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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Meadowlark Reader: An Excerpt from Opulence, Kansas, by Julie Stielstra

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ISBN (print) 978-1-7342477-0-1
ISBN (Ebook): 978-1-7342477-1-8 
Each Wednesday we will share an excerpt from a Meadowlark book. Sign up at Feed Burner to receive Meadowlark updates by email. 

Chapter 1

It was 9:32 am by the wall clock when the principal’s assistant, Ms. Fox, came to pull me out of World History. She wouldn’t look at me. She murmured into Mr. Banks’s ear, and his eyes swiveled straight to me, but she looked at the floor. No one said anything. I grabbed my stuff and followed her out. Usually they just sent a student runner for messages or appointments or whatever.
You’ve got to understand, I’m a good student . . . a “good girl,” I guess. I get almost all A’s, I don’t smoke anything, and the only drinking I’d done is when Daddy poured me half a glass of Veuve Clicquot at New Year’s. Something was really, really wrong.
“Did I do something?” I babbled. “I haven’t done anything!”
“No no no no,” said Ms. Fox. She stared straight ahead, clicking down the tile in her polished heels. She looked like Hillary Clinton, only with better hair. “There are some people who need to see you.” And that was all she’d say. But she touched my shoulder.
Ms. Henne, the principal, was sitting at her desk. Ms. Snipe, the guidance counselor, was sitting in a chair. What was she there for? She was holding a box of Kleenex in her lap. They couldn’t kick me out if I hadn’t done anything, and besides (I remember everything seemed to take a long time, and I had time to think of all this stuff), if I was in trouble, they’d have my parents in there. Two strangers, a sandy-haired man in a baggy sports coat and a black woman in uniform, were sitting in the office. The woman had beautiful, gleaming cornrows.
The man stood up. “Katherine Myrdal?” he asked. I nodded. He held out a little case with an ID in it, but I just looked at his face. “I’m Detective Sergeant James Russell, Chicago Police, 4th district. This is Officer Tamberly Wallis.”
What? What . . .
“What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
“I’m very sorry, Ms. Myrdal,” Russell said. “There’s no good way to tell you this. Your father is Lawrence Myrdal?” I swallowed and nodded again. “We got a call about a car in the lot at Rainbow Beach. We found him in the car. I’m afraid he’s dead.”
Rainbow Beach? Where the hell was Rainbow Beach? He kept the boat at Belmont Harbor . . . why would he be at Rainbow Beach?
“Katie . . .” Ms. Snipe stood up, clutching the Kleenex box.
“How . . .” I said.
“There was a note on the seat. It looks right now like he . . . like suicide.”
“How,” I said again. The two police looked at each other, at Ms. Henne, at me again.
“He shot himself,” said Russell.
Where would he get a gun? Daddy didn’t have a gun. Did he?
“Oh God,” I said. “My mother . . .”
“We’ve informed her,” said the policewoman. I couldn’t think of her name. Did they tell me? “A friend is with her, and she wanted us to come tell you and bring you home.”
“Who is it, who’s there?”
“Umm . . .” She opened her little notebook. This was like watching Mystery! on TV, for God’s sake. “Jana Persimmon? She said she was her . . .”
“Oh, great,” I groaned. “Her ditzy girlfriend. Her gluten-free all organic woo-woo girl.”
“Katie . . .” said Ms. Snipe again.
The air around her was full of prickly little sparkles, little gray sparkles against dark gray walls in the dark gray air . . .
I hit my head on the edge of the desk on my way down.
They had me in a chair. Ms. Henne was kneeling in front of me, looking up into my face, holding out a cup of water.
“I am so, so sorry, my dear,” she was saying. She stroked my hair back, I think to be sure I wasn’t bleeding all over her office. But no, that’s not fair. She was being gentle, and she was being as kind as you can be with a fainting sophomore in your office, who’s just found out her Daddy has offed himself in his car on the beach someplace she’s never even heard of.

