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We keep burning in the brown smog pit. The girls swarm in their black moth dresses. Their scalps are shaved like concentration camp ladies. Rats click my head. Everything broken.

When you were a baby I sat very still to hold you. I could see the veins through your skin like a map to inside you. How could skin be that thin? I was so afraid you might drop and break. I stopped breathing so you wouldn't.

When you were crying I got out of bed and went into your room. You were thrashing around behind the bars of the crib, your face twisted and red, like, how could they be doing this to me? I didn't understand why Mom hadn't come to you.

You turned your head to look at me. Your eyes looked so big in your face, so mysterious -- wide and flickering like a butterfly-wing mask. When you saw me the wails turned to sobs, and then just quieter heaves of your body. I held out my finger through the bars.

Then you reached out and curled your fingers around mine, so tight. I knew you recognized me. That was the first time I knew I had a heart inside my body.

You still cry too easily, but without your tears, at least, everything would burn. You are Spring in your jeans, in the laughing leaves. I think pearls melted over your bones.

I thought sacrifice might mean something. The wounds throb even though they're not real yet. Would you reach inside them to uncover the secret? You try to tell me but your tongue feels severed.


You were just a boy on a bed in a room, like a kaleidoscope is a tube full of bits of broken glass. But the way I saw you was pieces refracting the light, shifting into an infinite universe of flowers and rainbows and insects and planets, magical dividing cells, pictures no one else knew.

I remember. I was going on a date and I came into your room. I wanted you to see me, but I pretended I was coming to see if you had any beers in the ice chest under your bed. I was wearing my shiny leotard and my wraparound skirt, my cork sandals and Jontue perfume and Bonne Bell lip gloss. I had shaved my legs and they were pretty tan already, even though it was May. I knocked and you didn't answer. I thought the music was too loud and you hadn't heard. It was this crazy banging shouting music I'd never heard before. I just opened the door.

You jerked up and looked at me. You were in bed with the sheet over you and the room smelled close. I smelled your pot and beer and your smell -- salty, warm, baked. I read in a magazine that women aren't supposed to be attracted to the smells of their fathers and brothers.

You sat up and your eyes were blank and hard -- mad. You yelled, What are you doing? Don't you knock anymore!

I backed up and your eyes turned sad, then kind. You said, I'm sorry, you. Hang on, and I turned and pretended to look at some albums while you got up. You were buttoning your black jeans when I turned around. But you didn't have a shirt on. You looked pale -- usually you were tan by spring, too, darker than me -- but your skin was white and smooth like marble. I could see every segment of muscle in your stomach; your arms looked stronger, too. There were some weights on the floor. I apologized and you sat on the bed and asked me what I wanted. You never asked me that when I came to you. We just accepted the pull that brought us into the same spaces as often as possible. I mumbled something about the beer. I wanted you to like my outfit, I wanted your praise because without it I felt like I was going to fade into nothing. This little shiny leotard and rayon jersey wrap skirt would walk out all alone on platform sandals to meet my date.

You said, Where are you going? You sounded like a dad and it scared me. I said dancing. You asked where and I said, Kaleidoscope. You rolled your eyes. Why that disco shit? You never spoke to me like that. I could feel my face getting hot. I hoped my tan and the Indian Earth makeup on my cheeks and eyelids would hide it. I smelled my perfume and it was way too sweet; I wanted to smell like you. You saw me getting upset and you said you were sorry again. You asked if I was going on a date, I looked pretty. I said kind of. Michelle and I were meeting some boys. You asked who was driving. I said Michelle. You said you didn't want us drinking. You asked if you could drive. I said no. I didn't want you to see me with Brent Fisher. I was afraid you'd tease me about him forever. You shrugged. You said, Whatever, have fun, and you lay back on your bed and closed your eyes.

I came home at about 2:30. My leotard was sopping wet. I had sweated off all my lotion and perfume and deodorant and I kept sniffing my armpits on my way upstairs, touching with one fingertip and sniffing. I wondered if you could smell the beer that Brent Fisher and Billy Ellis got for us. I was chewing some Bubble Yum to try to hide it. The sugar coated my mouth but bitter, the sweet was all gone, like I'd sipped perfume.

I knocked and you answered. I couldn't believe it when I saw you. Your head was shaved. I thought you looked so naked and different, vulnerable and ugly and beautiful ...

Excerpted from WASTELAND © Copyright 2011 by Francesca Lia Block. Reprinted with permission by Joanna Cotler Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved

by by Francesca Lia Block

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 006028644X
  • ISBN-13: 9780060286446