Excerpt from A Better Angel by Chris Adrian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Better Angel

Stories

By Chris Adrian

A Better Angel
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2008,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2009,
    304 pages.

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Amy Reading

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white coat and a stethoscope and her hair done up in a smart bun, I asked her why she hadn’t warned me about the wasps. "I’m not that kind of angel," she said.

Though my father only ever knew a tenth of the trouble I’ve been in, I was still his least favorite child, and the last person he wanted taking care of him when he got very ill. But every one of my sisters was pregnant - one very much augmented and on purpose, and the other two accidents of fate. How they celebrated the coincidence, and then rued it when it forced them to bully me back to Florida from San Francisco. I was in clinic when they called, and it’s a testament to their power-of-three invincibility that they were able to blow through the phone tree and the two different receptionists who routinely deny my existence when patients try to find me. "Papa is sick," said Charlotte.

"He’s been sick," I said, because this had been going on for a year, and though nobody gets better from metastatic small-cell lung cancer, he’d been holding his own for months and months. "Papa is sicker," said Christine, and Carmen added, "Much sicker!" She is eldest and barely most pregnant.

"He’s in the hospital," said Christine. "There’s an infection." "In his bladder," said Charlotte. There are two years between each of them but they’ve always seemed like triplets, all of them looking the same age with their furrowed brows and disapproving hatchet mouths, all as tall and light as I am short and dark, all with the same blue eyes that seem just the right color to stare a person down with. My eyes, like my father’s, are nearly black, and Carmen says I can hide anything in them.

"A little cystitis," I said. "So what?"

"Dr. Klar says he’s very ill," said Christine.

"She doesn’t know if he’ll come out of the hospital," said Charlotte.

"She always says that," I said. "She never knows. She’s an alarmist. She’s a worrier."

"You have to go!" they said all together.

"You have to go," I said. "You go if it matters so much."

"We’re pregnant!" they said. And then the individual excuses: mild preeclampsia for Charlotte and Christine and a clotty calf for Carmen. They can’t travel from New York, where they all live within waddling distance of each other.

"People travel when they’re eight months pregnant," I said.

"People do it all the time!" Though I knew that they don’t, and now the angel was sitting on my desk and shaking her head at me.

"You’re a doctor," they said all together, as if that should settle it, and I wanted to say I’m impaired, and a pediatrician to boot. I could have confessed it right then, to them and to the whole world: I am an impaired physician, and then started down the yellow brick road to rehab.

Instead I quietly hung up on them. The angel was still shaking her head at me. She was dressed to shock, with a plastic shopping bag on her head, in a filthy housedress, and with a dead cat wrapped around either foot.

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From A Better Angel by Chris Adrian, to be published in August by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2008 by Chris Adrian. All rights reserved.

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