On the last night of August……

On the last night of August, Tess Monaghan went to the drugstore and bought a composition book—one with a black-and-white marble cover. She had done this every fall since she was six and saw no reason to change, despite the differences wrought by twenty-three years. Never mind that she had a computer with a memory capable of keeping anything she might want to record. Never mind that she had to go to Rite Aid because Weinstein’s Drugs had long ago been run into the ground by her grandfather. Never mind that she was no longer a student, no longer had a job, and summer’s end held little relevance for her. Tess believed in routines and rituals. So she bought a composition book for $1.69, took it home, and opened it to the first page, where she wrote:

Goals for Autumn:

1. Bench press 120 pounds.

2. Run a 7-minute mile.

3. Read Don Quixote.

4. Find a job, etc.

She sat at her desk and looked at what she had written. The first two items were within reach, although it would take work: She could do up to ten reps at a hundred pounds and run four miles in thirty minutes. Don Quixote had defeated her before, but she felt ready for it this fall.

Number 4 was more problematic. For one thing it would require figuring out what kind of job she wanted, a dilemma that had been perplexing her for two years, ever since Baltimore’s penultimate newspaper, the Star, had folded, and its ultimate paper, the Beacon-Light, had not hired her.

Tess slapped the notebook closed, filed it on a shelf with twenty-two others—all blank except for the first page—set her alarm, and was asleep in five minutes. It was the eve of the first day of school, time for the city to throw off its August doldrums and move briskly toward fall. Maybe it could carry Tess with it.

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman, Chapter 1

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