Anjali Sachdeva’s debut work of fiction, All the Names They Used for God, was an NPR Best Book of 2018, won the 2019 Chautauqua Prize, and was longlisted for The Story Prize. In 2020, she received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. This excerpt comes from her novel-in- progress, which follows the effects of an infectious disease that alters only female behavior, leading to a gender-segregated society.
Anna woke up at 3 a.m., ravenous. Cole was deep asleep, as were the kids when she padded quietly past their rooms. In the kitchen she opened the refrigerator and stared into its glowing innards. There was leftover salmon, mac and cheese, a teetering stack of yogurt cups. None of it was appealing. She gave up and moved to the window that overlooked the back yard. Outside, the moon was high and full. When she opened the window, a warm breeze filled the room. She could smell the grass, could smell gasoline and clover and somebody’s hours-past barbecue. Some other scent, too, something warm and fermented that she couldn’t put her finger on. She moved to the back door, pulled it open. She was still naked, but all the houses around her were dark, the street silent. Still, she crouched low to the ground as she stepped into the yard, breathing and searching. She found herself at a pile of fresh earth Cole had turned on the weekend, preparing for the little vegetable patch he liked to grow every summer. She plucked a chunk of dirt from the pile and examined it. There was a depth to its scent, a richness like dark chocolate, and with- out hesitation she slipped it into her mouth, chewed, swallowed. As she reached for another bite a light clicked on, and she froze for one second before scuttling back into the house. Only then did she realize that it was their own light, that she’d tripped the motion sensor; probably no one had seen anything. But she also realized she was sitting naked on her kitchen floor with a mouth full of dirt, that she couldn’t explain this to Cole if he did happen to come downstairs, that she couldn’t even explain it to herself.
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