The body of a senior official has been found in a filthy sewer, and a note left in his mouth warns the British to quit India, or else. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. An up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace.
He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Captivating and disturbing, Alias Grace showcases bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood at the peak of her powers. The nation, seething with religious and political discontent, has erupted into violence and terror. Jacob Cullen and his fellow soldiers dream of rebuilding their lives when the fighting is over.
But the shattering events of war will overtake them. A darkly erotic tale of passion and obsession, As Meat Loves Salt is a gripping portrait of England beset by war. It is also a moving portrait of a man on the brink of madness. Hailed as a masterpiece, this is a novel by a most original new voice in fiction. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened.
Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they- and she-will come to both revere and fear. The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age they see her as the key to their plans. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. The only item stolen—a million-dollar bottle of bourbon. The thief, a mysterious woman named Paris, claims the bottle is rightfully hers. In the small hours of a Louisville morning, Paris unspools the lurid tale of Tamara Maddox, heiress to the distillery that became an empire. But the family tree is rooted in tainted soil and has borne rotten fruit. Theirs is a legacy of wealth and power, but also of lies, secrets and sins of omission.
The Maddoxes have bourbon in their blood—and blood in their bourbon. Why Paris wants the bottle of Red Thread remains a secret until the truth of her identity is at last revealed, and the century-old vengeance Tamara vowed against her family can finally be completed. In eight unforgettable sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war.
Once again, Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times. John Henry Holliday arrives on the Texas frontier hoping that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. In search of high-stakes poker, the couple hits the saloons of Dodge City. And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and a fearless lawman named Wyatt Earp begins— before the gunfight at the O. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology—when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.
According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege.
All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love. That is until she meets pugilist patron George Dryer and discovers her true calling—fighting bare knuckles in the prize rings of Bristol. Manor-born Charlotte has a different cross to bear. Scarred by smallpox, stifled by her social and romantic options, and trapped in twisted power games with her wastrel brother, she is desperate for an escape.
After a disastrous, life-changing fight sidelines Ruth, the two women meet, and it alters the perspectives of both of them. When Charlotte presents Ruth with an extraordinary proposition, Ruth pushes dainty Charlotte to enter the ring herself and learn the power of her own strength. Description: Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs.
Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum. With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals. She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction.
It is and Scotland has been humiliated by an English invasion and is threatened by machinations elsewhere beyond its borders, but it is still free. Paradoxically, her freedom may depend on a man who stands accused of treason. In The Game of Kings, this extraordinary antihero returns to the country that has outlawed him to redeem his reputations even at the risk of his life.
The seven-year-old twins Estha and Rahel see their world shaken irrevocably by the arrival of their beautiful young cousin, Sophie. Lush, lyrical, and unnerving, The God of Small Things is an award-winning landmark that started for its author an esteemed career of fiction and political commentary that continues unabated. Unable to return home, alone, and on the brink of destitution, she finds herself seduced by the tango, the dance that underscores every aspect of life in her new city.
Knowing that she can never play in public as a woman, Leda disguises herself as a young man to join a troupe of musicians. In the illicit, scandalous world of brothels and cabarets, the line between Leda and her disguise begins to blur, and forbidden longings that she has long kept suppressed are realized for the first time.
Powerfully sensual, The Gods of Tango is an erotically charged story of music, passion, and the quest for an authentic life against the odds. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free.
Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery. Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem.
The patriarch Esteban is a volatile, proud man whose voracious pursuit of political power is tempered only by his love for his delicate wife Clara, a woman with a mystical connection to the spirit world. When their daughter Blanca embarks on a forbidden love affair in defiance of her implacable father, the result is an unexpected gift to Esteban: his adored granddaughter Alba, a beautiful and strong-willed child who will lead her family and her country into a revolutionary future.
One of the most important novels of the twentieth century, The House of the Spirits is an enthralling epic that spans decades and lives, weaving the personal and the political into a universal story of love, magic, and fate. The stories trace the effort to traverse the boudaries between one state and another. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages.
