Your granddaughters are lost, Candelaria…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Candelaria by Melissa Lozada-Oliva, a sweeping, mystical novel following three generations of women as they grapple with muddled pasts and predetermined futures—out from Astra Books on September 19.
Your granddaughters are lost, Candelaria. Bianca, the brainy archaeologist, had to forfeit her life’s work in Guatemala after her advisor seduced and deserted her. Paola, missing for over a decade, resurfaces in Boston as a brainwashed wellness cultist named Zoe. And Candy, the youngest, is a recovering addict who finds herself pregnant by a man she’s not even sure ever existed. None of this concerns you of course, until a cataclysmic earthquake hits Boston. Now you must traverse the crumbling city to reach the Watertown Mall Old Country Buffet—for a reason you still cannot disclose—battling strange entities and your own strange past to save your granddaughters and possibly the world.
One morning, close to Halloween, a few weeks after deleting her sister’s number, Candy woke to rain. Candy loved thinking that she was somebody who loved the darkness; the shorter days and the colder nights. She wanted to feel at home in the dreariness. The creepiness of it all. But often it made her mood tank.
Opening her fridge and sighing, she saw that she was out of almond milk, which meant that she would skip out on her regular smoothie. She was getting kind of tired of them, anyway. Briefly, she had a moment of self-awareness. Were the smoothies just a phase? Was she as reliant on them as she was with other substances? She briefly recalled the packages of raw meat from a few months prior, and how tasty they were, and how those cravings just stopped. See? she thought. I can grow. I can change.
Never really one to be frugal or practical, Candy decided to spend $12 on an artisanal egg sandwich from the local organic deli on Center Street and eat it on her way to the bus, the rain pattering on her hands and changing the temperature of the sandwich.
Why did she feel like crying?
The cheddar cheese would make her gassy at the theatre, but she tried not to let herself care. Her cheese days were her off days when she could fart in peace. Sometimes she would get this sandwich without the cheese, but it seemed so bare. So dry. She let herself relish in the way the aioli wrapped over the cheese, the jamminess of the egg yolk. She finished the sandwich and crunched the aluminum foil into a ball.
This rain was giving Candy a headache. Her hands smelled like eggs and garlic. She rested her head on the bus’s window pane. Were the only people in her life really her mother, grandmother, and Zoe? Who cares, she thought, everybody fucking leaves me anyway. Her stomach twanged slightly—the cheese was fighting with the lack of lactose enzymes in her gut. She would just deal with it. Be bloated all day. Maybe the smoothies were a good idea after all.
Why couldn’t she focus?
Jenny greeted her as she entered the theater. “Hey, miss,” she said, mopping the floor.
“Shut up, Jenny.”
Jenny scowled. Candy took a seat behind the ticket counter. The customers arrived and then the customers left.
“Fuck this job,” she said, a little too loudly, handing a ticket to a teenager who had just coughed into his hand. She was thinking about how a few months had gone by without seeing anybody she knew when she heard “Candy?” Her name came from the mouth of Rebecca Polkinghorn, the girl from high school whose parents’ room she had passed out in.
“Wow, it’s been forever!”
“Uh-huh,” Candy said into the speaker. “What are you here to see?”
“I’m here with the kids, they have today off. Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I guess we’re calling it now.”
Candy pressed the speaker button again. “That’s crazy.”
Rebecca smiled at her. Two small children were hugging her legs. “What have you been up to? It’s really good to see you looking so well.” Rebecca grabbed a child and held her on her hip.
Wasn’t she kind of young to have two children? Or was Candy getting old? So well, Rebecca said. “Yeah, things have been pretty good since I got an abortion,” Candy said, matching Rebecca’s smile, which quickly faded. “The last time I felt this good was when I got out of rehab.” Candy looked directly at Rebecca’s children. “Yeah, it was for super heavy drug use. Remember? How I almost died? In your parents’ room?”
Rebecca protectively put her hands over her kids cherubic heads. Then Candy was smacked by a wave of nausea. “Enjoy your movie. I gotta vom.” She ran downstairs to the bathroom where she retched out her breakfast, annoyed that she couldn’t just enjoy something even a little bit artisanal. Fucking dairy. Fucking Big Milk! She wiped her mouth and washed her hands then went back to the ticket stand, thinking about how vomit was at least more graceful than diarrhea. She went behind the concession stand and took a can of ginger ale out of the fridge, chugging it and feeling the bubbles foam around the walls of her upset stomach. Her headache became more intense. Her vision started to blur.
