Sunday, November 21, 2010

An excerpt from NO ORDINARY GIRL: A NOVEL, available 11/25.

It’s after midnight and autumn is open for business: the skies are clear, the stars are twinkling, the Illinois air is cool, and the fingernail moon is as fingernaily as can be. We see Abbey Bynum staring at the top of the ancient oak tree in front of her bland suburban Chicago condo building, an oak tree that’s too big and dignified for her cookie-cutter, pre-fab neighborhood. The light from the twinkly stars, the fingernaily moon, and the seven too-bright streetlights that dot Abbey’s block bring the oak’s leaves to life: yellows and reds, browns and oranges. The tree looks crisp and pretty, and from Abbey’s angle, those leaves – which are further changing colors as we speak – look as if they were painted on by Monet. Or maybe Manet. No, Monet. Or maybe Manet. Even though she takes a pass through the Art Institute of Chicago at least once a month, Abbey always forgets which is which. All she knows – and cares about – is that it’s pretty.

The breeze blows a chunk of her barely tamed curly brown ringlets into her eyes. She tries to flick them offher forehead, but the wind in her face is too strong, so they just flop right on back. Abbey again kicks herself for not grabbing a hair tie or a scrunchy, and again wonders why she never properly prepares for her silly late-night jaunts. But she realizes that that’s a ridiculous thought, because the fact of the matter is, she knows exactly why she never properly prepares for these silly late-night jaunts: you see, for Abbey, these silly late-night jaunts aren’t a choice. They’re a compulsion. When she has to do it, she has to do it, and when Abbey Bynum has to do something, she goes and does it immediately. She can’t help it; it’s always been that way and she’s certain it always will be that way.

Planning isn’t in the equation, and unfortunately, without planning, there are consequences. In this case, the consequence is a small one, a mere case of hair-in- the-eyes. It’s not a complete buzzkill, like, say, a bird pooping on her shoulder, or a low-flying private airplane (both of which happened in the not-to-distant past), but it’s annoying, nonetheless. Way worse things could happen, though. Way worse things have happened. One night, for instance, the compulsion to leave her apart- ment was so intense that she forgot to put on her pants, and zipped through the neighborhood wearing only a strappy tank top with a teddy bear on the front and an ancient pair of light-blue panties.

Using her left hand, Abbey again pushes her hair out of her face and holds it flat against the top of her head. The problem with this tactic is that now Abbey relies solely on her right hand for balance. Using one hand to navigate isn’t an issue when she’s in motion, but when she’s trying to stay somewhat still, when she’s trying to hover in a single area, as is the case right now, two hands are way better than one. She’s wobbling, and even though she knows she’s in no danger of falling, it diminishes the experience, nonetheless.

She’s well aware that if she practiced her one-handed balancing on a regular basis – scratch that, if she practiced her one-handed balancing at all – this would cease to be an issue. Thing is, she hates practicing it. Thing is, she hates doing it at all. But when this com- pulsion rears its head – when she has to breathe the night air at its cleanest, when she has to see the trees from above, when she has to go where nobody can find her – her body goes up to the roof of her apartment building and jumps right on off, despite her brain’s and heart’s numerous protests.

She wants to stop it. Badly. But, goddamnit, she can’t. She just can’t.


If you saw Abbey Bynum on the Illinois Metra train – which, if you’re so inclined, is something you can do each weekday morning at precisely 8.14 a.m. – you’d check out her smart business outfit, and the oversized aviator sunglasses that she’s had since her freshman year at Northwestern University, and that shaggy mop of hair, and think, ‘Now that’s an attractive, well-put-together girl. Looks like she doesn’t have much money for the latest outfits or fancy jewelry, or whatnot, but she sure makes what she has work.’ When she takes off her huge shades and fumbles with her iPod, you might smile at how intently and intensely she scrolls through the menu, trying to figure out the perfect mix for her train ride to the office, trying to decide whether Miles Davis, or Arcade Fire, or A Tribe Called Quest will get her jazzed for the workday.

You’d also notice one thing that Abbey Bynum doesn’t: at least once a ride, Abbey Bynum gets checked out. Big time.

If she happened to catch the young gentleman leaning on the train door giving her a well-justified once- over – the young gentleman wearing the vintage blue Pulp T-shirt and the baggy khaki shorts, the young gentleman whom Abbey would unfairly dismiss as potential boyfriend material because she used to date a guy who looked almost exactly like that, and he was a massive jerk – she’d probably turn away, blush, and forget about it several seconds later. See, Abbey doesn’t like being checked out. Not because she’s self-conscious about her looks (she knows her place in the beauty pantheon; a couple dozen miles South of Angelina Jolie, and a few hundred miles North of Betty White), but because there’s the chance that somebody will see her for who she is, that they’ll notice the Weird Stuff.

This, of course, is a ridiculous thought – nobody could see Weird Stuff, unless she showed them the Weird Stuff – but it’s a thought she can’t help but think.

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