The Lost Girls: A Novel

The Lost Girls: A Novel

by Laurie Fox

NOOK Book(eBook)


Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now


Wendy has long heard the family legend -- madness strikes the Darling women at a certain age, traditionally after romance visits in the form of an overgrown boy. The Darling girl will fall in love, the boy will desert, and the girl is left on her heels, heartbroken and flirting ever after with lunacy's lure. Wendy knows she should be grateful for her childhood adventure, but instead she finds herself adrift; resenting the heartache-turned-eccentricity of her mother; envious of the oddball antics of her Great-Nana; and consumed by the mystery of her grandmother Jane, whose disappearance following her own youthful romance remains unsolved.
When Wendy falls in love with Freeman, an exuberant and irreverent man-child himself, she finds herself perpetuating the pattern she thought she had missed. And then along comes her daughter, Berry, the precocious but sullen child with the eyes of a sage. When it is Berry's time to go off to The Neverland, Wendy, like so many mothers before her, questions who she has become. Is she "barking mad"? Is Berry?
Wendy's journey to self-realization takes flight from the themes suggested in the classic novel Peter Pan. Fox's dazzling prose and elegant insights into love and loss make this story universal; the characters and their heartache make this novel deeply personal. The Lost Girls contemplates the contradictory human yearnings for freedom and safety, flight and stability in a moving and ultimately uplifting story of motherhood, love, and reenchantment that speaks to women of all ages.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743253574
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 06/21/2011
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Laurie Fox is the author of Sexy Hieroglyphics and My Sister from the Black Lagoon. A former bookseller and creative-writing teacher, she has worked in the publishing industry for seventeen years. Laurie lives with her husband, author-journalist D. Patrick Miller, and her cats, Lewis and Gracie, in Berkeley, California. For more information about the author and her work, visit her website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The day Mother took me by the hand to visit Great-Nana Wendy in the hospital, we promised each other that when the past came up, we would change the subject as casually as changing the sheets. We would not validate Great-Nana's stories, no matter how tempting or true. In this way, we would speed her recovery. At the time I didn't understand why she had been locked up like a thief, for one's memories can't be stolen -- they belong to you for life. However, Dr. Smithson patiently explained in the dreary hallway of Guy's Hospital that Great-Nana had, in fact, stolen whole scenes and conversations from storybooks and made them her own, put her own psychic copyright on them. He went on to say that the voracious reading she had done in her youth had harmed her irreparably, that she couldn't distinguish fairy stories from real life, and this made her a "dangerous woman."

Mother suppressed a giggle, then guffawed openly: "Christ almighty, what rubbish!"

Dr. Smithson grimaced. "Mrs. Braverman, I'm not joking. If you recall, we picked up your grandmother after the neighbors spotted her straddling the sill of her second-story window, dangling her legs and talking to the Moon. She was babbling about comets, about steering clear of comets. I can assure you, after four days of extensive psychological evaluation, the results are conclusive: your grandmother is delusional. What you refer to as whims could make it very risky for her to negotiate the simplest activities: crossing the street, shopping for groceries. Consider what would happen if she spotted a 'buccaneer' at the supermarket -- would she draw a 'sword' from her handbag and go on the offensive? You must think of her welfare, not your own interests."

Mother took a preparatory breath. She fluttered her lashes and placed her tiny hands on her hips, drawing attention to her thrilling hourglass figure. "Buccaneer? What in the world? I'm sorry, doctor, I don't quite follow." She winked at me broadly, like Shirley Temple in Little Miss Marker.

Dr. Smithson patted his forehead with an ornate monogrammed handkerchief. "Mrs. Braverman, surely you've heard the stories?"

"Stories?" Mother said. "Why, I'm not sure."

"Yes, yes, the tall tales. Mermaids, pirates, Indians. Don't tell me your grandmother doesn't regale you with this poppycock?"

I could see that Mother's calm was eroding. She shook her head sharply and her coiled plait came loose, falling open suggestively between herself and the doctor. "Nana's faculties are unassailable," she said.

