Excerpt of A Perfect Stranger by Roxana Robinson
(Page 6 of 10)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
"Where's Richard?" Sam asked her politely, his mouth full.
Sam was the oldest, and could ask these questions of grown-ups. I would
never have dared: Ree-ard was a comical figure to us, and I could not
have discussed him with a grown-up. There were things that we talked
about only among ourselves, and that was our true worldwhere we said
the things we meant, and where we spoke freely and directly. Then there
were the things we said to adults, and those were often false, or
constrained and mannered. You had to be careful in talking to grown-ups,
it was like talking to foreigners. They expected to hear certain things;
they didn't always understand you.
I myself had little practice in talking to grown-ups. I was the
youngest, and was seldom asked my opinion. I did not understand how to
blend the two ways of talking, or how to bridge the gap that lay between
them. I knew that if I asked about Ree-ard I would be scolded for being
fresh. But Sam could do it with impunity, his face and voice ingenuous.
He asked as though it were a serious question, as though we thought
Richard were a serious person.
"Oh, Richard," Molly said, hissing the word, sounding bad-tempered at
once. "Where is Richard," she repeated rhetorically, and shook her head.
She set the lid on a pot and wiped her hands on her apron, and we said
no more about Richard.
Besides Richard, Molly had a daughter named Margaret. We seldom saw
Margaret, she didn't live at Weldonmere. She didn't even live in the
Park. She lived somewhere else, in an apartment, and she worked in an
office, for a married man. My father worked in an office, and he was a
married man, but somehow these things set Margaret in a mysterious
region, exotic and sinister.
In the car, my father had spoken to my mother in a voice slightly lower,
more private, than the one he used for the whole car. It made me alert
at once, and I leaned forward, listening. My father said to my mother,
"Margaret's going to be there."
My mother looked at him and said, "And?"
My father, not looking at her, said, "I suppose so."
My mother turned away and said, "Poor thing."
I was listening to them as I always listened to my parents, in order to
understand the world, though what they said often made things more
confusing. The tone of voice my parents used about Margaret meant, I
knew, that they would not answer my questions about her. If I asked my
mother what she had meant by "Poor thing," or why it was so serious and
important that the man Margaret worked for was married, she would smile
at me and make her voice louder and more public and say, "Oh, it's just
a conversation I'm having with your father, that's all." She would tell
me nothing. I knew that this language I was trying to learn could not be
learned directly, that it was something that had to be absorbed blindly
and obliquely. I knew that we were to have no help with it. We would
have to learn it through signs, inflections, looks and sighs and tones
Sitting at the kitchen table, I watched Abby eating. If I didn't eat
fast enough, or if I didn't eat the vegetables, she might tell on me, if
she were in a spiteful mood. Now she was pretending to ignore me, but I
watched her anyway, as I ate. I ate the soft pillowy lima beans one by
one, watching Abby's fork across the table. I looked at her face when I
was halfway through and saw that she was watching something behind me.
She picked up her milk glass and drank, still watching, her eyes intent.
I turned around.
Excerpted from A Perfect Stranger by Roxana Robinson Copyright © 2005 by
Roxana Robinson. 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