Welcome to another edition of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors compare their recently released books to weird things. This week Karin Cecile Davidson writes about Sybelia Drive, her new novel out from Braddock Avenue Books.
In the small lake town in Florida where LuLu, Rainey, and Saul are growing up, life is complicated by war, longing, and the sharp pain of conditional love. Coming of age while coming to terms with their detached parents, unrealized dreams, and the backdrop of the war in Vietnam, the threesome push past childhood into their teenage years with the shared baggage of a generation—one that is caught up in the lingering innocence of a private world until outside events cast that world in a different light, and the three measure their days by measuring each other: whether in wit, complicity, or hurtfulness. In the years that they are together, men walk on the moon, students are shot at Kent State, and of their three military fathers, only one returns from Vietnam.
Originally from the Gulf Coast, Karin Cecile Davidson is the author of the novel Sybelia Drive (Braddock Avenue Books, October 2020). Her stories have recently appeared in Five Points and Story. Her latest award was a Fine Arts Work Center Summer Residency. She is an Interviews Editor for Newfound Journal.
If Sybelia Drive were a year, it would be 1967, Year of the Fire Sheep, when love is unlucky, trust is rare, and careers could lead to international travel. All the front doors in the neighborhood would open, fathers and sons, brothers and uncles, standing there dressed in drab military colors, goodbyes exiting their mouths.
If Sybelia Drive were a house, it would be an L-shaped contemporary with interesting glass areas, a prudent use of contrasting materials, and fine zoning for pleasurable living patterns. Sloping, beamed ceilings would highlight all the central rooms. A large living room, family dining area, and a homemakers kitchen, as well as a sleeping wing of three bedrooms and two baths, would bring joy to any mid-size 1960s family.
If Sybelia Drive were a restaurant, it would sit lakeside, with diners out on the surrounding docks; pastel-colored umbrellas shading the tables; mounds of barbequed shrimp, hushpuppies and oven fries, bowls of cole slaw, cold bottles of beer and tall glasses of sweet tea, and wedges of key lime pie all served family-style; Diana Ross and the Supremes’s “Reflections” ringing from the imperfect sound system.
If Sybelia Drive were a lake, it would connect by a system of canals to a series of other lakes with names like Catherine, Hope, Faith, and Virginia. It would be a large central Florida lake, its water soft and gray-green, fragrant with algae and edged with long grasses, populated with perch and lily pads, frogs and alligator, and crisscrossed by canoes and small motorboats towing water-skiers, cutting a wide arc around the cypress trees that rise straight into the sky.
If Sybelia Drive were a grove, its trees would be citrus—tangerines and oranges, lemons and grapefruit—laden with overripe fruit and girls dangling their legs from the branches and smoking stolen cigarettes.
If Sybelia Drive were a joke, it would be the entire Joke Wall on Laugh-In, painted with sun yellow, bright orange, and hot pink flowers and bordered with psychedelic lines of the same shades. From closed shutters cut into these designs, neighbors would pop out, say the most ridiculous things, laugh high hysterical laughs, and then pop back behind their shutters. Someone calling “Get a load of this!” hears the reply, “No! Get a load of that!” “Knock-knock” never meets up with “Who’s there?” And gags about wounded parrots are a dime a dozen.
If Sybelia Drive were a duck call, it would be black and cylindrical, engraved with the gold letters P.S. OLT, discovered in the pocket of a child’s dress, size 6x, left crumpled on the bedroom floor. Its tone would be sweet and soundless, beckoning the brightest of blue teal, begging to be stolen by little girls who traipse barefoot over neighbors’ lawns at midnight.
If Sybelia Drive were a dance, it would be the Monkey, the Swim, the Twist, and the Pony all at once. It would climb trees and take things, dive under and surface like a flying fish, straighten up and settle down, wink once, wink twice, and move sideways across the linoleum. And in the end, it would trot to your side, flick its tail, and stamp its foot into the thin sandy soil, promising a ride, but then taking off, leaving only a dust trail.
If Sybelia Drive were a cereal, it would be Frosted Flakes, Tony the Tiger leaning hard on the first F, his long tail curled around the second. It would be poured into a two bowls, one to eat and one to share, and then doused with grade-A, homogenized milk, no bananas, no blueberries. It would be devoured on the couch covered with the blanket decorated with daisies, while the TV blares and the coyote is once again blown to smithereens, the roadrunner a distant “beep-beep!” down the road. And then the bowls with the last soggy flakes still drowning in milk would be left on the gold-flecked countertop, done with, the backdoor slamming shut.
If Sybelia Drive were a flower, it would be a beach daisy, clustered among other daisies in a rise of soft sand, surrounded by dune grass, bright with sun, leggy and lacy as a young girl, and leaning sideways in the wind.
If Sybelia Drive were a bracelet, it would be rose gold and sweetened with charms. Stars and seashells, dogs and daisies, a pair of roller skates, all jingling and jangling from an upraised wrist. On second thought, it would be a silver band engraved with a name, a military rank, a date, and the letters MIA. For emphasis, add a little blue star inside a circle of white.
If Sybelia Drive were a secret, it would lay inside a box of personal effects, shipped home from the shores of Qui Nhon. The dress blues pressed, the white cap tilted to one side, and the pair of photos—one of Mama, and another of a girl, someone from over there—beneath. One day the white cap would disappear, then reappear atop the little sister’s head, her blond hair flying below its brim.
If Sybelia Drive were a seed packet, it would be years old, labeled Wildflower Mix, lost in the back of a kitchen drawer with pencil nubs, spare change, a found marble the color of sea glass, a toy soldier, and an empty vial of Miltown.
If Sybelia Drive were stranger, she would slip her hand inside yours, pronounce the day a holiday, and take over your world. She would celebrate the silliest things, share sweet wine, eat blackberry pie right out of the pan, and fill your garage with boxes of Fiestaware. One day she’d disappear, her only trace the lingering scent of Shalimar.
If Sybelia Drive were a drop of dew, it would not be crystalline, but muted with the greens of rain-dappled lake water and the white-capped blues of the Atlantic on a bright afternoon. It would shine up from the darkest of camellia leaves and the palest of ligustrum petals, requesting company and solitude all at once. Only the smallest of tree frogs would know its taste and how it slipped from one leaf, one petal, to another.
Karin Cecile Davidson is originally from the Gulf Coast and now lives in Columbus, Ohio. Her stories have been published in Five Points, The Massachusetts Review, Story Magazine, Colorado Review, The Los Angeles Review, Passages North, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, an Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency, a Studios of Key West Artist Residency, an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the Orlando Prize for Short Fiction, the Waasmode Short Fiction Prize, and a Peter Taylor Fellowship. She has an MFA from Lesley University and is Interviews Co-Editor for Newfound Journal. Follow her on Twitter at @KarinCecile.