Excerpt from Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Innocence

A Novel

By Jane Mendelsohn

Innocence
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2000,
    208 pages.
    Paperback: May 2001,
    208 pages.

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1

They were all dead. I was the only one left.

They'd done something awful with a pink plastic razor, two of them on the bed and one on the floor. The music was still lapping on the player. I think I mouthed the words.

Outside, it was one of those sunsets that nobody looks at, a red and orange and purple massacre, spilling its guts out above the city.

I don't understand why nobody notices. Those sunsets, they bleed all over.

I ran. I ran as fast as I could through the park as the sun set. First the sky turned gray, like smudged newsprint-there seemed to be words up there-and then it all faded to blue. The leaves on the trees went from green to purple. The street lamps turned on. As I ran out of the park behind the museum, night fell. I could hear it. Everything became quieter. The cabs stopped honking and slid by with their secret passengers. Lights arrived in the buildings like stars. Traffic moved in one wave downtown. It was Friday night. The sky went black as a limousine.

Why was I running? I was running from images: a sneaker, a mirror, two words. I remember blood hanging in strings off the bottom of a shoe like gum. I remember two words scrawled across a mirror.

Two words: drink me.

I ran. I ran past the front of the museum where the fountains glowed green from their swimming-pool lights. On the steps of the museum, a group of kids. I ran across fifth avenue. A bus pulled by and stopped, and heaved like an old accordion. I turned onto a street and then down park avenue through the dark canyon of buildings. Behind me I felt the presence of someone, something, but I knew I couldn't turn around or stop. That's when it started raining. I let the rain drip through my hair and down the ends of it, onto my shirt. My sneakers filled with water. It was raining so hard I could have missed the building, but I stopped out of instinct. At first, the doorman didn't want to let me up without buzzing. But I flirted a little. I let him stare at my shirt.

Upstairs, outside the elevator, I dug my fingers into the dirt of the plant. I found the key. I slipped into the apartment. I could tell by the quiet that Tobey's parents were out, and I followed the sound of the television to his room. He was watching an old movie. Voices crying across time. I followed the blue light.

The blue light cast a glow over his sleeping face. Raindrops slid down the walls like tears. I looked at him, at his innocent face. He must have felt my presence, my fear. He woke up.

Beckett, he said with his eyes, what are you doing here?

I took off my t-shirt. I dropped it on the floor.

Then I said: fuck me.

2

How can I get you to believe me, to believe the unbelievable? I want so much for you to understand. But you can't make someone believe you. Trust is a secret combination to a lock. Two turns of faith, one turn of fantasy, half a turn of truth. Trust me. It sounds so false.

What if I tell you that I'm still running? I'm running and remembering. Branches cut my legs, wet leaves stick to my clothes, and memories tangle in my hair. I'm running through a park, and then a city, and then a building. I hear strange languages, words of despair. The things I see along the way frighten me, but I can't look away.

Persephone, Dorothy, Lolita, the final girl, all went down to hell. Persephone, Dorothy, Lolita, the final girl: I'm following you. Wait for me.

3

Great heroines have dead mothers. That's what I told myself when she died. After she died (highway, drunk driver), my father decided that we should move back to the city. He took an apartment on the upper west side and enrolled me in a fancy school. I remember the first day, my terror.

From Innocence : A Novel by Jane Mendelsohn. © September 2000 , Jane Mendelsohn used by permission of the publisher, Riverhead.

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