In his exquisitely crafted first novel, Samantha, Marco North uses the highly-distilled, episodic writing style, that is the hallmark of his poetry and short stories, to peel back the skin on Samantha Worth, an emotionally scarred veteran of abuse, poverty, and neglect. Like a combat-weary soldier, Samantha belly crawls through the minefield of her life, always closer to a trip wire than she is to the safety of the other side
“Shockingly beautiful and quietly disturbing.”
— Eric Grignol, editor Re:Verse! A Journal in Poetry
“Marco North’s sharp eye and crystalline prose make Samantha a disturbing but gripping novel. A powerful work of fiction.”
— Randolph Splitter, editor Red Wheelbarrow Literary Magazine; author Body and Soul
“High speed and crackling with emotional intensity, Samantha is unforgettable.”
— J.V. Morrissey, editor/publisher Stray Dog
Faces improvised themselves behind the monotonous voices that circled her, as the sun lit the ceiling. Later, the fluorescent lights went on and then off. Pills in little paper cups came with fingers shoving her head forward to swallow. Rough sponges washed her with lukewarm water. The smell that was like rubbing alcohol and chalk came and went.
Samantha didn’t open her eyes for two days.
Her concentration kept washing away down drains and onto a winter beach. The image of a kitchen table she had known, or the first chords of Soul Love whispered just outside of earshot.
She knew that the tubes were feeding her, but her stomach was empty. She craved potatoes with gravy, and chocolate ice cream.
A pair of voices became familiar to her. One was deep, the other high and sweet. They would roll her and there would be a cool draft and their work. They would chatter back and forth. They would leave.
Once Samantha heard the small voice say, “Hey Walter - Linda says hello.”
The words were the only phrase she could remember. She retold them to herself. Hey Walter - Linda says hello. Her voice almost sounded like the high sweet one. Hey Walter - Linda says hello. She chanted it as she breathed in and out. She did not stop to decipher the message, and connect one voice with Walter. She made it into music. Hey Walter - Linda says hello.
She made it into a private joke but did not laugh.
says hello - Hey Walter - Linda
When they let her wake up, she yawned on her sunny pillow. She asked Walter what was for lunch. His big eyebrows motioned towards her IV.
He rested a giant hand on her shoulder.
“I’ll go tell the doctor you’re up now.” He said.
Sam sat up a little and looked around the room. Someone was behind the drawn curtain to her left, snoring lightly. The snowy view of afternoon in some town was outside the window. Some carnations sat in a plastic vase next to her. They had been there a few days.
She sighed and her breath stuck in her throat for a few thunderous heartbeats. The air was shivering. She carefully rested her head back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling.
Wary footsteps padded up to her ears. She listened to someone breathing.
“Samantha?” He asked.
“Samantha - my name is Doctor Lane. How do you feel?” He asked.
She blinked twice.
“Can you speak?” He asked.
She pretended to try to speak and made a creaking noise in her throat.
“OK. OK. No rush here. Now, you are just going to rest and I’m going to get you a pen and paper and you can write down anything you like - what you need, what you might think, anything.” He said, shifting his weight back and forth, folding and unfolding his fingers.
Once Walter had left her the pen and paper she began drawing right eyeballs on the corners of the pages. She drew a large one made up of smaller ones. She began to plan a mural of right eyeballs, staring back at everyone that passed it.
Sam dreamt of a sphinx and imagined that everyone in Egypt had two right eyeballs on one side of their face and looked like flounders. In the dream she laughed at them.
Sam woke up late at night and turned on her lamp. The person behind the curtain was crying.
“Hey.” She croaked, barely above a whisper.
The crying continued with a slow and steady patter.
“Don’t cry.” Sam said, straining against her dry throat.
She rested for a moment, conserving energy.
“Don’t.” She wheezed from her empty stomach.
She tried to swallow a few times.
Samantha knocked the vase and some magazines to the floor and her hands began to hurt.
The crying stopped.
The quiet whir of a heat vent was the only sound.
She looked down at the bandages on her wrists and felt dizzy, her elbows throbbing to the sound of her heartbeat.
The camels ran in the distance on winding roads that were stained purple. Later, she sat next to Jennifer in the pale blue Dodge Dart.
They were driving in a cold river, upstream.
Morning brought soggy pancakes and a tiny container of juice. The salt and the sugar in the food tasted good. A flat gray sky hovered over the limbs of the tree outside her window.
