‘The Half Life of Molly Pierce’ (Book Excerpt) by Katrina Leno

Katrina Leno

Katrina Leno’s debut novel The Half Life of Molly Pierce was published by Harper Collins. She is currently living in Los Angeles. Read her interview here.

Below, you can read an excerpt from her book, The Half Life of Molly Pierce. Courtesy: Katrina Leno.

The Half Life of Molly Pierce (Book Excerpt) 

There are long stretches where I don’t remember anything.

I wake up in my car.

I’m driving, but I don’t know where I’m driving to and I don’t know where I’m driving from.

But it’s my car. And my things are in it.

I just don’t know how I got here.

It’s only been a couple hours. I remember what I put on this morning and I’m wearing the same clothes. A pair of black tights. Jean shorts, a tucked-in flowered shirt. A gray sweater, worn and pilled.My favorite sweater.

The clock in my car doesn’t work and I can’t find my cell phone, so I don’t know what time it is. But it’s still light out and it’s October now, a warm October, and it must be around two or three. The sun goes down so early. Did I miss school again? Sometimes I miss school. What’s the last thing I can remember? Ten o’clock? Eleven? History—I can remember history. We’re studying the Second World War. I’m in precalculus. I can’t remember calculus. I’ve been out since ten thirty, eleven.

I check my body for bruises, for cuts, pressing fingers into my stomach and arms, checking to make sure I’m okay. Sometimes I’m cut up all over and sometimes there are twigs and leaves in my hair and once I was halfway to New York, driving too fast, and I had to pull over to the side of the road and catch my breath and figure out where I could turn around.

I live in Massachusetts, by the shore. A town called Manchester-by-the-Sea. That’s the whole name of the town. The people here, they get angry when the tourists abbreviate it. But we can call it Manchester.

It took me four hours to drive back. Two tanks of gas. I broke curfew by three hours and I was grounded the entire weekend. Grounded for something I can’t even remember doing.

It started a year ago and I haven’t told anyone about it, even though it’s only gotten worse. I can’t tell anyone about it because . . .

There are a lot of reasons.

I’m scared they’ll think I’m crazy.

I’m scared they won’t believe me.

I’m scared there’s something really wrong with me.

And so far, I’m handling it. I’m dealing with it.

Usually it’s no more than an hour or two and sometimes it’s only ten minutes. Sometimes I’ll be watching a TV show, and then I wake up standing in my backyard and the same TV show is still on. So I can catch the ending, which I guess is good. Although I have no idea what’s happened up until then.

And apparently I don’t do anything too obvious. Because I’ve been around people before and nobody ever seems to notice. Nobody except Hazel, really. But Hazel notices everything.

Hazel is my sister. She’s thirteen. It’s her and me and Clancy, our brother. He’s fifteen, a sophomore. I’m Molly. I’m a senior. I’ll be eighteen soon.

Clancy never notices anything.

But Hazel.

She’s asked me about it.

I act like she’s crazy, which is the easiest thing to do.

Once I asked her if I ever seemed different.

She said yes.

But it was in a way nobody else would ever notice.

I said, What do you mean?

She said if I was going to keep secrets from her, she was going to keep secrets from me.

It happens once a week, maybe. Every other week. Sometimes more.

I don’t know what it means.

I’ve thought about it and . . .

It scares me.

It leaves me feeling sort of hopeless and unable to control my own body. We’re supposed to be able to do at least that, right? To tell our feet to move and suddenly we’re walking. To tell our arms to lift and our tongue to talk.

To tell our brains to remember.

To commit something to memory.

I think there’s something wrong with me.

I mean . . .

I guess I know there’s something wrong with me. There has to be.

I get these headaches. Migraines. Sometimes they’re really bad; sometimes I have to stay home from school and I have to lie still in bed and keep the blinds closed and sometimes I throw up into the yellow mixing bowl my mom puts on the floor next to me.

My therapist says they’re related to my “emotional difficulties.”

Those are his words, not mine.

He also calls it depression.

I don’t like calling it that.

My mother calls it my melancholy. But I don’t like calling it that, either.

But it’s something, sure.

It’s just . . .

I have to see a therapist once a week and I have to talk about my life and about my problems, but I won’t take the pills anymore. I took them for a while, but I don’t like them and so I stopped taking them. They take away the lows but they take away the highs, too, and so you’re left floating in a strange in-between of colorless, tasteless moments.

