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4. JULIETTE: The Alligator in the Bathtub

uliette stood frozen in a corner of the disgusting room, staring wide-eyed at the chaos swirling around her. Her grandfather sprawled moaning on the floor. Her mother shouting and running around, talking on the phone, grabbing a blanket, but not really accomplishing anything.

And then the doctor, who her mother called George instead of doctor, hurrying in with his pajama shirt hanging down from his sweater, his gray-threaded hair standing up in spikes on his head, his eyeglasses held together with some sort of flesh-colored tape — tape! — at the bridge of his nose. How anyone could trust such a man to sell them a newspaper, never mind save their life, was thoroughly beyond Juliette.

Dragging after the doctor, sucking her thumb, eyes bleary behind glasses as thick as the ancient windowpanes of the apartment, was a tiny little girl wearing a ruffled pink nightgown and clutching a threadbare pink bunny. Even as the doctor was bending over Juliette’s grandfather, listening to his heart, peering down his throat, the little girl tried to hang onto the shirttail of her father’s pajama top.

“For God’s sake,” Juliette’s mother said, turning to Juliette and switching into French. “Can’t you amuse this pathetic child for us, Juliette?”

“She’s not pathetic,” the doctor answered, without looking up and in French that was much better than Juliette would have expected from anyone in Arkansas. “She’s just scared, is all, and unhappy about being dragged from her bed in the middle of the night by someone too bull-headed to call a regular doctor.”

He even used the slang tĂȘtu for bull-headed. Impressive.


7. JULIETTE: Are You A Black American?

s soon as Juliette was outside, she wished she were back in. It was so cold, nearly as cold as Paris, and her coat was upstairs.

But she was not going to go back up there, no way, not now. That doctor and her mother would have to get the old man to a hospital or something, and then they’d have to call one of those extreme cleaning crews that wore the gas masks and total rubber body suits to come in and hose the place off. There was no way she was going back in there again, not even for a minute. She was even going to burn her coat, her lovely coat from APC that she’d lined up at dawn practically to grab at the sale, and the entire contents of her suitcase.

The first thing she did was try to call Hugo, in Paris, but of course he didn’t pick up. Who even knew what time it was there? He was in school, or he was asleep, she could never keep the time difference straight. Or he hated her. That was probably it.

Then she dialed her father, heart in her throat as she listened to the phone ring, thinking about how totally pissed her mom would be if she knew Juliette was doing this. Well, who cared, fuck her, it was her own fault. “Daddy,” Juliette sobbed into the voice mail. “You’ve got to come take me away from this place.”

Immediately she felt like a complete fool. What did she think was going to happen, that one of them was going to swoop in from across the ocean to save her? That was so idiotic. And even if Hugo or her father did care enough to get her out of this god-forsaken hole, it would take them at least a day or something to get here. And she was on the street now.


17: JULIETTE: Two Lovers

lease,” Juliette said.

“Let me hear you say it in French,” said Jimmie Sue.

Juliette blushed. “S’il vous plait.” Though that didn’t really convey the begging quality, she’d learned via her Mom, you could get from a long, drawn-out American please.

“As you know, I do not have my cards, so I can’t guarantee that the reading will be 100 percent accurate.”

Juliette felt her face go even hotter. It was clear that Jimmie Sue was not going to tell her mother about her role in the fire. If Juliette did certain things, sometimes specific, sometimes vague, sometimes small, somethings big things that Jimmie Sue wanted.

“But you said there were other methods.”

“There’s the palm, that’s what we can do today. There’s staring into fire, but I have to be in the mood for that, and right about now fire’s kinda not sitting so well. But the cards are the best. Did you order those new cards for me like I told you?”

Yes, Juliette had. She’d gone online, as Jimmie Sue had instructed, and ordered a deck exactly like the old one, which should be here in a few days. She’d even paid for the cards with her own money.

“All right,” Jimmie Sue said, gesturing. “Let me see that pretty young hand.”

Jimmie Sue was sitting in Juliette’s grandfather’s bed, Senior snoring beside her although the lights were on overhead and the television blared in the background. Juliette and her mother had cleared and scrubbed the whole room, changed the sheets and the mattress pad and the blankets too. Cora had cleaned the kitchen, too, and cooked Juliette’s grandpa his favorite meal. They had gotten the whole house in pretty good shape, with the exception of her uncle’s room, which Cora just shut the door on and said she would not deal with.