Published February 28th by University of Nevada Press. More Details Original Title. Other Editions 1. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. Sort order. May 23, Maria Espinosa is currently reading it.
Apr 16, Serena rated it really liked it Recommends it for: gautami, those that like short stories. In "Slender Little Thing," Brady modifies a poetic form, known as Pantoum, in which the second and fourth lines of the first stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The Pantoum is a variation of the Villanelle, in which the first and third lines in a three line stanza poem are repeated as a refrain alternately throughout the poem.
Here's an example of a Pantoum and an example of a Villanelle. Poets interested in form will enjoy this story because it uses a version of these forms to hammer home the heart of the story where a mother, Cerise, struggles with her lot in life as a nanny to richer parents and as a nurse assistant in a nursing home while trying to raise her daughter, Sophie, to be more than she is.
Not only does this story immerse readers in a foreign nation, it also leads them on a journey of discovery, almost rediscovery for Judith. While these stories are each around pages each, the characters are complex and on the verge or dealing with a perspective shattering event. Many of these characters are somber, and more than complacent--resigned--until an event jars them awake to look at their world through different eyes.
She pulled a compact from the purse that still hung open on her arm, angling the mirror to examine her hair, reaching up to snag unruly strands. Of the beautiful, fluttering girl, only this artlessness remained. Readers will enjoy the surface of these stories as well as their deeper meanings beneath the layers of protective skin. Brady's prose is captivating and thought provoking all in just a few lines, and she easily fuses poetic lines and techniques into her narratives.
After the car slammed to a halt, she stared at the cracked windshield. Just the ache of this dissipation beginning in her. Judith waited for the heat or thirst or her silence to dislodge Cam. She waited until Dana came by to check in. Hey, asshole, Dana said, and she swatted Cam with the notebook rolled in her hand, old pal, old buddy. He offered the flute, which she accepted with alacrity and promptly shoved into the deep pocket of her cargo pants. The guys think they found a skeleton. Our first one.
She turned to Judith. Of course Judith would come. Judith always wanted to see. When they got to the trench, Dana dropped her notebook at its edge and jumped down, but so many workers had clustered around the face of the soil wall that Judith and Cam stayed where they were. She crouched beside him, clutching the smooth cylinder of the flute he had given her. The workers had exposed in the dirt a solid, hard surface, nothing very startling. Patiently she worked until she uncovered the globe of a small skull, pressed against the ball-and-socket joint of a shoulder.
Dana took a breath and stepped back. A child, she called up to Cam and Judith. The silence that had up until now been tense with anticipation took on another quality entirely. For this child, whom they could never name, who must have been ordinary, a child the same as any other, the silence held.
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The bones preserved for so long had the darkened patina of wood burnished by the touch of many hands. Twelve hundred years in the ground had stripped from this body the taint of fear and sorrow but somehow left an irreducible beauty. No chemical process could account for this, any more than it could account for the algae cells that Judith drew, each one exquisite and distinct in its crystalline symmetry. The breeze suddenly picked up, stirring the loose soil at the lip of the trench, raising a visible veil of dust.
A man in the trench below said something softly, his open arms held up to the sky.
Judith still held the flute in her hand, her fingertips having found the perfect depressions made for them. She loved those boys, and Mason and Connor loved her; she had some hand in their shining futures. She could learn how to make a bed with someone in it. She could croon an angry old man into holding still for a sponge bath, intimacy to which both of them must submit. Girls went through a phase of hating their mothers. After Dale took off on her, she had tried to get her ged. Tuesday nights she took adult ed in a high school classroom that smelled of sweat.
By the end of every class the pages of her workbook were flecked with oily bits of pencil eraser. It did not help to try hard. Her eyes could not align numbers in columns or prevent letters from coagulating; these things evaded her even if she pounced on them. She must have inherited the problem from her mother, who had managed to give Cerise a name she shared with no else.
