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World upside down (novel excerpt)
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Honey ran the water until it was hot. The house was dark. Maybe they could skip the spaghetti, the croissant had a million carb calories and she felt that sick feeling in the back of her throat. Plus the hot chocolate. She loved her mother, she loved how hard she tried.

“Thanks,” Charlotte said behind her, dumping her briefcase on the bench at the kitchen table. “You have time to watch a movie? You can say no, it’s okay.” She sat. Waiting in the dark.

“Mom, will you make us pesto?” Honey shut the water, the pot three quarters full.

“Want to learn how?” Her mother sat still, an odd quiet.

Dinnertime meant frenetic flurries, her mother in her stocking feet, scrambling bottles from the fridge, phone on speaker with nervous Thad from her office, the pressure of her Dad on his way home, Honey pretending at homework, defeated by her procrastinating failures at the dining room table.

“What movie?” Honey said. She left the pot on the counter and moved to the bench.

They sat shoulders touching and neither turned on the light.

“You pick?” Charlotte said.

“I’ll finish my Latin first.” Honey had managed a B on the makeup test, and sworn she’d keep up with the work, she accepted the hard reset offered her. Fucking ironic, though, that her excuse was her parents falling apart, and the lie was coming true.

Her Dad was definitely not in Wednesday night meetings like her mom said.

“I’m not hungry.” Her mom made it sound like a confession. But she’d barely touched the muffin at the cafe.

“Me either.” Honey held her mother’s hand, cold and soft. “Let’s get in jammies. Latin won’t take long.” Her heart beat hard with this sudden role reversal.

In her bathroom, she pulled on her cat sleeping t-shirt and shrugged into the bathrobe she’d not worn once since last Christmas. Her Dad had missed family therapy, missed his afternoon text check-in, but worse, Thom had a new mean edge. He hadn’t even put the car into park at morning drop-off, he almost drove off before she’d closed the door. She always told him she hated his insistence on parking, hugging, the morning commute of setting their intentions, but it wasn’t true, and she thought he knew.

Goofy Dad was gone. And it was all her fault.

From the family room, his voice. Honey looped her hair into an elastic band, half relieved half bummed out. She was crazy, Dr. Miriam was right. The monkey brain engaged easy, sneaky, she needed to do the work: acknowledge the false belief, replace with the real. She could do this.

“Dad?” she said, rounding the corner from the hallway. On the comfy couch, her mom was spreading their favorite soft yellow blanket over her legs, alone. On the television, a male CNN evening news anchor lighting the dark.

“Not yet,” her mom said. Fear under the bright bravado, Honey heard it, felt it.

Monkey brain, clink glasses with me, Honey thought, you were right.

“I love that bathrobe,” her mom said, lifting the blanket for Honey to join. “I’ll mute this.” On the screen, a building fire in the Middle East.

Here is where the three of them had sat on 9-11, watching the loop over and over: plane, building, smoke, blue blue sky. Sometimes Honey couldn’t bear the sadness, the weight pressing them into the cushions, heavy ash toxic on their skin. More than anything, she wanted to erase the endless loop, embedded in her at twelve years old, refusing the normal shedding cycle for more than two years.

She readied the protest, no, she’d set the alarm early and get Latin done then, tamping down the irritation that her mother didn’t trust her. But Charlotte was silent, the TV light reflecting off her face, blanket under her chin.

Honey took a deep breath, lifted her book bag from the floor and slid the Latin text and notebook onto her lap. Charlotte startled, and then reached for the table lamp and switched it on.

“Love you, Mom.”

Her mother turned then, eyelids without makeup, tearing up and a nod, a silent, mouthed “Me too.”

The plane hit the tower, silent, and the viewers gasped, disbelieving.

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