Like A Complete Unknown

by Anara Guard

Like a Complete Unknown (Anara Guard)

Available for pre-order

In 1969, a girl’s life is not her own. Katya Warshawsky’s parents demand she drop out of high school and join a cleaning crew. Instead, she runs away, hoping to join hippies, anti-war protestors, and aspiring artists like herself. But Chicago’s counterculture isn’t as welcoming as she dreamed. Widowed doctor Robert Lewis worries how much longer to keep his medical practice open: he can offer little help to his most desperate patients. When Katya—starry-eyed, barefoot, and in trouble—appears in his office, a rash impulse propels him into the turbulent streets of Chicago. While Katya hunts for freedom and Dr. Lewis searches for her, they encounter chaos and beauty as they both risk a new unknown life.



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Chapter Three

One is the loneliest number

Katya thought she would recognize last night’s office building when she saw it again, but there were too many to choose among: steel, marble, and granite; old and new; brown, silver, black. The bus crawled up one crowded street and down another while she sat, uncertain and confused, until the driver called out, “Randolph Street. Chi-caw-go Public Liberry!” Surely, the library would have maps of downtown, some aid to help her locate the street she sought. She lugged her heavy suitcase down the aisle.


The massive stone building occupied an entire city block. While other people entered without hesitation, Katya lingered at the bottom of the stone steps, watching the door open and close until a young mother approached the entrance, each outstretched hand clutching the arm of a small, tugging child. Picking up her suitcase, Katya followed the woman inside and then collapsed onto the nearest bench, feeling her heart lift out of her body. Just last Sunday, St. Stanislaus’ Church had seemed ornate but, compared to this palace of Aladdin’s riches, it was shabby and plain. Huge bronze chandeliers illuminated green and gold mosaics that rose up the walls, along the broad marble stairways, and across a vast domed ceiling. Abalone gleamed in elaborate curlicues twining into endless garlands and wreaths. Embedded in the soaring ceiling were letters formed by mosaic tiles and she tilted her head back to squint at the unfamiliar words. Latin, for sure, or was that Greek? Astonishingly, no one else paused to look up. They stood in line at a long wooden desk, waiting for the disinterested librarians to stamp their books.

Forgetting the maps and eager to find a spot to sketch, Katya ventured up the broad staircase, trailing her fingertips along its cool marble balustrade. At the top of the stairs, she wandered into the Children’s Room where shelves of books lined the walls, stretching the length of one chamber and into the next. Little children squatted around a librarian who sat on a low chair in a patch of sunshine, reading aloud from a picture book. A handful of mothers had pulled their chairs together in one corner where they whispered among themselves.

Her feet made no sound as she crossed the green carpet. At the far end of the room old favorites welcomed her from the shelves, their titles on the worn spines as familiar as friends: Black Beauty, Little Women, Heidi. National Velvet lay open on a nearby table, waiting for her to arrive, and she sank into an armchair to read. The sun warmed her head; the librarian’s sweet voice was rhythmic and soothing, and, far away, a palomino horse whinnied. It nuzzled her shoulder with its soft nose and shook her.

“We don’t allow sleeping here,” the horse said. An unfamiliar face peered at her: dark eyebrows pinched above tortoiseshell glasses. The librarian pointed to her suitcase, whispering, “You might miss your train.”

“Oh. Yeah, my train.” Katya retreated down a corridor and found the Ladies Room. Locked in a stall, she counted her money. Between her own small savings and what she’d taken from her mother’s housekeeping fund (“borrowed,” she reminded herself, “I’m going to pay her back someday,”) she had sixty-four dollars. It seemed like a lot, and she slipped most of the bills into her knee sock, keeping only a few dollars in her pockets.

In the mirror, she looked changed somehow, her eyes bigger. As always, the scar gleamed white, a persistent reminder of the painful day when she’d tried to ride Piotr’s three-speed bike. He rode no-handed, gracefully shifting his weight as he pedaled. It looked so easy: surely, she would be able to glide as he did, straight as an arrow. But despite his shouts of encouragement, she wavered and wobbled down the block until the bicycle veered wildly into a brick wall and she’d limped home with scraped knees and a gash in her chin. Ma (who believed doctors were unnecessary extravagances) treated the wound with iodine, band-aids, and two Saint Joseph’s orange-flavored baby aspirin while she forbade her daughter to ever mount a bicycle again. Only tomboys rode bikes and who’d want to marry a tomboy?

Pushing her limp hair away from her forehead, Katya wished she had thought to pack barrettes. But she could buy them, along with some lunch, for her stomach seemed to have forgotten those morning pastries. And then, she would begin the hunt for her new friends.

Outside, blinding light refracted off the sharp edges of stone buildings. Taxis blared their horns as they pulled up to the curb in a long yellow row and the sidewalk was a river of people rushing past, jostling her with their elbows, bumping against her clumsy suitcase. Squinting from the top of the library steps, she tried to peer over the crowds in search of a lunch counter or drugstore.

“Girl, you in some kinda trouble.”

Reviews:Meredith Hall wrote:

"A beautifully written debut novel with rich, complex characters bound by their tumultuous personal histories and the volatile political landscape of the late 1960's. Against the grit and beauty of counterculture Chicago, we are allowed to love these flawed, isolated people, and to feel joy as they create renewed lives.”

Book Group Reading Guide available for download.

About the Author

Anara studied writing at the Urban Gateways Young Writers Workshop of Chicago with Kathleen Agena, the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts with Norman Corwin, Columbia College Story Workshop, St. Joseph’s College with Stu Dybek, Bread Loaf Writers Conference with Robert Cohen and Alix Ohlin, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. In 2010, Back Pages Publishing issued her first collection of short stories, The Sound of One Body. Her second story collection, Remedies for Hunger (2014) was named one of the Best Books of 2015 by Chicago Book Review.

She is also a poet and memoirist. Her poems, improbably enough, have won both a John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize and a Jack Kerouac Poetry Prize. Her work has recently appeared in The Ear, Gold Man Review, Voices 2020, Under the Gum Tree and elsewhere.  She and her sister, Gay Guard-Chamberlin, perform their poetry together as "Sibling Revelry." Watch a video of "Sibling Revelry" here.

Follow Anara on Instagram, Facebook, or her website.

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