Thirty-something Veronica’s business constantly keeps her on the move, hopping between five-star hotels in New York, New Orleans, and the North Carolina coast. Her hectic lifestyle strains her relationships with the unsuitable men she meets along the way, not to mention her blink-and-you-miss-him husband. With a tumultuous, multiplying cast of characters, this perceptive novel poignantly depicts the dizzying pace and disconnectedness of modern life.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Vallie Lynn Watson is an editor at Blip magazine and a teacher of creative writing at Southeastern Missouri State University. Her work has appeared in many magazines, including Frigg, Ghoti, Metazen, Moon Milk Review, Nano Fiction, and PANK.
Read an Excerpt
A River So long
By Vallie Lynn Watson
Luminis BooksCopyright © 2012 Vallie Lynn Watson
All rights reserved.
Naming the Giraffe
Veronica and her husband bought the five-foot wooden giraffe on the last day of their honeymoon in Ocho Rios. They'd visited him every day at the end of the beach, where a Jamaican lady sold carved chairs and animals, and they had fun haggling over the price. The giraffe had to be checked as luggage. Two Jamaicans at the airport boxed him up for ten dollars, and Veronica was worried the giraffe would break. On the plane ride home they drank champagne and decided to name him Arnold. She watched with relief as Arnold circled around the luggage belt, his ear sticking from the top of the box.
A year after they bought their first home, where Arnold kept watch from behind a ficus in the living room corner, she got an unexpected check for $2,400 from their mortgage company. She'd overpaid into their escrow account. It came to their post office box, to which she had the only key. He wouldn't notice the extra money in their banking account, because he was no longer allowed access to that, either.
That evening, after he passed out sitting up on the sofa, she logged onto the Internet and made travel arrangements for herself to Ocho Rios. She closed her laptop and looked at Arnold. He needed dusting.
She bought Arnold's companion, a three-foot wooden giraffe, on that second trip. She'd boarded the plane in Arizona around the same time her husband checked himself into rehab in California. She spent most of her days in a hammock, with only a glimpse of blue ocean in the distance. She put Arnold's companion in the overhead bin on the flight back. Her husband came home six months later and met Arnold's companion. Neither of them mentioned naming this one.
The Jamaican who sold her Arnold's companion had asked for two- hundred. She offered twenty, and on their last night together, the Jamaican accepted.
Husbands and Wives
She took her husband to Van's going-away party. Veronica and Van worked for a commercial realtor in Phoenix and Van was moving to head the New Orleans branch. It was the first time she met Trinh, the Vietnamese woman Van had referred to as his partner. They were both probably twenty years older than Veronica.
Her husband avoided the bar, and she avoided Van. For the last year she and Van had lunch together almost every Wednesday, with two others, but they'd never seen each other at night.
She went to wash her hands before she got a plate of food, and when she came back saw her husband talking to a blonde lady in blue jeans, stood and watched them for a moment. He hadn't been that animated since before she'd made him go to rehab, and she almost was happy for him. She was not jealous.
Trinh was next to her at the buffet, filling her plate, and taller than Veronica had realized. She watched the smooth tan skin move over thin wrists as Trinh added chocolate-covered strawberries to her plate. They smiled at each other.
Veronica and her husband sat with another couple and shared a plate of black bean cakes and baked brie. When Van was toasting, her husband held her hand under the table, and after they clapped, tried to put his arm around her. She pulled away, and noticed the woman across the table watching them.
Van hugged her as she was leaving and said he'd see her in New Orleans soon. Trinh leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the lips, and asked if the two could have their picture taken. Someone got a camera, and they angled their heads together, touching, Van's partner's bent slightly over hers.
Veronica and her husband spent the night at a small casino outside Vegas. They couldn't stay at their house. When she had returned from three days at the Indianapolis office, she could smell what he'd let happen to the house even before she opened the side door. He was passed out on the couch, the dogs on it with him, shaking and afraid to jump down. The septic tank had backed up and flooded the house. She took one step inside and felt the sopping carpet envelop her foot, and stepped back out.
They dropped their dogs off at the vet and drove for a few hours. Crossing the state line, he touched the windshield first, their old game. Once there, they got a room, then she gave him some money and he went to play craps, she, to video poker and the bar.
