EXCERPT: LOLA, CALIFORNIA by Edie Meidav

Excerpted from LOLA, CALIFORNIA: A Novel by Edie Meidav, to be published in July 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2011 by Edie Meidav. All rights reserved.

1984

Rose crossing a square in Spain, could be Valencia or Granada or any of the places where two girls stay the summer after high school, sleeping under rowboats or in flowerbeds, in hostels or pensions with balustrades and mites made venerable and happy by tourists, but it happens to be a less trafficked area of Barcelona, not far from where Senegalese vendors pray, and Rose is all chrysalis, bruisable and diffident, aware of contours, thrilled by the people she will meet, the ones who will reveal all her possible faces, still hidden in magic invisible cloak sleeves.

She is crossing a newly washed square toward Lana in a white T-shirt called a wifebeater, and does it matter whether she holds aloft two drinks and one straw, or one drink with two straws, and whether the drink is horchata or limonata and that in a shaded patio Lana sits awaiting Rose with some dark- browed man they have just met? The man doesn’t matter: he just spells the name of some new adventure together. Rose’s tongue inches forward, all is potential. The surface of her skin could be a plum’s, ripe and ready for anything, because someone just granted her new sap: at that point, Rose is still included in Lana.

All that matters is crossing toward her friend, their bubble mostly unburst, Rose no longer an observer, now someone deserving to take breath and live, every footfall commuting what had been one long and lonely life sentence.

What goads her on could be as happenstance as the single brush of an arm as they stride along a railway platform, enough to act as a million fireflies of encouragement in the dark of all they leave unsaid. Rose, crossing toward Lana, shivers. They will never be lovers. They have been newly set loose on the world, fairly oblivious to everyone else. Masters or meteors: two girls at seventeen.

HIGHWAY FIVE TENTH OF DECEMBER, 2008 9:54 A.M.

Vic has been, for years, losing his appetite. This happens on death row. In the last thirty days he has lost fourteen pounds and much of his eyesight.

“What’s the matter, boss?” the guard Javier asks. “You want to look like a war victim?”

“Who do I want to look like?” Vic’s fingers hover over yet another food tray, its edges webbed with grime, as if sensing radioactivity.

“Who’s looking?”

“Food smells bad today?”

“The body doesn’t want food,” says Vic. The day before, he’d had a consuming hallucination that some old friends from early schoolboy and surfing days in America awaited him in the prison courtyard. In a fancy suit he had gone out to bless them. Then he argued with some official that he wasn’t ready to follow the guy into a cold corridor.

Too tired, he had to get back to bed.

Later Vic talked to Javier about how nice and thoughtful it was that the prison had arranged this courtyard ceremony. Only from Javier’s tone did Vic understand that no ceremony had taken place.

“I don’t understand what’s happening to my body,” he says now to Javier, because Vic can’t rise from his cot. There’s a machine making his heart tick and a numb ellipsis occupying the nib where his stomach used to be; the ellipsis makes it hard to rise. He speaks to the fifteen by fifteen sound tiles in the ceiling.

15 + 15 = 30, as he knows well. Also 5 + 25. Also 9 + 21. Much better to count these than the click and screech of gates locking and unlocking.

Javier stands on the other side of the food slot. “Didn’t take your meds yet? Took the vitamins at least?”

“I’m not that optimistic.”

Javier sees the untouched tray. “Señor Legend, maybe it’s time forus to call Doctor K?”

“No. Interference would be problematic. Who’s Doctor K?”

“You’ll see him tomorrow. Maybe later today.”

Such concern emanates from the guard, for a second Vic knows

Javier to be one of the thirty- six righteous people walking the face of the earth, if not already an angel.

Vic waits. “Could you please come in?” He clears his throat before repeating himself.

Javier looks behind and then unlocks, making the choice to reach upward and slant the cell’s camera a few centimeters away. Someone might see them but in so many ways his prisoner is right: who’s looking?

“I’m here,” says Javier. In the protocol book, one exemption gets its own page: once the Bureau of Prisons finalizes the sentence and only the slimmest chance of gubernatorial intervention remains, humane and dignified treatment beyond the scope of protocol becomes permissible. How can anyone define the slimness of a chance?

“Would you mind lying with your head right there to give me some of your body warmth?”

Javier gets down on his knees next to Vic, ginger in laying his head down on the bony prisoner chest, an emptied birdcage. “This is crazy, man.”

“Your warmth is kindness,” says Vic. “I feel it entering me. In your hand too. But you could lose your job.”

“Also my pension.”

“No man ever laid his head on me.”

“Well, they don’t give out teddy bears around here, right?”

“True. No one ever gave me a teddy bear.”

Javier stands up quickly. “You okay? You’re talking strange.”

“How do I talk?”

“Your tongue, like it’s heavy.”

In mock joust, Vic sticks out his tongue at Javier, a proof of how manly and battle- ready he remains. He tries straightening the wayward vertebrae in his spine. “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

“You’ll be okay, boss. I’m going to ask for another blanket. Maybe

I can get you another Mahler recording.”

“You know he’s a distant ancestor.”

“I know, Legend.”

“What do you live for?” asks Vic, desperate to keep him near.

“My kid. Or grandchildren.” Then Javier stops.

“But that’s for them. What keeps you going?”

“I don’t know.” The guard waits. “Maybe your daughter will visit today?”

“Now you’re lying,” says Vic. “You never lied before.” His eyes betray and don’t stop betraying. Since the time when he was small and someone shot a wolf cub in front of him, he had never cried, at least not in front of a living person. Today his eyes happen to let tears slide out.

“I’m saying maybe.”

“Maybe,” echoes Vic, already turning away as Javier leaves the cell, showing the humanity of a good host: flouting regulations, removing the tray.

* * *

Lola, California is out now.

— Edie Meidav is the author of LOLA, CALIFORNIA and other novels.
Other sites of possible interest: www.ediemeidav.com; www.lolacalifornia.blogspot.com; lolacalifornia at Twitter and on Facebook.

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