Working as a nanny came easy to Cerise, though Mr. Griffin were both doctors and could not always come home when they said they would. Mason was two years older than 42 43 Sophie, Connor a year younger. Cerise had a sweet-smelling new baby to hold, and Mason was such a talker and planner, making forts from sofa cushions or building a tower of wood blocks and telling her all the time what he was thinking. Four years old, and his skull was stuffed with facts. Griffin would say, the children come first.
Griffin took great care over everything that had to do with the two boys. Connor must not be left to cry; if Mason misbehaved, Cerise could give him a timeout for two minutes and no more; when she fed the boys, she should consult a list of nutritious foods taped to the refrigerator door.
Cerise felt shored up by all that transmitted knowledge. And once in a while a little cornered. Griffin did not mind if she brought Sophie with her and dropped her off after she delivered Mason. Sophie got to sit in front beside her; Mrs. Griffin did not allow her children in the front seat. Once Sophie started grade school, Cerise could take her by bus before she arrived at the Griffins'.
A few years later Sophie could take the bus alone, and Cerise left her at the bus stop. Before they went slender little thing their separate ways in the morning, she and Sophie locked their pinkie fingers together and tugged five times, chanting l-o-v-e-u before letting go. They were still doing this when Sophie started middle school and could leave the apartment after Cerise, her keychain clipped to her backpack. Cerise would wake Sophie before she left for work, and Sophie would groggily snake a hand out from under the covers, her pinkie finger already hooked.
When Sophie got into Lowell, the academic high school, she had to get up earlier to take two buses across town. Only after Cerise got the job at the nursing home did they again leave the house at the same time. Like meeting a stranger to be in the house with Sophie when she got ready: ironing her hair with a curling iron, plucking eyebrows attenuated to perfect commas, unearthing a cache of jars and tubes to make up her face.
Sophie would stand before the mirror wailing that she had nothing to wear and demand that Cerise produce something, when she had been doing her own laundry since she was eleven. Cerise made the mistake once of checking the dryer for clean clothes. Sophie had a fit.
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Cerise pressed her palm to the glass. The boys had done so well. Mason was at Harvard, studying to be an architect, and Connor was musical. Cerise was still invited to his piano recitals. Sophie was a bright kid too, a math whiz. Her father must have been smarter than Cerise thought. Sophie saw numbers in color: the number one was a pale blue, two a sunny yellow, three a Kelly green.
If she looked at a license plate, the numbers left a tracery of color in her mind. If she studied an algebraic equation, a shimmer of color hinted at the answer. Her clothes were hung in the closet; she never forgot her house key; she would rewrite a homework assignment if a page got torn or wrinkled. She did not ask why her father had left, only where he was, as if he were one more thing she must keep in its place.
Cerise could not tell her where he had gone. When Cerise was making dinner, Sophie demanded to know if she had washed her hands before touching the food. She read the ingredients on every package, refused to eat meat, demanded to know if gum contained any animal by-products. The window in her bedroom had settled badly in its frame, and she stuffed rags at its perimeter so spiders would not get into the room through the cracks. When she went to bed, she rolled a towel at the base of the door, so spiders could not come in that way while she slept.
If she found a spider, she would call for Cerise to come and squash it. Cerise always answered this summons. It was the way Sophie called for her. Cerise knew from work which needs could be pared away from a person and which must be met. One of her patients, Mrs. Andrews, who smelled faintly of urine even after her bath, would meekly raise her hips for her diapers to be changed but cry if Cerise could not find her tube of lipstick.
For another, Mr. Petersen, Cerise was careful to tuck a towel around his waist and avert her face when she soaped the creases of his groin. She had seen her coworkers slap an ambulatory patient down on a stool in the communal shower and efficiently strip off clothes as if they were plucking feathers from dead chickens. Cerise was never hasty.
Sophie was not closing her fist over some last small thing, 46 47 not relinquishing but multiplying her needs. Sophie was sure that it had been a female spider, its body full of microscopic eggs, and Cerise must wash the wall with disinfectant, or hundreds of baby spiders would hatch and come after Sophie. How could Sophie allow that man to touch her? Cerise knew from experience what a man his age wanted from a sixteen-year-old girl.
