Novel Excerpt: Watch Me Disappear

Diane Vanaskie Mulligan ’01 began writing her first novel, Watch Me Disappear (available at Amazon.com), during an after-school writing club she moderates for high school students. She generously shares the first two chapters of the novel with us here. When Diane isn’t teaching or writing, she’s the managing editor at The Worcester Review and the director of The Betty Curtis Worcester County Young Writers’ Conference. You can also find her occasionally strumming her guitar and singing at various bars in central Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband.

CHAPTER 1

I swear, every time we move to another town and I have to start over at another school, my mother looks at me and thinks, “Maybe this time she’ll make some friends.” She’s a realist. She never advises me to go out there and be myself. Instead she tells me to use this fresh start to reinvent myself, which means to fix whatever is wrong with me. All I want is to be invisible. My plan for senior year at my new school: Get straight A’s and get into a top-tier college. But this move is different from all the others. This time, my dad keeps reminding me, we’re moving home, to the town where he grew up. This isn’t Texas (which is like another planet) or California (which is like another universe). My entire life, this has been the one place we’ve always returned to, but up until now, only for short visits. There’s the park where I learned to ride a bike, the ice cream shop that makes the world’s best mint chocolate chip, the hill behind my grandmother’s house where my brother and I used to go sledding on snowy Christmases. Maybe this time I can let my guard down a little and not just be the quiet new girl. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

The other day I was sitting on the back deck struggling to start my summer reading (and let me just say whoever cast Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet cannot have read Pride and Prejudice), when I heard a girl’s voice through the fence between our yard and our neighbors’.

“I don’t know,” the voice said, “my mom wants me to invite her to hang out this weekend… No! I haven’t seen her, but my mom says she’s cute… Uh-huh. A little pudgy… I know, right? My mom, like, had a tea party with her or something the other day… Yeah, like with a tea pot and everything… They’re coming to the cookout this weekend… Hell, no! He’s not my father… Whatever… Okay, see you tonight.”

Then I heard a sliding door open and shut. The voice had been talking about me. I was the one her mother “like, had a tea party with” a few days earlier. I wondered if my parents knew we were going to some cookout and if Mrs. Morgan had really called me pudgy.

I wished I’d never let that stupid woman in the door, with her Talbots clothes and fancy plate of store-bought cookies. She had rung the bell about a half an hour after my parents left for Home Depot.

“Welcome to Hillside,” she chirped, extending the plate of cookies toward me as I opened the door. “I’m Patty Morgan! Your neighbor!” She gestured toward the house to the left of ours. She stood there smiling at me, her hands clasped in front of her chest like a girl scout awaiting a merit badge. When I didn’t say anything, she tried to peek around me into the house and asked, “Are your parents home?”

I felt like I was in a made-for-TV movie. “Are your parents home” are the magic words that unleash unspeakable horrors. I shook my head.

“They’ll be back soon,” I said, when she continued to stand there expectantly. And then, without quite realizing what I was doing, I invited her in for tea. I guess a week of being cooped up with just my mom and dad for company had started to get to me.

She followed me into the kitchen, the one room of the house my mom had somewhat organized. I filled the kettle and set out the teapot and two cups and saucers beside the plate of cookies.

“Lovely!” she said, settling onto a stool at the kitchen island. “Like playing tea party! I usually just nuke water for tea in the microwave.”

I wished the water would hurry up and boil. It was a mistake letting her in. My mom would be furious—the house was still a mess and this woman obviously wanted to spy on us. Besides, what did I have to talk about with a woman as old as my mom?

“So you must be in high school,” she said, her eyes shamelessly scanning our kitchen, taking everything in.

I told her I’d be a senior.

“So will my daughter Maura,” she said, raising her eyebrows.

This comment piqued my interest in my new neighbor. I thought it would be good to meet some people before school started. This was, of course, before I actually heard Maura talking on the phone.

“I would have guessed you were a freshman or sophomore at best,” Mrs. Morgan said. Noticing my expression, she added, “Believe me, one day you’ll be happy you look young.”

I forced a smile. The kettle whistled and I filled the teapot.