The alligator in the bathtub turned out to be some giant sort of pet lizard of Jamie’s. Cora had put on oven mitts and kind of swept it, with Juliette’s extremely reluctant help, into a box sprinkled with cat food. It was difficult to tell whether the lizard was dead or alive.

They’d taped up the box and put it out in the cement garden for Jamie to take care of if he should ever show up.

“Ah,” said Jimmie Sue, raising her eyebrows. “That’s interesting.”


“You have two lovers.”

23. JULIETTE: Dude in Black


She’d suffered through this whole freaking first morning at school, wandering alone through the hallways, the other kids staring and pointing at her like she’d landed here from the planet Zebo, only to finally find her way to the lunchroom, locate the one freaking person her age she knew in the entire school — no, make that the entire country — and discover he looked like an alien himself.

Not like the cool hot guy she met in the gazebo, or smoked pot with at the Futureama.

But like that movie star, what was his name, in that movie, what was it called. Like this:

Except not with the shades and not looking happy. All hunched over and sitting alone. Not only was the entire rest of his table empty, but the kids had left a clear circle around him stretching at least half a lunch table on every side. It was like he had AIDS, the way they thought about it way back in the last century.

For a second she thought maybe she’d just turn around and walk the other way. He seemed even more of an outcast than she was. Figures, that the one kid she’d meet would be the biggest loser in Arkansas, which, from what she could tell, would be really saying a lot.

But then she thought: Fuck it. He was cute that night. Funny. And if the other kids in this stinking place thought he was a loser, that was probably saying something good about him.

She walked over, aware that everybody was watching her.


29. JULIETTE: You’re Ruining My Life

uliette had just taken the final cut when her mother burst into the bathroom.

“Oh!” Cora said, like it was all a big accident. “Sorry. We need to get a lock….”

It was only then that her mother seemed to focus.

“What the hell have you done to your hair?”

Juliette shrugged, like it was no big deal. Like she hadn’t been standing there working on it for the past four hours.

“I’m cutting it. And I just made it a little darker. And straightened it.”

“Jesus, Juliette.” Cora came closer, her face contorted, and lifted one of Juliette’s new black spikes. “Your beautiful long wavy hair. Why on earth would you do this?”

“It was time for a change,” Juliette said, all nonchalant. “Isn’t that what you keep telling me? That I have to be open to change, to new experiences? Well, here I am.”

Now her mother’s eyes were moving down her body.

“What is that you’re wearing?”

“It’s cool. I bought it at the thrift store.”

It was an idea she and Darrell had cooked up, standing behind the bleachers during lunch period. Since he was stuck wearing his stupid Malcolm X suit, she was going to start dressing exactly like him. See if they could start some kind of crazy fad together. She’d found this suit in a little boy’s size, made for a kid’s confirmation or graduation or something like that, for $2 at the church thrift store, which had vintage clothes people would pay hundreds of Euros for in Paris. In fact, just as soon as Juliette could scrape the money together, she was going to buy up a bunch of stuff from there and ship it to Hugo to resell for her. Then she’d use the money to get herself a ticket back to Paris and out of this hellhole forever.

“You look ridiculous,” Cora said. “You look like PeeWee Herman or something.”

“PeeWee….you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Juliette said, pushing past her mother and going to retrieve her backpack. “I’ve got to go to school now.”

“You can’t go to school looking like that.”

“I’m going.”

“Don’t you need a ride?”

“I can walk.”

Darrell walked. In fact, she had to hurry to meet him on their designated corner, out of site of both their houses.

Was he really a murderer? Juliette found that hard to believe, but she liked it that everyone else thought so. Today, she was going to take a picture of the two of them in their weird matching outfits, with her new haircut, and send it to Hugo. See what he did about that.

“You’re breaking my heart,” said Cora.

“Yeah,” said Juliette, “well, you’re ruining my life.”

Read Juliette’s side of the story.

Peek inside Juliette’s Secret Diary.