“Hey,” Jenny said, her furry eyebrows and long ponytail pissing Candy off for a reason she couldn’t place, “you have to write items off that you take. You can’t just take the food because you’re a manager.” Candy narrowed her eyes, trying to focus on what Jenny was saying. A bell was ringing in her ears. But it wasn’t a bell. It was a heartbeat. She could hear it. It was coming from Jenny. A loud and luscious fifty-six-year-old heart pumping inside her chest. The smell of the sweat from underneath Jenny’s large breasts filled Candy’s nose, pies cooling on a window.
“Jenny,” she said, wrinkling her nose and wiping saliva from her mouth, “get out of my fucking face.”
Jenny put her hands on her hips. “It’s your turn to clean theater three.” She walked away, muttering something about addicts—Candy knew her employees talked badly behind her back.
The theater still held the energy from everyone who had just come in to see the new Marvel movie palpable in every seat. Theaters always felt haunted because of this: the perspiring and screaming and laughing with strangers in a room that had no windows. Stuff like that just stays. Candy tried not to let it get to her.
She started at the front aisle, closest to the screen, trying to focus on the broom in her hand. Everything was so blurry that it looked like a mosaic painting. She was sweeping ferociously, banging the broom against the seats, when the red curtains parted, the lights turned off, and the screen turned on.
“No!” she called, but to who, she didn’t know. “I’m not doing this again!”
She turned, and there she was on the screen, in black-and-white.
“I fixed it!” she yelled up at the ceiling, at whoever was running the projection booth, which was dark, because nobody was running it. She was all alone. “I got rid of it!” On screen, Candy stared back, smiling widely, and continued sweeping. A voice began to speak to her again. It felt as though it were her own, but someone was using her words. She, but not she, was narrating this new life.
Back where we left you. Our protagonist.
There you are, the popcorn scattered around. The small wrappers with the special Halloween slogans on them. Go on, don’t let me interrupt. You were doing so much work.
You never know what you might find in between these seats. Don’t cry.
There’s nothing to cry about. Keep going.
Now, what is that, Candy? You kneel.
The camera moves behind you as if held by somebody else. Over your shoulder, you can see what she’s seeing.
And then, you merge. You are just one Candy. Something small’s under the seat. Tiny.
Move closer. Aren’t you curious? It’s no bigger than a cat.
Go closer. Come on. Squirming and transparent.
A small, embryonic sack of fluid, breathing in and out. Why is this still happening, Candy?
You back away quickly, instinctually, as whatever was inside the bag begins to move toward you, fighting with itself as it gains velocity.
It punctures a hole in its sack. A bit of air comes out. Some red liquid. Is that a tiny little arm?
You stand on the seats, jumping from arm handle to arm handle. It slithers toward you, without any limbs.
Candy came to. The figure slithering toward her wasn’t an embryo-creature but a knocked-over package of Welch’s Fruit Snacks. It was just Candy inside of the theater. Nobody was on the screen. The curtains were shut. She picked up her broom and set it by the entrance, then walked down to the bathroom. Outside, through the glass windows, she could see that it was nighttime. But how? Wasn’t it just the afternoon? Wasn’t she just talking to Rebecca about Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
Beetlejuice was at the bottom of the staircase with his hands out and his mouth grimacing and Candy jumped at the sight of him. In the bathroom, which was covered in spider webs, she took a few deep breaths. She was just dehydrated, probably, from throwing up her breakfast earlier. She stuck her hand beneath the electric faucet and splashed water on her face. Normal. Normal, still, normal. Breathing. Candy looked at herself in the mirror. Then, a sound behind her. Creaking. Something moving back and forth on its hinge.
You turn and the stalls move blink at you. Look down.
Your hands are covered in blood. Scary, Candy. Look in the mirror, Candy. Tell me what you see. How did so much blood get on you?
You stick your hand under another faucet, which also spouts out blood. Another sink, more blood.
You tear out paper towels and wipe down your hands and your face, the towels staining quickly.
You feel nauseous. But by now you know it wasn’t the artisanal egg sandwich, don’t you?
Opening up a stall, you throw up in the toilet, as the stall door continued to bang behind you.
