Excerpt from Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Small Fry

by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs X
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
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  • Published:
    Sep 2018, 304 pages

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Meara Conner

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Small Fry

The day we moved in, my mother parked and we carried in our things: kitchen supplies, a futon, a desk, a rocking chair, lamps, books. "This is why nomads don't get anything done," she said, hefting a box through the doorway, her hair disheveled, her hands flecked with white canvas primer. "They don't stay in one place long enough to build anything that lasts."

By the time I was seven, my mother and I had moved thirteen times. We rented spaces informally, staying in a friend's furnished bedroom here, a temporary sublet there. The last place had become unsuitable when someone had sold the refrigerator without warning. We moved again to an apartment just for us on the ground floor of a small building at the back of a house on Channing Avenue in Palo Alto—the first place my mother rented with her own name on the lease.

After we finished unloading, she stood with her hands on her hips, and together we surveyed the room: with everything we owned, it still looked empty.

The next day, she called my father at his office to ask for help.

"Elaine's coming over with the van—we're going to your father's house to pick up a couch," my mother said a few days later. My father lived near Saratoga in Monte Sereno, a suburb about half an hour away. I'd never been to this house or heard of the town where he lived—I'd only met him a couple of times.

My mother said my father offered his extra couch when she called him. But if we didn't get it soon, she knew, he'd throw it away or rescind the offer. And who knew when we'd have access to Elaine's van again?

I was in the same first-grade class as Elaine's twins, a boy and a girl. My mother was young, sensitive, and luminous, without the husband and house that Elaine had. Instead, she had me, and I had two jobs: first, to protect her so that she could protect me; second, to shape her and rough her up so that she could handle the world, the way you sandpaper a surface to make the paint stick.

"Left or right?" Elaine kept asking. She was in a hurry—she had a doctor's appointment to keep.

The sun made lace on my legs. The air was wet and thick and pricked my nose with the smell of spicy bay laurel and dirt.

We found the right road and then the wooded driveway with a lawn at the end. A circle of bright grass with thin shoots that looked like they'd be soft on my feet. The house was two stories tall, with a gabled roof, dark shingles on white stucco. Long windows rippled the light. This was the kind of house I drew on blank pages.

We rang the bell and waited, but no one came. My mother tried the door.

"Locked," she said. "Damn. I bet he's not going to show."

She walked around the house. "Locked!" she kept calling out. I wasn't convinced it was really his.

She came back to the front and looked up at the sash windows, too high to reach. "I'm going to try those," she said. She stepped on a sprinkler head and then a drainpipe, grabbed a lip of windowsill, and flattened herself against the wall. She found a new place for her hands and feet, looked up, pulled herself higher.

Elaine and I watched. I was terrified she would fall.

My father was supposed to come to the door and invite us in. Maybe he would show us other furniture he didn't want and invite us to come back.

Instead, my mother was climbing the house like a thief.

"Let's go," I called out. "I don't think we're supposed to be here."

"I hope there's no alarm," she said.

She reached the ledge. I held my breath, waiting for a siren to blare, but the day was as still as before. She unlatched the window, which scraped up and open, and disappeared, leg by leg, and emerged a few seconds later through the front door into the sunshine.

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Small Fry © 2018 by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

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