Title: A Night Twice as Long
Author: Andrew Simonet
Published: June 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
What do you call the difference between what you should feel and what you do feel? Life?
The blackout has been going on for three weeks. But Alex feels like she’s been living in the dark for a year, ever since her brother, who has autism, was removed from the house, something Alex blames herself for. So when her best friend, Anthony, asks her to trek to another town to figure out the truth about the blackout, Alex says yes.
On a journey that ultimately takes all day and night, Alex’s relationships with Anthony, her brother, and herself will transform in ways that change them all forever.
In this honest and gripping young adult novel, Andrew Simonet spins a propulsive tale about what it means to turn on the lights and look at what’s real.
I wake at dawn, tangled in a heap of blankets, hugging my pillow. My open window is letting in chilly air and a riot of bird- calls. How’s a recluse supposed to sleep?
I’m dreading telling Anthony I can’t come. I should have done it last night.
I’ll bring him snacks for his journey. I think we still have granola bars.
I shut the window and flip the light switch.
Nope. Day twenty-two.
My mom taught me this trick to figure out if you’re dreaming: Try to change the lighting. Turn a light on or off in a dream, and nothing happens. Our unconscious doesn’t know about electricity, because it’s too recent. Once, I dreamt of a flood, watching from my window as a car floated by, a bewildered kid staring out from the back seat. I pulled the chain on my desk lamp. She was right. Nothing.
I creep along the green hallway carpet, past my mom’s room. Silence. Past my brother’s room. Dangit. My mom’s twitchy breathing. She’s whimpering, maybe half-asleep, in Georgie’s bed. Again.
Jesus, Mom, we talked about this. Georgie’s bed doesn’t help you sleep. It doesn’t help anything.
My breakfast waits on the kitchen counter: two packets of instant oatmeal, not cooked but soaked in water overnight. It’s a gloopy room-temperature treat. Cinnamon & Spice tastes pretty much like Maple & Brown Sugar, gritty and sickly sweet. I’m not hungry.
In the bathroom, the window by the toilet glows gray blue with the first light. I’m getting better at moving around in the dark and near dark. We all are. We moan about the blackout— the inconvenience, the stress—but mostly, we adjust. It’s wild how quickly your animal senses come back. From our yard, I can hear a door close two blocks away.
On the shelf with the hairbrushes and deodorant, our phones are optimistically, pointlessly plugged in. It’s my mom’s old rule: When you brush your teeth before bed, you’re done with your phone. For now, we’re really done with them.
I think of all the messages and stories and pictures that flowed from that cracked dark screen the minute I turned it on in the morning. Every day for the last three weeks, we’ve asked: When is that coming back?
This morning, I think: Maybe it’s not.
Maybe none of it’s coming back.
Maybe these veterans will say it’s time to bury our phones, time to move on.
Georgie’s bed, five feet above my head, creaks and clunks as my mom rolls over.
Maybe the blackout wiped everything clean. Maybe the treadmill we all trudge on, our heads down, has stopped.
In the mirror, I’m a silhouette, a gray outline, my frizzed-out hair making me vague and approximate. My mom coughs out a string of sobs, high-pitched and whiny, like giggles. Our floors are thin, and her whimpers, so soggy and immediate, could be mine. It’s karaoke weeping. My reflection is sobbing. I am the one stranded and stricken.
I bring a hand to my mouth. No, I’m not sobbing. I’m not collapsed in my little brother’s bed. I am standing.
I pull my hair back, and my bangs droop forward. I’ve hid- den under this mud-brown tangle for months, letting it grow. It’s the untended hedge of a deserted house. It’s the frayed screen door Anthony knocks on, trying to coax me outside.
Sweet Anthony, the one person who still shows up, he needs me today. He said so.
All right, shut-in. Time to tear the screen door off. Time to chop the damn hedges down.
I look for scissors. Clippers would be best, but, with the power out, scissors will have to do.
Wait. Georgie’s clippers are rechargeable.
Bottom shelf, behind the cough medicine and the broken hair dryer. I thumb the ridged switch to on. That hard snap as the clippers start, then the soothing hum. The first electricity I’ve touched in days.
Upstairs, my mom blows her nose, the bleat of a party horn.
As dawn turns the white bathroom tilesgold, I run the clip- pers front to back, like I used to for Georgie, the pitch falling as my thick hair clogs the blades. Heavy coils tumble silently. I knock the clippers clean on the counter, building a nest of me in the sink, a soft mound of what I’ve been carrying.
The first rays of sun show my true outline. This is where I begin. This is my edge, my boundary. I look like my brother: My ears stick out, my nose is big, and my eyes droop.
I pull off my shirt, itchy with hair, and see my round belly and my pale scalp, my thick arms and my scrawny boobs. I am uncovered.
I’ve been hiding for a year. I take my hair off and I’m visible. I silently thank Georgie for the clippers.
Georgie. He hates haircuts. You can’t use scissors, cause he
might flinch or grab them. And you can’t take him to the barber. Mom tried.
“You don’t owe me anything, lady, just get your kid out of here!” the barber yelled after Georgie smashed a jar of disinfectant on the floor, bright aqua swallowing clumps of brown hair. Georgie’s half-shaved head bobbed down the side- walk, arms in the air, celebrating his escape.
So we got the clippers. His haircuts last ninety seconds: Put the number one guard on, the shortest, run it front to back. It made him look mean, punchy, like a military kid, his normal I-smell-something cringe turned into a scowl.
I could use a second pass now, but the charge ran out. I’m uneven, patchy. Stubble, not hair.
All right, Anthony, let’s go find some truth.
Andrew Simonet is a choreographer and writer in Philadelphia. His first novel, Wilder, published in 2018. He co-directed Headlong Dance Theater for twenty years and founded Artists U, an incubator for helping artists make sustainable lives. He lives in West Philadelphia with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two sons, Jesse Tiger and Nico Wolf.
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