The lights flicker.
Worms crawl out of the toilet, and you use your boot to kick the handle of the toilet repeatedly.
Then the stall door opened and there was Jenny, plump Jenny, with her stomach folding over her pants like dough and her thick arms underneath her Coolidge Corner Theater polo. Jenny held out her hand, and it was so soft, so pillowy, and Candy took it and let herself be lifted. She was inches away from Jenny’s face. She was making Jenny blush.
“I thought I told you to get out of my fucking face,” Candy snarled, and the smell of Jenny just got stronger, and Candy moaned again. Jenny backed away slightly, but only slightly.
“Are you okay?” Jenny said, her breath reeked of the Dunkin’ Donuts pumpkin spice cold brew she was always drinking, “We couldn’t find you for six hours.” Her teeth were graying and had flecks of yellow on them. Candy wanted to lick each one. She stumbled and grabbed onto Jenny’s arm and rubbed it.
“Candy?” No, no, Candy thought, she couldn’t. She wouldn’t. Don’t think about that.
“I’ve been going through a lot,” Candy found herself saying, oh, no, oh, no, “Can I have a hug?”
“I just need a hug.”
Jenny held out her arms. “Oh, sweetie, of course.” Candy found herself in Jenny’s armpit smelling the flakes of her deodorant, hearing her heart pounding in her ears, a sickeningly sweet song she didn’t want to stop listening to.
“Honey?” Jenny said, because she could feel the wetness of Candy’s tongue as she wet her shirt, and the soft moans leaving her mouth, and before Jenny even had a chance Candy had pinned her down on the floor.
There it is.
You can feel it, can’t you?
You have finally arrived. You’ve pulled into the station after a long, long ride where you fidgeted and you distracted yourself with other things that you thought could fill you up. But that was just to keep you going. That was just to get you here. This is what you have been trying to reach your entire life, the hole of it all, filled by the blood shooting out of Jenny’s neck as you dig your teeth into it, the way her body wriggles underneath you like a kitten’s heart.
You are so strong in this moment, so very filled up, Candy. You snap off her arm as if it were a tag on a piece of clothing and the skin slips off the muscle in between your teeth. And the best part of it, which is so much different and better than the cold packages of meat, is that you can see all of Jenny’s life, her father teaching her how to ride a bicycle in 1979, her lack of interest in men and crush on her neighbor Miranda, who fell in love with her high school sweetheart, who became a postal service worker, and the solace she took, like you do, in the movies, and Jenny’s loneliness, which wasn’t too different from yours because you can see, as you take her heart into your hands and bite into it like the buñuelos your father used to bring you from East Boston, Jenny and her gerbil, alone in her apartment in Roxbury, the routines she had in the morning, and the best friend who lived in California she called every Sunday to talk about nothing, and as you move on to her organs, you begin to cry, because it is all so beautiful, Jenny’s life. And you got to live it and, for as long as it took to finish her, be somebody else.
Candy burped, collapsing against the bathroom stall. Her headache was gone. She felt new. When she was finished with Jenny, she came to and saw the mess around her. The shell she left behind. The life she had taken to feed herself and whatever was growing inside her.
Shame began to set in.
“Shit,” she said. “Shit!” She locked the bathroom and pulled open the sink cabinet for the proper cleaning tools. She had never felt so full and complete. She grabbed a garbage bag and tossed the remaining bits of Jenny inside—her uniform, her Adidas, her knockoff Apple watch, her bones. She poured bleach on the floor and mopped up in a panic, grabbing paper towels and violently scrubbing away the blood.
With the sack of remains in a black garbage bag over her shoulder, Candy made her way upstairs. She still didn’t understand how it was suddenly midnight, how time had just frozen, sped up, and brought her somewhere else. Everyone had gone home for the night. Thank God. She opened the door outside and looked around her, popping open the dumpster and then thinking about how the sack of remains was evidence. Oops. She would have to walk with the garbage bag home. Something soft rubbed against her leg. She looked down.
“How did you get here!” she demanded. The cat got on her back and showed her white belly, showing off her gummy worm nipples. Then she sat up, stuck one leg in the air and started licking her butthole.
“Girl, you are nasty.” Candy turned away from her and began her journey home.
Excerpted from Candelaria, copyright © 2023 by Melissa Lozada-Oliva.