PJ Harveys’s Rid of Me: A Story

In stores now, with its fetchingly monotone cover, is Kate Schatz’s story inspired by Rid of Me.

We got some nice blurbs for this one, including one from Erin Cressida Wilson, who wrote the screenplay for the movie Secretary, from Mary Gaitskill’s story:

“I’d like to slip this between a few books that I read over and over again…This is a journey, a song, a symphony, a love poem, a cry, a whisper, a nightmare, and, in such an unexpected and joyous way – a sustained arousal. It is at once about torture and love, bondage and caresses, empowerment and submission, femininity and tomboys, entrapment and escape, kidnapping and running away, death and ecstasy. With cruel and luscious women who are teachers, nurses, children, campers, and lovers, we are stripped of our senses and then filled up again with a new way of seeing, reading, sexing, feeling, tasting and loving.”

Here’s an extract from Chapter 1 of the book:


On the day of my release he came and picked me up in his long black car and took me to the house. I spent several days there, back in that room, yet another cell. When the coast was finally clear I made my escape – I took his truck and drove it to a body of water on the edge of the city, near the highway’s entrance. It rolled in without much splash and went down fast beneath the inky water. I crept backward from the water through some brush and scruffy trees. When I reached the road I paused at the green metal sign with the white arrow pointing toward the highway that juts out like a long and broken arm. I glared at the gun-colored city. The big fat moon lit the house on the hill that I had just left. I closed my eyes and pictured her sleeping: cheeks flushed, black braids tangled. I tried one last time to enter her dreams. You’re going to follow, I whispered. You’re going to leave too. Please. As the words left my lips I imagined them dropping to the ground, forming sweet ripe apples, a trail of golden breadcrumbs. I turned my back and headed out.

Between there and here is a wide swath of nothing: something like a desert, a dead midway, a blank buffer between a town and a forest, just a dried-earth no-man’s-land. The trucks used to run steady on this road, like salmon on a rich current, but now it’s just a dry, cracked riverbed. No one comes in, and no one really goes out – and when they do, no one knows where to. I kept looking over my shoulder; nothing behind me but what I just passed. I walked and I walked and I ran at some points and I stumbled over rocks, cans, abandoned mufflers and the farther I got from the city the darker it became and the moon was my only light and I could just make out the white line running down the middle of the road and the silhouettes and shapes of trees and in the waving distance those woods.

I collapsed under a single ailing tree, among the asphalt and dust and the shit coming up through the cracks, the lonely things trying to live their own way. The mountains and trees were so black I couldn’t tell whether they were at the tips of my fingers or the ends of the earth. And I told myself: I’m headed to the place where I’ll find everything, the place where I’ll be believed. Where I can live again, eyes wide to a far black sky, feet inches off the earth below.

The sleep came in waves. My eyes flipped open every so often, expecting to see the old peeling walls of my room, the leathery faces of men swimming above me. In one dream I sat high above him on a throne in a tree holding a golden crown to my head, legs tied to the trunk, swaying in the wind, laughing.

In the morning I woke up dusty, aching like hell, and bug-bitten. I’d made it far, though, and the trees clung tight together, green and brown and black, holding fast and strong, towering giants with thin spires so high up. They blanketed the mountain, they rose from every square foot of earth, they teemed with the life I knew was inside. I shivered. A hawk rose from deep within the forest and soared straight up, his wings thick sails, and he circled and circled and found what he needed – then shot back down, gone, into a heart I couldn’t see.

I went in. To the woods. No path or trail or plan – I just went. Blind and thrashing through, pulled by some force that kept me going, and I was scared and thrilled and scratched and then – I found it.

I found it.

I stumbled into a clearing and there it was. The surrounding trees seemed to be leaning back, giving it space, letting the light in, allowing a thick mist to rise up around it. I went to it, touched it, rubbed the walls. Got slivers in my fingers, my palms. Home. It was real. Waiting for me.

I worked all day and night cleaning it up, getting it ready. Then I found my way back to the highway so that I’d be out in the open in case she came looking. About a mile out of the woods I stumbled into a dim roadside bar that I swear wasn’t there before. I thought it was an apparition at first, but it was real. Had I missed it in the dark? I must’ve gone right by it, too focused on my trek to see it. I pulled my hat low and slid on in. It was empty: just dust-covered vinyl booths, ancient liquor bottles cobwebbed together. A man sat behind the bar, wearing a red satin jacket with the words BIG LONELY embroidered across the back. It seemed to me the perfect phrase.

I staked my claim in a corner booth where I ate popcorn and cheese fries, peanuts and ancient candy from the rusted dispenser. I drank glasses of gin but tasted nothing – just my nervous heart and bitter hunger. Sometimes I went outside and walked the highway up and down, pacing and pacing and searching. For some sign, some thing. The city sat far and sad in one distance, the mountains large and dark in the other. Here, it was just leafless trees, like sticks stuck in the ground, broken bottles and cardboard scraps and the dirty arm of a doll whose body was missing. I wanted to rip the trees from their earth, gnaw on the roots, suck in the dirt until I swallowed something molten. My feet hurt. I kept on. I had to believe that she’d show up.


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