First Look Book Club
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Suzanne Beecher

Dear Reader,

Is this the month you’ll win some of my homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies? I’ll be baking two dozen chocolate chip cookies for three book club readers, but you have to enter to win. To see the smiling faces of past cookie winners and to enter this month’s cookie giveaway, go to,

On Monday I'm headed to the courthouse because I received my third Jury Summons. I had to ask for two other postponements because of business conflicts. This time I think I better show up and truthfully, I'm looking forward to it.

I've never been called for Jury Duty before, but everyone I know tells me you just sit around doing a lot of waiting, so I'm planning on taking a bunch of books and catching up on my reading. And I'd be surprised if I didn't pick up some great material for a Dear Reader, too.

My summons informs me (in BOLD) that no beach attire or shorts are permitted. (I live in Florida.) So here's my dilemma: What is the proper attire for Jury Duty? Do you dress to try to get picked or do you dress to discourage them from choosing you, and would I even know the difference?

A friend, who served on a jury before, told me that because I want to get picked, I should wear a pink skirt with a black top--because that's what she wore and they chose her.

But when I looked  in my closet nothing was crying out "Pick me!" So I guess I'll just have to wait and “listen” to what Monday brings…”Pick me, pick me!”
Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.

Suzanne Beecher

P. S. This week we're giving away 10 copies of the book Gone Like Yesterday: A Novel by Janelle M. Williams. Click here to enter for your chance to win. 


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(continued from Thursday)

Zahra doesn't mind the commotion. She likes opening her window and hearing a BMW blast Dipset, soprano voices singing cusses, watching a man bust a car window open and then slink his whole body through the window when he could've just popped the lock. But the trees are barely here, little scraggly things, naked women in winter, and Zahra never thought she'd care either way, and maybe she really doesn't because trees are something that unbothered people notice, people nothing like her. Zahra has bigger things on her mind—a grandmother who floats among men like creek debris, a brother who drifts like butter sliding off a hot roll, but she's begun to admit pausing every now and then to consider the London plane trees or pin oaks, whatever they are. Maybe she moved here to get away from trees. Maybe she doesn't want to breathe.

Now, Janie is waiting outside her apartment. She's bundled efficiently, a chunky scarf wrapped three or four times around her neck, loose jeans rolled to the ankle. She makes everything she wears look fashionable. Even those utility hiking boots in which Zahra is sure she's stuffed two pairs of socks for fifty-degree weather. Janie is from the South too and always talks about moving back, says New York is colder than a motherfucker and that niggas are scared of commitment here. It's not not true.

"I thought you would be home sooner," Janie huffs. "It's cold as balls out here."

"You could've just pressed all the numbers. Someone would've buzzed you in."

"I'm sure that makes you feel safe."

"It doesn't really make me feel any way. Whoever keeps stealing my packages is probably not getting buzzed in." They take the rundown, sometimesy elevator to the fourth floor.

"True. But still, what took you so long? You're like twenty minutes late."

Inside Zahra's apartment, the heat meets them eagerly, as if it's trying to leave through the front door. They take off their coats and drop them carelessly on Zahra's old futon, something she bought off Craigslist and, with Janie's begrudging help, carried six blocks to her building.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to leave you hanging. You know how iffy the trains are."


"Plus, I got a call from an old Uber driver," Zahra says, even though he's not the reason she was late. Maybe it just feels good to mention him.

"An old Uber driver?"

"Yeah, it's a long story, but he wants me to help his niece with her college essay."

Janie laughs. "Can an Uber driver afford you?"

"I'm going to do it for free."

'You really don't have to', he'd texted after she'd sent a simple 'No' 'charge'. And of course she doesn't 'have' to. But for some acute reason, maybe because Trey is an enigma and Sammie is just the opposite— a distorted image of Zahra's teenage self, like looking into one of those fun house mirrors—she 'wants' to. And as for payment, well, it's just not the same when she knows it's from a half-dry well— considering their apartment in East Harlem, that family doesn't really have the money to give.

"Uber driver must have something you want. Is he cute?"

"He's... well, it's not about him."

Janie throws her head back, scoffs. She plops down on Zahra's bed. "Um-hmm," she says. "If you say so "

Zahra rolls her eyes. "Don't you have anything going on? Let's dissect your life, give mine a second to breathe." She tidies up her room. She was in a rush this morning, and it shows.

"Well, I'm still waiting for that promotion that I was promised months ago. New York Times pretends to be all progressive, but my department is just a bunch of white gay"—she pauses, uses air quotes to modify—"liberal men. They think they know what's what because they're a part of a marginalized group. Marginalized my ass." Zahra met Janie in DC, deejaying a party near U Street, a time before its current severe state of gentrification. A friend of a friend introduced them, said DJ Jane Dough had gone to Howard and made a name for herself there on the turntables. Zahra remembers feeling somewhat envious of Janie's Caesar fade, neon green headphones, bright orange lipstick, mustardy-brown skin, and a dimple that reminded Zahra of Derrick's. Most impressive, Janie was famous for knowing almost every Lil Wayne and Jay-Z and Biggie verse ever spit, regular singles 'and' remixes, nondiscriminatory.