And it’s not like . . .

I don’t want to kill myself.

It’s just that sometimes I can’t understand anything, and sometimes it feels like the whole weight of the universe settles itself on my shoulders and I can’t see the reason for anything. I don’t want to die, really, but I don’t particularly want to live.

Sometimes I wish I could slip away while I sleep. Wake up someplace better. Someplace quieter.

But I don’t believe in heaven, so I’m not sure where that place would be.

I made the mistake of telling people this. So I was sent to a psychiatrist.

And it’s gotten better since then.

I don’t know.

Sometimes it’s fine. Sometimes I’m fine.

Other days.

It’s hard for me to have a conversation. It’s hard for me to get up, brush my teeth, comb my hair.

It’s hard for me to face my friends at school. It’s hard for me to write a research paper. It’s hard for me to take a breath. Air, sometimes, seems too thick. Tastes like smoke.

I don’t know why I feel that way. I have a great life. It’s perfect, really. My parents are fine. My brother is fine. My sister is fine. My friends are fine. Things are fine.

This is what I keep telling my therapist, but he keeps making me go back and back and back.

He says, Do you sometimes get the feeling you’ll never be happy?

I say, Don’t we all?

He writes something down on a little pad of paper.

I say, I was just . . . That was a joke. I was joking.

He says, Do you always joke like that?

I say, Oh god, Alex.

He lets me call him Alex.

I haven’t told him about my missing time.

Like I said, I haven’t told anyone.

I kind of want to . . .

Just figure it out. See if I can figure it out by myself.

I just hate thinking there’s a part of myself I don’t understand. That I can’t control, that I can’t tame, that I can’t stop. That I can’t change. It makes me crazy. It makes me angry. It makes me scared. It’s scary.

One minute you’re in history class and it’s ten thirty in the morning, and the next minute you’re driving your car and you can’t find your cell phone and you don’t know what time it is and how many hours you’ve lost and where you’ve been and what you did and whether you haven’t just lost your entire fucking mind.

That’s what it feels like. Like I’ve lost my entire fucking mind. Like I’ve gone crazy and like I’ll never be normal and like I should just pack my things the second I turn eighteen, move to Alaska or Scotland or Romania. Get as far away as I can from everyone I love and just lead my life in a quiet town, knitting sweaters and selling them on street corners to pay my rent and buy food.

I can’t knit. I would learn.

I look at myself in the rearview window. I look the same as I looked this morning. I have my hair in a bun and I look tired. I’m on Water Street, I’m driving through the touristy section of town; there are small shops on either side of me. My parents own a shop here. Was I coming to see them? There it is, on the right. By-the-Sea Books. I work there after school some days. They only pay me minimum wage. I know for a fact the other cashiers get more. My parents say yes, but the other cashiers do not get dinner and a place to live and clothes to wear and a car to drive.

Fair enough.

I put my signal on and take a left onto Prince Street.

Should I go back to school? Make up some excuse about where I’ve been? Sick grandmother? I use that excuse a lot. My grandmother is dead. All my grandparents are dead. No one knows that, I guess. You say sick grandmother and people don’t usually ask questions.

Right on Allen Street.

I’ll go back home, take a shower, take a nap. Be back at the bookstore by five and hope they don’t call my mom before then. Tell her I skipped out again. Maybe they’ll call my dad. He’s a lot easier to deal with. He gets flustered and takes any excuse I give him with a hint of gratefulness. He just wants to believe I’m not crazy.

I don’t want to go back to school. It’s hard to get back into the sway of everything after you’ve been outside yourself for a few hours. Or inside yourself.Or next to yourself. Somewhere else. Who knows?

Left on Prescott.

That’s when I see him.

There’s more traffic on Prescott. It leads into the center of town and it spans the length of Manchester. Quickest way through.

I see him from far off in my rearview mirror. I don’t know what makes me see him. The motorcyclist. He’s dressed in black. Black jacket, black helmet. He’s going too fast. He’s weaving in and out of traffic and I know something awful is going to happen before it happens. I feel like I’ve seen him before, the boy on the motorcycle, and I feel like I know it’s inevitable, what’s about to happen. He’s speeding through cars, he’s riding the yellow line, he’s gaining on me, and I know it’s me he’s coming for. It’s me, I’m the reason he’s speeding. He’s trying to catch up to me.

But that’s crazy.

