|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
They were all dead. I was the only one left.
They'd done something awful with a pink plastic razor, two of them on the bed and one on the floor. The music was still lapping on the player. I think I mouthed the words.
Outside, it was one of those sunsets that nobody looks at, a red and orange and purple massacre, spilling its guts out above the city.
I don't understand why nobody notices. Those sunsets, they bleed all over.
I ran. I ran as fast as I could through the park as the sun set. First the sky turned gray, like smudged newsprint-there seemed to be words up there-and then it all faded to blue. The leaves on the trees went from green to purple. The street lamps turned on. As I ran out of the park behind the museum, night fell. I could hear it. Everything became quieter. The cabs stopped honking and slid by with their secret passengers. Lights arrived in the buildings like stars. Traffic moved in one wave downtown. It was Friday night. The sky went black as a limousine.
Why was I running? I was running from images: a sneaker, a mirror, two words. I remember blood hanging in strings off the bottom of a shoe like gum. I remember two words scrawled across a mirror.
Two words: drink me.
I ran. I ran past the front of the museum where the fountains glowed green from their swimming-pool lights. On the steps of the museum, a group of kids. I ran across fifth avenue. A bus pulled by and stopped, and heaved like an old accordion. I turned onto a street and then down park avenue through the dark canyon of buildings. Behind me I felt the presence of someone, something, but I knew I couldn'tturn around or stop. That's when it started raining. I let the rain drip through my hair and down the ends of it, onto my shirt. My sneakers filled with water. It was raining so hard I could have missed the building, but I stopped out of instinct. At first, the doorman didn't want to let me up without buzzing. But I flirted a little. I let him stare at my shirt.
Upstairs, outside the elevator, I dug my fingers into the dirt of the plant. I found the key. I slipped into the apartment. I could tell by the quiet that Tobey's parents were out, and I followed the sound of the television to his room. He was watching an old movie. Voices crying across time. I followed the blue light.
The blue light cast a glow over his sleeping face. Raindrops slid down the walls like tears. I looked at him, at his innocent face. He must have felt my presence, my fear. He woke up.
Beckett, he said with his eyes, what are you doing here?
I took off my t-shirt. I dropped it on the floor.
Then I said: fuck me.
How can I get you to believe me, to believe the unbelievable? I want so much for you to understand. But you can't make someone believe you. Trust is a secret combination to a lock. Two turns of faith, one turn of fantasy, half a turn of truth. Trust me. It sounds so false.
What if I tell you that I'm still running? I'm running and remembering. Branches cut my legs, wet leaves stick to my clothes, and memories tangle in my hair. I'm running through a park, and then a city, and then a building. I hear strange languages, words of despair. The things I see along the way frighten me, but I can't look away.
Persephone, Dorothy, Lolita, the final girl, all went down to hell. Persephone, Dorothy, Lolita, the final girl: I'm following you. Wait for me.
Great heroines have dead mothers. That's what I told myself when she died. After she died (highway, drunk driver), my father decided that we should move back to the city. He took an apartment on the upper west side and enrolled me in a fancy school. I remember the first day, my terror.
I was scared when I walked into the cafeteria, the talking, the groups of friends. I walked into the cafeteria and saw them, mermaids washed up on shore. I saw the girls in their wide-legged jeans, the thin strings around their wrists, and I felt frightened. Their hair swung down like rope. I watched the boys sharing headphones; I studied their glances, the t-shirts covered with writing, their eyelashes, the muscles on their arms.
There I am, sitting alone. I'm the ugly girl, the smart girl, the boyish girl, the loser. I'm the one who knows too much.
I sat listening while I stared intently at my lunch. I was listening to the beautiful girls. Their names were Sunday, Morgan, and Myrrh. Every now and then I looked up through my stringy hair and watched them talking. Nobody looked at me.
You know that girl I was talking about? Sunday said.
Yeah, just a minute ago?
Yeah. Well, apparently, when she went down on him she forgot that she was chewing gum.
No, I'm not.
It was a total mess.
The mermaids laughed in catty euphoria. The thunder of the lunchroom rose up behind them.
I'd like to tell you that I was better than they were, that they were dead souls, lost girls, superficial. But I wanted nothing more than to be like them. I wanted hair that swung down like rope.
