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The dog was going to Florida. The dog knew all the best sleeping places along the side of the highway, and if my sister wanted to come along, the dog would be glad to pace himself so my sister could keep up. My sister told our family this when she came back to the dinner table from which Mother and I had watched her kneeling in the snowy garden, crouched beside the large shaggy white dog, her ear against its mouth.
My sister's chair faced the window, and when the dog first appeared in our yard, she'd said. "Oh. I know that dog," and jumped up and ran out the door. I thought she'd meant whose dog it was, not that she knew it to talk to.
"What dog?" My father slowly turned his head.
"A dog, dear," Mother said.
That year it came as a great surprise how many sad things could happen at once. At first you might think the odds are that one grief might exempt you, but that year I learned the odds are that nothing can keep you safe. So many concurrent painful events altered our sense of each one, just as a color appears to change when another color is placed beside it.
That year my father was going blind from a disease of the retina, a condition we knew a lot about because my father was a scientist and used to lecture us on it at dinner with the glittery detached fascination he'd once had for research gossip and new developments in the lab. Yet as his condition worsened he'd stopped talking about it; he could still read but had trouble with stairs and had begun to touch the furniture. Out in daylight he needed special glasses, like twin tiny antique cameras, and he ducked his head as he put them on, as if burrowing under a cloth. I was ashamed for anyone to see and ashamed of being embarrassed.
My father still consulted part-time for a lab that used dogs in experiments, and at night he worked at home with a microscope and a tape recorder. "Slide 109," he'd say. "Liver condition normal." My sister had always loved animals, but no one yet saw a connection between my father dissecting dogs and my sister talking to them.
For several weeks before that night when the white dog came through our yard, my sister lay in bed with the curtains drawn and got up only at mealtime. Mother told the high school that my sister had bronchitis. At first my sister's friends telephoned, but only one, Marcy, still called. I'd hear Mother telling Marcy that my sister was much better, being friendlier to Marcy than shed ever been before. Marcy had cracked a girl's front tooth and been sent to a special school. Each time Marcy telephoned, Mother called my sister's name and, when she didn't answer, said she must he sleeping. I believed my sister was faking it but even I'd begun to have the sickish, panicky feeling you get when someone playing dead takes too long getting up ...
Excerpted from The Peaceable Kingdom by Francine Prose Copyright © 2005 by Francine Prose. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted October 25, 2008
No text was provided for this review.