When Merryn Huntley is told by Dallas police that her wealthy husband has been killed in a car accident, along with a local waitress, her first instinct is to flee in order to protect her nine-year-old daughter. And the only place that feels safe enough is her mother’s beautiful, isolated home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Merryn’s mother used to tell her: When you tell a lie, make sure you keep it as close to the truth as possible, because it will be easier to remember. Now, from the moment Merryn arrives, she’s forced into twisting the truth—about how much she knew of her husband’s shady business affairs; about her own secret lovers; and most importantly, about how she is beginning to doubt the one person who’s always been the greatest influence in her life: her mother.
When two FBI agents show up and ask Merryn questions, it only intensifies her compulsion to lie. But as her perfect life begins to crumble, she must decide whether she can face the most painful reality of all—that she has been lying to herself her entire life.
“A compulsively readable novel . . . With engaging characters, a compelling story, and a seductive sense of place, this is a literary treat.” —Booklist
“This fascinating novel bases its mystery not so much on unfolding events, although these are well paced, but instead on how a person can live a life parallel to the truth, based on an ever-shifting set of lies and misrepresentations. There’s real danger is remaking the truth to avoid conflict, and that is never more apparent than in this well crafted book.” —Reviewing the Evidence
“A seething portrait of a narcissistic mother . . . Jones keeps the action churning . . . but perhaps the novel’s greatest feat is Bibi, an all-too-real toxic monster.” —Publishers Weekly
“An impossible-to-put-down book.” —Ann Hood
|Publisher:||Akashic Books (Ignition)|
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|File size:||2 MB|
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A PERSISTENT FOUR-TONED GONG rings in my ears and I am suddenly back in the dusty courtyard of the École de Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux in Cameroon and the church bell is announcing the end of the school day. The children are shouting, their deafening din rising in the hot air as they break ranks and run wildly about—but not me, I remain firmly in line. The nuns have rulers and they'll smack you hard but most of the kids don't care. The tolling doesn't stop and I know this doesn't make sense because the bells only toll on the hour at Sainte Thérèse and school ends at four. My eyes flutter open and above me the incandescent solar system and stars of Tenney's ceiling glow dimly. I must have fallen asleep while scratching her back.
It's the doorbell, the sound growing more impatient. Beau must be a little drunk. Sometimes he can't manage the lock. I glance at the Winnie the Pooh clock. It's 3:35 a.m. I lift my hand to my forehead. I have written on my palm: Ne lui dis pas qu'il boit trop. I don't need this reminder, I never tell him he drinks too much.
I rush down the hallway, pulling tight the unraveling knot on my robe's belt. As I'm about to open the front door, I notice a line of white masking tape stuck to the door just at my eye level and on it are the words: Ne lui demande pas où il était. Of course I won't ask him where he was, though the impulse to blurt it out is always present and that's why I have to warn myself. I rip the tape off and ball it up, putting it in my pocket, rolling it around to get it off my fingertips. I take a moment to gather myself, prepare my unconcerned, relaxed face for him, and open the door.
But it's not Beau.
Two large, uniformed policemen stand there, one pale and blue-eyed, the other dark.
They wear short-sleeved uniforms that expose their bulging forearms. The policemen's eyes seem already old in their smooth, unlined faces, and they are scowling at me with such grave expressions I'm once again reminded of Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux and the stern faces of the nuns.
The pale one, whose name is Johnston, says, "Mrs. Huntley, may we come in?"
"Yes, of course, come in." I step aside. If Beau got pulled over for drunk driving again, this time they probably arrested him and I'm going to have to go pick him up. He'll be absolutely furious. Anticipating his rage, my face grows hot, my heart starts to pound, my mouth goes dry.
"Please, Mrs. Huntley, sit down," the young policeman says, guiding me into the living room where I perch myself expectantly on the armrest of the couch. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs. Huntley, but your husband was in a car accident and he didn't make it."
For a moment I am so stunned I can't even speak. My first thought is: It's over. I work hard to force my face muscles into an appropriate expression of horror.
"Hit a tree head-on," says the other policeman, Officer Gutierrez. "He probably didn't feel a thing."