"I beg to differ, Mrs. Braverman. For one thing, the flying. Your grandmother doesn't talk of flying around the parlor?"

Mother smiled a bit too widely, showing off her glossy niblet teeth. She looked as if she was about to devour the man. "Hmm, let's see...does Nana talk about flying? Well, only on Wednesdays, does that count?" She let go with a snort.

Dr. Smithson reddened and bowed his head.

"Well," Mother continued, "if that counts, then, yes, she speaks about flying. But what's the harm in that? Everybody talks about flying, women do these days. Really, if you don't discuss heightened states of consciousness, you're considered provincial. And Nana is nothing if not cosmopolitan. Her friends are legends, I tell you. Cocteau, Isadora Duncan, Huxley. Have you never read The Doors of Perception? No? Well, you're in for a wild ride!" Mother patted the physician's back. "You see, my grandmother isn't mad, she's progressive."

"Mrs. Braverman."

"Call me Margaret," Mother encouraged. "No, call me Maggie."

"Mrs. Braverman. Your grandmother is seriously ill. This is not a matter of how artistic or liberal she is. She honestly believes that she flew off to some sort of funfair when she was a girl. And that she will return to this counterfeit world when she dies."

"How perfectly cyclical," Mother said.

Dr. Smithson heaved a laborious sigh and, changing direction, bent over to address me. "You do want your great-grandmother to get well?" he asked simply.

"Mummy says she's not ill," I answered reflexively, chewing on my curls. "Mummy says, if Great-Nana is ill, then we're all ill." I smiled up at him; he was a handsome man after all.

"Right. Well, let's go see her then. I'm recommending a live-in nurse, but you can judge for yourselves."

Every Sunday morning until I turned five, I'd spent a few enchanted hours in Great-Nana's presence. Splayed out on the Persian rug in her sitting room, I played amid the clutter -- sheet music and watercolors, stuffed owls and marble busts of young, muscle-bound men. Born in 1953 and living in the shadow of the A-bomb, I was an anxious child who tended to cringe when emotions ran high between Mummy and Daddy, who both felt some time spent with Nana was time well-spent, indeed. Of course, Mummy didn't always approve of Great-Nana's methods.

"To be young was very heaven," Nana liked to sing as she bounced me on her knee. While Wordsworth had written this about the dawn of the French Revolution, for my own time period he couldn't have been more on the mark. "To be young was very heaven, Wends," Nana would repeat, eyes fogged with mist -- or memories.

"You're very heaven," I'd coo in return, and she'd blush down to her garter belt and silk stockings. Then she'd slip me -- a slip of a girl -- off her knee, inviting me to bang my bum on her threadbare rug. This was her way of illustrating that falling from heaven, when young, can land you on the nursery floor.

"I'd much prefer hell as the entrée to life," she mused one afternoon after dumping me on the floor. "The main entrée, with heaven for dessert! You see, a main course of heaven just makes you hunger for more. Yes, give me hell as the entrée, and heaven much later on -- when a person can fully appreciate it."

"My bum hurts," I complained. "Do I have to fall every time I visit?"

"If you learn how to fall properly now," she advised, "it won't hurt so much later. When life is painful early on, the pain of growing up won't come as such a shock."

On hearing this homily, Mother, who had been curled up on the settee with The Second Sex, hauled me off to the kitchen, telling her own grandmother to stifle herself. "You are a piece of work, Nana. You really have no business turning my daughter into a neurotic. When it comes to nutters, you take the grand prize!"

"And your daughter, the little peanut, is first runner-up!" Nana said, eyes blazing.

I nodded studiously, twisting a strawberry-blonde curl with my forefinger until a few hairs broke off. At the time I wasn't clear on what a nutter was, but I was quite sure I didn't want to be one.

