Love Maps

Love Maps

by Eliza Factor


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617752735
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 05/05/2015
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,318,326
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Eliza Factor is a writer and the founder of Extreme Kids & Crew. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and three children. Her debut novel, The Mercury Fountain, was published in 2012. Love Maps is her latest novel.

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Love Maps

By Eliza Factor

Akashic Books

Copyright © 2015 Eliza Factor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61775-273-5


Connecticut, October 1997


What did he want now? Whatever it was, they couldn't afford it. It had been madness buying the sole, $17.99 a pound, but Sarah could not stand another night of bluefish. Max ran into the kitchen, all seven years of him, lithe and bright-eyed, waving an old-fashioned airmail envelope. She dropped the fish, knowing somehow. How? She couldn't make out the handwriting from that distance, not distinctly at least. Maybe some part of her optic nerve saw it, just not the conscious part. In any case the fish fell to the linoleum, thankfully still in its wrapper, and she snatched the envelope out of Max's hand. It was him, his letters precise and slightly slanted to the right, pressed so hard as to cause gullies in the paper.

"Is it from my father?" Max was only a couple of inches from her, his chest rising and falling as if he had run a mile. Thank god Philip hadn't bothered with a return address.

"I don't know."

"Well, open it!"

"Not now. It's time to make dinner."

Max gave her a look both steady and accusing. His eyes were the same gray-blue as Philip's, but fringed with thick eyelashes.

"Sweetheart, just because it's from overseas doesn't mean it's from him. I know other people overseas."

"It's from the Congo. Who else would be in the Congo?"

The Congo? She hadn't even noticed the stamp. She was tempted to open it then and there, but couldn't with Max pressing in so close. She folded it and slipped it in her back pocket. "Honey, if it's from your father, I promise I will tell you what it says. But I am not reading it right now. It's time for me to make dinner and for you to practice your katas."

"But Mom!"

"You promised Sensei. Ten of each."

"Let me see it. I want the stamps."

"Sensei says obey your mother. You'll get the stamps later."

Max groaned, but he was a good kid, by which she meant that he did not bristle against rules. He headed outdoors to the front yard, the only place where there was enough space for him to practice. She put the fish in the refrigerator. Then the eggs, careful not to jiggle them, aware that she was shaking — not her hands, but something deep inside of her. What was she going to do? What in the world was she going to do now that Max could read?


New York City, April 1981

Greenwich Village. Sarah, thirty-one, sleeping naked under dirty sheets, is awoken by the phone. It is early, very early in the morning, the sky is colorless, on the verge of dawn. The sound is muffled — the phone, somewhere on the floor, is hidden under an assortment of paint-splotched jeans and T-shirts. She squints, fuzzy from that last drink. The phone rings again. The street is quiet as it is only at this hour. She wraps herself in her sheet and starts kicking at the clothes. The ringing gets louder; it's coming from under a slightly damp towel.


"Sarah?" It's Tori, Sarah's godmother, who must be eighty by now and who lives in proud seclusion in a crumbling West Texas adobe. "Sarah?" she repeats.

"Tori? Are you okay?" Sarah adjusts her sheet. A pigeon swoops down with a loud flap of wings and lands on the fire escape.

"He's done it," Tori says.


"Conningsby — he's gone. Stopped breathing at 2:41 yesterday afternoon." Tori sounds as raw as if he were out riding his horse yesterday, though he had been hospitalized for months.

"Oh, Tori, honey."

"No honey about it."

The pigeon's legs are pink and scaly, its talons expertly balanced on the rickety railing. Sarah stares into its black eyes, grasping for something to say. She reaches for her jeans and pats the pocket for her cigarettes.

"I want you to go to the funeral for me."

"Of course." Sarah strikes a match and inhales. "Where's it going to be?"

"Where do you think?"


"Of course with those people. What do you expect? Ah. It's all right. They can arrange their damned funeral. They've already done it. They even have a goddamn date. They know more about death than life, those people. They are the ones who killed him. They did. If they'd just let him stay here, I could have wheeled him outside and he could have gotten some sun. That's what he needed, the sun, Chihuahua. Can you imagine, Sarah, Conningsby, our Conningsby, hooked up to one of those machines? And those people! The nurse said there was always one of them praying over him at every allowable hour — he probably stopped breathing to escape them."

"Are you sure you want to go to the funeral? You guys will be fighting the whole time."

"Me? No! I want you to."

"You want me to go alone?"

"Someone needs to pick up his ashes."

"His ashes?"

"I told you last time, don't you ever listen? I sicced my lawyer on them, and everything's settled. Sixty percent to them; twenty to me; twenty to Philip Clark."

"Philip Clark?"

"A kid Conningsby knew back from Terre Haute."

"You want me to go all by myself? They don't even know who I am. Couldn't they just send the ashes to you?"

"Those people? They'll keep them all if someone doesn't go. And it's better you than that lawyer."

"Won't you come with me? Please. You shouldn't be alone down there."

