In the Blink of an Eye: A Novel

In the Blink of an Eye: A Novel

by Jesse Blackadder

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Overview

"Absolutely captivating....This is a masterpiece of women's fiction."—Booklist (starred review)

"Absorbing....Fast-moving but emotionally resonant." Kirkus reviews

In the Blink of an Eye is award-winning author Jesse Blackadder’s deeply emotional drama that explores a family’s path to forgiveness and redemption in the aftermath of a tragedy.

The Brennans—parents, Finn and Bridget, and their sons, Jarrah and Toby—have made a sea change, from chilly Hobart, Tasmania, to subtropical Murwillumbah, New South Wales. Feeling like foreigners in this land of sun and surf, they're still adjusting to work, school, and life in a sprawling purple clapboard house, when one morning, tragedy strikes.

In the devastating aftermath, the questions fly. What really happened? And who's to blame? Determined to protect his family, Finn finds himself under the police and media spotlight. Guilty and enraged, Bridget spends nights hunting answers in the last place imaginable. Jarrah—his innocence lost—faces a sudden and frightening adulthood where nothing is certain.

In the Blink of an Eye is a haunting, redemptive story about forgiveness and hope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250199959
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/19/2019
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 1,045,257
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Jesse Blackadder is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, freelance journalist and a budding screenwriter. Her novel The Raven's Heart won the Benjamin Franklin award for historical fiction, and she was awarded an Antarctic Arts Fellowship for her novel Chasing the Light.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

FINN

Later, Finn could trace the seismic shift back to the afternoon he stood in the fading light and slid the fine sandpaper over the curve of Huon pine. The initial scrape of grit had smoothed out to a soft glide, the grain of the wood revealing its hidden whorls. He lifted the sandpaper, puffed the fine dust away and ran his hand over the wood's surface. It rose under his fingers like something alive.

The light was nearly gone and the air, at last, felt slightly cooler. Finn's sweat had dried and crusted into a hard mix of salt and sawdust on his skin. Invisible creatures – frogs, crickets, he never knew what they were – burst into a racket outside his window, ushering in the evening.

He smoothed an oiled cloth over the haunch of wood, which rewarded him by glowing in the last of the light. He placed it on the ground, shoving aside the jumble of scrap metal with a twinge of guilt. That's what he was meant to be working on; his agent was convinced his clockwork constructions were the way to a breakthrough. But it didn't feel like real sculpture, not like his carving.

The piece Edmund had spotted during a Skype was a machine born out of Finn's frustration with getting from the kitchen to his studio, a clumsy two-handed operation with gates and latches and sliding doors in and out of the pool area. He'd put his mind to solving the problem, taking due account of the safety principles involved in pool fencing, and adding clockwork characterisations to amuse Toby. A wall-mounted system of pulleys and gears, styled as an owl, elegantly opened and automatically closed the gate between the verandah and the pool when Finn pulled the high brass lever. A second apparatus, with a dragon's head and outspread wings, operated the sliding doors linking the studio to the pool. Yes, he'd created them to look good – clunky, evocative creatures made of oversized cogs and gears, burnished metal and chains that fascinated Toby when they cranked into life. But before Edmund declared them art and named them – Owl Sentry and Dragon Sentry – Finn considered them simply functional.

Edmund had demanded a spec piece – he was sure he could sell one. Just like Owl or Dragon, he'd urged. But Finn had got only as far as gathering scrap metal, old machinery parts and gears and stacking them on the bench.

The sound of voices drifted over from the house and he looked out into the indigo-orange sky of a subtropical dusk. Bridget must have come home. When the wood had him, he didn't hear a thing. He never kept a clock in the workshop lest its hard little hands yank him back from his thrall. And so, not for the first time, he was late. He'd left the kids to their own devices and now she was home, and it was Friday. That meant a bottle of wine with dinner, and probably she'd want to fuck to throw off the week and he'd want to fuck because of the sensuality of the wood under his hands all day, and they'd mark the passage from the working week to the weekend and the relief that their marriage was still intact. Their sex life had been revitalised by what happened, at any rate, and thank God it turned out they still desired each other's bodies, no matter his convex belly and balding head and her bunions.

He should have started dinner, but he needed a swim. A quick plunge, no lights on, to sluice the dust and sweat from him; more satisfying than a shower. He pulled Dragon Sentry's heavy lever, and with a clanking of gears the thing opened the sliding doors of the studio and admitted him to the pool area.

