This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless . . .
pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.
A chill flutters over my skin. Walt Whitman. I saw that poem in the book Alex was cataloging yesterday. Oh God. Please don't let him be the desk poet. I wanted it to be someone mysterious and dark and moody. Anybody but mysterious and dark and moody Alex Hammond.
I erase the words. We both ponder the same dark themes, apparently. I can't help but shiver. It would be so easy to be friends with Alex. In theory, at least. But it would also be wrong. He dated my sister. Was a Bad Influence on my sister. Probably copying the moody poetry as his own way of mourning. I decide not to write anything back. This needs to stop.
DREAMING OF ANTIGONE
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
A magic moment I remember:
I raised my eyes and you were there.
Andria's story has been brewing in the back of my mind ever since I read the play
in college, and I have so many souls to thank for their support and inspiration as a vague idea based on a Greek tragedy evolved over the years into a love story.
to all of my friends in the YA writing community for your encouragement, especially to Amanda K. Morgan, who read the earliest-ever draft of
almost ten years ago and became Alex's first fan, and also to Rebecca Phillips, who read one of the very last drafts.
Everlasting thanks to Ethan Ellenberg, the best agent ever, and to my wonderful editor, Alicia Condon, as well as everyone else at Kensington who has helped bring Andria's story to life. Especially for the beautiful starry cover that made me cry. I sincerely hope I didn't drive my copy editor insane with the abundance of poetry in these pages.
Most of all, thank you to Jessica McCabe for being there for me when I was having a Category 5 manuscript crisis. You. Are. My. Hero. And to the rest of my Pediatrics night nurses: Fran, Hannah, Nancy, Mary, Maddy, Darcy, Meghan, and Janellâno matter where (or when) you work now, all of you are still my night crew and I want to thank you for the caffeine and camaraderie over the years. You are all stellar!
And finally, a heartwarming thanks to all YA book lovers, especially those who take the time to blog about the books they love. You are my kind of people. If you're ever in the hospital and can't sleep, you're welcome to stop by the Peds nursing station and chat about books with my night crew. The coffeepot is always full.
I see my sister walking through the woods behind our house in late autumn. The trees are bare and everything smells of dead leaves and damp earth. She doesn't look at me, but I know her eyes are an unnatural pale, pale blue. Like the color of her ancient Volkswagen.
She turns her face to me, her movements jerky and stiff. Discordant. Her long slender limbs look mismatched, like they've been sewn on to a rag doll. As her eyes meet mine, she doesn't smile but mouths one word.
I wake up in a cold sweat, with the scent of decayed leaves still lingering on my skin. My heart knocks wildly up against my ribs, so hard I think it might burst out of my chest, and I know. My sister still blames me for her death.
It will be hours before my alarm goes off, but I haven't needed it in months. The nightmares of Iris have been waking me up every night since she died. I can't go back to sleep now. I might as well go out and check the telescope.
I'm quiet, even though I know my mom and stepdad won't hear me sneak out of the house. My stepdad wears a monstrous breathing machine over his face every night to prevent sleep apnea. Mom worries that he will stop breathing. She also worries that I'll have a seizure and swallow my own tongue. She worries about all sorts of things. Funny she never worried about Iris overdosing on heroin.
We live in a sleepy cul-de-sac with no street light in one of Athens's historic neighborhoods. There are lots of trees looming everywhere, but from our back deck, I have a clear view of the northern sky. Especially when the moon has already set. I sneak outside in my robe and slippers and turn the back porch light off. The night is clear and chilly. A perfect black sky dusted with stars. And Jupiter, cuddling up close to Cygnus and Vega. Always a ladies' man, that Jupiter.
I uncover the lens on my telescope, ignoring how cold the metal feels against my skin. My breath spirals out visibly, and there's frost on the grass in the yard, but there's nowhere I'd rather be. The stars are calling me. I'd like to think that Iris is up there somewhere. Finally at peace. I think she'd like the Butterfly Nebula. Four thousand light-years away, it hangs out in the tail of Scorpius.
Our dark street is something else that causes my mother to worry endlessly. She has written letters to city councilmen and stands up in every single homeowner's association meeting, demanding a street light for Azalea Cove. None of the other neighbors really seem to care, though.
The property directly behind ours has been vacant for over a year, which makes me happy, since the old couple that used to live there had floodlights with a magnitude brighter than the sun. Now I can actually see the stars when I step out onto the deck at night.
“Andria? What are you doing out there?” My mother's sleepy voice sounds from the back door. “You'll catch your death of cold.”
She's really obsessing over my death now. She's not just saying that.
I put the lens cap back on and say good-bye to Jupiter in my head, before following Mom back inside.
