SUGAR TOWN QUEENS
From LA Times Book Prize Award Winner and Edgar Award Nominee Malla Nunn comes a stunning portrait of a family divided and the bonds that knit our communities.
Coming August 3, 2021!
Today is Friday; a school day. On school days, I wear a uniform. Blue skirt or pants, white shirt, black shoes, and white socks. A black sweater or a black blazer for now in winter. Nothing fancy but Miss Gabela, the principal, is clear about the rules: No uniform, no school. Annalisa’s magic sheet will get me suspended, and it will frighten away the few friends I have. This is the last day of second term, but the scandal of the blue sheet will survive the holidays and live on to haunt me for the rest of the year.
No thanks. I’ll pass.
“Hurry.” Annalisa tugs at my nightgown. “Lift up your arms and put on your new dress, there’s a good girl.”
“It is not a dress.” I pull away. “It is a sheet with holes in it and I won’t wear it. Ever.”
“You have to wear the dress.” Annalisa’s smile disappears and her expression turns dark. “It’s the only way to get him back.”
We stand face-to-face, breathing hard. Mother is a few inches taller than me with fine blond hair and pale blue eyes that remind me of the sunlit ocean. She is delicate, with slender limbs and narrow hips while I am all bumps and curves. What did the nurses think when I slipped into the world with different skin, different hair, different everything from Annalisa? They must have wondered how the two of us fit together. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and I wonder the same thing. Who am I, and where do I fit in?
“Put the dress on,” Annalisa says. “Do it for me. For us.”
Annalisa angry is scary. Annalisa with a bottomless darkness welling up inside her is terrifying. I see that darkness well up now. More resistance from me and she’ll tumble into it. She will curl up and sleep for days. She won’t talk or eat. I have been to the bottom of the well with her once. I will never go there again—if I can help it.
“Here. Give it.” I take the sheet from her with jerky movements and point to the mirror hanging to the right of the sink. “Don’t forget your lipstick.”
“Of course.” Annalisa digs through her faux-leather hobo bag that acts as a portal to another dimension. At different times she has pulled out an orchid bulb with dangling roots, an owl feather, five mother-of-pearl buttons, a vintage Coca-Cola yo-yo, and a porcupine quill. I’m surprised my father isn’t in there, too.
She takes out a tube of Moroccan Sunset, her favorite color, and leans close to the mirror to put it on. The moment her back is turned, I grab my school uniform out of the bedside drawer and push it deep into my backpack. I slip the sheet dress over my head and bend low to tie the laces of my school shoes, working up a plan to switch the dress for my uniform somewhere. Somehow.