Cold by Mariko Tamaki: New Excerpt
By Crime HQJanuary 3, 2022
THE STORY OF ME
The first story of me was written by my mother when I was four years old.
(Before I had any idea that it was possible to have a story of me, or an agent representing my interests.)
The book is called I Am Little and You Are Big. It is a bestseller. You have probably seen it in some kid’s toy box or in a display of books at your local bookstore. Maybe you read it when you were little and loved it.
In the book, which a reputable reviewer described as an “inventive and compelling retelling of ‘Hansel and Gretel,’” I am the little sister, Molly, lost in the woods with my older brother, Wally, the stand-in for my older brother, Mark.
The whole book is little me asking my big brother what things are. So I’m constantly like, “What is that?” and “Where are we going?”
In the book, Wally aka Mark just answers all my questions.
“What is that?”
“That is the moon.”
“What is THAT?”
“That’s a tree.”
I’m four and I don’t know what a tree is?
At one point in the book, I ask my big brother why he knows all this stuff and he says, “Because you are little and I am big.”
Maybe it’s not shocking that I’m not a fan of this book. Among the many my mother has published and the MULTITUDE that are basically about me, it is my least favorite. Partly because a book where a girl is walking around the woods clueless is not really the most modern retelling of the existing fairy tale (even if in this one the witch turns out to be nice and no one is threatened with getting eaten).
There’s also the fact that I spent a solid year of my life dressed up as the “me” of this book, in a little yellow dress and matching shoes and bonnet, going to bookstores and eating warm snack trays of cantaloupe and crackers and cheese, which does something to a person, if only turn them off cantaloupe forever.
Maybe I don’t like this book because it’s not me and yet somehow it’s me.
It’s like I never got a shot at being anything else.
Sometimes I feel like I’m standing in the woods, all covered in snow, and there’s already a set of footprints, somehow my footprints, that I’ve somehow already stomped into the ground without knowing it, a path I already walked stretching out in front of me.
And, really, most of the time I feel like I am lost, and all I want to do is ask questions.
TODD MAYER IS COLD AS ICE
A light haze of snow fell on Rosemary Peacock Park on the morning of January 21.
Originally named for some long-ago dead white guy, in the late ’90s the park was rededicated to a more recently deceased local resident, Rosemary Peacock, devoted dog lover and city rich person. By February, the park was typically, as it was on this night, a sea of frozen paw prints and left behind tiny dog shits, melted and refrozen over and over.
On the far west side of the park was a kids’ playground, with a set of swings, a pair of climbable abstract shapes on giant springs, and a towering rope spiderweb for aspiring spiders.
On the south end, the grass edge of the dog park dipped down into a ravine.
The ravine was a place for people who didn’t want to be seen, with trees just thick enough to hide a kid smoking a cigarette, or a secret.
A secret like the increasingly frozen and very dead body of Todd Mayer.
Todd Mayer floated above the park, thinking about the fact that he was dead and how this was a generally tragic thing.
Because dying young is tragic, no matter who it is.
The thing about being dead, Todd knew, was that it was at least preferable to the state of dying.
Dying, in Todd’s experience, was horrible, probably the worst thing that could happen to a person.
The last and worst thing.
Todd knew symptoms of hypothermia: Hunger. Nausea. Apathy. Core body temperature drop. Confusion. Lethargy. Loss of consciousness.
To save someone from hypothermia, a rescuer should throw a blanket over the victim, remove the victim’s clothes, and wrap themselves, naked, around the victim’s body.
When Todd first heard this piece of first aid trivia, he was in grade nine, in health class. He remembered watching Mr. Sterman, with his tight slacks and velvety voice, and thinking about skin and ice. A dangerous thing to think about when you’re in health class.
Todd couldn’t help but think the whole thing sounded romantic, like some sort of Nordic art film, like the movies he was just starting to watch at retro cinemas, alone and for strictly academic purposes.
Then the boy who sat behind him in health took a moment to lean forward in his desk and hiss,
“Looks like you’re going to die with some frooozen balls, homo!”
This was grade nine, before Todd learned to stop his cheeks from flushing, before he learned to make his face a mask, and so the heat rose up into his face and made his eyes water.
The ghost of Todd hovered over his now dead face and considered the features that used to annoy him that now just seemed to exist. His big nose. His sunken eyes. His thick black hair that would never take a shape or hold a haircut, that stuck to the sides of his forehead.
