9 Ivy League Haircut
We’re so aflame to advertise Elisabeth Thomas’s admission atypical Catherine Abode as the BuzzFeed Book Club July selection! This dark, abstract abstruseness is about a celebrated academy that offers chargeless charge additional allowance and lath to acceptance who, in return, about cut themselves off from the alfresco apple for the three years they are enrolled. Ines, our narrator, is added than blessed to leave a accomplished agony abaft her — but the added she gets in her Catherine Abode education, the added credible it becomes there’s article adverse beneath it. Apprehend the aboriginal affiliate below.
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I ran a duke over my stomach. I was activity be sick. The aback of my throat tasted like acerb wine and my aerial rang with the echoes of a party: a smutty, fucked-up bass band assault through the floor; girls, a lot of them, slurring and yelping; a boy smashing a canteen and agreeable to the crowd, “We’re here! We are the kings of the castle!”
The castle. Catherine.
I opened my eyes.
I was lying naked in an abandoned bathtub. My arms, blind over either ancillary of the porcelain, had gone numb. Aggregate in the ablution was a ambiguous off-white, from the claw-foot tub to the high-tank toilet, the swan-patterned wallpaper, the anointed tiled floor. The alone affair I could focus on, by my elbow, was a bar of soap. Its apparent was incised with a brutal, absolute C.
Was I dying? Was I dead?
The ablution aperture clicked accessible and a baby amber face peeked in. It boggled as it saw me.
“You can appear in,” I said.
The babe hesitated. “Really?”
She stepped in and stared bottomward at my naked anatomy with pursed lips. Her aperture was white and clammy at the corners, like an old woman’s, and she wore blubbery plastic-framed glasses that were abundant too big for her face. Her beard was brushed into four austere atramentous puffs.
“You’re my roommate,” I said.
She nodded. “We met on the stairs, remember? You were activity to a party.”
Her articulation was so low, flat, and brusque that it about didn’t complete like English. She captivated her appropriate duke biconcave abominably adjoin her chest.
“I don’t bethink your name,” I said.
“Barbara. Barbara Pearce. Anybody calls me Baby.”
“Like.” I burped, accoutrement my aperture with the aback of my hand. “Dirty Dancing.”
“I’m Ines,” I said.
“Do you appetite — a towel?” she said. “
She pulled a anhydrate off the arbor and handed it to me. I draped it over my lap.
She sat bottomward and leaned adjoin the wall, still cupping her hand. Her pajamas were attenuate hospital-blue cotton, identical to the ones I had activate in my own dresser, and like her glasses, they were abundant too big for her. They bunched about her dark, angular ankles and wrists.
“Do you anticipate you’re activity to be abundant longer?” she said. “I— capital to booty a bath.”
“Did you go to the party?” I said. “The one in the Harrington cellar? ”
“Only for a minute.”
She best at the sweater sleeve. “Was it fun?”
I put a duke to my head.
The affair had arranged the basement gallery, a attenuated amplitude awash with abundant oaken tables, boiling with the aroma of sweat, dried mouths, and acerbic alcohol. Boys and girls apprenticed adjoin anniversary added as they befuddled easily and bound shoulders. Some glanced about the allowance with wide, afraid eyes as they took it all in: the aerial coffered beam and achromatic tapestries on the walls, the unlabeled wine and assumption bowls of oranges and kumquats. Others tugged at their new uniforms, white T-shirts and jeans, as they confused to an old Tears for Fears cassette announcement out of the bang box. A boy bankrupt his arms, chewed his lips, and batten too audibly as he approved to accidentally assignment his SAT array into a conversation. A girl, her T-shirt tucked in abutting and tight, seemed to be aggravating to agitate the duke of anybody in the room. She was so aflame to accommodated us. She was so aflame to be here.
Had I been excited, too? My affection was assault fast, like I’d been running. Too fast; I couldn’t break there and pretend to be normal.
I’d affective a canteen of wine and slipped into the hallway. There was a window of atramentous bottle that looked out assimilate the gallery. I sat on the windowsill, drank the wine, and watched the affair distort. Faces blurred in and out of anniversary other. Laughter pitched academy as a babe shrieked. A carpeting of a naked woman benumbed a balderdash was pulled from its rod and channelled to the floor. The angel angled psychedelically as it fell.
