When the continental United States becomes uninhabitable, the last survivors of America have to move to an island, in Anna North's bleak, beautiful America Pacifica. Here's an exclusive excerpt, in which some street performers reenact the end of our world.
America Pacifica, out today, is the debut novel from Iowa Writers Workshop graduate (and Jezebel contributor) Anna North. Here's a section from chapter two:
In the not too distant future, eighteen-year-old Darcy lives on the island of America Pacifica –- one of the last places on earth that is still habitable after the second ice age. While a few rich families indulge their nostalgia with hamburgers and baseball, most Pacificans –- Darcy included –- crowd together in cramped tenements and subsist on jellyfish and seaweed. Soon Darcy is forced on a quest through the dark underbelly of the island, a journey that will take her through Pacifica's corrupt history and make her an indispensible part of its future. In this excerpt, Darcy returns to her home on the Avenida de la Reina and waits for her mother Sarah to come back from her job as a pearl-diver.
When Darcy got home it was dark, but still hot. The smell of rain was heavy as a lid on the air. A street show was going on outside her building. The players came to the Avenida on nights and weekends hoping for spare change, and they usually did one of three routines — girls getting their clothes accidentally torn off, a trained monkey in a business suit dancing around with a briefcase, or a group of men acting out life on the mainland and the origin of the island. This was the mainland show — the Mainland family were huddled together on the sidewalk, shivering. The North Wind was blowing all around them and scattering Seaﬁber snowﬂakes.
"What will we do?" asked Mrs. Mainland, a big man whose chest hair peeked out the neckline of his dress. "Our crops are dead and we're running out of cats to eat!"
Sarah wasn't back yet. Darcy let herself in and started getting dinner ready. She set the steak, still in its bloody napkins, on a stack of old romance ﬂyers in the cool spot under the window. She plugged in the hot plate, then opened a can of chopped onion. In the mini fridge she found half a can of peas, not yet foul smelling. The pan was dirty. She took it to the bathroom to wash it in the sink. Augusta Beltran was there before her, mixing water with her baby's powdered formula. The baby himself was strapped to Augusta's chest — he looked at Darcy with his tiny alien eyes and
began to wail.
"He's just hungry," Augusta said, and she shook the liquid until it went white. "My bus broke down and I had to walk back here from Chicagoland, and it took an hour and a half and I stepped in monkey shit, and he wouldn't eat when my mom tried to feed him, for whatever reason, so of course he's starving —"
Darcy gave her a polite smile and turned away. Augusta was lonely — she worked ten hours a day on a refrigerator assembly line where no one was allowed to talk, and her husband had gone insane and wandered up and down the Avenida talking about some kind of conspiracy, and if you stood next to her for any length of time she'd tell you a story so sad you didn't want to get out of bed anymore.
The plate was hot when Darcy got back. She set the clean pan down on it, and the water sizzled underneath.
"Mrs. Mainland," said Mr. Mainland outside Darcy's window, "I'm sorry that it's come to this, but we're going to have to eat the children."
Heavy boots clomped on the stairs; Verano Ortiz must be back from the reﬁnery. Darcy heard his wife come out to kiss him. Sarah was late. Verano almost never got home before her. Maybe she had taken an extra dive. Darcy unplugged the hot plate. When her mother dove till dark in search of extra pearls, she came back looking like a sea creature — her eyes big and staring, her ﬁngers long and white and cold like the clammy toes of some underwater salamander. Her hair and skin smelled like the ocean, and her speech was always vague and abstracted, and she forgot the names
Darcy unfolded and refolded her mother's worn-out jumpsuit, her own old school uniform, her one extra T-shirt. She straightened her dolls — rocks with Seaﬁber skirts wrapped around them — and the cheese-food can cut into the shape of a crown that she'd worn for dress-up as a child. She wiped the dust off An Animal Atlas of the West Coast, the only possession her mother had saved from the mainland. Outside, Mr. Mainland was getting ready to butcher his children. He sharpened a big Seaboard knife on a chunk of rock. The children — two fat men in old-fashioned
sailor suits — mewled and cried.
The alarm clock read 10 p.m. The electricity would be going out soon. Darcy lit the oil lamp — the sweet smell of solvent came crackling up. Then she plugged the hot plate back in and ﬁlled the pan with steak, onions, and peas. A prerational part of her brain was taking over, and it was telling her that Sarah was more likely to come when she was distracted. She stirred the onions and ﬂipped the steak. She shook some cheese powder into the pan. She tried not to listen for footsteps on the stairs.
On the street below, Founder Tyson arrived at the Mainland family's house. Mr. Mainland was chasing the children around. The actor playing Tyson was wearing a red coat trimmed in fake white fur, high-heeled shoes, and white gloves. He put on a high, patrician voice.
"Oh dear! This riffraff is going to commit murder. Whatever shall I do?"
Two guards walked by and the actors froze. The guards' atti tude toward the street shows was unpredictable. Usually they approved of references to mainland culture —- cowboy bars and baseball teams and even Elvis impersonators supposedly got subsidies from the Board. But those were Old Mainland, before the ice — newer memories didn't get the same privileged status. Darcy had once seen a guard handcuff a player for making fun of Tyson, and shove him into the back of his shiny black-and-white car. When the guards turned the corner onto Fifteenth Street, the Tyson actor gave his forehead an exaggerated wipe, then shifted back into character. One of the children stopped running and stood up to Mr. Mainland.
"Wait, Daddy," he said, "don't eat us. I have an idea. What if we make a boat and take it over the ocean to where it's warm outside? Then none of us will have to die."
"That's a grand idea," trilled Tyson, running into the scene.
"Let's tell everyone! And don't worry, young sir, you'll get all the credit. I won't take any of it at all."
The audience outside laughed, and then the electricity went out. Darcy sat in the folding chair in the waxy orange light of the oil lamp. Even if her mother had taken a dusk dive, she should be home by now. It was 10:45. The latest Sarah had ever come home was 3 a.m. Darcy had been eight. Before that she had never worried about Sarah. But that night she had looked out onto the Avenida de la Reina and seen it riven with cracks, ﬁssures her mother could slide through that would take her somewhere far away that Darcy could never reach. A bus could run her down, or the man selling solvent on the corner could shoot her with a gun. The two big boys in muscle shirts could kidnap her, the girl gang drinking beer in the alley could beat her up, the guard in his patrol car could arrest her for a made-up crime. Or her bus could explode, or she could drown during a dive, or — most disturbing of all — she could decide to walk away and never come home.