After ten months he could still hardly believe Bridget had agreed to buy this purple weatherboard home, with its red trim, wonky doors that didn't lock, crooked corners and overgrown garden of bold tropical plants – mauve jacaranda, red poinciana, pink frangipani, yellow trumpet flowers. So different from their old brick bungalow in Hobart – and from the airy beach house Bridget had had in mind when making this sea change.

He shucked off his overalls and underpants at the pool's edge, leaned over the water and tilted, making a hole in the surface with his hands and pouring his body into it. Underwater, he rubbed at his arms, face, hair, loosening the dust so it detached and floated in little whorls and bubbles.

CHAPTER 2

JARRAH

'Jawwah, weed it.'

'I'm busy.'

'Weed it.'

'Dad can read it. I've got homework.'

'WEED IT!'

'ALL RIGHT!'

I slapped my maths book shut, glad of the excuse, though I sighed and pushed myself up like it was a big effort. This was usually how it panned out in the afternoons. Dad distracted with his art, Mum busy and important and not home from work, me trying to do homework, and Toby trying to stop me. Changing towns hadn't changed that.

I flopped down on my bed. Toby clambered up, threw himself on my chest, and started to bounce up and down. 'Horsey!'

'Hey, we're meant to be reading.' I let him do it a few times and then reached over and picked up the tattered copy of his favourite book from the bedside table. 'The Monster King?'

He gave a whoop of excitement. He never got sick of it. I took a deep breath, adjusted my voice and began.

Toby wriggled around and cuddled up next to me, waiting while I tucked my arm under his head. His blue eyes fixed on the pages as I read, putting on my best deep, gruff voice for the monsters so he shivered and squealed.

If it scared him so much, how come he still liked it?

I turned the final page.

'Gain!'

Toby would be happy if I read that book to him twenty times in a row. I heaved another dramatic, weary sigh and dragged out the words to make him laugh. 'Aaall right.'

The thing is, I didn't get bored. The feel of his small body against my side, his attention, the smell of his hair, kind of sweet and salty together. When it was just him and me, something churned in me so I could hardly stand it.

During the third reading the light changed. Mum was running late and Dad must have forgotten the time. I felt Toby's body soften and his breath deepen. His leg twitched, and I paused and looked down at him. He was asleep, way out of his naptime, one hand splayed on my chest, the other clutching a stray piece of my hair.

Two reasons he was my best friend. First, the obvious. He was the only one who never judged me. Never looked at me weirdly, never thought something was wrong with me.

I heard the engine in the driveway and closed my eyes. I could count the moments of peace left. I heard Mum pull on the handbrake, switch off the ignition, unclack the seatbelt, open the car door, scrabble for her handbag on the floor of the front seat. Her shoes crunched on the gravel. Five moments more of Toby and me. Four moments as she reached the verandah and slid the screen door open. Three as she stepped inside. Two as she started up the stairs. One as she called out.

'Yoo-hoo? Boys? Marital companion?'

Our mother's voice could reach Toby even in sleep. He jerked and his eyes flew open. In a single move he was upright.

'Mumma!' He squirmed off the bed and bolted for the door. I heard the rhythmic thud of his bare feet, the squeal as he caught sight of her at the top of the stairs, his leap into her arms. I heard snuggling, kissing, nonsense words. Felt that dig of jealousy.

No one would have blamed me for being jealous of Toby. Thirteen years younger than me, he'd turned up from nowhere. Before that I'd been the only sun in our little universe.

'Hey, Jarrah.' Mum stood at the door of my room, balancing Toby on her hip as she kicked off her shoes. 'Your dad's in the pool. I take it he's forgotten the time again?'

I sat up and scratched my hair. 'Looks like it.'

She smiled. 'At least it's Friday. Thai?'

'Pizza?' I countered.

'Pissa?' Toby chimed in, patting Mum's face with his small hands as he doubled my vote. 'Swim?'

She rolled her eyes. 'You guys win. But I choose next time, right? Jarrah – homework?'

I rolled my eyes right back at her and she laughed.

'Yeah, bugger homework. Let's swim.'

'Sure.'

She came over to the bed, Toby still clamped to her hip, and smiled down at me. She had a nice face. I didn't just think it because she was my mother. Curly dark hair, pale skin, blue eyes. She reached out and ruffled my hair. Curly and dark, same as hers.

