a HARPER novella: Teenage Female - PREVIEW


For years I've had this recurring dream where I'm four years old and walking down the Coney Island boardwalk, which is totally empty except for me, but it sounds as busy as it usually is. The Ferris Wheel's going strong, kids are screaming... all the happy, fun stuff you'd expect just with no-one actually around.
      After a bit of walking, this ice cream parlor grabs my attention and kinda sucks me in. Once inside, I see that Mom and Dad are the only customers, and they're sitting on the floor eating from the big cartons. They look like they did way back then as well, and they're laughing and smiling and happy and it's just nice.
      Then a voice I don't know tells me they have the largest, gourmet chocolate sprinkle in the world and that it's all mine if I want it, which of course I do. I mean, who wouldn't? Crazy people, that's who.

      After a moment or two, some nameless, blurry-faced guy starts wheeling out this giant sprinkle and it actually has my name on it.
      "That's a lucky break, Libby!" Mom says, her mouth full of ice cream but her voice clear as a bell. "Now no-one else can take it!"
      So, super-excited, I start breaking pieces of it off and wolfing them down. It's delicious. It's like the fucking best tasting chocolate I've ever dreamed.
I keep eating it, but it doesn't change. The chunks I tear off immediately re-appear. It's endless, it's all mine, and I keep eating it until I'm feeling full.
      Even after I'm full.
      "I'll just save the rest for later." I say, still shoveling it in like Garfield. Also, I have my adult voice, though I have no idea why.
      "But you can't." the unfamiliar voice tells me. "You have to see it through. You have to eat it all in one sitting even if you die. When you die. 'Til you die."

      "But that's not right!" I say, kinda stamping my foot like an angry little rhino.
      At this point in the dream, I'm suddenly an adult. Mom and Dad are still there, but Mom looks really, really sick and Dad looks like his usual, brooding self. His right arm's shaking so much that it's just a constant motion blur. The happiness is fucking gone and I start panicking. Hard.

      I'm panicking because of the immense tonal shift of the room, the sudden appearance shift in my parents, and the fact that I really don't wanna sit and eat this thing until it kills me. So I'm getting all sweaty and clammy and shaking like a fucking broken washing machine... I'm a mess!
      "What the fuck am I supposed to do!?" I cry out in frustration.
      "Lib, sweetie, don't worry!" Mom calls out. "I bet ya' can eat that thing in one bite!"
      "I dunno..." I trail off, teetering on the edge of bitter uncertainty.
      "Sure ya' can!" Mom chimes, her bright, cheery smile filling the room with a soft, warm glow. "Your whole life's ahead of ya'! There isn't a sprinkle alive that can get in your way."
      "Yeah, but this one's fucking chocol—"

      "Chocolate or not." Mom butts in, stern but still saccharine. "Just pop it in your mouth, chew it up, and get it outta the way!"
      That's what she always used to say to me when she'd make something I didn't like to eat. When I say 'didn't like', obviously I mean stuff I'd never even tried but found leery for childish reasons. It always worked, too. Mom really fucking knew what she was doing.
      Anyhow, I turn to the giant, delicious, regenerating sprinkle and I pick it up in a big bear hug, while Mom's cheering "Lib-by! Lib-by! Lib-by!". As I squeeze it, it shrinks down more and more until it's about the size of a jelly bean. Then I just pop it in my mouth, chew it up, and get it the fuck outta the way!
      "See!?" Mom beams, suddenly looking healthy again but also slowly fading away. "You can do anything ya' put your mind to, Lib. Anything at all."

      "Thank you Mommy!" I whimper, still an adult but suddenly sounding like a child again.
      Then she's gone, and Dad's sitting there on the floor clutching the ice cream carton she left behind and crying his eyes out. Just... violently sobbing.
      It's at that point in the dream I always wake up.
      "What's that shit have to do with anything, Elizabeth?" you ask? Well, the first time I ever had that dream was during a nap I took just after I left my first 'Good Friends' meeting with Robyn Ackerman. I only spent a couple of hours with her that first day, and she was extremely contentious the whole time.
      She was a real fucking brat, honestly.