Todd took a moment to take in the scar where he fell and hit his chin on the stairs when he was twelve. The zit on his bottom lip that he’d noticed two days ago but left alone because he figured he could press on it all day and it would get big and juicy and be easier to pop when he got home.
Now that zit would be on his face forever. Or at least until his body rotted into the ground and became enzymes or whatever bodies become before they become dirt.
The idea of being dirt was soothing to Todd, not that any of this, this being dead stuff, was particularly upsetting.
It just . . . was.
The sun came up. A beam hit Todd’s nose, a pinprick of light. Like that scene where Pinocchio becomes a real boy. Todd watched the sun crawl up into the sky, changing it from mauve to a hazy blue. His first day being dead.
A black-and-white dog with a blue collar darted down into the ravine. It barked and jumped over the snowbank next to Todd’s body. It lowered its nose into the snow and sniffed around Todd’s head, then it dug a paw into the snow beside his ear.
Todd looked at his body again and noticed that his body was naked.
The dog barked and dodged down to Todd’s arms, where it resumed digging. And barking.
Todd Mayer Is Cold as Ice.
The joke started sometime after the health class in grade nine. A multifaceted insult, as all good insults should be, that suggested:
- A) Todd thinks he’s so cool.
- B) Todd is going to die with some frozen balls.
And, apparently, one of those things was true.
Todd didn’t want to see his dead body anymore. Not because it upset him. It just didn’t interest him anymore. Like a plate of cold, half-eaten food on the table after dinner.
As the dog sunk its teeth into Todd’s mitten, Todd pulled back, floated up and up until the trees became woods.
The park was busy now; people in brightly colored parkas getting out of cars, throwing sticks and yelling.
“GO GET IT!”
“GO GET IT, BOY!”
The people throwing stuff to their dogs sounded happy, Todd thought.
And then, a voice screamed out into the frosty winter morning, a cry for help, an old man’s voice piercing the morning chill.
The man yelling sounded like he was being throttled.
“OH MY GOD JESUS! SOMEONE CALL THE POLICE!”
The bright parkas stopped throwing balls and sticks and turned, converging toward the south end of the park. Through the pines, toward Todd.
A few minutes later, a black-and-white cop car came. Then an ambulance. Then more black-and-white cars.
More and more until the street was clogged with them.
By the time Todd floated back down to his body, there was a mass of people, mostly police officers, a woman with a plastic tackle box standing next to Todd’s now very exposed body, pulling off a pair of plastic gloves.
Then a man and a woman, not in uniform, walked through the crowd, which parted for them, if only slightly. It was a short White woman and a tall Black man, each carrying a cup of steaming coffee in nondescript Styrofoam cups. The woman had streaked blond hair tied up in a messy ponytail. She squatted down and looked at Todd’s face. She had black eyeliner on all around her eyes, which made her look old. And like she wasn’t very good at putting makeup on.
A strand of yellow hair fell in between her eyes as she snapped on a pair of lavender-colored rubber gloves.
The man sipped his coffee and pulled his gray cashmere knitted cap over his ears. He had tan leather gloves on.
The woman pursed her lips, covered in pink lipstick, and sniffed.
“Age?” the well-dressed man with the coffee asked.She looked up and shook her head at the man.
“Sixteen,” she said. “Maybe seventeen?”
The male detective took another long sip of his coffee. He turned to the cop standing next to him, a rosy-faced man with two caps stacked under his police hat. “We know how long he’s been here?”
“Not yet.” The uniform wiped his nose with his sleeve. “Uh, sorry I forgot your name.”
“Detective Daniels,” the well-dressed man said. “That’s Detective Greevy over there. You new?”
They zipped Todd into a thick black bag, roughly the size of a body, and put him in the back of a van, like a piece of luggage.
Todd watched them drive to a gray building, unzip him, and put him on a table. Inside a room filled with metal tables, a big muscly guy with a mustache ran his hands over his face to wake himself up. Then he put his hands on the table next to Todd. “Right,” he said.
Todd floated into the hallway, like in a dream, he thought. He floated up through the floor where the detectives sat in a medium-sized, windowless office.
Detective Greevy looked at her notebook and said, “Todd Mayer.”
“Description fits.” Daniels nodded. “His mom called him in missing last night. Riggs is at the house with her now. Single mom. No siblings.”
“Fuck.” Greevy patted her pockets distractedly. “Fuckity fuck.”
