Excerpt of The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
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Her mother's voice sounded through the hallway, mixing with the
mustiness around her so well that the sound almost had a smell. To Jess,
sitting in the cupboard, the sound of her name was strange, wobbly,
misformed, as if she were inside a bottle, or a glass cube, maybe, and
Mum was outside it, tapping.
I must have been in here too long--
"Jessamy!" Her mother's voice was stern.
Jessamy Harrison did not reply.
She was sitting inside the cupboard on the landing, where the towels and
other linen were kept, saying quietly to herself, I am in the
She felt that she needed to be saying this so that it would be real. It
was similar to her waking up and saying to herself, My name is
Jessamy. I am eight years old.
If she reminded herself that she was in the cupboard, she would know
exactly where she was, something that was increasingly difficult each
day. Jess found it easier not to remember, for example, that the
cupboard she had hidden in was inside a detached house on Langtree
It was a small house. Her cousin Dulcie's house was quite a lot bigger,
and so was Tunde Coker's. The house had three bedrooms, but the smallest
one had been taken over and cheerily cluttered with books, paper and
broken pens by Jess's mum. There were small patches of front and back
garden which Jess's parents, who cited lack of time to tend them and
lack of funds to get a gardener, both readily referred to as
"appalling." Jess preferred cupboards and enclosed spaces to gardens,
but she liked the clumpy lengths of brownish grass that sometimes hid
earthworms when it was wet, and she liked the mysterious plants (weeds,
according to her father) that bent and straggled around the inside of
Both the cupboard and the house were in Crankbrook, not too far from
Dulcie's house in Bromley. In Jess's opinion, this proximity was
unfortunate. Dulcie put Jess in mind of a bad elf--all sharp chin and
silver-blonde hair, with chill blue-green lakes for eyes. Even when
Dulcie didn't have the specific intention of smashing a hole through
Jess's fragile peace, she did anyway. In general, Jess didn't like life
outside the cupboard.
Outside the cupboard, Jess felt as if she was in a place where
everything moved past too fast, all colours, all people talking and
wanting her to say things. So she kept her eyes on the ground, which
pretty much stayed the same.
Then the grown-up would say, "What's the matter, Jess? Why are you sad?"
And she'd have to explain that she wasn't sad, just tired, though how
she could be so tired in the middle of the day with the sun shining and
everything, she didn't know. It made her feel ashamed.
"I am in the cupboard," she whispered, moving backwards and stretching
her arms out, feeling her elbows pillowed by thick, soft masses of
towel. She felt as if she were in bed.
A slit of light grew as the cupboard door opened and her mother looked
in at her. Jess could already smell the stain of thick, wrong-flowing
biro ink, the way it smelt when the pen went all leaky. She couldn't see
her mum's fingers yet, but she knew that they would be blue with the
ink, and probably the sleeves of the long yellow T-shirt she was wearing
as well. Jess felt like laughing because she could see only half of her
mum's face, and it was like one of those Where's Spot? books.
Lift the flap to find the rest. But she didn't laugh, because her mum
looked sort of cross. She pushed the door wider open.
from The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi Copyright © 2005 by Helen
Oyeyemi. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of
Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the