Then he closes them around Seths jaws. I smile and smile at the tourists. Inside my tight fist, the Seth strains and strains against the tape. The Chief keeps his meaty hands on top of my own, obscuring the fact that I am doing any work at all. The Chief likes to remind me that the tourists dont pay to watch us struggle.
At some point, I must have dozed off, because when I wake up the screen door is banging in the wind. I glance at my watch: 12:07. When Mom was alive, Ossie had a ten oclock curfew. I guess technically she still does, but nobodys here to enforce it. She lets Luscious possess her for hours at a time. It makes me furious to think about this, and a little jeal- ous, Luscious taking Ossies body on a joy ride through the swamp. I worry about her. She could be deep into the slash pines by now, or halfway to the pond. But if I leave the house, then Ill be breaking the rules, too. I pull the covers over my head and bite my lip. A surge of unused adrenaline leaves me feeling sick and quakey. The next thing I know, Im yanking my boots on and running out the door, as if I were the one possessed.
Strange lights burn off the swamp at night. Overhead, the clouds stretch across the sky like some monstrous spider- web, dewed with stars. Tiny planes from the Mainland whir towards the yellow moon, only to become cobwebbed by cloud. Osceola is much easier than an animal to track. Shes mowed a drunken path through the scrub. The reeds grow tall and thick around me, hissing in the wind like a thousand vipers. Every few steps, I glance back at the receding glow of the house.
Several paces ahead of me, I see a shape that turns into Ossie, pushing through the purple cattails. Shes used hot spoons and egg dye to style her hair into a lavender vapor. It trails behind her, steaming out of her skull, as if Ossie were the victim of a botched exorcism. The trick is to catch Osceola off guard, to stalk her obliquely behind the dark screen of mangrove trees, and then ambush her with my Flying-Squirrel Super Lunge. If you try to stop her head-on, you dont stand a chance. My sister is a big girl, edging on two hundred pounds, with three extra eyeteeth and a jaguar bite. Also, she is in love. During her love spells, she rolls me off her shoulders with a mindless ox-twitch, and steps right over me.
What is she going to do with Luscious? I wonder. What does she do out there with Luscious for hours every night? Im more fearful than curious, and now she is waist-deep in the saw grass, an opal speck shrinking into the marsh. At odd intervals, rumbling above the insect drone, I hear one of the wild gators bellow. For a monster, its a strangely plaintive sound to make: long and throaty, full of a terrible sweetness, like the Chiefs voice grown gruff with emotion. Ever since he left us, I am always listening for it. Its a funny kind of comfort in the dark.
As I watch, Ossie moves beyond the clarity of moonlight and the silver-green cattails, subsumed into the black mangroves. A new noise starts soon after.
I pace along the edge of the marsh, too afraid to follow her, not for the first time. This is it, this is the geographical limit of how far Ill go for Ossie. We are learning latitude and longitude in school, and it makes my face burn that I can graph the coordinates of my own love and courage with such damning precision. I walk along the dots of the invisible line, peering after her. Theres a syrupy quality to this kind of night: its humid and impenetrable, pouring over me. I stand there until Ossie is lost to sight.
Ossie . . . ? Its only a half-yell, the very least I can do. Then, spooked by the sound of my own voice, I turn and walk quickly back towards the bungalow. Its her body, I think, its her business. Besides, Ossie likes being lovesick. How do you treat a patient who denies theres anything wrong?
Excerpted from St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell Copyright © 2006 by Karen Russell. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.
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