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Strong Beginnings

Excerpt: The Empty Room by Lauren B. Davis

We are collaborating with the Luminato Festival, and reaching out to Canadian writers to find out about the decisions they made when choosing to open their most recent works.

Here is an excerpt from Lauren B. Davis' most recent novel The Empty Room. Afterwards, be sure to check out our Q&A with her about its opening scene.

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GOOD MORNING, WORLD

It was Monday morning, and Colleen Kerrigan woke up wondering why she was chewing on a dirty old sock. She tried to pull her tongue from the roof of her mouth; it peeled away, dry and swollen. Her fingers told her she didn’t actually have a sock in there, which was something of a relief. She must have been sleeping with her mouth open, probably snoring like a wildebeest. The late-October sun butting up against the window barely made a dent in the murk. She rarely shut the curtains because her eighth-floor window looked out onto the parking lot and the old Dominion Coal and Wood silo. Besides, who wanted to peek into the windows of a nearly-fifty-year-old woman?

The man’s voice on the radio said the high today would be seven degrees Celsius, with a brisk wind and the possibility of showers. His voice was sharp and irritatingly upbeat. She shut off the clock radio with a slap of her hand and dragged her legs over the side of the bed, her head fuzzy, her stomach churning. She had slept in her T-shirt and sweatpants, which she hadn’t intended. In fact, she didn’t exactly remember going to bed. She hadn’t even bothered to take off her bra and the wire must have dug into her left breast as she slept. It hurt. Or maybe it was cancer.

Good morning, world.

Her eyes settled on the framed postcard of Dylan Thomas’s writing shed at Laugharne, which she kept on the bedside table. The tiny room, the whitewashed walls, the simple desk and chair, the photos on the walls, the crumpled bits of paper, the bottle, the astonishing work Thomas created there . . . this was Colleen’s idea of perfection. If she concentrated on the image hard enough, it would manifest itself in her own life. She hadn’t written anything in a long time, but she would again, of this she was sure. Beside the photo lay the Bible. Many of the Psalms she knew by heart. They felt like a doorway—one of many, but one which suited her—into the world of Spirit she was sure lived just beyond her fingertips, just out of reach, but which nonetheless beckoned to her. The Bible was open now to Psalm 38. My wounds are loathsome and corrupt, Because of my foolishness.

Sometimes the Divine had a wicked sense of humour.

As she sat up, her head, and the room, spun. She held onto the bed for a moment until it righted. Was she coming down with something? Her sinuses were painful and her throat a bit sore. An ear infection, perhaps. That would account for the dizziness. Her tongue still felt woollen. Maybe she should just go back to bed and call in sick. But no, she’d taken too many sick days these past few months. She’d need a doctor’s note for any more. Her head ached and her bladder felt about to burst. She limped into the bathroom—her knee was bothering her again—and as she sat on the toilet she noticed new bruises on her legs and arms. Where had they come from? She must fight off the hounds of hell in her sleep. Maybe she sleepwalked? She reached for the toilet paper and her left elbow pinged sharply. She cupped it with her right hand. It was tender, just at the joint. When had she banged that? She was going to have to start taking better care of herself.

When finished she made her way down the hall to the kitchen, where dishes crowded the sink and the yellow linoleum floor stuck to the soles of her feet. She drank club soda from the bottle in great gulps, hoping it would do its work and settle her stomach. The clock on the stove said it was nearly seven-thirty, which meant she had to rush or she’d never get to work on time. She had been late far too many times. On the counter, next to the hideous green cookie jar with the painted cherries—this had once been her mother’s—stood a vodka bottle. Colleen froze, the club soda bottle still pressed to her lips. Some of it dribbled down her chin and she wiped it away with the back of her hand. She stared at the vodka bottle. She picked it up and jiggled it, hoping it was merely an illusion, some trick of the light making it look nearly empty. It should be at least half full. But no, a mere inch or so sloshed about in the bottom. This simply wasn’t possible. She didn’t drink that much yesterday, surely. She must be losing her mind. She wondered if she’d miss it very much.

She put down the bottle. Yes, she thought, I’ve rather enjoyed my mind. I will not drink today, she vowed.

She remembered the bottle had been nearly full when she poured the first glass and added cranberry juice, sometime just past noon yesterday. She had munched some potato chips with that first drink, and had meant to pop a frozen macaroni and cheese into the microwave for dinner, but she never did. Vodka, chips, some peanuts . . . she had started watching Law & Order. Such a reliable show. No matter what time you turned on the television it seemed there was a Law & Order, in one of its many variations, on some channel or another. That Latino actor, so handsome; she could look at him all day. She remembered that, and something afterwards, some stupid confusing movie, and then she remembered picking up her guitar and singing . . . Joni Mitchell, soundtrack of her youth. And Tom Waits. Music filled up the space, drove away the silence of the empty rooms. 


Excerpt from The Empty Room © 2013 by Lauren B. Davis. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.


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