33. JULIETTE: Tongues

he church looked even bigger from its wide front steps than it did from the road, its white edifice looming over her, the steeple with its glimmering gold cross seeming to reach all the way to heaven.

It felt as imposing as Notre Dame, or even more so. At least with Notre Dame, you knew what you were going to get: a centuries-old solemnity and a reliable brand of peace. Whereas in this foreign place, Juliette had no idea what was going to happen.

She’d expected to have trouble finding her way to where the Youth Group was meeting, but she just followed the teenagers, white and black, who seemed to be swirling all around her, laughing and talking as if they were normal kids and not complete religious freaks. Most of the boys were wearing some variation of the suit and tie and white shirt that Darrell’s uncle made him wear to school, and the girls looked like they’d stepped out of a rerun of Little House on the Prairie.

Juliette had dressed in one of her grandmother’s printed silk numbers, with a flowered straw hat perched atop her newly black hair and old lady pumps on her feet. Her mother had looked at her oddly, unsure whether this outfit was better or worse than the torn cut-offs and black belly shirts Juliette had taken to wearing.

“You look…..nice?” Cora had said uncertainly. “Where are you going in those clothes?”

“I’m going to church,” Juliette said, her chin in the air, as if that were the most normal thing in the world.

“What’s this all about?” her mother asked, frowning.

“Does it have to be about something?” Juliette said. “Can’t I just want to be close to God?”

That shut Cora up. Jimmie Sue gave her a sharper look. Spooky: It was harder to put anything over on the old fortuneteller than it was to fool her mother, but whether that was because Jimmie Sue had real psychic powers or just a keener nose for trouble, Juliette wasn’t sure.

“Now, boys and girls, we’ll join hands, and rise up! Up, boys and girls, lift your hearts up to God!”

Juliette had to insert herself between two girls, both of whom gave her dirty looks, and grab their sweaty hands. In fact, the whole room smelled like body odor, as if all those fake silk dresses and too-big suit jackets had gone too long between cleanings.

Many of the kids had their eyes closed and were chanting along with the Darrell’s uncle the minister, who Juliette had come to think of as That Asshole Dwayne.

40. JULIETTE: Into the Woods

he woods were so much darker than she’d expected.

She stopped, enormous black trees looming overhead, mysterious sounds — bears? wolves? — emanating from the endless forest that surrounded them.

“Maybe this was a mistake,” she told Darrell.

He was already twenty steps ahead of her and it took a moment for his footsteps to stop their crunch-crunch-crunching through the deep dry carpet of dead leaves. Finally, he turned to face her.

“Well, of course it was a mistake,” he said. “We never should have left town. We shouldn’t have left the church in the first place.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, raising her arms and letting them flap back down at her sides. She wasn’t accustomed to second-guessing herself, or apologizing. “I guess we should just go back.”

“Go back? We can’t just go back! There’s no way we’ll find our way out of here at night.”

She sank down onto the leaves, let herself flop onto her back and stare up at the starless, moonless sky. The ancient running shoes she’d found in the charity bin, so comfortable when she first put them on her feet, were now rubbing and chafing, worse than nothing. The old man pants kept falling down, and the shirt smelled like her grandfather, before her mother and Jimmie Sue gave him a bath. She wished she could call her mother to come get her right this very minute. But while her phone still had juice, they were too far from anywhere to get a signal.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Darrell said.

“I can’t go on. I’ve got to get some sleep.”

“Are you crazy? You can’t sleep out here in the woods. You’ll get eaten by something.”

“I don’t care,” she said. “Anything would be better than just walking walking walking till our feet fall off. We’re probably going to get eaten by something anyway.”


43. JULIETTE: Savior Behavior

t last, the American monsters were asleep.

The lights still blazed overhead, but Juliette could hear both of them snoring like pigs. The bed above sagged in the middle so low to the ground that she and Darrell were forced to opposite sides of their hiding place. If one of the disgusting snorting hogs had needed to reach under the bed for a dropped nipple clamp, perhaps, he (or she: the woman seemed the worse of the two) would surely have discovered Juliette and Darrell cowering there.

But they’d had desultory sex with no climax, they’d tossed and turned and muttered, they’d farted and fought, and now, miraculously, they were asleep. It was time for Juliette and Darrell to escape.

