Whiskey and Charlie336
Whiskey and Charlie336
"A sharp, perceptive novel about family and forgiveness, Whiskey & Charlie will stay with me for a very long time." Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train
With the poignancy of Tell the Wolves I'm Home and the fraught tension of The Burgess Boys, Whiskey and Charlie is a captivating novel of brothers who have drifted apart—and the accident that will determine their future. Told as a seesaw of hope and fear, this novel explores the dark truths about what family really means to us.
Whiskey and Charlie mighvt have come from the same family, but they'd tell you two completely different stories about growing up. Whiskey is everything Charlie is not — bold, daring, carefree — and Charlie blames his twin brother for always stealing the limelight, always getting everything, always pushing Charlie back. By the time the twins reach adulthood, they are barely even speaking to each other.
When they were just boys, the secret language they whispered back and forth over their crackly walkie-talkies connected them, in a way. The two-way alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, delta) became their code, their lifeline. But as the brothers grew up, they grew apart.
When Charlie hears that Whiskey has been in a terrible accident and has slipped into a coma, Charlie can't make sense of it. Who is he without Whiskey? As days and weeks slip by and the chances of Whiskey recovering grow ever more slim, Charlie is forced to consider that he may never get to say all the things he wants to say. A compelling and unforgettable novel about rivalry and redemption, Whiskey & Charlie is perfect for anyone whose family has ever been less than picture-perfect.
"A finely crafted novel that keeps us reading because we care about the characters. It's a terrific book."—Graeme Simsion, New York Times bestselling author of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect
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About the Author
Annabel Smith holds a PhD in writing. She lives in Perth, Australia, with her husband and son.
Read an Excerpt
Whiskey & Charlie
By Annabel Smith
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Annabel Smith
All rights reserved.
Looking back, Charlie Ferns thinks it began when they were nine years old, the year his mother's sister Audrey moved to Australia. It was a Saturday morning, just like any other, when she came over to tell them. Charlie's father was playing squash; Whiskey, who was still William then, was upstairs. He was supposed to be practicing his trombone, but he was rebuilding his Scalextric track instead. Charlie knew this because he had gone upstairs to get his Star Wars figurines, and he had seen William kneeling on their bedroom floor with all the pieces of track out of the box, his trombone in the corner, still inside its case.
"Don't tell Mum," William said. Charlie shrugged. He knew his mother would work it out soon enough when she didn't hear William sliding up and down his scales. She was sharp like that. But on this particular day, his mother was distracted by what his aunt was saying.
Charlie wasn't listening at first. He was absorbed in orchestrating a furious light saber battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. It wasn't until he realized that his aunt was doing all the talking, that his mother wasn't saying anything at all, that Charlie began to take notice. You see, his mother usually kept up her part in a conversation. Vivacious, that's what people said about her, and although Charlie didn't know what this meant exactly, he knew it had something to do with her talking and laughing a lot. Her silence was a bad sign. It usually meant one of two things: one, Charlie or William or, worse still, both of them had gone too far, or two, she had a bone to pick with their father.
"Your mother's upset, boys," their dad would say when their mother went silent on him, and they would leave the room, knowing an almighty argument was on the horizon.
"The calm before the storm," their father had joked to them once about their mother's silences, and they had laughed, guiltily, not really understanding, but knowing their mother would not find this joke funny. Charlie had never known his mother to go silent on anyone else. He stayed where he was, crouched on the floor beside the armchair, but he stopped the battle between the forces of good and evil and began to listen.
"I want to leave England, start all over again," his aunt was saying. "I want to go somewhere where people don't know me as Bob's widow, where they don't feel sorry for me or give me the cold shoulder because they blame me for his death. I want to go somewhere where nobody will even know what happened unless I tell them myself."
Charlie realized that both his aunt and his mother had forgotten he was there. None of the grown-ups ever talked about Uncle Bob's death when Charlie and William were around. They wouldn't have known anything at all if William hadn't overheard his mother on the phone, talking to her best friend, Suzanne. Bob had committed suicide, their mother told Suzanne, because Audrey confronted him about the other woman.
