St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (23 page)

BOOK: St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
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“You smell astoooounding!” Kyle was saying, accidentally stretching the diphthong into a howl and then blushing. “I mean—”

“Yes, I know what it is that you mean,” I snapped. (That’s probably a little narrative embellishment on my part; it must have been months before I could really “snap” out words.) I didn’t smell astounding. I had rubbed a pumpkin muffin all over my body earlier that morning to mask my natural, feral scent. Now I smelled like a purebred girl, easy to kill. I narrowed my eyes at Kyle and flattened my ears, something I hadn’t done for months. Kyle looked panicked, trying to remember the words that would make me act like a girl again. I felt hot, oily tears squeezing out of the red corners of my eyes.
Shoesonfeet!
I barked at myself. I tried again. “My! What lovely weather—”

The jazz band struck up a tune.

“The time has come to do the Sausalito,” Sister Maria announced, beaming into the microphone. “Every sister grab a brother!” She switched on Walter’s industrial flashlight, struggling beneath its weight, and aimed the beam in the center of the room.

Uh-oh. I tried to skulk off into Mirabella’s corner, but Kyle pushed me into the spotlight. “No,” I moaned through my teeth, “noooooo.” All of a sudden the only thing my body could remember how to do was pump and pump. In a flash of white-hot light, my months at St. Lucy’s had vanished, and I was just a terrified animal again. As if of their own accord, my feet started to wiggle out of my shoes.
Mouth shut,
I gasped, staring down at my naked toes,
mouthshutmouthshut.

“Ahem. The time has come,” Sister Maria coughed, “to do the Sausalito.” She paused. “The Sausalito,” she added helpfully, “does not in any way resemble the thing that you are doing.”

Beads of sweat stood out on my forehead. I could feel my jaws gaping open, my tongue lolling out of the left side of my mouth. What were the steps? I looked frantically for Jeanette; she would help me, she would tell me what to do.

Jeanette was sitting in the corner, sipping punch through a long straw and watching me pant. I locked eyes with her, pleading with the mute intensity that I had used to beg her for weasel bones in the forest. “What are the steps?” I mouthed.

“The steps!”

“The steps?” Then Jeanette gave me a wide, true wolf smile. For an instant, she looked just like our mother. “Not for you,” she mouthed back.

I threw my head back, a howl clawing its way up my throat. I was about to lose all my Skill Points, I was about to fail my Adaptive Dancing test. But before the air could burst from my lungs, the wind got knocked out of me.
Oomph!
I fell to the ground, my skirt falling softly over my head. Mirabella had intercepted my eye-cry for help. She’d chewed through her restraints and tackled me from behind, barking at unseen cougars, trying to shield me with her tiny body.
“Caramba!”
Sister Maria squealed, dropping the flashlight. The music ground to a halt. And I have never loved someone so much, before or since, as I loved my littlest sister at that moment. I wanted to roll over and lick her ears, I wanted to kill a dozen spotted fawns and let her eat first.

But everybody was watching; everybody was waiting to see what I would do. “I wasn’t talking to you,” I grunted from underneath her. “I didn’t want your help. Now you have ruined the Sausalito! You have ruined the ball!” I said more loudly, hoping the nuns would hear how much my enunciation had improved.

“You have ruined it!” my sisters panted, circling around us, eager to close ranks. “Mirabella has ruined it!” Every girl was wild-eyed and itching under her polka dots, punch froth dribbling down her chin. The pack had been waiting for this moment for some time. “Mirabella cannot adapt! Back to the woods, back to the woods!”

The band from West Toowoomba had quietly packed their instruments into black suitcases and were sneaking out the back. The boys had fled back towards the lake, bow ties spinning, snapping suspenders in their haste. Mirabella was still snarling in the center of it all, trying to figure out where the danger was so that she could defend me against it. The nuns exchanged glances.

In the morning, Mirabella was gone. We checked under all the beds. I pretended to be surprised. I’d known she would have to be expelled the minute I felt her weight on my back. Walter came and told me this in secret after the ball, “So you can say yer good-byes.” I didn’t want to face Mirabella. Instead, I packed a tin lunch pail for her: two jelly sandwiches on saltine crackers, a chloroformed squirrel, a gilt-edged placard of St. Bolio. I left it for her with Sister Ignatius, with a little note: “Best wishes!” I told myself I’d done everything I could.

“Hooray!” the pack crowed. “Something has been done!”

We raced outside into the bright sunlight, knowing full well that our sister had been turned loose, that we’d never find her. A low roar rippled through us and surged up and up, disappearing into the trees. I listened for an answering howl from Mirabella, heart thumping—what if she heard us and came back? But there was nothing.

We graduated from St. Lucy’s shortly thereafter. As far as I can recollect, that was our last communal howl.

Stage 5: At this point your students are able to interact effectively in the new cultural environment. They find it easy to move between the two cultures.

One Sunday, near the end of my time at St. Lucy’s, the sisters gave me a special pass to go visit the parents. The woodsman had to accompany me; I couldn’t remember how to find the way back on my own. I wore my best dress and brought along some prosciutto and dill pickles in a picnic basket. We crunched through the fall leaves in silence, and every step made me sadder. “I’ll wait out here,” the woodsman said, leaning on a blue elm and lighting a cigarette.

