segunda-feira, 3 de junho de 2013

This Is Not Your City By CAITLIN HORROCKS, an excerpt

This Is Not Your City

An Excerpt
It is July and we are a miraculous age. We have been sprung from our backyards, from the neighborhood park, from the invisible borders that rationed all our other summers. We are old enough to have earned a larger country, and young enough to make it larger still. The woods between Miller and Arborview become haunted. Basilisks patrol the Dairy Queen. We are so beset by dangers we make ourselves rulers over them, and by July we are the princesses of an undiscovered kingdom. We make maps with colored pencils. Here be Dragons, I write across the square of Wellington Park, at the end of our street. Here be Brothers, Hanna writes across her own backyard, and we avoid them both. We are too old for these games, too big for this much imagination, but we are so unpopular that summer that there is no one to care. We have finished the fifth grade alive and we consider that an accomplishment. We have earned this summer.
The neighborhood has been emptying of children. There are bigger houses being built past Wagner, past the edge of the western edge of town. The houses here, one story, one bathroom, have become a place to live after children or a place to move away from when they come. This year Hanna-Khoury-eight-houses-down and I are best friends, a thing I haven't had before and won't have again until I'm married, both of us twenty-four, an age my family will say is too young and I will be proud years later of proving them wrong.
That summer we pick blackberries in the Miller woods and take them to Hanna's house where her mother rinses them in a plastic colander. Hanna's parents still live together and their house feels friendlier than mine. When Mr. Khoury visited our fifth-grade class our teacher introduced him as a man there to talk about his "troubled homeland." He was a man from somewhere else, a troubled country people left and then called home, a country defined only by its perpetual unhappiness. Mr. Khoury told us that we were lucky, lucky boys and lucky girls, lucky American children, and Hanna rolled her eyes, embarrassed. Mr. Khoury has a Lebanese flag on the wall of his study and I think it must be a kinder sort of country that puts a tree on its flag. This is one of many things I do not understand that summer.
The gas station at the corner of Miller and Maple closes and there is a sign in the windows announcing upcoming construction, Project Managers Ogan/Veen. We don't know that the construction will never happen, that nothing will ever be built there, because the gasoline has leached into the earth 100, 200, 300 feet down, some impossible depth that no one will own up to and that can't be cleaned. That summer we ride our bikes around and around the empty gas station and look in all the windows. Hanna says Ogan/Veen looks like the name of a monster, and from then on he haunts our summer in a friendly sort of way, a goblin who lives in an empty Shell station and wanders the neighborhood at sundown. If we are lucky, he will encounter only the children who have spent the past year tormenting us, and he will grind their bones for bread.
"Ogan Veen, Ogan Veen, His farts all smell like gasoline, His stomach's full of children's spleens,
Ogan Veen, Ogan Veen," we sing. There are other verses but this one's my favorite because I've come up with "spleen" all by myself. Hanna doesn't know what it means and I'm not so clear either, but it rhymes and my mother's said it's a part of someone that can be eaten.
"If you're a cannibal, I guess," she said, and I said perfect.
On one of my dad's weekends, I ask him to take us to Dolph Park, too far to bike to. The hiking path circles two lakes, Little Sister Lake and Big Sister Lake, and since I am an only child and Hanna has two brothers, we decide to split the lakes between us. We fight over who gets which. We are the same age and nearly the same size, although Hanna's arms and legs are gangly and seem destined for great height. In seventh grade, the year Hanna will slip a note between the vents of my locker that reads "I Hate You" over and over, filling an entire notebook page, I will be 5'2" and as tall as I will ever grow. My father is 6'1" and will call me "Midget." When I briefly register with an online dating site after college I will call myself "petite." Hanna will never grow tall, either, and because we can't know these things, we ask my father to flip a coin over Big Sister Lake. I can see him peek and scuttle the coin when I call heads, a move too quick for Hanna to notice. She cedes the lake to me, accepts the smaller for her kingdom, and I try to tell my father that night over carryout Chinese what I am only beginning to understand myself, that the way in which he loves me is not quite the way I wish he would.
In fifth grade Hanna and I doomed ourselves. On the second day of school we took out our folders, our pencil cases, organized our desks, and Hanna had space dolphins and I had pink unicorns. Two years ago all the girls had school supplies like this, and I don't understand why they have abandoned the things they loved. Hanna and I were startled but not stupid, and if no one had noticed us that day we would both have begged our mothers to take us to K-Mart that night and exchange them. But it was too late. We were the girls with the wrong school supplies, and everything we did after that, even the things that were just like everyone else, were the wrong things to do. I will never tell Hanna that space dolphins aren't really as bad as pink unicorns, and that she wasn't really doomed until I made her my friend.
