The Earth and Its Sorrows

The Earth and Its Sorrows

by Crooke Robert Crooke
The Earth and Its Sorrows

The Earth and Its Sorrows

by Crooke Robert Crooke

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Overview

In this follow up to his critically acclaimed novel, Sunrise, Robert Crooke tells the heart-breaking story of a man unmoored by losses. The Earth and Its Sorrows is a novel about spiritual reassessment in the wake of tragedy. Two years after the death of his son, Paul, who was killed in a car accident, Ted Devaney visits an old Hudson Valley property he plans to sell. Overcome by memories, especially by a strong sense of Paul’s presence, he defers the sale and decides to stay a few days, confusing and frightening his wife, Diana, and their daughter, Beth. Days become weeks, as old friends, neighbors, and estranged family members slowly gather around him. He meets Elena, his high school girlfriend, who has made her life in the place he left years before. His brother, Tom, arrives with bittersweet memories of his own about their boyhood summers in the valley. Slowly, Ted senses secrets and doubts plaguing his brother, his old girlfriend—all of the people he meets in the valley, where his forgotten past lingers. And as he realizes the effect of his life on theirs, and theirs on his, he understands his fate—some questions the mind answers. Others, only the heart comprehends.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450227520
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/27/2010
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.46(d)

About the Author

Robert Crooke began his career as a sports reporter and columnist for the Long Island Press. For thirteen years, he served as North American press spokesman for Reuters. His two prior novels, American Family (2004) and Sunrise (2007), received generous critical praise. He and his wife live in Bridgewater, Connecticut.

Read an Excerpt

The Earth and Its Sorrows

A Novel
By Robert Crooke

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Robert Crooke
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-2752-0


Chapter One

Driving over from Connecticut, I imagined chatting briefly with Bud Swanson, signing the listing agreement, and leaving with his assurance of a quick sale. But he greeted me with a stunning prediction: that there'd be a bidding war over this little Hudson Valley house on five acres, which my grandfather had paid one thousand dollars for in 1925. Bud's announcement alarmed me. It implied delays.

"Let's walk," he suggested.

As we started around the property, he said there were flaws I should keep to myself in the presence of buyers.

"Like what?" I replied, still confused by his dramatic take on a modest transaction.

He cited pre-modern window casements and drab clapboard that needed painting-possibly replacement since, in all likelihood, mold lay hidden beneath the slats. "I give the roof a year, maybe two," he added like a doctor confiding the worst. "And I can't recall the last time I entered someone's kitchen by the front door. Can you?"

"No." I smiled, acknowledging the old-fashioned setup.

"We'll get questions about these things. Just, if you would, let me deal with them."

"Okay."

"It's all bargaining."

"Of course."

He chuckled. "Then they'll knock the thing down anyway and rebuild."

"You think so?"

He frowned, surprised that I'd have any doubt about this. "Probably clear some of those trees in front," he added, "for the river view."

"Huh." I hadn't considered this fate for my grandfather's place.

"My job is to make them pay top dollar for the privilege."

I smiled but said nothing more as we finished circling the house.

"Something on your mind?" he asked, perhaps detecting in my silence the first pangs of responsibility-though not toward land speculators.

He'd sensed my unexpected affection for the house, whose age and idiosyncrasies were its charm. And its value, perhaps more difficult to quantify, surely had some connection with history, even in the heady, post-millennial marketplace.

"Leave it all to me," he declared. "I'm just saying we won't jump at the first offer."

I nodded politely, embarrassed by a sudden realization. I wasn't going to make this deal today. But what would I tell him? I hadn't expected to feel anything over a half-forgotten property-certainly not this strange loyalty, like a father's for his least perfect child.

"We don't have to put the listing out, Mr. Devaney."

"No?"

"We'll just sign the contract, and I'll wait for instructions."

"Oh."

We were standing with our backs to the river now, looking at the front porch.

"I know the emotions of selling a family property," he assured me.

