Someone Not Really Her Motherby Harriet Scott Chessman
This masterful and compassionate novel is split into a series of interlinked stories that tell the tale of Hannah Pearl. As Hannah’s memory of the present begins to fade, she increasingly inhabits the world of her ardent and frightened youth in war-torn France and England, while her memories of life in America with her daughter and granddaughters have almost
This masterful and compassionate novel is split into a series of interlinked stories that tell the tale of Hannah Pearl. As Hannah’s memory of the present begins to fade, she increasingly inhabits the world of her ardent and frightened youth in war-torn France and England, while her memories of life in America with her daughter and granddaughters have almost been erased. Throughout the book each character must negotiate the fraught intricacies of memory, geography, and motherhood. The reader will discover and illuminate, with miraculous effect, all the pieces of this intelligent and dream-like puzzle.
- Atelier26 Books
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)
Read an Excerpt
Morning here is not like any mornings Hannah Pearl has ever known. First, the young woman with hair the color of honey comes in. Her hair spills out of the barrette. She's wearing a blueuniform.
“Upsy-daisy, Hannah!” she says, raising Hannah's bed. “Here's your glasses!” She opens them up and puts them on Hannah's nose. “And here's your medicine.”
On the young woman's uniform is a smallsomethingwith Roxie on it. Of course she is Roxie. Hannah swallows her pills, one at a time, with water.
On this morning, the young womanhow is she called?adds, “You're having a visitor today, Hannah.” She smiles as she flips Hannah's quilt off, and her sheets. “Time for the bathroom.”
One arm behind Hannah's back, one holding Hannah's right hand, the young woman pulls her upright. Slowly, Hannah sits on the edge of the bed. The young woman bends to pull on Hannah's slippers, her honeyed hair almost touching Hannah's knees.
“All set, Hannah. Now here's your walker.”
“I love it when you call me that! Mademoiselle. I've got to get my boyfriend to call me that, it's so elegant.” She holds Hannah's elbow gently.
Hannah holds on to the silver handles and walks slowly to the bathroom. The young woman helps Hannah sit on the toilet. While she waits for Hannah, she looks into the mirror quickly, and tucks a strand of hair around her ear.
“Sharon will come give you your shower in a few minutes. So don't you want to know who your visitor will be, Hannah?”
The youngwoman says Hannah like hand, with an h bold and blowing, just like that, and an a flat, like a marsh. Hannah is used to this, but privately she thinks of her name as having an h only when you write it. When you say Hannah, the word should open up at first, with no h at all, just a lovely “Ah!” and then another one. “Ahnah!” with more fullness to the second “ah.” How to tell the young woman this?
“Hannah? Don't you want to know who's coming?”
Hannah thinks of a rhyme. Who's to visit Mrs. Pearl, Mrs. Pearl? A doctor, a something, a something, an earl. She is worried about splashing the floor, so she concentrates on making a single stream as the young womanhow is she called? stands close by now, touching her shoulder. Hannah also likes the other one, with the warm voice, who sings. Her voice makes Hannah think of something her mother used to makesomething warm and sweet, with pears. That one billows the new sheets like wings, like parachutes, as she sings.
“Hannah? Did you hear me?” The young woman is squatting down in front of Hannah now, smiling. “Your daughter's coming this morning! She comes every week, right? She isn't from France, like you, though, is she?”
The young woman's words puzzle Hannah. She had a daughter, true, although that was in her other life, and how could her daughter, so young, find her here? This place who could know where it is? The halls go on and on, making a puzzle. One can become lost just going to thebig room for meals. Hannah wonders how to say this.
“This” she begins.
“Looks like you're done. OK?”
The young woman takes a few sheets of toilet paper and wipes Hannah briskly.
“I can do that myself,” Hannah says.
“Oh, I know you can, Hannah, but I can just do it so much quicker. Up we go. Wash hands.”