I stand, and I stumble, as if my knees can't hold me at this news, and Officer Gutierrez takes my elbow to steady me. "Please sit down, Mrs. Huntley," insists the young man, so I sit back down on the armrest.
Officer Johnston clears his throat. "Look. You may as well know this now because you're going to find it out soon enough. There was a girl in the car."
My mum used to say, Lying is necessary. Not only necessary, but good. When you tell a lie, make sure you keep it as close to the truth as possible, because it will be easier to remember. The problem is, right now I'm having a little trouble remembering what's a lie, and what's the truth.
Officer Gutierrez reaches into his pocket and pulls out a little notebook and reads: "LouKeesha Smalls. L-o-u-K-e-e-s-h-a. Do you know this person?"
Just last weekend we were at that place the Blue Bayou with Bucky and Bucky's wife, Jocelyn. LouKeesha was Beau and Bucky's favorite waitress and they loved to banter back and forth with her. I do my best to look positively stunned.
"She's ... LouKeesha's a waitress at the Blue Bayou," I tell the officer helpfully.
The young men glance at each other. They must think I'm a fool. I'm sure they feel sorry for me, the Yankee in the Court of King Beau. My mum always said, Acting like a damsel in distress is often extremely useful, just as long as you realize it's just an act.
"What is it?" I ask, my voice tight in my throat.
"Well," Officer Johnston sighs deeply, "she was killed too."
"Oh God, no! That poor girl, she was so young!" They just stare at me and it's clear what they are thinking.
"He was probably giving her a ride home," I explain. "That's the way Beau was—always going out of his way for people."
Officer Gutierrez snorts. I would like to snort myself right now. He shakes his head, making a wincing face. "Uh ... it's gonna be a little hard to explain ..."
In my mind I have a vision of that scene in The World According to Garp. They seem a little perplexed, almost frowning, and I realize I'm giggling. I'm having an attack of nerves. I shake my head and cover my face with my hands.
In a kind of stunned stupor I sit while they explain that I will need to identify the body later on and they warn me Beau's in pretty bad shape. They want me to call someone to come sit with me but I don't want to call anyone. I just need a little time to think by myself, before the sun comes up. The real cataclysm is that Tenney's life will never be the same. And I have tried so hard to keep this ship afloat. All along I was dancing to the band and the deck was tilting beneath my feet.
Eventually I get them out the door and I tiptoe back to Tenney's room. She's lying on her stomach, her left hand hanging off the bed in a fist, her silver medical-alert bracelet glinting in the yellow glow of her night-light. Poor Tenney. What am I going to tell her? I slip under her quilt and snuggle up to her warm body. I can feel her rib cage through her nightgown. She's so thin. I nestle my face into the back of her head and breathe in her little-girl scent. She is too young to understand that we are free.
The phone is ringing. I sit up, suddenly remembering. It's 8:28 a.m. by her Winnie the Pooh clock.
The phone rings and rings, and after a while voice mail picks up. I can hear murmurs but not words.
Two more calls. I get up, tiptoe out, shut the door. The cordless phone and its built-in answering machine stand in the hall on a delicate cherry wood console table. The phone trills again. "Hi, honey, it's Jeanne-Wallace, are you there?" Beau's executive assistant, that slut. "Pick up, honey. Please." Her high, sweet voice is shaky and uncertain. "Merryn, ah am so, so sorry, ah don't even know what to say. A reporter called ..." Jeanne-Wallace starts to cry, and through her hiccuping says that Bucky is away on business in Houston and she's got to call him immediately but she wanted to check in with me first. She'll call me back in a few minutes to see if there's anything she can do, anything I need ...
Ringing again. This time it's Bucky's wife. Jeanne-Wallace must have already called her. Of course she'd call Jocelyn, the Dallas cowgirl, before she'd call me, the Yankee. I pick up the phone.
"Oh, honey," says Jocelyn Buckingham, "Ah am so sorry."
"Thank you." Suddenly I feel choked up.
"Ah told Bucky, like, months ago, ah said, Bucky, you tell him to just quit it. Runnin around with a waitress! Honestly. Now how can that be good for business?"