Then Mrs. Morgan started plying me with questions about myself. I’ve been well-schooled in etiquette for interacting with grownups. Rule #1: Answer their questions politely to show how appreciative you are that they are faking an interest in you. I found myself babbling away about English class and how I used to do swim team because my dad thought everyone should participate in sports, but I really hated it, and I only joined because there were no cuts.

Mrs. Morgan is a smooth operator. By the time she started pumping me for information about my parents and why we had moved to Hillside, it didn’t even occur to me not to answer. It’s not like we have any secrets, but my mom is a very private person. If she had heard me tell Mrs. Morgan about my dad’s new job as CFO at St. Maria’s Hospital, she would have killed me. When I mentioned it, Mrs. Morgan’s eyes lit up the way cartoon characters’ eyes turn to dollar signs when they think they’ve hit the jackpot. Mrs. Morgan is clever, though. She knew better than to linger on the subject of my parents for long. Instead she asked me how I was adjusting to the new neighborhood.

The truth: I don’t like it at all. I wanted to live in the New England of Little Women with old houses on a charming town common, but I got McMansions on Corn Row Avenue, Pumpkin Patch Terrace, Hayfield Lane. Seriously. And the whole thing is arranged like a maze with winding streets that sometimes connect to others and sometimes dead end in cul-de-sacs like the one we share with the Morgans. It’s like a medieval fortress designed to confuse advancing armies so they never reach the castle. Every time my mom goes out on an errand, she gets lost coming or going or both. It’s tragic. Since no one ever seems to be out in the perfect green yards, she can’t even ask directions. My dad might have to overcome his hatred of GPS units if she doesn’t figure it out soon.

But I didn’t say that to Mrs. Morgan. Instead I said, “It’s really quiet.”

“As long as we keep Maura inside,” Mrs. Morgan said laughing. At the time I didn’t know what she meant, but now I do.

Anyway my parents eventually came back and as anticipated my mother was pissed that I let a “stranger” in. But she put on her polite face until Mrs. Morgan left. Then she grounded me, which was no punishment at all since I didn’t know anyone here and I had nowhere to go.

“You look like a page right out of the L. L. Bean catalog,” I tell my mother, having been summoned to give my opinion of her outfit for the Morgans’ cookout. I’m pretty sure she actually opened to a page of the catalog and ordered the entire outfit off of one of the models: khaki skirt, nautical blue-and-white-striped twin set with the sweater draped across her shoulders and tied in the front, a woven belt, and slip-on campus boat shoes. I watch her inspect herself in the mirror.

“You know it’s like 85 degrees out, right?” I ask. “You really won’t need a sweater.”

“Are you making fun of me?” she asks, turning to look at me. “And what are you going to wear?”

I stand up from her bed and pose. I have on a jean skirt, a black T-shirt, and flip-flops.

She frowns. “What about your hair?”

Again with the hair. She hated it a couple of years ago when I cut it short because it was “too boyish.” She hates it now because “it just hangs there like a mop.” She thinks I need layers to make it “squishy” and “cute.” I like it how it is—simple, shoulder-length, easy to put in a ponytail.

“Can you put some mousse in it or something, make it look nice? And how about some earrings? Do you have to wear that necklace?”

I have on a hemp rope necklace with a big multicolored bead in the center of it. My brother Jeff gave it to me for my birthday and I wear it all the time. He’s in college, and this summer he isn’t coming home at all because he has some internship. I don’t blame him for not coming home—I mean, this isn’t any home he’s ever known—but I wish he were here. Everything is easier with him around.

I agree to put on some earrings and scoot from the room before she can make any more “suggestions.”

From the window of the unpacked mess of my room, I can see into the Morgans’ backyard. The pool water glitters in the sun. The table on the deck has been dressed up with a festive tablecloth. As much as my mother’s obsession with appearances drives me nuts, I know she’s just nervous, and I am too. It’s like my first day at a new school, except instead of blending into a crowd of a thousand kids, jocks and nerds alike, I will have to face Maura and her friends all alone.

I’ve practically only eaten fruit all week in hopes that I’ll look good for these new people who can make or break my senior year with one word. I hate myself for caring so much, but I feel along my jaw for a double chin anyway. My face definitely looks thinner around my cheekbones. I wish it wasn’t too hot for long pants that would hide my stubby legs, but if I can’t be skinny, at least I can avoid being one big pit stain.

