Excerpt from Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

By Diana Abu-Jaber

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  • Hardcover: Jun 2007,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: May 2008,
    384 pages.

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“Lena,they sent interviewers over there, they sent two counselors over…” Ed addresses me over the woman’s head; he sounds flat, gamely trying not to reveal his exasperation.

The elevators door open and it takes a moment for us to move. “I’m not sure—” my voice rasps and I have to clear it. “Ms. Cogan, I’m not really sure what you’d like me to do for you.”

Ed stands holding the elevator door open with his back and ushers us out. She looks startled, her gaze wobbles from me to Alyce back to me. “You’re the evidence specialist? You can find things. That’s what I heard. You’re better than the police.”

Alyce rolls her eyes.

“No, that’s not true, not at all.” I’m shaking my head as we enter the lobby. “There usually isn’t evidence per se in this kind of case—I mean, of course, depending on the cause of…” I trail off anxiously, looking at Alyce. She scratches at the slim bone along her jaw, her expression distant and abstracted. I ask, “What did the medical examiner rule as the cause of death?”

“Sudden infant death,” she says bitterly. “Which you know is another way of saying they have no idea what happened.” She glances over her shoulder at Ed. He just says, “Ms. Cogan, the Lab isn’t a police station, you shouldn’t be in this building at all. It’s time to get on home.”

“Yes, it was time about a half hour ago,” Alyce says.

But Erin Cogan stays trained on me. “Please. I know you don’t believe me. Or you think I’m crazy. But even so, please, please listen—I know that my baby was murdered.” She leans forward. “I’m just saying, really I’m just—I’m begging you….Please, will you just look at our file?”

“What evidence do you have that it wasn’t SIDS?” I ask, hating myself. Ed rubs the nape of his neck.

She lowers her head into a confiding posture and now, her face streaked with white light from the glass entrance and the rims of her eyelids glistening, she does look half-mad and vaguely savage. She says, her voice like a hot steam, “There was someone in the house! I was downstairs, watching my show, and I head the footsteps clear as day, right over my head. Someone came into my house and murdered my baby. He was upstairs sleeping, and then suddenly I heard these footsteps—I thought I was imagining it. I was tired out—it’s so hard to have a baby, sometimes. Sometimes you just need to rest, you know—I don’t have anyone to help me—I mean—my husband is away all day at work, and—” Her voice cuts off. She looks unfocused for a moment, staring at the floor, then she turns to me. “Do you have any children?”

Alyce exhales in a huff.

“No, I don’t,” I say.

She blinks as if I’ve just clapped my hands in her face. “I’m sorry,” she says.

Ed puts a hand on her upper arm. “The medical examiner’s office will investigate this, Miss. They will do everything in their power. I can personally assure you.” Ed’s voice edges between kindness and complete impatience.

She leans closer to me, so close now that her agitation comes to me in a kind of static. I take a step back, my eyes unfocus. Behind her, the snowfall looks like a white screen in the big lobby windows. “You know it and I know it,” she says, then repeats it, “you know it and I know it,” sounding in fact quite a bit like a crazy woman. She brushes at her coat sleeve a little compulsively and I notice for the first time that it’s a nice, expensive garment, probably cashmere, with deep, notched lapels. “The county isn’t interested, the police aren’t even interested. I’m nothing to them. I’m a hysterical mother—which is actually worse than nothing, isn’t it? Isn’t it?” She looks around at Ed and Alyce, who both stiffen. She wheels back to me, her voice climbing: “My husband Clay works as a civil engineer—he knows everyone in the city offices. He knows Rob Cummings — they play golf at the Onondaga Country Club. After our — after our loss — first we waited for the police to do something. When nothing happened, then Clay began asking around. Every night he came home saying Lena Dawson, Lena Dawson. She’s supposed to have this — something — especially with children’s cases — she can see through evidence — that’s exactly what he heard.” She glares at me with that fierce light in her face. “The counselor says it just happens sometimes — babies just die — just like that! But it doesn’t always just happen, does it? Matthew was six months old—completely healthy and beautiful — so beautiful. And now he’s gone and the person who killed him is still alive —” she gestures toward the door. “Out walking around, out there somewhere! Can you understand what that feels like? Knowing that?” With that, she grabs my hands again. She squeezes, grinding the bones in my fingers together and I nearly yelp. Her face is a white streak, too close.

Reprinted from Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber. Copyright (c) 2007 by Diana Abu-Jaber. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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