Excerpt of Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
(Page 1 of 8)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
Saturday, early August.
The whole world is wilting.
Shriveling. Giving up. Dying.
Maybe not the whole world. Somewhere, I guess, it’s not ninety-one
degrees at four in the morning. I would like to be in that place.
I would like to be somewhere, anywhere, that life feels possible
and not smothered under a layer of heat and hopelessness. I’m tired
of waking up every two hours in a puddle of sweat, and tired of
every day discovering there’s something else that’s ruined or broken
or falling apart. Yesterday it was the TV. Today, it’s the ceiling
fan in my room, the brokenness of which I discovered when I woke
up wondering where the air went. I slipped out the sliding glass
door into the backyard hoping for a miracle of something below
eighty, and I now realize I can add the yard to the list of minor
tragedies that make up my life these days.
The solar luminaries my dad put in last summer give just enough
light that I can see the disaster it’s become in this heat wave. Except
I can’t completely blame the heat. Honestly, it’s looked like
this for a long time. Dad’s momentary burst of involvement via the
luminaries and also painting the lawn furniture was just that —
momentary. For about seventeen minutes last summer our family
worked the way it’s supposed to. The problems with the yard are
just a symptom, really.
Everything out here reminds me of something. I can almost see
the outline of my mom crouched at the base of the apple tree,
mulching the roots, her blond hair held back with a blue bandanna;
the curve of her neck, elegant. Even just a few months ago, when she
was passing-out drunk, she still had that elegance. Classy is the
word for my mother.
The clothesline strung up between a fence post and the metal
eyebolt my dad screwed into the tree makes me think of the way
he looked at her, laughing, when he said, “I can just imagine your
undies flapping in the breeze on this thing, for all of Pineview to
see. Your bra size will end up in the church newsletter if you’re
“That would be funny if it weren’t true,” my mom said, but she
smiled, too, and I know she liked it, Dad teasing her that way.
“Dad,” I said, acting embarrassed. “Please.” But I liked it, too.
That summer it wasn’t too hot, and when the heat did climb there
was iced tea on the back porch, my parents playing cribbage together
after the sun went down, the game board balanced on my mom’s
tan thighs and my dad laying cards down on the arm of the chaise.
None of that lasted long. Probably all my good memories of the
last year add up to three days.
I walk through the yard, making a mental checklist of what
needs fixing. The two butterfly bushes have grown into each other
and taken over the spot where my mom once had an herb garden,
back when she still cared about things like cooking. The Mexican
sage has completely run amok. The hollyhock plant that looked
okay a few weeks ago has fallen over from its own weight, and lies
across the fl agstone path like a corpse. I step over to it, sweat trickling
down the inside of my tank top and to the waistband of my
pajama shorts. I try to get the hollyhock to stand up and stay up,
but it fl ops back down over my bare feet.
I’m glad my mother isn’t around to see this.
Instead, she’s got the residents’ garden of New Beginnings Recovery
Center, neatly xeriscaped with drought-resistant plants that
never ask for more than you can give them. Her room is neat. The
cafeteria is neat. The visiting area is neat. She’s been lifted, as if
by the hand of God but in truth by the long arm of the law, out of
this messy life.
I could make this yard look like the one at New Beginnings. All
it would take are some supplies and time and maybe a book from
the library telling me how to do it. Then, when she comes home,
she won’t have to see the same dead and dying things that were
here when she left.
Excerpted from Once Was Lost
by Sara Zarr. Copyright © 2009 by Sara Zarr.
Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.