Breakfast comes after a wait in the dining room. “English muffins,” says the woman who serves her. The other women are chatting together, but Hannah isn't listening until they say, “Hannah, how did you sleep last night?” Hannah cannot remember how she slept, so she nods and says, “Very well, thank you.”
The woman with bright red hair says, “You'll come out with us this morning, won't you, Hannah? We'll ask for permission to take you. It's a gorgeous day for a little walk, a perfect spring day. We could walk just up the block, to see the marsh through the trees.” Oh, Hannah knows this woman, of course she does!
“I think her daughter, Mir, is coming this morning, Helen,” says the woman with white hair and dark brown eyes. She's drinking her coffee, black. She is small herself, and a little hunched over. When she looks at Hannah she winks.
Hannah spreads butter on her muffin as she eyes the eggs all folded in on each other, with smooth walls. She could cook eggs more deliciously than this. A bright picture comes to Hannah of a kitchen, soapsuds frothing, her own hands warm and clean. Something's about to go into the paneggs with a bit of milk, a bit of cheese and something's baking in the ovenHannah closes her eyes to see and smelllittle rolls for lunch.
Words come floating, out of a yeasty ocean: and, all in tears she melted, dissolving, queen no longer, of those waters. Who wrote this? Hannah loved Ovid in translation, and Shakespeare. A delicious language, English.
“Did you say something, Hannah?” the one with red hair asks, touching Hannah's hand with her own. She's a friend, Hannah's sure now; both of the women are friends.
“Ah. She melted, eh? Sounds like not such a good thing to do, no? Melting is not so good.”
Soon she's sitting in her chair by her bed. Outside the window the leaves wave, light green, new ones. Here in her room is her rug, braided with many colors, and her bed, and herwooden somethingwith round circles one pulls, and her mirror, and of course her closet. Inside her closet, she is certain, wait importantdocuments. One day, possibly, she will look at them. She hopes for their safety. If the young woman with the honeyed hair comes in, Hannah will ask her to check. Maybe she will ask her to hide them.
Hannah's hands look like landscapes, moonscapes, with ridges and valleys, changing with movement. She likes looking at them against the color of her skirt, a color like the little round fruits, bloodred, purplish, one picks from the tree in the garden. A somethinga pit!inside. Someone younger picks them with her, and drops the basket. Fruits scatter over the grass.
How has she come to have a skirt of this color? Maybe the young woman has given it to her. Un cadeau. Inside this language another waits. Hannah catches glimpses of it, like looking into the windows of a train going slowly past, as you stand in the field nearby. Hannah rubs her eyes. She does not like to think of trains.
When a woman comes in, Hannah is startled. She's tall, wearing high heels, and she walks briskly, as if she's on her way somewhere important. Her hair is shiny and her eyes look quick and lively. She has the air of someone from outside.
The woman comes close to Hannah and squats down, holding her hands and looking her straight in the eye. Pretty eyes, like shells. A mermaid, maybe. Hannah knows she's being silly, but she glances at the woman's feet for a hint of fin or scale. Mermaids drown you. They sing, though, too, don't they? Songs like air.
The woman's asking Hannah questionsso many! How to keep track? She asks one and, before Hannah can begin to understand it, she moves on to another. She talks quickly and her words rush together.
Now the woman is quiet. She squeezes Hannah's handsouch!and says something Hannah can grasp.
“Out.” That's what she's saying. “Let's go out for lunch.” Sortons, sortons! Hannah pictures Maman, shooing plump Auguste, tail bristling, out of the kitchen. Out where? Hannah wonders. Not to a garden. Wall leads to wall. Someone will stop them. A line becomes a circle. You always comehome, she used to say.
The woman is looking at her with a question in her eyes. Hannah feels uncomfortable. What is she supposed to say? She doesn't want to venture out, near the place where the women sit and talk on the telephone, in blue uniforms, in white coats.
But, “Out,” she says, in spite of herself, and nods. The woman looks happy now, as if she has plunged into clean, icy water on a hot day. I plunged like that once, thinks Hannah, proud for an instant, in another country, the pebbles hard on my feet, someone calling to me, Viens, Hannah! Vite! Come quickly!