A stock boy at the drugstore where Sophie worked after school, a high-school dropout, and the one time Cerise had met him, too lazy to fit his belt through all the belt loops on his baggy jeans. Sophie, who sat up late at night finishing papers and already kept a file for college applications, did not even bother to defend him to Cerise. Cerise loved those boys, and Mason and Connor loved her; she had some hand in their shining futures. When Mason came home from his second year at college in December, he came to the apartment to deliver a Christmas gift.
Griffin always sent a basket of perfect fruit and tiny jam jars and remembered how much Cerise loved chocolate and tucked a gift certificate into the card. Mason stood at the door, taking in the living room: the sofa bed where Cerise slept and her dresser and an armchair and a coffee table that had once belonged to his family and a Persian carpet, faded but real, that Cerise had asked for when Mrs.
Griffin redid her family room. As long as the huge basket was in his arms, Mason was awkward, ashamed to recognize these possessions in their new surroundings. Even his wood blocks had fitted together precisely, unpainted, unvarnished chunks of maple sanded so smooth a hand would slender little thing glide over their surfaces. He looked at Cerise as if she were misplaced in this crowded room. After Cerise took the basket from Mason, they sat in the kitchen having coffee.
He shrugged. He asked how she liked nursing. She had spent more than a decade happily at his beck and call; he would understand. To get into Harvard, Sophie said, you have to spend your summer doing volunteer work in France or building clinics in Costa Rica. Mason gave Cerise another look of apology. He said, I went to Belgium. She knew everything already, Sophie did. Mason was gone by the time Sophie came back to the kitchen, her long hair a wet cord trailing over her shoulder, to poke at the gift basket. Sophie read the ingredients on the package, her face keen with suspicion, and then tore open the package to inspect the chocolate.
See that? You have to throw it out. No, you let me get up this time. No need to sweat over words and numbers that clumped into knots or to worry over giving an injection. If an air bubble got in the syringe, you could kill someone. When she thanked Mrs. Griffin for helping her find the job, Mrs.
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Griffin said she was the one who had to be grateful, for all Cerise had given her boys. Griffin took her at her word and found a better teacher. What Cerise knew, she knew, and Mrs. Griffin took it as a gift. It was like giving Sophie a gift to hand her the checkbook and the bills at the end of every month. She was such a whiz! She did all the calculations in her head and staggered the bills so Cerise would never bounce a check. At ten Sophie had relished this evidence of her competence. Even now, when she rushed through the chore, she never made mistakes; she stacked the bills with 50 51 the invoice sticking out of each envelope before she began writing the checks.
While they sat at the table, Sophie handing over the checks for a signature, Cerise asked if there was enough in the bank account to cover the extra checks Sophie would write in January for her college application fees. Sophie said she would narrow her list to five. Is five enough? Cerise said. You could stop smoking for a month, Sophie teased, and then I could do six. Oh, I should, Cerise said. And I could put off getting new shoes. If Cerise bought a cheaper pair of orthopedic shoes for work, they wore out so fast, she saved nothing by it. And cheap shoes made her bunions hurt. Oh, get the damn shoes!
Sophie said. Cerise apologized. I just want to see you set up right. No mistakes. Sophie proved that she knew what Cerise was getting at by putting her hands over her ears, her response whenever Cerise tried to talk to her about sex. Which was proof she was too young for that. You have to be careful now, Cerise said. Easy to do if you first creased the sheets correctly. After Cerise slender little thing scooched the patient to the right side of the bed, she tugged the flat sheet loose from the left side of the mattress and folded it over itself lengthwise, at intervals of one foot, pressing it flat each time.
Hand over hand, she opened the oblong of the clean sheet to the length of the bed. Following the creases that ran in the perpendicular direction, she unfolded this sheet in the wake of the other until she reached the middle of the bed. Then she carefully hefted the patient onto the clean sheet. Some of them were so light she thought they would crumble in her hands. Some were plump as pigeons, dense, bunkered in their flesh. Cerise had a tolerance for the complaints that announced in advance the aches a shift would cause in tender joints, a cancerous gut, fresh surgical scars.
