Redhill conjures up many unexpected twists in ten richly textured stories that range from the darkness of family silences to the hilarity of people caught in their own snares. With his unflinching attention to emotional detail, Redhill proves once again to be "a writer of considerable humanity and insight" (A.L. Kennedy) .
|Publisher:||Little, Brown and Company|
|Sold by:||Hachette Digital, Inc.|
|File size:||224 KB|
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Chapter OneMount Morris
ONCE A YEAR, WHEN HE CAME THROUGH TOWN, TOM Lumsden stopped in on his ex-wife and she'd make him dinner and usually he'd stay the night. He looked forward to his visits, with their surfeit of the familiar, and it made him feel like the love that had brought them together still existed between them somehow. It was more than a memory, but less than a presence: a tune they could still hum.
When they'd lived together in Johnstown, in Pennsylvania, they owned the camera supply store there, and although the population was less than 25,000, the town had a campus of the U. of Pittsburgh, and every fall a new crop of freshmen would move through. Some of them had cameras, or photographic needs, and they'd be a fresh influx of customers for the time they lived in the town. Frosh week was the best week for business, since a few fathers around with sons or daughters would punctuate their these-are-the-best-years-of-your-life speeches with a new camera. Then, at the end of the academic year, there'd be the graduates and their gifts. To some of these kids he'd sold two outfits in a four-year period. He liked thinking of himself as a family business, and he and Lillian were often on a first-name basis with their customers, even if they came in only once or twice a year.
They married in '88, when they were both twenty-five, and came out to live in Johnstown, where Tom had bought the camera store from George Lurie with an inheritance. Tom and Lillian had grown up in and near cities, but they adjusted quickly to life in a small town. Lurie's (they kept the name) was the sponsor of a local bantam ball team that couldn't hit, catch, or run, but the stands would fill up with parents and townies and everyone would cheer these Lurie's Johnstown Shutterbugs. Tom donated the group shots to the teams in the county and neighboring towns that could fetch up a dozen or so twelve-year-olds and field a team, and over the few years that he and Lillian were together there, he took the team portraits for Altoona and Bedford, and all the little places in between, and that was how he found out he had some small aptitude for arranging groups and getting them to look in the same direction. So when he and Lillian split, he sold the shop and made the sideways move over into portraiture. All that time he'd been selling the raw material without knowing he'd had any touch of the artist himself.
They'd split over a difference that they always knew had been there: Lillian thought he would come around to having kids, and he figured that once she had a house and neighbors and a couple of dogs she'd think twice about cashing it all in for a chance with someone else. But they'd both been wrong. Tom said the reason he had his inheritance at twenty-five was because his dad had worked himself to death in his hardware store keeping a family of six clothed and fed, and he, Tom, wasn't going to do that to himself. "This is a deal-breaker," he'd put it to Lillian, and she had to admit that the deal was broke. She didn't want the store, so he took what he needed out of it for his new career-a Rolleiflex, a backscreen, a tripod, two lamps, a backflash, and a tripwire-sold it, and gave her the money. He took the car and started visiting schools and junior sports teams throughout the state, and after a few years, spread out some into Ohio, as well as New York and New Jersey.
That was twelve years ago, and every year, he kept a date with Lillian, coming through Johnstown, then later Elmira, New York, and now Mount Morris, which was where Lillian's mother lived. Neither he nor Lillian had remarried, although he'd had his relationships and he imagined she'd had hers as well, since she was a pretty woman, and smart, and looked thirty although she was thirty-eight. She told him in a letter (she wrote sometimes; he didn't) that when she turned thirty-seven you'd think all of her was practically teenaged, except for if she was on a diving board in a bikini and you were standing in line behind her. Then you'd know. When he read that, he could hear her laugh that high, sudden laugh of hers.
Now that she was in Mount Morris, and had been there for the better part of five years, he was finding their visits more and more difficult. They were often nostalgic or sometimes even a little bitter. From Lillian's point of view, there was hardly any sense in staying split up, since she'd never had kids and now it was almost too late. Their last two visits, he'd opted not to stay over, saying he had to be in some town a long drive away, when really it was her talking about them like that, as if the past was something that lay dormant and could be reactivated by mutual agreement. He knew that going back for these visits, with this kind of unresolved feeling between them, meant he was sort of using her. But this year he intended to settle everything for good.
