Following is an excerpt from partway into chapter one. Jody, the 33-year-old protagonist has not spoken to her mother, Ida, for over a year. By mistake, she answers the phone:
The phone rang. Distracted by all of these thoughts, I grabbed it.
“So, you are alive? I thought I would see a story about you in the newspaper soon: Daughter kidnapped!”
I used every ounce of willpower, down to my pinky toe, to not hang up. “Look, Ma, what’s to talk about? I’m never taking him back, and I gave it your ridiculous timeframe, well over a year now. Even Stewart was probably shocked I hadn’t filed for divorce yet.”
“I am just worried you will not find someone else who is Jewish and makes decent money.”
She paused, and I exhaled loudly to keep from swearing. “He was screwing her for a long, long time, Mother! And I’m sure he still does when it’s convenient for the two of them—despite her having a husband!”
“Jody Horowitz, I did not raise a trash mouth.”
I leaned my head in my hand and jostled the contents. Why was I bothering with this woman, just because she gave birth to me long, long ago? I willed myself to keep quiet by wrapping a long curl around my finger. Hanging up was out of the question—I’d been doing that on and off for too long, and it just delayed the real truth—that I couldn’t truly move on with my life so long as I succumbed to her emotional control over me. Since the “incident,” I’d only let her see her grandchild when my father would take Hallie for visits to “Gammar Ida”—not that my daughter asked to see my mother. She had more fun visiting her great-grandmother, my Bubbe, where Hallie already sensed she could be herself and just play, instead of worrying about touching things at Gammar Ida’s house. Or having to recite everything she had learned at “school” since her last visit.
After a long pause, Ida said, “Okay, sorry, we do need to try to talk though, do we not? You have missed all the holidays, and the only time Hallie has visited her new baby cousin you were not even there. This has to end, Jody.”
I took a giant breath and exhaled so long I thought I’d pop a lung. It was the first time she’d ever used the five-letter word “sorry.” I imagined those letters flashing in gold on my wall. Clearly they were meant to buy her something. I just didn’t know what yet, but maybe it was time to learn what her real issue was. Eventually I had to face her. Had to find a way to forgive her so I could move on with my own life. I was not sure I could ever forgive her, but perhaps I could at least close the lifelong chapter on letting her control me like a puppet.
“How about we try to start over, Jody? Meet me at ten-thirty Monday morning at the Pillar House. We will have breakfast. But do not bring Hallie. And dress properly.”
“I wouldn’t dare bring her to watch her Gammar Ida chew me out for no good reason. Ma, it’s my life, not yours, and I’m moving ahead with a divorce whether you agree or not. And by the way, I haven’t worn ripped jeans since college—at least a decade ago. I kinda sorta know how to dress properly, even if you don’t like my style.”
“There you go again, taking my words too sensitively. Well, see you there. And please show up; do not embarrass me in front of the workers. You know this is where I meet with clients.”
Hmm, “please” was a new word for her too. “Bye, Mother” was the best I could do.
Ida hung up without saying goodbye. I banged the phone into its cradle and felt the familiarity of doing that same thing whenever she called home from work to talk to me when I was a teenager. Without ever asking about my day, she’d launch into how busy she was at the office, and what chores I needed to complete for her, and how to prepare dinner—even though she’d left detailed notes on the kitchen table. Meanwhile, my sister and I followed her instructions every single day—yet she still didn’t trust me to do it right?
This is a chapter when Jody is questioning whether she and her new man are falling in love:
At the restaurant, we sat in one of those rounded chairs that always looked so romantic—which Stewart had refused to sit in. Now it felt as cozy and natural as I had imagined. We shared a bottle of champagne and oysters, laughing about their aphrodisiac reputation. Dinner started with Belgium endive salads and followed with such fresh grilled swordfish that it tasted like it had been prepared right off the boat—and probably was. We also shared grilled asparagus, and I was momentarily tempted to lift up a piece with my fingers and suck it gingerly, but it was too risky. I settled for accepting his hand in mine in between courses, as we took in the view of the sparkling city lights around us and swayed to the jazz pianist’s romantic sounds. The chemistry in the air between us could not only be enthralling me.
Just after ordering dessert, as I left for the ladies’ room, I felt the warmth of mutual love blooming, and it wasn’t just the champagne doing its job. I nearly floated down the hallway.
“Please, open it,” was all he said when I returned. There, resting beside my chocolate mousse sat a small red box wrapped with gold ribbon. He sat up stiffly in his seat, focusing more on the package than on me.
“Oh my, what’s this?” I fumbled with the ribbon, unsure how I felt about receiving what appeared to be jewelry from a man I’d started falling in love with but who had never even kissed me. I pictured my bestie Ruthie hovering above us, asking if we were in fifth grade and about to go steady. I lifted the top as cautiously as if I were unfolding a report card, afraid to see something I didn’t expect inside. The box contained a two-ounce spray bottle of Red Door, a perfume I’d never heard of. I was allergic to most perfumes, but even in my confused state, I knew this wasn’t the time to tell him so.
“Oh my, thank you.” I took the cap off and took a quick sniff. “Lovely. Thank you.” I placed one hand on the side of the bottle and the other hand still held the cap. I had no clue what to do or say next. I was relieved it wasn’t jewelry, yet either gift seemed too soon for a fourth date. Then again, a kiss, or more, hadn’t felt too soon for a fourth date—maybe I had my priorities skewed? Still, I didn’t sense that kiss was even about to happen now.
“Put it on. Uh, would you mind?”