The cave looked so much smaller than I remembered it. I had to duck my head to enter. Everybody was eating when I walked in. They all looked up from the bull moose at the same time, my aunts and uncles, my sloe-eyed, lolling cousins, the parents. My uncle dropped a thighbone from his mouth. My littlest brother, a cross-eyed wolf-boy who has since been successfully rehabilitated and is now a dour, balding children’s book author, started whining in terror. My mother recoiled from me, as if I was a stranger. TRRR? She sniffed me for a long moment. Then she sank her teeth into my ankle, looking proud and sad. After all the tail wagging and perfunctory barking had died down, the parents sat back on their hind legs. They stared up at me expectantly, panting in the cool gray envelope of the cave, waiting for a display of what I had learned.

“So,” I said, telling my first human lie. “I’m home.”

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Denise Shannon, my sorcerous agent; my brilliant and endlessly supportive editor, Jordan Pavlin; Sarah Gelman and the excellent team at Knopf; the all-star poet and editor Carin Besser; all of my teachers, with a special debt of gratitude to Ben Marcus, Sam Lipsyte, Stephen O’Connor, Jaime Manrique, Sheila Donohue, Brian Bouldrey, Marie Hayes, and Edith Skom; and my workshop groups at Columbia University and Northwestern, who inspired me with their own terrific writing and were the first readers for many of these stories. Without you guys, this book would not exist.

To the editors that I was blessed to work with this past year, for their lightning-insights and wonderful suggestions: Fatema Ahmed, Bradford Morrow, Michael Ray, and Carol Ann Fitzgerald.

A huge thank-you to my incredible friends, who have stuck it out with me in Miami, in Chi-town, and here in the Big Apple—I love you guys so much. To my family, the Russells and the Romanchucks, you make me feel like the luckiest kid alive. Thank you for the swamp trips, Papa! Finally, I’d like to thank the faculty and students of the Writing Division at Columbia University and the Henfield/Transatlantic Foundation for giving me the time and the courage to write.

And a big hug and high-five for Madeleine Timmis, the world’s greatest seventh-grade teacher.

Karen Russell

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Karen Russell, a native of Miami, has been featured in
The Best American Short Stories, The New Yorker
’s debut fiction issue, and
New York
magazine’s list of twenty-five people to watch under the age of twenty-six. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program and was chosen as one of
Granta
’s Best Young American Novelists; her fiction has recently appeared in
Conjunctions, Granta, Zoetrope, Oxford American
, and
The New Yorker
. She lives in New York City.

Acclaim for Karen Russell’s

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

“The fablelike settings Russell invents throw the very real absurdity of childhood into relief…. Charming and imaginative…. One can sense Russell’s enthusiasm and playfulness, both of which she has in spades.”


Chicago Tribune

“With this weird, wondrous debut, 25-year-old Russell blows up the aphorism ‘Age equals experience.’ She also suggests ‘Write what you know’ is similarly useless, unless she’s a girl living on a Florida farm, two brothers who dive for the ghost of their dead sister, and children at a sleep-disorder camp. These stories are part Flannery O’Connor, part Gabriel García Márquez, and entirely her own.”


Entertainment Weekly

“Endlessly inventive, over-the-top, over-the-edge stories, all delivered in the most confident, exquisitely rambunctious manner. Fabulous fun.”

—Joy Williams, author of
The Quick and the Dead
and
State of Grace

“The stories of shape-shifting and transmutation in
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
are so extreme and convincing, you fear for what Russell dreams.”


The Denver Post

“Edgy-lit lovers will adore this debut short-story collection set in imaginative venues like icebergs.”


Glamour

“Hallelujah! Karen Russell’s work sweeps the ground from beneath your feet and replaces it with something new and wondrous, part Florida swampland, part holy water. A confident, auspicious, unforgettable debut.”

—Gary Shteyngart, author of
The Russian Debutante’s Handbook
and
Absurdistan

“Most writers her age haven’t yet matched Russell’s chief achievement: honing a voice so singular and assured that you’d willingly follow it into dark, lawless territory. Which, as it happens, is exactly where it leads us.”


Time Out New York

“This book is a miracle. Karen Russell is a literary mystic, channeling spectral tales that surge with feeling. A devastatingly beautiful debut by a powerful new writer.”

—Ben Marcus, author of
The Age of Wire and String
and
Notable American Women

“In spare but evocative prose, the 25-year-old conjures a weird world of young misfits and ghosts in the Everglades. Girls are swept off to sea in giant crab shells and fall in love with spirits; boys have Minotaurs for fathers and incurable dream disorders that cause them to live through humanity’s greatest tragedies night after night.”


W Magazine

“A marvelous book in the tradition of George Saunders and Katherine Dunn.”


New York Post

“Karen Russell’s fresh and original voice makes this a stunning collection to savor.”


Pages

FIRST VINTAGE CONTEMPORARIES EDITION, AUGUST 2007

Copyright © 2006 by Karen Russell

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2006.

Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks and Vintage Contemporaries is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Some stories in this collection previously appeared in the following: “
from
Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration” and “Z.Z.’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers” in
Conjunctions
; “Out to Sea” in
Five Fingers Review
; “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” in
Granta
; “Haunting Olivia” and “Accidental Brief, Occurrence 00-422” in
The New Yorker
; “The City of Shells” in
Oxford American,
under the title “The World’s Greatest Sensational Mystery” “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” in
Zoetrope: All-Story
.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:

Russell, Karen [date]

St. Lucy’s home for girls raised by wolves / by Karen Russell.—1st ed.

p. cm.

1. Everglades (Fla.)—Fiction. I. Title. II. Title: Saint Lucy’s home for girls raised by wolves.

PS3618.U755S7 2006

813'.6—dc22 2006045156

www.vintagebooks.com

eISBN: 978-0-307-38763-9

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