Darrell had kept his eyes squeezed shut for much of the ordeal, but now Juliette snaked her hand over and tapped him, pointing over her shoulder to signal that they should make their break.

She was astonished to see him shake his head no.

No? NO???? Was the boy an idiot? Did he plan to lie there all night, perhaps get up in the morning and cook the druggie murderers above them some breakfast?

But he was still shaking his head, looking terrified.

She made a face that was meant to signal, What the fuck? But his only response was to keep shaking his head and to look even more scared.

There was no arguing. And she certainly did not plan to lie trapped beneath the monsters’ bed one second more than she had to. Let Darrell be too frightened to move. She was not going to let him keep her imprisoned there with him.

With a little Heidi Klum wave and smile, she slid back and got swiftly to her feet. God, that light was so fucking bright. She couldn’t believe she was standing there fully exposed in the room, the monster couple — not so very large, now that she was looming above them — curled back to back beneath a rag of a blanket.


48. JULIETTE: The Mockingbird

uliette sat up in the pine tree, far above their heads, holding very very still. She could see and hear them perfectly. If she wanted to, if she dared to, she could have pissed on their heads.

“Where’s that little cunt gone to?”

It was the guy speaking, his disgusting gut hanging over his pants. Any Frenchman who found himself in that kind of shape would jump into the Seine from pure shame.

“I think I seen her go down there,” the woman said, jutting her chin downhill.

I seen: Even Juliette knew that wasn’t right. It was nearly beneath her dignity to escape from these two morons.

“She ain’t down there,” the guy said scornfully, stroking the gun he held as he looked around. “I have the feeling she’s still right around here somewhere.”

Juliette held her breath. Please God, if you just get me back to Paris, I’ll give you anything, she thought. I’ll become a nun. Or at least go to church every week, for real.

The woman looked around too, but without much interest. “What difference does it make?” she said. “I gotta go to sleep.”

With that, the guy reached out with his gun hand and shoved her. “What difference does it make? She’s seen us. She knows where we are. If we let her go, she’ll run right out of here and tell the cops we’re here.”

“She’s just a kid fooling around. Plus we sleep a few hours, take off anyway. Nobody’s gonna find nothing.”

“You don’t know who she is or what she’s up to. This all could be a trap. Hell, she could be the police herself.”

Juliette felt a giggle escape with that, which was luckily covered over by a hoot of laughter from the woman.


52. JULIETTE: Dreams and Nightmares

ugo leaned in close. “All these people,” he said, “they are absolute morons, no?”

Juliette was about to laugh and agree, but then she looked around. Darrell, whose gaze she’d been trying to avoid: He was weak, maybe. But he definitely was not a moron. Darrell’s mom, working to put herself through college and get into medical school: not a moron. The vet, the fortune teller, even her mom: not morons, any of them.

“They may not be as sophisticated as Parisians,” she told Hugo, hearing the prissiness in her own voice, “but they’re smart, and they’re all good people.”

Smart? Good people? Had she been brainwashed, out there in the pine tree? This was Hugo in front of her, her dream come true! Shouldn’t she be telling him how miserable she was here and how much she hated everyone? Shouldn’t she be begging him to take her away?

“I think this place is terrible,” said Hugo. “I hate it here.”

He was trying to speak English, so with his heavy accent, it sounded like he said “I ate it ear.” Juliette felt a giggle bubble from her lips.

“I don’t know what is the matter with you, Juliette,” said Hugo. “It seems as if you are not the girl I kissed goodbye on the Boulevard St. Germain.”

“That’s right!” Juliette said. “I am not that girl! I’ve changed, Hugo. I’ve been through a lot.”

She was afraid for just a second there that she was going to start sobbing. This was the first time she’d let on to anybody that what had happened out in the woods had affected her. To the rest of them, even her mother, even Darrell, she’d pretended that it was no big deal, fun even. But she’d been having these visions, these dark thoughts.

“You should come back to Paris,” said Hugo. “We’ll go to the cafes, to the clubs, and this will all seem like a bad dream.”

“I don’t think I can walk away from this and act like it never happened. Any more than I was able to leave you and Paris and forget you existed.”