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Excerpt: Awake in the World



Top three unluckiest things to happen to me this week:

1. I dropped my house key into a storm drain.

2. Ms. Grace informed me that I’m one credit short for graduation next spring.

3. I tore Dad’s hoodie.

And it’s only Monday.

The hoodie pissed me off the most. The impound lot is fenced in with chain link, and the twisty-tie barbs atop the fence are as sharp as upturned ice picks. I dropped to the other side of the fence and examined the rip. I could see my jeans through it. Damn.

I hefted my backpack and moved through a thicket of rusted Hondas and forgotten Toyotas toward the lot’s oddest resident: the fishing boat. Behind it, a sign hung on the impound lot’s fence:


Below the words was a picture of a camera with an eyeball for a lens.

But there weren’t actually any cameras. I was certain of that. I’d managed to escape detection all this time, despite some close calls, but I sometimes wondered if it was because I was just that stealthy … or if I was fooling myself. Maybe everyone knew about my secret predawn infiltrations. Maybe they left me alone because they felt sorry for me. It’s like this: Sometimes it feels like the whole town is waiting to see what wallop of bad luck will hit me next; other times, I can feel them quietly rooting for me. I’m never certain which is true when.

On the boat, inside the wheelhouse, I sank into the old captain’s chair and snapped on the deck lantern. The warm orange glow chased the shadows from the walls, where my father’s face stared down at me from a hundred tacked-up sketches.

“Morning, Dad,” I said softly.

I opened my sketchbook and returned to an illustration in progress. Sometimes this was my only time to draw, these early hours on an impounded, slowly rotting boat. Between school and my job at the market, and the girls and their homework, and their bedtime stories—well, I didn’t have space for much more than that. Quietly, I roughed in the structure of my father’s boat on the page. It peeked through the haze of the marine layer, the shroud that blanketed the sea on early summer mornings.

The sketchbook was a gift from my father in 2008, which had been a good year until it wasn’t. “Things are going to change,” Dad had said to Mama after the promotion at Bernaco. And he was right: They had, although not exactly how I think he’d intended. He’d given me a stack of sketchbooks like this one: bound in leather, or something like it; expensive, toothy paper. “I’m tired of seeing you draw on the gas bill,” he’d said with a wink. Between then and now, I’d filled every inch of every page of each book, except this one. This was the last of them. Nothing I’d drawn in this book seemed good enough.

Not for the last thing my father ever gave me.

The pencil broke, etching a dark gash on the page. I sighed. I could fix it, but … The weight of the previous day had settled on me, and I was tired. I went to the window and pulled back the blanket that hung across it. From here I could see the credit union sign announce the time: 3:35 A.M.

I bagged my sketchbook, extinguished the lantern, and closed the wheelhouse door. When I dropped to the ground beside the boat, my ankle rolled beneath me, and I clapped a hand over my mouth to stifle a cry. I tested the foot gingerly. It wasn’t serious—not a break or a sprain—but it qualified, I thought, as a small warning from the universe.

Remember whose side I’m on.

Yeah. Not mine. Got it, universe.

I tugged my hood over my head, then carefully scaled the fence and limped home, aware, as always, that when luck goes bad, it tends to stay bad. Some things just don’t change.

© Jason Gurley. All rights reserved.

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