Excerpt of Home Front by Kristin Hannah
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From a Distance
There are some things you learn best in calm, some in storm. Willa Cather
The way she saw it, some families were like well-tended parks,
with pretty daffodil borders and big, sprawling trees that offered
respite from the summer sun. Others and this she knew
firsthand were battlefields, bloody and dark, littered with shrapnel
and body parts.
She might only be seventeen, but Jolene Larsen already knew about
war. She'd grown up in the midst of a marriage gone bad.
Valentine's Day was the worst. The mood at home was always precarious,
but on this day, when the television ran ads for flowers and chocolates
and red foil hearts, love became a weapon in her parents' careless
hands. It started with their drinking, of course. Always. Glasses full of
bourbon, refilled again and again. That was the beginning. Then came
the screaming and the crying, the throwing of things. For years, Jolene
had asked her mother why they didn't just leave him her father and
steal away in the night. Her mother's answer was always the same:
I can't. I love him. Sometimes she would cry as she said the terrible words,
sometimes her bitterness would be palpable, but in the end it didn't
matter how she sounded; what mattered was the tragic truth of her onesided
Downstairs, someone screamed.
That would be Mom.
Then came a crash something big had been thrown against the
wall. A door slammed shut. That would be Dad.
He had left the house in a fury (was there any other way?), slamming
the door shut behind him. He'd be back tomorrow or the next day, whenever
he ran out of money. He'd come slinking into the kitchen, sober
and remorseful, stinking of booze and cigarettes. Mom would rush to
him, sobbing, and take him in her arms. Oh, Ralph...you scared
me...I'm sorry, give me one more chance, please, you know I love you so
Jolene made her way through her steeply pitched bedroom, ducking
so she wouldn't konk her head on one of the rough timbered support
beams. There was only one light in here, a bulb that hung from the rafters
like the last tooth in an old man's mouth, loose and wobbly.
She opened the door, listening.
Was it over?
She crept down the narrow staircase, hearing the risers creak beneath
her weight. She found her mother in the living room, sitting slumped
on the sofa, a lit Camel cigarette dangling from her mouth. Ash rained
downward, peppering her lap. Scattered across the floor were remnants
of the fight: bottles and ashtrays and broken bits of glass.
Even a few years ago, she would have tried to make her mother feel
better. But too many nights like this had hardened Jolene. Now she was
impatient with all of it, wearied by the drama of her parents' marriage.
Nothing ever changed, and Jolene was the one who had to clean up every
mess. She picked her way through the broken pieces of glass and
knelt at her mother's side.
"Let me have that," she said tiredly, taking the burning cigarette,
putting it out in the ashtray on the floor beside her.
Mom looked up, sad-eyed, her cheeks streaked with tears. "How will
I live without him?"
As if in answer, the back door cracked open. Cold night air swept
into the room, bringing with it the smell of rain and pine trees.
"He's back!" Mom pushed Jolene aside and ran for the kitchen.
I love you, baby, I'm sorry, Jolene heard her mother say.
Jolene righted herself slowly and turned. Her parents were locked in
one of those movie embraces, the kind reserved for lovers reuniting after
a war. Her mother clung to him desperately, grabbing the plaid wool
of his shirt.
Excerpted from Home Front
by Sarah Hannah. Copyright © 2012 by Sarah Hannah.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.