Mrs. Morgan descends upon us the minute we arrive, gushing over the cucumber salad my mom brought. We follow her like little puppies on parade, shaking hands with some of the neighbors and Mr. Morgan and Billy, their five-year-old son who is covered in the sticky residue of purple popsicles.

Maura is sitting on the far side of the pool with her friends. She has on a red and white bikini and is flicking red polish over her fingernails. She’s wearing big, stylish sunglasses, and her hair is arranged in a perfect mess atop her head. Mrs. Morgan seems hesitant to take us over to her daughter or even to approach the group herself. She tells us to wait and then she goes to get Maura. Obediently we watch her circle the pool and return with her daughter.

Maura flashes a smile and gives a coy hello. She speaks with a sugary drawl. She declines shaking my parents’ hands—wet nail polish—but she answers their questions politely enough.

“Why don’t you introduce Lizzie to your friends?” Mrs. Morgan suggests.

Maura smiles again and turns to me. “My mom said you used to live in California. We’re dying to get to know you.”

So I join the circle of half-dressed girls sitting in the sun looking bored. Maura makes quick introductions. The girls’ names are Tina, Jessica, and Katherine. All of them wear tiny bikinis and flashy sunglasses and have long messy hair. And they all greet me with close-lipped smiles. And then no one says anything.

Finally, to break the silence, I ask, “Are you all on the cheerleading squad or something?”

I mean, they look like Laker Girls or Playboy Bunnies. It seems like a logical question.

“Oh my God, no!” Jessica answers. “Cheerleading is social death! You weren’t a cheerleader at your old school, were you?”

I shake my head.

“Good. And if you really were, don’t tell anyone,” she says. “So, like, what do you do at school?”

“Study,” I say.

“No, like, sports or drama or something? We do drama. Maura does costumes and makeup, and Katherine and I act.”

Before I can respond Maura interrupts. “Didn’t my mom tell you it was a pool party? You should’ve worn your bathing suit. She said you did swim team.”

“Uh, yeah, I’m not much of a swimmer,” I say.

“But you told her you swam at your old school,” Maura insists.

“My dad made me,” I say.

“We don’t swim either,” Jessica says. “The water turns my hair green, but at least we can work on our tans out here. Aren’t you worried you’ll get funny tan lines?”

I’m thankful that Jessica appears to be genuinely interested in having a conversation, but I also suspect she isn’t too bright and that she has probably missed all the cues from the others to shut up.

“I don’t really sunbathe,” I say. “Actually I was just wishing I’d thought to put on sunscreen before I came over.”

“And you’re from California!” Jessica says, her eyes searching me for proof.

“We have sunscreen. Jess, be a doll and go ask my mom,” Maura says.

“You’re from California?” Tina asks dubiously.

“Most recently from North Carolina. We left California when I was in middle school.”

“Oh. North Carolina,” she says, like somehow that clears up everything.

“I was in California once,” Katherine chimes in. “We went to San Diego. My mom wouldn’t let us go to Tijuana, though.”

“Tijuana’s pretty dirty. You didn’t miss much,” I say.

“It’s supposed to be really fun.” Katherine’s voice takes on a defensive edge.

“I know, but I’m just saying, San Diego is really nice but Tijuana isn’t.”

“Well I would have liked to see for myself. Maybe I would’ve liked it.”

I’m not trying to be stubborn about it and see no need to continue the conversation. Katherine clearly finds me objectionable, so I drop it. I’m glad when Jessica returns. She hands me a bottle of Waterbabies SPF 50 and shrugs.

“That was all Mrs. Morgan could find,” she says, but I’m just grateful she came back with real sun block and not some kind of tanning oil SPF 4. Jessica plops back down onto the lounge chair.

“So anyway, I really want to know about California,” she says.

Apparently she did not forget where she’d left off in our conversation when Maura sent her on her little errand.

“You missed it, Jess. She hasn’t lived in California since middle school,” Tina says.

Katherine just rolls her eyes.

“Oh! Well it’s not like middle school was that long ago. She probably still remembers some stuff. I’ve always wanted to go to California. I’m going to go there for college if my parents let me,” Jessica says, turning to me.

