Um, okay, so anyone who has ever read BEFORE I FALL or an early copy of DELIRIUM knows I am not the *most* concise writer in the world...thus my attempt at an intro to a Detroit story. I ended up writing waaaayyyy more than 250 words but...well, that's just the kind of writer I am!
Stories Do Not Always Have Introductions, But This One Does.
All lives are stories. They all have a beginning, a middle, and unfortunately, an end.
Pick any person at any moment in any place in the world, and that person is a story.
That man with the strangely large forehead on the train platform? He is a story. Perhaps his story begins, “Once upon a time, there was a man who was dropped on his head,” or “Once upon a time, there was a boy who liked to play baseball.” The old woman in her garden? She is a story too. Maybe the first line of her story is: “Once upon a time, there was a woman who loved apples,” or simply, “Carol Anne had always loved apples.”
Throw a dart; spin around in a circle wildly and point your finger; pick a name out of a hat. Stories, stories, everywhere, and little time to ink.
But this is not a story about a man with a big forehead who is waiting for a train; nor is it the story of the grocery store clerk. It is not a story about a babysitter who smells like pork dumplings, or a teacher who smells like milk, or a bus driver who yells too much.
This is a story about two friends, Holding and Easter.
Maybe you’ve read a story like this one before. Maybe you’ve read a story about a boy and a girl who are best friends. Maybe you’ve read a story about monsters, and misunderstandings, and magical bicycles.
That’s okay. Stories, like lives, are meant to be shared. They are meant to me repeated. That’s the second best thing about them.
The first best thing is this: they are always at least a little bit special.
This story doesn’t begin “Once upon a time.” This story begins, “Holding Perishables-Pyncher did not remember his mother, or his father.”
But you can be certain that it happened once upon a time.
And believe, too, that it is a fairy tale: and no matter how bad things get, like all fairy tales, it will have a happy ending.
Stories Do Need Beginnings, and The Beginning Is Here.
Holding Perishables-Pyncher did not remember his mother, or his father. (See? Didn’t I tell you?)
As far as he knew, he had never had either.
Instead, he had had a box.
He remembered the box vaguely—at least, he thought he did. Sometimes, just before dropping off to sleep in the narrow bed, squashed up against one of his foster-brothers, he thought he could recall the faint close smell of wilted lettuce and bruised peaches and wet cardboard and a sense of enclosure. He thought, too, he could recall the bright glaring sunshine overhead, and a cloud in the exact shape of a lion skittering across the blazing blue sky.
And then the lion, and the sun, and the sky, would be eclipsed by a looming red face, streaked and mottled with veins, and lips glistening with saliva, and a voice booming out: “Why for God’s sake. There’s a baby in this box!” And the image of Mrs. Pyncher—arriving so suddenly in the middle of a peaceful memory—would turn his dream, as she so often turned his waking life, into a nightmare.
Despite his humble beginnings in a box, Holding grew up more or less normal. He was skinny, but then again, so were all of the abandoned children living in Mrs. Pyncher’s home. There was not much food to go around, and she and Mr. Pyncher consumed most of what was available. He liked puzzles, and reading, and playing with the dogs that roamed the empty streets near Mrs. Pyncher’s apartment. He felt he understood these mangy and flea-bitten and semi-starving creatures. They, too, had been abandoned.
Holding had one major peculiarity, however: he had an extremely, an incredibly, refined sense of smell. He could smell the two beads of sweat that pricked up on Mrs. Pyncher’s palms whenever the social workers performed their routine monthly visits. He could smell rain before it began; he could smell a single flower, poking up through a bit of cracked sidewalk, from a block away.
And he could smell when people were lying.
When Mrs. Pyncher told nice Mrs. Talmadge, who visited once a month with a clipboard, how she loved all of her children and lived to make a good home for them, for example, the smell was overwhelming. Its stench filled the kitchen for hours afterwards, even as Mrs. Talmadge sat and took notes on a piece of paper, and looked over the children one by one. It was the single time the children were all allowed to bathe on the same day, and the single time Mrs. Pyncher laid out freshly washed and ironed clothes for them, and combed their hair.
The smell of lies was strange. It was a little bit sweet but also somehow wrong, off, spoiled—and unmistakable. It was the smell of wilted lettuce, and bruised peaches, and damp cardboard—and beneath it all, the sharp tang of car exhaust, the smell of rubber tires on a hard asphalt road, spinning off into the distance, and leaving a box behind.
You Will Learn More About the Main Characters Now.
Mrs. Pyncher had seventeen foster children, all of them named after the places they had been abandoned. Kings Highway-Pyncher had been three years old when he was spotted toddling along the shoulder of Kings Highway, choking on exhaust from the passing trucks. Orange Spring-Pyncher had been left in a dumpster. She was rescued by a passing nurse, who heard her crying, and had to unearth her from underneath a pile of orange peels and several busted mattress springs. The box in which Holding Perishables had been placed had at one point been used to cart produce, and the two words had been traced over and over along its corrugated sides.
Easter Pyncher, Holding’s foster sister and single friend in the whole world, believed that she had been delivered to Mrs. Pyncher’s doorstep in a basket on Easter Sunday. This was not true, but even Mrs. Pyncher—mean, short-tempered, cheap, and unhappy though she was—would not tell Easter the truth of her name. Some tiny, miniscule part of her heart must have still twinkled and flashed deep inside her chest, though the rest of it was as cold and dull as a rock, and she recognized that the story of Easter’s name must never be repeated.
The truth about Easter was this: She should have been dead.