Even though I am now forty-two -- an old forty-two -- I recall the very moment I set eyes on Great-Nana that cheerless afternoon in the hospital. She was in her cups, as Mummy liked to say. Most amazingly, the nurses hadn't gotten wind of this, allowing her to sip her "parfait" through a straw; by the time we arrived, she'd been working her way through a thermos for hours. The schnapps had been smuggled in by Daddy, a connoisseur himself, and the only one of us who could spring for private quarters. Apparently, the two of them had spent the morning sipping, watching the news, and gossiping about Princess Margaret's sex life. Upon hearing us approach, Daddy had fled in a mild panic, a phantom whose only traces were the Player's cigarette fumes he'd left behind. He hated running into Mummy -- "the grand divorcée," he called her.

Daddy and Mummy's path as a couple had taken a permanent detour by the time I was five. I hardly remember him from those early, stormy days. By my teens, however, every fact about him had been colored in and criminalized by Mummy. In her eyes, Daddy was a cretin, Daddy was a dildo, Daddy was a dumbfuck. In the fifties, went her mantra, Daddy had left the two of us to go fly his little airplanes and build his big airplanes. And, in the sixties, to start a hip company called Brave Hearts Airlines that played pop rock in the terminal and served weak French roast in the air. But as much as Mother demonized Daddy, my heart never blackened at the thought of him. Fathers are not exchangeable at Harrods or Nordstrom; you're stuck for life with the one you've got.

Obviously, Mother didn't share my opinion; she got rid of Daddy the night he went paragliding on the cliffs near Dover. Well before there were kits for such things, he rigged up the glider himself, then downed a few pints, stripped to his smalls, took flight abruptly, and mooned the world. In a second coup de grace he crashed in a patch of ripe tomatoes. Why Mummy didn't laugh at this is a mystery, but I believe it had something to do with me. Now that he was the parent of an impressionable girl, she scolded, he should put an end to all the stunts -- the silly hot-air ballooning, the sophomoric scuba diving, and God knows, the rock climbing, the pub-crawling. It was time to come home and stay put. Unfortunately, Daddy's appetite for life had to be fed on an hourly basis, and he fed it.

My parents' divorce was swift; there was money enough for everybody, enough for Mummy and me to leave the country for good. Hastily uprooting us from the suburbs of London, Margaret Darling Braverman planted us in the fragrant hills of Berkeley, California, where her "psycho-spiritual ideas could take root." On the west coast of America, she could do her hatha yoga openly, worship her goddesses, and begin her career as an author of books on self-improvement.

Upon arriving in the East Bay, I recall that the Queen Anne Victorians seemed pleasantly familiar; but the birds of paradise, the gladioli were alien to my eyes, almost wanton. On clear afternoons, you could see both bridges -- the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate -- from our backyard deck while hamburgers smoked and sizzled on our brand-new barbecue. On foggy, marine-layer mornings, you could scan this same vista and see nothing. Goodness, I was homesick for England and yet confused by my good fortune. Courtesy of Daddy's bank account, I'd been given a new life as an American girl, but at quite a steep price: I had to content myself with stolen glimpses of my father on advertisements for Brave Hearts Airlines.

"Look at Dummy!" Mother would shriek, slapping the telly whenever Daddy's face lit the screen.

"That's Dudley," I'd correct her, "your ex."

X is one of the last letters in the alphabet, Mummy routinely pointed out; she liked to play up Daddy's failed status as often as she could. Dudley Braverman, CEO of Brave Hearts Airlines, had been reduced to one letter in our house in the hills, and I grew up longing to know the mysterious Mr. X. There had to be more to him than a handsome daredevil businessman who occasionally donned an eye patch.

In the private regions of my mind, I referred to Daddy as "Your Ex-cellency" and, by the mid-sixties, dreamed of flying off to London on one of his jazzy Brave Hearts jets, where the stewardesses strutted the aisles in white patent-leather boots and tartan minikilts. In these reveries, I was seated between Michael Caine and Dusty Springfield, and we'd chatter nonstop about the dark side of show business. After exchanging phone numbers with my new friends on the plane's final approach, I'd sashay down the ramp and plunge into Daddy's outstretched arms on the tarmac below. On his shoulders he'd carry me through customs and, when asked to declare what items he'd brought into the country, he'd confess: "One fabulous daughter whose value is...invaluable!"