After she moved the patient, she could strip the old sheet in one motion and then resume the slow unfolding of the new sheet. The top sheet she unfurled like a sail so that it settled gently on the person in the bed. The first few times Cerise gave Mr. Petersen a sponge bath, he smacked a fist on the basin of water and soaked the bed.
She had to change the sheets later anyway, and he had a right to be angry: why did you have to continue to care for the body, long after its offerings had dwindled to punishment and humiliation? If his mind was weak, he was recovering well from his surgery, not like Mrs. Campos down the hall, who had an infected abscess in her jaw, packed with two feet of gauze tape that soaked up blood and pus and had to be unspooled and replaced every 52 53 day.
It made no difference. It made no difference that this one would pass soon and that one might spend years in the same dim room, with the dusty blinds serrating the light from the narrow window. All of them hid in their fists some last little thing they could not yet give up. Cerise got Mr. Petersen to yield to her by degrees, let him soap himself at first, knowing his body would outmaneuver his will, not with its power to punish but with its hunger for relief. She had to hold his hand to lift his arm for washing, and he wanted someone to hold his hand.
When she drew the soapy sponge over the pouching skin of his chest, the ridged scar on his belly, the furred and knotted muscle of his thigh, the steelwool bristle of his pubic hair, she swaddled him in a haze of tenderness, oh honey, oh sweetie, almost done. Even wasted flesh wanted that tender touch. The teachers are such ghouls, prying into your personal life, and if you want to get an a, you have to spill your guts.
It says so right here! Right here! What was the Magna Carta? You never listen. What do you think will happen? You get the dishes tonight, Cerise said. Sophie said, I have homework. My feet are so bad, the doctor says I have to have surgery. Sophie held an imaginary violin under her chin and pretended to draw a bow across it. You know just how to say it.
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Cerise got up from the table. But Sophie followed her from the kitchen to the living room and back again. Sophie wanted her to admit she was in the wrong. Cerise took her cigarettes and went out to the landing on the back stairs, where only one person could fit, and Sophie opened the kitchen window and stuck her head out and kept at her. Cerise went back inside and past Sophie to the bathroom, where she locked the door. Sophie thumped frantically on the door, yelling at her. She tried not to smoke in the house, but if Sophie would not leave her in peace on the landing, then she could sit on the edge of the bathtub and light another cigarette.
Sophie finally went away. But she came back. She pushed slips of paper under the door, torn from one of her school notebooks. Cerise knew it would be more of the same written on those pieces of paper, and still she laughed. Just picture Sophie at the table, tongue between her teeth, her hand zigzagging furiously across the page. Sophie had transformed herself from the relentless creature at the door into a daughter who could not let go. Cerise felt giddy, the way she did when one of the boys came to visit. She imagined them sometimes, grown men, making their annual trek to her door, bearing gifts more lavish than she could ever have wished for.
Cerise waited a few weeks before she spoke to Sophie. She asked her if she had ever tried marijuana, if there was pressure from the other kids. Sophie said, You smoke. Cerise did not know what to say to that, how to make Sophie behave like a scolded child. And that Thursday night, they were having a good time. She had washed the dishes before she started her homework.
Cerise was in the living room, ironing her uniform, when Sophie called from the bedroom for her to come quick. This spider was a big one, high up on the wall, and Cerise had to stand on the bed to squish it. Its plump body crunched under her finger, leaving a rusty smear on the wall. Sophie screamed. She wanted proof the spider was dead. Cerise had to show her the flattened body on the paper towel before she threw it into 56 57 the overflowing wastebasket in the bathroom. Sophie said she would not be able to sleep in her bed tonight if Cerise did not clean the stain, so Cerise got some disinfectant from the kitchen and sponged from the wall all those invisible eggs.
