Excerpt of The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg
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Mile by mile, the country unfurled before mein bright morning light,
throughout golden afternoons, under the pastel-colored skies of evenings. Once,
just outside of Cleveland, when the sky was lavender and the clouds pink, I
pulled to the side of the freeway to watch until darkness smudged the colors
into night. Land rushed up, then fell away; rushed up, then fell away. I became
intimately aware of the lay of the land, felt the rise and fall of it in my
stomach as I drove up and down steep hills. I deliberately pushed everything out
of my head but what was before me. Still, every now and then a quick thrill
raced up my spine in the form of a thought: I am my own again. Sorrow that lay
pooled inside me gave over to a kind of exhilaration in those moments; the
relief was stunning.
Though impermanent. One night, I checked into a motel at around ten o'clock.
Next door, I heard a couple making love. Their sounds were sloppy and slightly
hystericaldrunk, I thought. I turned the radio up loud, ran a bath, and while
sitting at the edge of the tub unwrapping the absurdly little bar of soap, I
felt the weight of my loss move slowly back into me. After I dried off, I sat
before the television and marveled at the drivel that passed for entertainment.
I turned it off, finally, then sat at the side of the bed and stared out at
nothing. I picked up the telephone and dialed my home number. I heard the
characteristic tones, then, the number you have reached has been disconnected. I
hung up, closed my eyes, and took in a deep breath. Then I knelt at the side of
the bed and pushed my face into my hands.
Late in the afternoon of the third day, I pulled over to a frozen-yogurt
stand near the center of a small town that looked particularly attractive to me.
A tall, early-thirtyish man waited on me. He was beginning to bald already and
had a distressing complexion. But his eyes, as though in compensation, were a
brilliant blue. "That'll be a dollar sixty-five," he said, handing me the
raspberry cone I'd ordered. I pulled two dollars from my wallet and handed them
to him, then took a lick of the yogurt. "Delicious," I said, and smiled at him.
He smiled back, hesitantly, then fussed with the register for a long while as I
watched, first in mild annoyance, then in sympathy, finally in utter
fascination. Eventually, the man turned and called to someone in the back room.
"Louise?" he said, apparently too softly, for then he called a bit louder,
"WHAT?" she yelled back.
The man straightened the paper hat on his head. "Could you come out and help
me?" he asked. "Please?"
Louise came out to the cash register, scowling. She was wearing a maroon
sweat suit and was massively overweight. She wore her hair in a high ponytail.
It was beautiful hair, thick and auburn-colored; I concentrated on it while she
concentrated on me. Finally, I looked at her face. "Hello," I said.
She jutted her chin at me. "How you doing." There was mischief in her eyes.
"Was that you yelling back there?" I asked.
She grinned. "Yeah, that was me, whistling while I work." She jerked her head
toward the man. "This goes on all the livelong day."
"Oh, well," I said. "That's all right."
"Easy for you to say." She turned to glare at the man, who studied his shoes.
Then she fixed the register and stomped off.
"Okay!" the man said. "Says here I owe you thirty-five cents!" He handed me
I thanked him, then, laughing, said, "Though I think you could have
figured that out on your own."
He looked doubtful.
"Oh, come on," I said. "Don't you think we're getting way too dependent
on these damn machines?"
Excerpted from The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth Berg. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.