She sat there coldly, frowning, and began to gather and arrange her hair, ignoring him. She had long hair that reached almost to the belt-loops of her jeans. His grandfather said she looked like the country singer Crystal Gayle. Don't you think she looks pretty, Jonah? his grandfather would say when he was trying to cheer her up, but she would only smile a little, not really happy. He watched as she shook a cigarette from her pack on the coffee table and lit it.
Don't look at me that way, she said. She took a sip of smoke from her cigarette, and he tried to make his expression settled and neutral, to make his face the way she might want it to be.
Mom? he said.
Where do babies go when you give them away? He wanted to make his voice sound innocent, to talk in the way a child on television might ask about Santa Claus. He wanted to pretend to be a certain type of child, to see if she might believe in it.
But she didn't. Where do babies go when you give them away? she repeated, in a high, insipid voice, and she didn't look at him, she didn't think he was cute or forgivable. He watched the rustle of her long hair, her hand as she ran the head of her cigarette against the rim of the ashtray.
They go to live with nice mommies, she said. After a moment she'd shrugged darkly, not liking him anymore, not wanting to talk.
But he did remember the baby, he thought. He and his mother had seen it at the market, being watched by a lady he didn't know. The baby was pink-skinned, and had a tiny head without hair on it and it was inside somethinga basket, he thought, a basket like apples came in at the grocery store. The baby was dressed in a green velvet suit with a Santa's head on it, and rested on a red cushion. It moved its hands blindly, as if trying to catch air. Look, his mother said. There's my baby! And a lady had looked at them, stiffening as his mother bent down to wave her fingers over the baby's line of vision. The lady had looked at them, smiling but also frightened, and she had spoken to Jonah sharply.
Please don't touch, the lady said. Your hands are dirty.
He remembered this vividlynot only because of the baby but because of the lady's eyes, the way she looked at him, the sharp sound of her voice. It was the first time he really understood that there was something about him that people didn't like.
Excerpted from You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon Copyright© 2004 by Dan Chaon. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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