For Ages
14 to 99

Harley's Ninth is a part of the Harley collection.

Sixteen-year-old Harley Columba knows that October 9th won't be an ordinary day. At 8:00 a.m. she stands on the pier and gazes at the Statue of Liberty, framed by the morning sun and the fading moon. This is the day her first art exhibit opens in a gallery in New York City. The day Harley and her friends will visit the Broadway set designed by her newfound father, the famous Sean Shanahan. The day she returns to her hometown, Lenape Lakes, New Jersey, in stifling suburbia—with Sean, who hasn't been back for 14 years.

The fact that it's the ninth also means that she's five days late. She and Evan were careless that one time, and she could be about to make a mess of her life. October 9th—Harley's ninth—promises to be a monumental day as Harley reexamines herself as an artist, a girlfriend, a daughter, and a person.

An Excerpt fromHarley's Ninth



It is the ninth and I am five days late: that is all I can think as I jog down to the Hudson River. Five days late. Five days feels like forever when you’re female and linked to the whimsies of the moon.

Today happens to be John Lennon’s birthday, October 9th. Sean said he would take me to an exhibit of John Lennon’s artwork down in Soho that Yoko has arranged to celebrate the day. It also happens to be Saturday, which is a good thing because tomorrow is Sunday and I have another day before I have to go to my creative-writing class. I want to rewrite my paper. Now that I am five days late, a romantic interlude starring Evan seems somehow inappropriate.

I wrote my essay, “Love with a Bach Tear,” when it was assigned, two weeks ago. Mr. Alberti had issued a challenge and said: “Autobiographical incident. Anything goes.” My fellow seniors at my chic Manhattan school grouped together and decided we would be bold. Natasha Silver, who loves to shock, proclaimed she was going to write her own “private moment” disguised as a Georgia O’Keeffe iris. Livingston Smith said he would counter with a sonnet, “Ode to Little Livingston”—you can only imagine. They have already read theirs out loud, and both were hilarious. My new school is up front and in your face; you would be branded forever in Lenape Lakes, New Jersey, for writing scenes like that. I was worried I wouldn’t fit in with all these urbanites, but it suits me better than Lenape ever did. Everybody is weird, not just me, and at least they have a sense of humor. I wrote the part about Sean’s Tony Award because Bitsy Cooley, this totally obnoxious cretin, is always going on and on about her mother’s Daytime Emmy. I mean, really. Everybody has a parent in The Arts.

“Love with a Bach Tear.” Using music as a metaphor might sound a little flowery, but Penelope Powell’s “An Arrow Through My Heart” was mushier than mine; she is in love with a sculptor. Thank God we ran out of time on Friday; I am up first on Monday. But now, what once seemed poetic now seems prophetic, and there is no way I can read mine out loud.

The air is warm and bright, cut with a dash of autumn. I jog down West Eleventh Street past exotic nannies, already up and out, strolling rosy-cheeked babies, most of them twins. There is a plethora of twins on West Eleventh Street, as if all the women in the neighborhood gossiped over coffee at Brew Bar and decided to go to the same fertility specialist en masse. And then there is me, so fertile that I have managed to conceive outside the womb, a Harley Columba Immaculate Conception.

I push the button to cross West Street and feel the mechanical energy of the cars and trucks whizzing past me, speeding, zooming, just flooring it up to the Lincoln Tunnel and beyond. I feel powerful when the light turns yellow, then red, and forces the entire speedway to stop, a simple miracle that holds back the flood of motorized tension like Moses parting the Red Sea.

I jog across West and over the bicycle path, down to the edge of the river. I flip one leg, then the other, over the rail directly across from the old Erie-Lackawanna Railroad trestle on the Jersey side, and stretch. Then I jog out toward the pier, keeping the Statue of Liberty, which is far, far in the distance, in my sight.

I want to achieve liberty. I want to achieve peace of mind. I want to imagine all the people living life in peace. But it is difficult to rein in your brain when you are five days late and, in addition, have your first art exhibition in a major New York gallery tonight, and, honestly, I am slightly hysterical.

I turn right onto the pier and jog past the freshly mowed, industrial-strength, genetically altered grass, so green and lush it seems artificial. There are white-purple clouds in the sky, ponderous and fluffy, set against a clear aqua blue backdrop; that, too, seems computer generated.

I get to the end of the pier and stop. There is a cute black guy on a walkie-talkie standing in my corner, chatting with his friend, whose name seems to be Adonis. I listen. The static is loud and Adonis is asking ridicu- lous questions like: “It’s sunny here. Yo, Nigel. Is it sunny there?” It is not much of a conversation, and Nigel is in my sacred spot, unknowingly aligned with the torch of the Statue of Liberty beaming between the sun and moon. He is loud, he is happening; the benefits of the position don’t seem to be affecting him in the least.

The irritation bubbles inside me like little goose bumps on the wrong side of my skin. I stop about five feet to the left of Nigel and hold on to the rail, but, of course, now the configuration is off; I am not in direct alignment with the torch of the Statue of Liberty and I am five days late. Then I recognize that my interior goose bumps are not goose bumps at all but strange hormones bouncing inside my body, and I am positive I am pregnant.

“Is that Staten Island? Is that Staten Island over there?” I realize that Nigel is talking to me. He is pointing to New Jersey.

“No. That’s New Jersey. Staten Island is over there, past the Statue of Liberty.” Apparently, Nigel is not from these parts. Apparently, he is unfamiliar with the Code of Behavior at the end of the pier, where one goes for quiet contemplation in the quest of liberty and justice for all. And why has he got a walkie-talkie instead of a cell phone? The rest of the world should not have to suffer because he won’t pay for a line.

“That’s the Statue of Liberty? I didn’t even see it! Cool.” He presses a button on the walkie-talkie. “Yo, Adonis, guess what? I can see the Statue of Liberty. You gotta come out here, man. You gotta see this thing.”

I take a deep breath.