Excerpt of The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
(Page 3 of 10)
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He tried again. "I'm sorry. I don't seem to know what I'm doing.
And I'm in a hurry. I'm a doctor. I'm late to the hospital."
Her smiled changed then, grew serious.
"I see," she said, turning back to the clerk. "Really, Jean, do
She agreed to see him again, writing her name and phone number
in the perfect script she'd been taught in third grade, her
an ex-nun who had engraved the rules of penmanship in her small
charges. Each letter has a shape, she told them, one shape in
world and no other, and it is your responsibility to make it
Eight years old, pale and skinny, the woman in the green coat
would become his wife had clenched her small fingers around the
pen and practiced cursive writing alone in her room, hour after
hour, until she wrote with the exquisite fluidity of running
Later, listening to that story, he would imagine her head bent
the lamplight, her fingers in a painful cluster around the pen,
and he would wonder at her tenacity, her belief in beauty and in
authoritative voice of the ex-nun. But on that day he did not
any of this. On that day he carried the slip of paper in the
his white coat through one sickroom after another, remembering
her letters flowing one into another to form the perfect shape
name. He phoned her that same evening and took her to dinner the
next night, and three months later they were married.
Now, in these last months of her pregnancy, the soft coral robe
her perfectly. She had found it packed away and had held it up
show him. But your sister
died so long ago, she exclaimed, suddenly
puzzled, and for an instant he had frozen, smiling, the lie from
year before darting like a dark bird through the room. Then he
shrugged, sheepish. I had
to say something, he told her.
I had to find a
way to get your name. She smiled
then, and crossed the room and
The snow fell. For the next few hours, they read and talked.
Sometimes she caught his hand and put it on her belly to feel
baby move. From time to time he got up to feed the fire,
out the window to see three inches on the ground, then five or
The streets were softened and quiet, and there were few cars.
At eleven she rose and went to bed. He stayed downstairs,
the latest issue of The
Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. He was
known to be a very good doctor, with a talent for diagnosis and
reputation for skillful work. He had graduated first in his
Still, he was young enough andthough he hid it very carefully
unsure enough about his skills that he studied in every spare
collecting each success he accomplished as one more piece of
evidence in his own favor. He felt himself to be an aberration,
with a love for learning in a family absorbed in simply
to get by, day to day. They had seen education as an unnecessary
luxury, a means to no certain end. Poor, when they went to the
at all it was to the clinic in Morgantown, fifty miles away. His
memories of those rare trips were vivid, bouncing in the back of
borrowed pickup truck, dust flying in their wake. The dancing
road, his sister had called it, from her place in the cab with
parents. In Morgantown the rooms were dim, the murky green or
turquoise of pond water, and the doctors had been hurried, brisk
with them, distracted.
All these years later, he still had moments when he sensed the gaze of
those doctors and felt himself to be an imposter, about to be unmasked by a
single mistake. He knew his choice of specialties reflected this. Not for him the random excitement of general
or the delicate risky plumbing of the heart. He dealt mostly
with broken limbs, sculpting casts and viewing X-rays, watching
breaks slowly yet miraculously knit themselves back together. He
liked that bones were solid things, surviving even the white
cremation. Bones would last; it was easy for him to put his
something so solid and predictable.
(c) 2005, Kim Edwards. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Penguin Group.