“Yes, out!” says the woman. “To a restaurant! Where would you like to go?”
Where, indeed? Hannah pictures a house, cream colored, one of many all attached, glass with lovely colors in itblue, redin the window of the front door.
“I” she begins, but the woman is too quick.
“Shall we go to the Pomegranate? You always like that restaurant. It's the French one, remember? Remember the veal? You like it with the mushrooms, remember? Or what about the Golden Wings?”
What is she talking about? Hannah's glasses start to slip down her nose; she catches them and fixes them. How is the woman coming up with names like this, Pomegranate, Wings? She must be mistaken.
Not wishing to hurt the woman's feelings, Hannah smiles, and the woman smiles too. She is American, Hannah's sure. Hannah notices how her eyes look puzzledsad, maybe. She has a little line just above one of her eyebrowshow is that called? A something line.
“How about if we just get in the car and decide once we're driving around?” The puzzled look changes into a hopeful one, and suddenly Hannah senses how her own kindliness toward this woman is blossoming into something else, courage perhaps. She decides to go along with the woman's hopefulness about a restaurant outside. She can't remember the last time she felt so ready to try for a change. To change places, why, that is a change indeed.
To Hannah's amazement, the ones at the desk do not say, “Wait a minute! Where are you off to, Hannah?” as she and the woman walk up the hallway. A couple of them just keep looking into the big pink drawers filled with papers, or putting pills into little cups. One of them, in a white coat, looks up.
“Taking Queen Hannah out for lunch?” she asks.
Hannah wonders why the woman calls her this. Hannah looks at her shoes carefully as she walks, slowly, slowly, with her silver walker on its quiet wheels, the pretty woman's arm around her.
“Yes! We're off! I just have to sign her out.” The woman picks up a pen and writes something on awhite thing.
“Don't get her back too late! She needs her beauty rest, you know!”
The pretty woman holds Hannah around the waist.
“She's beautiful enough,” she says.
“Au revoir!” says the woman in the white coat, only it doesn't sound right.
“Au revoir, madame!” says the pretty woman, laughing, with an accent just so. Perhaps she is not American after all.
Now Hannah walks down a hallway she cannot remember, past door after door. Outside one door, an old lady is stuck in a wheelchair. She looks twisted into an inhuman shape, like a squash or a cucumber that grew all wrong. She stares at Hannah with yellowed eyes, and Hannah almost trips, because the stare makes her forget what she's doing. That staring one looks as if she would like to hold on to my ankles, thinks Hannah, and she wonders how to tell the woman about this possibility, when, miraculously, they reach two big doors, and the woman pushes one of them open.
Sunlight. Hannah blinks. The light warms her face and arms. Outside is a season. No soldiers, unless they are hiding, spying on her, behind trees.
“See how the leaves are coming out?” the woman asks. Hannah looks at the leaves, pale green and small. So many trees, arching likewomen moving, bending. She sees yellow flowers under a tree with whiteskin.
“See how the daffodils are up now? Remember our garden in New Haven, on Livingston Street? Remember the daffodils you planted out front, by the walk?”
Hannah rummages inside herself for a garden with yellow flowers. She pictures instead a small garden with a stone wall and a flowering tree. She has a sense of something vanished where something was (and, all in tears, she meltedwho wrote that?). She pauses to look at the woman, who's rushing on to name other parts of this splendid picture, all in light, laid out in front of Hannah now. Blue sky, she talks about, and forsythia, a boy on a bicycle racing along, the smell of the marsh, and“Look! Here's my car!”
Hannah looks. “Tiens!” she says. The car is white. How full of courage Hannah is. I am placing myself in this car, under this woman's wing, and who knows where she will take me?
