Excerpt of Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin
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Now I had graduated on this bright June Saturday in 1959 and few were
the obstacles left between me and my getaway train to Miamiobstacles
that nevertheless must be cunningly surmounted.
"Emma, you ride in front with Earl," said Mother, as expected. "I'll sit
in back and reminisce a little more about my time here in Paradise."
"Oh?" challenged Earl. "What does that make the rest of your life, then,
"The rest of my life is still in progress," Mother lightly countered,
making room for herself among my college leftovers that were going back
to the mountains with them. "Ask me again in thirty or forty years."
We began the winding descent out of Chapel Hill as, seven years earlier,
the three of us, with my mother's new husband at the wheel, had begun
another descent into a new life. Only this time, they would be dropping
me off within the hour at the Seaboard Station in Raleigh. My journey as
part of this family unit would soon be at an end. Happily, my train to
Miami left at one fifteen, so a farewell lunch had been out of the
question, a circumstance diminishing that much further the chance of a
last-minute blowup with Earl.
But still I was on my guard, for already he was making those engorged
throat noises that preceded a sermon. I did not dare glance back at
Mother for fear of catching her eye. An exchanged look of sympathy or,
God forbid, a mutual smirk might still explode everything sky-high, as
it had done plenty of times before. My job was to look respectfully
attentive without rising to his bait. I folded my hands in my lap and
faced front, focusing on the road ahead. Windows on both sides were open
to let in the breeze, and the capricious little whomp-whomps of hot air
provided a divertimento against Earl's opening sally and helped me keep
my own counsel.
Sacrifices had been made. If I would ever stop to think about other
people. Empathy and gratitude not my strong suits. Had never known what
it was to apply myself on a daily basis. Hadn't been required of me. Had
been raised to think that the world revolved around me and that I could
coast along without making much of an effort. Not completely my fault.
Had been indulged too much for my own good by teachers as well as
family. But now I was going into the real world where I would have to
knuckle under and deliver the goods like everybody else.
"Though why you should choose to go off half-cocked to a place like
Miami remains a mystery to your mother and me. Your dean told us the
Charlotte Observer wanted you, but he said you'd had your heart set on
Miami ever since you went down for that interview at Christmas. I said,
well, we were the last to know she went to Miami for Christmas. She told
us she was staying in the dorm to catch up on her work. We didn't learn
the truth till February."
Damn and blast you, I thought. You have a single conversation with my
dean, who adores me, and you make me out a liar.
"I didn't want to say anything to anyone until I knew I had the job," I
"I told the dean, she doesn't even know anybody in Miami"
I don't know anybody in Charlotte, either, I refrained from saying.
from Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin Copyright © 2006 by
Gail Godwin. 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