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By Helen Oyeyemi

 

 

 

 

 

three things were unsatisfactory about me-the first, that I was from Manhattan.

(‘What could a girl from there be looking for around here?’)

The second problem was my name.

(‘It’s Boy.”

“Oh sure. Very cute. And what’s your government name?”

“I already told you Boy. Boy Novak.”

“Wow….”

“Wow yourself.”)

The third problem was that I hadn’t brought any skill with me.

Flax Hill is a town of specialists, and if someone turns up in that kind of town with nothing but a willingness to get their hands dirty, that someone had better forget about being given a break.

Author: Helen Oyeyemi

All anybody ever seemed to want to know about me at first was how come. How come I wasn’t good at anything? I went on a lot of double date with a girl named Veronica Webster who lived on the floor below me. Like the other tenants, she carried her pawnshop tickets folded up inside an antique locket around her neck. Unlike the other tenants, she had a nice room with a fireplace, and she hosted hot chocolate parties, but you had to bring your own hot chocolate. Webster was seventy percent all right and thirty percent pain in the neck, one of those women who are corpse like until a man walks into the room, after which point they become irresistibly vivacious. She wore her hair like Mamie Eisenhower’s only with longer bangs, and she was out three nights a week, one of them with Ted Murray, her unofficial steady date. I kept feeling I should try to talk her out of her attachment to Ted. First of all he was a stingy tipper, just couldn’t seem to seem to make himself round up to the nearest zero, and that filled me with foreboding. The other thing was that we all met at his place for predinner cocktails once and he had this garish oil portrait of Lincoln up on a wall-the product of one of those mail-order paint –by-number kits if I ever saw one. Something came over me as I stood there looking at that noble profile reproduced in puce. I don’t ever want to feel that way again. It’s Lincoln. You don’t do that to Lincoln.

Back at the boarding house I said to Webster: “So…how about that portrait of Lincoln in Ted’s parlour?”

She shrugged. Nobody’s perfect. Anyway, I don’t know about you, but a man who admires Lincoln is my kind of man.”

Excerpted from Boy, Snow, Bird, a novel by Helen Oyeyemi. Published by Picador in 2014.

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