Excerpt of Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh
(Page 6 of 7)
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She filled a heavy iron pot with water and placed
it on the stove. A basket of laundry sat in the corner, but the dirty linens
would have to wait; she always washed Stanleys miners first. Over the years
shed developed a system. First she took the coveralls outdoors and shook out
the loose dirt; then she rinsed them in cold water in the basement sink. When
the water ran clean, she scrubbed the coveralls on a washboard with Octagon
soap, working in the lather with a stiff brush. Then she carried the clothes
upstairs and boiled them on the stove. The process took half an hour, including
soak time, and she hadnt yet started. She was keeping the stove free for
"Finish your cereal," she told Sandy.
"I go see about your father."
She found him lying on the floor, his face half
shaven. The cuffs of his trousers were wet. This confused her a moment; then she
saw that the sink had overflowed. He had dropped the soap and razor. The drain
was blocked with a sliver of soap.
SHE WATCHED THE HEARSE disappear down the hill. A
neighbors beagle barked. For three days each November it was taken buck
hunting. The rest of the year it spent chained in the backyard, waiting.
She had prepared for the wrong death. A month
ago, before Christmas, a car had parked in front of the Poblockis house to
deliver a telegram. Their oldest son was missing, his bodytall, gangly, an
overgrown boyslost forever in the waters of the Pacific. Since then Rose
had waited, listened for the dreadful sound of a car climbing Polish Hill. Now,
finally, the car had come.
In her arms the baby shifted. From the kitchen
came a shattering noise.
"Sandy?" she called.
He appeared in the doorway, hands in his pockets.
He seemed to reflect a moment. "I dropped a
The baby squirmed. Rose shifted her to the
"Where are they taking Daddy?"
"Uptown. They going to get him ready."
She hesitated, unsure how to explain what she didnt understand herself and
could hardly bear to think of: Stanleys body stripped and scrubbed, injected
with alcoholwith God only knew whatto keep him intact another day or two.
"They clean him up," she said.
"Change his clothes. Mr. Bernardi bring him back tonight."
The boy stared. "Why?" he asked softly.
"People, they want to see him." Shed
been to other wakes on Polish Hill, miserable affairs where the men drank for
hours alongside the body, telling stories, keeping the widow awake all night. In
the morning the house reeked of tobacco smoke. The men looked unshaven and
unsteady, still half drunk as they carried the casket into church.
Sandy frowned. "What people?"
"The neighbors. People from the
The baby hiccuped. A moment later she let out a
"I go change your sister," said Rose.
"Dont touch that glass. I be back in a minute."
Sandy went into the kitchen and stood looking at
the jagged glass on the floor. Hed been filling it at the sink when it nearly
slipped from his wet hand. A thought had occurred to him. If I broke it, it
wouldnt matter. He turned and threw the glass at the table leg. It
smashed loudly on the floor. He had knelt to examine it. It was dull green, one
hed drunk from his whole life. Now, laying in pieces, it had become
beautiful, the color deeper along the jagged edges, brilliant and jewellike.
When he reached to touch it, blood had appeared along his finger. Then his
mother had called, and hed jammed his hands in his pockets.
Now he looked down at his trousers. A dark spot
in his lap, blood from his finger. He looked at the clock. School had already
started; hed heard the bell ringing as he ran across town for the priest. Tell
him to come right away, his mother had said, tears streaming down her
face. Hed seen her cry just once before, when Georgie left for the war. Tell
him your father is dead.
The foregoing is excerpted from Baker Towers
by Jennifer Haigh. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or
reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East
53rd Street , New York , NY 10022