Lauren Leja is a terrific writer. Her characters inhabit that elastic, kaleidoscopic space between believing that they are good people while all along they are drenched with the backwash of their own decisions. Ms. Leja doesn’t go for the easy knock out in these stories full of keenly observed mayhem populated by a range of quirky and spontaneously combustive types. Instead, she deftly jabs them around the ring, giving them, and the reader, just enough hope that maybe they will punch above their weight class.
Jack Gantos, author of Hole In My Life
Excerpt from ROTOR
We both knew it was the shittiest carnival in the Tri-State area but we were going anyway.
During lunch, Susan and I went out for a smoke break and just kept walking. We walked through the football field and into the skeleton of the bleachers.
Underneath, in the grey coolness, Susan pulled out stolen Home Ec scissors and cut off her jeans into shorts. She stabbed the point under the faded ghost of her back pocket and started to circumnavigate each thigh, sawing the blue denim. The pale sliver of her skin slowly grew into a slice. One leg, two legs. Susan stepped out of the denim tubes like she was shedding an old useless skin, the fabric circles newly forgotten on the gravel, perpetually sticky from decades of spilled sodas.
My turn. I pulled my arms all the way inside my red Tshirt, my arms stiffened into a taut teepee, a cotton triangle. I held my breath as Susan started to snip with the stolen scissors, from my waist up to my chin. The cold tips of the scissors dotted my skin with a metallic rat-a-tat.
When she reached the neckband, my white skin burst out, like cutting into a giant baked potato. She knotted the ends under my bra line and smiled.
Susan shook a paper bag in my face. “We got this!” She unrolled it open – the bag was full of miniature bottles of booze. “I’ve been stealing them from my cousin the stewardess. Her apartment is like a bar for midgets.”
“Renee?” I asked. Renee was leggy and had hair like a magazine. She always spoke very slowly and clearly, like she was reading cue cards.
“Yeah, Renee. There’s some rum, some vodka. And a few with no labels that taste like nail polish remover.”
Susan handed me two, then she tucked a few into her back pockets and slid the rest into her white knee socks. Her ankles were lumpy like shin guards.
Susan unscrewed a tiny bottle, drank half and offered me the rest. I pinched my nose and gulped it down. It was like drinking fire.
“Ready to roll,” she said.
Excerpt from FORTUNE
At the library there was a football on my calculus book, a little tightly folded origami triangle. I pried open one flap of the paper package and I folded and flipped and unfolded and flipped, then smoothed the sheet of notebook paper with my palm: “The BEST thing about this place is that if I got killed here, nobody would ever notice.”
I had no idea who had left it. I looked up to see just two other people in the room. One, an old woman reading a supermarket circular very seriously, like it was an encyclopedia. Her lips mouthed “Oranges 99 cents a pound.”
At the other table was a man. From where I sat, he looked vague. It was as if a police sketch artist was told to draw a man, any man. But it was his hands that I will never forget – hands that looked and acted like someone else’s. He examined them in disbelief; fanning them, grabbing the air and forming empty fists.
He was surrounded by careful piles. In the center was a beat up copy of Fortune magazine, the April issue, with a giant calculator on the cover, and a stack of TV guides. On one side was a ROYGBIV rainbow of magic markers and on the other was a tower of graph paper, sectioned into complicated columns. He pecked and poked at the giant magazine calculator photo, using it, like a calculator, then recorded his results with the magic markers. I began to see and feel the ebb and flow to his movements.
Excerpt from ACME
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were driving me crazy with their too-polite knocks and damnation pamphlets. Maybe they earned extra credit for early morning salvation attempts? I was always too sleepy to answer and peeked thru the peephole at their church lady hats and cheap briefcases as they walked to the curb. Martha at the hardware store was one. She had hair she could sit on and I saw her eating a bowl of cereal on the bus. She once showed me a little laminated card in her wallet – NUNCA SANGRA – blood transfusions were not allowed even if you were dying in the street.
Maybe the Jehovah’s did the math and figured the odds were on their side; after dozens of mornings of relentless knocking, I answered the door on Saturday. With dripping hair and wrapped in a towel, I swung the door open dramatically.
“Good morning,” said the lone guy who was most definitely not a Jehovah’s Witness.
“Oh,” I answered, my hand reassuring the knotted terrycloth around my chest.
“This actually happens all the time,” the young man said. His hair was the color of a manila envelope and obviously cut while blindfolded. His eyes were the most boring eyes in the world – just dots really – but his smile was so ridiculous, so dazzling – like a movie star, like a billboard for toothpaste.
“I was praying the towel would finally scare off the Witnesses,” I blurted out.
“I’m not scared, but I’m not one of them.” He held up clipboard; a pencil on a string dangled from it. “I ask questions.”
“Door to door?” I asked.
“Door to door,” he nodded.
Lauren Leja is a writer, photographer, snapshot collector and rescuer of the forgotten. She has a website, invisiblecommute.com, in which she documents her wanderings with a daily photo. Lauren’s first book, Air and other stories, was published by Nixes Mate in 2017.
Copyright © 2019 Lauren Leja
Cover photograph by Lauren Leja
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.
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