Driftingby Stephanie Gertler
Readers and critics alike fell in love with Stephanie Gertler's Jimmy's Girl and The Puzzle Bark Tree, praised as "engaging [and] insightful" by Midwest Book Review. Now, fearlessly delving into the hidden depths of the heart, she has crafted a wise and moving novel about the bonds of mothers and daughters and the relationships we cherish. See more details below
Readers and critics alike fell in love with Stephanie Gertler's Jimmy's Girl and The Puzzle Bark Tree, praised as "engaging [and] insightful" by Midwest Book Review. Now, fearlessly delving into the hidden depths of the heart, she has crafted a wise and moving novel about the bonds of mothers and daughters and the relationships we cherish.
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.30(w) x 6.74(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
Claire's footsteps echoed as she walked across the planked blue-gray floor of the veranda, her pink cotton robe trailing behind her. Her hair was gathered on top of her head in a mother-of-pearl clasp, stray wisps of pale blond framing her high cheekbones. She set her coffee mug on a glass table, rubbing away a frosted circular remnant of someone's drink with her fingertip; her deep-set eyes faced downward, pools of transparent blue mist.
She sat too stiffly in the cushioned wicker chair, the newspaper folded in her lap, and gazed out the salt-sprayed window. The beach in the distance was strangely stilled by the early autumn morning. The sand appeared dark, littered with pine needles. She listened to the pine needles hitting the flat roof outside their bedroom window the sleepless night before as they tapped the shingles like steel pin drops. A flurry of leaves suddenly twirled like a pinwheel in a vortex of wind and she turned her head to see a blue-and-white-striped awning loosen from an upstairs dormer. The American flag hanging over the front porch twisted around itself like a Chinese yo-yo. Purple and pink asters, their blooms nearly finished now, strained in one final effort toward the September morning sun that struggled through the clouds.
Stella came and sat beside her, tail wagging low; her eyes, clouded with marbled blue cataracts, gazed up at Claire. Claire patted the dog's flank, so lost in thought that she startled when Eli came into the room.
"Good morning, ladies," he said, placing his steaming mug next to Claire's and scratching Stella behind the ears. He touched Claire's arm. "Penny for your thoughts."
Claire smiled at her husband. "Hi," she said, as he leaned over to kiss her. "You smell like mint."
"New soap," he said. "Is that good?"
She nodded and focused her glance on his hands. His fingers curled around the mug of coffee as he brought it to his lips. His hands were mapped with dark spots but still strong. Large hands that had held their babies, covered their infants' heads, and enveloped her the times she thought she might break in half if not for their salvation. She remembered watching once while he delivered a foal. How deftly he took the foal from its mother, holding it as if it were made of fine blown glass. How he looked when he knelt beside the mare, his breath coming in short precise inhalations, perspiration glistening on his forehead as she brushed away an errant lock of hair that had fallen in his eyes. She thought as she sat across from him now how odd it was that his dark hair was streaked with silver and wondered when it turned and why she hadn't seen it happen. He was wearing black jeans and a plaid shirt rolled to his elbows; a frayed white T-shirt peeked out at the notch of his neck.
"There's a rip in your shirt," she said tenderly. "At the collar. I can sew it. I've been neglecting you, haven't I?"
Eli shook his head and fingered the tear. "It's not worth fixing," he said. "I'll toss it later. How's Stella this morning?"
"Not so great," Claire said, stroking the golden retriever's back. "She's having trouble lately up and down the stairs."
"Her depth perception's gone," Eli said, lifting the dog's chin, studying her eyes.
"I think she misses the kids. It's too quiet around here." "It always feels quiet Monday mornings after the guests have gone," Eli said. "Especially this time of year."
