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An excerpt from'Herman Melville, Volume 1'

She’s carrying two skateboards, two backpacks, the banjo in its scratched-up case—a husk of molded leather that’s always looked to her like a giant key but now seems more like a coffin.

Maybe because she hasn’t played in weeks. This time of year, people don’t stop; the coins in their pockets stay there.

Are you too good for fifty cents? Evan had scolded her. If Evan had his way, she’d be playing every day. He doesn’t understand how much it takes to stand in front of strangers and summon up songs she learned as a child. Especially on dark afternoons, with the mist spitting in her face like some pissed-off ghost.

Anyway, she wants to protect the instrument—the pretty cherry wood, the feathery carving on the neck. It’s the only ?ne thing she has; why ruin it? Her father had said never get it wet.

So she’d let it sleep for a bit. The case was comfy, lined with velvet.

Again, the coffin comes to mind. She grunts and shifts her load, trying not to fall.

Maybe Evan had wandered into town. Often he didn’t sleep well, and sometimes, when he got up, he needed to burn off some dream he’d had. Usually he was back within an hour. Today she’d waited almost until noon, when a woman who lived across the street from the empty lot came over to inform her that the land was private property. “Move along,” she’d said, snapping her fingers, as if at a dog.

Evan’s pack is way too heavy. What feels like bricks, she knows, are books. One of them, a hardcover, is biting into her shoulder.

There’s a diet book, a book about car repair, a biography of the guy who wrote “Moby-Dick.” The biography is nearly a thousand pages long, even though it’s only Volume I—just the ?rst thirty years of Melville’s life. She assumes it’s pre-“Moby-Dick,” because who writes something like “Moby-Dick” before they’re thirty. Evan was already twenty-three, and she’s used up only a few years less. It was unlikely that either of them would accomplish much, at this rate. She’s never even read “Moby-Dick,” though of course she knows it’s about a whale. Man against nature. She recalls the phrase from school.

When it comes to books, Evan takes whatever he can ?nd—freebies on the curb, or sour wrecks from garbage bins. It drives her crazy, the way he doesn’t discriminate. The diet book, for instance—that was just ridiculous. She and Evan were about as fat as Popsicle sticks. On cold nights, when they slept in the same bag, they ?t no problem, and when they jammed against each other for comfort their hips clacked like castanets.

A little bit about Victor Lodato

Victor Lodato

Victor Lodato born in New Jersey. He is the author of ‘Edgar and Lucy’ (Head of Zeus) and ‘Mathilda Savitch’ (2009), which was hailed by The New York Times as “a Salingeresque wonder of a first novel”. The novel won the PEN USA Award for Fiction and the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, and has been published in sixteen countries, including the UK (Fourth Estate). Victor is a Guggenheim Fellow, as well as the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Camargo Foundation (France) and the Bogliasco Foundation (Italy). He was shortlisted for the 2017 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. His short fiction and essays have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Granta and Best American Short Stories. His new novel, ‘Edgar and Lucy’, is published by Doubleday in February 2018. Lodato currently divides his time between Tucson, Arizona and Ashland, Oregon.

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