It's still dark, and the clock on the microwave says it's only 4:50. But Mom is already turning on the coffeemaker. “Don't forget to take your meds,” she says, sliding the pill bottle across the counter toward me.
I don't let her see me roll my eyes. “I'll take them with breakfast. In another hour or two.” Maybe I can get some studying in first. If she doesn't follow me to my room to talk.
“That's fine. I'll have pancakes and sausage waiting for you when you're ready.” I hear her set the frying pan on top of the burner as I head down the hallway. She still fixes a full, well-balanced breakfast for me and my stepdad every morning before going to work. Every. Single. Morning.
Ever since Iris's death, I've been smothered with maternal attention.
No, that's not right.
I've always been smothered. Since I had my first seizure when I was three hours old, I've been the one Mom hovered over and coddled. Iris got to be free and do pretty much whatever she wanted.
In my room I open my closet, trying to decide what to wear to school. Everything hanging up is black. Like my hair. And my fingernails and toenails. I've spent all of my life trying to be cooler than my sister, and failing utterly.
More than once in the past months, I've crept into Iris's room, wishing she was still here, still being cooler than me. Mom has started several times to box stuff up and pack my sister's things away. But she never gets very far. None of us are ready to move on.
I run my fingers over the jewel-colored sweaters and sassy little sundresses in Iris's closet, knowing I can't ever be the blazing star that she was. I'm still just a cold, dark satellite orbiting a star that went supernova.
This is where my stepdad finds me, sitting on the floor in my sister's closet.
“Andria? What are you doing?” He sounds congested, his voice still hoarse from sleep.
“Looking for one of my shirts. I think she borrowed it.” We both know this is a lie. Iris teased me about my emo wardrobe. The only time she borrowed one of my black sweaters was when she was in a school play in ninth grade. She played a drug addict. How ironic.
“You're going to be late if you don't hurry up.” He leaves it at that and shuffles down the hall toward his breakfast. Craig is not bad, as far as stepdads go, I think. But I know Iris was his favorite stepdaughter. She went running with him on Saturday mornings, and he coached her soccer team from fifth grade on. Mom has never let me play sports, despite the doctors telling her repeatedly that it is perfectly safe. I watched Iris and Trista and Natalie from the sidelines, wishing I could be normal like them. But I pretend I don't care. The pale goth look works for me.
Iris never told Mom when she caught me riding Craig's motorcycle last summer. I'm still not sure if she kept quiet because she didn't want me to get in trouble, or if she was hoping I'd have a seizure and fall off. Knowing my sister, it was probably a little of both.
Two more weeks until I can try for my driver's license. I would have taken my test on October 23, but the seizure on October 17, the Friday night before that, changed everything. That was the night my sister died and my world fell apart. I have to be seizure-free for six months before my doctor will clear me to drive. The new date is circled on the calendar over my dresser. Only fourteen days until freedom.
We started reading
in World Lit yesterday, and I have discovered a kindred soul. In my personal mythology, there is now Antigone, goddess of suicides and dysfunctional families. Okay, so I know she wasn't really a goddess, but she was pretty cool. And she had a father who died. And a dead sibling she missed terribly.
There were four of us. Our parents tried for years and years to have children. First came one boy, and then another, both miscarriages. Then came the fertility drugs and two twin girls, one with infantile seizures caused by hypoxia. My sister stole my oxygen before we were born. And Mom never let her forget it. She told us that the stress of my expensive NICU stay and the long nights of worrying over me as I slept in my bassinet caused Dad to sink into a deep depression. She blamed his suicide when we were two on Iris's prenatal selfishness as well.
No matter how many times I told Iris not to listen to Mom, I think deep down inside Iris believed her. She would laugh and shrug it off, but she never denied it.
It rained all day today and all day yesterday and all the day before. I'm tired of the dreariness and the damp. It's been an endless cold and wet winter. I'm actually starting to miss the sunshine.
In Advanced Algebra, I daydream. I recopy the poem “Invictus” in my notebook:
. . . And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
I hate algebra. I hate thinking about numbers that aren't really there. I hate worrying that the teacher is going to make me write my homework on the board.
My head is bloodied but unbowed . . .
I decide to share my favorite poem with the other poor souls that sit in this desk in other blocks. The teacher has her back turned, scrawling more nonsense on the chalkboard. I scribble on the desk:
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the Pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
There. Have a little goth with your binomial equations.
Lunch is a cold can of Diet Coke. I don't feel like eating. I don't feel like talking to anyone either.
The library is my favorite place at school. I usually spend my lunch period hanging out in here. The librarian grins when she sees me. “I got a new issue of
in,” she says. “Want to see it?”
“Sure.” I shrug off my backpack and sit on one of the stools behind the counter.