"Which other woman?" William had asked, but their mother had glared at him with such intensity that he had let it drop.
When they had asked their father about it later, he had snorted.
"Other woman?" he said. "That's a laugh. Other women, more like it."
This comment had left the boys no closer to understanding why it had happened, but their father did at least explain that committing suicide meant that Uncle Bob had killed himself, and he even told them how, explaining about the rope and his neck breaking before their mother overheard the conversation and stopped him by saying, "Could you occasionally engage your brain before opening your mouth?"
Charlie stayed absolutely still, thinking he might at last be able to solve the riddle of his uncle's death, and he felt a thrill go through him that he would be the one who found it out. He couldn't wait to tell William.
"You can understand that, can't you, Elaine?"
Audrey waited for her sister to answer, and in the silence, Charlie realized that his mother was crying. They had one of those shiny tablecloths you didn't have to wash — you could wipe it with a sponge — and Charlie could see his mother's tears sliding off her chin and dripping onto it, plip, plip.
"I'm not even forty yet," his aunt said, "but I feel like here my life's already over."
This comment was so surprising that Charlie forgot about his mum crying, or finding out the secret about Uncle Bob's death. Of course Charlie knew that Audrey was his mother's older sister. He had never known how much older, but if he had to guess, he would have said twenty years at least. In fact, Audrey seemed so much older that Charlie tended to think of her as his mother's mother, rather than as her sister. This thought was partly left over from when he was younger and hadn't been able to understand why other people had two grandmothers and he had only one. For a while he had pretended Audrey was his grandmother and not his aunt. He knew better now, of course, knew perfectly well that his mother's mother was dead, that she had died when he was three weeks old, and that's why he couldn't remember her at all. But his idea that Audrey was older had gotten stuck in his mind.
Once, his mother had shown Charlie a photo from Audrey's wedding, and Charlie could not believe the woman in the white dress in the center could possibly be his aunt. For some time afterward, he had tried to look for that skinny, pretty girl inside his aunt's soft and shapeless face, but he had never seen it, and after a while, he had forgotten to look. But he had asked his mother once how Audrey got so old. His mother had sighed, one of those big, long sighs she always gave when she talked about her sister.
"She's had a very hard life, Charlie."
To Charlie, a hard life was being a beggar, like in Oliver Twist, or your whole family sleeping in one bed, like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He did not understand how two people who lived in a big house with a golden retriever could have a hard life. Besides, he had heard his mother say lots of times how lucky Audrey was.
"You're too young to understand this now, Charlie, but it's been a great disappointment to Audrey, not being able to have children ..." She trailed off. Charlie looked at her. She seemed to be looking at something in the mirror. "And then the cancer," she said, but she was not really talking to Charlie; she seemed to have forgotten he was there. "She was really very young to have a mastectomy," she added, to no one in particular.
Charlie put his Matchbox Ferrari on top of his mother's dressing table and made a revving sound. He didn't want to talk about that. His mother had explained it to him before they went to see Audrey in the hospital, and it gave him a tummyache to think about it.
"Why else?" he asked.
"Why else what?"
Charlie revved the car impatiently. "Why else is she so old?"
"Well, I don't know, Charlie, isn't that enough? But I don't suppose Bob's behavior has helped."
"Why?" Charlie asked. "What did Uncle Bob do?"
"Oh, Charlie, you wear me out with your questions," she said, suddenly coming to, and she started tidying the dressing table, which meant the conversation was over.
So Charlie had asked his dad, which was what he always did when his mother's explanations didn't satisfy him.
"Did Uncle Bob make Auntie Audrey old?" he asked.
"Who told you that?"
His dad looked like he was about to laugh. "I suppose you could explain it like that."
"But how did he?"
"How did he? I suppose by being unfaithful. I think that's what your mother means."
