Sandi Shelton, a.k.a. Maddie Dawson, in Rollwood Park in Guilford, CT


August is Summer Reading Month in Daily Nutmeg, and Maddie Dawson is this week’s featured author. Please enjoy this excerpt from Dawson’s 2010 novel, The Stuff That Never Happened.

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I met Grant McKay in California when I was twenty, before I knew that falling in love was actually a liability of mine and not a talent. Back then, I was always smitten with one person or another. I could be sitting in my Renaissance English class and fall in love with the professor for the way he explained a John Donne poem, and then be hung up on him for the rest of the semester even if he never did another inspirational thing. I was always just about wiped out by love for the guys I sang with in my own little rock band, the Oil Spills, although my chief boyfriend was the bass player, Jay. And I had recovered from another, even more official boyfriend left over from high school back home in Northridge, but he’d joined the army and disappeared to Germany, so all I had of him was his picture on my bulletin board. I walked around on the alert for love. I was an appreciator of people’s best moments.

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Grant showed up at a party my friends were giving, looking ridiculously out of place. He resembled a six-foot-tall orphan, an abandoned overgrown baby-man, with his blond hair and his pasty pale skin—and I first spotted him standing by himself in a corner of the kitchen, leaning against a counter with his arms folded across his chest. He was watching everything going on through big black Buddy Holly-type glasses with lenses like Coke bottles and trying to be invisible. His hair was cut exactly wrong, and he was dressed like he’d just come from a job interview, in pressed khaki pants and a navy blue V-neck sweater. I heard somebody whispering, “Who’s the narc?” and somebody else said, “He’s all right. He came with Simon.”

I was a junior at the University of California at Santa Barbara at the time, and the party—billed as the Total Armageddon party—was taking place in the off-campus apartment, in Isla Vista, of some of my more raucous friends, Janelle and Rennie. It was actually a party to celebrate that they’d been kicked out of their apartment for being, as the landlord had written in a letter on a piece of lined notebook paper that hung on the fridge, “too loud, too rood, steeling other peoples parking spases and causing lewdness and noise that if everyone did them would result in a total Armie Geddon.” At a specified time we were all going to set off cherry bombs in the living room, Armageddon-style. Janelle had gone around earlier handing them out.

I was supposedly there with Jay, but he was seeing another girl, too, so I used parties as a time to make sure I could surround myself with enough other guys to make him jealous. The world was crazy that way in 1977—nobody ever said anything they really meant; it was all for fun anyway—and Jay was up on the roof smoking weed with three other guys and that other girl he was seeing. Her name was Flaxen or Foxie or something like that, and she was always flicking her red ringletty hair, and when she laughed she made a sound like a nervous horse, and I was not going to go up there to watch him make a fool of himself over her.

The trouble was, there wasn’t much to do in the apartment without Jay there to observe me. I was wearing a tight short skirt, my long blond hair was perfectly parted in the middle and completely straight, thanks to Magda’s steam iron, and I had on just the right amount of eyeliner and eye shadow. Feminism was important, but if you were in a rock band as I was, you still paid attention to how you put on your makeup.

The apartment was crowded and smoky. We’d all—except Grant, of course—been to parties here tons of times. In the back bedroom there were the usual shenanigans: someone Rennie knew had brought a brass hash pipe and some Turkish hash, and you could hear screams of laughter. In another room, with the door closed, people were most likely having sex, or getting ready to. People were always having sex at these parties; you’d have to be nuts to put your coat down on a bed. It would get fornicated upon. A wrestling match blared from the television set in the living room, and there was the usual crowd of spectators—guys, mostly, and the girls who were trying to impress them—shouting at the TV.

Grant was standing next to the fridge, squinting at the Armageddon letter, and I wanted him to move.

I said, “Excuse me, do you mind if I see if there are any beers left?”

He turned and looked at me with that blinking, gray-eyed stare of his. It was even more pronounced back then. His hair, which was fuller in those days, and therefore more in his way, fell across his eyes, and he brushed it away. He stepped away from the refrigerator. I saw him looking at my very, very short white leather skirt.

I said, “Do you want a beer?” and he said heavily, as though he were in great pain, “Not really, but I might as well.”

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The Stuff That Never Happened
by Maddie Dawson
Where to buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | RJ Julia

Image, photographed by Dan Mims, depicts Maddie Dawson in the ruins of the Rollin Woodruff homestead in Guilford, Connecticut.

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