SISTERS OF THE LOST NATION – Non-Exclusive Excerpt
The house shook from the force of the slammed door. Grace, upside down on the sofa, one foot over the headrest and her head hanging over the edge of the middle cushion, stopped babbling into the phone and moved the receiver from her ear.
“Saw it again?” she said, and smiled at her big sister in a way that some might have found mocking, but which Anna interpreted more affectionately, as though the smile were part of an inside joke they’d shared for years.
“It was a raccoon,” Anna said, panting, trying to believe her own words instead of the nagging doubt at the back of her mind telling her that what she’d seen was much more human than that.
“You only come home this sweaty when you think you’ve seen it.”
“It was a raccoon,” Anna insisted. “Maybe an armadillo.”
Grace flicked her eyebrows and went back to babbling into the phone, speaking in a dialect of breakneck gibberish called “Idig.” Anna knew how the language worked. The infix “idig” was inserted at certain points within each word to disguise it. “Ball” became “bidigall.” “What” became “whidigat.” “Hello” became “hidigellidigo.” Grace and her best friend, Emily, had become fluent in the ridiculous language. Anna could interpret a word or two when she listened hard, but she wasn’t quick enough to completely decode her sister’s conversations. Their parents were even worse. They hadn’t a clue what Grace was saying.
Grace had started speaking “Idig” a year before Anna first entered the condemned trailer. Anna loathed the sound of the cumbrous language. Partly because Grace chose to share it with Emily instead of her, and partly because it was so fake. It turned Grace into something fake as well, eliciting phony expressions, gestures, and laughs.
More upsetting was that Grace had started sneaking out through their shared bedroom window, coming and going through the night, sometimes staying out until dawn, never telling Anna where she was going or when she’d return. And Anna, hoping to win Grace back, never snitched, despite knowing deep down that she should.
“Dinner in ten. Grace, hang up the phone. Anna, check on your grandmother,” Dorothy, Anna’s mother, said from the stove.
Anna tossed her bookbag onto her bed. She could hear her father making a racket in the yard, the thin walls no match against his resonant voice. Her brother, Robbie, was out there with him, aiming at things in the trees.
Anna pushed aside the old bedsheet tacked up in the entryway between the former dining room and the kitchen where her mother was spooning Hamburger Helper onto plates. “Everything all right?” she asked.
Grandma Joan’s eyes snapped open, and her head sprang forward. A glistening tongue slid over dry lips as bony shoulders hitched up to earlobes. “I fell asleep again. Don’t even know what time it is,” she said, her voice ragged in her throat.
Anna let the sheet fall behind her, thinly closing off the former dining room, cramped with a bed, an armchair, a small table, a slew of boxes, and a wheelchair in the corner. “You closed them again?” Though the day would only remain lit for a little longer, Anna moved the curtains aside to welcome a bit of life into the drab room.
“What’s it matter?” Gran said. Her words, slow and slurred, leaked through the gap between her lips on the right side of her mouth, which drooped a half inch lower than the left side. Anna was almost used to her grandmother’s new way of speech, but though it’d been six months since the stroke, she still wasn’t used to that saggy piece of lip. Sometimes the droop made her angry. Sometimes she was just glad Gran could still speak.
“Sunlight helps you feel better,” Anna said.
“Did you read that?”
“It’s a fact.” Anna swept breadcrumbs from the table next to Gran’s chair, then dropped onto the edge of the bed just a foot away. “Good day or bad?” she asked.
“Hard to tell anymore. How was school?”
Anna sighed. “Eight more months.”
The left side of Gran’s mouth curled up in a show of support. Her left hand, wavering, reached for the top of Anna’s head while the right one, marginally withered, remained still atop the armrest. Anna lowered her head. Gran’s hand absently brushed through Anna’s hair, as it had so many times when Anna was small. Knotty knuckles and crooked fingers swept well below Anna’s shoulders, like always before, only now Anna’s hair ended at her ears, not the small of her back. Still, Gran’s hand brushed through the air in search of the braids that once hung there.
Excerpted from Sisters of the Lost Nation by Nick Medina Copyright © 2023 by Nick Medina. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.