After a few drinks, and doubling her money, she found a pay phone and used quarters to call the old Boston phone number for Klein, her college boyfriend. She was surprised when he answered, and that he didn't think it was odd to hear from her. She said she was sorry for what they'd done with his sister Maggie back then, that she thought about it all the time. He laughed.
Her husband was at the bar when she returned. They wandered and found a fifteen dollar buffet, and sat and ate for hours. In their room, she finally asked him what he wanted to do. It took him a long time to answer, that he was ready for it to be over. She made him repeat it, probably a hundred times, over the next few hours. She wanted to be sure. Finally he broke, and said maybe he wasn't ready.
They unpacked with the television on. They looked at each other, then the television, when the lady from the entertainment news show said Maggie's name. The program cut to a clip of Maggie, who said she'd just found out she was adopted. Veronica wondered if Klein had known, then realized, given their ages, he had to.
When the program moved to the next story, Veronica sat on the bed. Her husband turned off the set and sat down on the other bed. He knew of her college boyfriend Klein, and Klein's sister the television star, but only that the subject was taboo. After a minute she told him most of the story.
She'd been at Klein's house, his parents out of town. He was supposed to be watching his fourteen-year-old sister, Maggie. The three of them had a great deal to drink, and around midnight, it became sexual. The next morning, Maggie had accused them of drugging her and raping her, though the incident was never mentioned again. Veronica had thought it was consensual, but wondered about Klein and his pills.
Her husband went to the bathroom. She heard the water run, and he came back with a fluffy, white, wet washcloth. He spread her knees and kneeled in front of her, eased the warm cloth over her face, slowly removing her makeup. They made love, for the first time in three years. She was surprised he was still able. After he was asleep she flipped through the television until she found the weather. There were ice storms along I-40.
At nine-thirty she got out of bed, grabbed her bag, got $500 out of her wallet and left it on the table for her husband to find. She pointed her car south, heading to take I-10 east. She got an eyeliner from her purse, and colored over the green digits on the clock in the car. She was going to drive all night and didn't want to know what time it was.
Ten Years Gone
The First Seven Hours
Veronica drove with the radio on, and thought about how to start. Had to be funny, both familiar and distant. It had been a week since Dylan, her childhood friend from Birmingham, emailed his phone number. A month since they'd started exchanging emails. Ten years since she'd seen him, and fifteen since they'd been close. She punched in the New York number she'd memorized, and right before she hit the button to call, she passed a plane graveyard to her left, and felt dizzy.
The Second Seven Hours
It was 1:47 his time. It took him a second, then he laughed. After thirty minutes she started to feel comfortable, and turned the speaker on the phone, lay it on the leather passenger seat. Two hours in, he asked how long they'd been talking, and she didn't want to answer, didn't want him to be ready to go. He said something about how they'd talk hours on the phone at night in high school, but wouldn't look at each other in the hallways. Four hours in, he acknowledged that he hadn't shown up to her parents' funeral, but didn't apologize. She changed the subject, asked if he ever talked to Wes, a guy they'd smoked dope with in high school. Five hours in, she crossed the Texas state line and leaned forward to touch the windshield, then shook her head and said never mind out loud. He asked what she'd said. She saw a giant white cross lit up ahead of her, and for the twenty minutes it took to reach it, she told him about her husband's problems, their problems. Dylan said he was sort of shocked. They got off the phone when the sun was coming up in New York.
The Third Seven Hours
She stopped for coffee but didn't need it. He'd suggested she visit, but she couldn't let him see her. Not like this. The sun started up when she was an hour away from New Orleans. Veronica stopped, got a room, slept all day, and that evening drove back to Arizona.
A Harmless Little Fuck
The next week they sent Veronica to the Boston branch by herself, though they'd discussed sending Van along. She hadn't been to Boston since college. The man who sat next to her on the second leg would not say a word to her. She'd been on dozens, perhaps hundreds, of planes but this time repeated The Lord's Prayer to herself both legs of the flight, and at the airport in between. Had even written out a short will on Crane stationary and left it in her safe deposit box. Jewelry to so-and-so, dogs to so-and-so, journals to Dylan. She wanted him to know her. She'd spent every day for almost two decades talking to him in her head, pretending he was with her.
