing. How I had saved all the money from my job walking some neighbor kids home from school and how over the last couple of months I had stolen five bucks here, ten bucks there from my father's and stepmother's wallets. How I had sat in the library, reading black-and-white paperback manuals on "outdoorsmanship." I had taken notes and made lists, stashing my work behind a book about bird-watching in the stacks.
I checked my watch. How long did I have before Layla and Marco got out of bed? I was counting on them sleeping in, or, if they got up, hanging around the apartment, playing Mortal Kombat. It was time. Before my next stop at the Army Navy Store, I was gonna call Oscar, Layla's boyfriend. It was an added bonus that she happened to be in the apartment the day I'd picked to run.
Everyone knew Oscar. Even kids like me who weren't in gangs or didn't get involved with all the drug stuff. We knew he was not a person to mess around with.
Oscar lived a block away from my apartment, on 84th street. He always sat on the stoop of his building, doing all his business there, showing everyone that he didn't give a damn about the cops: he couldn't be bothered to be discreet. One time I was walking home from school and I saw some commotion. I was gonna take the twins the long way around, but I couldn't help myself. I walked in closer and I saw a crowd circled around, watching Oscar beat some guy with a big, heavy chain, right in the middle of the street. The guy was squirming on his belly, trying to crawl away, and Oscar walked slowly behind him, swinging the chain high over his head and then whipping it down hard.
Thinking about Oscar beating that guy made my heart beat a little faster. I pulled the crumpled paper out of my pocket which had the number I'd got from calling 411 last week. I took a deep breath and put the coin in the slot and dialed.
It rang once. Twice. My hand began to move of its own accord to hang up when I heard a hissed, "What?"
I sucked in a breath.
"What?" he asked again, irritated. "This better be fucking good."
"Layla," I squeaked.
"3730 83rd Street. 3C," I breathed into the phone.
"Who the fuck is this?" My mind raced. Would Oscar take the bait? He couldn't know it was me, could he? Maybe he already knew that Layla ran around on him; maybe he even knew that she cheated on him with my stepbrother. Maybe he didn't care. No, even if he didn't care about her, he would definitely care about that.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Iphigenia Murphy"
Copyright © 2020 Sara Hosey.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
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