It was, in fact, a rental property in which our family hadn't lived for decades.

"Could I hold off signing the contract?"

"Hold off?"

"A day or two?"

"Why?"

"It's hard to explain," I said, choosing a path of least resistance.

Bud tried reading my mind again. "Those things I said about your place ... you shouldn't take them to heart."

"I don't."

"I'll make sure we sell to someone who'll keep the house."

"Good. But I'm still ... I need to wait."

His shoulders drooped, his entire body seeming to shrink with a loss of excitement. Checking his watch, he mentioned needing to see another client. But he waited a moment, glancing at the river, before asking me to call when I was ready to proceed. I promised I would. Finally, at a loss for words, he handed me another copy of his Century 21 business card and hurried off.

When he was gone, I lingered near the house, listening to its oddly seductive silence. I could see Beverly Dock down through the sloping acre of trees that led to the river's east shoreline. Across the river was West Point. Thick forest to my left and right was broken only by Beverly Dock Road, barely more than a dirt and gravel pathway to a rarely used boat launch. Two acres of hilly woodland behind the cottage crested at Highway 9D.

Knowing I'd been unfair to poor Bud, yet still caught in the grip of confusing emotion, I decided a walk might clear my head. I took the dock road to the top of the hill and paused at 9D. The old blue marker was still here, noting Benedict Arnold's route of escape down to the river.

An SUV barreled past. "Slow down," I grumbled, crossing into the open field below Cemetery Mountain. The thirty-acre expanse looked unchanged from my boyhood days as I pushed through waist-high ragweed and barley toward a familiar spot where the ground swelled. The old Beverly Robinson mansion had once stood here.

Having been confiscated from its loyalist owner at the outbreak of revolution, the estate was used by George Washington, who lent it to Arnold and his wife when they assumed the fateful West Point assignment in 1780. It burned to the ground sometime during the 1890s.

Images of playing and exploring here with my brother, Tom, flickered in memory. I followed these thoughts, compelled by the smells of the field and the sound of quiet, open space. Then I heard something discordant, an urgent voice calling out.

I glanced around, expecting to see a curious neighbor inquiring about a stranger's loitering. But there was no one. Even 9D was silent. I heard the voice again, more defined this time-a young boy's voice. I breathed deeply against the humid air. The midday sun of late September warmed the open field in its hazy embrace.

I closed my eyes and held my breath to listen. A teardrop of perspiration trickled down my back. A bird or field rodent rustled softly in the overgrowth. Or was it the slide of a copperhead? I opened my eyes again. A dog barked from beyond the trees lining the northern edge of the field.

I saw myself as a younger man in a meadow just like this. I was behind our Litchfield home with my son, Paul, when he was nine. It was twilight, the end of a similar September day. I'd been teaching him to fly a kite, but we'd had trouble getting it aloft.

The atmosphere was breathless, and a thin veil of mist had begun rising from the recently mowed acreage. Paul held the blue and red kite with the string bunched in his hands, pleading for one last attempt before nightfall. I told him our only chance would be to run the entire length of the meadow, letting the kite out a little at a time until, perhaps, it caught a gust.

"Okay!" He beamed.

So we started across the field and, for several moments, the only sounds were breathing and the crunch of racing footsteps on chaff.

"Now?" he shouted near the meadow's halfway point.

"Just a little!"

He let out five feet of string; the kite bobbed above our heads.

"Don't slow down!"

"More?"

"Keep running!"

"Now?"

"A little!"

He let out five feet more. The kite bobbed higher, fighting dead air, twisting in small arcs, a paper animal struggling to break free.

"Almost!" I shouted, nearly out of breath.

"It isn't working!"

"Keep running!"

"Now?"

"Okay! Let it all out!"

He released the string.

"Don't stop!" I barked.

The kite swooped in a giant circle then shot straight back, pulling beautifully against the suddenly taut guide string. It had caught a thermal thirty feet up. Now the kite was fully drawn against invisible breezes, its thin paper skin tight as it lifted into the sky like a rocket attached to the faint thread in Paul's excited fingers.