Save for an inaugural spin on the runway, I never did fly on Brave Hearts Airlines. Mummy made sure we gave all our business to BOAC and Freddie Laker, and later on, to Virgin Atlantic -- Daddy's biggest rival. In this way, we lived as if Daddy were already dead, a burden of grief that weighed me down as a child and endowed me with a grave disposition. My only solace was our annual visits with Great-Nana Wendy -- the stories she spun about Daddy! -- for through the years she and Dudley remained as thick as thieves. Nana's memories, though, often proved faulty; her narratives tended to confuse Daddy with Pan. This was forgivable, I suppose. Both were boys of some charm who refused to play by the rules. Both loved flying more than the world itself (and forgot about the world from time to time). Both Daddy and Peter made you feel extraordinary in their presence. But that was the catch: you had to be in their presence.

As I said, Great-Nana Wendy was in her cups the day Mummy and I ventured into her hospital room. After flushing Daddy's smoke out the tall windows, we settled in for the afternoon. I had never visited a real live crazy person and didn't know what to expect.

Nana wasted no time. She waved me over to the bed with a pudgy, liver-spotted hand; her fingers were dressed with so many gaudy costume rings I had to shade my eyes. "I like to entertain the senses," she explained. "The more bijoux the better." When she noticed me staring at the little ruby number on her pinkie, she slipped it off and said, "It's yours, buttercup."

A bit awed, I approached her bed. "Closer, my little bird," she sang in a flutey voice. "Come sit with me, darling. Alight on me, for God's sake!"

I inched nearer, until she reached out with two fleshy arms and forced me onto the bed, pressing me into her generous bosom. "There now. You've exhausted me, child. Give me your ring finger."

I was confused -- every finger of Nana's was a ring finger -- so I stuck my entire right hand in her face. She chuckled and slid the glittery red-stoned bauble onto my longest digit, then bent over to kiss it as if I were a princess.

"All right. Enough of that." She waved my hand away. "Jewels can blind you, fool you into thinking that this world's the best place in which to bide your time. Now, child, close your eyes. Go on. Good. Now please try to imagine the worst possible thing."

"Nana!" Mummy cried from her chair in the corner.

"Hush. Don't interfere. I want Wendy to hold a monstrous thought in her mind's eye. Got one?"

I nodded enthusiastically; I was good at conjuring up really bad stuff. I thought of Tootles, my dear puss, flattened by a lorry, his guts spilling onto the pavement. Tears pooled in my eyes and dampened my cheeks. I sniffled and chewed on my bottom lip.

"That's the spirit!" Great-Nana applauded.

"Can I open my eyes?" I whimpered.

"No, dear. You've just begun to make use of your powers."

"But Nana, I see millions of dots. How very strange!"

"Well, we Darlings tend towards the strange. We veer towards it."

"How about veering towards a nap?" Mother interrupted. "Really, you're scaring the girl."

"I'm scaring her for her own good. Now, buttercup, imagine that you could escape this world of death, old-age pensioners, and frightfully bad weather."

Through squinting eyes, I caught Great-Nana winking at my mother. Mummy was right: I hadn't a clue to what Nana was getting at. Plus, I could smell the schnapps on her breath, her signature lavender toilet water mingling with stale bath powder.

I opened my eyes without permission. "You're not scaring me, Nana. I just can't see."

"That's it!" She smacked the mattress with flattened palms, then propped herself up and cast off her blankets. "You can't see. You haven't experienced such a world, a place where animals and humans and rocks and vegetables live in harmony -- and with such esprit de corps. But it exists, it exists...." Gazing out the window, she smiled appreciatively at nothing.

Even in the hospital's bad light, my great-grandmother looked beautiful; she glowed from within. In spite of the spirits and her medication, Nana's heavy-lidded eyes danced with life, and her aquiline nose -- the nose all Darling women quietly endured -- appeared queenly, compassionate. When it began to twitch something awful, I stuck a tissue under it and caught a sneeze.