Daniels leaned back in his chair, his long legs stretched under the desk and poked out the other side. “Davis and Riggs are bringing her in to identify the body.”
Greevy laced her fingers together on her stomach, frowned. “A fucking kid.”
Daniels nodded. “Fucking kid.”
The fluorescent lights in the room made a clicking sound like hamster claws on glass. Greevy’s chair squeaked as she turned it slightly to the left and right. “What about his clothes?” she asked.
Daniels shook his head. “No phone. No wallet. No clothes, although we found a pink mitten next to the body and someone’s dog brought us the left one so we have the matching pair.” He was looking at something on his computer. Clicking away. “There’s a lot of foot traffic there in the morning. People walking their dogs. Maybe someone grabbed the other stuff. Uniforms are still searching.”
Greevy stood up and wrote Todd’s name on a whiteboard in black marker. It looked like Todd Mager.
She sat back down in her chair with a huff.
“Okay so . . .” Daniels looked around his desk. “I’ll get together the list of the local sex offenders? You’ll geeet . . .”
Greevy stood and pulled the whiteboard toward her. “Phone records. Email. Social media. John’ll look at his computer. We know what school he went to?”
“Albright Academy. Private school.” Daniels looked at his computer. “You were right. Seventeen.”
“Seventeen.” Greevy sighed and walked out the door. Todd trailed after her, like a kite on a string. He followed Greevy outside, where she stood and smoked a cigarette in four long inhales, before stabbing it out on the metal railing, humming a song Todd didn’t know.
A few minutes later, a cop arrived in Greevy and Daniels’s office with a printed color photo of Todd and put it on the whiteboard, stuck with little bits of blue tape.
Todd remembered the day the photo was taken. It was in the grade-twelve commons. You had to sign up for a timeslot to get your photo taken. Todd picked lunch hour, when no one else would be there.
He remembered staring down the photographer, a sweaty man in a yellow button-down shirt that was too small and a little yellow stuffed chicken he was waving at the students as he took their photos.
“Smile?” the photographer offered.
Todd adjusted himself on the stool in front of the plastic backdrop with the school crest, which hung precariously behind him. “No,” he said.
He straightened his spine, leveled his gaze, felt the stream of ice, very necessary ice, running through his veins.
Todd Mayer is cold as ice.
“Oh, come on,” the photographer coaxed, shaking the chicken. “Just one smile.”
And then the door behind the photographer opened.
And suddenly, a smile stretched across Todd’s face. Like the smile was its own entity, pushing past Todd’s practiced exterior of not caring about anything, like an energetic green sprout bursting up from the ground. Like the smile was a fugitive breaking free of Todd’s mouth, forcing him to look like an asshole.
Because the boy who stepped inside the room at that moment was the boy, the boy with the mop of hair and the luggish smile, who plopped down in a chair pushed against the wall because his photo was next.
Before he could take the smile back, the photographer, who Todd imagined hated his job, snapped his picture.
A confluence of events that created the one and only photo of Todd as a young adult, grinning like an idiot.
It didn’t even look like him.
And now that was the picture the detectives would see when they thought of Todd Mayer. That and the image of his dead body. What a dichotomy.
“All right,” Greevy muttered, looking at the photo as she tapped the desk with her notebook, “let’s do this.”
DEUX PERSONS MANGING THE GOMME
It is January 21st, and I am sitting in French class, next to Carrie, when I hear about Todd Mayer being dead.
We are “making verbs,” as Madame De La Fontaine calls it. “Making verb sheets.”
“Kate manges un gommes avec,” Carrie says, writing on the group worksheet with a ballpoint that’s running out of ink. Carrie’s fingers are long and thin. Her nails are painted with clear polish she picks off when she’s bored. She twirls her pen around her fingers, thinking. “Avec who?”
“How do you chew gum together?” I ask. The classroom smells like sour-cream-and-onion chips.
Carrie is super blanche. Super white. Let’s say this is possibly why Carrie used to be really popular, and I, being half Asian, have never been.
Which may or may not have something to do with being Asian, I’m not an expert on these things obviously.
Also Carrie is pretty loaded, or her family is, which, because this is an all-girls private school full of rich kids, is a thing. Also the White thing, is a thing here.
Up until almost a year ago, Carrie was best friends with this girl Shirley Mason, who is the most popular person probably in our whole school, also super White, also rich. For most of the time I knew them, Carrie and Shirley had the same hair, same barrettes, same book bags. I think they used to take horseback-riding lessons together or something.