"Wow!" he yelped.

"You did it!" I said, secretly amazed as I slowed to a walk.

Paul ran a few strides more and then stopped. Standing at the edge of the meadow with his feet firmly planted, he pulled and released, his hands tugging and guiding. As I stepped farther away to get a better look, he unspooled more string until the kite changed color, blending into the fading daylight high above. He gripped the spool in one hand and lightly tugged with the other, looking up, lost in his creation. Finally, he glanced around until he found me watching. A large grin animated his face. Like the kite, he seemed to merge with the colors of meadow and sky as night came on.

The harsh roar of a speeding car shattered the stillness. I was back in the field below Cemetery Mountain. I watched the car head south on 9D and felt, for a moment, that I'd regained my senses. But the voice called out again. My head spun. I dropped to my knees and wept.

Hours later, having wandered the woodland above the cottage and the riverbank below it, I stood in the kitchen thinking how little of this day could be explained. Still too nervous to call my wife, I reacquainted myself with the old place, exploring the library near the living room and the two upstairs bedrooms with a bathroom between them. The smaller bedroom, where Tom and I had bunked as kids, now contained a nondescript desk and chair. The larger had a four-poster that smelled of age, an armoire whose doors wouldn't close, and a sloping floor, which aptly reflected my own imbalance.

When I could delay no further, I opened my cell and punched the button for home. Pressing the phone to my sweaty ear, I waited for Diana to answer. When she did, I blurted the notion that had come to me while walking-I'd decided to spend a few days here.

"I don't understand," she said. "You want to be there when buyers come?"

"I didn't sign the contract, Dee."

Silence.

"What did Mister Swanson say?"

"He wasn't happy."

More silence.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

"I think so."

"That's not reassuring, Ted."

"I know."

"We agreed that it happened to all of us. That we'd stick together."

"Yes."

"Why don't you just come home? We'll talk about it."

"We also agreed to let it be."

"I never meant forever, Ted. It isn't good to get comfortable with not talking."

Silence.

"Maybe I'll try to write something while I'm here."

"Instead of talking to your wife."

She was trying to sound reasonable, but she was hurt.

"I could use your help out east," she said, referring to our imminent Southampton trip-to winterize the house her parents had left her on three acres of Long Island beachfront and where, if recent discussions held, we'd soon retire.

"Couldn't that wait a few days?" I asked.

"We scheduled the winterizing service. If we cancel them now, we'll have to wait months to get them again."

The valiant sound of her voice pierced me with regret. "I'm sorry, Diana. I forgot."

"I'll go out tomorrow and get started. Will you call me?"

"Of course."

After hanging up, I stood near the bedroom window, feeling the selfishness of silence. I might have said more, but it wouldn't have made sense. There was something here, amidst memories too long forgotten or denied, that was telling me to chance being misunderstood. I hardly understood it myself.

Beyond the heavily leaded window pane, the sinking sun cast a reddish glow into darkening trees. On an evening just like this two years earlier, Diana and I had come home from work, with the same thing in mind. Instead of making dinner, we'd opened a good bottle of cabernet, watched the sun finish setting beyond the French doors in our kitchen, and had gone upstairs to make love like college kids. We'd been asleep when the phone rang.

The Palo Alto police had found Paul thrown from his car on a winding road south of San Francisco. In their opinion, which they offered as comfort, his death had been instantaneous.

Stepping from the window now, I remembered seeing a dog-eared copy of The Scarlet Letter in the downstairs library. I could imagine a certain kinship with Hawthorne's old Calvinists: guilty and afraid, yet drawn to encompassing forests by hints of dark revelation-a new Eden in which to fall. I thought, too, of a more recent revelation: the devil's work displayed in brilliant morning light at the mouth of Manhattan Harbor-a setting better suited to Melville's wild speculations, though even he mightn't have imagined this.

