Wendy's life has been anything but typical. Her father raped her on her sixth birthday, and yet she still lives in the same apartment in Manhattan with him, although he's become such an emotionless figure that she's hardly forced to communicate with him anyway. In fact, she's hardly as concerned with him as her mother, Stella. Dense, materialistic, and needy, Stella is more interested in living vicariously through her daughter than actually raising her. And Wendy knows it. After a particularly icy argument on her seventeenth birthday, Wendy bolts. She's not coming back.
The Golden Handle follows Wendy along through a week of sheer hell as she tries to find a sense of genuine happiness that she's lacked for eleven years, and Stella's desperate attempt to reconnect with her only daughter. But after a week laden with racism, murder, an apartment fire, kidnapping, and prostitution, will Wendy really be able to say it was worth it? Will Stella find a way to cope with her own rotten childhood and give her daughter the love she deserves? Does she even deserve a second chance?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.47(d)|
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The Golden Handle
By JOSH BERMAN
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Josh Berman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe doorknob turned slightly, slowly, and with definite purpose. Within a second her dad crept into her room, tripping over Malibu Barbie and cursing her name. Six-year-old girls aren't typically very observant creatures, but she could tell something was off. Something was different. Wrong.
Her dad always wore a suit. She never quite knew why-at the time, she thought he looked funny wearing it, but he always said he had to, to put bread on the table. Bread seemed like an awfully dumb reason to dress up in church clothes to little Wendy. It seemed like it would cause a substantial amount of confusion, if nothing else. But six-years-olds don't understand a lot of things too well.
Her dad began to take off his blazer and threw it to the floor. He loosened his tie, burping all the while. She giggled. A faint, foreign odor began to tickle her nostrils. It was strong. She couldn't tell what it was, but her face immediately began to pucker up tighter than she could've imagined at the time. Her first taste of whiskey.
"Daddy, are you here to tell me a bedtime story?" Wendy asked, pleaded. She began to shiver. She couldn't tell why, but she needed comfort in the worst of ways. From someone, anyone. She wanted to run downstairs and jump into her mother's big, warm arms. Anything to get rid of this feeling.
Her father didn't answer. She tried again.
"Because it's my birthday, and you didn't get me anything, and I miss you. I haven't seen you in a long, long time, Daddy."
Her dad muttered something incomprehensible about being ungrateful. He then cleared his throat, sat down on her bed, and put his big, cold hand on Wendy's poor fragile shoulder.
"Wendy," he said, "You're six years old now, and you've grown into a very beautiful girl."
* * *
Wendy awoke with a sudden shock and terror. A cold sweat drenched her body, forming a thin mucus between her and her age old bed. Why did she keep having this dream? Eleven years was an age ago. A lifetime ago. What happened then shouldn't matter. It never happened again. She had made sure of that. But why could she not just force this damn memory from her head? She checked the clock and Wendy Portsmouth's heart dropped close to the level of her stomach. 9:03 AM.
This specific time may have seemed trivial to the average eye, but to Wendy it meant several things, none of them good. First, it meant that it was Saturday. She hated Saturdays. Not because she particularly enjoyed school. She was perfectly miserable at school, just as any normal teenager should be. But at least school gave her an excuse to be away from her family. Her mother had always insisted on "bonding" with the girl, although, as any person with the observation abilities of an average termite could see, the whole quest was a rather futile one. Wendy's mother may well have been a blind, two inch insect that spends its entire life underground for the amount she actually knew about her daughter after so long. Just a year ago, she bought Wendy a three hundred dollar chocolate truffle as a gift, forgetting-or perhaps completely oblivious to the fact-that Wendy had been allergic to chocolate at birth. The truffle ended up in the mouth of a very grateful homeless man outside her apartment. Wendy pitied him, wondering if he had any idea how much money he had eaten in one bite. Probably not, she figured. Most people are so incredibly ignorant to what's happening around them, she thought, that if one day they stopped to look at what they were doing, their heads would probably explode. Such was her justification for not bothering to remind her mother how incredibly incompetent she was-why ruin her world, too?
