Welcome to #ReadWithMC—Marie Claire's virtual book club. It's nice to have you! In August, we're reading Elisa Albert's Human Blues, an unforgettable, darkly funny novel about a singer-songwriter and the intersection of motherhood, ambition, and technology. Read an excerpt from the novel below, then find out how to participate. (You really don't have to leave your couch!)
She was soon to bleed. Goddamn it. Another pregnancy test was negative.
You Are Entering the Real World, read the sign posted on the back fence of the property. It was New Year’s Day. Trash was nestled in the weeds along the side of the road. Soda cans, fast-food wrappers, plastic bags, and a Handi Wipe square, still intact, upon which someone had scrawled, This is not a condom.
She had been so patient. So fucking patient! How many negatives by now? More than a year. Fuck. Almost two years of negatives. Almost into year three. And again, again, again, still: nothing. Goddamn it. Negative. Again. Again! Again. Again.
She’d been easygoing about the whole thing for a long time: Whatever happened, happened. It would happen! Of course it would. It would happen. No need to stress. No need to freak out. The important thing was not to freak out—everyone knew that. She was (relatively) happy, she was (relatively) healthy, she was in the green half of her thirties, she was in a lovely relationship, and tiiiii-i-i-iiiime, was on her side, yes, it was. But at some point—a year of negatives? Two? Going on three—she’d gotten real quiet. Confused. Scared. Mad. Sad. She’d gritted her teeth, dug in her heels, and tried to find a way to inhabit the situation with a modicum of dignity. She read all the books, listened to all the podcasts. She changed her diet, her perspective, her expectations. She “made space.” She “summoned the spirits.” She “gathered the bones.”
And still: nothing. Nothing. Nothing! Negative pee stick upon negative pee stick upon negative pee stick. Cycle after cycle after cycle. And by now she was straight-up furious. Incensed. What the actual fuck. Now she was outright begging. Come the fuck on. Please! Seriously. There was no dignity in it now. Now she was foaming at the mouth. Now she was gnashing her teeth and muttering to herself. Now she was half-insane with the injustice of it. Now any pregnancy anywhere near her orbit felt like a low branch to the eye.
Last summer the tarot queen of the Berkshires had informed this tearful, barren supplicant that there were cherubs absolutely everywhere, all around. “Great news, hon: you are positively surrounded by angels, which means that maternity is imminent.”
Yay! Wow! Okay! But . . . nope. And nope. And nope. Every godforsaken period, every cycle, every fractal season: awakening, hope, decay, death, awakening, hope, decay, death, around and around, again and again, to death, death, death.
Still, how many times had she recommitted herself to not worry?! This wasn’t one of those things that could be accomplished with the mind. The crucial thing was to put it out of your mind—everyone knew that. You stopped worrying about it, you “gave up,” and BAM. You said fuck it and spent your life savings on a trip around the world, and BAM. You had a one-night stand with a plumber from Australia, and BAM. You adopted, and BAM. This was not one of those things that responded well to thinking. This was not one of those things you could tell what to do.
So Aviva had officially relaxed. She had recurrently let go. She had surrendered, over and over again. She had been so fucking resolutely chill. For a year. For two! For going on three. And still: negative. Again. Again. Another. Again.
It was unbearable. (Ha!) It was inconceivable. (Oh yes.)
She’d walked a hard, uphill mile by now, on the dirt road out behind the property, and stopped to catch her breath, after which she let out a guttural scream into the indifferent, desolate hillside, the chilly blue sky, the smattering of cotton-ball clouds. Then she turned around and headed back, picking up as much trash as she could carry along the way—the soda cans, the fast-food wrappers, the plastic bags, the Handi Wipe square—all of which she dumped into her studio trash can, on top of the umpteenth negative motherfucking pee stick, from where, no doubt, it would all eventually be transported to a dump by the side of some other country road.
The property was an artists’ colony, a hybrid rehab/camp/meditation center for creatives, no counselors or authority figures, no mandatory anything. Three dozen writers and musicians and poets and painters and sculptors and composers got a small stipend to live/work here for a few weeks or months at a time, rehearsing inevitable little reenactments of family amidst good old-fashioned no-excuses creative practice and the occasional fuck-fest. You had to feed yourself lunch, but there was a breakfast buffet and a starch/vegetable/protein for dinner. You got your own studio space in the woods and if you wanted to make friends you made friends and if you didn’t want to make friends you kept your distance, which aroused the suspicion and curiosity of all the people who very much wanted to make friends. Aviva changed her mind every few days about whether or not she wanted to make friends, which made her very popular indeed.
She was here to mess around and make room for whatever might come next. It had been Jerry’s idea. Her manager. Aviva’s fourth album was dropping in a matter of weeks, and there was a looming tour, biggest of her career thus far.
“You’re on the cusp of huge things,” Jerry said. “This album is the turning point.”
“Keep your pants on, Jer; it’s just some recorded songs for sale.” “Whatever, you little twat, you better get your head on for what’s coming. Relax. Lie low. Write some new songs. You gotta be a step beyond whatever you’re touring with. Lou Reed used to say that.”
“Art and commerce being inarguably oppositional and all, right, Jer?” Her first album had been a punky little DIY effort recorded at an independent studio (aka the Culver City guesthouse of a washed-up producer) when Aviva was barely out of her teens, bouncing between states, apartments, beds, office jobs. Busking on Venice Beach Boardwalk for tips on the weekend. Limited run of a thousand CDs, but it became a tiny cult hit, with surprisingly friendly press, acquired and reissued by a small but respectable indie label. Who doesn’t love a young weird plaintive hippie folk-punk freak with big tits?
The second album had been produced by some slick asshole-for-hire. Said asshole had pushed her into the wrong look/narrative/sound. Heavy on the drums, some ironic synth. She had known it was wrong. An uncomfortable costume. But what had she known about the business back then? She had wanted to get along, be agreeable, and was marketed as a more or less crazy bitch nevertheless. The single off that album was a paean to dating amongst the terminally ill, inspired by her brother Rob’s doomed romance whilst dying of a brain tumor. Dumb disaster-girl anthem, every breakup an existential crisis, tear-streaked-fuck-me-face video, same old shit. But it had wound up getting licensed to play over the closing credits of a popular TV high school dramedy’s series finale, which had led to a mild flurry of cash and indie radio play.
Used by permission from Human Blues (opens in new tab)(Avid Reader Press, 2022). Copyright © 2022 by Elisa Albert.
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