As the car moves, Hannah looks out the open window. She sees houses, and gardens, and children holding their mothers' or grandmothers' hands. Soon a green park spreads out in a square, with shops and churches around it in rows. A woman walks a dog; a child is held high on shoulders by a young man in a sweater the color ofsky.
Hannah pictures a square, not green but stone, in the city she once loved, a little table at the café near the cathedral, orangeade, a child tossing crumbs to the pigeons. The child's eyes like almonds.
“The library,” the woman says, slowing the car a bit as she passes. “We could get some books for you after lunch.”
Hannah sees a walkway leading to a bigplacebrick, with glass.
“Remember when I would sit on the elephant, in the library in New Haven, the one at the entrance to the children's section?”
Hannah laughsa delightful idea, she thinks, a woman on an elephant! Delightful too, to think of a place with an elephant inside. What a grand day this is indeed!
And lo and behold, the woman is right. Here am I, “out,” thinks Hannah, and in a restaurant with the name of Pomegranate. How many people have not been able to come to such a place? Her familyelsewherewould delight in the white cloth covering the table, the pink flowers, the sky-colored plates. She enjoys the menuMenu, it says, right at the top, with names of luscious-sounding things below: poached salmon with dill, lamb with rosemary, pear salad with goat cheese. It's lovely to have all the names in front of you like that, in light golden lettering. Hannah touches her glasses and bends forward.
The woman suggests the lobster bisque as an appetizer, and then the salmon. Hannah nods happily. A delicious lunch is just what she would like.
“You can share a bit of my wine, too, although we'd better be careful, because of your medications.”
Once the bisque comes, Hannah listens to the woman's story about someone named Conor, who might be her husband, and of her job at a museum, “curating,” she saysa word Hannah contemplates.
“I'm a curator, Mom, right?” the woman says, looking as if Hannah surely must know this already. “Of American art, you know.”
“Of course,” Hannah says, although she doesn't know. She wonders what a curator does, and she begins to have a worrisome feeling that she's supposed to know this too.
Then the woman talks about her children. Hannah's sure they're her children by the way she says their names, so casually: Ida and Fiona. She's having a pleasant time listening to a story about how the woman took her children to the beach one summer, many summers ago. Hannah's bisque is lovely, and soon her spoon clinks on the bottom of the bowl. The bowl disappears and a plate of salmon arrives.
“Could we have more bread, please?” the woman asks the waitress.
“Oh, of course.” The waitress whisks away the basket.
“Remember? I looked around, and she was gone.”
Hannah stares at the woman. She wishes to ask who was gone, but she feels shy. She begins to think she knows these children, Ida, Fiona. Perhaps she even knows this beach.
“The waves are small,” she says, “not like an ocean.”
The woman smiles quickly. “Yes, small. It's on the Sound, Mom, remember? Fiona lives in that town now, right, with her baby? It's the town next to this one. The beach is sandy, and you like to look at the rocks, just offshore. Remember we picnicked there just last summer? The water isn't too wavy, and sometimes you can walk out on the sandbar. But at high tide it gets deep quickly.”
Hannah tries to picture such a placeshe almost has it!yet another shore sails in front of her, pebbled and sandy, both, her own legs small as the rough water crashes and then rushes over her ankles. “Viens, mon cur!”
The waitress brings a mound of bread in a basket. Hannah is sure now she should know much more than she does.
“I couldn't believe it. She'd been right there, digging a big hole with Fiona, both of them with their long legs and their hats on backward, and bringing buckets of water to fill the hole with, and all of a sudden I realized I hadn't seen her in ages. Remember, we asked Fiona where Ida was, but she had no idea.”
Hannah enjoys her salmon. How did she used to poach it herself? A dry white wine, garlic, and herbswhich ones? She listens to the story in a distant sort of way, until the woman touches her arm, and Hannah looks at her.
“Do you know where I found her?”
Hannah shakes her head. Suddenly the question of where children disappear to puzzles her enormously. Maybe the world has holes in it, she thinks, but she knows this can't be so.
