Celtic Junction Arts Review
Excerpt of novel, “The Fevers”
Dad cursed the fishing lure as he threaded it onto the line. Then, as he flung his arm forward to cast, Evan stood up. I don’t know why she stood up— probably to get a better look at some seagull, but her movement was perfectly timed with the release of the fishing line. The hook grazed her cheek before snagging her upper lip. This is how we have matching scars.
When I was five, I fell off a barstool and bit my lip. Dad scooped me off the floor. My top lip was bleeding. I don’t remember falling, only being scooped up.
When Dad tried to take the hook out of Evan’s lip, she covered her mouth and screamed into her hands. I thought he was going to wrestle her like a fish, but he said, “Suit yourself.” Evan was crying hard now, tears falling into the cracks of her clasped fingers. Mom never went fishing with us and Dad never invited her, but I was mad at her for not being there. In fact, I hated her for it. Evan was still crying with her hands over her mouth. I stuck my face into her face and licked the tip of her nose. She stopped crying for a second and dropped her hands to giggle, and I ripped the hook out of her lip.
Her eyes grew from halfmoons to full moons as she stared at me silently. No one made a sound, except for the heat stroked cat panting softly on the floor of the boat. I gave Evan a towel and told her to hold it against her lip until it stopped bleeding. … Thunder rumbled in the distance, but there was no rain.
By the time the midday sun was beginning to dip behind the clouds, Dad was drunk, belting out songs he made up, his voice trailing off when he couldn’t think of a rhyme. The cat’s panting was also receding, a half beat behind the waves splashing against the boat. The sky shifted— subtly at first, blue giving way to green and then yellow, like layers of watercolor paint drying on top of each other until all the colors overlapped and the entire sky turned black. Clouds emerged from the unlit curtain of sky and then vanished like the skeletons of fireworks into smoke. The seagulls were gone.
I noticed the hair on my arms standing on end. … The cat started growling again. This growl was different— a grating whine like the throttle of a chainsaw. “Cassie! Your hair!” I didn’t need to ask Evan what she meant because the hair on her head was sticking straight up. Dad’s too. I felt the static drawing my own hair away from my face.
The cat yowled, and without saying a word, Dad picked up the cage and tossed it over the side of the boat. Air exited my lungs with a thud and where I wanted a scream, there was nothing. The cage seemed to sink in slow motion. I tried to speak, but a lump the size of an apple was lodged in my throat. .. The sweat on the underside of my thighs was sticky against the metal seat. …
White light enveloped the boat. It only lasted a few seconds, but those seconds stretched across lifetimes until I could see nothing at all. Not darkness— light. When lightning struck the stern of the boat, it sounded like a cannon. The whole boat shuddered as the blast ricocheted through the hull. I instinctively grabbed the steel frame of the boat, as if I were bracing myself for a crash. Electricity rushed towards the bow, past Dad who was standing and wearing his rubber beach shoes, past Evan who was still sitting on her life vest with her knees tucked beneath her chin, and into my hand. From my fingertips, the current shot through my arm, across my collarbone, down the arch of my back, and finally the sweat soaked skin of my thighs where it ignited and sent me into the air.
Lightning is constantly searching for something to connect with. It chose me, as if it scanned the lake the way a child inspects a crowd for a familiar face. And in the moment of recognition, the lightning grabbed my hand and pulled with the full force of the sky.
It was a sudden weight— a hot iron pressing my body from every direction at once, and as I flew backwards, … I couldn’t remember having ever been anywhere else— I had always existed in this intense light. …
Light flashed over the boat and surged through my body and held me—weightless and suspended in the air—my thoughts sucked out through my open mouth… I slid through the bottom of the boat, attached to my dumbstruck body by a thin string. I traveled faster with every passing second—the pressure swelling in my eardrums like balloons—descending in dark water, past schools of fish, through the bedrock beneath the lake, my nowhen-self slipping through silicate and rivers of slow-moving tar, until the string recoiled with a flick of an invisible wrist and I was spinning inside a child’s top. …
I was in the kitchen. Mom was cooking lunch on the stove and when I reached for the burner, she swatted my hand away. Mom stirred the soup with a wooden spoon. I noticed her belly, round and stretching her wool sweater. She was pregnant with Evan. I was four years old and I was about to fall off the chair and bite through my top lip.
I closed my eyes before I hit the floor and when I opened them, I was spinning again, underneath the water. … I remembered this, like a recurring dream whose details dissolve in the morning. I’d been here before and I’d be here again and some version of me had already ascended—was constantly ascending and descending like the circulation of blood to the lungs— and I was staring up at the sky in August 1987.
The clouds parted, revealing a strip of blue like torn fabric. I wasn’t sure how long I’d been lying on the floor of the boat. Well, not lying exactly— my legs were draped over the bench seat, bent at the knees, and the rest of me was wedged between Dad’s tacklebox and the empty beer cooler. I tried to push myself up, but my arms felt like wooden planks. It was the first time any of this felt real. Everything froze in place—my sister, my father, the boat, the lake all made of porcelain, birds cemented in the sky midflight—until I exhaled and saw that my hands were still there.
… My back was throbbing, the pain erupting into my skull and boring a hole through my eye sockets. I wanted to wipe the tears from my eyes, but I couldn’t move my hands. I knew from the veins bulging in his neck that Dad was yelling, but I couldn’t hear anything except the siren of my ruptured eardrums.
Evan was standing on the bench seat, the binoculars dangling from her neck, and squinting down at me the way you might investigate a meteor— her face contorted and quizzical as she tried to decipher what she was seeing. I still couldn’t hear, but when her lips peeled back against her baby teeth, I could make out the letter i. Then I recognized her misshapen r. She frantically repeated the same syllables until I made out the word “fi-ye.” Fire. And I could smell it, stinking like celery. The nylon casing of my life vest had burned away, its remnants dripping like candle wax and exposing the foam underneath. …
Deanna Larsen-Quinn is a neurodivergent queer writer who teaches creative writing and literature in prisons. Her poetry has appeared in PANK, The Northeast Review, Neon Magazine, and elsewhere. She received an artist’s grant for her speculative fiction novel, The Fevers, from Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council with support from the McKnight Foundation. Her many passions include street art photography, acrylic pour painting, learning languages, and providing a home for unwanted and abandoned tropical fish.