Acts of Love: A Novelby Emily Listfield
In a suburb near Albany, New York, Ted and Ann Waring are waiting for divorce papers. Ted is hoping for reconciliation, but when he returns from a/i>/i>
From the acclaimed author of Waiting to Surface comes a “searing” (Publishers Weekly) and emotionally powerful novel about a family and a community torn apart after an unthinkable tragedy.
In a suburb near Albany, New York, Ted and Ann Waring are waiting for divorce papers. Ted is hoping for reconciliation, but when he returns from a hunting trip with the couple’s two adolescent daughters, he loses his temper one last time, shooting and killing Ann in their living room. He claims it was an accident, but his thirteen-year-old daughter, Julia—the only witness—is sure it was murder. The younger girl, Ali, doesn’t know which way to turn. And when Julia testifies against her father, she sets into motion a struggle that pits family, friends, and townspeople against one another.
As the many layers of truth unfold in this “chilling meditation on the so-called acts of love” (The New York Times) Emily Listfield’s lean and subtle prose reveals the ways in which the emotions and evasions of the past reverberate uncontrollably into the present.
- Washington Square Press
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Acts of Love A Novel
By Emily Listfield Washington Square Press Copyright © 2008 Emily Listfield
All right reserved.
The dried leaves she had raked that morning rustled in the late-afternoon breeze. She turned to the door, thinking that perhaps it was footsteps she had heard, until the breeze died down and there was only silence, and Pete Conran's car driving up across the street, home from work at 5:45, home from work every night at exactly 5:45, some families were like that. Ann Waring walked to the base of the stairs and called up. "Come on, girls, get a move on. Your father will be here any minute. Julia? Ali?"
Ali came down first, her bright orange knapsack falling from her shoulder, Ann's younger daughter, still softly blurred, tryingnow to hide her excitement, unsure if it was quite appropriate. This tentativeness was new, one of the things that had happened this year.
"Did you remember to pack an extra sweater? It's going to be cold up there."
"Yes, Mom." Disdainful of her worry, but wanting it still, the maternal vigilance that she was not yet used to leaving.
Ann smiled at her and called back up the stairs. "Julia?"
Julia came clumping down, her narrow face, beneath a wedge of thick bobbed hair, planed by resentment. Ann remembered when she had been, if never a blithe child, at least somehow lighter. She suspected that the change could not simply be ascribed to thepast year, or to Julia's nascent adolescence, when a shroud of sulkiness is to be expected, but that it had begun sometime when Ann's back was turned, her attention elsewhere. She had tried to ferret through the past to find the moment that she had so carelessly missed, but it remained elusive, scrupulously guarded by Julia's remoteness, and the only hard fact Ann was left with was her own discomfort with her elder daughter.
"I don't know why you're in such a hurry." Julia's voice was low, sharp. "You know he's always late."
"I keep thinking maybe he'll surprise us."
Ann knew that she was right, knew, too, that Julia blamed her for all the times she had waited, made them wait, for one thing or another, a sign, a change, sure that this time Ted would surprise them, just as Julia blamed her when she had stopped waiting, blamed her for that, too, in her intransigent thirteen-year-old heart.
Julia watched her mother closely, regretting it, as she always did, when she was aware of having hurt her, but repelled by how easy Ann made it. "Why do we have to go hunting anyway?"
"Because it's your weekend to spend with your father."
"But why do we have to go hunting?"
"I don't know. Because his father took him."
Ann frowned, exasperated. Early on, Ted, resigned to what he referred to as the conspiracy of women beneath his roof, had decided that the best response was to raise his daughters not as sons, but as if they would be as naturally interested in the activities that he had previously presumed only sons, boys, would be. He brought them home model planes, he took them to his construction sites, he taught them how to throw a ball without pivoting their wrists, and they prospered. Only at times did Ann, who approved of the inclination as much as she disapproved of hunting, wonder how much of Ted's emphasis on his daughters' self-reliance was a subtle rebuke to herself.
"Just try it," Ann snapped.
All three stopped when they heard Ted's car driving up, embarrassed suddenly to look at each other, to witness their own stopping, the orbit they still formed around him, the hole he had left. Ann tensed when she heard the key in the front door.
Ted strode in, oblivious, his muscular body and dark, febrile eyes radiating confidence for the weekend, for all the pleasures that would follow, for his own power to obliterate the past. "Hey guys, you ready to bag some deer?"
"I told you, I don't like you using your old set of keys." Ann, hands on hips, unnatural, metallic. "You don't live here anymore."
He smiled easily. "We can fix that."
Julia took a step forward. "I don't want to go hunting. It's disgusting."