“Sure. What do you want to know?”

“Well, you know, what’s it like?”

“When did you say the guys are getting here?” Katherine asks Maura before I can answer Jessica.

“After Jim’s baseball game.”

“I hope that’s soon. Can I have that nail polish? I want to do my toes.”

Maura hands it to her and turns back to me. “I want to hear about California, too.”

“To see the sunset over the ocean. That would be amazing,” Jessica says. She is about the cheesiest person I’ve ever met, but in a sweet way.

“It’s a big state, you know. I lived in Southern California, so I can’t tell you much about San Francisco or anything, but it’s pretty nice where I lived. Warm all the time, if you like that. People are pretty nice. I mean, everyone’s trying to get famous, but still people are mostly nice.” I try to give the safest answer I can, nothing controversial. I don’t bother with cynicism, since I am sure at least one-third of my audience—the third that actually wants to talk to me—won’t get it. No need to mention that I prefer to live in places where the four seasons are different from one another, that I like open green spaces, or that I despise all the phonies who’ll do anything to get on TV.

“Ooh, did you ever see celebrities?” Jessica wants to know.

“Yeah, a few times, but not up close. I never met any.”

“Oh.”

“You have to remember, I was pretty young. I was never hanging out on Sunset Boulevard or anything.”

Jessica nods. I’m sure she is thinking how if she moves to California she’ll know where to hang out to spot celebs.

“So that’s it?” Maura says. “It’s warm and people are nice?”

Maura isn’t impressed and I am sort of glad. I don’t think I would like myself much if there was anything I could say that would impress Maura.

I notice that my parents have installed themselves at the umbrella table and are not talking to anyone. Mom probably refuses to let Dad leave her side.

“It’s been great to meet all of you, but I think I’ll just go see how my parents are doing,” I say.

“No, you should stay,” Jessica says. “Don’t you want to meet the guys?”

“Maybe some other time. My mom gets really shy and I’m afraid she thinks she has to stay if I stay.”

“Well you should come out with us sometime. We can show you around,” Jessica offers.

I just smile and try to walk away as gracefully as possible, hoping that the backs of my legs aren’t horribly covered in stripes from the sticky lawn chair.

“Did you notice how they were dressed?” I ask my mom later when she suggests I try to make friends with Maura.

“Well, it was a pool party of a sort.”

“They don’t want to be my friends. They were totally fake, and some of them couldn’t even fake friendliness.”

“They’re probably intimidated by you.”

“Right.”

They were intimidated by me. Four skinny beauty queens. For one thing, they have safety in numbers. Maybe one of them alone might be intimidated by the thought that I am somehow more sophisticated than them because my family moved around (and because I lived in California, which is apparently their Mecca), but four against one, why should they be intimidated? They can’t possibly be worried I’d steal their boyfriends. To them I am a weirdo with a few pounds to lose. And my mother’s desire for me to make friends with them is infuriating and absurd. She wants me to be the perfect, straight-A student and to be pretty and popular, but she doesn’t trust me to be either of those things without her firm hand guiding me. She has no clue what a walking contradiction she is.

“What did you think of the adult crowd?” I ask, changing the subject.

“They seemed nice,” Mom says, not looking up from the box she’s unpacking.

“Did you talk to any of them?”

That makes her look up.  “We were introduced to just about everyone there. They seemed very nice.” She bends back over the box for a moment and then pauses again. “Are you going to help me or are you going to just sit there?”

I had been planning on just sitting there. “I have to go do summer reading,” I say, excusing myself.

I know eavesdropping isn’t nice, but is it eavesdropping if you are sitting in your own backyard, minding your own business, and someone else talks so loud that you cannot help but hear? The fact is, my new neighborhood is a ghost town from nine to five, with one little exception: Our cul-de-sac, or more specifically, the Morgans’ pool deck.

