Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Prologue to the New Book

OK. Here it is. The prologue to the new book I'm writing (tentatively named THE SHAPE OF MY HEART because it's a line in a cool song and I can't think of anything else right now).
Curious to hear what you think.


I still wonder if she knew. They’ve said it’s not possible, that nobody saw the truck until it was too late, not even the bus driver, who had been pulling down the tinted plastic visor to shield his eyes from the white glare of the late afternoon sun. There was no way, they’ve insisted, it all happened too fast. The truck charging across the intersection just as our light flashed green. The long, flat side of the trailer with its painted cartoon mouse, a gold crown perched between his oversized ears. We’d all seen Sir Sleepsalot a million times on TV, a royal rodent singing the praises of Mattress King.

Julia Pearce sat to my left, sharing the worn vinyl seat but not the space between us. Even as the bus navigated the narrow Boston streets Julia made sure our legs didn’t touch as we turned corners, grabbing for the steel pole between her and the stairs as if she lacked the strength to avoid me on her own.

We’d been forced to sit together in the first row, the seat beside the faded yellow line and the sign reminding us to stay behind it while the bus was in motion. I’d gotten used to sitting in the first seat, just one of many small concessions over the past two years. But for Julia this was punishment, her sentence for making the entire senior class wait on the bus for twenty minutes while the chaperones and Mrs. Lewis went back into the museum to find her.

As the bus wound its way toward the Mass Pike, Julia watched her reflection in a small round mirror she’d pulled from her purse once Mrs. Lewis finished her reprimand. Julia had silently nodded at all of Mrs. Lewis’ points: parents would be waiting back at school to pick us up; rules existed to keep students safe; and even though she applauded Julia’s interest in European impressionists, she couldn’t just leave the group and take off on her own (as our Art History teacher, I think Mrs. Lewis actually would have left off the last part if two very aggregated parent chaperones hadn’t been standing over her shoulder).

With the reprimand over, Julia apparently decided that if she was stuck in the first seat she’d keep herself busy with the contents of her purse, which is where she found the mirror. Even though my head was resting against the cold metal frame of the window I could see Julia out of the corner of my eye, which is how I noticed the single perfect crack down the center of the mirror, a thin, sharp line dividing Julia’s reflection in half. As the bus rounded another corner and we both strained to keep from grazing an uncooperative elbow or knee, I wondered if she believed in the seven years of bad luck she was cradling in her palm.

Julia held the scarred mirror in her left hand while she spread gloss across her bottom lip with her right, the sponge-tipped wand resting between her fingers like an artist’s brush, her mouth slightly open and pouting. I couldn’t decide if she looked that way because she was pissed she couldn’t sit in the back of the bus with the rest of her friends, or if she’d discovered a pouty mouth was optimal for consistent lip gloss application.

I watched her apply layer after layer, how she carefully slid the cushioned tip of the wand across her bottom lip, then her top, smacking them together until a popping sound officially declared she’d finished, the deep pink lip gloss clinging to her lips as they parted, gooey strands stretching like bubble gum.

Even days later, when the sequence of events started slowly coming back to me, the groaning sound of folding metal, the bright yellow of the school bus as it sunk into the gray fuzzy belly of Sir Sleepsalot, it was the image of Julia’s raspberry pink lips that I recalled most vividly, their shimmer still there every time I closed my eyes.

It was over in less than a minute, I’ve heard, and everyone says there’s no way she could have seen it coming. Still, I wonder if she knew. And in my heart I know the answer.

And the answer is yes.


Summer said...

I definitely like it. Makes me feel sad and even guilty (survivor's guilt?) right away. Most important, makes me want to keep reading!

Shape of my Heart... Backstreet Boys?

Jenny O'Connell said...

Nope, Sting.
But now you make me want to hear the BSB song with that in it, too!

Anonymous said...

I really love it. Then again, I love all of your books so I was bound to like this as well. ;)