Linda brought her some pajamas and led her down a hall to a large room full of tables. People in robes were making shapes with small lumps of clay.
“Have a good day.” Linda whispered in her ear and gave her a light shove through the doorway.
Sam found an empty seat with a brown cube of clay waiting at a table. She stared at it for a moment and decided to make David Bowie’s face. She started with the eyes, making sure they were far enough apart.
A fat boy with glasses started throwing blocks of clay at the window for no reason.
“Hard core! Hard core!” He shouted and sat down with a proud smile on his strange face.
A girl yelled at her piece. “I was shitting! I was shitting!”
Sam lowered her gaze, avoiding eye contact with the girl.
“You fucking whore! You fucking turkey bitch! Just shuttup! Just fucking shuttup!” The girl said, and froze. Then, she dove under her table.
A dark haired boy sitting next to Sam fell asleep and began snoring.
Sam kept working on the eyes, happy her fingernails were brown with clay. She decided everything going on around her was some sort of afternoon tv show with crazy commercials.
Later, they sat in a circle. None of the chair legs were right. Everyone rocked quietly, making little clicks on the newly polished floor. Dr. Lane folded and unfolded his fingers as he watched the fat boy. The fat boy stared back with one eye, the other looking wildly around the room.
“No no no Dr. Lane. I like the clay.” He said, a strange frown on his face. “The clay is . . . fun.”
“But not to throw.” Dr. Lane said.
“No. Not to throw.” He said, and hung his head, looking at his shoes.
“What will you make with your clay?” Dr. Lane asked him.
The swearing girl snickered under her breath.
“Helen.” Dr. Lane said, holding a palm out to her.
She kept mumbling.
“A puppy.” The fat boy said, under his breath.
“A what?” The doctor asked.
“A fucking cat bitch tablecloth!” Helen yelled and froze. She did not blink.
“Alright Helen.” The doctor said quietly.
The snoring boy fell asleep, snoring very loud.
The fat boy broke a sweat trying to stay in his chair. He leered at Sam who sat next to him.
“Cock sucker Fireman! Cock sucker Fireman!” Helen said and tried to hide underneath her folding chair.
The fat boy knocked Samantha sideways to the floor.
“Sandanista! Hard core!” He yelled.
She went limp, not curling up, not moving.
She reminded herself that the tv show was on until four o’clock.
Before Dr. Lane and Walter and Linda pulled them apart the fat boy lay next to her.
“A puppy.” He whispered in her ear, his thick Long Island lisp leaving a trace of spit on her cheek.
They were brought back to their rooms one by one.
Samantha listened to a quiet song on the AM station and drew daisies around her page of right eyeballs. She scratched at the gauze and tape on her wrists. Her skin flushed. She grew warm and prickly. A cool draft blew across her cheeks from the window.
She closed her eyes and listened to the air going in and out of her.
“Oh yes, we are due to change those.” Linda said, touching Sam’s elbows so that she would lie back into the bed. The bandages were peeled off. She opened her eyes and stared at the red welts. Linda forced a smile and gestured for Sam to close her eyes.
She felt like a little girl, seeing the sun through the thin red skin of her eyelids. The new bandages didn’t itch so much.
She fell asleep with the radio on.
The lavender afternoon brought dreams of bent forks. There were windows and buildings so close to recognition that she wandered inside them for long stretches of time. The air was cold, showing the tiny breaths she made. There was a long field of clover that hummed with bees and a box of Hershey bars going soft in the noonday sun.
Egypt came again, with a swarm of flies that nibbled invisible specks of dust from her bare feet. A wind hot with sand scrubbed her cheeks.
Samantha woke up in the middle of the night. She stared down at her hands crossed over her waist and the bandages on her wrists. She moved inside them, testing their presence. She went to the window.
A light snow fell on the parking lot, fluttering around the streetlights.
She had to pee.
A quiet moment passed, counted out by a traffic light.
Sam stared out the window as the urine sped against her legs, eventually pattering on the floor. The traffic light went green. Sam stepped out of her wet pajamas and walked out into the bright hallway marked with paths of red and yellow and blue tape.
She ran naked through the halls, past nurses and orderlies, past old people in wheel chairs gazing up at her in terrified slow motion.
The bandages were pulled from her wrists and tossed gently into the lap of a sleeping man. A cup of coffee spilled on the floor by his chair.
They found her singing Ziggy Stardust to a candy machine, laughing at the Hershey Bars and the reflection of her naked body in the glass door that separated them.
copyright © Marco North
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