A YA novel excerpt© Susa Silvermarie

Chapter One

Once upon a time, it was a different time than your time. But maybe I’m not so different from you. My name is Sheila. I’m sitting on an old chair in the attic, with a letter from Mom in my hand. I used to live downstairs with the college girls who rent this old house. I was a college girl myself. Now, I’m only crashing in the attic, while I figure out what to do. The naked light bulb dangling over my head glares harsh light on this unopened envelope.

It has to be a good sign that Mom at least answered my letter. I imagine her at our kitchen table, grabbing a minute to sit down and write whatever’s inside this envelope. That big yellow table in our house in the little town –funny how, even though it’s only an hour’s drive from here, it feels like it’s across the world. I feel like I’m still in Brazil. I’m back in Wisconsin, but the envelope I’m holding seems like it comes from a place on the other side of a chasm. After I read Mom’s letter, I’ll either be home, or I’ll never get there again.

I trace my fingers along her perfect Catholic school penmanship. I can almost feel her hand, looping the blue ink across the envelope:

Sheila Lombardi,
545 N. 33rd Street
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I tear it open. One, lined, yellow sheet, covered with her sure cursive. I hear Mom’s voice over my shoulder as I read.

September 1969

Dear Sheila,

I will remember you the way you were….

The words chisel themselves into my brain. My mother is pronouncing me dead.

The rest of the letter, I can’t take in. Except, before the page drops onto my lap, I see Mom’s postscript.

ps Regarding your condition, Do not tell your Grandmother.

My hand floats up and pulls the chain of the hanging light bulb. Blackness in the attic. I disappear.

When I stand, the letter falls to the attic floorboards. I walk, slow as a zombie, to the window. I want comfort, from somewhere— the stars, yeah, I’m reaching for the Milky Way in the night sky. I want it right in its place, right where it’s supposed to be. I lean my forehead against the window and search for the starry arc. Through the windowpane, the night air chills me. No stars. Overcast.

Instead, my imagination sees Mom reflected in the black glass. Mom, in our house, in the hometown where I never belonged. Mom, sealing her cold letter.