Then, suddenly, beginning of this school year, they stopped talking to each other. I have no idea why.
This September, when everyone was choosing their desks, instead of sitting next to Shirley and her crew, Carrie walked to the back of the classroom and stood behind the desk next to mine, which used to be the desk of a girl named Lena Hornbee.
Carrie pointed at the seat. Like I somehow had any say in the matter. I shrugged. Carrie sat down, careful like she wasn’t sure the seat would hold. I sat down. Then Carrie looked at me and pointed at the top of her head and said, “I like your piles.”
By which I think she meant my two somewhat ear-shaped top buns I started wearing my hair in this year. Kind of an ode to a modern Princess Leia. Or not.
“Piles is something you get on your butt,” I said. “It’s like hemorrhoids.”
Carrie didn’t even widen her eyes. She just shrugged again. “Well then, I like your head hemorrhoids.”
And that was it. Suddenly, Carrie Harper and I were friends.
(Meanwhile, for reasons seemingly only chair related, Lena hangs out with Shirley and her crew now. That’s how ridiculous life is.)
So now, months later, winter term, French class, leaning over her desk, which is next to mine, as all our desks are now, Carrie smiles a pea-sized smile. She has drawn two heads and draws puffy cheeks on them next to the text. “See? Deux persons manging the gum.”
“That’s just deux persons,” I note. “How are they chewing le gomme?”
Carrie nods. “Right, right.” She draws a big bubble coming out of one character’s mouth and then draws a line into the other head’s mouth. Carrie smiles. She has perfect teeth.
“See,” she says, tapping her pen on the drawing.
“Okay, I see now,” I say. “Bon.”
Then Madame De La Fontaine walks in after being gone for, like, ten minutes (which is not strange, I’m pretty sure she goes behind the school to do le smoking while we do le verbs).
“Les filles,” she says. She clears her throat. Madame De La Fontaine is one of the youngest teachers at St. Mildred’s. She has long blond hair, and some days she wears jeans and an interesting T-shirt with a blazer, which feels kind of unteacherly to me. She looks like she should be talking to adults for a living. Maybe that’s just a bias all the other teachers have created by wearing floral-printed polyester dresses and pantyhose all the time, like it’s a rule.
I like Madame DLF because she almost never yells, which I appreciate.
Currently, she is twisting her wedding ring, turning it around her ring finger as she steps over to her desk. “Les filles. There is a subject, an incident, I know some of your classmates have been discussing dans les messages texte over lunch. And, it is very sad news, and the school has decided that we should make an announcement. So please put your pens and pencils, tes stylos et tes crayon, down, s’il vous plait.”
Carrie puts her pen down with a soft click.
Then someone behind me whispers, “Some kid was murdered.”
Which Madame De La Fontaine doesn’t hear. She puts her hands by her sides, like she’s trying to stop messing with her ring, because it’s not especially authoritative. “A boy. A boy from Albright, whom some of you might have known, has been found . . . dead. His name was . . . Todd Mayer.”
. . .
Never heard of him.
Some girls in the classroom cover their mouths and look at each other. Some girls clearly feel better because they already knew some kid got murdered. One girl looks like she’s going to throw up. Another girl on the other side of me gasps, “Oh my God!”
“Oh my GOD!”
It is impossible to say if any of these girls actually knew Todd or are just being dramatic because the girls at this school are kind of prone to dramatics.
Copyright © 2022 by Mariko Tamaki. All rights reserved.
About Cold by Mariko Tamaki:
Who was Todd Mayer, and why don’t any of his fellow students at Albright Academy seem to know, or want to say, anything about him?
Todd Mayer is dead. Now a ghost, hovering over his body, recently discovered in a snow-covered park, naked and frozen. As detectives investigate Todd’s homicide, talking to the very people linked to the events leading to his death, Todd replays the choice that led him to his end.
Georgia didn’t know Todd. But ever since she heard about his death, she can’t stop thinking about him. Maybe because they’re both outcasts at their school, or because they’re both queer. Maybe because the story of Todd people keep telling feels like a lot of fake stories Georgia has heard people tell. Plus Georgia has a feeling she’s seen Todd somewhere before, somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be.
Told through the voices of Todd in his afterlife and Georgia as she uncovers the truth behind his death, Cold is an immersive, emotional, and provocative read.