Apparently, Maura is used to being able to gab all day without anyone overhearing. All the adults are at work and all the kids are either at camp somewhere or are hiding in the air-conditioning playing video games. And I guess it doesn’t occur to her that I might be on the deck in the middle of the day; it’s not like we have a pool to sit by. But as it happens, I like being outside, and while the house is a mess of boxes and clutter, the deck is clean and calm. If I go out there to do my summer reading, my mom leaves me alone and even applauds my studious efforts. So while I sit as quiet as a librarian, book in hand, Maura gabs away at the top of her lungs, and once Maura gets started, she’s hard to ignore. Earlier today I overheard her half of a conversation that went something like this:

“She’s not going to be around this weekend… Nope. One of her pageants… You should come over… Uh-huh, I’m babysitting my brother… My parents won’t be home until like two A.M…. Hardly. I can’t, like, have a party with Billy in the next room…Just you and me…Play Monopoly!” She laughed. “I’m sure I can keep you entertained… OK, I’ll be waiting for you.”

It’s pretty much what I expect of a girl like Maura, obviously luring some boy over while she’s supposed to be watching her brother. She’d been off the phone only a minute when it rang again.

“Hey,” she answered. “I know. I was on the other line… Shit, I have to babysit… My brother. I can’t get out of it… Yeah, you should see if she wants to go… She seems like a real party animal.” Maura laughed. “No seriously, though, she can probably drink you under the table.” More laughter.

I wondered if they were talking about me. I knew they could have been talking about anyone, and I also knew that girls like them probably find plenty of people to ridicule, but still, I couldn’t help but wonder.

“And what’s up with Jess? Why do we even hang out with that moron? Did you see the way she was hanging all over John? Talk about obvious… I know, right?… Well, I can’t go, and Katherine’s got some pageant, so it looks like you’re stuck with her… Oh, please, everyone knows she does pageants… She tells people herself! You can’t tell one person and expect that no one else’ll find out… Hold on, I got a beep.  “Hey… Yeah, she’s on the other line… Yeah, I heard about the party… Nope… Lemme call you back later. “Tina?… Yeah, it was Jess… Listen, I gotta go. I’m supposed to drive Billy to karate… I know, right?… Good luck with Matt… Yeah, call me if you need to… okay. Bye!”

I heard a little shuffling from the other side of the fence, the slider opened and shut, and quiet returned to the neighborhood.

I feel a little bad for listening to her conversations, but then again, it isn’t like Maura is acting secretive. It is hilarious to think of Katherine doing a pageant smile and wave. She wasn’t too smiley at the party. I do feel bad for Jessica, though, knowing her so-called friends talk about her like that. But then again, at least she has friends.

CHAPTER 2

 

I’m not surprised when Mrs. Morgan knocks on the door on Friday afternoon to ask if I can babysit. I listened to Maura’s entire plot unfold the day before. The plan went something like this: Friday morning Maura told her mother that Tina’s boyfriend just broke up with her, so Maura needed to go be a good friend and cheer Tina up. Maura then helpfully suggested they ask their nice new neighbor to watch Billy.

As Mrs. Morgan stands at the door explaining the pitiful situation, I am tempted to say no just to make Maura’s life more difficult. But then again, my curiosity is high; I want to get inside the house and see what Queen Maura’s life is like. Anyway, my mother doesn’t give me a chance to say no.

“Lizzie loves kids!” she says, coming up behind me at the door. “She’s a great babysitter!”

This is an embellishment. Children too young to speak in utterances that at least resemble sentences make me nervous, but I do have a fair amount of practice as a babysitter thanks to my dad, who is always encouraging his colleagues to call me whenever they need a sitter. He sees this as a win-win-win proposition: It saves me the embarrassment of another Friday or Saturday night at home; it keeps me in spending money so he doesn’t have to; and his colleagues have someone to babysit when they want a night out. The money is good. Most people come home and round up whatever hourly figure they promised me before they left.

“Wonderful!” Mrs. Morgan says, clasping her hands in front of her chest. She has a way of addressing me that makes me feel like some sort of munchkin in the presence of Glenda the Good Witch. “And what’s your usual rate?”

I pause. I hate it when they expect me to name the price.

“Don’t be silly,” my mother jumps in. “This is a favor between neighbors.” She gives me a knowing nod and smile.

“No, no, no—we’ll insist on paying Lizzie for her time,” Mrs. Morgan says. “I’ll talk to Maura and see what the going rate is these days among her friends. We rely on her so much that we never have to call a sitter anymore.” She smiles at me again. “OK, then! Tomorrow at six thirty.”