“Of course not. Sure.” I wondered for a second if he meant on my wrist or my neck. Either way, one spray of perfume wouldn’t bother me, so I pushed aside my dangling silver and gold earrings to spray a bit near my ear. I had barely set down the bottle when he leaned close and tucked his face into my neck, lingering for a few long seconds. I held still, thinking maybe this was his tactic for a first kiss. Nope. He sat back up, returning to the awkward stiffness—yet I noticed tears in his eyes. I sat quietly, perplexed yet wondering if…
“Perfect on you, exactly as I hoped.” He leaned in for another quick inhale near my neck, then instantly pulled back and fussed with his drink.
This scene takes place in Chapter 20. The protagonist, Jody, has just fled Boston, where she believes her boyfriend just tricked her. She was supposed to go to Boothbay, Maine, with him, but went alone. This is a scene that night at dinner:
Lobsterman’s Wharf was indeed perfect. A little cool to sit outside, but I preferred the chill air to the bustling restaurant inside. So I bundled myself up in an extra sweatshirt I found in my trunk and settled into a table on the ocean-view deck. I absentmindedly watched the waves break against the shoreline while eating a lobster dinner brought out promptly by a pleasant waitress with gray-blond hair and a heavily-lined face. I was grateful for her quiet but efficient service. While struggling to break open my lobster with the awkward metal claw-cracker, piece by delicious piece, I distracted myself by observing the other diners: a large group of friends toasting to a special occasion; couples leaning close as they shared steamers and corn on the cob; a family with a sullen teenage son who kept replying with one-word answers to his parents’ questions. It made me sad to be the only one alone. One couple bickered, and while it was unpleasant to watch, at least they had someone to bicker with. And one school-aged child dining alone with an older man, her grandpa maybe, made me miss my little girl, even though I knew I needed time to recover here on my own before returning to her.
When I wasn’t studying the other diners, I entertained myself by trying to will the sun to emerge to the foreground of the clouds. And I caught myself fascinated by the crazy seagulls diving in and out of view, stealing an occasional tidbit from a table. One seagull scored an entire dinner roll, managing to fly away with it in his expansive beak. Another one carried off a wad of French fries, only to spill them on the ground as it flew off with a booby prize—the empty red-and-white checkered paper basket. The other seagulls appeared to laugh as they flew by trying to claim a piece of the tumbling prize. The one who lost his fries didn’t give up, trying again for anything he could get away with, eventually sneaking off with an onion ring the size of a large hoop earring.
When the waitress had returned with the bill and cleaned up the table, I asked her what kind of seagulls they were. I’d never seen any like those before.
“They’re smaller than the ones I’ve seen in California,” I said. “But they’re funny, persistent fellas. And so captivating. I love their black-hooded heads, white tails and belly, and their gray back and wings.”
“Yeah, those ah laughing gulls. You’ve gotta hold onto your belongings around those characters.”
“So funny, I heard their laughter and watched them steal stuff. Fortunately, nothing of mine.”
“Yeah, they’re nuts. But I like ‘em, too. They’re full ‘a life, and they’ve got a lesson in them, too.” She wiped up the crumbs from my cornbread.
“Y’up. At my ripe old age, with all I seen in my day, I call ‘em healthy seagulls.” She looked me squarely in the eye, and paused, as though to ask if I wanted more of her philosophy, or should she leave with my empty plates?
“Please, tell me more.”
She leaned on the table with one hand. “Y’up, they’re healthy seagulls ‘cause their very bodies carry a billboard of wisdom. Things ahren’t always black or white, right? We humans usually have our messier gray sides, now don’t we?” I nodded.“Wish more people would realize that about themselves. We gotta accept each other’s middle ground, not just expect everything to be either perfect or, well, fucked.” She threw back her head and laughed.
“Go on. This intrigues me. A lot.”
“Well, think about it, you can’t just embrace the people in your life when they’re showing their good sides, can you? We’re all a little fucked up now and then, or deep down in our bones, yet don’t we need to accept everyone’s flaws, too? If we don’t, do we deserve ‘em when they’re at their best, bein’ generous with their time, love, money, wisdom—whatever, ya know?”
I nodded again, my eyes and ears wanting to take in more of this, like a school kid eager to learn on her first day of philosophy class. “How’d you get this wise?”
“Me? Ha. Not wise, just lived a long time, been through a lot. Haven’t we all? When I was growing up, my granddad was a drunk—disappointing my grandma and my ma left and right. He’d disappear for days on end, loving the bottle more than them. But he never said or did a bad thing to me, though I did hafta step over him now and then to change the channels on the TV.” She threw back her head and snickered, then scowled, perhaps recalling his dark side.
“But ya know, I learned everything I know about the ocean and stormy weather and reading people’s natures from him, God rest his soul in peace. And those laughing gulls, oh how he loved those intelligent, humorous little rascals. Mostly how they were successful risk-takers! We’d sit around this very bay and place bets with those sitting around us to pick which gull would score first! Darn if Granddad didn’t walk away with more dollar bills stashed in his pockets than the other playahs. He had a way of just pickin’ out the gulls with either his instincts or, well, his bahls.”
I stared at her, my mouth open, wondering if Maine made only weird perceptive and open people, free to speak their minds and share their wisdom. I felt captivated by her story-telling, and her ability to accept and clearly love someone who most likely had damaged her whole family, for generations. I opened my mouth to ask more questions, unsure quite why this all fascinated me so, but before I could think of what else to ask, she hummed some unknown tune and walked off with my debris. She left me alone to ponder her simple joyousness, and to scrutinize the gray middles of the little birds. Soon the clouds parted and the sky briefly lit up in shades of deep orange and vivid pinks just before the sun set below the horizon.