Landing, it looked like they were still in the water as the plane skidded to the ground. Her hotel was nearby, and plain, on the curve of a highway with only a gas station. An hourly airport shuttle took her right back to the airport after she'd unpacked, where the subway took a seven-minute shot to the city.
She walked through the Markets, didn't go in any stores, and then into Boston Common. Most of the trees were still green, a couple turning gold. At a restaurant on the other edge, she had soup and wine and read.
After her early meeting, she spent all afternoon walking around Cambridge, hoping she might run into Klein. About six-thirty, she walked down the steps to the dark bar where they'd once gone, and drank beer, the only beverage served. She heard male Italian voices fight in the kitchen, a couple of fuck you's thrown about. Klein didn't show up.
She took the train back to Boston, and went looking for the street of Italian restaurants. She found a small one without too many people, sat at a tiny, low table near the bar, and ordered a pitcher of wine. The waiter said he couldn't serve a pitcher to one person, that it had to be by the glass.
An older, heavy guy sitting at the bar turned a little and told the waiter the pitcher was on him, and turned back. She called "thank you," but he didn't acknowledge it. The waiter soon returned with the pitcher and one glass, and she ordered the carbonara.
Veronica watched the man. She thought she probably knew his situation and was afraid he'd know hers if she sat with him. Sitting alone, being alone, was fine, preferable, though she'd wondered what might have happened had Van been along on this trip. She and her husband were spending more time apart but Veronica wasn't sure if she had the energy to divorce him.
The pasta was rich. She had most of it boxed up after she finished the wine, then tipped the waiter almost $30, and left without thanking the man again. She found a bar a few streets over, and bought beer from a cocky bartender. He mostly ignored her and she thought about what it would be like to have sex with him, make him pay attention, but she regretted the Jamaican and didn't want to cheat on her husband again. Veronica took the subway and shuttle back to the hotel. She had a few more bites of her dinner, and didn't set the radio/alarm, knowing she'd be miserable in the morning.
At about two the next afternoon, she found a place still serving brunch in the city, and had eggs Benedict over sirloin, and three glasses of champagne. After brunch she walked off the last trace of hangover. It was sunny and cool. From an observation platform on top of a skyscraper she studied the airport. Its tiny peninsula was almost symmetrical, curved like a genie's lamp, two long runways creating a tall X across the bottom half, the ends at the water.
When she got back to the hotel an attractive man about her age was sitting in the lobby. She got into the elevator and they stared at each other as the doors shut. On the fourth floor, the keycard didn't work in her door, and she took the elevator back down. She didn't look at him when she went to the front desk, said her room number and that her key wasn't working. Back in the elevator, she looked at him, and he was still looking at her. He knocked on her door a few minutes after she got back into the room, and she let him in for a little while. After the stranger left she got leftover pasta from the mini-fridge, finished it cold, and went to bed.
The plane left at six the next morning, and she slept on the first leg. On the second leg, she talked most of the flight to the man next to her. She hadn't showered, and her eyes were bloodshot, she knew. She was surprised when he said his age; he looked much younger. He had family in Phoenix, his daughter had just had a baby, he said, and he suggested coffee, or a drink. Towards the end of the flight he nodded off in airplane sleep for a few minutes, accidentally leaning on her.
As they got off the plane she walked away from him, though saw him again, standing with a girl and a baby, as they all waited for their bags to circle.
Wallpaper for a Funeral
Veronica was in her office when her husband called. He rarely did. Her aunt had died. She'd never thought about her aunt dying.
He asked if she was going to go home and she was surprised he considered Birmingham her home. She told him that he shouldn't go. He offered to make plane and hotel arrangements for her. When she landed two days later, she got a rental car and circled the interstate to get to her hotel, avoiding the parts of town she was most familiar with. She passed a new outdoor mall, full of expensive, trendy stores, on the east side of town.
The hotel was two stories, a chain. She put her bag on one of the two beds and went to brush her teeth. The bathroom didn't seem clean. She walked across the service road to the gas station, and bought some Lysol and a four-pack of mini-Chardonnay.
