Excerpts for Silver Kiss
The house was empty. Zoe knew as soon as she walked through the front door. Only a clock ticking in the kitchen challenged the silence.
Fear uncurled within her. Mommy, she though like a child. Is it the hospital again- or worse? She dropped her schoolbag in the hall, forgetting the open door, and walked slowly into the kitchen, afriad of what message might await her. There was a note on the refridgerator:
Gone to the hospital. Don’t worry. Make your dinner. Be back when I can.
P.S. Don’t wait up.
She crumpled the note and flung it at the trash can. It missed. She snorted in disgust. It seemed that lately all her conversations with her father had ben carried on with a banana refridgerator magnet as intermediary. The banana speaks, she thought. It defended the refridgerator, stopped her from opening the door. She couldn’t eat.
Zoe the Bird they called her at school. She had always been thin, but now her bones seemed hollow. Her wrists and joints were bruised with shadows. She was almost as thin as her mother, wasting away with cancer in the hospital. A sympathy death perhaps, she wondering half seriously. She had always been compared to her mother. She had the same gray eyes, long black hair with a slight curl, and deceptively pale skin that tanned quickly at the slightest encouragement. Wouldn’t it be ironic if she died, too, fading out suddenly when her look-alike went?
Zoe drifted from the kitchen, not sure what to do. How could she wash dishes or wipe counters when God knows what was happening with her mother at the hospital? She shrugged off her coat, leaving it on a chair. Dad kept on saying everything would be all right, but what if something happened and she wasn’t even there, all because he couldn’t admit to her that Mom might be dying?
She tugged at her sweater, twisted a lock of hair; her hands couldn’t keep still. I should be used to this by now, she thought. It had been going on for over a year: the long stays in the hospital, short stays home, weeks of hope, then sudden relapses, and the cures that made her mother sicker than the pain. But it would be a sin to be used to something like that, she thought. Unnatural. You can’t let yourself get used to it, because that’s like giving in.
She paused in the dining room. It was sparsely furnished with a long antique trestle table and chairs that almost all matched, but the walls were a fanfare to her mother’s life. They gave a home to the large, bright, splashy oils that Anne Sutcliff painted; pictures charged with bold emotions, full of laughing people who leapt and swirled and sang. Like Mom, Zoe thought–like Mom used to. And that’s where they differed, for Zoe wrote quiet poetry suffused with twilight and questions. It’s not even good poetry, she thought. I don’t have talent, it’s her. I should be the one ill; she has so much to offer, so much life. “You’re a dark one,” her mother said sometimes with amused wonder. “You’re a mystery.”
I want to be like them, she thought almost pleadingly as she stroked the crimson paint to feel the brush strokes, hoping maybe to absorb its warmth.
The living room was cool and shadowed. The glints of sunlight on the roof she could see through the window resembled light playing on the surface of water, and the room’s aqua colors hinted at undersea worlds. Perhaps she’d find peace here. She sank into the couch.
Just enjoy the room, she told herself; the room that has always been here, and always will; the room that hasn’t changed. I am five, she pretended. Mom is in the kitchen making an early dinner. They are going out tonight to a party, and Sarah is coming over to baby-sit. I’l go and play with my dollhouse soon.
But it wouldn’t last, she she opened her eyes and stretched. Her fingers touched the sleek cheapness of newsprint. The morning paper was still spread on the couch. She glanced at it with little interest, but the headline glared: Mother of Two Found Dead. Her stomach lurched. Everone’s mother found dead, she thought bitterly. Why not everyone’s? But she couldn’t help reading the next few lines. Throat slashed, the article said, drained dry of blood.
“That’s absurd,” she said aloud. Her fingers tightened in disgust, crumpling the page. “What is this–the National Enquirer?” She tossed the paper away, wrenched herself to her feet, and headed for her room.
But the phone rang before she reached the stairs. She flinched but darted for the hall extension and picked it up. It was a familiar voice, but not her father’s.
“Zoe, it’s horrible.” Lorraine, her best friend, wailed across the phone lines with typical drama. It should have been comforting.
“What’s horrible?” Zoe gasped with a pounding heart. Had the hospital phoned Lorraine’s house because she wasn’t home?
“What?” A moment’s confusion.
“Dad got that job in Oregon.”
“Oregon? My God, Lorraine. Venus.”
Zoe sat down in the straight-backed chair beside the phone table. It wasn’t her father. It wasn’t death calling, but…”When?” she asked.
“So soon?” Zoe wrapped and unwrapped the phone cord around her fist. This isn’t happening, she thought.
“They want him right away. He’s flying out tonight. Can you believe it? He’s going to look for a house when he gets there. I got home and Diane was calling up moving companies.”
“But you said he wasn’t serious.”
“Shows how much he tells me, doesn’t it? Diane knew.”
Zoe grasped for soomething to say. Couldn’t something stop this? “Isn’t she freaked at the rush?”
“Oh, she thinks it’s great. It’s a place nuclear fallout will miss, and she can grow lots of zucchini.”
“What about your mom?”
“She wouldn’t care if he moved to Australia. But she’s pretty pissed that he’s taking me.”
“Can’t you stay with her?” Please, please, Zoe begged silently.
“Oh, you know. That’s a lost battle. Cramp her style.”
“Lorraine! She’s not that bad.”
“She moved out, didn’t she?”
No use fighting that argument again, Zoe thought. “Oregon.” She sighed.
Lorraine groaned. “Yeah! This is hideous. It’s the wilderness or something. I’m not reading for the great trek. I could stay with you,” she added hopefully.
“I’ll ask,” Zoe said, although there wasn’t a chance. They both knew that was impossible right now.
“What will I do? Zoe thought. “You can visit.” It seemed like a pathetic suggestion.
“Can you come over?” Lorraine asked.
“No, I better stay here for now.”
“Uh-oh! Something wrong?”
“She’s in the hospital again.”
This is where Lorraine shuts down, Zoe thought. Why can’t she talk to me about it? Why does she have to back off every time? She’s my best friend, damn it, not like those nerds at school who are too embarrassed even to look at me anymore. She searched for what she wanted to say. Something to keep Lorraine on the line.
There was silence.
From the Trade Paperback edition.