9:03 AM also meant that Wendy had not succeeded in sleeping through breakfast. It was a pitiful concept, true; she could not even imagine a worldly occurrence that could actually distract her mother enough to forget to wake her up. No, Wendy had never succeeded in her life in missing a family meal except when she was completely absent, which, unfortunately, hardly happened enough. The girl realized she would probably never achieve such a feat, and yet, each time, her failure would leave a definitively sour mark on her mornings. But no matter-Wendy could not fall back into sleep once she had awoke, and so she pulled herself out of bed, tossing her sheets to the side, carelessly adding to the toxic waste dump that was her room.
Wendy was probably the only human in the world who could manage not only to walk in her room without consistently stepping on something, but also to locate any item on demand. Not that such a demand came often, but Wendy took pride in knowing that if anyone ever asked her for a copy of Baron's Guide To Passing The AP English Language/Composition Exam, that it was in the left corner of her room, buried beneath the Ugg boots she never wore, and that broken fan from five years ago.
Wendy had a specialized path through all the carefully placed cacophony, which she used on a regular basis. She never quite understood why no one else could seem to see it. It seemed fairly obvious to her; left foot on the bean bag chair, right foot in that open space next to her bookshelf, left foot 90 degree swing over her old trumpet case, right foot on her pile of "Apply to NYU and discover why we're the right university for you!" letters, hop over her pile of dirty clothes, and open the door to the hallway. Simple.
Wendy had over the years developed a habit of taking unreasonably long showers, which often caused her family quite a bit of trouble. Their apartment building's old water heater functioned for about twenty or so good minutes at a time until running out, at which point, it would be nonfunctional for about three hours while it recharged. While this never directly bothered Wendy-she was almost always, without fail, the first person in the family to shower each morning-it did irritate her parents, specifically her working Dad, rather profusely. Several times, most without prior notice, the man was forced to shower himself in what felt like subzero temperatures in order to make it to work by 9 AM.
This routine stopped rather abruptly two years ago, however. On a particularly cold December morning, Steve Portsmouth stepped into his shower unprepared. As soon as the first drops of icy waterfall grazed his shoulder, he yelped in pain and leapt out of the shower onto the cold tile. Unfortunately for him, he had not noticed upon entering the bathroom that Wendy had left a rather large puddle of water near the shower door. As he landed, Steve slipped and tumbled backwards, landing hunched over the toilet. His right foot had stuck itself in between the cabinet and the sink, seething in unbearable pain. A doctor's visit would reveal that he had dislocated his ankle, and thus he would be unable to work as a tax agent for three months-after all, performing audits on one leg would certainly be difficult.
To remedy the problem, her father had paid for the costly installation of their apartment's own water heater separate from the building's. This way, her parents could keep her in check by simply shutting off the water before she had overstayed her welcome. Wendy protested this at first, but eventually, as usual, deemed she had more important things to worry about and learned to cope.
But this morning, Wendy felt that she not only needed, but truly deserved a prolonged, steamy interaction with hot water. Her father wouldn't have to work today, of course, so she couldn't really imagine she would be inconveniencing anyone by indulging herself for old time's sake. The very second the first droplets of beautiful, hot water made contact with Wendy's naked skin, she felt a sense of elation. Any worry previously in her head was gone now. As the steam began to surround her she felt an almost otherworldly high; she closed her eyes and could feel herself exiting her human body, entering a world devoid of everything she had ever known; she felt free, liberated. She was running through an open field now, which stretched for miles. No one and nothing stood in her way. She didn't have a particular goal but she felt she was reaching it, nearing it with every twitch of her muscles, every deep breath of clean air she savored. And there, there he was, holding an outstretched hand, the only man in her life she could ever trust, who had put her father in his place after that terrible, terrible night. The scar above her father's left eye was living proof that at least someone in this world knew what was good for her and cared. She was closer now. She could almost wrap her fingers around his, and she wouldn't have to worry about anything, ever again. She could leave this place for good, and ...
"ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!??"
