Jennifer Thorndike’s debut novel “Ella”

(An excerpt)

Translated by Andrea Reisenauer & Gabriel T. Saxton-Ruiz



I sit on the edge of my bed. I have in my hand the only worthwhile note that you left me. You slipped it to me the day you broke a bottle of wine on my door, remember? I had bought it at the supermarket and left it in the kitchen for you as a gift. I knew it was your favorite brand. I knew you couldn’t drink it. A million pills, no alcohol whatsoever. Later I went to lock myself in my room and waited for you to enter the kitchen. I imagine your face discovering the bottle, alone in the middle of the wooden table, like an undesirable reminder of your limitations, of all that you couldn’t do. I imagine your rage, momentarily contained, while you advance like a beast to confront my closed door. You hit it with your fists and feet, but the door played on my side and resisted your pounding. Then I heard the bottle shattering violently against the wood. Slim threads of claret appeared below my door and began advancing until a small puddle formed.

On the other side, your voice repeated the same threats as always. But I was not listening to you. I caressed the tiny drops with my hand, stretching them and creating figures while the wood absorbed them. I concentrated on the reddish tonality that glistened on the parquet floor, on the figures that I was forming, and all of a sudden I saw them transform into blood, into your obliterated body in the metro station. Calm yourself, please. I don’t want to be at fault. The door trembled with the violent insistence of your blows, and I feared that in any moment it would end up giving way. So I stood up and went to open it for you. I told you to leave. You disappeared down the hallway without saying a word, but in an instant, you returned with a broom and wet rag in your hand. Standing beside me, you kept watch and made sure I obeyed what you commanded. I, kneeling at your feet, picked up the shards of glass and counted. I cleaned and counted. I waxed and counted. I counted until there was nothing left to clean. The next day when I read the note that you slid under my door, the reasons to count became all the more necessary.

Yesterday I wanted to talk with you, but your prank only demonstrated how inconsiderate and uncaring you are. I was thinking that your brother will no longer send money when I die. But, since I do worry about you, I have decided to list you as the beneficiary of my life insurance policy. With that money you will be able to do something when your mother is gone. I have left the papers in a white suitcase where I keep important documents. I hope God softens your heart and that you come out to see your mother, who is alone in this world and only has you.

That was the first time, by far, I could glimpse the possibility of attaining a life apart from her. I did the calculations. It was impossible with all of her ailments that she would live past eighty-seven years old. She suffered or had invented too many maladies; she had taken too many pills. Eighty-seven years old: that was my worst case scenario prediction. In any case, it was the only thing giving me free reign to maintain hope that when all is said and done, I would have a few years to start over again.

But you surpassed the eighty-seven years and then some. And now, squeezing the note with my wrinkly hands, my heart begins to beat strongly again in spite of my premature old age. I enter your room one more time. The corpse is no longer there, the saints of plaster and their thousand eyes have already disappeared. With nobody to judge me, I open the closet to look for the white suitcase and dig through the papers in search of the insurance policy like a famished animal. I see myself as the only beneficiary. It is real. A sticky note in your writing indicates the number I need to call. I pick up the phone. A person lets me know that my ID and your death certificate will be sufficient.

I hang up the phone and my heart beats so fast I’m scared I’ll have a heart attack. I get some fresh air and breath. I do not worry. I understand if I die it will certainly be because I’m to be born again.


“This excerpt is part of  the novel (ELLA) by Jennifer Thorndike,  it will be published by Literature Random House in 2016”.