Excerpt from Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by Diana Abu-Jaber

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  • First Published:
    Jun 2007, 384 pages
    May 2008, 384 pages

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Chapter 1.

I spot her as soon as I get off the elevator on the fourth floor. She’s waiting on one of the metal folding chairs in the corridor just outside the office. Her bright russet hair sliding out of a barrette, her skin mottled, her face carefully neutral.

I stop short. Listen to the elevator doors slide shut behind me.

Victims exist in another dimension, as far as I’m concerned—they’re theoretical. The police meet the victims; we work in an office. I wouldn’t have become a print examiner if I wanted to meet victims.

I sidle past her, trying not to make eye contact, as I enter the office. Alyce, the division leader, is trying to signal me with her eyes. “Hey—Lena—”

But the woman’s fast; she walks right into the office, between the cubicles, tall and pale and intimidating with this kind of intensity that I realize must be grief. A scary kind of grief. I don’t even make it to my desk, she’s saying, “You’re Lena? Are you Lena Dawson?” I flinch.

Alyce is on her feet now as well; she’s maybe two-thirds this woman’s size, but concentrated, wiry with combative energy. “Miss, please. Now. I don’t know how you got up here—our office is totally closed to the public. I already tried to tell you once—”

The woman is way too close to me—her white face and flashing voice—so at first I barely take in what she’s saying. I retreat behind my desk. But the woman actually follows me around my desk. “My name is Erin Cogan, my baby is—he died five weeks ago. The police haven’t done a single thing about it. Nothing.” She’s talking fast—ready to be ushered out; she seizes my hand, her voice throbbing in my head like an electrical echo. “Please Lena—Ms. Dawson—I’ve heard that you can—that you—”

My bossy colleague, Margo, bustles into the office with Ed Welmore, who was probably just about to go home after the night shift. The top button on his PD uniform is undone and there are dark crescents under each arm. “All right over there,” he says as he enters the room. “Time to go home, Mrs. Cogan.”

Erin Cogan releases my hand but continues to stare at me. “Please, please, Ms. Dawson, please…”

Ed stops right behind her. He’s not much taller than I am, but he’s solid. He puts his hands on his hips and glances at me over the woman’s head, then says, “You’re going to have to come on out now.”

She swivels her head at Ed then back at me with an expression of such anguished panic that I can’t help myself. I don’t know her, but I do know that feeling. A scraped down devastation that frightens me almost as much as it makes me feel for her. Her hands curled up tight and sharp and white. “Okay, okay, okay.” I touch the clean top of my desk with the flat of my hand, trying to catch my breath. “Miss—Ms. Cogan? Come on. Yeah, let me just walk you outside here.”

In the elevator, Ed looks off toward the corner — I’m sure he would’ve been much happier if I hadn’t come out with them. Alyce comes along too, arms crossed and locked on her bowed-in chest; glasses propped on her head, she glares at the woman. I’ll get an earful later, I know, on how she’d prefer if I’d try not to encourage lunatics; I have to work harder not to be a sap; and so forth and so on.

Erin Cogan twists her hands together, a dry wringing, she looks only at me. “I’ve been waiting outside that office since six a.m. The janitor let me in—I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do anymore. Please, please, no one will talk to me about Matthew’s case. I think I might be going out of my mind. My baby—my Matthew—he died and no one will talk to me…”

Reprinted from Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber. Copyright (c) 2007 by Diana Abu-Jaber. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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