Can You See Anything Now?, a debut novel, follows a year in the small town of Trinity where the tragedy and humility of a few reveal the reality of people’s motivations and desires.
Margie: early in the morning
Of all of the ways that Margie Nethercott could kill herself, she found it hard to imagine a better way than fading out of the universe with the help of a palmful of pills. Preferably of the white, chalky type, chunky disks of tiny particles forced together via mechanical arms and metal plates in some factory deep in South America, where the coca leaves shading the whole affair smirk from the jungles. Yes, but, with the Brave New World comes a certain ease in offing oneself, and with this ease comes monotony. Suicide should contain a bit of drama. Something. Pills were anemic, and guns were terrifying. Drowning, on the other hand, had stood the test of time. Smooth, simple, and metaphorically appropriate in light of the lungs filling with liquid and air bubbling upward like packets of life that pop at the surface.
And so it was that very early in the morning on September twenty-third, Margie tied a large stone to her ankle and let it pull her to the bottom of the lake.
The plan was well thought out. The rock, in fact, was predetermined, having been chosen by Margie weeks earlier as she walked by the water contemplating her latest diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and feeding her escalated state of sorrow with tidbits from remembered misfortunes of her youth. The rock itself was a comfort. It had the slightest green tint of algae, one side hugging the mud and slop of the immobile water. She spied it on her evening walk, coming down the hill and around the lake. The size was right. The placement and color. The tone.
The time—she had left her bed at 3:07 according to the glo-green digits of her alarm clock—was random. Margie, lying in bed, stone still herself, listened to the tiny wheeze exiting Nick’s too small nostrils for more than fifteen minutes before she was satisfied he was asleep. Sometimes Nick worked through the night on his thinly imagined magnum opus, a work that called on much obvious material to state what was already obvious to those inclined to reflect on such things as the obvious emotional manifestations of imperfections—ours, theirs, or some abstract combination thereof. She often came downstairs to find him on the couch with his laptop, hunting and pecking the keyboard, a hungry determination on his face as his small dark eyes darted about in sync with the hasty movements of his fingers.
She had some rope and a section of fishing net. The silty grey hue (Margie pictured everything in colors and hues) of her life was just the plain fact of it. Being alive was not an off or on thing, it was a spectrum, where death hovered somewhere mid ambit and she’d been a flickering thing for years. Things that made her feel real: art (her own, not someone else’s), sometimes reading, sometimes music, physical pain. This time she would end her life with an appropriate last breath in the middle of the night in the quickening breeze of early fall, giving way to the Weekeepeemee (the lake) like a soldier on his own sword.
She dragged a canoe across a patch of sand and pushed the bow into the water where it wobbled atop the tiny waves, lifting the load from Margie’s arms as though in gentle affirmation of her intention to kill herself. She set the rock—with the rope and the net—into the bottom of the canoe and pushed hard so that it slid off the sand and into the water and the darkness toward an old swimming raft floating on oil drums 40 yards out. Back straight, she sliced a paddle into the water, gliding quietly forward, stars across the sky.
Once on the swimming raft, she shoved the canoe away with her foot—a kick with a bit of lazy anger behind it—and set to wrapping the rock in the net and tying the rope to the net and then her ankle. The sky was dark but for the stars. The water was black. Still, there wasn’t the void that she had imagined—she knew the edges of the lake, the sloping hill beyond, the soft haze of certain light across the sky that hinted at the more nocturnal part of town, and these things felt to her like intruders. She sat at the edge of the raft.
Gripping the rope tightly, she slowly lowered the rock into the water, stalled for a moment, and let go. The rock tugged her ankle down first, then her leg and she tightened her lips. She felt the firm tug in her leg and then also in her torso, as though the rope was tied to her heart and gently yanking it, the way she remembered the placenta, after Noel was born, finally easing out of her as the doctor pulled at the umbilical cord. She gripped the edge of the raft and the rough wood dug a fierce line into the back of her thighs, one leg sunk deep into the water, the other floating near the surface and ready to follow. Small swells of water flapped cool around her half-sunk leg and a breeze only strong enough to muss a few strands of hair touched the side of her face. She stared at the waves. It was entirely possible to feed oneself with sorrow to the point that, above or below the water, a turning would happen. A redirection. The canoe wandered alone, a dark oblong shape now nosing the shore. Margie looked up at the stars. The stars were her friends, she thought to herself, before slipping into the water and letting the rock sink down, tugging her body in one very fine movement with a solid, hapless jerk.
As she slipped into the water the rock sank into the slop of mud at the bottom and yanked her under. She felt the tiny pings of rough mud and sand hit her legs as the rock kicked up debris from the bottom. And then, in a way that she understood as her natural, her instinctual desire to live, she found her head above water after all, her Puma clad feet balancing on the very rock that was supposed to bring her demise that dark finger of a morning. It was unclear whether the lake was low because of high temperatures and the recent short-term drought, or whether her memory had simply failed her. She hadn’t been in the lake for five years. It was not as deep as she had remembered.
She stood on the rock with her chin tilted up for two hours, cavernous air above, half floating, half standing, her arms bearing nothing but the waif-like currents of the lake as the stars faded and a low fog settled over the water as per its morning routine. A group of ducks squawked, winging over her, and splashing a wake as their thin legs reached forward, guiding them into a synchronized landing. She relaxed, making threads of her limbs, and slipped under the water to rest her neck and arms and then came back up, face wet, blinking water from her eyes.
A few early walkers and joggers began to appear, coming down the short hill and rounding the corner and back up the other hill. She could see Cecilia Henley, the woman with the twins and the back yard strewn with Little Tykes play things, her thick thighs jugging left and right, large feet pointed slightly out as she began the climb, as though the street was the large trunk of a tree and here she needed to wrap herself around it, grip it between her legs, and keep her focus on the sky. Cecelia Henley tilted her head back as she ran, gasping, knees out, feet out, pavement passing slowly beneath her. It was a funny thing to watch.
Margie let herself pee and felt the cloud of guilty warmth around her for a moment before it gave way again to the cool water of the Weekeepeemee. Her limbs were by now sucked clean of any vitality, their structure loosening—bone, muscle, and nerve dividing into a useless, rubbery mass. She had no choice but to call out.
“Hello?” She tilted her head back farther when she called and the white morning sky blinded her. “Hey!”
A jogger stopped and hesitated, turning toward the lake. He put his hands on his hips, breathing hard, and walked curiously to the edge of the water. It was James O’Neil, she could tell because of his stocky size and—even from far away—the purity of his face, that look of wonder that he always had—eyebrows up towards the middle of his forehead like he never could quite figure out something or like there was an element of surprise for him in the most mediocre things. He wore a green shirt with white lettering and grey athletic shorts. He stretched his head forward and squinted, peering across the water. “Hello?” he called out.
“It’s Margie Nethercott!”
Excerpt from chapter 1 of Can You See Anything Now? by Kate James. Available for purchase at Amazon or your favorite bookseller. Used with permission