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Authors: Cristina Henriquez

The World in Half

BOOK: The World in Half
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Table of Contents
Come Together, Fall Apart
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3,
Canada (a division of Pearson Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand,
London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2,
Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road,
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0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books
(South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Copyright © 2009 by Cristina Henríquez
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned,
or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do
not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation
of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Henríquez, Cristina, date.
The world in half / Cristina Henríquez.
p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-02865-0
1. Panama—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and
Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author
assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication.
Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume
any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

For Ryan
ore than three thousand miles below the surface of the earth is its core. It’s taken scientists a long time to learn anything about it. Most of them would readily admit that they know more about every other planet in the solar system than they do about the pit that’s at the center of ours. But seismic waves have taught us a few things. There’s a liquid outer core and a solid inner core. The convection currents in the outer core dictate our magnetic fields. The inner core is made of pure iron. Its temperature hovers around 5,000 to 6,000 degrees Celsius. At one time it was molten, so the fact that now it’s not means that little by little the planet has been hardening itself from the inside out. I think about that a lot. And then again, I think maybe the scientists don’t know anything. None of them, after all, have ever traveled to the core of the earth. It would be impossible for any human to get so close to such a fiery heart.
My mother is humming
in the bathroom when Lucy arrives. It’s the last Thursday in December, and gusts of bitter wind rattle the house periodically. The sky outside is as gray as a stone. She’s been in the bathroom for more than an hour now, and so far she has completed the entire score of
West Side Story
and at least a dozen repetitions of “O Christmas Tree.” She won’t admit it, but she’s nervous. “If this woman’s coming here to see me,” she said yesterday, “I might as well make sure she sees something good.” I tried explaining that Lucy wasn’t coming to judge her.
“Yes she is.”
“Trust me, she’s not.”
“Don’t be naïve,” she said. “Everyone is always judging everyone else.”
Lucy shows up, exactly like she said she would, at eight a.m. sharp. Through the window I can see her—a heavyset woman in a camel-colored mohair coat and a man’s fedora—shifting her weight from foot to foot and rubbing her hands together to keep them warm. She has a giant canvas tote bag slung over one shoulder.
“Ding dong,” she says, when I open the door. “Avon calling.”
“Excuse me?” The frigid air from outside rushes in.
“I’m sorry. That was a joke.”
“Are you Lucy?”
“I like to start things off with a joke. Folks usually get a kick out of it. You might be too young to understand that particular one, though. It started in the sixties. Or was it the fifties?” She waves her hand. “It’s not important. Yes, I’m Lucy. Lucy Carter from Sunrise.”
We have to wait
another thirty minutes before my mother comes out of the bathroom. In the intervening time, I make Lucy a cup of hot tea, which she sips on the couch while we talk idly about whether each of us is from the area (Lucy is originally from Minnesota, though she’s lived here since she was six years old), and the dreary winter they’re predicting we’ll have this year, what I’m studying in school, and how expensive gas is these days. Because it would seem awkward not to point it out, I explain why there are towers of magazines stacked up against one of the living room walls. The magazines are my old copies of
that my mother dug up from the basement a few days ago. She woke up that morning and said, while she peeled the shell off a hard-boiled egg, “Do you know what we need, Mira? We need order.” The next thing I knew, she was dredging up every back issue of every magazine we’d ever owned and sorting them by issue date. The
magazines are next to my
National Geographic
s, the yellow spines layered on top of one another straight as railroad tracks. Lucy eyes the towers approvingly and says, “Well, that makes as much sense as anything, I guess.”
When we’ve exhausted all that and still my mother has yet to make her entrance, I take Lucy on a quick tour of the house. I show her where we keep the flashlights and the batteries in case the power goes out, and where we keep a fire extinguisher under the kitchen sink. I tell her which days the trash is collected, and what time the lamps in the living room are set to turn off every night, and how to jiggle the toilet so that it flushes on the first try. I tell her that I’ve already written out a rent check for the month and that she needs to drop it at the owner, Mrs. Sakac’s, house on Colfax before the fifteenth. I show her that I’ve stuck a Post-it note on the check with Mrs. Sakac’s address. Lucy takes it all in without asking questions or for clarification. Just as we’re about to head down to the basement so that I can show her how to use the washing machine, the knob to the bathroom door rattles.
“Hold on,” my mother calls from inside. “I’m coming.”
The knob rattles again. We wait.
“It’s locked,” my mother says.
“Unlock it,” I say.
There’s nothing but silence. The knob is still. I step forward and try to turn it. “Mom, unlock the door.”
“Hold on.”
I don’t dare look back at Lucy. It’s embarrassing. I just keep my hand on the knob and listen through the door while my mother fiddles and curses and, finally, turns the lock. When she walks out, she’s wearing a plaid wool pencil skirt, a purple turtleneck sweater, sheer brown hose, and her best heels. She pauses outside the bathroom door, as if she’s just stepped onto a stage. Then she says, as though nothing happened, “Were we going down to the basement?”
Later, after my mother
has given Lucy her own tour and after the two of them have had time to ease into some semblance of comfort with each other, we all sit together at the kitchen table and go over the routine: Lucy will move into our house for the next three weeks. She will sleep on the couch. “I’m hoping you can provide sheets and blankets, but I’ll bring my own pillow,” she says. “Nothing against your pillows. I’m sure they’re fine. But my neck needs a buckwheat pillow, and I’ve found that most people don’t keep those around.” Lucy will be with my mother all day, every day. At this, my mother makes a face. “Well, I’m not going to Velcro the two of us together. I just mean I’ll be in the house whenever you are. And if I need to leave the house, I’ll bring you with me. And if you need to leave the house, I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.” My mother opens her mouth and Lucy quickly corrects herself. “Not anywhere. But you know what I mean.” Lucy will do all the driving. She will use her own car. “It’s a reliable Volkswagen Rabbit,” she assures us. “Never had a single repair.” She will implement safety precautions around the house: cover the outlets with plugs; lock up our household cleaners; install night-lights. She will help my mother in all the ways that she can and all the ways that are necessary, but she is not, she takes care to stress, a babysitter. For anything for which my mother doesn’t require assistance—“I would guess that’s still most things at this point,” Lucy says—my mother will be on her own. Nor is she here as hired entertainment. “I can be very entertaining,” she says, “but that’s hardly the point.” Lucy knows, because I marked it on the paperwork, that my mother had to leave her job a month earlier. One of the lawyers in the office where she worked as the receptionist approached her one day after a batch of billing statements my mother was supposed to have sent got returned to the office for lack of postage. He told her that they were all fond of her and had always known her to be capable, but that the work had gotten away from her lately, and that they didn’t want to fire her, but they hoped she would see it was time for her to leave. My mother, who almost never goes with the flow of anything, said she did see. During her lunch that day, she scribbled a letter of resignation. Since then, though, my mother hasn’t quite known what to do with herself. After spending her entire adult life working—never calling in sick, dismissing the idea of vacation—she has no clue how to pass the time. For her, being unemployed is like wandering through a dark and beguiling forest. I assume, though, that’s what Lucy is referring to when she says she’s not entertainment. She’s not here to fill my mother’s time for her, only to keep her safe.
BOOK: The World in Half
12.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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