Excerpt from Playing Botticelli by Liza Nelson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Playing Botticelli

by Liza Nelson

Playing Botticelli
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2000, 288 pages
    Jan 2001, 288 pages

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Chapter One
August 28, 1986

Well, this summer is over. Kaput. Finis. Down the tubes. Extinct. All gone. The end.

As far as I'm concerned, anyway.

It shut like a book this afternoon. One minute I was full of August, easing my way down Highway 12, windows down, music blasting, the hot wind whipping in thick ribbons against my neck. The next minute I was chilled to the bone.

To the bone.

I'd been at work. The teachers come back for pre-planning in a week, and I want no hassles from middle-aged women having nervous breakdowns because their chalkboards are dusty or their windows won't open. Life is too short and art is too long. Being a janitor - excuse me, custodian - is not exactly my life's work. I am an artist first, but I have to earn a living. If I were by myself it would be one thing, but with a daughter to feed, clothe, educate and all the rest, I've had to make my compromises, though fewer than most people, I'm glad to say. Bourgeois excuse, someone would have accused me in '68, back when the revolution was at hand. I'm kidding, sort of. Besides, I take pride in being a woman with Mechanical Skills, as Gulfside Elementary's esteemed principal Granger Morris would say.

It must have been around three o'clock when I finished painting the cafeteria ceiling an incredible azure blue, and I'd added the Pleiades and a few other constellations as my signature. There are ways to do a job, and then as Daddy used to say, there are ways to Do a job. Old Grange could always ask me to repaint it, but he never would. Certain teachers might complain among themselves, but not to me directly. A good janitor has clout, especially in a school with as few resources as Gulfside.

I gave the floor a good once-over with the mop, packed up and started home to Point Paradise. I was singing along with the oldies station out of Tallahassee, "Don't you want somebody to love? Don't you need somebody to love?" People have told me I look a little like a redheaded Grace Slick, or they used to when I lived where people had actually heard of her.

Then the news came on. Out in California, land of the seasonless season where all our dreams and nightmares bloom, a DC-9 and somebody's private jet had tried to thread the eye of the same needle.

"Eighty-one dead," according to the disembodied radio voice.

Just the idea. One minute you're looking out one of those little curved windows feeling godlike, casting your shadow across the earth; twenty seconds later you're bone chip and seared skin pierced with metal. Unless you're on the ground looking up, thinking what a pretty pattern those two planes make flying so close overhead, until the sky bursts wide open to surround and lift you up toward the deafening wreckage. Toward heaven, if only it existed.

Of course, people have been blowing up all summer, the innocent with the guilty. Not just in planes. In buses, in restaurants, in department stores. Wherever a bomb can be stowed. Frankly, I can handle the concept of terrorism. At least someone means death to happen. If I'm going to be blown away, I'd rather spend my last millisecond thinking I'm dying for a cause, even some idiot's insane idea of a cause that I find morally repugnant, than cursing the underpaid, under-trained air traffic controller, and probably a scab strike breaker at that, who has botched the job.

I'm willing to argue the point. I'm always willing to argue. As I've told Dylan over and over ever since she was a little girl, it's bad politics to accept the authority of an idea until you've examined both sides. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying terrorists aren't scary people doing evil things. But let's face it, terrorists usually exist in the first place because some government screwed up, maybe months ago, maybe generations, maybe centuries ago. Maybe it was on purpose or maybe it was just a misjudgment on the part of an individual in some government department who set in motion the series of reactions, first to last, that led to the creation of people so angry and hopeless they'd commit desperate mayhem.

From Play Botticelli, Liza Nelson. (c) December 1999, Liza Nelson used by permission.

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