“In the water, swimming way out. Way too far out. I called to her, and she waved as if nothing on earth was wrong.”
Hannah pictures a girl swimming far out at sea, and she begins to notice she's trembling. A terrible urge comes upon her, to look for somethingsomeone. So that's what has happened. All this time, she has neglected somethingsomeone. She must not continue in this way.
“I” she begins. “I have to”
“Go to the restroom? I can help you.”
Hannah waves her away and shakes her head. “Mais, où est ma”
The woman bends close to her and touches her arm again. Her hand is strong and warm.
“Where is youryour what?”
Has she changed, grown younger somehow? wonders Hannah, puzzled, because right before her eyes this woman is someone new, someone Hannah knows, knew someone young, in a house Hannah knows, knew, all right, the American house, yellow, in a city, on a shady street, lush in summer, wide steps leading up to a porch. And inside, this girl's hair alightthe color of honey!on the pillow, or wrapped around her fingers as she sits at the kitchen table, writing something for school, and on the stove is something for breakfastFrench toast, as they say in America, and on the counter are Hannah's poetry books, her students' essays and poems to be read late at night, after her daughter has gone to bed, her daughterand her daughter's name comes to her now like a dove, plump in her handMiranda.
“Miranda,” she says out loud, and the pretty woman looks startled, as if she's seen a ghost.
“You know my name,” says Mir. It sounds like a question and a fact, both.
“Miranda. Mir,” Hannah says again, and she squeezes Mir's bare arm. How did you become so old? Hannah wishes to ask. Where did you go? The restaurant, the pink roses, the plates, all seem to hold still, become simply a picture, as Hannah touches Mir's arm. And Ceres, secure and happy in her daughter's presenceHannah read that somewherehow full of beauty words are! The world cannot always match such beauty.
Rushing into Hannah now, a huge wave of imagesof knowledge: her yellow house on Livingston Street in New Haven, Connecticut, with Mir in it, and an apartment before that in the other American city, with a “brook” in it, and the subway Hannah took to school, to work, her baby with her cousin Julianne and others, and another place before that, in another country, the city with Russell in itLondon!and another, of course, of course, in the place of her family. Rouen. Looking into Mir's blue eyes, surprised and yearning, Hannah sees the cheekbones, the mouth, of Russell Pearl, not French, but English.
Hannah caresses Mir's cheek, the lobe of her ear, pierced by a small silver circle, with a drop oflightswinging from it. She rests her hand under Mir's chin, and smiles at her.
“You really know me,” Mir says.
Hannah nods. “Oui. Je te reconnais.”
“You can talk to me in English?”
Hannah thinks. “Yes,” she says, carefully, wondering, suddenly, if she says it right, without an accent. People always listen for an accent. Her mother had one; she brought it with her from Russia. The woman at thehow do you call it? la pâtisserie made an ugly face when she heard Maman's voice. She wouldn't serve her, although she was next in line. Yet the same woman smiled at Hannah's father. Of course she smiled; he was handsome, a real Frenchman. Maman had come to France when she was already seventeen. Papa was aun Juif, comme Maman, maisto go to the synagogue! Oh, he was always too tired. Sometimes they quarreled about it. He was a doctor. He loved her mother, though, in spite of her accent, in spite of her first home being Russia; of that, Hannah is sure.
Miranda is holding her hand as her hand holds Miranda's chin.
“I have missed you so much,” Mir is saying. She moves closer, looking as if she has something important to ask.
Gazing at Mir's face, Hannah knows something more, how Russell folds her into him, on a bed in his little flat in London, on his night pass, the windows blacked out, German bombers flying overhead, the hissing sound of a shell heading toward its blind mark, so close, and then the boom, huge, shaking the room, the bed, Russell and Hannah, his face invisible in the English dark, but his words, breathed along her cheek, It's all right, Hannah, it's missed us.
“That one missed us,” she says to Mir now, nodding reassurance.
Mir looks puzzled. “I missed you,” she urges.
“You were safe, Mir. Not born.”