Claire lifted her head and looked into his eyes. She wanted to tell him that it wasn't just the quiet of a Monday morning. It wasn't just the time of year. This was different from every autumn morning they'd known for the last twenty-two years. Didn't he hear the absence of Jonah's blaring stereo and rattling of old pipes as Natalie ran a shower so steamy that vapors seeped under the bathroom door and wafted into the hallway? Normally, Claire would have been dressed by now, clearing the breakfast dishes, shooing Natalie out the door after kissing her slightly damp hair, breathing in her scent of rose water and cherry lip balm.
It was a scorching-hot August day three weeks before when she hugged Natalie outside her freshman dormitory. The moment she knew would come all summer long. She could still taste the precise moment when she folded her daughter into her arms and held her motionless, bittersweet tears moistening Natalie's cheeks.
"Mom!" Natalie said. "You promised you wouldn't cry." "I'm not," Claire said, forcing a smile.
Natalie turned to her father. "Dad, do something!"
"It's a mother's prerogative," he said, laughing. "She's held up real well until now."
"You're going to be just fine," Claire said, smiling through glistening eyes, her breath held visibly. She stroked her daughter's cheek and tucked the loose strands of hair behind her ear.
"Who are you trying to convince?" Natalie teased.
"Remember to take your vitamins, okay? I bought you the ones with iron. . . "
"Mom," Natalie protested. "Enough. I'm a big girl."
"Yes, you are," Claire said tenderly. "Sometimes I forget."
Natalie turned to her father. "Help her, okay, Dad? She's all yours now."
"I'll call you tonight," Claire said, hugging her daughter one more time.
Eli placed his arm around Claire's waist and steered her from the steps of the ivy-covered dormitory, his arm staying around her although she turned at least a dozen times to wave as they walked down the path and over the crest of the hill to their truck. Natalie stood until they were gone from sight. It was all Claire could do not to run back and take Natalie home. Wait! the voice inside her cried. I'm not finished yet. Did I tell you everything you need to know? Teach you everything I've learned over the years? How can I leave you now?
Eli held Claire's hand in the truck. Blasts of hot air from the air-conditioning vents made her breath feel shorter than it was.
"You okay?" he asked, squeezing her hand. "It's going to be okay." Claire covered her mouth with her hand and began to cry. "I don't know what's the matter with me."
Eli pulled her to him. "You're a mother," he said, drawing her closer to him, pressing his lips to the side of her head.
"Part of me just isn't quite ready to let her go, that's all."
"She's like a kite. She's so ready to fly," he said gently. "You're just letting out the string."
Natalie called that night to say she was fine. To reassure her mother that she'd found the cafeteria and to tell about her roommate from California who brought a microwave.
"You know, you packed enough Q-tips and Band-Aids for the whole university," Natalie said, laughing. "I could start a cottage industry."
"Well, you never know. . . "
"I love you, Mom."
I love you, Mom. The suffixed phrase came so easily to her children though Claire had never uttered it herself. She thought of the times Natalie raced out the door on a crisp fall morning, sweater tied around her waist, dangling beneath her coat, or Jonah darted back inside to retrieve something he'd forgotten. I love you, Mom! he, too, would cry unabashedly. "I love you, too!" Claire would call as they ran for the bus, her words carrying on the wind for eternity, bouncing back to her like echoes in a cave.
"You're usually dressed by now," Eli said, watching her stare away from him again, wondering what she expected to find beyond his eyes. "No patients today?"
"I have some reports to write for DSS. Another week before sessions begin again."
"That's a late start for you."
"Not really. Schools just opened today," she said.
Eli stood behind her now, resting his hands on her shoulders, the two of them staring at the rocky beach, the red-and-white lighthouse motionless in the distance as though it were painted on the horizon.
"Remember when the kids Would ask if they swam as far as they could, where they'd end up?" she asked. "Jonah always said they'd be in Barcelona. Where on earth did he get that from? Barcelona?"
