I’m busy. You know why? I’m working on a new novel, and it keeps me busy. The novel has been written before—by me—years ago, and I called it Stranger in Brookside. I recently began to miss the characters from this old novel. I reread it again and realized I could do way better with what I know now. So I’m rewriting. In every way possible. Characters are being replaced. Plotlines are being altered. The only things that have stayed the same? The beginning, middle, and end.
So today, I’d like to share the first scene of this new novel. I don’t know if I’ll share much more as the months pass, but here, at least, is a teaser. I’d love to say more, but hey, I’m busy. Comments, as always, are welcome.
Stranger in Brookside, 2010 Do-Over
“At one time or another all normal people have wished their loved ones were dead.” –Albert Camus, The Stranger
In an effort to dispel the scent of cinnamon air freshener and orange disinfectant, Sabine Marceau lit a cigarette and rolled down the glazed window of the Yellow Cab she’d hailed at Port Columbus International Airport.
“You can’t smoke in here,” the cabbie said.
But I’m going to be sick. I’m going to throw up or pass out or thrash against the back of your seat if I don’t have a cigarette. She said none of this, of course. She never said much of anything anymore. Through her black, oval sunglasses, Sabine glanced at Bonkers, the black cat, locked in the airplane pet carrier and strapped in with a flimsy seatbelt to her right. She took a long drag, waited for the smoke to burn her throat and coat her lungs, and then, she tossed it out onto passing pavement.
“Thank you,” the cabbie said.
“What kind of place is Brookside anyway?”
She had been talking to Bonkers, but the cabbie answered first.
“It’s a rich town. Full of rich kids. And a rich school.”
“Yeah,” she said, and she rolled up her window. She pulled her thin, black jacket tighter around her skeletal shoulders and slumped forward to keep warm. Cold—Ohio was cold. She should have thought of that before taking the job—before agreeing to leave the desert of Arizona for the hills of the Midwest.
“Are you visiting friends? Family?”
He kept watching her in the rearview mirror. In the dim reflection, she could only make out the shadows of his eyes and wrinkled, greasy skin beneath an Ohio State Buckeyes ball cap. She adjusted her sunglasses to cover the purple bruise under her left eye.
Then, Sabine remembered humans outside of her marriage actually conversed.
“I got a job at the university.”
“Oh! Well, congrats.”
Her fingers reached out and touched the edges of her duffel bag. She’d barely made it all the way to her plane at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Sabine wasn’t used to heavy lifting, but she refused to leave her father’s books with Michael. She had left nothing she needed with Michael. All she had was her bag of books, a painting, a single CD—bought in secret months before—and a couple outfits to hold her over until a trip to the thrift store.
“What do you teach, huh?”
“Writing. Or I did teach writing. I haven’t taught in a long time.”
“So are you a writer? Yourself?”
“Yes.” She nodded and watched as city became farmland. Expansive rows of yellow, purple, and white fields stretched out beside the freeway with no farmhouse in sight. A September sun bounced past white, cotton ball clouds and cast chubby shadows.
“Well, what’s your name?”
Sabine shook her head. “I don’t think you would know any of my work.”
“Come on, why not?”
“I write romance.”
“My wife eats that stuff up.” He tilted his body sideways and slung an elbow over the back of his seat.
Sabine wondered if he was even watching the road as she said, “Sabine. Sabine Marceau.”
“Sabine Marceau? Well, shit, I thought you were French!”
“My father was.”
“I’ll bet my wife has read every one of your books. In fact,” he continued, “I’ll bet I paid to put your kids through college.”
“I don’t have any children.” She wondered if she looked old enough to have mothered someone seventeen, eighteen, even twenty. Sabine didn’t look in mirrors anymore. Maybe Michael had done it—aged her well beyond her thirty-five years.
“What’s it like, being a famous writer? Fast cars? Big houses?”
She began to smile, but she stopped herself and covered her lips with the back of her hand. “No. It’s not very glamorous.”
“Huh.” The sweaty driver looked back toward the road. “Well, can I get an autograph from you? For the little woman?”
“That’ll make her day,” he said, and Sabine wondered what a happy marriage felt like.
After twenty minutes of watching Bonkers reach claws through the front of his plastic cage, Sabine looked back to find the farmland had changed. It had become rolling hills of trees that reminded her of broccoli stalks. Highway cut through cliffs as the cab crept ahead, blocking the trees with pink and red rock. Then, the dark soil started, and finally, the full expanse of the Ohio valley returned. There were no cities. There seemed to be no people. All Sabine could do was think about precious palm trees and crooked Saguaro. What was she doing there? How had this happened?
“We’re almost there, Mrs. Marceau.”
The way he pronounced her name made her feel like a small piece of food to be eaten.
She shuffled her feet and hit her shin against the painting she’d taken down from her office in Phoenix before jumping a plane. It was a favorite from childhood that she would never leave behind. She shifted the painting right and pulled down at the knee-length skirt that had ridden up her skinny thighs on the drive.
“What? Yes. Maybe.” She looked down but made sure her sunglasses stayed in place.
“I’m sure you’ll do fine. You just gotta teach the kids what you already know how to do anyway. You’ll be a natural.”
“Thanks,” she said. And this time, she smiled. She smiled at the cabbie, at Bonkers, at the incoming green exit sign for Brookside. Sabine Marceau smiled, and for the first time in ten years, she didn’t care who saw.