'How was your day, boyo?'

I pulled a stupid face. 'Fine.'

Toby poked Mum's cheek and she laughed. 'Got to get out of these clothes. Thank God it's the weekend.'

She spun and strode out of the room, taking Toby with her. He glanced at me for a second over her shoulder before they disappeared.

That was us. Mum in her new dream job researching koala habitat. Dad looking after us and doing his carvings. Me getting through year ten.

No, I wasn't jealous of Toby. There was plenty to go around in our household. It wasn't that.

It was this – the second reason, the one I kept secret: I wished my voice could pull him out of his dreams and back into the world. I wished he loved me most, the way I loved him. I wished he were mine.

CHAPTER 3

FINN

Coming up for a fourth breath, Finn's world exploded. Water rushed into his eyes and up his nose; waves slapped him. Three heads broke the surface and his wife's laughter pealed out. They'd bombed him. Toby clutched his mother, gulping, on the brink between laughter and sobs.

'You're on the pizza run, mister.' Bridget swooshed Toby through the water into Jarrah's arms and splashed Finn. 'And later you'll pay for forgetting dinner.'

He dived at her, found her, kissed her. 'Promise?'

'Get going! We're starving.' She leaned in, voice low. 'Take Jarrah.'

Finn lifted his head to look at his oldest son, who was bouncing Toby in his arms. 'Jarr, come for the ride?'

'Sure.'

'Me! Me!' Toby demanded.

'Go on, take all the testosterone. I need some girl time.' Bridget dived, pushing herself away from him, a dark streak under the surface.

Finn stroked to the steps and hauled himself out, glad of the dusk. They were a family comfortable with nudity, but lately he'd realised Jarrah was growing out of that. Going on for sixteen, last thing the boy wanted to see was his parents in the nick. It was a pity; Finn had loved the easygoingness of it in this hot climate. He scooted for a towel.

'Hurry,' Bridget reminded him from the end of the pool. 'I've ordered, and I hear the whimper of chorizo on the chopping block.'

A scramble of pulling on clothes, sprinting to the car, belting Toby into his seat. Finn spun out of the carport, kicking up a bit of gravel for Bridget's benefit. They were boys. It was Friday.

He glanced over at Jarrah as they swung out onto the suburban street. The light striped Jarrah's face and for a moment it wasn't his son there at all. Someone older, stranger, sat in the passenger seat.

'Jarrah?'

They passed a streetlight and Jarrah turned to him in an easy, familiar movement, an eyebrow raised slightly, and the moment was gone. 'Yep?'

Finn swallowed. 'Sorry about dinner, mate. But hey. You avoid my cooking.'

'Yeah.' Jarrah turned away to look out at the garages and driveways and curtained windows flipping past.

'Got any weekend plans?'

Jarrah adjusted the window minutely. 'Dunno. Homework. Might go to a movie with some kids from school.'

A wave of helplessness broke on Finn. Until a year ago, he'd known his son. He was the stay-at-home parent. He'd seen Jarrah more or less every day of his life. But since then, he'd lost him. He still wasn't sure if Jarrah had overheard the furious whispers in the bedroom when Bridget found out, of what Jarrah understood about their sudden decision to move north. Did he wonder why no one ever mentioned the Neumanns any more?

He glanced again at the silhouette of Jarrah's face as they passed another light. They'd had enough change. Finn didn't want any more.

'Dadda,' Toby said from the back seat. 'Where we live?'

Finn took a deep breath. 'Ready, boys?'

'Oh no.' Jarrah rolled his eyes.

'Forty-eight Tumbulgum Road, Mur-will-um-bah ...'

Toby, still unable to get his tongue around the early syllables, hit the car seat with his fists. 'More!'

'New South Wales, Australia, Planet Earth, the Milky Way ...' Finn paused. Were they with him?

'THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE!'

Toby yelled what he could manage, in rough unison. Jarrah at least joined in, if not enthusiastically. Finn felt his shoulders relax. It was all good. They were all good.

CHAPTER 4

BRIDGET

The text comes pinging in on your phone and you pick it up in a reflex action. He's never sent anything you couldn't read out loud to Finn, there's no suggestion of anything going on whatsoever, but you feel guilty anyway. He shouldn't be texting now, out of hours, on a Friday night at the start of a family weekend. He should know better.