Water fills Mir's eyes. She holds Hannah's hands with both her own, hard.
“What are you talking about, Mom?” she asks, using the funny American word.
Hannah remembers (oui!) Maman et Papa, Tante Louise, her sister Emma, all vanished (comment? pourquoi?), leaving Hannah to live on (how? why?), in the English country first, and how could she have kept living if she hadn't had the baby, born squirming and innocent? Innocent of history, this baby (Mir!), with her blue eyes; she came soon to smile, and to search for nourishment and safety in Hannah, all of twenty-one years old.
Hannah shakes her head. She's lost the thread. Why is Mir crying? Her daughter.
“It's all right,” Hannah says. “You're safe here.” She looks out the window, to see small trees shaking with small leaves. Hannah scoffs at her own worry. Of course there are no soldiers, no bombs speeding toward this restaurant from the sky. She bends her head to look up through the leaves. Not even an airplane. This is a new country, as she has always known it to be. Even in the fields, the parks, no land mines to blow you apart, to bloody the limbs of someone you love.
To move to a new country (Oh my America!), Hannah thinks now, looking away from Mir's sad face to her own hands, old, wrinkled, with brown splotches on them, like stains. To move to a new country is to slip past a veil, hiding there from here, then from nowa necessary fiction, but always a fiction, because then is always now, here is always there, and in the midst of this fiction began her struggle to become something solid in this most solid of places. I'm studying to be a teacher, she would say, her efforts, at dawn, at midnight, to write something elsesomething moredown on paper (I'm a poet, she wished to say). Her daughter growing up somehow, leaving home, marrying the handsome young Irish CatholicConor McCarthy!(chicken served in a cream sauce, ham and cheese, whisky, a Christmas tree and painted Easter eggs Hannah shudders, yet he loves Mir, after all), having her two girls, living in a small Connecticut town near the inland city, an hour awayall of it seems to roll up into a strange, rich poem.
“Mom, can I tell you about Ida and Fiona now?”
“Well, Fiona you know about, because she comes to see you, right? She's pregnant with her first baby; it's due in October.” This information sounds urgent, the way Mir says it.
Hannah nods, although she is uncertain about a baby. Fiona is a beautiful child with blond hair. She sings Hannah a song; how does it go? Oh, sandwiches are beautiful, sandwiches are fine, I like sandwiches, I eat them all the time.
Hannah bends toward Mir. “She likes to sing,” she says.
“Sing? Yes, I guess she does like to sing.”
I eat them for my breakfast and I eat them for my lunch, if I had a hundred sandwiches
“And Idawell, Ida.” Mir seems to search for the right words. “Ida's going to graduate from college, in May. She'll be in France this coming year, remember?”
France? Hannah feels worried. She knows two Frances. One is before, one is after. Once, later, she found the house with Mir, and a dog barked at them. A woman refused to let them come inside. The house was hers, she said. Hannah wished only to look inside, and she almost asked about her Auguste, until she remembered how old he would be. Cats do not live as long as people. Yet perhaps she could just see the cherry tree for a moment? The woman shook her head and shut the door firmly.
“She must be careful,” Hannah says.
Mir laughs. “Oh, she'll be careful enough.”
How can Hannah tell Mir about the dangers? She wishes to protect her, she has always protected her, and now look what has happened. Mir has sent her own daughter to the place where so many vanished, children too. Hannah cannot think of all that.
Mir touches Hannah's hands.
“She'll be fine, Mom. She's twenty-two years old.”
At twenty-two one is a mother. Hannah looks out the window and sees a car drive slowly up and then back slowly into aplace. She sees a man inside. He looks at his the round thing on his arm, above his hand. What country is he from. She shivers.
“Cold?” Mir asks, smiling. “Shall I help you put your sweater on?”
Hannah shakes her head. What can a sweater do? Mir doesn't see what Hannah sees. Always, it has been this way. Perhaps Hannah is at fault for telling her daughter so little. Is one safer if one is ignorant? She hopes, in any case, that Mir doesn't notice the man, who slowly pulls himself out of his car, looking up the street and down the street.
