Kelly Link reads an excerpt of the story "Light" from her latest collection, Get in Trouble, published in February by Random House.
two men, one raised by wolves
The man at the bar on the stool beside her: bent like a hook over some item. A book, not a drink. A children’s book, dog-eared. When he noticed her stare, he grinned and said, “Got a light?” It was a Friday night, and The Splinter was full of men saying things. Some guy off in a booth was saying, for example, “Well, sure, you can be raised by wolves and lead a normal life but—”
She said, “I don’t smoke.”
The man straightened up. He said, “Not that kind of light. I mean a light. Do you have a light?”
“I don’t understand,” she said. And then because he was not bad looking, she said, “Sorry.”
“Stupid bitch,” he said. “Never mind.” He went back to his book. The pages were greasy and soft and torn; he had it open at a watercolor illustration of a boy and a girl standing in front of a dragon the size of a Volkswagen bus. The man had a pen. He’d drawn word bubbles coming out of the children’s mouths, and now he was writing in words.The children were saying—
The man snapped the book shut; it was a library book. “Excuse me,” she said, “but I’m a children’s librarian. Can I ask why you’re defacing that book?”
“I don’t know, can you? Maybe you can and maybe you can’t, but why ask me?” the man said. Turning his back to her, he hunched over the picture book again.
Which was really too much. She had once been a child. She owned a library card. She opened up her shoulder bag and took a needle out of the travel sewing kit. She palmed the needle and then, after finishing off her Rum and Rum and Coke—a drink she’d invented in her twenties and was still very fond of—she jabbed the man in his left buttock.Very fast. Her hand was back in her lap and she was signaling the bartender for another drink when the man beside her howled and sat up. Now everyone was looking at him. He slid off his bar stool and hurried away, glancing back at her once in outrage.
There was a drop of blood on the needle. She wiped it on a bar napkin.
At a table nearby three women were talking about a new pocket universe. A new diet. A coworker’s new baby; a girl born with no shadow.This was bad, although thank God not as bad as it could have been, a woman—someone called her Caroline—was saying. A long, lubricated conversation followed about over-the-counter shadows—prosthetics, available in most drugstores, not expensive and reasonably durable. Everyone was in agreement that it was almost impossible to distinguish a homemade or store-bought shadow from a real one. Caroline and her friends began to talk of babies born with two shadows. Children with two shadows did not grow up happy. They didn’t get on well with other children.You could cut a pair of shadows apart with a pair of crooked scissors, but it wasn’t a permanent solution. By the end of the day the second shadow always grew back, twice as long. If you didn’t bother to cut back the second shadow, then eventually you had twins, one of whom was only slightly realer than the other.
Lindsey had grown up in a stucco house in a scab-raw development in Dade County. On one side of the development there were orange groves; opposite Lindsey’s house had been a bruised and trampled nothing. A wilderness. It grew back, then overran the edges of the new development. Banyan trees dripping with spiky little air-drinking epiphytics; banana spiders; tunnels of coral reef, barely covered by blackish, sandy dirt, that Lindsey and her brother lowered themselves into and then emerged out of, skinned, bloody, triumphant; bulldozed football-field-sized depressions that filled with water when it rained and produced thousands of fingernail-sized tan toads. Lindsey kept them in jars. She caught wolf spiders, Cuban lizards, tobacco grasshoppers yellow and pink—solid as toy cars—that spat when you caged them in your hand, blue crabs that swarmed across the yard, through the house, and into the swimming pool where they drowned. Geckos with their velvet bellies and papery clockwork insides, tick-tock barks; scorpions; king snakes and coral snakes and corn snakes, red and yellow kill a fellow, red and black friendly Jack; anoles, obscure until they sent out the bloody fans of their throats. When Lindsey was ten, a lightning strike ignited a fire under the coral reef. For a week the ground was warm to the touch. Smoke ghosted up.They kept the sprinklers on but the grass died anyway. Snakes were everywhere. Lindsey’s new twin brother, Alan, caught five, lost three of them in the house while he was watching Saturday morning cartoons.
Lindsey had had a happy childhood. The women in the bar didn’t know what they were talking about.
It was almost a shame when the man who had theories about being raised by wolves came over and threw his drink in the face of the woman named Caroline. There was a commotion. Lindsey took advantage of it and left, in a leisurely way, without paying her tab. She caught the eye she wanted to catch. They had both been thinking of making an exit, and so she went for a walk on the beach with the man who threw drinks and had theories about being raised by wolves. He was charming, but she felt his theories were only that: charming. When she said this, he became less charming. Nevertheless, she invited him home.
“Nice place,” he said. “I like all the whatsits.” “It’s all my brother’s stuff,” Lindsey said. “Your brother? Does he live with you?”
“God, no,” Lindsey said. “He’s . . . wherever he is.”
“I had a sister. Died when I was two,” the man said. “Wolves make really shitty parents.”
“Ha,” she said experimentally.
“Ha,” he said. And then, “Look at that,” as he was undressing her. Their four shadows fell across her double bed, sticky and wilted as if from lovemaking that hadn’t even begun. At the sight of their languorously intertwined shadows, the wolf man became charming again. “Look at these sweet little tits,” he said over and over again, as though she might not ever have noticed how sweet and little her tits were. He exclaimed at the sight of every part of her: afterward she slept poorly, apprehensive that he might steal away, taking along one of the body parts or pieces that he seemed to admire so much.
In the morning, she woke and found herself stuck beneath the body of the wolf man as if she had been trapped beneath a collapsed and derelict building. When she began to wriggle her way out from under him, he woke and complained of a fucking terrible hangover. He called her “Joanie” several times, asked to borrow a pair of scissors, and spent a long time in her bathroom with the door locked while she read the paper. Smuggling ring apprehended by____. Government overthrown in____. Family of twelve last seen in vicinity of____. Start of hurricane season____. The wolf man came out of the bathroom, dressed hurriedly, and left.
She found, in a spongy black heap, the amputated shadow of his dead twin and three soaked, pungent towels on the bathroom floor; there were stubby black bits of beard in the sink. The blades of her nail scissors tarry and blunted.
She threw away the reeking towels. She mopped up the shadow, folding it into a large Ziploc bag, carried the bag into the kitchen, and put the shadow down the disposal. She ran the water for a long time.
Then she went outside and sat on her patio and watched the iguanas eat the flowers off her hibiscus. It was six a.m. and already quite warm.
Excerpted from Get in Trouble by Kelly Link. Copyright (c) 2015 by Kelly Link. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.