Excerpt from Small Damages by Beth Kephart, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Small Damages

by Beth Kephart

Small Damages
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2012, 304 pages
    Jul 2013, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Smith

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The streets of Seville are the size of sidewalks, and there are alleys leaking off from the streets. In the back of the cab, where I sit by myself, I watch the past rushing by. I roll the smeary window down, stick out my arm. I run one finger against the crumble-down of walls. Touch them for you: Hello, Seville.

At the Hotel de Plaza de Santa Isabel, the old lady in the vestibule is half my height, not even. She has thick elephant legs and opaque stockings, and maybe the sun banged her awake when I opened the door, or maybe the look of me disturbs her, but whatever it is, she's bothered. She puts her hand out for my deposit, finds a key, and knocks it down on the table between us. She thrusts her chin sky high, and I turn and take the marble stairs, where there are so many smashedin footsteps before mine. Smashed in and empty and hollow.

My room is long and thin, like a hallway corked on either end by a door. The first door takes me in from the stairs and the second one takes me back out, past a bed, a toilet, a porcelain sink, toward a tall and thickglass window. Outside, three stories down, a man is sitting on a bench, and a nun and then another nun are dragging their black skirts across the plaza tile. There are orange trees cracking the concrete.

"You'll be home in five months," my mother said at the airport terminal—twelve hours ago, just twelve.

"Five months is forever," I told her.

"You made your choices," she said, and I said, "No." Because the only thing I chose was you.


When I wake it is already tomorrow. I change, brush out my hair, and slip down the steps, where Elephant Legs has gone missing. When I open the door, a nun blackbirds by, and I keep walking out into the air, which smells like fruit and sun and the color blue; it smells like blue in Seville. Down one street I walk and then another, getting lost and not even caring. Later this morning, Miguel will come for me, and I will belong to him and to his cortijo, which is an island of dust in a land of dust, or at least that's how I dreamed it in flight, high in the sky, higher than birds, above the plunging deep Atlantic. Miguel has friends, my mother said. Friends who will help me forget this.

As if.

"If Dad were alive, he wouldn't let you," I told my mother, who had packed for me, arranged for me, exchanged dollars for pesetas for me, never asked me.

My mother, the Main Line party planner.

"Don't kid yourself, Kenzie. And don't accuse. Someday you'll be grateful."

"It was different," I said, "when you went to Spain."

"I was different," she said. "I was responsible."

I don't know what time it is—can't do the math off my watch, which still reads Philadelphia. At every corner there is a bar, and in every window a dead pig dangles from its hard black socks, and past the ham, on oiled counters, there are sugar rolls heaped on bright trays. I yank at a door and head inside. I take a seat at the counter. The waiter slides me a coffee in a thick porcelain mug. I choose a pastry from the tray— raisins, white frosting, a rising yellow marmalade, and then I'm back out on the streets, thinking of you, tiny as a finger curled, and fed.

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Excerpted from Small Damages by Beth Kephart. Copyright © 2012 by Beth Kephart. Excerpted by permission of Philomel. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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