Excerpt of The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
(Page 2 of 10)
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She was eleven years younger than he was. He had first seen her
not much more than a year ago, as she rode up an escalator in a
store downtown, one gray November Saturday while he
was buying ties. He was thirty-three years old and new to
Kentucky, and she had risen out of the crowd like some kind of
vision, her blond hair swept back in an elegant chignon, pearls
glimmering at her throat and on her ears. She was wearing a coat
dark green wool, and her skin was clear and pale. He stepped
the escalator, pushing his way upward through the crowd,
to keep her in sight. She went to the fourth floor, lingerie and
hosiery. When he tried to follow her through aisles dense with
racks of slips and brassieres and panties, all glimmering
sales clerk in a navy blue dress with a white collar stopped
smiling, to ask if she could help.
A robe, he said,
scanning the aisles
until he caught sight of her hair, a dark green shoulder, her
head revealing the elegant pale curve of her neck.
A robe for my sister
who lives in New Orleans. He had
no sister, of course, or any living
family that he acknowledged.
The clerk disappeared and came back a moment later with three
robes in sturdy terry cloth. He chose blindly, hardly glancing
taking the one on top.
Three sizes, the clerk was saying, and
selection of colors next month,
but he was already in the aisle, a coral-colored
robe draped over his arm, his shoes squeaking on the tiles as
he moved impatiently between the other shoppers to where she
She was shuffling through the stacks of expensive stockings,
sheer colors shining through slick cellophane windows: taupe,
navy, a maroon as dark as pig's blood. The sleeve of her green
brushed his and he smelled her perfume, something delicate and
yet pervasive, something like the dense pale petals of lilacs
the window of the student rooms he'd once occupied in
The squat windows of his basement apartment were always grimy,
opaque with steel-factory soot and ash, but in the spring there
lilacs blooming, sprays of white and lavender pressing against
glass, their scent drifting in like light.
He cleared his throathe could hardly breatheand held up
the terry cloth robe, but the clerk behind the counter was
telling a joke, and she did not notice him. When he cleared his
throat again she glanced at him, annoyed, then nodded at her
now holding three thin packages of stockings like giant
playing cards in her hand.
"I'm afraid Miss Asher was here first," the clerk said, cool and
Their eyes met then, and he was startled to see they were the
same dark green as her coat. She was taking him inthe solid
tweed overcoat, his face clean-shaven and flushed with cold, his
trim fingernails. She smiled, amused and faintly dismissive,
to the robe on his arm.
"For your wife?" she asked. She spoke with what he recognized
as a genteel Kentucky accent, in this city of old money where
distinctions mattered. After just six months in town, he already
knew this. "It's all right, Jean," she went on, turning back to
clerk. "Go on and take him first. This poor man must feel lost
awkward, in here with all the lace."
"It's for my sister," he told her, desperate to reverse the bad
he was making. It had happened to him often here; he was
too forward or direct and gave offense. The robe slipped to the
and he bent to pick it up, his face flushing as he rose. Her
were lying on the glass, her bare hands folded lightly next to
His discomfort seemed to soften her, for when he met her eyes
again, they were kind.
(c) 2005, Kim Edwards. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Penguin Group.