I could hear the wailing before Jana Persimmon opened the door. And Mom was in her own bedroom at the other end of the condo. With the door closed.
“She’s locked herself in,” said Jana. “I gave her some chamomile tea and encouraged her breathing, but . . .”
It was like listening to an animal in a trap. Just this wordless, gasping howling. It was horrible. Could I just run away and come back when this was all over?
“We need to get her a doctor,” said the policewoman. Officer Wallis, it was. I’d looked at her name badge.
“I have advanced-level credits from Bastyr University,” said Jana. “If I can go home and get my bag . . .”
“Dr. Vargas lives on twelve,” I said. “He’s retired, but he’d come up.” He was a nice man, had a little Havanese dog he was nuts about. I met them in the elevator sometimes. Officer Wallis left immediately.
“Mrs. Myrdal?” Russell was tapping, then rapping at the bedroom door. “Mrs. Myrdal? Are you all right? We’re going to have a doctor come up. He can help you with . . .”
The door was ripped open.
I’ve never seen my mother look like that, before or since. Her whole face was twisted, her mouth this gaping hole, tears and snot on her face, yanking at her own hair.
“Why?” she shrieked. “Why would he do this? How could he do this?”
“We’re going to try to find out what happened,” said the cop. “You need to get some rest, and we’ll come back tomorrow and talk to you then, okay?” Jana was peering over his shoulder.
“Katie!” wailed my mother. “Katie, what has he done to us?” She launched herself at me, and I hung onto her as she sobbed. There had to be something wrong with me, I know. I felt numb. If I’d been watching this in a movie, my heart would have been pounding, I might have even walked out. But this was for real; this was my mother, my dad, with death and suicide ringing around us, and I just stood there.
The thing was, my parents didn’t really even get along.
Daddy worked long hours, traveled a lot, had a lot of social stuff like business dinners and golf outings he went to. Mom did pretty much anything she wanted all day, every day: shopped, worked out, took yoga and meditation classes, was on all these committees and Friends’ groups, like for the Art Institute and the symphony and the performing arts college. They just didn’t do hardly any of it together. They’d go whole days and barely see or talk to each other. They didn’t have big fights or anythingnot in a long time anyway. We’d go out on the boat in the summers, usually with some clients of Daddy’s, but that was about it.
Officer Wallis was back, with Dr. Vargas.
“Ms. Persimmon, if you would come along with me, please, and let this gentleman pass . . .” She was good. She got Jana Persimmon out of the hallway, and Dr. Vargas gently took my mother out of my arms and escorted her back into her room.
“I think,” I said to Detective Russell, “I think I’d like to go lay down. Is that okay?”
“Which room is yours?” he asked.
I showed him.
It was supposed to be an “office or study.” It was the smallest room in the condo, the only one that didn’t have its own bathroom. It had a narrow strip of window, high up in the wall, so you couldn’t really see out.
I felt safe in it.
When we first walked into the condo with the realtor, Daddy swept open the floor-to-ceiling living room curtains with a flourish. He was so thrilled. “Look!” he cried. “I can finally see some sky!” Nineteen stories below the pure glass wall, Lake Michigan swashed and tossed to the horizon and the vertigo nearly knocked me down. I stayed pressed against the far wall the whole time we were in there.
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” he told me. “We’ll put in a wainscoting or something along the windows. It’ll be  fine.”
I did get used to it. Sort of. But I kept to my safe little viewless room a lot.
“Do you want Dr. Vargas to come see you in a little bit?” Russell asked me.
“He’s nice,” I said. “Just to see him . . .”
“I’ll tell him. You rest. We’ll be back tomorrow, okay? And talk.”
He left. I shut the door. I lay down on my bed. I stared at nothing. I didn’t even cry. It was too weird. It got quiet for a while.
Tap tap.
“Okay,” I said. The door opened and a little soft furry thing scrambled up on the bed: Dr. Vargas had brought Chica in to me. She danced and wiggled and licked my face. I hugged her, gulped, gasped, and began to cry. He petted us both sadly.
It got worse from there.


1 comment:

  1. Great book! Great writer! I would have never dreamed that a YA novel could be so enjoyable. Thank you Julie for sharing your incredible story with us. You're so talented.