The golden arch above her head was enormous and the bracketing gates seemed to stretch into infinity. She had once heard that the human eye can see two miles from the highest peaks, but each view Quadrata took in seemed exceptionally far away and yet easy to make out. If she had known what a telescope was, and the power it possessed, Quadrata would have politely tapped the shoulder of the woman in front of her and explained how odd it was to see so far into the distance—like a telescope snuck up behind another telescope and they joined forces to become a telescope team. Inside the gates she could see a road that stretched to a magnificent and towering city, all skyways and spires and minarets. The great city rested upon the same cloud in which she stood. In front of her, people scampered about happy and hectic. Angels coasted above and shouted out directions. Everyone had a purpose it seemed, except for Heaven’s newest member, who had no idea where she was.

“Let’s see,” Peter said, tapping his list. “Quadrata. No last name. No schooling nor religious beliefs.”

She mustered an “uh-huh” and continued to survey her surroundings. If Quadrata had pictured something like this when she was alive she would have had a good laugh about it with the other girls. Heaven was a hot meal and a cool pillow, not cloud fairies in a golden ghetto. She was one of the many slave girls of her generation to suffer from the first day of her life to her last, and salvation to a slave is the difference between comedy and tragedy.

Peter could tell her birth had been the difficult kind. The effort to dislodge her from the womb had left her head badly misshapen, and the violent tear led to no small amount of bleeding on her mother’s part. When it was over the midwife wiped the young mother’s immobile brow, shielding her eyes and drawing them down like a shade. The midwife took Quadrata to the slave quarters and never once mentioned what the master did with her mother’s body. Unmarked graves really aren’t graves at all. Quadrata shared a room with the other girls, who weren’t her friends but also weren’t her enemies. There was only one enemy: him.

Concessions were rarely made for Quadrata’s appearance. Her head, and body for that matter, was square and hard, as if it had been built with a trowel and clay, heavy and thick. She was all rump, hips and haunches, built sturdy. If she put her ear to the pillow she could rest a cup on her cheek. If she stood up she could just as easily transfer that cup atop her ass. Few of her features could be called alluring, yet all were noteworthy for their bulk and hardiness. She had thick fingers like dowels. Her calves had a greater circumference than most men’s thighs. She had heavy breasts that hung low like sacks left out to collect November rain and her backside was muscular and strapping. She had eyes set deep in her face, tucked away, almost hidden under that kneaded dough brow. If she hadn’t been the homeliest woman in Rome she was ready for next year’s pageant, and few passersby failed to remind her with quick diversions of the eyes, as if there was an urgent need to stare blankly into the dirt or distance. She was the anti-Helen, men snickered, “The face that recalled 10,000 ships.” Quadrata was a misfit from the time she came into this world until the time she left, and, like her mother, no one mourned her death.

Quadrata continues...
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About Josh Koehn


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Josh Koehn moved south of Missouri and then west after the death of his father. His mother brought him to San Jose before the bubble burst, and he has mostly called the Bay Area home ever since. He works as an investigative reporter and editor for Metro, Silicon Valley’s alternative weekly newspaper. His wife...read more and two old cats form alliances against him most nights. Josh studied literature and journalism at the University of California, Davis, where he graduated with an English degree after being kicked out. Twice. He gave up on being a sportswriter and sold everything he owned to travel and write. He ran out of money and lived with his evangelical Christian grandparents in Iowa. He worked at an afternoon daily newspaper and covered a one-company town that was reeling from the loss of its one company. He moved back to California and got a job writing about politics. He uncovered the biggest and dumbest case of political corruption in Silicon Valley’s history. The guy went to jail. Almost twice. Josh met a woman who brought him peace and gave her a ring passed down on his mother’s side. He continued working on the novel he started during his travels and finished it in the summer of 2016. His first novel is titled The Day God Slept.
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