When I arrive, Mrs. Morgan explains that Billy was at soccer camp all day, so he will probably fall asleep early. I look across the breakfast bar that separates the kitchen and living room. Billy sits on an ottoman in the center of the floor in front of a huge TV. He doesn’t take his eyes off the video game he’s playing. I wonder if he even knows I’m here.

“You can make him this macaroni and cheese for supper,” Mrs. Morgan says, setting out a box and a saucepan. “Aside from using the stove and remembering to brush his teeth, he’s pretty self-sufficient. He’s old enough to entertain himself.”

I nod, half listening. I’m thinking about what I saw an hour ago. I was in the living room when I heard a car screech to a halt outside. When I looked out the window, I saw a red Volkswagen bug in front of the Morgans’ house. The driver beeped a couple times, and then Maura trotted down the driveway and gestured to the girl in the passenger seat who got out and moved to the backseat so Maura could ride shotgun. Then the little car peeled out, music blaring.

“Well, if you’re all set, I’ll be heading out,” Mrs. Morgan says.

“Sure. All set,” I answer.

Mrs. Morgan’s prediction that Billy will conk out early is accurate. He practically falls asleep in his dinner. By eight o’clock, I have the house to myself. I sit in a recliner in the family room and try to read but I can’t concentrate. Looking around the room, I can’t help but think the décor is odd. The house, like my own, is a newer home built in the colonial style, but the Morgans have stylish, modern furniture and decorations inside. The couch, love seat, and recliner in the living room are all black leather, the smell of which is starting to get to me. The coffee table has a metal base and glass top, and the lamps in the room are all sleek and modern with shiny stainless steel bases. Everything is black, gray, or beige, colors that carry through the whole first floor and the hallway upstairs. When Mrs. Morgan gave me the tour, I noticed a few odd abstract sculptures on end tables or in corners. Not at all what you’d expect to find inside a plain green colonial with tidy tan shutters. The rooms look like a page from the IKEA catalog, but not as logically coordinated.

The one room Mrs. Morgan didn’t include on the tour was Maura’s room. “It’s a mess,” she said, gesturing toward the closed door. “We just keep the door shut. You know how it is,” she added, and then she looked at me and shook her head. “I’ll bet your room is always in order.”

“Not always,” I said. This is partially true. At the moment, my room is a mess, but my general habit is to keep it pretty neat. Since we moved in, I haven’t figured out how to organize things in my new room, and my parents haven’t had the time to help me get situated.

I know it isn’t right to go snooping around Maura’s room, but I want to anyway. After all, I’m doing Maura a favor, right?

I try to put the thought out of my mind by turning on the TV, but I can’t figure out how to make it work. The Morgans have one of those Direct TV things, and none of the buttons I push on the oversized remote make a picture appear.

I wander into the kitchen and look through the cupboards. This is one of my favorite babysitting diversions. The best babysitting jobs are those where the kids fall asleep early and the cabinets are full of snacks. Not much by way of tasty treats here, though. The Morgans have every manner of diet protein bar, low-fat cookie, and baked (not fried) potato chip, even two kinds of fat-free ice cream in the freezer, but nothing I can even imagine enjoying. In the back of the bread drawer, I find a half-eaten box of Fig Newtons, but when I try one, I discover that they must have been there since the dawn of time.

No TV, nothing to eat, nothing good to read, and Maura’s room upstairs beckoning like a high tree limb to a curious kitty. I tiptoe up the stairs, listen for a moment at Billy’s door, and then creep down the hall to Maura’s door. The door swings open silently and I slip inside.

The room is indeed a mess; that wasn’t just an excuse Mrs. Morgan came up with to keep me out. The bed is unmade. There are clothes on the floor and a few sketchy half-full glasses of soda or juice or something on the bedside table. The room smells of perfume and hair spray from Maura’s pre-party preparations just a few hours ago. The dresser is littered with makeup tubes and compacts and hairstyling products. There are a few photos in the edge of the mirror, and I carefully lean across the dresser to take a look. Two are of Maura and a boy, both professional wallet-sized pictures from formal dances, and the other is a picture of Maura and a girl I didn’t recognize. Also on the dresser is a framed snapshot of Maura as a little girl, maybe six or seven, in a fancy dress, sitting on the lap of a middle-aged man with dark hair just turning gray around his temples. Too young to be her grandfather, but I can’t imagine who else it could be. Turning from the dresser, I notice that on the door of the closet Maura taped up Absolut Vodka ads from magazines. I wonder what Mrs. Morgan thinks about that, and then I conclude that Mrs. Morgan hasn’t been in this room in quite some time.

