Ned had not only handled my grandmother's affairs, he'd already done the research needed to set my life in order as well. He had found me a job, at the public library in Orlon, and a cottage to rent only a few blocks from the university campus. We debated the merits of a move. Statistically, the odds weren't on Ned's side. Had money been involved, I would have bet my future consisted of twenty more years in my grandmother's house, wearing my bathrobe. But my brother was a worthy opponent, methodical if nothing else, and a challenge never deterred him, even if that challenge was me.
While I was moping about and eating cornflakes, Ned packed up the house, called the real estate agent, had new tires put on my car. And so it was. I was leaving New Jersey. My colleagues wanted to give me a going-away party at the library, but without me, there was no one to organize it. I took the cat with me. I had no choice. Giselle jumped in the car and made herself comfortable on my brother's jacket, ensuring that Ned would sneeze all the way down to Florida.
It was an unseasonably hot day when we left. The air was sulfur-colored, gray around the edges, and the humidity was at 98 percent.
"This will get you used to Florida." Ned was oddly joyful.
There was sheet lightning ahead of us on the New Jersey Turnpike, the silent sort that is so vivid it can light up the whole sky. My brother was delighted by the weather; his department was currently involved in a lightning study and he was one of the project advisers.
"Without thunderstorms, the earth would lose its electrical charge in less than an hour," Ned told me.
He kept notes on the storm as I drove. I was used to being alone, accustomed to talking to myself; without thinking, I made another wish aloud, despite how it burned. I wished lightning would strike me.
"Like hell you do," my brother said. One of the tasks of the meteorology department at Orlon was to work with a team of physicians and biologists, addressing neurological injuries found in lightning-strike victims. "You have no idea of the damage that can be done. None whatsoever."
But it didn't really matter. I had made another death wish, and I could tell what was to come from the bitter taste in my mouth.
It was too late to take it back.
THE CAT WASN'T AT ALL HAPPY WITH THE MOVE. I couldn't blame her.
Orlon was hardly a paradise. Cats, after all, are creatures of habit,
said to become more attached to a place than to a person. This was
certainly true of my alleged pet, who had never seemed to miss the
original owner from whom I'd inherited her. Not for a moment had she sat
by a window, waiting to be rescued. Why, she didn't even seem to
recognize the existence of human beings. My prize. My pet.
Giselle, I'd call when she was out in the garden, but she'd only ignore me and flick her tail, as though I were another fly, one of the thousands that seemed to be breeding in Orlon. Even my own cat disliked me. What had I expected? Life was no better here in Orlon, despite what my brother had promised, only hotter, buggier, far more humid than New Jersey at its worst. The library where I found myself employed was underfunded: there was one other librarian, Frances York, who had worked at the same post for forty years and whose eyesight was now failinghence my job. Untrustworthy as I might be, I was to be her eyes.
From The Ice Queen, pages 3-31 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2005 by Alice Hoffman. Reproduced with the permission of Little, Brown & Co.
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