Excerpt from Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Before We Sleep

by Jeffrey Lent

Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent X
Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent
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  • Published:
    May 2017, 400 pages

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Zoƫ Fairtlough
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Before We Sleep

In her mind she was already gone and had been some weeks, months even. Half past midnight in the second week of June she slipped from her bed and pulled on jeans and a blouse and carrying her tennis shoes went soundless into the dark hall past her mother's bedroom and across from that the room where her father slept those same months. Down the stairs easing over the one third from the bottom, a tight grip on the rail as she went, on through the kitchen where the screened windows were open to the night air. The clump of lilacs a shadow against one side of the entryway, the last blooms infusing the room. She unhooked the screen door and slowly opened it, the rusty spring groaning a gentle scrape, then let the door settle back into place.

She went into the old carriage barn that had long ago been altered to a garage for winter parking although only her mother's car was there now and along to the stack of old apple crates where she lifted out her suitcase left earlier in the day. The backside of the carriage shed had been rebuilt as a workshop for her father, a place she'd spent many hours as a little girl. She went back into the drive where the truck stood, backed in from the street. She opened the driver door and set the suitcase on the bench seat, climbed in and let off the handbrake and took the truck out of gear. She stood back upon the driveway and leaned into the open door with her right hand upon the wheel and rolled the truck forward, tugging the wheel toward her until weight and gravity converged and the truck began to move. She jumped in and pulled the door to, though not yet latched, took the wheel with her left hand, turned the key to ignition and depressed the clutch and, keeping the clutch pedal down, slipped the truck into second gear as by the light of the small iron streetlights she began to roll down Beacon Hill to the village below. She used the handbrake to keep the speed down, waiting to be close to the bottom of the hill before she popped the clutch and fired the engine. The truck made a small lurch and cough and rolled along and she pulled the knob for the headlights and the dashboard lit up.

Two weeks ago to the night she'd made a practice run, more gesture to herself than need to prove it could be done. That night she'd circled the Common and then driven south a dozen miles and parked along the river with the engine off and watched the moon rise over the eastern hills and fracture and splinter among the eddies and pools of water, listening to the radio out of Waterbury and then had driven home, gliding uphill with the lights off easy as could be before cutting the engine and coming to rest back in the drive. Even that had been practiced those weekend mornings when she rose early to drive into the village where she waitressed at the Double Dot. That evening coming in she smelled tobacco smoke in the entryway and paused but heard nothing. The next morning when she came down- stairs her mother was already gone and her father sat with his coffee and a magazine and said Good Morning to her and she replied as she made toast and heard his chair scrape back and he left the house for his workshop with nothing more said.

Thursday evenings after supper her father left the house for the village, "overstreet to Market" was the phrase he used, where he parked at the small VFW behind the courthouse and county sheriff's office, where he'd sit at the bar and listen to the old swing tunes on the jukebox, watch other men shoot pool and drink a single slow draft beer, this taking a little more than an hour before he returned home. He'd speak if spoken to but otherwise blew smoke rings toward the stamped tin ceiling, watching them break apart and fade together. She'd been told or overheard someone speaking of it or perhaps in the way of these things simply knew that was what he did and nothing more. And regardless if he'd driven the truck since the previous Thursday outing, he'd stop first at Sim's and top off the gas. So this early morning she had three years of meager wages and tips gathered and saved for college in an envelope in her suitcase but also a full tank of gas. Which, along with the truck, she felt was the least he could do. No—that wasn't fair. What she knew was come morning and the discovery that she was gone, he would not allow her mother to involve the police. He'd know she was doing what she had to do, that she always had. He'd let her go. In this way he'd help her go.

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From Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing. Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Lent.

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