Ted took his eyes slowly from Ann, her auburn hair, just washed, falling to the neck of a white sweater he didn't recognize. "It's not disgusting. There are way too many deer. Half of them will starve to death this winter."
"But why do we have to kill them?"
"Because that's the way nature is. There aren't a lot of pacifists out in the wild."
"Try not to pollute their minds too much up there, okay?"
"There are no bears, are there, Dad?" Ali asked nervously.
"And lions and tigers and..."
"Stop it, Ted. You're scaring them."
"These girls don't scare quite so easily, do you? Listen, guys, why don't you go wait out in the car? I want to talk to your mother for a minute."
They looked to Ann for affirmation, and Ted, noting this, always noting this, rolled up on the balls of his feet and then back, while she gave them the little nod they sought. Julia and Ali started for the door.
"Hold on there," Ann called out. "Don't you have a hug for your old mom?"
They came back to embrace her while Ted watched this, too; it was, after all, how it should be. Ann held them too long, greedily inhaling the duskiness of their necks. She stood up reluctantly and watched them go, Julia turning to her just once before she went out the door, making sure. Ann and Ted waited until they left.
He took a step closer. "Well? Have you thought about it?"
He scowled impatiently. The other night, her lips, her mouth, her very soul resisting, and then not, taking him as he took her, body admitting what mind could not: need, belonging. "Didn't the other night mean anything to you?"
"Of course it did." She looked away. "I'm just not sure what."
"C'mon, Ann. You know as well as I do that the whole last year has been a mistake."
"Maybe the other night was the mistake."
"You don't mean to tell me you're happy like this?"
"I wasn't happy before, either."
"Not for a long time." The end overshadowed the beginning, she made sure of that, so when she thought of them now there was only the endless litany of daily petty crimes, predictable, insoluble, an ever-increasing spiral that left them finally with no ground underfoot, just the marshy quagmire of resentment. "I can't go back to how it was."
"It doesn't have to be that way."
"I can change."
"What do you want from me, Ted? You're the one who left."
"Stupidest thing I ever did. What I want is to make it up."
"What makes you think it would be any different?"
"We still have passion."
"If you ask me, passion is a great excuse for a whole lot of crap."
He smiled. "A whole lot of fun, too."
She smiled partially, meeting him, and then shook her head. This was what was new, what was different, this shaking off, a muscle tic so slight and fragile.
"What about all the good times?" he pressed on. "You think you'll ever feel that way with anyone else? You won't."
"I know that, Ted," she said quietly. "But I'm not sure that's so terrible."
"Goddamn it, Ann, what do you want from me?" His voice was harsh, edgy. "I'm doing everything I can to help you and the girls. What do you want?" He backed off, lowered his voice. "I'm sorry. All I'm asking is that you think about it before you sign the papers. For the girls' sake."
"That's not playing fair."
"I know." He stepped so close that she became lost momentarily in the deep grooves that radiated from the corners of his eyes to his chin. They had been there since he was twenty, demarcations of experiences he had not yet had. "I love you."
She swayed back suddenly. "You'd better go. The girls are waiting for you. Ted, promise me you'll be careful up there. All that stuff they watch on TV, I don't think they know that guns aren't toys."
He laughed. "Your problem is you worry too much. Always have. The only thing that's gonna get shot is a bunch of Polaroids." He headed for the door. When his hand was wrapped around the highly polished brass knob, he turned. "What are youdoing this weekend?"
"Nothing much. I'm on duty at the hospital."
His shoulders hunched. He dreaded her hospital stories, her obsessive recounting of the minute details, the shape and depth of wounds, the piecemeal erosion of the body by illness, how she swam in the specifics of the sick, the dying, until she was in danger of drowning in them, and taking him along. "Well, in between bedpans, I want you to think about us. That's all. Just think about us. Okay?"
She nodded slowly. He watched her long enough to be certain, and then he nodded, too.
"Good," he said, smiling. "That's good."
He didn't try to kiss her goodbye; he was much too smart for that.Copyright © 1994 by Emily Listfield
Excerpted from Acts of Love by Emily Listfield Copyright © 2008 by Emily Listfield. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Emily Listfield is the former editor in chief of Fitness magazine and author of seven novels, including the New York Times Notable It Was Gonna Be Like Paris and Waiting to Surface. Her writing has appeared everywhere from the New York Times Styles section to Harper’s Bazaar. She is currently Chief Content Officer of Kaplow PR, where she helps brands like Skype, Shiseido, and Laura Mercier refine their voice, storytelling, and strategy. She lives in New York City with her daughter. Visit her website at EmilyListfield.com.
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