The water had just shut off mid fantasy, and Wendy voiced her fury. She couldn't believe her mother. The nerve! On today, of all days! She had barely finished shampooing herself; the white goop stuck in her hair and let out a definitive CLAP when Wendy touched her head. She wasn't going to be defeated like this. Without a second thought, Wendy stepped out of the shower door and sprang through the hallway, not bothering to pick up a towel on the way out. She wouldn't need one.
She burst into the kitchen naked; a gorgeous, triumphant figure in the peak of her beauty, still soaking wet. A sea of awkward stares from a large gathering of people greeted her. Both parents, two sets of grandparents, three aunts, four uncles, and seven cousins had apparently already woken themselves up and were waiting for her. She also noticed a suspicious boy she could have sworn she had seen somewhere, but couldn't put a name on. She didn't bother covering up. She didn't care.
"Wendy-I-uh-" her mother coughed.
"Mom, do you know what that sign says?"
Wendy pointed to a banner the family had clearly hung up in the kitchen that morning which read: "Happy Birthday!"
"It says ... erm ... happy birthday, honey."
"Good. Now, don't you think that, maybe, common courtesy might dictate that on her birthday, a girl should be allowed as much time in the shower as she wants?"
"Well ... but dear ... you were in there nearly half an hour, and we were all worried ..."
"Answer the question."
"Yes, I suppose that would make sense."
"Thank you. Now, could you kindly turn the water back on?"
"OK. But look, I invited Michael from down the hall, and he has to leave in a few minutes. I remembered you staring at him a couple weeks ago and thought you might like to meet him."
Her mother could not have possessed less social etiquette. Yes, she had stared at him a few weeks ago. She remembered clearly. What her mother had obviously not picked up was the fact that she had stared, dumbfounded, at the fact that the boy was actually looking up pornography in the lobby, on his blackberry. If nothing else, the sick kid could have at least watched his Asian Fantasies or Blonde Bimbos on his own computer. The picture would have been bigger; certainly more enjoyable she figured. She couldn't understand looking up porn on something like that for the sake of looking up porn, but that seemed the only reasonable explanation. Regardless, she decided to lie and let her mother think she was keenly aware of her daughter's love interests.
"Oh. Hi Mike. I'm Wendy. Thanks for coming."
"You look ... really nice," he murmured.
"Thanks for the compliment, but I'm up here, pervert."
Mike lifted his head and forced a smile, seeing Wendy's face for surely the very first time since she had entered the room. There was no point in trying to teach him manners. If he wanted to stare continually at her exposed breasts, she wouldn't do anything to stop him. It wasn't worth it. Granted, had he made even a single step closer, she probably would have thrown whatever was closest at his head, but he dared not. Wendy sighed, turned around, and started walking down the hallway. She could feel Mike's eyes lustfully fixated on her swaying backside; she paused and gave it a playful slap for kicks.
I probably just made that pathetic dweeb's year, she thought to herself, laughing.
* * *
Stella Portsmouth stared down the hallway in an entranced state of disbelief.
Was that really her daughter? Sometimes she had difficulty remembering. The girl was gorgeous enough with her clothes on, but seeing her fresh out of the shower, without even the courtesy of a towel, only made Stella realize even more that she was on the wrong side of her thirties. Wendy was goddess-like in her appearance; even when wet, her silky, brown hair glowed in radiance and gave off an unmistakable aura of superiority. She felt timid even looking at her. Her slender body curved itself in frighteningly perfect proportions-she truly embodied the hourglass figurine Stella figured was only available through plastic surgery. And yet, the girl had a terrible sense of hygiene aside from her frustratingly extensive showers. From what Stella could tell, her daughter managed to rival Venus without even trying.
Stella, on the other hand, had put on a rather large amount of weight over the years. Her puffy reflection in the mirror only seemed to jeer at her more as time went on, a constant reminder that whatever beauty she may have once possessed had rapidly fled from her body after bearing a child. Stella's ratty hair was constantly a mess no matter how many half toxic products she lathered it with, and worse, the color was beginning to fade. Just last year, her husband had offhandedly remarked that her head felt like "a heap of hay," and Stella had been constantly haunted by the incessant thought that he had compared her to a horse, or some other barnyard animal. Regardless of whether or not this be true, Stella had become determined to prevent her daughter from falling victim to such a cruel fate. Wendy was going to be rich, beautiful, or both, well into her middle ages. She would be the farmer, not the cow.
