Her Cree grandmother called it the gift of seeing, but for Petra “Pete” Orvatch, knowing things in ways that defy explanation has made reality and fantasy blur in a world where the clocks literally go backward. Her fascinating and clairvoyant mind is a riddle that many doctors have tried to solve with medication. Love comes her way unexpectedly when she meets Fiona Angeli, a stunningly beautiful single mother. A risk-taker by nature, Fiona is not scared off by her new lover’s psychic abilities and eccentricities.
The two of them share passion and secrets on a magical and surprising journey, and their torrid love affair takes them to thrilling new places until betrayal divides them. Both these women fight battles within themselves; Fiona must gain control of her dangerous compulsions, and Pete’s onerous gift ultimately puts her at risk of losing herself in the gap between delusions and the real world.
I’m so excited to have Ms. Kingston stop by today and share a deleted scene with us. The scene is very interesting and I like how it gives a little bit of insight into Pete. Hopefully you like this scene as much as I do. Read and enjoy!
This is yet another deleted scene from the very first draft of chapter one, in which I was apparently trying to write the whole book. It’s almost as if my excitement over my newly birthed character, Pete, convinced me I had to show the reader right away just how bizarre her past experiences have been. I wanted to convince the reader in this lengthy chapter that Pete was worth the read.
A long time ago when Pete was a sophomore in college, she’d slept later than she typically did on a Friday. The previous day, she’d gone to bed at her regular time at the end of a fairly ordinary Thursday. This particular morning she felt more groggy than usual and, even though her bladder was full, she couldn’t quite get up yet. She clasped her hands behind her head, stared up at the familiar crack in the ceiling, and suddenly recalled the dream that went backwards. It unfolded like this:
She was sound asleep, alone in her bed, wearing nothing but her skin. In the next scene, she was with Ricardo, making love in their usual faraway way. It was as if both of them had other people or other things on their minds as they moved against each other mechanically. He was more of a friend than a lover, and Pete thought this would be the last time they had sex–she wasn’t into it and would rather have his companionship than swap body fluids.
After this scene faded away, she was at dinner with Ricardo and their friend Ina. They were eating pizza and drinking sodas in the little restaurant on campus. Ina was imitating a professor and the three of them were laughing so hard it was difficult to get the pizza down without choking. Pete loved to laugh like that–it blocked out some of the ever-present noise in her brain and interrupted her obsessive thoughts. Then the dream moved backwards in time again to her last class of the day, psychology. They were learning about phobias and she had been doodling a cartoon for each phobia in her notebook. She wondered how many of her classmates were doodling too. It’s not that the lecture was uninteresting. It, like most things, just moved too slowly for her mind. She had to fill in the gaps with activity and for the moment it was drawing. She was wondering if she had any phobias when the professor called on her and asked a question which she couldn’t answer.
Flashing further back, the dream had Pete at lunch with two acquaintances from her English literature class. “Man, I pulled an all-nighter to finish a paper and I’m wiped out. Caffeine is not working any more,” Lamar said to the girls. “What’s the longest either of you has gone without sleep?” he asked them. Pete responded after swallowingca bite of her sandwich.
“Lemme think – oh, I remember. When I was sixteen, I went through this phase when I was really bored so I would do weird things, mostly to my body. I shaved one side of my head, tried to give myself dimples, lifted weights all the time, and wanted to see how long I could stay awake without any stimulants. To name a few.”
“Well – how long did you stay awake?” Vicky asked.
“Thirty-two hours and seven minutes. Longer than I thought I could.”
“That’s truly impressive, ” Lamar acknowledged.
“Longest I stayed awake was a little over twenty-four hours when I traveled to India,” Vicky recalled.
“Okay – what’s the longest you’ve slept for? Without booze or sleeping pills in your system?” Lamar queried.
Pete swallowed her last morsel of lunch and thought about it. “I’m not sure. Sleeping late is less memorable than staying up. Know what I mean?”
“Yeah,” Vicky agreed, “nothing’s jumping out at me; what about you, Lamar? Why are you fixated on sleep stuff anyway?” She pushed the last bits of salad around on her plate, sought out the remaining croutons, and then destroyed them with loud crunches.