The Little and Big Sister Lakes are the eastern edge of what we name Zolaria that summer, simply for the sound of it, the exotic "Z" and the trailing vowels like a movie star's name. The northwestern border is the Barton Dam. It takes us most of the summer to get there, sneaking closer and closer, up Newport Road and through the grounds of what will be our junior high school. One day there is a door propped open by the tennis courts and we decide to explore. There is a sticker beside the door: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service. I am barefoot and we are so timid this sticker foils our plan until Hanna takes off her left shoe and gives it to me. Now we are within the law, and follow a chlorine smell as far as the locker rooms, the labyrinth of showers, the locked door to the pool. We hear footsteps and run, directionless, past the library, the main office, the Cafetorium, past the music room where I'll play flute for three shrill years. Hanna will have quit band by then; Hanna has only so much energy, her mother will tell mine on the phone, and doesn't want to waste it on the trombone. We run past the glass trophy cases in the foyer and finally we find the open door, the patch of blue sky and red and green tennis courts. In the homestretch Hanna's shoe flies off my foot and she yells, "Forget it! Don't stop!" but I go back and we make it out anyway.
The next day we bike through the junior high parking lot and across the freeway overpass just north, where we yank our arms up and down until three trucks have honked their horns. We take our bikes into the nature preserve and ride them until the hills get so steep they rattle our teeth. We ride bikes like girls, throw like girls, we know it, and there is no one around that summer to make us ashamed. We walk our bikes through the forest, the sound of the freeway to our right and a creek to our left, a symmetrical hum. Eventually there is a fence and a gate and a dirt road that leads to the Barton Dam. We ride to the huge gray wall of it, the rush of water at the base, the scum scudding across the surface of the river like soap suds. There is a dead animal floating at the base of the dam, bloated and spongy and colorless. Its fur is breaking off in hanks, drifting in the patches of foam. It is a cloudy day and we are alone on the river path. A man comes out of the pump station at the top of the dam and walks out along the wall. He leans against the safety railing and shades his eyes with a hand and looks down at us. We know we are in the borderlands, where our kingdom meets a stranger's, where Ogan Veen wanders in daylight, and where we should not linger.
Thirteen years later, Cal and I will announce our engagement on Christmas morning over crumpled wrapping paper and freshly-squeezed orange juice. It will be the coldest morning of any year of my life so far, the paper's lead headline the temperature, 26 below, but as we unwrap presents we will see one of the Khoury boys outside walking their dog. My mother will call me into the kitchen to tell me I am young. "You're young," she'll say. "You're still so young."
"Not that young," I will tell her.
"Yes, that young. You barely know each other."
"I know him."
"You don't know yourself," she'll say. "That's what I worry about. How can you get married when you don't know yourself yet?"
"I know myself plenty," I'll say. "I think I know all I want to."
One night in July, Hanna and I have a sleepover and dream almost the same dream, in which Ogan Veen is chasing us, gnashing his long, stinking teeth. Zolaria is not his to haunt, so we build traps in the woods, stretch fishing line between trees, scatter tacks in the dirt and make piles of throwing-rocks in places with good cover. In my backyard is a half-dug decorative fishpond, a project my father started and abandoned, and we lattice the top with long sticks, camouflage it with leaves and cut grass. Every day I wait for Hanna to come up the street so we can check it together. I do not want to face our quarry alone. We bow branches, harp them with yarn, notch twigs and practice our archery. We strip the leaves from long tendrils of weeping willow and crack the whips in the air. We run shouting through the woods brandishing foam swords from a Nerf fencing set. We are girded for battle, but the enemy will not show himself. We catch nothing, but we have made ourselves afraid. It seems unfair, that a kingdom we invented should have its own mysteries, its unvanquishable foes. By September, we are almost eager for school to begin. We are tired of checking a dry fishpond for ogres every morning. But as princesses of Zolaria, we cannot say such a thing out loud. We have certain duties to our kingdom, to our adoring subjects. We must give the appearance of keeping them safe.
My father will take me once more to Dolph Park, when I am in high school, for old times' sake. The lakes are in the middle of an algae bloom, the weather hot and the water full of nitrogen and phosphorus. I will explain this to my father, nitrogen, phosphorus, when he grimaces at the damp mat of green over the pond, looking solid enough to walk on. My high school will have implemented an experimental science curriculum the year I enter tenth grade and I will know a great deal about eutrophication and very little about anything else. We will pretend to skip rocks but will really just be throwing things, stones and sticks and clods of dirt, watching them break apart the algae and sink out of sight. We will throw until our arms are tired and I will talk about the environmental benchmarks of healthy aquatic environments. We will get milkshakes at the Dairy Queen on Stadium Boulevard and two weeks later my father will move to San Diego.
