A Novel Excerptby Tessa Hadley
I was staying over at my nana’s. I was ten. I woke miraculously early. The blankets at Nana’s were meager, ex-army, in prickly gray wool, with an oily smell. They would only stay tucked in if you kept unnaturally still, which I never could—in my sleep I had shifted and burrowed, the blankets had come untucked, and a little slit of freezing air was probing my warm body like a knife. Then I rolled over onto the inflexible hand of my plastic doll. Sometimes if I woke up I turned the bedding around and put the pillow at the foot, and to Nana’s dismay went back to sleep upside down—which was a revelation of a different room, another world order. But the doll’s hand that morning seemed to poke me with a message: “Arise!” (I was reading a lot of books set in the past, which was grander and better.)
It was Saturday. It was spring—yellow squares of light transformed the unlined curtains at the window, their pattern of purple bars wound with a clinging vine. Usually by the time I came to consciousness Nana was already busy downstairs with her mouse activity, sweeping and wiping and soaking, smoothing out brown paper bags and saving them, unknotting scraps of string and winding them into balls. But today I couldn’t hear a sound in the house.