Excerpt from The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Garden of Small Beginnings

by Abbi Waxman

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman X
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
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    May 2017, 368 pages


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There are four of us in the creative department, plus a full-time writer, three fact-checkers, and a general assistant who's been there forever and who actually runs the whole place. She looked up as I walked through the door that morning, and pursed her lips.

"Checking sent back your whale penis, Lilian."

I raised my eyebrows. "Rose, how long have you been waiting to say that?"

She didn't flicker. "I got in at seven, so a couple of hours, I guess."

I kept walking. "Tell them they'll have their penis back in the morning."

She coughed. "I already told them they could have it back later."

I stopped and turned. "Why did you do that?"

She was looking at the magazine she'd hidden beneath her desk. "Because then I could say, 'We'll have your penis back at the end of the day, but it will be hard.' "

"I can see how that would be difficult to pass up."

She shrugged. "In the maelstrom of tedium that is my day, I grab what rays of sunshine I can."

My office mate Sasha looked up as I walked in. "Hey, did Rose tell you about the penis?"

"Yes, she did. Did you still need me to help you with your biology book?"

"The development of the chicken egg? It can wait."

"OK, thanks."

Sasha shrugged. "The chicken should probably come first anyway . . ."

Let me be clear: The creative department of Poplar Press is not usually a comedy mecca. Often it is very dull, especially if we're updating a chemistry text or something. But it does have its moments, and there is the coffee.

I sat down, opened up the whale-penis file, and stared at it. It's not a whole file of whale penises (penii?); it's just one relatively small illustration in a veterinary-medicine textbook, and I'd been a little suspicious of why it was even included. Yes, it was important to be thorough, but how many vets were going to need to operate on a whale penis? It's not like the last time you took your parakeet to the vet you couldn't get into the waiting room on account of the impotent whale sitting nervously on several hard chairs. Or a young whale couple, holding hands and looking enviously at the baby animals in cardboard boxes all around them, occasionally shooting each other supportive glances and clearing their throats. I checked my e-mail: The fact-checkers had sent it back simply because one of the labels was misspelled. How did they even catch that? I picked up the phone and punched in a number.

"Fact-checking, Al here."

"Al, it's Lili."

"Hey, Lili, sorry about your penis."

I shifted in my chair. "Jesus, what is it with everyone this morning? You're all beside yourselves about the penis."

"As it were."

"So here's my question, Al. Are you sure there's a mistake? My input from the editor agrees with what I have, so what do you have there, an encyclopedia of penises? PenisCheck 2000?"

I could hear him grinning. "I cannot divulge the sources of the fact-checking department, you know that. I'd have to kill you, and then we'd lose our best illustrator."

I turned to Sasha. "Your boyfriend just said I'm the best illustrator."

We could both hear Al yelping. Sasha shrugged without turning around.

"Tell him now I've seen Moby's gear, I've lost all interest in him anyway."

"Al, she's leaving you for a cetacean."

"Again? That whore. No, but seriously, our guy at the aquarium caught the typo, and we checked with the editor, and his original content was wrong. No big deal, just checking the facts. We see a fact, we check it. It's our job."

"Oh, well, OK, then. I didn't know you had a tame-whale guy on call."

"Again, I cannot reveal my sources, but how else do you think two scruffy guys with liberal-arts degrees proof all this stuff, if not for a fat, fat Rolodex of smart people with very narrow fields of focus?"

Excerpted from The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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