In sixth grade Hanna and I will still be in the same Girl Scout troop. We will sing Christmas carols for the old people at Hillside Terrace nursing home, and in the spring we will sell cookies. I will sell enough to earn a stuffed giraffe, while Hanna sells only enough for a patch to be sewn on her vest. She will already be sick and I will have no idea. She will miss the whole last month of sixth grade, and four Girl Scout meetings, but it will be summer before my mother takes me to visit her. The hospital will remind me of a shopping mall, places to buy medicine and gifts and food, departments for having babies and looking after babies and looking after children and fixing all the different things that can go wrong with them. It is a weighty place but exciting, the way my mother asks the front desk for Pediatric Oncology and I press the button in the elevator.
Hanna's mother and mine will go for coffee, leaving us alone. Hanna will be wearing a violet-colored bandanna. She will say she is a gangster, and I say she would make the worst gangster in the world, which is true. She says a highwayman, then, which feels a little closer, and when I suggest pirate, we're off. We go once more to Zolaria, the bed rails marking the deck of our ship, and Hanna says climb on, that I won't hurt her, and our kingdom acquires an ocean, high seas. Aweigh anchor, we say, trim the sails, cast off, fore-and-aft, and we are all right for a time. We will be eleven, almost twelve; we will keep looking at the door, hoping no one comes in and sees us. After half an hour Hanna will throw up twice in a plastic tub beside the bed. She will say she leaned over to take a sounding, that the sea is a thousand fathoms deep where we are, that if we don't make it back to port we'll drown for sure. I will ask her if she wants some water. She won't say anything, but I'll fill a plastic cup from the jug on the nightstand.
"I had a dream the other night that Ogan Veen was back," I will say. "It was in the woods and he was chasing us and when we went out the fence we were saying, 'I don't hear him, I think we made it,' but then he was right there in front of us smiling and then I woke up." Hanna will look at me and her eyes will be dark and flat and I will know it was a terrible idea, to tell her this dream. She will sip her water and I will watch her sip it and we will wait for our mothers to come back and when they do we will be glad.
I will be unprepared for how long this sickness takes, for how long Hanna will be neither cured nor desperate. I will visit her once more at the hospital, twice more while she's at home. I will realize I am waiting for her to be either well or dead. She will feel very far away. I will start junior high alone, and when Hanna comes for her first day, in late November, I will be startled to see her. Our morning classes must all be different because I recognize her for the first time at lunch, sitting by herself. I will already be sitting in the middle of a long table by the time I see her, my lunch unpacked in front of me. I will be pressed tight on either side by people who, if asked, would probably say I am their friend. Hanna will be wearing an awful wig, stiff and styled like an old woman's perm. The hair will be dark brown, not black, and will no longer match her eyes. She will be pale and her face swollen and she will not seem like someone I can afford to know.
* * *
The summer we are ten we sketch maps of our kingdom and outline its Constitution, its Declaration of Independence, its City Charter. In the end they all become zoological surveys. The Haisley woods harbor griffins, borometz, simurghs. There are dragons on Linwood Street, basilisks on Duncan who turn children to stone. We understand that we have no sway over basilisks and dragons; we understand that they are the minions of Ogan Veen. He has servants now, he has armies, and despite all our efforts Zolaria is not as safe as it was.
We make other lists, too, of "People Who, In Zolaria, Would Be Imprisoned In The Dungeon FOREVER." Hanna keeps adding her brothers' names to the list and then erasing them until the paper is ready to tear and I tell her to leave them off, if she's going to feel so guilty about it. We make a list of "Animals That Can Be Ridden: Pegasus, Centaur, Griffins, and Space Dolphins." We decide this is too charitable, and amend it to "Animals That Can Be Ridden By Us." We decide to hire young men to look after our stable of space dolphins, and when we deem ourselves a little older, and ready for love, we will notice the groomsmen and swoon. We prepare speeches of protest, in which we declare our unwillingness to marry foreign princes, our determination to follow our hearts, until we are disappointed to remember that in our kingdom we have no parents, and may marry whomever we choose.
Excerpted from THIS IS NOT YOUR CITY by Caitlin Horrocks. Copyright © 2011 by Caitlin Horrocks. Excerpted by permission of Sarabande Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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