Excerpt of Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
(Page 4 of 9)
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All this is necessary for survival. I am a visitor from another planet, and the
natives are not friendly.
I open my mail myself. Then it disappears. Whisked away. Today, pleas
for help to save the whales, save the pandas, free Tibet.
My bank statement shows that I have $3,567.89 in a Bank of America
checking account. There is another statement from a stockbroker, Michael
Brownstein. My name is on the top. My assets have declined 19
percent in the last six months. They apparently now total $2.56 million.
He includes a note: It is not as bad as it could have been due to your conservative
investment choices and a broad portfolio diversification strategy.
Is $2.56 million a lot of money? Is it enough? I stare at the letters on the
page until they blur. AAPL, IBM, CVR, ASF, SFR. The secret language
James is sly. James has secrets. Some I am privy to, more I am not. Where
is he today? The children are at school. The house is empty except for a
woman who seems to be a sort of housekeeper. She is straightening the
books in the den, humming a tune I don't recognize. Did James hire her?
Likely. Someone must be keeping things in order, for the house looks well
tended, and I have always been hostile to housework, and James, although a
compulsive tidier, is too busy. Always out and about. On undercover missions.
Like now. Amanda doesn't approve. Marriages should be transparent, she
says. They must withstand the glare of full sunlight. But James is a shadowy man.
He needs cover, flourishes in the dark. James himself explained it long ago,
concocted the perfect metaphor. Or rather, he plucked it from nature. And
although I am suspicious of too-neat categorizations, this one rang true. It
was a hot humid day in summer, at James's boyhood home in North Carolina.
Before we were married. We'd gone for an after-dinner walk in the
waning light and just two hundred yards away from his parents' back porch
found ourselves deep in a primeval forest, dark with trees that dripped
white moss, our footsteps muffled by the dead leaves that blanketed the
ground. Pockets of ferns unfurled through the debris and the occasional
mushroom gleamed. James gestured. Poisonous, he said. As he spoke, a bird
called. Otherwise, silence. If there was a path, I couldn't see it, but James
steadily moved ahead and magically a way forward appeared in front of us.
We'd gone perhaps a quarter of a mile, the light diminishing minute by
minute, when James stopped. He pointed. At the foot of a tree, amid a mass
of yellow green moss, something glowed a ghostly white. A flower, a single
flower on a long white stalk. James let out a breath. We're lucky, he said.
Sometimes you can search for days and not find one.
And what is it? I asked. The flower emitted its own light, so strong that
several small insects were circling around it, as if attracted by the glare.
A ghost plant, James said. Monotropa uniflora. He stooped down and
cupped the flower in his hand, being careful not to disengage it from
its stalk. It's one of the few plants that doesn't need light. It actually grows in
How is that possible? I asked.
It's a parasite - it doesn't photosynthesize but feeds off the fungus and the trees
around it, lets others do the hard work. I've always felt a kinship to it. Admiration,
even. Because it's not easy - that's why they don't propagate widely. The
plant has to find the right host, and conditions must be exactly right for it to
flourish. But when it does flourish, it is truly spectacular. He let go of the
flower and stood up.
Yes, I can see that, I said.
Can you? James asked. Can you really?
Yes, I repeated, and the word hung in the heavy moist air between us,
like a promise. A vow.
Excerpted from Turn of Mind
by Alice LaPlante. Copyright © 2011 by Alice LaPlante.
Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.