I look up as the light turns yellow, but I’m already halfway through the intersection so I keep going.

The boy on the bike, he’s not slowing down. The cars around him are stopping for the red light, but he’s speeding up and he’s trying to beat the traffic that’s already crossing Prescott on Jacobson.

For a second I think he’s going to make it.

But then he doesn’t.

The truck hits his back tire and he’s in the air and I’m screaming without realizing it, braking without meaning to, and I lose him somewhere over the roof of my car. The squealing of tires and the crash as a second car hits the truck that hit his bike and suddenly the boy has landed on the road in front of me. He’s flown off his bike and clear through the air over my car, and I don’t know how I’ve gotten out of my car but I’m out and I’m still screaming and I’m running over to him like, I don’t know. Like I can save him. But there’s blood on the pavement and there’s blood leaking out of his helmet and his leg, one of his legs—it’s broken, it’s bent all wrong. And I know he’s going to die. I don’t know how I know but I know, and I fall to the pavement in front of him and I pull his helmet off. Because why? Because I don’t know. It’s all I can do.

His eyes are open. He’s gasping for breath. His eyes are green, his hair is black,his lips are red with blood that’s choking up out of his mouth.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, I say and I pick his head off the pavement and cradle it in the crook of my elbow and there’s blood all over my sweater. My favorite sweater and there’s blood all over it.

Fuck, I say. Please don’t die. I can’t watch you die.

He catches his breath a little. I wipe the blood away from his mouth with my spare sleeve and I’m crying suddenly; I didn’t realize I was crying. This stranger is going to die and I don’t want him to die. Please don’t die. Please don’t die.

His eyes focus on my face. His eyes meet mine and run over my mouth, my neck, my ears, my hair. Back to my face, my eyes.

“Mabel,” he says.


“I’m not . . . Look, it’s okay, you’re not going to die.”

“Molly,” he says.

He said Molly?

He said my name?

How do you? How do you . . . How do you? How do you?

“How do you know my name?” I whisper.

“I fucked up,” he says.

“How do you know my name?”

“It’s me,” he says. “It’s Lyle.”

“I don’t . . .”

I don’t know you.

“Please don’t leave me.”

“I’m not going to leave you.”

“I fucked up again. I always fuck it up. I just. I wanted to see you again. I couldn’t . . . I had to try.”

“I don’t know who you are.”

“You can’t leave me,” he says. “You have to stay with me until I die.”

“You’re not . . . Don’t say that. You’re not going to die.”

You can’t die in front of me.

“I’m going to die,” he says, “of course I’m going to die. I feel like I’m going to die.”

“You’re . . . you’re not making any sense.”

“You were starting to . . . Molly, please. Don’t leave me.”

“How do you know my name?”

He’s choking again; fresh blood is bubbling out of his mouth and all I can see is the red of it spreading out in one big puddle on the pavement. His eyes are rolling backward in his head, and suddenly I’m aware there are people standing around us. People screaming, a woman crying. He’s going to die.

“Lyle!” I yell. I shake him. “Lyle! Wake up!”

His eyes flutter open again; I wipe the blood from his mouth.

“Don’t die, please,” I beg.

“Get in the ambulance,” he says and then I can hear it, the ambulance, the sirens. “Ride in the ambulance with me. Tell them you know me. My name is Lyle Avery. My cell phone is in my pocket. Call my brother. Tell him . . . tell him where to meet us.”

“I don’t know how you know me,” I say. I choke. “I don’t know who you are.”

“I know,” he says, “but I had to try.”

The sirens are getting closer. The ring of people around us is growing, but nobody tries to help. “Please don’t die,” I whisper.

“You have to call my brother. In my phone. His name is Sayer.”

Sayer Avery.

“I don’t know who you are,” I say weakly.

“At least pretend,” he says. “I need you to pretend.”

The woman sobs louder. Lyle coughs again, and blood sprays from his lips and gets all over me.

He’s going to die. He’s going to die and there’s nothing I can do.

In the times I’d like to black out, I am forced to live. To be aware.To witness.

In the times I’d like to wake up hours away from where I am, miles away from where I am, I am here. Here watching this boy I do not know take ragged, choking breaths. His teeth stained red. His eyes all white.His cheeks draining of color.

“Lyle,” I say, and he focuses on my face again. “Lyle. You’re going to be okay.”

I love you and you’re not going to die.

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