Stepping over a pile of clothes, I cross to Maura’s desk in the corner of the room, noting with a twinge of jealousy that Maura has her own computer. In fact she has her own computer, television, and phone—all things forbidden from my bedroom. I notice the green monitor light on the computer and tap the mouse. The screen comes to life and I’m staring at an image of Maura and Katherine posing at the beach in their tiny swimsuits.

In the lower right of the screen, I spot a flashing icon and without even thinking about what I’m doing, I click on it. The Internet browser opens revealing Maura’s Facebook page, with a chat window open. I’m not allowed to have a Facebook account. Jeff tried to convince my parents to let me have one when he went to college so that we could keep in touch, but they told him the phone was good enough. Fascinated, I scroll down Maura’s profile. Her latest status reads, “See ya at John’s, beee-ahtches!” Charming. On the side of the screen I notice that Maura has 1,168 friends who theoretically have seen that status. For once, I don’t feel like I’m missing much by not having my own account.

You know how sometimes, half-way through doing something, you realize that you don’t even know how you got started? It’s like your brain goes on autopilot. That’s what happens to me as I stand in front of Maura’s computer, because next thing I know, I am sitting at her desk staring at the contents of her “My Documents” folder. And the thing is, when I realize that I am snooping on Maura in a completely uncool way, I don’t stop. I can’t stop. I scroll through her files, seeing some stuff that looks like schoolwork, pictures that I skim with growing disgust at Maura’s revealing attire and love of posing, and then a file called “poetry.” How can I resist? I click on it. There are probably fifty files in it with titles like “Vengeance” and “Not this time.” I open one called “Illusive Reflections.”

Illusive Reflections
By Maura Campbell

Maura Campbell? I think for a moment, and then I remember once overhearing Maura say something like “he’s not my father.” It occurs to me that her mother is probably remarried. Sometimes it seems like my parents are the only people on the planet who have only been married once. I keep reading:

Looking in the mirror
I see fading reflections of who I used to be
Slowly dying images
Of the little girl that’s me.

If I close my eyes and open them
The reflections just grow older,
Smiles less often seen,
Something in my eyes grown colder.

And deep inside my eyes
You may detect a speck of fear
For all of the uncertainties drawing oh so near.

And peeling back a façade of smiles
You’ll find a veil of tears
Shed for my insignificant sorrows of passing years.

Looking in the mirror
I see fading reflections of what used to be me.
I don’t even recognize myself.

I read and reread the poem. A little juvenile, but not terrible. Could there be more to Maura? I am tempted to open more, but then I notice the clock—almost 11. The Morgans are supposed to be home by midnight, and the last thing I need is to be caught in Maura’s room. I make sure the screen is just as I found it and quietly step back into the hallway.

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About Sandi Sonnenfeld

Sandi Sonnenfeld is a fiction writer and essayist. Her memoir, This Is How I Speak (2002: Impassio Press), which recounts how her views about what it means to be a woman in contemporary America changed after suffering a dangerous sexual assault, was a Booksense 76 finalist. With the memoir’s publication, she was named a 2002 Celebration Author by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, which recognizes writers whose work merits special notice. Sandi has published more than two-dozen short stories and essays in Sojourner, Voices West, Hayden’s Ferry Review, ACM, Raven Chronicles, Necessary Fiction, Perigee, Revolution House and The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review among others. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sandi holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington, where she won the Loren D. Milliman Writing Fellowship. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and the world’s most perfect cat.

2 thoughts on “Novel Excerpt: Watch Me Disappear

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  2. Thanks, Sandi, for this opportunity to spread the news about my new novel! I’d love to hear what fellow MHC women think about the friendships between the characters in my novel.

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