After the funeral she went to a house gathering, assorted family and friends. It took an hour or so for her to realize she'd forgotten she'd cared about some of them. A few people who'd been friends with her parents showed up. An old lady they'd gone to church with sat down next to her. "Your father used to worry that your mother wasn't saved," she said, and then, "You'll be old someday too."
On the way back to the hotel she drove past Dylan's parents' house. There was a Volvo and a Volkswagen in the driveway but Veronica didn't stop. Last time she'd been home to Birmingham, ten years before, she saw Dylan and his parents, and found out that her mother and Dylan's father had had an affair. Veronica pulled up to the new mall and bought a two-hundred dollar gift set of acrylics. In her room she stripped the plastic from the box, opened it, unfolded trays — paints, brushes, pencils, palettes, more, each piece nestled in a plastic cavity shaped just for it — up and out, like a tackle box. She got an unused yellow legal pad out of her bag, and painted on each of the sheets. First she drew single images — things in the room: the television, the corner of the dresser — with two or three colors, each drawing filling maybe half a page. Then she slowed down, using as many colors as she could on each page, filling up every corner with graffiti, words and shapes whose colors bled together. As she worked, she pulled off pages from the pad, and over the course of the evening covered every surface in the room with right-angled pieces of paper, one by one: the tables, the chair seats, the bathtub, parts of the floor, all of one bed and half of the other. She left them all in place, her art supplies on the floor, the next morning.
* * *
Veronica and Her Husband
How They Met
Ten years earlier, when Veronica had gone back to Birmingham for the first time, the day she arrived she went for lunch at the mall restaurant where she used to waitress. She wanted to sit and have a mug of beer and decide who, if anyone, she was going to contact while she was there.
Dylan and his parents were in a booth by the front door. He saw her and half-stood, pausing like he was making sure it was her. "You used to work here." He put his index finger on his temple.
"Yes, I did," she said and looked at his parents. "Hi. It's been a long time."
"Last we heard you disappeared after the funeral," his mother said.
Veronica felt anger for the first time in years but didn't let it show. "You didn't come. Any of you." She smiled.
"To the funeral of a whore and her poor husband? No, we didn't," Dylan's mother said.
Excerpted from A River So long by Vallie Lynn Watson. Copyright © 2012 Vallie Lynn Watson. Excerpted by permission of Luminis Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After reading several far more ‘traditionally’ styled novels of late, the non-linear plotting of this story demanded my attention and engagement early, and never quite let go. Vallie Lynn Watson has a style that speaks clearly as we are presented with Veronica: a woman, who seems to want change, yet is utterly incapable of seeing the world through any eyes but her own. What emerges is a complex character study in a jigsaw puzzle format, leaving great gaps in the timeline, but those gaps seem to mirror Veronica’s psyche. Her lack of direction, focus and even strict moral sense all are lacking: her repeated changes of venue for work, the repeated changes of partners and the lack of feeling for and about her husband all give hints to the unsatisfied woman who is the only constant in the story. Yet, she never does seem to find a path that will provide her with the change that she seeks. While I appreciated the wonderful descriptions, and the ability to use personal references to fill out some of the characters (for we all know a Veronica and her encounters in our own lives) the lack of substantive character development in the author’s words requires the reader to see the secondary characters as little more than backdrops to the scene in which Veronica exists. This book left me uncomfortable in many places: as with all good fiction, I want to think, to find the character’s motivations and look for a resolution. But, while I didn’t find the traditional answers and needs that I wanted, what I got was the author’s determination of the revelations that were needed. Veronica is deeply flawed, rife with contradictions and entirely plausible. And, like life, there are no easy answers with her story. I received an eBook copy from the publisher for purpose of honest review for Novel Publicity. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I just spent the weekend with a woman who travels a lot. Her name is Veronica and I tagged along as she hopscotched between Phoenix, Boston, New York, Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, and Raleigh. We visited Jamaica a couple of times, too, but that was before. Along the way I met her husband, her cousin, her colleagues, a couple of old boyfriends, and various strangers and oddballs. I never did learn what Veronica does for a living but I know her job requires her to be on the road a lot. I could only guess what she was thinking. Veronica is the protagonist of Vallie Lynn Watson's unconventional debut novel, A River So Long. It's a trip. I recommend it.