But they didn't really get to know each other until New York, when Zahra spotted Janie at Mist and was emboldened enough to approach her, ask if she was deejaying in New York now, and Janie said no, that she'd gotten bored, and Zahra was even more impressed than before. She knew it wasn't easy to walk away from popularity, from doing something you'd learned to do well.

"You've been waiting for that promotion for a really long time now," Zahra says, sorting clean clothes from dirty. Lining her shoes along the wall in a neat row.

"Longer than most."

"You thinking of leaving?"

"Hell yeah, I'm thinking of leaving, but then it's like, leave and go where? To the next fucked-up company?" Janie rolls onto her back, hugs her face so only her forehead and mouth are left of it.

"True." Zahra is satisfied with her work and sits on the bed next to Janie, cross-legged.

"Shit is driving me crazy." Janie uncovers her face and looks at Zahra pleadingly, as if there's something she can do to help. When Zahra comes up empty-handed, she changes the subject.

"Well, how's Isaiah?"


"Isaiah. The flavor of the month."

Janie never keeps them for much longer than that.

"God, the flavor of last month," she says, shaking her head, which puts her hoop earrings in motion. "He was super clingy."

"Just what I'm looking for."

"You say that now."

"Yeah, I actually want men to respond to my text messages. To call me just to say good morning and all that lovey shit." Zahra stretches out her legs, picks up her phone, knowing she's missed nothing—no new texts, no missed calls, her Instagram barely refreshes.

"You don't act like it sometimes."

"You're just trying to make me feel better. It would be nice if I was self-sabotaging, but I'm really not."

"What do you call Kahlil?"

"An idiot."

It's hard for Zahra to admit that she's never really been in an adult relationship, so she doesn't admit it often. Never to Janie, who seems to open her palms to the world and watch sunshine rain down. Even the job Janie is bitching about pays more than Zahra's seventydollar-an-hour college prep sessions, and much more than her parttime gig at Common House, a restaurant on the Upper East Side. And men love Janie, no matter what she's wearing, no matter if she falls asleep on their shoulder and drools on one of their most expensive shirts, a real-life example. Men like Zahra too; she's never denied this, but it's not in a way of maturation. They like that she's smart until they begin to hate her for it. They like that she's eloquent until they grow tired of hearing her talk and begin to cut her off midsentence. 'But when it comes to Black women', she'll say, and they'll sigh exaggeratedly, roll their eyes, tune her out, back out of the conversation with discontent or discursion. There's some method to dating that she hasn't been able to figure out. Gram says it's about deference; and her mother, Mary, says she just has to stop caring about that sort of thing; and, of course, there's Janie, who doesn't rely on a rubric at all but sheer intuition.

* * *

When Janie leaves, Zahara is left with the sounds of rats gnawing, scratching, and scurrying; they're inside her fucking walls, maybe on the roof, or no, in the neighbor's apartment above her. She imagines that one day they'll break free, that one day they'll eat right through the Sheetrock and come claim her apartment, her bedroom, as their own. She hates it here, in New York, but then it's like what Janie said about switching companies, leave and go where? She has nowhere to be, is on no set schedule, has no one true dream. And as much as she hates New York, she also loves it—the hustle and bustle, the intersections, the demand.

Zahra sprawls out on her comforter, arms and legs extended, looking up at the ceiling, imagining it as Atlanta's inky-black night, in reverie with her brother. But there, in the corner, half-concealed by her steam pipe, is a web. She stands on top of her bed to get a closer look at it, and shit, yeah, it's just what she thought. The web is crawling with little caterpillars that she knows will eventually turn into moths that sing to her, an endless looping lullaby. Zahra runs to the kitchen for a broom, comes back to her room, and smashes the web apart like Gram used to take down the spiderwebs that formed when she and Derrick were away from home for long periods of time—at their other granny's house or the one year they went away to summer camp. And now, having gotten rid of the single most annoying insects of her life, she feels accomplished and nauseous all at once. She lies back down. She closes her eyes but opens them again when she can't fall asleep.

"What the fuck?" she screams, nearly breathless. There must be twenty or thirty moths, fluttering, floating, forcing voices from small, impossible bodies. Their voices are as beautiful, as powerful as ever, but they're also in discord. Rhythm and blues, funk and Afrofuturism, jazz and house, trap and snap all at once. They haven't learned how to harmonize, are trying to sing too many songs at once. She doesn't swat them away like normal, doesn't scream so loud that her voice drowns them out but concedes that listening to their melodies might be better than hearing the rats shave down their teeth. 

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