At the Los Angeles Zoo, 1968.
But now here I am at my baby shower, holding my baby book—proof that writing has always been a part of me, that it's what I'm supposed to do. I read aloud a line my mother had written: "Los Angeles, 1971. Natalie, age 5. Loves to read. Favorite books: Peter Rabbit, The Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie, and Little Bear. Loves to write. Natalie is always making little books and writing stories." I blink and reread the line. Loves to always making little books and writing stories. As I read the note again and again, something within me falls into place. I look at my mother and mouth, "Thank you."

It will take me another four years to leave my job. By then I'll have risen to vice president of sales. On the day I finally give notice, I walk into my dad's office, announce my plans, and underscore that my decision is final.

I know that to stay any longer wouldn't be fair to either of us. One day my dad will want to retire, and he'd be counting on me to carry the torch. He has spent his life building this business. I couldn't live with myself if I were the one who let it crumble.

I stand at his desk, bracing for his reaction. For a time he is silent. Finally, he removes his glasses and pushes back his leather cap—the one he wears every day, because he says it keeps his head warm. He leans back in his big black chair and slowly exhales. For a few seconds, he just stares at me, and as I look back at him, I see how he's aged. He's 50 pounds heavier than the young man in the photo feeding the goats. Suddenly I feel sick, knowing that I'm rejecting his dream, the one he thought we shared. I also know that what he wants most of all is to protect me. The bottom is a long way down. He sighs heavily, but says nothing. He nods and waves me out the door.

Outside, the sky is brown. I get in my car and drive over the railroad tracks, past the same sad trickle of the Los Angeles River, past the reeking slaughterhouse.

It will be 15 years more before my novel is published; the final draft will be my 13th revision. Writing will turn out to be the most challenging thing I've ever done besides raising my children. I will experience pendulum swings of exhilaration and crushing self-doubt. But I don't know any of that yet. Bumping over the railroad tracks, all I know is that I've leaped off the cliff. I'm terrified, but I can't stop smiling.

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile

Natalie Baszile's first novel, Queen Sugar (Pamela Dorman Books), was recently published.


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