No, that's stupid. Why shouldn't a colleague send a text after hours? 'Hours' is such a last-century concept anyway. Work bleeds over into life now. The midnight emails, the Sunday afternoon 'catching up': it's all normal, even for the North Coast sea-change class, supposedly beyond such things.

You pour another glass of wine, aware you've necked the first one in five minutes. Finn won't notice you're on the second by the time he gets back with the pizza. Not that he would say anything.

You usually visit your mother in the nursing home after work on Thursday, but you missed yesterday and squeezed it in today instead. Finn is distracted, and Jarrah's in his own teenage world, so neither of them asked how she was. Part of choosing the North Coast was bringing your mother closer to where she spent her childhood, in the hope it would help her faltering memory. Or at least feel familiar. But today was bad. She didn't recognise you at all.

Only Chen has asked how you feel about it. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Chen has, after all, stepped into the best-friend hole left in your life by Sandra's expulsion. You're both scientists: he the big-picture ecologist to your fine detail biologist. You share a similar sense of humour and a taste for optimism, rare in your profession.

But you know what's wrong with it. He's nine years your junior and you've caught yourself looking at the taut, smooth curve of his arms when he wears a short-sleeved shirt. You swap witty repartee. More recently, your eyes meet and you grin without needing to articulate the joke.

It's a new step, this text. Friday night, and personal, and far too insightful. It's dangerous. You moved here for a fresh start in your eighteen-year marriage. You agreed to put what happened behind you and so far it's on track. Mostly. But you don't stop Chen, and you answer his texts and you glance at his arms and both of you laugh just a bit too long. No one has said anything – not him, not you – and of course it's possible you're imagining it.

But you don't think so.

You'll send back a breezy text. Except when you go to type it, you realise how unfunny it is.

The second glass of wine has gone the way of the first. You switch to mineral water. They'll be back any second now, and you get yourself together and start clearing the table and throwing down napkins and glasses.

When the landline bleats, you jump and knock your glass over. You snatch up a cloth and multi-task, mopping as you answer.

'Bridge, it's Eddie. Finn's not picking up.'

'Pizza run.' You're not sure you like the way Edmund, with the prospect of making some actual money from your husband at last, seems to have become his new best friend.

'Fuck and bother. He'll really want to hear this.'

You roll your eyes. Edmund loves a drama. 'What?'

'Sculpture by the Quay had a late dropout. I've pulled some strings. If Finn can get that piece finished by Thursday, he's in.'

You've sopped up most of the wine now and you head to the sink, wedging the phone between shoulder and ear to squeeze the cloth. 'Sounds great.'

'Not great, Bridget. We're talking major breakthrough. Do you know how many people see this show over New Year? He's picked the steampunk zeitgeist. He'll be keeping you in the accustomed manner.'

You laugh, though not unkindly. Finn's sculpture hasn't ever brought in much more than it costs, but it's made him happy, and meant you could pursue your career while he looked after the boys. It's worked out well all round, as Edmund knows. Sudden artistic breakthrough isn't something you've factored into your plans.

'I'm serious. This is huge. You'll need to step up.'

Edmund can still rile you, after all these years. 'What's that supposed to mean?'

'Put him first. At least for a week, so he meets the deadline. See what happens.'

He doesn't know about Finn's betrayal last year – at least you don't think he knows – and injustice rises in your throat like gorge. 'Listen, I've —'

'Settle. You know what I'm saying. Get him over the line, OK? And now you get to tell him, half your luck.'

You hang up, and moments later you hear slamming doors and feet thudding up the verandah steps. Finn comes in last, behind Toby, who's about to tip into fractiousness from hunger, and Jarrah, whose face is set in studied teenage blankness.

Finn glances at you as he sets the pizzas down. 'What?'

You grin at him, teasing. 'I should make you wait ...'

'What, woman?' he demands.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "In The Blink Of An Eye"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Jesse Blackadder.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Dedication,
Prologue,
Part One,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Bridget,
Part Two,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Finn,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Bridget,
Finn,
Bridget,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Part Three,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Jarrah,
Finn,
Bridget,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Finn,
Jarrah,
Bridget,
Epilogue,
Author's Note,
Acknowledgements,
Discussion Guide,
Also by Jesse Blackadder,
Praise for In the Blink of an Eye,
About the Author,
Copyright,

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