Read This Excerpt From Leopoldine Core's When Watched: A Story About The Afterglow

When Watched may be author Leopoldine Core's first book of stories, but she's already made a name for herself in another literary genre. Core released her poetry collection Veronica Bench to rave reviews just last year. Suffice to say: The bar was set high.

So luckily, When Watched — a beautiful collection of character studies, each its own glittering gem — falls nowhere near short of expectations. This new release has already won a Whiting Award; in it, Core demonstrates her keen talent for truly seeing people: their insecurities, hidden histories, defense mechanisms. Her lyricism is matched by her obvious acuity for dialogue, which she uses as a tool to dig toward motivation.

There's an intimacy to her writing, and to the stories she's chosen to tell, one of which we selected to excerpt below. "Smiling" is a short piece that perfectly encapsulates that moment when you tumble into love, followed by the knowledge of what is newly at stake.
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They are lying in bed naked, she with her head on his lap. And he is gently raking her scalp with his fingernails, which she likes very much. Possibly she likes it even more than sex.

“Tell me what you were like,” he says. She smiles and looks up at him.

“I mean when you were little,” he says. “I loved rolling down hills,” she says.

“Oh yeah,” he says, remembering all the hills of his life, high and green and endless. “It was like the first drug,” he says. “It felt so dangerous.”

“I know!” she says, her eyes growing wide. “There were rocks and shit. It was so exhilarating. It was like sex.”

She sits up and they look hard at each other. It is not a penetrating look, though both mean for it to be. Their eyes search each other scientifically, drinking up the exquisite surface detail by detail. Her eyes, his mouth, her nose, his shoulders.

“What were you like?” she asks.

“I liked bobbing for apples,” he says and grins.

“Oh you did not.”

“I swear. I was really good at it.” “How could you be good at it?” “I was really brave.”

“I could never get them in my mouth,” she says, reanimating the struggle in her mind.

“You have to let them come to you,” he explains.

This sends her into gales of laughter. Even when she has stopped, the laughter plays around her eyes.

He touches her face. “I’ve never liked someone this much,” he says. “Because I think you’re funny. Yeah that’s it.”

“No really. What is it about me?”

“I don’t know. I think it’s your hair.”

She shoves him, laughing hard. “Shut up!”

“It’s really good hair.”

“Come on. I was asking seriously.”

“God. I don’t know. It’s your face. Your heart. Your ass.”

She stares. What he has said feels perfect. She kisses his nose and lies on her back smiling, tits splayed. They are quiet awhile. “God,” she says, stretching. “I’ll never get tired of being in bed.”

“I know,” he says. “I’ve never seen such a dedicated person.” To this she laughs and laughs. He joins in, pleased with himself.
“All you do is mock me,” she says. “That’s what flirting is,” he says.

“I know,” she says. “It’s a violent act.” She thinks of all the people who flirt with her on a regular basis. They all show their teeth when they smile, she thinks. Now he is smiling, showing his teeth. She is too. Smiling is powerful, she thinks and rolls onto her stomach.

“God,” he says. “You have a really great back.” He runs his hand over it. This is the first time he has looked closely at this part of her body. They have known each other for only 12 days. She looks over one shoulder, beaming. “I do?”

“Oh it’s perfect.” He kisses her spine and she rolls onto her back again, a greedy smile on her face.

He curls beside her, laying his head sidelong on her arm, so that his lips are pressed against one breast. “It keeps wanting to pop in my mouth,” he says of the breast.

“It doesn’t want anything,” she says.

“Well it’s right where my mouth is,” he says. “So when I talk it gets in.” He laughs wildly, letting the tit in. “It maketh it hard to talk,” he says.

“Why don’t you move?” she laughs.

“Is that what we’re doing? Dating?” he says, smirking slightly. “This is quite a date.”

“I don’t know, I kind of like it.” He raises his head, and they make out then stare at each other.
“What are you thinking about?” she asks.

“This.” She thinks he might make a joke but he doesn’t. She sits up and pulls a sheet over them. By the bed there’s a small stack of books. The one on top has an ugly fish on the cover. Over the fish big block letters spell, "world’s weirdest animals." She picks up the book. Under it, there’s another picture book.

“You read a lot of silly books, you know that?” she says. “Well you just read The Metamorphosis over and over,” he says. She stares at him.

“You said you read it every year,” he says. “Didn’t you say that?”

“So. You wish you could do the same thing over and over,” she says challengingly, a smile building. It is a playful smile but she means what she said. She thinks it takes guts to do the same thing many times. And an imagination.

“Say that again,” he says.

“You wish you could do the same thing over and over.”

“Say that again.”

“You wish you could do the same thing over and over.”

“Say that again.”

“Oh shut up.” She gives him a little shove. They laugh and laugh, then settle back into silence. She opens World’s Weirdest Animals and reads.

“Jesus,” she says. “What?”

“Ants of the subfamily Formicinae kidnap the eggs and pupae of other ant species, take them home, and raise them as slaves,” she reads aloud. “They spend the rest of their lives doing the foraging, cleaning, and babysitting for their masters.” She turns to him with a look of deliberate horror.

He grins. “That’s pretty fucked up.”

“It’s just such a human thing to do,” she says. “Right,” he says. “Humans are way worse though.”

“Yeah.” She stares into space. “The capacity to organize is endless and that becomes cruel.” He nods.

She puts the book down and he picks it up. “My mom buys these books for me,” he says. “Every year for Christmas.”

“Oh,” she says. “Do you ever buy books?”

“No. I don’t really like to read,” he says without embarrassment, putting the book back on the floor.

It mildly shocks her, his ease in admitting this, his confidence. “I love you,” she says.

"Because I don’t read?”

“Yeah that’s it.” She kisses him squarely on the mouth. “I mean it. I fucking love you. I’m so glad...”

“What?”

“I don’t know. I’m glad we’re dating.”

“Is that what we’re doing? Dating?” he says, smirking slightly. “This is quite a date.”

She shoves him, laughing embarrassedly, then climbs on top of him. “You’re so goddamn funny.”

“It’s all fear,” he says, feeling her bum with one hand. “It started in high school.” She watches his face as he remembers.

“They were all laughing at me anyway so I thought I might as well take control of it,” he says.

“That’s smart.”

He grins. “I was always making the moms laugh.”

“I’m sure you were very charming.”

“I was. You’re laughing!” “I’m not laughing.”

“But you’re smiling.”

“I am,” she says, the smile spreading to show her teeth. Then she throws herself down next to him, wanting to see what he sees: the ceiling, mostly.

“It seems like you like being naked,” he says. “I do,” she says. “I like how simple it is.”

He rests his hand on her stomach and a foreverish feeling flashes between them. She tries to imagine loving him less and she can’t. Then she tries to picture herself as an old woman in a rocking chair. She can’t. And she can’t imagine dying because that would mean the love was gone too.

She wraps her leg around him. She takes a whiff. Who could die like this?

From When Watched: Stories by Leopoldine Core, to be published on August 9th by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Leopoldine Core.
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