Now wash your hands, Sophie said. Wash your hands! Sophie followed Cerise to the kitchen to watch her wash her hands, and then she followed her back to the living room. Thank you, Mom. Her patients thanked Cerise all the time. Out of gratitude, these people confided little secrets, complaints and sorrows that were not the ones that mattered: I met my husband right after the war, and you know I thought he was ugly the first time I saw him. Poppy would belt me if he caught me, so I said it was my sister did it. I embroidered these handkerchiefs myself, and I want you to have them before those others steal them on me.
Cerise always listened; she had learned early on in her nursing career that you could pinch the arm of someone suffering from a slipped disk and momentarily trick the brain out of feeling the agony by provoking the nerves elsewhere. Sophie stood too close to Cerise at the ironing board, crowding her. What is it? Jackson wants me to go to school here.
He wants us to stay together. A shame you mailed off all those applications, Cerise said. Wrote all those checks. So transparent. Cerise had to nudge Sophie to get her to stand back. You bring me a few things. Sophie went to her room and brought back some blouses and two pairs of jeans. Thanks, Mom. Honey, Cerise said. Do you love him? Sophie heaved a great sigh, the kind of sigh for which she would pounce on Cerise.
Cerise thought of how well the boys had turned out. With so little trouble. She set down the iron and pulled her warm uniform from the ironing board, shaking it out before she slipped it on the hanger. I want you to be happy, Cerise said. I always want that. Cerise put down the iron when Sophie said she thought she might be pregnant.
Sophie waited. Then she said, So now what? The desire to retaliate flashed in Cerise, so strong. She knew she should not speak. She went out onto the landing. She felt vindicated for not giving up a month of cigarettes so Sophie could send off another application. That was the point of smoking. For so long as you drew on a cigarette, you did not care. Whatever kind of chemistry produced that comfort, it worked. A thank you was all it took for Sophie to sucker Cerise. Oh, and the rush to kill the spider, to do one thing for Sophie that she could not do better for herself.
Now she meditated on that mess. Thick packets, wadded with toilet paper. Squeamish Sophie wrapped her sanitary napkins over and over again to seal off what they contained. Cerise was afraid she would give out on Sophie. She did not want to wonder why her daughter would tell her such a vicious lie any more than she wanted to know why Sophie was afraid of spiders. Instead of trying not to think about it, Sophie searched for reasons to cement her dread. She went on the Internet and reported to Cerise: there was a spider in Australia the size of a dinner plate, and it ate birds, and what would you do if you were walking along and one dropped on you from a tree; another spider laid its eggs in the bodies of the insects it trapped in its web, so the babies could feed on the host when they hatched.
When Cerise came inside, Sophie had taken her place at the ironing board and was running the iron over her blouse, slender little thing wrinkling the fabric because she did not know to tug the cuff so the sleeve would not crease. Let me do that, Cerise said. Reflex for Cerise to take the iron from Sophie and patiently start over on the blouse.
Again Sophie waited for Cerise to say something. Cerise finished the sleeve and began running the iron over the front of the blouse, steering it in and out between the buttons. What would you know about it? When did you ever have the satisfaction? She stood so brutally close. Lie down with me here. You get yourself tangled up with him, Cerise said. What will you get for it? Sophie tugged at the shirt. But Cerise would not lift the iron.
A burning smell rose from the fabric. Cerise watched the cloth begin to brown. Sophie watched too, her hand suspended in air, as if she had no choice but to stand there. The iron spit when it came in contact with the warm, moist flesh. She gripped her wrist and held her hand before her as if she had to study the triangular imprint the iron had left, erasing the crisscrossing lines on the skin of her palm, searing a fresh new blank, a clean slate.
Natalie continued to collect a small monthly check, a kill fee, and visited the office every few weeks. She might still get her feet under her again, and now and then she turned in a photograph they could use. No one minded if she showed up and closeted herself in the tiny darkroom, appropriating whatever supplies she needed. Holly was new. She was insisting that Natalie could not use the copier unless she had been issued a copier card, and she would have to leave her dog outside, when Liz interrupted her.