"Whew!" Great-Nana sighed. "My conviction makes me wild with passion. And passion always makes me sneeze."

"Okay, Grandma." Mother clapped her hands like a headmistress. "It's time to sleep it off." Rising from her chair with authority, she crossed over to the bed, managed to coax Great-Nana beneath the covers. Then, when Mummy had for all intents and purposes returned to her chair, Nana flung back the bedclothes. "I'm just getting started!" she roared.

"Christ," Mother sighed, and held her hands towards heaven.

"Mummy, we're Jewish. Are we not Jewish?" I mimicked her pleading gesture.

"God, that's a tough question. You see, Wends, I'm a Wiccan-slash-Buddhist, a Wicca-Bu, if you will. It's your father who's Jewish. As for your great-grandmother, well, she's a fabulist."

"Very funny," Nana said. "You're awfully droll, ducky. But," she continued, "you are absentminded when it comes to history. You've forgotten everything crucial. For instance, crocodiles. And all the key personalities."

"Like fairies and mermaids and pirates?"

Great-Nana smiled slyly.

"Oh, Nana, really."

"Don't oh-Nana me. It's time to talk to the girl. How old is she?"


"Heavens, we're almost too late."

Mother rolled her eyes in my direction, as if to signal that Nana was potty.

"But he comes earlier and earlier each time. We've got to be prepared!"

"Who comes? Who?" I was wild with curiosity. "I'm prepared for anything, Nana. I'm a Brownie," I assured her.

Great-Nana shook her head and clicked her tongue, as if I, her sole great-granddaughter, had been prepared for all the wrong things. "Margaret," she told Mummy, "please be a good girl and let us be. We've got business."

Mummy opened her mouth to protest, but left the room in defeat. After a minute, though, she stuck her head in the door and gaily announced, "I'll be in the hallway, if anyone might possibly need a mother."

Ignoring her, Great-Nana directed me to pull up a chair. She offered me some lemon drops from a beveled-glass dish on her night table and, with a trembling hand, I took a sweet. "Take your time with it," she instructed, "melt, don't crunch." I sucked away with deliberation. "Now, open the curtains," she told me. "Super. Now, the windows. Excellent. Now, poppet, back to the chair." I followed her instructions to a T. "And this is the hard part, dear, for you really have got to open your mind. It's time. It's past time, really."

A sharp breeze rippled through the cramped room, raising goose pimples on my arms. My teeth chattered like castanets. But Great-Nana's attention was fixed on the sky. Perhaps her eyes tracked clouds or birds or airplanes; I couldn't make out what she found so fascinating.

Finally, she pierced me with a look of vexation, blinking in slow motion. A single freckle showed through her thick alabaster foundation. "You must pay attention, Wendy, because I only have the energy to say this once." I searched her gray eyes expectantly. "They -- the physicians -- have decided that I need constant observation because I happen to be having too much fun. And this fun threatens their boring little ex-is-tence!"

"Eggs and stains?"

"Sssh, child. I am here to warn you."

"Warn me?"

"About eternal youth. About Neverland. About boys and men and death. But not in that order. Men come last. Remember, they always come last."

I nodded as if I understood the lot of it, the ways of the world. Nana appeared newly refreshed; her liquid eyes brimmed with an excitement tinged with fear. She raised her right hand, surely about to spank me, then smacked her own forehead instead.

"Nana!" I objected.

"Listen to me, poppet. When you turn eleven or ten or -- God forbid -- eight, you will meet a boy."

"Yes," I said agreeably. After all, this sounded like a good thing. "But when exactly, Nana? I meet boys all the time."

"You do, do you?" I nodded like a horse in a circus act. "Oh, well. I hadn't thought of that. But this boy, he's not ordinary."

"Daddy says no one is ordinary. Daddy says we are all extra-ordinary!"

"He does, does he?" Again I nodded. "Well, your father is awfully optimistic."

"Daddy likes people."