"I'm not alone. I've got my neighbors, my horses, Conningsby's horses. They tried to take those too! They tried to sell them even while he was alive, the vultures. It will be better knowing that he's not tied up to one of those machines. I need a part of him here, Sarah. I do."

Sarah holds the telephone a long time after she's hung up. She hadn't seen Conningsby for ages, not since her parents' memorial, but she had talked to him often, on this same blue telephone, a dumb piece of plastic and wire that still seems to be vibrating in her hand as if it has something yet to say. She thought she had been prepared, but somehow she hadn't realized she would never again hear his voice, his old-fashioned Western-Midwestern accent, his calm diction.

Later she calls Maya. Old Maya. No one except for Conningsby ever called Maya "old Maya." He had done this even when she was a girl, "That's old Maya for you," the word having nothing to do with age, but a certain immutability. Maya, of course, hated it.

"Hey chickadee," Maya says. "You're up early."

Sarah gives her the news, bracing herself for Maya's response, but when it comes, it is a perfect, heartfelt "Damn."

"I know that you didn't think much of Conningsby, but perhaps you might want to come to the funeral on account of Ma and Max."

"It's not that I didn't think much of him, it's just that you idolized him so. But he was a presence, I'll give you that. Of course I'll go."

"It's in a couple of days, on the twelfth in Tulapek."


"Some little town west of Flint."

There's a rustle of papers on the other side, followed by the sound of Maya breathing deeply. "Oh dear. Do you think they can change the date?"

"Of the funeral?"

"I'm booked on the twelfth. You are too. It's that Cotswolds thing." For some reason known only to her, Maya had agreed to be flown overseas to sing Happy Birthday at some baronial country house. "I really can't pull out on that. Laine would kill me. She's built the whole party around it. Don't worry — I'll get someone else to pick up the ashes. We're not going to let Conningsby founder out there in Tulapek."

Sarah twists the telephone cord, unable to say a thing.

"Don't feel badly, Sarah. Tori's not going either. It'll be some strip-mall funeral put on by people who didn't know him in a town he never set foot in. You don't need to go to that."

Sarah remembers an evening some twenty years ago. Tori and Conningsby, in their sixties then, leathery and handsome, leaning against the railing of Tori's back porch, lit by a desert sunset. Max and Ma were sitting in the only two rocking chairs, like they were the old ones. They were all drinking beers out of green glass bottles, a slight breeze was blowing Ma's hair over her face, and names from the rarely mentioned past burst out in gusts of laughter. Sarah — nine or ten — sat cross-legged on the floor, listening hungrily. She could see the unfinished floorboards, her skinny legs, the gleam in Conningsby's eyes, all of their eyes.

"I have to go to that funeral," Sarah says.

Maya arrives in a hail of honking, her black town car jamming up the street. "Darling!" She's breathless from running up the stairs. "You're all right?"

"Of course I'm all right. Why can't your driver learn to park?"

The black beast heaves back and forth, the driver trying to get into an impossible spot. One of the blocked taxi drivers gets out of his cab, his arms raised. The boy from the nearby fruit vendor comes out to watch.

Maya stands beside her, talking urgently. She had a terrible dream; Sarah can't go to Michigan.

Sarah cups Maya's face in her hands and tries to look anything but what she is — annoyed. "Let me make you some tea."

Maya plops herself down on the lumpy futon, forgetting that she usually refuses to sit on it. Sarah stands on tiptoes, searching through the cabinets, looking for the stinkiest, weirdest Chinatown brew she can find.

"I know you don't get dreams like that, but I do. I dreamed about the plane, didn't I?"

Sarah finds a brown bag of roots she'd purchased during a fit of insomnia. The kitchen fills with the smell of rotten fish and grass. The hubbub on the street finally dies down.

Maya continues to talk from the other room: "Are you even listening?"

"Yes, of course."

"A man from the West took you away."

Sarah brings out the teapot, and ceremoniously pours Maya a cup. "How do you know that he was from the West?" "There was this spangly compass in the sky and the landscape was flat and desertlike, with barbed wire and tumbleweed. What do you want from me, Sarah? It was dream logic. He was the Man from the West. I was holding you and he tore you away."

"But I'm here now. You are awake. I am awake. I have encountered no men from the West. Come on, take a sip."

"You're here at this moment, but the first thing I hear this morning is that you're going to Conningsby's funeral. Conningsby was from the West. And he's dead. Sarah, listen. I had that dream about the plane, didn't I?"

Sarah picks up the teacup and puts it in Maya's hand, wishing she hadn't been so diplomatic about Maya's plane dream. Maya sips the tea, too distraught to notice the flavor.

"If your dream was really a prophecy, then I can't escape it. Isn't that the point of those kinds of dreams? Whether I go to the Cotswolds or Tulapek, the Man from the West will come and get me one way or another."

"Don't smile."

"I'm not smiling."

Maya finally notices what she's drinking. "This is disgusting. What is it?"

"I don't know."

Maya squawks with laughter. "I'm not drinking any more of your fucking tea."

"Fine," says Sarah, laughing too.

