Ruth thinks she has found her ticket out of Tennessee by eloping with a stereo salesman, but soon he "gets religion," and Ruth leaves. When she faints in a North Carolina five-and-dime, Rose, a fiesty elderly reporter, rescues her, beginning a friendship stronger than family ties. With spirited humor and empathy, Landis intertwines the stories of Rose, who is in denial of her terminal illness, and Ruth, who posesses the energy of Rose in her younger days.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.69(d)|
About the Author
Catherine Landis's Some Days There's Pie was selected as a Book Sense 76 pick. A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, she earned a B.A. from Davidson College and was a newspaper reporter in North Carolina. Landis now lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her husband and their two children.
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SOME DAYS THERES PIE
ON MY WAY TO THE REST OF MY LIFE
Rose is dead. I am sorry for it but not surprised; she's been dying for years now. I found her lying on the roll-away in Room 12 of the Little Swiss Inn in Mount Claire, North Carolina. It's just like Rose to have left me the double bed. I don't want to be any trouble, was what she said all the time, but there's a lot of people who say that kind of thing who are loads of trouble. Rose never was.
We had been driving since that morning, starting in Lawsonville, where it was hot. It was not hot in Mount Claire. It was chilly, and I had already started worrying that this damp air was not going to do a thing for her but make her sicker. We were on our way to Texas because Rose was born in Texas, in a little town on the Gulf of Mexico, to a mother who claimed to have a little Cajun in her and a daddy who ran a printing press, which was why Rose swore she had ink in her blood. Cajun or ink, either one could account for a lot. When I met her, she was seventy-nine years old but looked older, bent over like the letter C, which made it so she peered up at you when she talked, like a turtle out of its shell, craning its neck to see the sky. Her skin was wrinkled and pale, and her voice had gone rusty from too many cigarettes.Rose claimed she had aged early, but her hair was still the color of mountain clay; she was named for it, red on the day she was born, the only one in the family, Red Rose.
The Little Swiss Inn had no restaurant, and I had gone looking for supper. "You want to come?" I had asked Rose.
"No, Ruthie," she said. "I think I'll just lie down for a minute."
"I'll bring you back something."
"I'm not all that hungry right now, thank you."
"What do you want?"
"Whatever you get, hon. You decide."
I let it go at that, because I knew she was telling the truth. Rose did not care about food. She said she never did, and I believed her, because food and clothes and houses and all those things that keep a body together were things Rose never thought about, which can be an admirable quality in a person, but sometimes I wondered if it didn't make her do dotty things, like when she left half-eaten sandwiches on other people's desks, or buttoned her shirts up crooked. Her house reminded me of Durwood's, the hardware store next door to where I grew up, which was a mess, partly because that's what happens when something gets old, when it moves through time holding on to things, not because some things are worth holding on to, but because it takes too long to sort through them. Durwood had boxes of Christmas ornaments older than me on the shelves, but he saw no reason to buy more until those were gone. Year by year they had dwindled until there came a time when nobody wanted to hang anything that old on their Christmas tree. So there they sat, next to the hammers, which were mixed in with screwdrivers, which were mixed in with drill bits, which were mixed in with extension cords. If you were wanting nails, you had to scoop them out of a wooden keg and weigh them on a rusting scale, and there were cats everywhere.I worked over there at Durwood's, selling his wife's homemade fried pies, something you might not expect to find in a hardware store. People would come in wanting plumbing fixtures and a pie; I never got over that.
What you expected to find in a place like Durwood's was a potbellied stove in the middle of the floor, where men and near-men gathered to commiserate over the state of the world or the state of their lives, sometimes without words, just a look between fellows who know you and know what you mean. I used to imagine my daddy in a place like that. I used to imagine he would wink at me from across the store as if right there in Durwood's was where we belonged. I had no way of knowing if he was that kind of man, but that's how I pictured him.
Now, I never saw evidence of any such a stove in Durwood's, which tells you to look out; I'm likely to blow things up bigger than they are, but this much is true: Durwood's was a place where people went for more than what they could buy. You can go down to Kmart for a box of nails if that's all you want.
As for Rose's house, if I had suggested we straighten it up, she would have looked at me as if I'd gone crazy. Most everything she owned was given to her anyway, which was one thing about Rose; if somebody gave her something, she did not throw it away, so there were odd things, like dead house plants, and seashells sitting in little piles of sand, and the two Chinese dolls on top of the refrigerator, one jade green, the other robin's-egg blue, whose heads bobbed up and down when you opened the door. Sometimes I wanted to shake her. I did not care what she wore or how she kept her house, but I hated that other people did. They had made her into a town character, the eccentric old lady, "old" being the key word, as if there is a point you can cross and lose your place in the world. Everybody loved Rose, but no one paidany attention to her anymore. People talked to her the way you talk to a child. They acted as if she were already dead.
The Little Swiss Inn was surrounded by woods with no sign of a restaurant anywhere. The office was in a trailer next to the highway, the front stoop covered with bright green indoor/outdoor carpet. I had to pry open the metal screen door and, instead of a bell, a tinny music box played the first two lines of "On Top of Old Smoky." I found the manager in the office flipping through a model-rocket catalogue. He was a large man who wore glasses too tiny for his head, and he did not look up when I walked in.
"So," I said. "Where in the world is Big Swiss?"
He frowned, stuck a finger in his page to save his place, then looked up. He did not laugh.