"Well now, I suspect your mother might give me a thrashing if I told you that, boy. Nice try though, Charlie, nice try."
Unfaithful. It had sounded like something important, the way he had said it. Charlie had turned the word over in his mind. Faithful is what everyone always said about his granddad's dog, Tartan, because he always lay down at Granddad's feet and went everywhere with him, even sometimes on the tractor. But why would Audrey want Bob to lie down at her feet? Charlie hadn't been able to make sense of it, and William, who was smart with those sorts of things, hadn't been able to work it out either.
Thinking about it again, Charlie lost the thread of the conversation at the kitchen table. By the time he'd thought it all through, his mum had stopped crying.
"Australia! What an adventure, Audrey," she said as she put the teacups in the dishwasher. "I suppose we'll have to come out and see you there one day."
* * *
"Alpha and Omega," she said when she explained it to the boys. Sometimes their mother spoke like that — bits of other languages, odd lines from plays she had read. Their father said this was because she had a brain but she didn't really get to use it, that it just boggled away inside her head and sometimes funny things came out. She said to Charlie and William that Alpha meant the beginning and Omega was the end, and that for Audrey, moving to Australia was the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
As well as being a new beginning for herself, in a way, Audrey's Omega was also Charlie's Alpha. Because before she left for Australia, she bought all of them lavish presents, the kinds of things they would never have bought for themselves. She took Elaine up to London to see Cats, a musical they both had on cassette tape and had wanted to see for years, and she bought their father a crystal brandy decanter.
But best of all, she bought Charlie and William the walkie-talkies, which were the beginning of everything.
* * *
The first day you do not even experience as a day. There are only minutes knotted into hours in which everything you usually do is forgotten, in which even eating and sleeping are of no importance whatsoever.
They sit in the waiting room, Charlie and his mother Elaine, Rosa and Juliet and Aunt Audrey. There are other people who come and are sent away again — Whiskey's friends perhaps, or colleagues, but afterward, Charlie does not recall who they were. Sometimes he dozes, sitting upright in one of the hard plastic chairs, and when he wakes, he cannot remember where he is or what he is doing there. He looks around, and possibly it is the smell that reminds him, or the expression on Rosa's face: he is at the hospital, waiting to find out whether his brother will live.
By the time Charlie had reached the hospital, Whiskey was already in surgery. Charlie cannot see him while he is being operated on, none of them can; all they can do is sit and wait for a doctor to emerge with a progress report. Charlie does not know how long they have been waiting. There is a clock in the waiting room, but the movement of its hands has no meaning for him.
So far, what they know is this: Whiskey is in a coma. He has a fractured skull, a punctured lung, a broken arm and broken ribs, and one of his feet has been crushed. Charlie has no idea of the implications of most of the items on this list of injuries. He attempts to picture Whiskey's foot. He pictures his own foot, the bones whose names he memorized for his human biology exams in high school and has long since forgotten. "Crushed," the doctor had said. Other things have been broken, but Whiskey's foot has been crushed. It sounds so much worse. The word broken somehow holds the promise of something that can be fixed — taped or glued or pinned back together. But crushed sounds beyond repair. Charlie pictures tiny fragments of bone all mixed together, an impossible puzzle. He thinks about gangrene, about amputation, briefly tries to imagine Whiskey with a prosthetic foot, and then just as quickly tries to wipe the image from his mind. He wonders about the impact of this injury on Whiskey's surfing and snowboarding. Then he realizes that he doesn't even know whether Whiskey still goes surfing. He thinks about asking Rosa, but when he looks over, she is crying.
* * *
When at last a doctor comes out to talk to them, it becomes abundantly clear that Whiskey's foot is the very least of his problems. The doctor explains that, during the accident, Whiskey received a blow to the head that caused bruising to his brain, a leaking of the blood vessels that resulted in the brain swelling.
