Excerpt of Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
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As it turned out, Jessie wasnt pregnant. She had an exotic strain of stomach
flu, which shed eagerly confused with morning sickness. While we prepared for
Harpsberg, now a week behind schedule, Jessie performed sad, sobbing monologues
into our answering machine. The day we left, Dad found an envelope on the porch
in front of the front door. He tried to hide it from me. Our last utilities
bill, he said, because hed rather die than show me the hormonal ravings of a
madwoman, which he himself had inspired. Six hours later, however, somewhere in
Missouri, I stole the letter from the glove compartment when he stopped at a gas
station to buy Tums.
Dad found love letters from a June Bug as monumental as an extraction of
aluminum, but for me it was like coming across a vein of gold in quartz. Nowhere
in the world was there a nugget of emotion more absolute.
I still have my collection, which tallies seventeen. I include below an
excerpt from Jessies four-page Ode to Gareth: You mean the very world to me and
Id go to the ends of the earth for you if you asked me. You didnt ask me
though and I will accept that as a friend. I will miss you. Im sorry about that
baby thing. I hope we keep in touch and that you will consider me a good friend
in the future who you can relie on in thickness and thin. In lou of yesterdays
phone call I am sorry I called you a pig. Gareth all I ask is to remember me not
as I have been over the past couple days but as that happy woman you met in the
parking lot of K-Mart. Peace be to you forever more. Most of the time, though,
despite the occasional buzzing sounds reverberating through a quiet evening, it
was always Dad and me, the way it was always George and Martha, Butch and
Sundance, Fred and Ginger, Mary and Percy Bysshe.
On your average Friday night in Roman, New Jersey, you wouldnt find me in
the darkened corner of the parking lot of Sunset Cinemas with the Tanned Sporto
with Shiny Legs, puffing on American Spirits waiting for the Spoiled Pretender
(in his fathers car) so we could speed down Atlantic Avenue, scale the
chain-link fence surrounding long-out-of-business African Safari Minigolf, and
drink lukewarm Budweiser on the tatty Astroturf of Hole 10.
Nor would you find me in the back of Burger King holding sweaty hands with
the Kid Whose Mouthful of Braces Made Him Look Simian, or at a sleepover with
the Goody Two-Shoes Whose Uptight Parents, Ted and Sue, Wished to Prevent Her
Ascent into Adulthood as if It Were the Mumps and certainly not with the Cools
or the Trendies.
Youd find me with Dad. Wed be in a rented two-bedroom house on an
unremarkable street lined with bird mailboxes and oak trees. Wed be eating
overcooked spaghetti covered in the sawdust of parmesan cheese, either reading
books, grading papers or watching such classics as North by Northwest or Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington, after which, when I was finished with the dishes (and
only if hed sunk into a Bourbon Mood), Dad could be entreated to perform his
impression of Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone. Sometimes, if he was feeling
especially inspired, hed even stick a piece of paper towel into his gums to
re-create Vitos mature bulldog look. (Dad always pretended I was Michael.):
Barzini will move against you first. Hell set up a meeting with someone you
absolutely trust, guaranteeing your safety. And at that meeting youll be
assassinated . . . its an old habit. Ive spent my entire life trying not to be
careless. Dad said careless regretfully, and stared at his shoes. Women and
children can be careless, but not men . . . Now listen. Dad raised his eyebrows
and stared at me
Excerpted from Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Copyright (c) 2006 by Marisha Pessl. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.