I slammed shut the metal box, icicles crackling to the ground, and slipped the mail into my coat pocket to navigate the icy walkway. My sons' quarrelling voices made me glance at our white farmhouse and the porch that stretched across the front—an oasis before entering. Green shutters, like eye shadow on a pale woman, opened to reveal the soul of the house, once pure but now clouded with anger and frustration.
The front door was open, and four-year-old Douglas came running out with Davy, age six, chasing close behind.
"It's mine. Give it back." Davy, only an inch taller than his little brother, brown hair tangled from the day's wrestling and playing,
yelled and pushed at Douglas until they both caught sight of me and stopped short, as if I'd appeared out of nowhere.
"Mommy." Douglas ran to me, wrapping his arms around my soft hips and burying his face in the folds of my coat. "Davy kicked me in the shin," he wailed. "Then he pushed me on the ground and sat on me. He sat on me too hard."
Oh, how God loved to make a variety of boys.
I leaned down and brushed back Douglas's hair to kiss his round cheek. In moments like this my heart throbbed with love for the boys Bill and I had made. Davy's lithe body and frenetic energy were from Bill, but Douglas's sensitivity to mean-spiritedness was mine. He'd not yet learned to cover it as I had.
"This is all nonsense." I rustled Davy's hair and took Douglas's hand in mine. "Let's go inside and make hot chocolate."
"Yes," Davy said with gusto and ran for the house.
All the while the letter burned in my pocket. Wait, I told myself. Wait. Expectancy always the thrill before having.
Davy flew through the front door, but not before riling Topsy, who now barked as if to warn us of a monstrous intruder.
"Be quiet, you fluffy mongrel," I called out, "or you'll make me sorry I ever rescued you." I stepped over a pile of toy trucks in
the foyer with Topsy fast at my heels. By this time in our lives we'd gathered a menagerie of animals—four cats, two dogs, a bird, and now Davy wanted a snake.
Bill was in his refurbished attic office, typing as fast as his fingers knew how, working on his second novel to pay the bills,
which were piling as high as the snow would soon be. The shouting and barking and bedlam must have stirred him from his typewriter, for suddenly there he stood at the bottom of the stairwell.
Douglas cowered, and I reached for his hand. "Don't worry," I said softly. "Daddy won't yell. He's feeling better."
Bill's hands were limp at his side in a posture of defeat. At six foot three inches, my husband often gave me the impression of a
reedy tree. His thick, dark hair was swept to the left side like an undulating wave that had collapsed. He was sober now, and his verbal lashings had subsided. AA was doing its job with the Twelve Steps, spiritual sayings, and group accountability.
He pointed at the spilled basket of library books beside the door, then pushed up on his rimless glasses. "You could pick all of that up, you know."
"I know, sweetie. I will."
I darted a glance at him. His blue button-down shirt was wrinkled and mis-buttoned by one. His blue jeans were loose on him; he'd lost weight over the past months of stress. I, meanwhile, had gained—so much for life being fair.
"I was trying to write, Joy. To get something done in a house so full of disarray I can scarcely focus."
"Dogs. Kids." I tried to smile at him. "What a combination." I walked into the kitchen. I wanted to defuse any anger—the argument that could ensue would be a repeat of a thousand other quarrels, and I wasn't in the mood. I had a letter, a glimmer of hope in my pocket.
Davy climbed onto a chair and sat at the splintered wooden table and folded his hands to wait. I shook off my coat and draped it on a hook by the door, placing the mail on the kitchen table. Except for the letter. I wanted to read it first. Wanted something to be just mine if only for a small while. I slipped off my gloves and shoved them into the pockets to conceal it. With bare hands I dug into the dirty dishes piled in the sink—another reminder of my inadequacies as a housekeeper—and found the saucepan, crusted with tomato soup from the night before.
This house had once been the fulfillment of a dream. When Bill's Nightmare Alley was released and Tyrone Power starred in the movie, we'd found ourselves flush with cash for the first time in our lives. It was just enough money to buy this patch of farm
upstate. We didn't know that dreams coming true weren't always the best thing. That wasn't what the stories told.
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.