Putting aside injuries of country and family and the embarrassment of having found a moment's distance from them, I drove up the highway to a Shop-Rite near Cold Spring. I bought some groceries, including a pound of Green Mountain house blend and some filters for the Mr. Coffee someone had left in the kitchen.

It was after dark by the time I got back to the cottage. Relieved to find most of the lights still working, I filled the coffee maker and set the timer for the morning. In a small linen closet, on papered shelves, I found some folded sheets. Laying them out on the living room couch, I collapsed there and fell into welcome sleep.

Startled, I sat up on the couch. Each pulse of my buzzing cell phone moved it on the nearby coffee table. I reached for it and saw my daughter's number on the screen as I answered.

"What's wrong?" I whispered.

"Daddy, it's me."

"Is anything wrong?"

"No!"

I breathed in, suppressing the urge to cry, which would embarrass us both.

"Hello?"

"What time is it?" I asked, regaining composure.

"Eleven thirty."

"It's late."

"Mom called. She told me."

"That I'm staying."

"That you were confused."

"True enough."

"She's worried. What are you doing in that old place?"

"I grew up here, Beth."

She remained silent.

"Is Rick up, too?" I asked.

"He went to a ball game. He's not home yet."

"Pretty late for a ball game."

"I didn't call to get into that."

I tried to think before speaking further. "I'll tell you the same thing I told your mother. There's something here I need to be close to."

"Can you tell me what?"

"No." I laughed ruefully. "That's the confusing part."

"Well, it seems selfish."

"A few days to think?" I countered with a tired sigh. "Maybe you're right."

"There's real sadness in this world, Dad. We're all hostages to it ... murderous self-indulgence on a mass scale. And you just go off like this?" "Do we have to agree on the same emotions now, too?"

"What does that mean?" she said.

"I'm asking if mass sadness is the only acceptable form anymore."

"Oh, God," she sighed.

"Come on, Beth."

"No, you're right. It's late. I better go."

As she hastily hung up, I was reminded yet again of how alike we were.

Beth knew I hated getting calls this late at night, but her mother apparently had complained about my unexpected walkabout. Or maybe she'd inferred that her father was upset and needed a lift. Perhaps it was both. Loyalty and sympathy were my daughter's most admirable traits.

Unfortunately, Beth had a stubborn streak, too, and her own problems sometimes clouded her judgments of others. Her marriage was breaking up, though her dissatisfaction with Rick made little sense to me. It seemed at times like generic disappointment with the male gender. Of course, her brother had gotten himself killed, and she and I were on less-than-perfect terms lately. Perhaps the men in her life really had disappointed her.

I lay back on the couch, upset, assuming I wouldn't sleep any more tonight. But the power of this place overwhelmed me again.

In the morning, as I stumbled from couch to kitchen still half asleep, the smell of brewing coffee rewarded my single bit of foresight. The machine was old and asthmatic, working slowly. I smiled, realizing I'd made too much coffee for one person and, in fact, had put out two cups.

For the first time since Diana and I had started discussing the last phase of our lives, I considered the reality of actually living through those long, gray and white winters at the end of Long Island. But things were in motion. The first order of business had been to sell this cottage. And though we liked our Litchfield home, we'd decided to sell that next, since it seemed a daily reminder of what we'd stopped speaking about.

Consolidating property, tidying our lives-this was a process some of our friends called "downsizing," even if the Southampton house was our largest. But my sudden indecision was holding up the process, no doubt adding to Diana's confusion. If there was anything we'd taken comfort in these past two years, it was process.

Still waiting for coffee, I stared from the kitchen window and remembered what it had been like being a boy in this house during the 1950s and '60s. Our family had lived in Brooklyn, but my brother and I had spent so many idyllic summers here that it became our real home-a place of unified experience and common belief-until I'd left for college. After that, nothing ever seemed right between us.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Earth and Its Sorrows by Robert Crooke Copyright © 2010 by Robert Crooke. Excerpted by permission.
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.

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