“I hear you might be in the market for some extra credit.”
“For which class?” I ask. I am currently in danger of failing all of them. Which has everyone worried and whispering. I always was a straight-A student. Iris was too, until last spring.
“Literature, of course.” Verla adjusts her glasses primly. “Someone just donated a huge collection of poetry and I don't have time to catalog and shelve all of it. I have a conference to attend this weekend and I want to have the books cataloged and ready for National Poetry Month.”
I'm keeping my head above water in Mr. Herrington's class right now, but I do love poetry. I shrug noncommittally as I flip through her magazine, and soon become absorbed in an article about black widow pulsars. Before I know it, the bell rings. Reluctantly, I slide the journal back across the counter to Verla.
“You can bring it back later,” she says, waving me off. “And then we'll talk about the extra credit.”
Trista ambushes me as I walk to my seat in World Lit. “We're sneaking wine coolers in to see that new vampire movie.”
We did that once before, with Iris. It seemed fun at the time, but I don't remember much of the movie. That was when I learned why my doctor said not to mix alcohol and seizure meds. “Not tonight. I'm not feeling good.”
Trista twirls her pale blond hair around her finger as she watches me. There is a thick strand of turquoise that she's left in her hair from the weekend. So far the teachers haven't noticed. “What about this Friday? There's a keg party at some granola house near the college.”
“I'll let you know.” But I'm already certain I won't go with them. It takes too much effort to do anything social. They were Iris's teammates and are desperate for me to fill the Iris-shaped hole in their lives. Especially Trista.
Natalie comes in and sits behind me. She plays with my medic alert bracelet and asks me the same question she asks every day. “So?”
I smile and shake my head. “No seizures,” I whisper.
She grins. “Fourteen days to go!” I think she and Tris are both as anxious for me to get my license as I am. Superbrain Natalie skipped a grade, so she won't be sixteen until August, and Tris's parents won't buy her a car. I have Iris's baby blue Volkswagen waiting for me in the garage at home. But I'd trade it in a heartbeat to have her back.
“We're going to throw the biggest party when you get your license,” Trista says. “And then we're going on a road trip!” She never gives up, and I do kinda love her for that. Maybe they can accept an Andria into their group instead of an Iris.
I fiddle with my bracelet. It's a pretty custom-made one my mom bought me, with pink and purple beads, so I wouldn't have to wear a plain silver chain. But it makes me feel like I'm five. I almost wish I hadn't told Trista and Natalie about my countdown. I don't want to let them down. Iris isn't here to drive us around anymore, so the pressure is on me.
I open my Lit book.
Mr. Herrington flips his book open on the podium as well. “Let's talk about one of the major themes in
.” He writes on the chalkboard:
God's laws vs. man's laws.
In case you haven't had to read it yet, Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus, the guy who killed his father, the king of Thebes, and married his mother, the queen. Eew. But he didn't realize it until after they'd had four kidsâtwo sons and two daughters. When he finally figured out why the gods were cursing his kingdom with a plague, he blinded himself from shame and ran off screaming into the wilderness. His sons grew up and fought over who would rule Thebes. The one son went and got an army of Thebes's worst enemies and attacked his brother, who controlled the Theban army. The brothers killed each other, and the kingdom passed to the nearest male heir, Creon, who was Antigone's uncle. Or stepdad, according to some versions. He decreed that Eteocles, the son who died defending Thebes, would be given a hero's burial. His brother, Polyneices, who brought the enemies to the gates of Thebes, would be left in the desert to rot. This is what set Antigone off. Her brother's immortal soul was at stake here.
Natalie raises her hand. “I think Antigone placed her gods' laws above the laws of her uncle. She wanted to do what the gods wanted and give her brother a proper burial, even though Creon ordered that he be left unburied.”
“Excellent. What about Creon?” Mr. Herrington asks.
“He placed his own laws first,” Kimber says. “He wasn't afraid of any gods.”
“He didn't want to let a girl get the better of him,” Nathan says.
Several of the girls in class giggle.
The teacher rolls his eyes. “Yes, we do have some gender issues to discuss as well with these characters. But let's get back to the laws of the time. Why did Creon feel he was above the laws of the gods?”
I tune out and start doodling in my notebook. I don't turn around, but I can tell Trista and Natalie are looking at me. I've heard them whispering back and forth, and I'm certain they are worried about my mental health. About me still mourning my sister.
One thing I think I have, that my sister didn't, is hope. Or at least, a belief that things will always get better. Iris believed the worst things would always happen. I choose to ignore such possibilities, probably to the point of being stupidly naÃ¯ve. I believe that bad things always happen for a reason, and that everything works out in the end. But if I ever give up on hope, then I think I will be in trouble.