HE CALLED her from Geneseo, a little town just a few miles to the north of hers, and said he'd be there in time for supper. The shoot in two of Geneseo's high schools took up all of the morning and most of the afternoon. Making his living from school portraiture had turned out to be the most sensible decision for him: all he had to do was risk a couple hundred dollars in film, and four or five boxes of envelopes he'd had made up special, and the rest of it was counting money. It had even gotten to the point that he no longer engaged a printer back in Pennsylvania to make the packages of eight-by-tens and wallet photos. The technology had come so far that if a town was big enough to have a mini-mall with a one-hour photo, all he had to do was go there and give them the negs. And if, in any of the regular stops he made, there was more than one place to develop photos, he'd auction the job off. It was the largest order of the year for any of these small-town shops.
He'd even come to enjoy the continuity of returning to schools, seeing how some of the kids he'd photographed the previous years were growing up. He had boxes full of head shots, and he sometimes recognized the faces as they grew older a year at a time. (The samples that he gave to parents were stamped PROOF ONLY to make it impossible to keep them as wallet snaps.) In Geneseo, he remembered at least a dozen of the kids in the two schools and remarked to himself how much they had changed. Some had grown taller, some fatter, while others had obviously found sports and their little sticklike bodies had thickened with muscle. Still others just seemed older: their faces spoke of home lives that had seen no improvement in the intervening time. It surprised him how much those tired and dour faces upset him, as if by returning to their hometowns each year, he was doing nothing less than recording the inevitability of their declining fortunes. He worried that some of his photos could one day be used in newspapers to record bad tidings-these smiling photos, which always seemed faded and misused once transmitted through newsprint, sometimes made him feel that his work had the potential to be the unhappy ending of someone else's story.
He drove south from Geneseo and to the edge of the national park where Mount Morris was. It wasn't much of a mount, just a faint swelling in the fields. As he had the year before, he stopped right before getting into town and went into a local dining room where a lot of single men ate alone, and he sat down at the bar and had a Rolling Rock. After being by himself for months at a time, he would have to pause before going to see Lillian, to collect the bits of himself that she knew best. He'd always been a light-hearted, jokey guy with her, picking her up out of the dips and dark spots she sometimes fell into. A nice guy, the kind your mother would want you to end up with. Even though, at his center, he wasn't that kind of guy at all. He was more like Lillian than he'd ever let on.
"You come back to take my photo, honey?" said the woman behind the bar. She'd served him his last four beers in that place.
"You'd break the camera," he said, raising the bottle to her.
She sailed a beer coaster at him. "You watch what you say, mister. I own this place now."
"How'd that happen?" Tom asked.
"My husband, God rest his soul, died since the last time you were in here with your nickels and pennies."
He eyed her, wondering if they were still bantering or if he'd stuck his foot in it. "Who'd marry you?" he asked. "You never said anything about a husband before."
"He'd never done nothing for me before!" she said, and her face seemed to widen as she burst out in a harridan's laugh. "You're lucky I'm not sentimental, mister, or I'd have one of my boyfriends take you out back for sneering at a widow." She gestured into the room, and Tom looked back at the four or five older men hunched over their soups. He turned to the lady.
"You could be rich before you know it-" he said, "play your cards right."
LILLIAN'S HOUSE was off one of the two main streets, a little side road that ran down beside the town's old gray and white cemetery. The house was a bungalow with an upper dormer and a small basement that Lillian had been renting out since she came to town to be closer to her mother. The previous year, Mrs. Brant had moved out of her independent-living apartment and into the county home. She now shared a room with an Alzheimer's case, and was miserably unhappy. It seemed Mount Morris was a place neither for a young woman nor an old one, and although she didn't say it, Lillian was waiting for her mother to die. There was no work in the town, and only the renter and a little inheritance from her father provided Lillian with enough income to pay her mortgage and buy what she needed. It was no wonder Tom had left the town the last few years feeling low. Last year he'd even "loaned" Lillian money to see her through part of the fall.
She came to the door to greet him in a pair of frayed jean shorts and a black spandex one-piece. She looked like she'd just been to a beach.
"Mistuh Lumsden," she said, squeezing him. The bodysuit made her as slick and cool as a seal. She pushed back and kissed him on both cheeks.