This is what's happening: I'm running away. Away from these memories, away from myself. But the faster I run, the faster they follow me, until they're ahead of me and I'm running into them. I run into them like a girl stepping inside the movie screen. I run into them, and my world turns from black-and-white to color.
I run straight inside my eye. It's ten feet tall.
He walked into the cafeteria with his hands in his pockets and the strap of his bag across the front of his chest like a sash. The cafeteria was noisy and the tables were full and the women behind the food counter were wearing hair nets and bending over and scooping tuna fish out with ice cream scoops. He stood on line, accepted what they offered, and then walked slowly in my direction to the table with the beautiful girls. He laid down his tray and nodded and lifted the strap over his head and set his bag down gently on a seat. He sat down and put his elbows on the table and leaned forward and smiled with his eyes.
Sunday stuck out her arm in front of his face.
Smell my perfume. Isn't it amazing?
Yeah, amazing. He took a swig of soda.
Who's your friend?
Sunday shook her hair out behind her and pulled her knees up to rest against the table.
Why don't you find out? She said.
He took a bite of food and a long sip of soda.
You guys are friendly, he said. Then, showing them how it's done: I'm Tobey. What's your name?
I lifted my eyes. My face went hot, a stick of cartoon dynamite exploding inside my head.
I heard the girls laugh under their breath.
Hi, Beckett. This is Sunday, Morgan, and Myrrh.
The three girls glanced at me, nodded, and glanced away. He was enjoying playing the adult.
Where you from? What school?
You wouldn't know it, it's far away.
He waited for more. Long island. Way out on the North Fork.
He nodded and took another mouthful of food. Sunday squirmed in her seat and lowered her eyelids. Myrrh was wearing a wool cap and a tank top with her bra straps showing, and she stood up and walked over behind Sunday and started playing with Sunday's hair.
I took a deep breath.
Myrrh, I said. That's a cool name. How did you get it?
Parents were hippies.
Used to be.
Now they just buy a lot of CDs.
Sunday shook her hair.
Wow, Tobey said. What insight. You guys are so ironic and self-aware.
Oh, please, said Morgan.
I have to go, said myrrh.
Sunday left without saying anything.
Oh, well, he said. I guess it's just us.
I could have watched the smooth human machinery of his hands all day. But I picked up my tray and my book bag and left.
There's a character in every horror movie who doesn't die. She's the survivor, the Final Girl. She's the one who finds the bodies of her friends and understands that she is in danger. She is the one who runs and suffers. She is the one who shrieks and falls. Her friends understand what is happening to them for no more than an instant before they are killed. But the final girl knows for hours, maybe days, that she is going to die. She feels death coming. She hears it. She sees it.
Welcome to my nightmare.
What People are Saying About This
“Innocence is a kind of Rosemary's Baby channeled through J.D. Salinger.” —Dennis Cooper, Village Voice
“Remarkable…A truly thrilling read.” —Newsday
“Borrowing classic ingredients from the genres of horror films and popular literature, Mendelsohn has concocted a coming-of-age tale about a Manhattan girl’s adolescence; this is a story of innocence, all right, but that nebulous concept today means finding your way in a media-saturated, sometimes dangerous culture.” —Boston Sunday Globe
“It's a graceful, delusionary teenage thriller unusually in touch with young characters' emotional workings, and, at the same time, a book by someone who clearly understands the tricks that make Stephen King's pages turn. In the novel, a teenaged girl named Beckett witnesses or imagines a series of murders and grows increasingly convinced that reality masks a demonic conspiracy by the adult world to destroy her innocence and corrupt everyone she trusts.” —Dennis Cooper, Village Voice
“Mendelohn is a smart, clever writer who has created a…novel that rivets with well-paced scenes, lyrical prose, and moments of profound insight. By playing with the worst stereotypes about women and giving eloquent nod to her cinematic forebears, Mendelsohn gives voice and image to a new generation’s female howl.” —The Providence Sunday Journal
“This dark and gothically twisted novel from the author of I Was Amelia Earhart gives us the city as a wicked stepmother’s poisonous fruit, its beauty baneful, its sweetness deadly…Mendelsohn’s genius lies in her ability to keep both the fantastical and the ordinary in focus at the same time…a brilliant balancing act.” —Newsday