Deep Lie the Woods, excerpt

Meg Wolitzer • Fiction

“Stay here, both of you,” my mother says after she and my father have planted us in a corner of Furniture World. “We’ll be back in an hour. Literally do not move.”

My father and mother are already starting to walk away into the enormous space. At 9 years old I understand very little about either furniture or the world; what I know, though, is that this place is a repository for the dullest objects anywhere. Now Naomi and I must stay motionless in a corner of the store, which has been done up to resemble a countrified family room. There is nothing here for us. Furniture World does not care about our need for emotional entanglement, or our need to turn aimless cartwheels whenever we feel like it. Our need to suddenly stop what we are doing and engage in an elaborate clapping game. Our need to list our friends in order of preference in a notebook, and then again in reverse order. Furniture World takes none of this into account, but simply exists in its hulking, unforgiving way, humming with the sound of its gigantic air conditioning unit and the secondary under-hum of men and women discussing how they will decorate their homes.

Looking out over the floor, I see a congregation of heavy, ornately carved dining room tables. I also see low-slung sofas of green and orange plaid, and one, right near me, of a nautical pattern that in ten years will make a shocking cognitive reappearance when I take mescaline as a freshman at Rutgers.

“What are we supposed to do?” I ask my sister. “I didn’t even bring anything.”

“You don’t always have to bring something,” she says with contempt. I am still someone who believes that I need things in my hands, or at least that I need to clap my hands against another set of hands. I need to be doing. Thinking is not enough. But Naomi is saying to me, Thinking is enough, which is a very new attitude for her. At 12 she’s nearly in a state of not needing devices or props, but not quite.

We stand in the middle of the family room, and then both of us see the Scrabble set at the same time. It’s on a shelf, recognizable by its maroon box. The one we have at home, the one we have played many, many times with our parents, because we used to consider ourselves a games family, is in much worse shape. The one at home is flattened and has score sheets floating around inside it that say P, T, N, and L, all those familiar initials game after game, though in recent years my father started to say that he didn’t want to play. And then it was just T, N and L, and sometimes just N and L, when my mother dropped away.

This story was made possible in part by support from Hugo House

Emily Gilbert