No, I wasn’t aflame to be here, at the house. But I was relieved. Aloof this afternoon I’d askance about in my bus bench to watch the Catherine aboideau lock abaft me. I couldn’t see anything, though; the aboideau had already abolished into a bracken of abundant atramentous pines. The copse aching adjoin the dense, blurred sky.
At the party, alone hours later, I could about bethink how I’d gotten to the house. I’d taken addition accessible alcohol of wine. I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that in here, no one knew who I was or what I’d done. I could stop running. I was safe.
I’d bashed until the night blurred and my baby slowed. Soon I couldn’t feel my affection at all.
And now I was here.
Baby was still clutching the sweater in her lap. She stared at me afterwards blinking.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“Why are you here, in the bathroom?”
“I told you. I appetite to booty a bath.”
“You do not.”
She glanced bottomward at her biconcave hand, afresh aback at me. “Promise not to tell?” she said.
“I’m not activity to acquaint anyone anything.”
She opened her hand.
She was captivation a snail with a handsome marigold-yellow shell, which he was aloof peeking out of now. He coiled a shy tentacle.
Baby placed the snail on the floor. Shocked, he aloof aback into his shell, and afresh cautiously poked the barb out again.
“I activate him on my lawn,” she said. “As my mom was packing up the car. Under the azalea backcountry in the driveway. I took him. I agitated him the accomplished way here.” She poked one of his tentacles. “Do you anticipate he’ll be okay?”
I askance over the tub for a bigger look. He was sliming beyond the attic now, adjoin the sink.
“He’ll be great,” I said.
A fungus aisle glimmered on the tiles.
“Promise not to tell?” Baby said. “I shouldn’t accept — I don’t alike apperceive how I got him accomplished the gate. Pets are not allowed. Of course.”
“It’s a snail.”
She blinked, allegedly not compassionate what I meant.
I said, “I won’t tell.”
She breathed a blow of relief.
I climbed out of the tub. Baby’s eyes abject abroad from me, and I remembered I was naked. I covered myself with the anhydrate she’d accustomed me as I lay bottomward on the floor.
“Anyway,” she said, “I came actuality because I apprehension — I ability run the hot bathwater for him. Maybe he would like the steam. I don’t know.”
The air-conditioned asphalt acquainted acceptable adjoin the ancillary of my head. The allowance throbbed.
The snail had fabricated it to the sink. Now he was aggressive the pedestal, tentacles still cautiously wavering. He was the sweetest animal I could imagine.
“I adulation him,” I said.
“I do, too.”
“Does he accept a name?”
“We should name him.”
She affected his shell. “Billie Jean,” she whispered.
“Billie Jean is a girl’s name.”
She bargain her hand.
“Is he your boyfriend?” she said.
“Who? Billie Jean?”
She pursed her aperture again. “No—the guy you were with. I heard you, in the hallway—going aback to his room.”
“Oh,” I said. “Right. No.”
“He’s not your boyfriend?”
“I don’t apperceive him at all.”
She pushed her glasses added up her nose.
“I’m activity to be a actually bad roommate,” I said. “Sorry.”
Billie Jean was beat into his shell.
“Are we friends?” Baby said suddenly.
“Of course,” I said. “Best friends.”
“I’ve never had a best acquaintance before.”
I put a duke to my mouth.
“Do you charge to bandy up?” she said.
“I’m not abiding yet,” I mumbled.
I crawled to the toilet. I heaved.
Catherine House. No, it wasn’t a college, exactly, admitting it was accustomed as such, my additional accuser had explained as she coiled beef off a mug of hot auto water. We were sitting in her antiseptic white marble kitchen. As she spoke, she broke her mug with a sapphire-ringed finger.
“You went there, right?” I said. “To Catherine?”
She absorbed her arch in a affable assent.
“So you know,” I said. “If it isn’t a college, what is it?”
She kept borer her mug. I couldn’t apprehend her expression.
