About the Author
ANDI TERAN, a native of El Paso, Texas, currently lives in Los Angeles. Ana of California is her first novel.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2015 Andi Teran
She was out of beginnings, this she knew.
Ana ran her hands through her knotted hair, wondering when she’d last washed it. She’d been up for more than twenty-four hours, and there was still ketchup on her shirt.
“This is the fifth home you’ve been expelled from in thelast ten years.”
“To be fair, it was only four. I was at the Mitchell house twice.”
“Well, this time it’s . . . a situation.”
Ana stared at the wall behind the desk. She’d seen the corkboard many times before and had studied the photo- graphs of Mrs. Saucedo’s children over the years. She’d watched them grow older, lose teeth, win ribbons, and pose for class photos. There was always a birthday card or thank- you note pushpinned to the board. Today it was a small California license plate bearing the word MOM.
“I know it’s been hard, but we need to find a solution,”Mrs. Saucedo said, adjusting her glasses. “I’d like us to work together on this.”
Ana let her eyes roam around the room. The walls were still a pale industrial green, and there was a fake tree in the corner, the same one with the rubber branches that would never grow. She remembered the first time she saw the tree and how it had been strung with lights and ornaments. There were reindeer, paper stars, and angels made of tin. One branch was weighed down by a heavy gourd, the middle hollowed out to hold figurines of a man and a woman star- ing down at a baby, a glittered star hanging above them. She remembered how she wanted to climb inside the gourd and live there forever.
“ Feliz Navidad,
” Ana said, still staring at the tree. “Those were the first words you said to me.”
Mrs. Saucedo looked down at her desk. Everything was in its place save for Ana’s file, which was thick and open to a photo of a little girl in a pink puffy coat.
“I remember,” she said.
“It was cold, not like today.”
“Yes, it was.”
“It was the first time I ever wished for snow—not that it would ever happen.”
Ana shifted in the chair. The armrests were worn and rough under her fingertips.
“Would you like to talk about what happened that night?” Mrs. Saucedo asked, knowing Ana never did.
This time, though, Ana did want to talk about it. She remembered everything, every detail. Back then, it was referred to as “an accident,” and also, “the incident,” but Ana chose to name it as you would a melodramatic poem or story—“WithSorrow and Black Doves.” She was the only one who had seen what had happened the night she was brought in to child ser- vices, and every time she entered Mrs. Saucedo’s small office, the memories of The Night That Started It All returned harsh and fast. She’d managed to shut them away year after year, but there, in that windowless room, the images flickered in the periphery.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Mrs. Saucedo said, keeping her voice soft and slow, trying to catch Ana’s eyes, which remained fixed on the tree.
If there was anyone she could talk to it was Mrs. Lupe Saucedo, the nice lady behind the desk who genuinely cared about her well-being—even after all these years. Though she hadn’t felt it physically since they’d met almost a decade ago, Mrs. Saucedo’s warmth remained. She remembered how the woman’s arms had embraced her that day and how the scent of roses and clean cotton still tickled her nose. Mrs. Saucedo had whispered to her back then too.
“ ‘Ya me canso de llorar y no amanece.’ ”
“You’re not crying and you do have hope.” Mrs. Saucedo sighed. “Please, this isn’t a telenovela. Like I’ve told you many times before, the drama does you no favors.”
“It’s a line from a song, not a comment on my psychological state.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear you still speaking Spanish. I think your grandma would be proud.”
Almost as a reflex, Ana’s hands squeezed the armrests of the chair. She kept her eyes focused anywhere but on Mrs. Saucedo’s face and concentrated instead on her own breathing. She wanted to speak but feared giving in to her tears, so she dipped her chin to her chest.
What she wanted to tell Mrs. Saucedo was that the linehad been from her grandma’s—her abuela’s
—favoritesong,and that she had memorized every word. She wanted to explainthat if there had been music playing on the day of theincident, it would have been this very song. She imaginedthe voice of a banshee swooping in to replace the screaming,how a trumpet might have substituted for blasts, and howshe wished the plucking of an acoustic guitar had kept hercompany in the aftermath of silence, a melancholy soundtrackfor the newly alone.
“I don’t speak it as much as I should,” Ana said, insteadtucking her hands between her knees, which wouldn’t stopbouncing.
“You understand I have nowhere left to send you, yes?We talked about three strikes less than a year ago, andsince then you’ve gone from the group home to anotherfailed foster situation. This is it—nomore homes, no morechances,” Mrs. Saucedo said. “It might help to talk aboutwhat happened that night, talk about your abuela, and talkabout what we can do to get you to where she’d want youto be.”
