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An Excerpt from
We Can’t Help It If We’re From Florida: New Stories from a Sinking Peninsula

Release Date: Nov. 7, 2017
Hardcover  |  200 pgs  |  $24 
ANTHOLOGY | Fiction & Essays
Available to the trade via Itasca
or your preferred wholesaler

From the story
by Laura van den Berg


One summer, when I was in the tenth grade, a brain-eating amoeba killed a boy I knew. This amoeba found him when he was river swimming in Florida, not far from where my sister and I lived, and after I heard that he died, and heard how he died, I wondered if an amoeba was eating my sister’s brain too, only a little at a time. I thought this because when asleep she did things like roam backyards and sidewalks; get stuck in hall closets and hedges, in doghouses and treeforts. One night, she got lost in the cool florescence of a neighbor’s open freezer, where she was found eating peppermint ice cream with her bare hands.

Later my mother would say there was no way to know, an excuse to fall back on randomness or god or the movements of the planets instead of owning up. There are moments that foretell the future, that create an unmistakable blotch on the horizon, an eclipse—it’s all there if you want to see it.

For example.

When she was fifteen, my sister sleepwalked into a 24 hour 7-Eleven. The cashier found her staring at the snack cakes—and then, he said, she disappeared. He went to call the manager and when he came back she was gone. As it turned out, she had just continued into the bathroom, where she turned on all the faucets, but when he put her name and the word “disappear” in the same sentence: the distant eclipse flared.

After the 7-Eleven incident, our parents took her to a psychiatrist, who referred her to a sleep specialist in Palm Beach, who prescribed benzodiazepine and recommended installing alarms on the windows and doors. For a while the drugs seemed like a cure, but when we were in college on opposite ends of the state—I was where Ted Bundy got his start—she confessed on the phone that she still sometimes came to on a quad or in a parking lot. “Aren’t you ever afraid to go to sleep?” I asked her and she told me no: she was only ever afraid of waking up.

Years later, in a sleep clinic in College Park, I get the feeling my own story will not end well. When the doctor appears in the examining room, the first thing I think is: she looks exactly like my sister. And then I think: no, she absolutely does not. And then I think: yes, the more I look the more she does. And then I think: stop these crazy thoughts right this minute!

Dr. Ryan is the right age and height: early thirties, five-foot-eight. Her face is a perfect oval and her eyes are storm-sky blue and her ears stick out a little. The does so part of my brain overlooks the slight underbite and the bump on the bridge of her nose—for who is to say my sister could not have acquired those features over time?

She introduces herself as though we’ve never met. The does so part of my brain points out that my sister could be brainwashed or have amnesia; there is no evidence to prove otherwise. Dr. Ryan is reviewing the details of my upcoming overnight, but I keep firing back with questions about where she grew up and how long has she been practicing and does she remember what she did for her twenty-fifth birthday.

“My twenty-fifth birthday?” Dr. Ryan repeats. She adjusts her glasses, my sister never wore glasses, I keep going.

“What, may I ask, is your favorite fruit?”

My sister’s was the kiwano melon, which we only knew existed because our mother studied abroad in Australia. A kiwano is orange and spiked and the insides look like a jellied cucumber.

Dr. Ryan frowns. “Whatever’s seasonal, I guess.”

Right then it’s decided: I will bring Dr. Ryan a kiwano melon and see how she responds.