Excerpt

Sleepwalker

Luka climbed upstairs again and sat down at her desk. “I have to write.” She’d been on the island since summer, and now it was February and she hadn’t written a word. Every morning she woke up at five, sometimes four, and jumped out of bed longing to write—the book was ready inside of her, each chapter, each sentence, each comma, everything was in its place, utterly fixed, and she knew she could do it, since she’d written her first book on this same island five years before. But as soon as she sat down at her desk the blank paper became a mirror in which she saw only her own face. “I have to write,” she’d say a hundred times, and then another hundred, and sometimes on the hundredth time she would mess up and have to start all over again from the beginning, and the days passed, the months passed, and the white paper got whiter and whiter—“I have to write,” Luka said as autumn turned into winter—“I have to write!” she shouted into the empty house—and now it was February and the sea was closing in on her like a ring. As soon as she sat at her desk the book became a reflection, the color green, a round egg, a face peering at her—but when she grabbed her pen to try and write everything down, the sentences rose up before her like waves hitting the pier and the paper receded, her hand struggling to reach it like a shipwrecked sailor grasping at the rocks of some shore.

Luka remembered the day she sent her first book to the States from the post office on this very same island. It had been February then, too, and she had been all alone, and the clerk had said, “Open it up, I don’t know what ‘manuscript’ means.” Luka had opened it and looked once more at the sentences she had written, which would be traveling so far on their own—sentences this man’s dirty, fat hands were now touching, sentences somehow made vulgar by the fact of his reading them, since they took on whatever meaning he gave to them as he turned the pages and laughed.

“Come on, Luka, I thought you were a serious kind of a girl.”

“That’s what all manuscripts are like.”

“Well then, we might as well send it, right?” And he licked the stamps so thoroughly that his spit soaked the envelope. When Luka went outside it was raining, all the cafés were closed and she had no one to tell, “I just sent my book to America.” She sat on the ground next to a fisherman who was mending his nets.

“I just sent my book to America.”

“Can you help me thread this needle? I can’t see a thing in this damned rain.” 

“Sure,” Luka sobbed. “My pleasure.”

And now, sitting before the same paper, with the dog peeing everywhere, with that same winter chill in the air, and the book inside her cracking and rotting, she pulled Alana onto her lap, unscrewed her pen, tilted her head back, held the pen to her mouth, and drank down every last drop of ink—and the book was lost.