Chasing Windmills

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-03-10
  • Publisher: Vintage
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The bestselling author of "Pay It Forward" returns with a provocative tour de force on first love--a modern-day rendering of "West Side Story" born on a New York City subway car and nurtured under the windmills of the Mojave Desert.

Author Biography

CATHERINE RYAN HYDE, an acclaimed novelist and award-winning short-story writer, is the author of the story collection Earthquake Weather and of the novels Love in the Present Tense, Walter’s Purple Heart, Funerals for Horses, Electric God, and Pay It Forward, which was named an ALA Book of the Year and made into a feature film. She lives in Cambria, California.


This is the part that’s going to be hard to explain: How can I tell you why two people who were afraid of everything–other people, open places, noise, confusion, life itself–wound up riding the subways alone under Manhattan late at night?

Okay, it’s like this: When everything is unfamiliar and scary, your heart pounds just getting change from the grocery cashier. That feels like enough to kill you right there. So the danger of the subways at night can’t be much worse. All danger begins to fall into the same category. You have no way to sink any deeper into fear.

Besides, consider the alternative. Staying home.

That’s enough about that for now. I need to tell you about her.

She got on the Lexington Avenue Local at…what was it?…I think Union Square. Funny how a thing like that can be so damned important, but you don’t know it’s important until an instant later in the big scheme of time. Then you go back and try to retrieve it. You tell yourself it’s in there somewhere. But it’s really in that no-man’s-land of the moment before you woke up and started paying attention to your own life.

I’m pretty sure it was Union Square.

At first we looked at each other for a split second, but of course we looked away immediately. It’s part of what makes us like the animals, I suppose. Ever seen two dogs circling to fight? They look right into each other’s eyes. It’s a challenge. So when a dog doesn’t want to challenge anybody, he looks away. In case I haven’t made it clear by now, we were two dogs who weren’t looking for a fight.

But then, after we both looked away, we weren’t afraid of each other anymore. We knew we didn’t have to be. I mean, except to the extent that we were afraid of everything.

There was no one else on the car. It rumbled along again, with that special rocking, and the clacking noise, the lights flashing off now and then. And the heat. It was only May, but the heat had started early. It was after midnight, so I guess you’d think it was all cooled off by then, but it wasn’t. A little bit cooler up on the street. Not so much down there. It was stuffy, like more air would be nice.

Every now and then we’d hear a noise that could have been somebody opening the door from another car. And we’d jump in unison, and look up. But it was never anybody. Just the two of us all the way to the end of the line.

Once I looked over at her while she was looking away. Her hair was dark and thick and about down to her shoulders. Her face was thin, like the rest of her. I couldn’t figure out if there was something angular about her face, or something almost delicate. Maybe both.

I was trying to get a bead on how old she was. Older than me, that’s for sure. I mean, she was a full-grown woman. But young enough, I guess. But maybe old compared to me. Early twenties.
Every inch of her was covered. Except her face. Jeans, boots, some kind of shawl thing wrapped around her. Seemed like too much to wear in that heat.

And a hat. She was wearing a hat over all that dark hair. A gray felt thing with a big brim. So all she had to do was dip her head an inch or two, and she was gone again. She could break off eye contact just like that. It seemed like such a great plan. I wondered why I’d never thought of it myself.

And on one cheek, a dark spot. Not exactly a bruise, but something like one. Like a shadow. Like she’d had some sort of an accident.

I think I remember feeling that it was a lovely face, but maybe I’m adding that in after the fact. It’s hard to go back and describe what you thought of such an important face the first time you saw it. The memory gets colored with all those other things you felt later on. It

Excerpted from Chasing Windmills by Catherine Ryan Hyde
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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