So they knew. I thought I was the only one who knew—not specifically, but generally. They never would have told me. I'm the outsider who doesn't play well with others.
"Don't worry, honey, no one knows except Bucky and me. Ah mean, we never expect them to keep their pants on all the time—but Beau ... all the way back to college he had a real appetite for the help. A real virgin-and-whore thing. Ah told Bucky someone was going to get into trouble."
This does not require a response from me, so I remain silent. I have a feeling Jocelyn is enjoying herself. I'm too judgmental of people. It's really a terrible character defect. I never give people the benefit of doubt.
"Honey, do you know what hotel Bucky is stayin' at in Houston by any chance?" she asks. "He went off in such a hurry I plumb forgot to ask and he isn't answering his cell."
I manage to say I have no idea and she promises to stop by later with a casserole.
I flee to the kitchen, open the freezer, and stick my head in. There's a little strip of white masking tape on the back wall: N'oublie pas de mettre sa vodka au congélo. Not only did I not complain about his drinking, I even reminded myself to put his damn vodka in the freezer for him. Four years of Spanish in college and Beau couldn't speak a word, so I never worried for a second that he'd be able to read my French Notes to Self. He was not a detail person, especially not when the details pertained to me.
The icy air feels good on my face. I feel like I can't breathe. The walls are closing in. What am I going to do?
I should call my mum down in Mexico before someone else does. She'll know what to do.
A doctor once told me to breathe into a small paper bag when a panic attack comes on, so I keep a stash of brown lunch bags under the silverware drawer. I grab one, place it over my nose and mouth. Okay. Breathe. Breathe.
The phone trills. I let the machine answer. Jeanne-Wallace, sobbing hysterically, says, "Pick up, honey, it's important." I pick up, the bag still over my face.
"Oh, Mer-r-y-yn, ah can't tell you how bad I feel about this but I need to tell you before someone e-else does ... Beau and I ... well, me and Beau, we ... ah mean, it only happened once and we were both real drunk and it was absolutely clear that this had nothing to do with your marriage. It's important to me that you believe that, Merryn," she sobs, waiting for my response.
"You know what, Jeanne-Wallace?" I say, crumpling the paper bag in my fist. "There is something you can do for me, actually."
"Anything, M-m-m-erryn ... anything."
"You can go to hell."
I hang up. I feel a little better, but then I feel much worse—guilty for being rude. I'm reaching for the phone to call her back and apologize when it trills again.
"Mrs. Huntley, this is George Strong at Wells Fargo. Sorry to trouble you at home, but I've been attempting to contact Mr. Huntley at the office and I'm unable to reach him. This is in regards to the mortgage payments that are past due. My apologies, but I am going to have to start—"
Tenney appears at the end of the hall; I press the disconnect button. She walks toward me carrying Blueberry, her talking bear with black velvet paw prints on the soles of his large feet. She stops and rubs her eyes. Her yellow nightie is frayed at the bottom. It seems she hasn't grown at all in three years. This nightie is a size six.
I try to compose my face.
"What's wrong, Mommy? Are we in trouble?" Her eyes search mine for a clue. They are so perceptive at this age. I try to unclench my jaw and soften my eyes.
"No, no. We're not in trouble. Daddy had an accident. He ..." I can't go on. My eyes fill with tears.
Tenney approaches, gripping her bear to her chest. "What happened to Daddy?"
I throw the paper bag into the wastepaper basket under the phone table, drop to the floor, pull her onto my lap, and wrap my arms around her. She is so bright. People always underestimate children. I never make that mistake.
"Daddy was in a car accident. He ... Daddy died. But it was very quick and he didn't feel a thing."
Tenney heaves big sighs and her lips begin to tremble. My heart feels torn to shreds. I lay my hand on her back and rub in silence as she cries. After a while, she sits quietly in my arms with her head pressed into the crook of my neck and I rock her.
Why should Tenney have to feel shame? Why should she have to walk around with everyone whispering behind her back?
I hate Dallas, Texas.
No. No, that's not fair. It's not Dallas. It's my fault. I never fit in. I never tried. I'm a bad person.