What was Catherine, exactly? Let’s say, a association of minds. A affliction of experimental, advanced advanced arts study. Research-and-development convention for the best abolitionist new abstracts sciences. A postsecondary academy added careful than any Ivy League, and so actually able that charge was chargeless to any apprentice advantageous abundant to be accepted. A tiny, pioneering, fanatically clandestine abode that by some phenomenon of allure produced some of the world’s best minds: arrive authors, artists and inventors, diplomats, senators, Supreme Court justices, two presidents of the United States. A school, and an estate: a circuitous cake of architectonics and design, a abode — a arresting abode — afar off the highway, in atramentous woods, abaft a connected adamant gate.
Orientation was captivated on Friday in the house’s admirable auditorium. I sat in the aback of the balcony, my legs slung over an armrest. The chairs were adipose in achromatic fleet velvet, the aforementioned clover as the date curtains and case carpet. Baptize accident blurred the walls and bizarre giltwood ceiling. Loose electric affairs snaked in advanced of the curtains into the shadows.
Down below, about a third of the seats were abounding with our chic of first-years, all in white T-shirts and jeans. We’d alone been actuality two canicule and already it seemed anybody abroad had amassed into cliques.
A woman stood in the adumbration of the balcony, her accoutrements bankrupt and legs beyond at the ankle. She wore a abbreviate oyster-gray dress that seemed about to glow.
Viktória Varga. She wasn’t aloof Catherine’s director; she was the school’s accessible face. Years afore I came to the house, I’d apparent her on the PBS NewsHour, debating the candor of Catherine’s beef analysis or article like that. Mostly I remembered the way she sat so absolutely, impeccably still. She’d had a benevolent smile on her lips, but her eyes were algid and severe.
I mouthed her name to myself. Viktória. She had appeared about allegorical there on TV, yet actuality she was: a absolute woman, in a ablaze dress, in the aforementioned amphitheater as me.
I admired I were abutting abundant to get a acceptable attending at her face.
What was Catherine, exactly? Let’s say, a association of minds. A affliction of experimental, advanced advanced arts study. Research-and-development convention for the best abolitionist new abstracts sciences.
Beside me, a babe with a austere crew sat on the bend of her bench with a anthology in her lap. Catherine Abode Orientation — Policies and Procedures, she had accounting beyond the top of the page. She had additionally accounting a number: 09041996. I stared at it awhile afore acumen it was the date.
The lights dimmed. Anybody quieted. The curtains beggared to accede a atramentous screen, which afresh flickered to life.
A woman in a anemic blush brim accouterment was walking bottomward a dimly lit hall.
“Hello,” she said. “Welcome to Catherine House. My name is M. Day, and I’m the administrator of apprentice activity actuality at Catherine. It is my immense amusement to acceptable you to your home for the abutting three years.”
I sneezed. The babe abutting to me attempt me a glare.
Catherine House, M. Day was saying, duke comatose on a board blast booth, is not aloof a school, but a abbey — an ambiance of absolute absorption and retreat. We animate acceptance to abundance these three years as a actual appropriate clandestine time in their lives. But we accept that some may ambition to break in blow with their families and accompany aback home. Such acceptance may do so by spending what we alarm “points,” which are becoming by absolute at affairs assignments, accidental advisedly to the Catherine community, or through trades, which are assigned in your additional year. Acceptance are afresh acceptable to absorb credibility on buzz credits and postage stamps. Your Blue Book explains the credibility arrangement in added detail.
The blur skipped to a ample allowance lined with shelves abounding of toiletries. M. Day gestured adjoin them with a hostess’s delight.
At Catherine, it is our amusement to accommodate our acceptance with aggregate they need: a advantageous breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner; academic and accustomed dress; pencils, notebooks, and added academy supplies; toiletries to attend your beard and skin; and medications as prescribed. Added accessories and vanity items, such as appearance accouterment or cosmetics, may be purchased with credibility at the commissary.
A beam of ablaze and a pause, as if addition had fiddled with the camera. Afresh M. Day was in a abode room, active a duke over a tidy bed.
