Today, we’re pleased to present an excerpt from Fred Misurella’s new novel A Pontiac in the Woods. The novel follows the life of Jamie Sasso, a teenager living in an abandoned Pontiac and navigating the troubled pathways of high school. Marco Rafalà called it “[a] raw and unapologetic portrayal of a life lived on the margins of society,” while duncan b. barlow noted that “Misurella carefully crafts a story of love and loss, desire and abuse, and personal growth.”
“So, what’s your story?” Misha said. “What makes it special? And so awful?”
I stared at him. Then I looked at my feet, trying to figure how much he needed to know. Am I ashamed of my life, who I am, the way I live, and where? You’re damned straight I am! I see the other kids around me, their houses, their clothes, their comfortable world, then I look at myself, my rusty Pontiac in the woods, and I keep thinking that someone’s cursed me, laid a dark, thick blanket of shit on my head and shoulders, and, worse, I deserve the whole awful, gloomy pile. I have no idea what I did, why I got dumped on and others didn’t; but there it is, mist and doo-doo rising around me, pressing against my shoulders and neck, and most of the time, all I can do is look down at my feet to make sure I’m on firm ground before I start running.
“I have no special story,” I told him, whispering. “I just like my time alone.”
“Well. . .” He reached around me for the car door, but I nudged him away with my hip.
“But not when I’m with you!” I told him, trying to smile. “I had a really good time tonight. I mean, I’m having a good time.”
He dropped his arm, straightened, and damned if I knew what to say next. My brain scrambled. My stomach churned, and the only thing I could do was put one hand on each of his shoulders and sort of hold him away at the same time I wouldn’t let him go. He had that look on his face again that said, “What the fuck am I getting into?” or, “How do I climb out of this shit-filled hole she’s digging?” But I could see for the first time he didn’t really want to leave.
“I live like a tramp, Misha. Plain as that. There’s nothing in my life you want to know.”
“A tramp? You mean. . .”
“I live in a fucking car, a rust-covered Pontiac that doesn’t move. It’s a mess, but it’s my house, my home, and I sleep there—by myself—every night. I have to shit and pee in the woods nearby.”
His eyes narrowed, as if I’d said something he couldn’t possibly understand, but he was giving it maximum effort. “Jesus,” he said at last. He lifted his hands to cup my elbows in his palms. “I’ve heard some stories, but Jesus. . . They’re true?”
I nodded and looked down at my shoes, ashamed and maybe a touch relieved. I began to leave.
“I never really believed them,” he said, holding on to me. “I figured they wouldn’t let it happen. The school, or state, or county would have to put you up with somebody—a family.”
I shook my head. “County services tried, but nothing worked out. I didn’t really like any of the foster families they put me in, so they gave me some money and let me take care of myself—as long as I report to a county social worker every week or so.”
I smiled—I’m not sure why. He did, too, at his own surprise, I think, and I began to tell him the stories of my two sets of parents—the ones who bore me and disappeared, the ones who cared for me and died too soon. Misha listened—attentive, I have to say—but I still saw a look of something in his eyes I assumed was disbelief.
“Misha, this is not made up. None of it. I know it doesn’t seem real, but I’m living in this shitty dream every day, and it’s not easy to get out of it.”
He nodded. “I believe you. No question there. But the people in school—the principal, the guidance counselors—why did they let it happen? How could they?”
“They just did. I mean, they just do. As long as I don’t have trouble and tell them I don’t want to be with anybody, they leave me alone. Good or fucking bad.”
Shaking his head, he reached for the door again. Pulling it open, he began to slide into the front seat. I gripped his arm with both my hands. “Are you pissed—at me, I mean? Why?”
He sat back, one leg dangling out the car, as he hung onto the wheel. We were not shoving or pulling, neither one swinging or twisting, but inside us both a real wrestling match went on. I felt my fingers squeeze harder on his upper arm; I saw his left leg strain to lift his boot from the ground.
“Jamie, you just said it yourself. You don’t want to be with anybody.”
He nodded. “And so I’m leaving you alone.”
“What? You can’t. I won’t let you.”
He stared at me. Not smiling, but surprised, and I wondered if he could see the same surprise in me. Because I was surprised—shocked even—at everything happening. I was in one of those places that Dad used to talk about: You know where you are, you know where you don’t want to be, but with no clear idea where the hell you want to go—or have to. “Life,” he used to tell me, “at its most crucial moments.”
“So this is a crucial moment?” I wanted to ask him, but obviously Dad wasn’t there to answer. And the guy who was, young Misha Alto, looked even more puzzled and clueless than I was. He sat in his seat, one cheek and leg hanging out, but I noticed he wasn’t straining to get that boot off the ground anymore. Well, it must be a crucial moment, I figured, so let’s take advantage of it with a stream of horseshit that may just change his mind.
“Just give me a little space,” I told him. “It has nothing to do with you. Really. I just need to breathe a little. I need to think.”