"Daddy has a frightfully high opinion of the human race." Great-Nana stretched her arms over her head and yawned extravagantly. "But what he failed to mention is that some of us are extra-ordinary in extraordinary ways."

This sounded tantalizing, like a riddle. "Is the boy nice? Is he handsome?" I asked.

"Wendy, the point is, he's too nice, he's too handsome. You shall fall for him uncontrollably, head over heels and against all logic. Against all common sense."

From her toiletry bag on the bedside table, she scavenged for a lipstick, then took great pains to apply a deep shade of plum to her lips. Even at six, I wondered if she'd fallen for this boy herself.

"I don't understand. What's the bad part, Nana?"

Looking less wan now, Great-Nana lifted herself high in the bed and gave me a peck on the forehead. "The bad part? Oh, the underbelly." She scratched her nape and wound a stray wisp of tangerine-colored hair round her pinkie. "This boy, he will take you for a ride. He will open you up to miraculous things -- caves the size of department stores, coves the color of daiquiris. Stars that are luminous, numerous, and numinous!" Here she cackled like a madwoman. "He will make you his queen and then his mother and then the mother of all the boys in his neighborhood."

"Sounds funny," I said. "Like a dream."

"Yes, darling, you are absolutely right. It is a dream...." She stared off into the ether. After an absurdly long pause, she added: "His name is Peter. He will come for you and you will have no choice but to follow. Your mother will insist on it. Just like I insisted that my daughter, Jane, go with him and Jane insisted that Margaret do the same."

"But where is Grandma Jane?" I asked.

"Jane, where are you, my sweetheart?" she called out. Then, she closed her eyes and hummed. Just as abruptly, she put a finger to her lips. "Don't interrupt. When you grow up, Wendy, you will encourage your own daughter to follow this boy."

"But where will he take me? Does it hurt?"

"Hurt? God, yes. But only later when you can't be with him anymore. The beginning, however, is unimaginable."

"Then how can I imagine it, Nana?"

She arched her heavily penciled eyebrows. "It's magical. I can hardly put magic into words!" Then she softened and patted my head. "Wendy Darling, you deserve magic. You deserve the unimaginable. You just have to open your mind to...the Story. Shall we take it from the top?"

"Yes!" I cried with a certainty that I found startling.

"Jolly good show," she said, both of her cold hands clasped in mine.

"You will wake one starry night to discover a lad squatting on the floor, bawling his head off. It's always the same thing: 'boo-hoo-hoo.' The boy is crying his eyes out because he's either lost his shadow or lost his fairy, or forgotten the end to a fairy tale. You know, the usual alibi, the usual ruse."

Were the doctors right? Was Nana bonkers? I stifled a giggle and she pressed on: "I repeat, you will wake mid-dream, frightfully confused by footsteps and blubbering. Upon encountering such theatrics, you will say, 'Boy, why are you crying?' Not the best opening line, I grant you, but it will do. My beloved Jane knew from the outset that the pathetic, whimpering creature was Pan, but she kept tradition alive by dutifully repeating: 'Boy, why are you crying?' Of course, your own mother, Margaret -- never one to miss an opportunity to be clever -- dispensed with tradition and blurted out, 'Hey, gorgeous!' Then she waltzed circles round Peter, showing off her see-through nightie, and watched his eyes pop out of his head like a cartoon cat. But I am digressing." Nana squeezed my hand so tight I let out a little cry.

"During your first meeting with Peter, he will tell you how invaluable you are, that he cannot survive without you. He will claim that he needs you like no one has ever needed you. And you will find this most seductive -- "

"What's see-duc-tive, Nana?"

"Good lord! Seductive is anything that makes you excited and pretty at the same time." I gave her a puzzled look. "Peter will complain that he's been without a mother for far too long. He'll swear to be your devoted slave if you'll do a bit of spring cleaning for him and his friends. Not to mention a little button-sewing, a little cooking, and a great deal of baking. At the time, this will seem reasonable, doable."

"I can do those things!"

"See, you're already taken in."

Was it true, did I believe her? Did I want to?

