An excerpt from "Growing Things" by Paul Tremblay, author of A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS. "Growing Things" is included in WHAT HAPPENED HERE:
Their father stayed in his bedroom, door locked, for almost two full days. Now he paces in the mud room, and he pauses only to pick at the splintering door jam with a black fingernail. Muttering to himself, he shares his secrets with the weather beaten door. Their father has always been distant and serious to the point of being sullen, but they do love him for reasons more than his being their sole lifeline. Recently, he stopped eating and gave his share of the rations to his daughters Marjorie and Merry. However, the lack of food has made him squirrely; a word their mother—who ran away more than four years ago—used liberally when describing their father. Spooked by his current erratic behavior, and feeling guilty, as if they were the cause of his suffering, the daughters agreed to keep quiet and keep away, huddled in a living room corner, sitting in a nest of blankets and pillows, playing cards between the couch and the silent TV with its dust covered screen. Yesterday, Merry drew a happy face in the dust, but Marjorie quickly erased it, turning her palm black. There is no running water with which to wash her hands. Marjorie is fourteen years old but only a shade taller than her eightyearold sister. She says, “Story time.” Marjorie has repeatedly told Merry that their mother used to tell stories, and that some of her stories were funny while others were sad or scary. Those stories, the ones Merry doesn’t remember hearing, were about everyone and everything. Merry says, “I don’t want to listen to a story right now.” She wants to watch her father. Merry imagines him with a bushy tail and a twitchy face full of acorns. Seeing him act squirrely reinforces one of the few memories she has of her mother. “It’s a short one, I promise.” Marjorie is dressed in the same cut off shorts and football shirt she’s been wearing for a week. Her brown hair is black with grease, and her fair skin is a map of freckles and acne. Marjorie has the book in her lap. Oh the Places I Will Go. “All right,” Merry says but she won’t really listen. She’ll continue to watch her father, who digs through the winter closet, throwing out jackets and itchy sweaters, snow pants. As far as she knows, it is still summer. The gregarious colors of Marjorie’s book cover are muted in the darkened living room. Candles on the fireplace mantle flicker and dutifully melt away. Still, it is enough light for the sisters. They are used to it. Marjorie closes her eyes and opens the book randomly. She flips to a page with a cartoon New York City. The buildings are brick red and sea blue, and they crowd the page, elbowing and wrestling each other for the precious space. Merry has colored the streets green with a crayon worn down to a nub smaller than the tip of her thumb. They are so used to trying not to disturb their father, Marjorie whispers: “New York City is the biggest city in the world, right? When it started growing there, it meant it could grow anywhere. It took over Central Park. The stuff just came shooting up, crowding out the grass and trees, the flowerbeds. The stuff grew a foot an hour, just like everywhere else.” Yesterday’s story was about all the farms in the Midwest, and how the corn, wheat, and soy crops were overrun. They couldn’t stop the growing things and that was why there wasn’t any more food. Merry had heard her tell that one before. Marjorie continues, “The stuff poked through the cement paths, soaked up Central Park’s ponds and fountains, and started filling the streets next.” Marjorie talks like the preacher used to, back when they went, back when Mom would force them all to make the trip down the mountain, into town and to the church. Merry is a confusing combination of sad and mad that she remembers details of that old, wrinkly preacher, particularly his odd smell of baby powder mixed with something earthy, yet she has almost no memory of her mother. Marjorie says, “They couldn’t stop it in the city. When they cut it down, it grew back faster. People didn’t know how or why it grew. There’s no soil under the streets, you know, in the sewers, but it still grew. The shoots and tubers broke through windows and buildings, and some people climbed the growing things to steal food, money, and televisions, but it quickly got too crowded for people, for everything, and the giant buildings crumbled and fell. It grew fast there, faster than anywhere else, and there was nothing anyone could do.” Merry, halflistening, takes the green crayon nub out of her pajama pocket. She changes her pajamas every morning, unlike her sister, who doesn’t change her clothes at all. She draws green lines on the hardwood floor, wanting their father to come over and catch her, and yell at her. Maybe it’ll stop him from putting on all the winter clothes, stop him from being squirrely. Their father waddles into the living room, breathing heavy, used air falling out of his mouth, his face suddenly hard, old, and grey, and covered in sweat. He says, “We’re running low. I have to go out to look for food and water.” He doesn’t hug or kiss his daughters, but pats their heads. Merry drops the crayon nub at his feet, and it rolls away. He turns and they know he means to leave without any promise of returning. He stops at the door, cups his mittened and gloved hands around his mouth, and shouts toward his direct left, into the kitchen, as if he hadn’t left his two daughters on their pile of blankets in the living room. “Don’t answer the door for anyone! Don’t answer it! Knocking means the world is over!” He opens the door, but only enough for his body to squeeze out. The daughters see nothing of the world outside but a flash of bright sunlight. A breeze bullies into their home, along with a buzz saw sound of wavering leaves.
Abigail Thomas author of WHAT COMES NEXT AND HOW TO LIKE IT
Chris Hedges author of WAGES OF REBELLION
Edan Lepucki author of CALIFORNIA
Paul Tremblay author of A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS
Jennifer Tseng author of MAYUMI AND THE SEA OF HAPPINESS
Catie Disabato author of THE GHOST NETWORK
Emmett G. Price III author of THE BLACK CHURCH AND HIP HOP CULTURE
Jennifer Waddell, local writer and photographer
George Fifield, founder and director of the Boston Cyberarts Gallery
Christopher Irvin author of BURN CARDS
Zachary Klein author of TIES THAT BLIND
Josh Cook author of AN EXAGGERATED MURDER
Rory Flynn author of THIRD RAIL
J.M. Taylor author of NIGHT OF THE FURIES
Cat Warren author of WHAT THE DOG KNOWS
Nicole Galland author of STEPDOG
Randy Susan Meyers author of ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE
Nadine Darling author of SHE CAME FROM BEYOND!
Robin McLean author of REPTILE HOUSE
Lynette D'Amico author of ROAD TRIP
Kristen Evans author of MAMMAL ROOM
Kate Layte, owner + manager of Papercuts J.P.
Katie Eelman, media + events coordinator at Papercuts J.P.
John Cleary, bookseller at Papercuts J.P.