Her little gray poodle was ok too. Charlie trotted after Natalie and curled up politely at her feet when she stopped at the copier. Natalie needed Liz to tell her how to select a paper tray so she could copy onto ledger-sized paper. I have to document my claims, she said. No one had expected it to derail Natalie. At work she reported a series of afflictions: the run-down house, riddled with dry rot and mortgaged to the hilt, had to be sold at a loss; she could not find a landlord who would permit a dog; her battered old car was stolen; in her new neighborhood she was mugged; she no longer went out alone at night after that.
Maybe no one read any of this very accurately. Just after Natalie and Doc broke up, the World Trade Center went up in flames, stunning everyone and inaugurating a long, uncertain wait. What was coming in the wake of this catastrophe? At work they installed a tv and kept it tuned to cnn, msnbc, any twenty-four-hour news programming; Natalie alone lost interest in images, scissors, paper , ro ck turning in fewer and fewer photographs.
People at the office began saying maybe something was wrong. Liz showed Natalie how to use the touch pad to specify the dimensions of the copy she was making. Natalie thought this was miraculous. But worrisome too. Nothing is done manually. And these digital cameras. No mistake is ever real, because you clean up the image on the computer screen before you print it. If you bother to print. Liz laughed. You already are. Liz existed to tamp their high spirits, the mommy who always said no.
Natalie sifted through the papers she had copied. Legal documents, she said. My landlord is trying to evict me. When I thought he was such a nice man. I have to fend him off, and then the neighbors too. Liz almost wished that some nasty neighbor had actually made threats. Like everyone else here, Liz wanted to be kind, to extend a generosity that presumed so much room in which to drift, so much cushion for a fall. But what if Natalie was about to crash and burn? Josh and Ashley had been the first to figure out that Natalie no longer floated harmlessly through the office.
Mostly, food went missing. Stashes of cookies from desk drawers, sandwiches from the fridge in the lunchroom. A box of sugar packets. A thermos of iced tea. The thermos was replaced in the kitchen a few weeks later. She must be hungry, Josh said. Ashley, full of eager pity, deliberately left jars of peanut butter and loaves of bread on the counter in the lunchroom.
They had not known Natalie before, and their charitable impulses came unencumbered. When Liz was just a part-timer on the paste-up crew, she resented Natalie. Once she delivered the photo, Natalie studied the layout, worrying that the page should be torn up and redone, soliciting advice from Rick, the layout editor then. Hesitantly, as if she regretted the professional judgment that held her back from easy acquiescence, she would touch his wrist and wonder but what if, and he would linger a little longer. People gossiped about it. She freelanced for a wire service as well and could easily have made better money working elsewhere full-time, but she had remained loyal.
It made a difference to Liz to go home at midnight instead of nine or ten. She got up with the kids at six every morning.
She worked weekends and Fridays, when Denny could leave work early to fetch Leah from preschool and Nick from kindergarten. They needed the money and Denny was already sacrificing himself, working in corporate public relations and coming home to do dishes and give the kids baths.
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Liz would have gone on resenting Natalie, but one night when she rapped on the darkroom door to urge her to hurry up, Natalie let her into the red light of the room and apologized as she swished the paper in the developing fluid with a pair of tongs. Her lush black hair, which fell to her waist, was pinned back with one of the clothespins they used to hang drying prints.
Natalie pulled up a stool for Liz and handed her the still gummy proof sheet and a magnifying lens. She wanted Liz to choose the best shot. The photos had been taken to accompany a story on the 66 67 aids ward at San Francisco General. Instead of shooting doctors and nurses ministering to cadaverous patients, Natalie had photographed people flipping through magazines in the waiting room, a smiley-face sticker on a stethoscope, a receptionist studying an appointment ledger with its penciled-over cancellations. She had a knack for locating the most intense point of focus at the periphery of the frame.
These are really good, Liz said. My only secret. Nothing here is the obvious choice, Liz said. Natalie said. The human story instead of the hard facts?