When she truly thought of it, Stella realized that her daughter had turned out quite well for someone so stubbornly opposed to any bit of parenting Stella tried to offer. Wendy may have been cold, a bit rude, and occasionally impossible to socialize with, but at least the girl wasn't out all the time with the wrong crowd. She had heard horror stories from parents in their apartment building whose teenagers returned home well past two or three in the morning completely drunk, high, pregnant, incriminated, or some repulsive combination. From what Stella could see, Wendy did not party, though how much of that she could contribute to herself was largely debatable. Wendy tended to keep to herself most nights, and while Stella rarely saw the girl after she entered her room due to that damn lock she had been coaxed into buying three years ago, she was certain that her child wasn't sneaking out of a twelfth story window in an effort to shimmey down the fire escape unnoticed. Not that Stella really minded the girl's lack of friends. Stella had plenty of friends in high school, sure, but in retrospect, their benefits were dubious at best. While of course all results were entirely indirect, her friends had lowered her grades, permanently damaged her liver, and managed to convince her that high school boys were the greatest pleasure in life. She was lucky, she thought, that Wendy wasn't dating some abominable eighteen-year-old, mustached, piece of meat. Considering the way she knew high school boys operated, in fact, it was a downright miracle, especially with that body of hers. Other girls probably loathed her for it; a waste, they would call it. Stella had been, on a good day, half as attractive as her daughter at seventeen, and yet her male attention was nowhere short of sufficient. Logically, Wendy looked as though she ought to be toting around five boys at a time. Yet the truth remained that Stella had never once seen Wendy bring a boy inside their apartment. But, invariably, this must be good. High school boys existed for the sole purpose of having sex with high school girls and then making them cry, right? Certainly, that had been the case when she attended. She was glad Wendy never had a boyfriend. Though again, one could never be certain with children these days. It was not altogether unlikely that Wendy could feasibly have several boyfriends she refused to show off to her family; boyfriends whom she managed to please in the broom closets or empty classrooms of their school. Even Stella laughed at the preposterousness of that thought, and yet she strangely found an odd sense of hope in the idea that Wendy could be taking joy in something, even if it was underage sex.
Excerpted from The Golden Handle by JOSH BERMAN Copyright © 2011 by Josh Berman. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. 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
to be honest when i got this book i was a little scared to read it, i mean it sounded like the most depressing story ever. however, when i did get the courage to read it, it was beautifully written. it's true it was very sad, bu t that's one of the things that made it so beautiful. there aren't many books out there that can make me tear up, Berman's book was able to make have to put the book down a few times because i couldn't see the words i was crying so hard. the main character, wendy, was a tragically brilliant character, i loved her! all i can say is mr. berman thank you for writing this book!
The book was phenomenal, the story line was engaging for all audiences and the characters made a connection in one way or another. I loved every moment of it but the last 30 or so pages made me stay up into the wee late hours. Good page turner and great novel, especially coming from such a young author.
This is a book that is destined to be read in literature classes for years to come! Simply breathtaking. Everything from the beautiful writing, the plot full of ironies and allegories is just perfect. A must read!
I just started reading this book, and I've fallen in love with the main character. Nothing cliche about it. You will simply LOVE this book. READ IT!
I bought and read this book all in one day. Simply "unputdownable!" This book sends the reader on a thrill ride and keeps the reader wanting more and more. I absolutely LOVED IT.
Page turner. Exciting. Heartwarming. Unexpected twists I connected to Wendy and felt as though I was standing next to her.
I picked this book up and read it in a day. Horrible piece of garbage of a book. I mean everything was way to cliche. It's like the author came right out of high school or something. Take my words for advice. STOP MAKING BOOKS!!!!!!!!