Maya, suddenly serious, hands Sarah a thin silver chain from which dangles a tiny egg-shaped piece of ivory, finely carved with what looks like Arabic writing. "Wear this at least. It's powerful and will protect you. I don't care if you believe in it, just do it for me."

"It's cool looking," says Sarah, trying to lighten the mood. She holds her hair up so that Maya can clasp it around her neck. It falls halfway to Sarah's breasts, the white of the stone giving color to her skin, which is ever warmer and pinker as a blush travels through her body.

At the rental car place, Sarah fidgets with the seat belt and frowns down at the pedals, trying to remember which is the gas and which is the brake. She could have taken an airplane, but Tulapek is a four-hour drive from Flint, and to get to Flint she would have to transfer at Chicago, and the travel agent indicated that she might miss the transfer and have to wait seven hours for the next flight. In the end she'd have to rent a car anyway.

She feels weird. It's not just being behind the wheel. It's being alone. She never has time alone when she travels. There's always a crowd of musicians, suitors, business partners. Always people to be organized and placated, names to be remembered, schedules to be met. She presses the right pedal. The car inches forward. Right equals accelerator. Left equals brake. If she can keep that straight, she'll be fine. She pulls onto the road flawlessly, even remembering to turn on the blinker. When has she last been in a car? Not a taxi or a limo, but a car — a private, unpretentious, unmarked car. She follows the signs to the New Jersey Turnpike, both hands on the wheel, enjoying the swerve and sway of her fellow drivers, the sheer number of lanes, the awful stores that line the road. In her normal life, she forgets that this exists. There's Manhattan and there's Europe, and occasionally there's South America or Japan. But not the United States.

Maya doesn't tour the United States anymore. It's because Maya started here, and she wasn't Maya Myrrh when she was a kid; she was a freak, a singing child wonder, playing third-rate nightclubs and funny little concert halls. But Sarah liked those days, Ma and Max at the front of a succession of used cars, the tops of their heads barely visible. They were small. By the time Sarah was fifteen, she was a head taller than both of them. And Maya was even taller. American food, Ma said. In particular hot dogs, all the growing pills they ground into them. The Seminoles had been tall too. The men easily six feet, and they hadn't eaten hot dogs.

The first time she'd seen Conningsby had been from the backseat of her parents' car. It was 1959. They were clunking down an arroyo, looking for Tori's house. Ma was in front, reading the directions for the thousandth time, and Max was cursing the rocks that bumped against the car's underbelly. Maya was sixteen, not yet blond, hair in dark pigtails. She sprawled in the back, eyebrows knit, glossed lips pouting. The trip had been appended onto one of her tours, a detour so that Sarah could finally meet Tori face-to-face.

"Godmother?" Maya said. "What in the world is that? Did God choose some extra mother for her? Why didn't I get one? I don't want one anyway. Ma is good enough for me. I don't need God."

Ma whipped around. "Wicked girl! Don't say that!"

"Why not? Max doesn't believe in God."

"You do not know of what you speak. You don't say anything, you don't say anything until you're old enough to understand."

Maya curled away, her forehead pressed to the window, her shoulders trembling. Maya and God had something going on between them. Sarah would catch her praying, fingers forming a steeple, jumping up if anyone came into the room as if she'd been doing something wrong. Sarah put her hand on Maya's shoulder and Maya's shudders passed right into her skin. Then she saw Conningsby. A cowboy in a straw hat and blue jeans, riding a black-maned horse. He wasn't galloping or showing off, just clopping across the rocky arroyo, but he did this with great ease and dignity.

"He could tell us how to get there," Sarah said. Max kept driving, as if she hadn't said anything, as if the cowboy did not exist, as if Maya weren't steeped in some sorrow all her own. Sarah turned to the rear window. The cowboy had stopped his horse and was watching their car. He saw her looking and doffed his hat. She waved back.

She met him properly a day or two after, as she was squatting in the sunbaked dirt in front of Tori's house. His horse snorted and pawed the ground. "Where's your apple?" It turned out that Maya had found a worm-bitten apple in her suitcase and wanted to give it to a horse, but Sarah didn't know about this. His question seemed like a code that had to be broken.

"It's my apple!" Maya yelled from the porch.

She wore a white blouse tied at the waist and a blue-and-black plaid skirt. She skipped toward them, holding the apple high, a round, red prize cupped in her hand. Instead of feeding it to the horse, she showed it to Conningsby, hiding the wormhole. "Ain't it red?" she said. They weren't supposed to say "ain't," but Conningsby didn't correct her. Maya smiled, then polished the apple on her skirt. She did this slowly, rubbing it against her hip. Sarah and Conningsby both watched, and behind them the horse breathed heavily. Sarah felt a strange stir, which she classified then as magic, later as sex, a current strong enough that Ma sensed it inside the house. The screen door opened. Ma, in one of her dozen black sack dresses, stepped onto the porch. "Mr. Conningsby!" she yelled. "Don't let her play with you! She has to learn when she's offstage."


Excerpted from Love Maps by Eliza Factor. Copyright © 2015 Eliza Factor. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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