"Any chance of getting something to eat around here?" I asked.
"Sam's Deli. About a quarter mile down the road. They got pizza, too." He said I could walk. "No problem."
A sidewalk followed the road through the woods, crossed a large creek, then led to the town of Mount Claire. I passed a couple of gas stations, a 7-Eleven, a bank, and a post office before reaching the main part of town, where crowds of people were dressed in shorts and golf shirts, their children wearing T-shirts that said Hilton Head and Grand Caymen Island and Ski Aspen. They were buying corncob pipes and bird feeders and wooden bear statuettes with Mount Claire burned into their sides. I passed by stores that sold shuck dolls made by mountain people, which was probably true, if you were talking about the mountains of China. There was a snack shop making out like there's something so special about ice cream you had to pay three dollars a scoopto find out what it was. I didn't linger. I found Sam's Deli and bought two turkey subs and chips then stopped by the 7-Eleven. I got us some Cokes and a couple of candy bars: Butterfinger for Rose, a Bit-O-Honey for myself.
I had not wanted to stop in Mount Claire. My idea was to keep going, drive on past sundown into the night, eating up the miles in darkness. I liked that vision of myself, tough night driver, cigarettes and coffee keeping me awake, a sad song on the radio. My car did not have a radio, but that's beside the point. What I wanted was to feel like an outlaw, which was not so far-fetched since me and Rose had snuck away from Lawsonville without telling anybody. I wanted it to be me and Rose and the truck drivers and their headlights and the night sky and the sound of my wheels going faster than the speed limit, but Rose insisted she had to rest, so we stopped. If we hadn't, Mount Claire, North Carolina, would have stayed forever a tourist town I passed through once, a dot on a map that meant nothing to me.
When I got back to the room, Rose was lying on her back as if she were sleeping, but dead people don't really look like they are sleeping. There's something wrong.
The only light in the room came from what spilled through the blinds, throwing stripes across the floor. They fell across the roll-away and Rose. I sat down next to her and held her hand. It was still warm enough to make you think, for a minute anyway, that what was happening wasn't really happening.
I sat there for a long time.
I don't know how long, but the first thing I remember noticing was the sack from Sam's Deli. I was holding it without knowingI was holding it, when all of a sudden I looked and remembered it was there. Then I understood; Rose was dead. More than the way her arm was stiff when I shook it, more than the pulse I could not find; this simple fact: Rose was never going to eat that sandwich.
I did not know a lot of dead people, unless you want to count my daddy, but I did not remember him. I knew Marianne Johnson, a girl from school who was killed in a head-on collision with a lumber truck when she was sixteen. She had a locker near mine and once had asked to borrow my hairbrush, and I had said no. Marianne had hair that fell down her back like black satin ribbons. The strange thing was, after she died I found myself thinking about her all the time. It came to me at odd moments, like a dream that lingers in the back of your mind long past the time it should have faded away. I see the man who drove the truck. He is standing at his kitchen counter, eating a honey bun. He burns his mouth on coffee, which he drinks from a plastic travel cup as he walks out the door. It is dark still. When he pulls onto the highway I see a single stream of light, heading east. Then I see Marianne. She gets out of bed, drops her nightgown on the floor, gets dressed, and combs her satin hair. She eats nothing before getting into her small, white car, the envy of those of us who did not get cars for our sixteenth birthday. I see a single stream of light heading west, and I wonder. Was there a line between them, drawn before they were born, a line they raced along until that morning, or was it, simply, that one of them looked down to change the radio?
The part that gets to me is the nightgown. Because there is something about dropping your nightgown on the floor that says, I'm coming back.
I'm coming back.
But she didn't. Marianne Johnson was never going to pick up her nightgown, and Rose. She was never going to eat that sandwich.
It was not fair that Rose had died, and not just to her but to me, too. I am not going to pretend otherwise, because it is the truth. No matter what happens to somebody else, you are still thinking about what's happening to you, and what had happened to me was that the first purely noble thing I had ever done in my life had just come to an end.
SOME DAYS THERE'S PIE. Copyright © 2002 by Catherine Landis. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Table of Contents
1 - ON MY WAY TO THE REST OF MY LIFE,
2 - THERE MUST BE FIFTY WAYS,
3 - STUFF OF DREAMS,
4 - GOODNIGHT IRENE,
5 - MESSING WITH THE WRONG DOG,
6 - MALLING,
7 - LIFE AFTER THE BROOM,
8 - HOT PEPPERS,
9 - SMOKE,
10 - THEN THERE'D BE SNAKES,
11 - SWERVING ON A PLANE,
12 - SAY IT'S NOT A CHEVROLET,
13 - AND ALL OF THEM WERE BLUE,
14 - CAKE, HAM BISCUITS, AND RED, RED RUSSIANS,
15 - GONE FISHING,
16 - UNDERWEAR SPY,
17 - RAIN DANCE,
18 - INTO THE WOODS,
19 - WHEE, WHIM, AIN'T YOU SORRY FOR HIM?,
20 - OF MOSQUITOES AND OTHER BLOODSUCKING CREATURES,
21 - JACKSON THE SLICK,
22 - SPARROW SONG,
23 - LEAVING TOWN, PACKING LIGHT,
24 - SOMETIMES IT WORKS OUT,
Praise for Catherine Landis's Some Days There's Pie,