"And, most dramatically, dear, he will teach you how to...hover."

"You mean fly?"

"Well, yes, if you wish to split hairs."

"I'll be Amelia Earhart!" I bounded onto the bed and extended my arms, pretend-soaring above her tatty satin duvet. "Daddy will be so proud of me. He's always wanted me to be a pilot, you know."

"Yes, but he expected you would be using a plane, darling."

Giggling, I looked down to discover a still-handsome woman fallen back on an enormous feather pillow. "What is it, Nana? You said the story was magic. See-duc-tive. Are there monsters? Do people die?"

"Later, Wendy. Let's concentrate on the Story. So off you will go with Peter to meet his friends -- strangely enough, they're all boys -- and become a part of his epic adventure. Doesn't that sound smashing?"

A nurse stuck her face in the doorway. "Time for your pills, luv." A wraithlike young woman trotted in, her mannish shoes clomping, and handed Nana three yellow pills and a paper cup of water. Both women winked at me; apparently this was some sort of game.

When the nurse had retreated down the hall, Nana spat out the pills that she'd tucked, one by one, in her cheeks, and crushed them to dust in her meaty, white palms. Then she howled maniacally. Again I filled with doubt; maybe listening so faithfully to Great-Nana's stories only damaged her further -- like pressing too hard on a bruise.

"Lie down with me, dear," Nana now purred. She stroked the duvet with her heavily ringed fingers.

I climbed onto the narrow metal bed and arranged my limbs around Nana's ample torso. When I was settled in, shabby duvet pulled up to my chin, Nana reprised her deranged laugh. "Isn't this divine?" she said. "We're two peas in a pod. Two Wendys in a bed. Two lost, lost girls." This sounded terrible to me, like a family curse, and I began to shiver.

"Wendy, listen carefully." This time she studied the ceiling instead of the sky. "My intention is not to scare you. Your mother does a good enough job of that. In fact, your mother is the one who has turned against males. Who is obsessed with personal justice and the settling of scores. Men! If you must know, I still love them all. When I said that they come last, I meant that you must always make certain you remember yourself first. But don't grow angry like Margaret. Or disappear like Jane." She dabbed at her nose with a tissue. "When the men betray you -- and they will betray you -- use this as an opportunity to forgive, as a heightened experience from which you can make music, write poetry, paint paintings.

"Believe me, you will be privy to a world that's more vivid than your crayons -- more colorful than those snapshots your father is so fond of. A place where your creativity is queen. So plunge in, say yes, fall recklessly in love. Feel more deeply than your friends do. Hit the heights, descend into the depths. Kiss the lads smack on the lips and move on -- like I did. I survived love and you will too. When you want to kill yourself -- and you will want to kill yourself -- remember that your Great-Nana loves you and your feelings. That your imagination is more powerful than your anger. And don't ever doubt me, Wendy. For your Nana is not only a flaming romantic, but a visionary who sees many things you cannot."

"What do you see now, Nana?"

"Now? I'm rather spent, dear." She faced the blank wall.

"Please tell me something. Just one itty thing."

"Well," she sighed, and pressed her palms together. "I see your future and it' future burns bright as the sun!" Then she slipped her entire body, including her head, under the covers. But her queer musings continued, now muffled by the blankets: "The sun...its magnificent flames scorching everything in their path. Licking, hurling, annihilating. The sun, which gives us life, also burns a hole in our heart. And I'm not talking metaphorically, dear, I'm on fire...."

Then she was asleep.

It was a simple question: should I cling to Nana or run?

Stepping out from her bedclothes, I tiptoed at high speed out of the room. No doubt, I had contracted my great-grandmother's illness -- if I wasn't already bonkers, I'd soon be mad as a hatter. And that is how I became a burn victim of Great-Nana's imagination, for she branded her own dreams into me that afternoon, and I caught a fever that would not subside over fourteen thousand days. That day in the hospital, I said good-bye to common sense, to rationality. But what was I saying hello to?

Copyright © 2004 by Laurie Fox

Customer Reviews