Whether you alive in Molina, Ashley, or Harrington, your anteroom is your home for the abutting three years. And while we do accept a agents of aides to advice accumulate the abode in aristocratic shape, we apprehend our acceptance to apple-pie up afterwards themselves and administer their active areas with respect, aloof as they do their minds. Activate your day by authoritative your bed and demography a bath. Floss and besom your teeth. Treat your bodies and your spaces with pride.
M. Day was walking beyond the yard, into a array of trees, abutting a broad white building.
If we accept you accept wandered from the aisle of learning, we may accelerate you here, to the Catherine Abode Restoration Center. The Restoration Center is not a abode of punishment. It is a abode to acclimate your accord to Catherine and your environment. Anniversary of our acceptance has been called by Viktória and the admis- sions board as addition who belongs actuality at Catherine. You will accord to Catherine, and Catherine will accord to you. We will not let anniversary added down.
I glanced at Viktória aback M. Day said her name. I would accept apprehension she’d accession her duke or smile to the army to accede the mention. She didn’t move.
M. Day connected on, abnormality through assorted apartment at Catherine. Actuality was how we registered for fettle activities; this was what to do in case of a medical emergency; these were the holidays, festivals, and feasts that would mark the access of our time. Ballrooms, parlors, and dining apartment flashed pink, white, and gold.
Should we accept any questions, we may accredit to the Blue Book for added details.
“It’s a lot, I know,” our conductor said as we aggregate in the Molina parlor afterwards the presentation. The usher, Kimmy Tannenbaum — “Three n’s, one b, yes, address that down, there will be a quiz . . . Oh, don’t, don’t, I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” — was a frizzy, animated upperclassman tasked with adjusting us to activity at Catherine, and to Molina in particular. She had already accustomed us a quick, high- active bout of the Molina courtyard, bedchamber halls, laundry auto and drop-off, and handed out a flurry of allotment forms and schedules. “Once classes activate abutting week,” she was adage now, agitation aback and alternating on her heels, “you’ll get the adhere of things afore you apperceive it, lickety-split, like that.” She airtight her fingers. “I promise.”
A babe coughed. We all glanced at her, afresh away.
“Anyway,” Kimmy said. “Any questions?”
The parlor was abutting with quiet energy. There were about thirty of us first-years in Molina, which, Kimmy had explained, was the newest anteroom and had the aboriginal cardinal of students. We all stood awash calm amid the parlor’s careful divans, agenda tables, and angular blush glassy sofas, eyeing anniversary added in tight- lipped silence. The air was abundant with the aroma of asleep roses.
“How do we get added wine?” the babe abutting to me blurted out.
The allowance tittered, and the babe blushed. I could aroma her sweat. It smelled plasticky, like the bargain absterge we’d activate in our acceptable kits. Kimmy’s smile hardened.
“Guys,” Kimmy said, “listen. I get it. Obviously, Catherine is not your boilerplate school. You’re not activity to get carded here. Your parents are a billion afar away. And” —she aerial her button — “Catherine has consistently been a abode in which conduct and ataxia are both admired as allotment of the acquirements experience. We appetite you to assignment hard, but we additionally appetite you to accept the best years of your life. So go ahead, alcohol yourself stupid. But remember—this is not an accessible school. If you don’t appetite to abort out, eventually you’re activity to accept to do your homework. And you actually don’t appetite to abort out.”
She stared about the room, button still lifted, as if adventuresome us to say article more. No one did. The allowance watched her in anticipation.
“You can aces up bottles during tea service,” she said. “New shipments appear in on the barter every week.”
Kimmy rubbed at her neck. She wasn’t attractive at us anymore; she was staring up at the parlor chandelier. It afraid abundant with bright crystals and beads.
“You are so lucky,” she said. Her articulation had become distant.
“So lucky,” she said, “to be actuality — at the beginning.” ●
From Catherine Abode by Elisabeth Thomas, appear by Custom House. Copyright © 2020 by Elisabeth Thomas. Reprinted address of HarperCollins Publishers.
Elisabeth Thomas grew up in Brooklyn, New York, area she still lives and now writes. She accelerating from Yale University and currently works as an archivist for a avant-garde art museum. This is her aboriginal novel.
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