But we need to leave. I don't want this for Tenney. I don't want her poisoned by this scandal. We'll go stay with my mum in Mexico.
"Can I see Blueberry for a minute?" I ask. Curious, sniffling, Tenney relinquishes the bear. I turn him over and lift a flap of blue fur on his back, open the battery compartment, and remove the batteries.
I take off my frozen pond of an engagement ring and my Rolex Oyster and put them in the battery compartment.
I remember quite clearly how, when we were living in Cameroon, my father, the Deputy Head of Mission for the US, made a public statement about civil rights that enraged President Paul Biya, and Biya gave us twenty-four hours to leave the country. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and run, Mum said to Dad. No point acting the hero. We took only what was necessary, one little suitcase each. We had to leave our dog with the neighbors. Mum hid her jewelry and all our cash inside my Raggedy Ann doll, which I carried quite proudly through the gauntlet of soldiers onto the plane.
"You know where Daddy keeps the emergency cash?"
Tenney nods. "In his cigar box."
"Want to get it for me?"
She jumps off my lap and takes off running. In a moment she's back clutching a stack of hundred-dollar bills that smell of expensive tobacco and his Clive Christian cologne.
"How much is there?"
She crouches and quickly counts the bills. "Two thousand five hundred," she says.
I stuff the money into the battery compartment and close it, then hand the bear back to Tenney. "Let's go pack your suitcase. We're going to start our summer vacation early and go visit Bibi in San Miguel."
"What about school? And chess camp?" Tenney asks.
"Don't worry about school. And I'll call Mr. Khlebnikov about chess camp. We'll find a place for you to play down there."
In her room, I open her closet and reach for her rolling Harry Potter suitcase, stored on the top shelf. There is a piece of tape on the edge of the shelf: Ne lui parle pas de ses habits, ça l'ennui. Yes, talking to him about her clothes for some reason made him antsy and aggressive. I suppose we bored him.
"What's going to happen to us?" Tenney asks, worry crossing her brow.
"We're going to be fine."
"Are we going to be poor?"
"There's nothing wrong with not having a lot of money, Tenney. You'll always have everything you need. I promise."
"So we're going to be all right?"
"We are absolutely going to be all right. But we should get ready, honey. You decide what you want to bring, and I'm going to get our plane tickets."
Tenney walks slowly once around her room. The first thing she reaches for is her portable chess set, a small leather case with embossed red roses and delicate white and pink alabaster pieces, which Beau gave her last Christmas. Sometimes Beau would play with her on Sunday mornings. He'd sit across from her with a look of bemusement, a slightly baffled smile breaking over his face. When you play a seriously good player, you have to consider every contingency. The game becomes about how many moves ahead you can calculate. Think ten steps ahead.
Well, he certainly didn't plan on this contingency. My lungs start to seize up again.
I rush to my laptop, which is lying on my bed across the hall. On the left corner of the base, another piece of tape: N'essaye pas de savoir ce qu'il fait. I did try to find out about his work through Google searches. This made him so angry he threw my previous laptop across the room and smashed it against the dresser mirror. I never made that mistake again.
I check flights to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, from Dallas/Fort Worth. There are flights to San Miguel all day long and spring is the least popular time to visit due to the heat and drought. We can make the flight that leaves in two hours. I book two seats and type in my Visa number.
Credit card rejected.
I type in my AmEx Platinum number. Rejected. I type in my debit card number. Rejected.
Time for another brown paper bag.
In a few minutes I return to Tenney's room and find her pulling her colorful swimsuits out of the bottom drawer and throwing the little bikinis she no longer wants behind her into the air. They fall around the room like confetti on New Year's Eve.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Anger Meridian"
Copyright © 2015 Kaylie Jones.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Anger Meridian was a unique, interesting, emotionally charged, suspenseful, surprising and romantic story. It had a little bit of everything. The characters were real, complex and dynamic. Kaylie Jones brings San Miguel de Allende to life, rich in its landscape and vivid imagery. Everything she describes, you are able to see and feel. The mood, pacing, prose and plot is phenomenal. The events which transpire in this story, keep you guessing and wondering what will happen next. I loved reading this story and highly recommend it.