The customs officer looks at her passport and her visas, slowly, slowly, in the midst of the noise and the chaos, people rushing, bumping into each other, with suitcases, pulling children by the hand. It is May, and the Germans are said to be rumbling with their tanks toward France, something one could not even dream of. Hannah has rushed here with Papa by train, to the port at Le Havre, but Papa has to go back to Rouen; she has said good-bye to him, hurriedly, her throat hurting, as she must have said good-bye to Maman, yet she can't remember, she can't remember how Maman looked, or what she said; she can't remember her face! And she can't remember saying good-bye to Auguste or to Emma eithercould she have forgotten something so important?and now the officer looks slowly at her documents as if no one else is in line, only to look up and stare at Hannah. Vous avez de la famille en Angleterre? he asks, and Hannah prepares herself to lie, for Papa has told her to say she has family in England, although they are only friends of friends really, he has told her to show the letter, and also the letter from the English family, who have given her the position of au pair. Papa has promised to come with Maman and Emma as soon as possible, and Auguste too, if Rouen becomes uninhabitable. Yet before she says a word, the officer lights a cigarette, and stamps her passport, and she is free to go; she walks slowly, jostled, up the ramp to the ferry, holding her heavy bags, Papa nowhere in sight.
The waitress hands Mir a piece of paper.
It is perhaps better not to promise.
“Ah!” Mir says. She moves her hands away from Hannah's. “Wait just a moment, Mom. I have to do the bill. After lunch we can have a nice walk on the green together, OK? I have so much to tell you. I haven't even told you yet about Conor's new commission, for the restoration of a gorgeous old building in downtown Hartford, and . . .”
Mir looks up from the piece of paper. Hannah tries to picture this Conor.
Hannah smiles. She knows Mir is asking for a smile. She looks out the window again, but the man has disappeared. Maybe he is in the restaurant. Hannah knows she must hold her eyes to the table. She studies the remnants of her dessert on the white tableclotha fragment of chocolate cake and slivers ofsomething, shaped like Emma's eyes.
Au secours, she wishes to say to Mir. But, as she looks at her daughter, adding up numbers on a napkin, Mir changes, or, Mir has been whisked away, like Hannah's dessert plate, like Russell in a meadow, like Hannah's family, and in her place sits a middle-aged woman, frowning at a piece of paper and writing something. Hannah feels herself slipping out of this present, this lit-up place whereshe's sureshe held knowledge, like a bird, in the palms of her hands. As she looks at the lovely woman, she pictures herself opening her hands and saying, “Go!”
Meet the Author
Harriet Scott Chessman is a teacher and a librettist. Her fiction has been translated into ten languages, and has been featured in publications such as The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle. She is the author of The Beauty of Ordinary Things, Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, and Ohio Angels. She lives in Branford, Connecticut.
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This is a bittersweet story of a woman who is slowing losing her memory while she resides in a nursing home. Born French, she departed for France as a teenager, sent by her parents during the Holocaust. She worked as an au pair in England ultimately to find that she had lost her family to the concentration camps. She had married an Englishman, lost him to the war and left to come to America with her young baby. The first person narrative allows us insight into how Hannah¿s memory of present day events fades while resurrecting past experiences very vividly. We learn of the frustrations of her daughter and grandchildren to hold on to Hannah and keep her in the present. She has flashes of memory that within minutes fails her once again. The characters are well developed and the story interesting. What I found interesting is that Hannah in the end is not depressed because of her situation but rather feels ¿does it matter if I don¿t know the right words?¿ Her grandchild struggles onto her bed and whispers a new word he has learned into her ear. She holds him close and smells his sweet child smell and is satisfied and reflecting on her life she states, ¿To love that went well¿. I would recommend this book for book clubs; in the end it is not a depressing tale but a window into an elderly mind.