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Excerpted from Evening Begins the Day: A Novel


GASLIGHTERS, Lauren wrote in her journal.

Words disguised in the mouths of the betrayers.

Her teacher, Mr. Glickman, who said to call him Russ, encouraged her to keep a journal. “Get your heart on the page,” he said. “Don’t let it fester in your ribs. It’s never just the kid. It’s a family problem. Your parents have work to do too.”

Lauren knelt by her windowsill, 3:02 a.m. Her favorite time. Everyone asleep. She wondered: Was three a.m. the middle of night or the beginning of morning? Or the time to leap through the trees and meld into the black substance she knew held the secrets of life. She wondered a lot of things.

If William Blake could create his own mythology, why shouldn’t she? If Emily Dickinson and Mary Oliver could see the universe in a stone or seed, why couldn’t she? Poets and prophets. Langston Hughes. Visionaries. Why couldn’t she?

She wasn’t crazy. She listened to the low tone of her brain humming, a cello’s vibrating note, or maybe an owl calling. She thought of Brian Wilson trapped in a house with a mad psychiatrist.

She slid the window all the way up and leaned out from three stories high to smoke her last cigarette in the cold April night. She watched the smoke flashing and disappearing in the blackness. Below, next door, the neighbor’s house was dark. The older woman who was renting it had gone to a Counting of the Omer retreat, her dad had told her. It was funny, strange funny, how her father had persuaded everyone to do this Jewish practice thing, even Glickman. Even herself.

Lauren looked at her wall, satisfied by the truth of her words:

I aM nOT OkAY. The WoRld is NOt oKay.

In her journal she wrote:The world is full of really really messed up people. Stupidity and lies. America is a blame country. It blames Black kids for not having homes and stable lives. Blames a Black kid for wearing a hoodie on his way to the store. Killer says the kid looked scary. Black kid is killed for buying candy. And you want me to calm down? 

She wrote on the blue lines. Poems helped her get her heart on the page.

I came here
To meet the night
The moon pulls‚
My fingers
A prop for cigarettes and joints
Two fingers pointing to infinite stars
I want to go there.

Lauren looked at the crescent moon, its edges softened by haze. She needed to gather her head. Two days ago she was in an insane asylum, a.k.a. kid’s psych hospital. Tonight, in her attic bedroom, she gripped the silence, elbows anchored to the sill. The heels of her palms pressed to her temples. The vibration of her parents’ voices silenced, no longer traveling up the walls at this time of night/morning. The house ticked. Steam heat whispering, letting off huffing sounds, breathing.

Mr. Glickman’s first homeschooling assignment was to write a poem with a reference to the Counting of the Omer. She opened her phone and reread his text with the seven kabbalah themes: loving-kindness, discipline, compassion, endurance, humility, bonding, nobility.


Week one starts with loving-kindness, Glickman wrote. What’s your interpretation?

She didn’t know. She felt under the windowsill and found a joint she’d wedged in the wood. In her head, she heard:

Wedged in the attic
Her mother without trust or faith
Betrayer below
Calling strangers for help
Calling 911

Lauren didn’t think her dad was behind that move by her mother. He never searched her room. That was her clean-freak mother’s favorite thing to do. And the nights Lauren was gone, her mother had put her piles of books back on the shelves. Her spiral notebooks in stacks. Did she think her daughter was a toy, a thing to be polished and dusted for display on a shelf? The thought infuriated Lauren.

Glickman had told her, “You’ll be fine,” when they talked yesterday on the phone to set up their homeschooling plan. “Stick it out for forty-nine days. Less than two months. Graduate. Okay? Then move out.”

The Counting of the Omer lasted forty-nine days. Every spring. Between Passover and Shavuot. Between the Jews’ exodus from Egypt and the holiday commemorating Moses receiving God’s word on Mount Sinai.

Lauren was waiting for the holy word of God.

It was spring.


In her journal Lauren wrote: Count the days. Then move out.

She liked Russ Glickman and went to his classes before she stopped going to school altogether. The other seniors annoyed her with their selfies, mascara wands, lipsticks, pimples, checking themselves in their mirrors every three seconds. Boys staring at her. She couldn’t stand it.

She liked to sit in the very back of the classroom. She liked how Glickman had a way of hunching over a Mary Oliver poem, speaking slowly, coaxing the meaning out of the words as if they were living, tender animals to be loved and adored. You do not have to be good, Mary Oliver said in her poem “Wild Geese.”

Poetry made Lauren feel safe.

At the windowsill, she grew tired and wanted to lie down and sleep. She wanted to close her eyes but didn’t feel safe. If she fell into a deep sleep and didn’t hear her mother coming up, her mother might call 911 again, and she’d be right back in the ugly psych ward with six other girls, or maybe worse: Utah, in the middle of nowhere. Two thousand miles from here.

Lauren tore the page from her notebook, crumpled it, and tossed it on the floor. She sipped her dying joint, searing her lips. She’d read about parents hiring security guards in the middle of the night, hauling rich kids like Paris Hilton to horrible wilderness programs out west. Is that what her mother planned next?

Lauren looked behind her. She listened hard for the lungs of the house breathing, resting her head on the sill, refusing to let herself fall asleep. She waited for dawn’s first light. And when she heard the water pipes rumble, the shower starting to run in her parents’ bathroom, she snuck down two flights of stairs and slipped out into the safety of the city streets.



Jessica Keener’s debut novel, Night Swim (The Story Plant), was a national bestseller. Her second novel, Strangers in Budapest (Algonquin), was an Indie Next pick and a Southern Indie Booksellers Alliance bestseller. Her new novel, Evening Begins the Day, will be published in 2024.




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