“I had to read an article about sleep for my psych class and it was interesting,” he answered. “Also – I’m just really tired so I’m thinking about sleep…”
The dream flashed next to Pete at her part-time job in the morning. She worked in the library twenty hours a week. She liked her job, especially when she had the morning shift, because it wasn’t that busy and she enjoyed the tranquility. She had always loved libraries. Her mother made many mistakes raising her children, but one thing she got very right was taking Pete and her brother to the local library twice a month. They would leave with stacks of books that held the scent of the children’s book room and the promise of entertainment. So here Pete was in the campus library, peacefully shelving some books in the reference section. The next part of the dream was breakfast. Oatmeal and black coffee. Before breakfast, a lover of hers named Anna was creeping out of her bed to get to her early biology class. She picked through the clothes that’d been shed rapidly and tossed onto the floor the night before and found her socks, jeans, panties, bra, sweater, and one shoe. The other shoe was partially hidden under the bed, so she had a little trouble finding it. “Bye, baby,” she said softly to the sleeping Pete before leaving the room quietly. That’s where the dream left off.
When she got up, she pretty much lived the same day she’d dreamed about, only in a forward direction. Later that week, she told her shrink about the dream and the day that followed, but was disappointed at the response she got. Her therapist told her she must be confused, that it wasn’t possible to have a dream that predicts a day. It was more likely that she invented the dream after the day and reversed the timeline in her mind. After that session ended, Pete never went back to see her.
Pete looked up from the mystery she was reading and scanned the faces in the waiting room. There was Tired Pinched Mom, with faded blond ponytail and dark roots coming in. She had one kid under control and was now quietly negotiating with the other. Next to this trio sat Man Too Large for His Seat, who seemed to be staring at his shoes or sleeping with his eyes open. In the corner was someone so nondescript she couldn’t instantly name her—then it came to her: Any Woman. This woman was neither thin nor large, short nor tall, and had a slightly exotic yet familiar face. She looked as if she could be from many different places, like Greece, Morocco, Central America, or New Jersey. She was text-messaging so quickly, Pete half expected her thumbs to spark and set fire to her phone.
Doesn’t anyone people-watch anymore? Was she the only person left who liked to read faces and create narratives? Maybe so. She’d never stop doing it. She’d been spinning this stuff since she was little—much to the annoyance of her mother. Instead of acknowledging the creative gifts of her child, or at the very least being entertained by them, she’d say, “God will punish you, Petra Marie, for thinking bad thoughts about people and making up lies.”
Some traits must skip generations, because Grandma Sweets had the right attitude. She’d join right in and embellish her granddaughter’s rough outlines of strangers’ lives with additions that could only come from a seasoned mind. If Pete said a passenger on the bus looked guilty, Gram Sweets would say, “Of course he looks guilty, he ought to! Instead of cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving, he cooked his wife!”
Her reminiscing was perforated by the staccato ring of a telephone.
“Cambridge Holistic Health and Wellness Center, please hold.”
Please hold? No one else is on the line; is this receptionista just fucking with the caller? Pete dog-eared the page in her paperback, closed it, slipped it into her bag, and decided to devote all of her energy to observing. She was just about to make up a story about the receptionist when her eyes landed on something strange. She hadn’t noticed the cheap plastic clock on the wallpapered wall before, but now she couldn’t take her eyes off it because the second hand was moving backward.
At first she thought she was seeing things, since her imagination was such a well-developed muscle. So she did something that made her feel seven instead of thirty-seven. She closed her eyes to reset, inhaled a long, slow breath, and then opened them, hoping this simple act could alter what she saw, or make things feel right again. She didn’t return her gaze to the clock right away, but rather avoided its face like you would dodge direct eye contact in a volley of flirt-and-stare with a stranger who’d caught you looking.
She panned her eyes evenly over all she had just taken in. Now the previously obedient child of the two was acting petulant, Man Too Large for His Seat actually was asleep, and Any Woman had stopped texting and was staring back at Pete. This startled her a bit. She looked away and then forced herself to look at the clock again. The red second hand was still moving backward and now instead of 2:27, it was 2:26, and the room seemed brighter to her than it had been just a minute ago.
She heard the automaton call her but she couldn’t move—she felt obligated to monitor the clock and confirm that it was in fact going backward, but knew she shouldn’t say anything about it. It was one of those times when she couldn’t expect people to understand her. These occurrences had happened ever since she could remember and could be confusing, amusing, or even downright dangerous.
Medella Kingston fell in love with writing at an early age and published articles, poems, and stories when she was growing up. She wrote, performed, and sold songs for movie soundtracks, and continued writing short stories for her own pleasure. She currently sings in the band Omnesia, which has aired locally on UC Berkeley’s radio station and been heard as far east as Goa and the Mumbai University. She lives with her partner and their two dogs in the East Bay. PeopleFish is Medella’s first novel, and she is currently working on a new book.
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