“If it’s all right with you, I’d rather talk about what’sbeen going on the past few months.”
Mrs. Saucedo had heard complaints about foster parentsbefore. She anticipated an elaborate explanation, knowingAna’s flair for the dramatic. In her younger years, Ana’s storieswere wildly embellished but had since boiled down tosilent defiance after being removed from her third fosterhome.
“I spoke with Ms. Fenton.”
“I’m desperate to hear what she had to say.”
“I think you know exactly what she said.”
“If you had any idea how we’ve been treated all summer . . .”
“Ana . . .”
“—And how the rules were completely . . .”
“It’s not your place to step in.”
“But it wasn’t right, and someone needed to do somethingbecause no one ever does.”
“I understand the conditions were not the best,” Mrs.Saucedo said, trying not to raise her voice. “And for that Iapologize. But Ms. Fenton is a longtime foster mother, anddespite the strict household, it is not your job to tell her howto discipline the other children.”
“So, I’m just supposed to sit there and let two little kidsgo without any food for the second day in a row? I’m supposedto kick back while the so‑called mother of the houseeats the freezer and shelves clean just to prove a stupidpoint? It’s Ludicrous, capital L.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She doesn’t give any of us lunch or dinner—likezerofood—anytimeshe feels we’re doing something wrong,which is pretty much all the time. She got angry that I gavean ice cream sandwich to the kids to share, and I get that itwas the last one in the freezer and everything, but it was allwe had. And she took it out on them. It’s not the first timeit’s happened, either.”
“Ms. Fenton relayed to me that you were combative andinappropriate, and while I disagree wholeheartedly withher methods, I do not condone your response to them.”
“Believe me, I can skip a ton of meals, but the kids? Shetakes their toys away and never lets them play, as if theirlives weren’t completely messed up already, as if we weren’tstarving enough. So, yeah, something needed to be done.Sorry but not sorry.”
“I was unaware this was going on,” Mrs. Saucedo said,taking a breath. “I understand your point, but staging adeath scene isn’t funny and you know it.”
Mrs. Saucedo thought she detected a smile. Ana sometimessmiled when she was uncomfortable, rarely when shewas proud or defiant. It was a habit that often led to miscommunication.
“That’s not what we were doing,” Ana said, sitting upand looking at Mrs. Saucedo for the first time. “Like I said,there was nothing in the cupboards and only ketchup in thefridge, so I told the kids to imagine they were eating hamburgers.I squirted ketchup in their mouths, and we pretendedwe were so full we couldn’t get up from the floor. Itwas just a stupid game . . . something I made up to taketheir minds off things.”
Mrs. Saucedo had a hard time believing that had beenthe extent of it.
“Haven’t you been going to the recreation center for lunch?”she asked, remembering Ana and her foster siblings werepart of the Summer Food Program. “Hasn’t Ms. Fenton beenmaking sure that you go?”
“She didn’t let us out of the house a few times this weekbecause she was angry that I stayed late at the library. Sometimeswhen she gets angry, she punishes all of us and sayswe’re ‘putting her in a mood.’ It’s a mood I like to call completelyinsane.”
Mrs. Saucedo kept her eyes on Ana.
“I’m not making this up.”
“I never said you were.”
“Really, Mrs. S., she’s the most deplorable woman. I don’tmean to call you out or criticize the way things are done around here or anything, but the way you guys pick fosterparents sucks. I know it was stupid to leave, and I know I’vedone it a few times before, but after she refused to feed usagain, after so many days with no lunch, and after we wereforced to sit on the couch while she inhaled a bag of Cheetoswithout offering us any and then told everyone it was allmy fault— youhave to understand why I had to get out ofthere. But I wasn’t making a run for it, I swear. I was goingto get something for everyone to eat.”
Ana chewed her bottom lip and kept her hands folded inher lap. She looked down at her ripped jeans, focusing onthe misshapen hearts and stars drawn all over her exposedkneecaps, the remnants of an afternoon spent playing “artschool” with her foster brother and sister, the two she knewshe’d probably never see again.
“Not to elaborate, but she made us do all the houseworktoo. Honestly, I don’t mind, but if there was toothpaste onthe mirror, or if I didn’t iron all the wrinkles out of hershirts, she would take it out on all of us. I tried to be nice,to do extra work. I tried to ignore the way her disgustingboyfriend used to stare at my T‑shirt as if invited by a logoemblazoned across my chest, and I tried to do everythingyou’ve always told me to do.”