"You look great, Lillian." He held her waist and looked at her. Something in Lillian's genes kept her young, although he could see in her face that she was living out a hard time. She led him into the house, her little finger curled in his. It was exciting to be touched by his ex-wife. She'd always been a very physical person, at ease in her body, and he'd cherished how well the two of them had been suited as lovers. That it wasn't only uncut lust that linked them spoke to the fact that they'd been personally compatible too. It was a good and rare thing they'd had, ruined only by the fact that some of their plans hadn't matched.
The house was the same, only tidier.
"I cleaned up for you," she said.
"You didn't have to do that."
"You should have seen it, though. It looked like a bordello in here." She smiled brilliantly at him, happy to be together. "Drink, eat, or fuck?"
"God, Lillian," he said.
"We'll start at the top and go from there."
She left him in the living room and collected drink things in the kitchen. He looked around, not surprised to see the increase in knickknacks, especially the angels Lillian had been collecting since Elmira. This infantile attachment still bothered him, but he'd braced himself for it, and she knew better than to indulge herself in any reference to good spirits. She'd tried all kinds of remedies for what she thought was wrong with her life, and like a lot of people, she settled on finding some kind of faith. She'd gone from sects of her native religion (a branch of Christianity he'd never paid much attention to), to meditation religions, to group-therapy religions. But she'd come to believe in angels, really believe in them-she knew the difference between cherubim and seraphim-and for some time their likenesses had been filling the empty spots on various surfaces. Alarmingly peaceful angels adorned many of the walls and shelves in her house. Some with trumpets, many with harmless little penises. All in midflight. She had books on them, and, as she'd told him once, her home page was the main page of the American Ring of Angels. To his way of thinking, it was like praying to Jiminy Cricket.
She brought him a neat rye and clinked her Cinzano to it and they both drank. He told her about his day, about the little kids in the two schools getting older, how some of them remembered him from previous years, how it was like having five thousand kids of his own. She nodded at that, appearing impressed at something. He could have come any day of the year and told her that story-any day would have been like this. So it didn't feel the least bit false to tell it.
"Do you make them smile?"
"If I have to, I lick a quarter and stick it to my forehead."
She opened her mouth in awe and searched in a pocket. "Show me," she said, and held out a quarter to him. He grinned at it, but she licked it herself and then pushed a forelock of his hair up and pressed it to his skin. It stayed in place, and she clapped her hands, delighted.
"I'm a panic, aren't I?" he said.
"You're all that and a bag of chips."
HE SAT in the kitchen, watching her buzz around, switching her hips at him and taking the lids off pots. The place smelled terrific-the rosemary-bright scent of a roast drifted up out of the oven, and he imagined there would be little new potatoes in there too, cooking in the salty fat, and probably squash or green beans on the stove. He ate out twice a day almost every day of his life and accumulated enough leftovers during the week that he had food on the weekends (he kept a bachelor apartment about midway between all his accounts-a tiny place on the outskirts of Harrisburg), so a home-cooked meal, especially one made by Lillian, was a rare and welcome thing.
She cast little glances back at him, enjoying him being there in her home, and went into the fridge to grab a shrimp ring she'd defrosted. "You're spoiling me," he said, reaching for one. He popped it into his mouth, snapping the tail out and looking in to see if there was any meat left, then took another. She'd put an apron on, and when she passed behind him, he reached out and tugged on the knot so it came undone. She slapped at him. "Go sit somewhere else until I call you," she said.
He went and sat down on a doily-covered chair in the adjoining room. This was the main angel chamber. Half a dozen of them stood on the mantelpiece in various poses, and there was much archery. One had a clock in his belly that made Tom think of the see-through cow his dad had taken them to look at when he and his sister were little. They'd somehow taken off a patch of a cow's skin and replaced it with a window, so you could see inside. They'd stood there and watched it eat and watched the stomachs clench and release. How horrible it was, how shiny and white and horrible.
Excerpted from Fidelity by Michael Redhill Copyright © 2003 by CARIBOU RIVER LTD.. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
|The Victim, Who Cannot Be Named||87|
|Logic of Reduction||144|
|The Flesh Collectors||164|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This collection of short stories is OK. As with all collections some are really great and some are just OK. I'd wait for the paperback edition before you spend $20+ on a mediocre book.