She pictured Jonah and Natalie as they fished from the jetty, matching hooded gray sweatshirts, their skinny stick legs streaked with sunburn, protruding beneath baggy shorts. How was it possible they were on their own now? Wasn't it just yesterday that they wore backpacks bigger than they were and she double-knotted their shoelaces? Jonah. He graduated from college the May before and now was at veterinary school in Ohio, Eli's alma mater. He had left the week before Natalie, the black Chevy Blazer packed to the brim, his muscular, suntanned arm frozen in a wave through the open window. I love you, Mom, trailing behind him as he called from the window and drove away.
Claire reached behind her and pressed her husband's hands with her fingertips. "Summer always ends so fast once Labor Day comes," she said.
There was a distinct chill in the air. A breeze blew through an open jalousie and suddenly made her shiver. The few remaining sailboats were anchored in the small marina, rocking to and fro, their masts tinkling like bells. Jonah was ten and Natalie was six when they bought the Inn at Drifting -- "Eight-guest-room gem on Dune Beach" in Drifting, Connecticut, as the brochure described it. "Delightful living room with stone fireplace and adjoining bar area. Elegant dining for fifty." The Inn looked like something out of storybook -- an old ramshackle Victorian painted a pate periwinkle blue perched on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic.
"I never get tired of this view," Claire said.
Eli bent down and kissed his wife's cheek. "You used to say that about the Jersey side of the Hudson."
Claire was about to answer when she heard the school bus come to a screeching halt. She pictured the children as they climbed clumsily up the wide steps, the door shutting with a screech, the bus chugging down the street leaving a stream of exhaust in its wake.
Copyright © 2003 Stephanie Gertler
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is Stephanie's third book and it is a very good read. She resides in New York with her husband, three children, 5 dogs. Stephanie also writes a monthly lifestyles column called, 'These Days' for two Conneticut news-papers. Stephanie also has two other books already on the shelves: 'Jimmy`s Girl' and 'The Puzzle Bark Tree'. Those are on my list of books to read as I so enjoyed, Drifter. About the book- This story is about a woman who`s mother left her at the age of 2. Her father raised her as best he could. Years later, she has married and raised two children of her own always wondering in the back of her mind how a mother could just up and leave her child. She never really addressed this issue though, instead she filled her life with her husband, children and her work as a phycologist. It was only when she was experiencing, 'Empty nest syndrome', that she could no longer avoid her curiousity about her mother. In the story she meets a father and daughter that also become a part of her own past in many ways. I will stop now. This book had me reaching for it constantly. It is well written and I totally recommend it. It is a feel good story! WomensSelfEsteem.com's Review- As we all have our issues from our past that we work so hard to avoid, this book is proof that those issues can only hurt us or someone else in the end, if not dealth with. I recommend this book to anyone that thinks life is better when they decide to not confront their past. This is a very good feeling book!
Raised by a loving single father, Claire Cherney knows her life has been good even if she has always felt haunted by her mother deserting the two of them for Hollywood. She loves her husband and her two children, whom are away attending college. She enjoys her works as a Department of Social Services¿ psychiatrist and takes pleasure in running the Dune Beach Inn in Drifting, Connecticut. Still she misses her dad who died a few years ago and wonders why her mom left when she was two. Though the off-season, Nick Pierce arrives with his blind seven-year-old daughter Kayla. Following a scary incident in which she sees how concerned Nick is with Kayla, Claire sympathizes with the father and daughter because she believes that the girl¿s mom deserted the two of them like her mother did her and her dad. However, she soon notices little things like how Nick acts impatient towards Kayla especially in color selections of wardrobe that seems so important to the little girl. She begins to wonder if her own bias blinds her to a different reality than her initial reaction. DRIFTER is a powerful look at relationships and how one sees the world through incidents that shaped their lives. The story line provides a deep look into Claire who never forgot that her mom left her though her dad nurtured and loved her and her spouse and children also love and encourage her. She sees people through what happened to her. Though the tale adds an unnecessary suspense element towards the end, Stephanie Gertler provides a potent character study. Harriet Klausner