“You don’t have to say anything else,” Mrs. Saucedo said.
“But I shouldn’t have left like that . . . I get it.”
“No, you shouldn’t have. Nor should you have called Ms.Fenton what you called her, regardless of how she treated you.”
Ana had heard the sound of the screen door slam behindher as she ran out of the house. Her throat was raw and theimprint of small hands still warmed her palms. She rememberedrunning through the gravel in the front yard and allthe way down the block, ignoring the heat of the sidewalkseeping into her sneakers. She couldn’t remember how farshe’d gone or why she’d neglected to say good-bye,knowing,even then, that she wouldn’t be allowed to return. She hadpromised she’d never leave her foster siblings there—thatshe’d never leave them period—butshe’d broken that promiseagain, in the same way it had always been broken to her.
“You’re almost sixteen,” Mrs. Saucedo said. “You are oldenough and smart enough to know how and when to riseabove a situation. I know you were looking after the others,but the person you need to look after most is yourself.”
Mrs. Saucedo studied Ana’s face, which was tense; hereyes focused on clasped hands, one thumb picking at theother. She’d seen this look before.
“What’s the matter?”
“I know you don’t want me to get into it, but I shouldprobably tell you that she brought up my mother.”
“What did she say?”
“That I’m going to end up just like her.”
Mrs. Saucedo took a breath. “Is that all she said?”
“I want you to tell me exactly what she said.”
It wasn’t the first time Ana’s file had been used againsther, if the file even allowed her to be assigned to a fosterhome in the first place. No one wanted to deal with a childwho had been marked as difficult or traumatized.
“She said I’m going to end up in jail, where I quote unquote‘belong,’ if a bullet doesn’t find me first. It’s not like Ihaven’t heard it before.”
“You know that’s not true.”
“Isn’t it?” Ana said, hands gripping a bouncing knee.
“Your parents knew what they were involved in, and the rest . . . None of it was your fault,” Mrs. Saucedo said, removingher glasses and placing them on top of Ana’s file.“We’ve talked about how to deal with difficulty, how totemper your emotions, but we’ve never talked about whythey flare up every time you settle into a new place. We’reeither going to talk about it now and figure out the nextsteps or I’m going to have to make a decision without yourinput.”
“Just put me in another foster home. I can start over again.”
“That’s not an option.”
“What if I lived with you? I can do all the housework.You can put me in the garage or something, and I’ll babysityour kidsuntil school starts— really,I can help out. I’ll bequiet, and you won’t even see me.”
Mrs. Saucedo closed her eyes for a moment. She thoughtback to her training and reflected on her decades of experience.She reminded herself not to show any anger or sign offrustration, so she inhaled deeply, and even though it wasdiscouraged, she thought about her own children.
“You won’t even know I’m there. I’m good at washingdishes and fixing things. And I don’t need to eat much. I cango days without food, done it many times before. And Iknow a million bedtime stories that my abuela told me, onesI’m sure your kids haven’t heard before. It’ll just be untilI’m sixteen—notlike forever or anything.”
Mrs. Saucedo moved closer to Ana, who turned her bodytoward the door.
“I’m not crying,” Ana said. “My eye itches. And I’m justsick of this.”
“Honestly, I didn’t mean to freak out and run. I’m tryingto do the right thing.”
“I know you are, but that’s not the problem.”
“Please don’t send me back to the group home.”Ana wiped her face. She told herself that if her eyes metMrs. Saucedo’s again, she might drown.
“I’ll do anything,” Ana said. “Just please don’t send meback there.”
She felt her voice slip and knew she’d never be able tocatch it. Every breath seemed heavier and harder to swallow.She’d been to a group home before Ms. Fenton’s; in fact, itwas the last time she’d sat in Mrs. Saucedo’s office arguingagainst another situation that had remained woefully unchecked.Ana could barely remember the faces of those whohad surrounded her back then, though she could recite everyword they said. Her memory flashed to the bathroom, thegroup of girls standing behind her as she tried not to makeeye contact in the mirror. They were older and greater innumber, swift and quiet in their attack. She was shovedfrom behind first and punched once or twice—shecouldn’tremember—beforeher head hit the floor. There were multiplefeet near her face, that she remembered, and she’d kepther eyes focused on the chipped tile where there was a clumpof her own hair.
“Take a breath,” Mrs. Saucedo said and slid a box of tissuesacross the desk. Ana Cortez had cried in her office ononly two occasions. The first time, Mrs. Saucedo had puther arms ...
Les informations fournies dans la section « A propos du livre » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.