Chapter Five

“Are you okay? Do you need help sitting up?” June ‘s face floated above Illy in the blurred halo of a medical drama. Illy wondered for a moment if maybe she was in the hospital, but then felt the smooth hardwood beneath her and was pretty sure there were no IV tubes in her arms. Maybe they were waiting for an ambulance.

“What happened? Where’s my publisher?”

“Your publisher? Oh no, I think you banged your head when you fell.” June leaned in closer to Illy, eyes wide, the concern of a decade of late night phone calls and giggly sleepovers etched into her forehead. “Maybe I should call the ambulance.”

“No, June, I’m fine.” Illy blinked to bring June’s face into focus, then closed her eyes against the glare of the overhead lights and remembered to suck in her stomach. “It’s the Banana Woman. She’s a publisher. She’s my destiny.” Illy’s heartbeat felt like an unfamiliar presence behind her ribs. She wondered if fainting had triggered a spontaneous heart murmur, or if it was the surge of adrenaline that precedes a life-changing moment.

June was still leaning over Illy in emergency vitals-checking posture. She seemed to be determining whether she was dealing with a brain injury or a practical joke. A few of the other dance students were loitering around, trying to gauge the seriousness of the situation without making direct eye contact with June or Illy. Soraiya was coaching a woman in a gauzy skirt printed with skulls on the importance of establishing your belly button as focal point and hadn’t even noticed Illy was on the floor.

June leaned back on her heels. “Illy, I think you’ll need to explain this again. I caught something about a Banana Publishing Destiny, but it makes so little sense that if your next attempt isn’t more reasonable, I really am calling the ambulance. Or shining a flashlight in your eyes or something.”

Illy closed her eyes and spread her fingers along the floor, small starfish grounding her to the earth. She had once heard that contact with the earth held healing power for women, and so she pressed her body into the hardwood, hoping that it was a viable substitute for the ground. “June, the woman in yellow lycra is a publisher. This is my chance to make a connection in the publishing world for my novel, and my future novels-”

“I think all your novels are future novels at this point.” June spoke slowly, scanning Illy’s face for signs of lucidity.

Illy ignored her. “I need to talk to the Banana Publisher before she leaves. Do you think I should wait here until she comes to check on my situation, or risk another fainting spell and walk over to her?”

June’s concern had shifted from the physical to the emotional. “Oh Illy, you know I love you. But I don’t know if staggering over to a shiny yellow woman at a belly dancing class to ask her to publish your non-existent novel is the best display of judgment. Maybe you should just drink some water, go home, and spend a few months writing.”

Illy knew that June was right. She knew approaching a potentially influential professional while light-headed and wearing sweatpants was never a good idea. She knew that book deals were not made at belly dancing classes and that authors weren’t supposed to approach publishers directly. She even knew that a person who worked for a publishing company wasn’t actually called a publisher, but she didn’t know what the accurate alternative was. Publishing Director? Editor in Chief?

But Illy had also been telling June for years that if she didn’t acknowledge the serendipitous encounters handed to her, the universe might find a more grateful recipient. So Illy took a deep breath, pressed her fingers to the hardwood one more time, and sat up. “Thank you, June, for your sound and reasonable advice. I’m not taking it this time, but I give you full permission to gloat over me if I make a complete and utter fool of myself. Is my hair okay?”

June smiled and smoothed back Illy’s hair like a nervous mother. Illy waited for her to lick her thumb and rub a juice stain off Illy’s chin. Instead she said “Your hair is so-so. But your audacity is impressive. Good luck.”

Illy stood up, made a quick decision to abandon both her seductive sway and her meditative breathing, and walked toward the door where Banana Woman was maintaining sleek sophistication while tying her shoes. Illy patted her stomach for courage, remembering the novel embryo trusting her with its life. She crouched down a few feet behind Banana Woman, untied her shoelaces and then slowly began re-tying them.

“Time to get back to the old manuscript, ” she whispered. She hoped the word ‘old’ gave a sense that the novel was already well developed, and not stale and out-dated. Banana Woman didn’t seem to have heard her. Illy tried again. “Hope my favourite old novel is still waiting up,” she said in a half-whisper, half-sigh. That sounded like she was hurrying home to read a book, not write one. Thankfully Banana Woman gave no response. Illy leaned in as close to the woman’s shimmery yellow back as she could without toppling over, and gave one last flailing, full-volume attempt. “Can’t wait to go check on my fresh and relevant novel manuscript. Hope it’s waiting up for its good friend, the promising belly-dancing author.” Utter disaster. Illy closed her eyes and willed Banana Woman to remain oblivious to the literary and conversational embarrassment unfolding behind her, but of course Illy could never have been so lucky.

The woman stood up and slowly pivoted towards Illy. “Excuse me? Were you talking to me?” She stared down at Illy like she was a mangy dog who had just peed on her shoe.

Illy looked up with forced surprise. “Me? Oh no, no. I was just mumbling to myself.” She stood up, pulled in her stomach, and stretched her arms above her head in what she thought must be a classic yoga pose. “That’s just the eccentric writer in me, you know, always playing around with words.” She reached down to touch her toes, but could only reach her knees. Maybe squats would be better. She squatted down to the floor, smiling up at the woman who was continuing her slow pivot. Illy wondered how she maintained such a smooth motion. She was like a mannequin on a revolving pedestal. “I just can’t help myself.” Illy sprung up and then squatted again, a little too quickly, feeling uncomfortably frog-like. “When you’re working on a novel…well, you probably don’t want to hear about all that…” Illy was starting to lose her breath from her enthusiastic squats, but thought she’d committed to at least twenty. She leaped into the air again.

“Good luck.” Banana Woman grimaced at her, then stepped off her imaginary pedestal and walked toward the door.

Illy sprung up from where she’d been squatting, trying to catch her breath, and shouted, much more loudly than she meant to, “No, wait!” Banana Woman jumped and dropped her gym bag, a look of panic on her face. “Sorry,” Illy lowered her volume,
“I’m so sorry, I just…do you have one second?”

Banana Woman bent down to pick up her bag, watching Illy out of the corner of her eye for sudden movements. Illy took her nervous silence as the opportunity she’d been hoping for.

“I know you think I’m crazy, but I just wanted…” She was staring at the woman’s stomach, mesmerized by the metallic yellow lycra. Then she blinked hard, and, channeling all her positive self-talk in front of the mirror that evening, June’s years of motivational speeches over donut holes, and her dreams of faking a glowing review of her own novel on Amazon, said, “I wanted to ask if you would publish my novel.” There. She’d done it. She stood ramrod straight, hands by her sides, staring into her new publisher’s eyes and feeling triumphant.

Her publisher, on the other hand, looked skittish. She was clutching her gym bag to her chest and squinting at Illy as though trying to decipher the real meaning behind Illy’s words. Illy attempted a disarming smile and wondered if there was a way to explain her knowledge of the woman’s career without admitting to eavesdropping. She opted for more smiling and the hope that Banana Woman wouldn’t notice that suspicious detail.

“Well,” Banana Woman swallowed to buy some time. “I can’t agree to publish your novel, but if you have a work you’d like someone to read over, you can drop it by our office next week.” She moved toward the door, adding, “Hartfield House Publishers on 12th Avenue” as she pulled the door shut behind her, afraid Illy was going to chase her.

Illy was still standing perfectly straight, trying to absorb what had just happened. Hartfield House Publishers. She had never imagined her publishing company to have such a beautiful name.


Continue Reading: Chapter Six