"Unlike other tissues," the doctor says, "the brain has no room for swelling. It is trapped inside the cage of the skull. The lack of space causes a rise in intracranial pressure, leading to a decrease in blood flow, which in turn impacts on the ability of the brain cells to eliminate toxins."
Juliet puts her hand inside Charlie's. He tries to think of something to say to her, something positive and reassuring, but nothing comes to him.
While Charlie has been worrying about crushed bones, a neurosurgeon has been repairing the damaged blood vessels in Whiskey's brain, inserting a monitor to track the pressure and a device called a shunt to drain off the excess fluid.
Charlie remembers seeing a documentary in which a "trapdoor" was cut into a patient's skull to create more space and prevent further damage from the swelling following a head injury. In the same documentary, part of a brain deemed damaged beyond repair was cut away to increase the chance of recovery for the undamaged parts. Charlie supposes they should feel grateful Whiskey has not been subjected to such treatments. He takes it as a sign that things are not as bad as they might be.
That is until he sees Whiskey. For the person whose bed they are eventually led to could be anyone. At least one third of his body is cased in plaster, and most of his head is obscured by bandages. What Charlie can see of his face is so bruised and swollen that no features are recognizable. Worst of all, everywhere Charlie looks are tubes and wires connecting the body to machines, transporting substances in and out, measuring who knows what. Charlie cannot believe that this wrecked and wasted creature could possibly be his brother. No matter how hard he looks, he cannot find anything of Whiskey in that hospital bed. He stares and stares, and then he rushes to the bathroom and vomits so violently he bursts the blood vessels in his eyes.CHAPTER 2
Charlie's next-door neighbor Alison taught him the words to "Eye of the Tiger" while she helped him make his costume for the play. Alison was thirteen and knew the words to all the songs on the charts. She was good at things like that. It was also an undisputed fact in the village that Alison was the best at costumes. She proved it by winning first prize every year at the Rose Queen Fete.
The year she moved to Everton, she had dressed up as a Rubik's Cube. The rest of the kids paraded through the village in costumes that had been cobbled together the night before. They were ghosts with eyeholes chopped out of old sheets; cats with cardboard ears and ripped stockings for tails; miniature brides in communion dresses, wearing veils cut from curtain netting. The Rubik's Cube caused a sensation and established Alison's reputation.
The idea for the pharaoh costume had come from a picture in Alison's encyclopedia. According to the picture, the pharaohs didn't wear much in the way of clothing. Charlie supposed this was on account of it being so hot in Egypt. All he was wearing was a towel wrapped around his waist. But he had a magnificent headdress and a golden collar, and when he put them on, Charlie truly felt like a king.
"That towel used to be a nappy," William said when he saw the outfit. Their mum said it wasn't true, that diapers were square and the costume was wonderful, and anyway, she had given all their diapers to Auntie Sue when their cousin Hayley was born. Alison said that William was jealous because Charlie had a better part in the play. Charlie thought hard about this. William was better at soccer, better at telling jokes, better at yo-yoing and marbles. When he added it up, William was better at anything Charlie could think of. It was something quite new for William to be jealous of him, and Charlie found that he liked the idea of it.
Besides, he deserved a good part this year. Last Christmas, when they performed the Nativity play, Charlie had been given the part of an angel. He had asked if he and Timothy could be shepherds instead, but Miss Carty-Salmon had said there were already too many shepherds and that the boys should be honored to play the angels.
"But the angels are girls' parts," Timothy said.
"If you took the time to read the Bible, Timothy, I think you would find that the angels were men."
"Well then, why do they have girls' names?"
Charlie's mother had told the boys it was bad manners to talk back to a teacher. Timothy had obviously been given different advice. In the end, it made no difference to Miss Carty-Salmon, but Charlie thought Timothy was right. Gabriel was a girl's name, and if they were supposed to be boys, why did they have to wear costumes that looked like dresses?
Excerpted from Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith. Copyright © 2015 Annabel Smith. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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
Reading Group Guide,
A Conversation with the Author,
About the Author,
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