Excerpt from The Girls by Lori Lansens, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Girls

by Lori Lansens

The Girls
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  • First Published:
    May 2006, 352 pages
    Apr 2007, 368 pages

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Print Excerpt

I inherited my love of books from Aunt Lovey, though I like to think my birth mother was bookish too. Aunt Lovey was seldom without a book in her hands or one splayed on the arm of her brown vinyl La-Z-Boy in the den. She made the sunporch beside the pantry at the back of the old farmhouse where we grew up into a storage room filled with books. We called the room "the library," though there wasn't a bookcase in sight—just stacks and stacks of paperbacks, 784 in all, keeping the cold in the plaster-and-lath walls. When Aunt Lovey died, we donated her books to the Leaford Library, which happens to be where we are currently employed. I sort and shelve, and Ruby reads to school groups, though obviously not at the same time. (In case you're wondering, we are each paid a salary for our individual hours worked.) Aunt Lovey used to tell me that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed a writer's voice. "Read," she'd say, "and if you have a writer's voice, one day it will shout out, ‘I can do that too!'"

My voice did shout out, but I'm not sure it said, "I can do that too." I don't ever recall being that confident. I think my voice said, "I must do that too." When I was in eighth grade, one of my poems, called "Lawrence," was selected for the yearbook's Poetry Corner. I submitted the poem anonymously, pleased to know that when the yearbook staff chose it, it wasn't out of pity for one of The Girls. After "Lawrence" was published (even if I was just a kid, and it was only the yearbook), I announced (at fourteen years old) that my next work would be an autobiography. Aunt Lovey snapped her fingers and said, "Call it Two for One. Wouldn't that be cute? Or Double Duty."

I'I've sent sixty-seven short stories out for review (one has been published in Prairie Fire) and several hundred poems (eleven published in the Leaford Mirror, one in the Wascana Review, and a fifth of one—don't ask—in Fiddlehead). I've been composing this autobiography in my mind for fifteen years, but these are the first words I've put down. If someone asks how long it took to write, I won't know how to answer.

MY SISTER AND I knew from early on that we were rare and unusual, although I can't recall any single moment of clarity, as in "Ahh," she thought, "not all people are attached to their siblings." I do remember a struggle. We must have been around three years old—I've played it over and over in my head.

It goes like this. . . . There are the burnt-orange fibers of the shag carpet in the den at the old farmhouse. My small hand disappears completely in the thick deep pile. The room smells of Lysol and Aunt Lovey's lavender powder. Aunt Lovey has placed Ruby and me in the middle of the room. I'm sitting on my bottom. Ruby is clinging to me, alternately balancing herself on her curious little legs and wrapping them around my waist as I shift to accommodate her weight. Ruby is forever beside me. I understand that I am me, but that I am also we.

Aunt Lovey wades through the carpet in her worn pink house slippers and places a Baby Tenderlove doll on the other side of the playroom in front of the silver radiator. Baby Tenderlove is mine. Aunt Lovey gave her to me in the morning when she gave Ruby her Kitty Talks a Little. She let us play with the dolls for a few minutes, then took them away. Aunt Lovey was deaf to our sobs. Here's the doll again. Only she's so far away. I lift my arms. And stretch. I know I can't reach the baby doll this way, but this is my language. It means "I want it." I kick my feet and cry. I see Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash watching from the doorway. Aunt Lovey says, "Go on, Rosie. You go get your baby. You go get your baby doll." I look into Uncle Stash's eyes. Please. Please, Uncle Stash. Please. He's a pushover for Ruby and me. He starts forward to get my baby doll, but Aunt Lovey holds him back. I scream again. And kick the floor. Ruby whimpers, frustrated and annoyed and wondering what became of her doll. I kick the floor again, bumping myself up and down in protest, and suddenly, without intending to, I move forward. I pause. I bump up and down again. Nothing. I kick and bump at the same time. I move forward. I stop crying and kick and bump again. I grip my sister around the waist and kick and bump, and bump and kick, and drag her along with me. We advance. Refining my alignment and the rhythm of my kick and bump, using my free hand to push, I go faster and faster across the fuzzy orange carpet. Ruby squeals in protest, her legs gripping my middle, her arm yanking my neck, tugging me back because she's not ready for this. But I'm ready. I reach the doll.

Copyright © 2005 by Lori Lansens

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