Excerpt of The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
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Helen picked up a pillow and stroked it. Her face had turned pink, and Bob thought she was having a hot flash, so he looked down at his hands to give her privacy, not realizing that Helen had blushed because she'd spoken of people who did not have childrenas Bob did not.
"They fight," Bob said. "And when they fight, Preppy Boyhusband, they're marriedyells the same thing over and over. 'Adriana, you're driving me fucking crazy.' Over and over again."
Helen shook her head. "Imagine living like that. Do you want a drink?" She rose and went to the mahogany cupboard, where she poured whiskey into a crystal tumbler. She was a short, still shapely woman in her black skirt and beige sweater.
Bob drank half the whiskey in one swallow. "Anyways," he continued, and saw a small tightening on Helen's face. She hated how he said "Anyways," though he always forgot this, and he forgot it now, only felt the foreboding of failure. He wasn't going to be able to convey the sadness of what he had seen. "She comes home," Bob said. "They start to fight. He does his yelling thing. Then he takes the dog out. But this time, while he's gone, she calls the police. She's never done that before. He comes back and they arrest him. I heard the cops tell him that his wife said he'd hit her. And thrown her clothes out the window. So they arrested him. And he was amazed."
Helen's face looked as if she didn't know what to say.
"He's this good-looking guy, very cool in his zip-up sweater, and he stood there crying, 'Baby, I never hit you, baby, seven years we've been married, what are you doing? Baby, pleeeease!' But they cuffed him and walked him across the street in broad daylight to the cruiser and he's spending the night in the pens." Bob eased himself out of the rocking chair, went to the mahogany cupboard, and poured himself more whiskey.
"That's a very sad story," said Helen, who was disappointed. She had hoped it would be more dramatic. "But he might have thought of that before he hit her."
"I don't think he did hit her." Bob returned to the rocking chair.
Helen said musingly, "I wonder if they'll stay married."
"I don't think so." Bob was tired now.
"What bothered you most, Bobby?" Helen asked. "The marriage falling apart, or the arrest?" She took it personally, his expression of not finding relief.
Bob rocked a few times. "Everything." He snapped his fingers. "Like that, it happened. I mean, it was just an ordinary day, Helen."
Helen plumped the pillow against the back of the couch. "I don't know what's ordinary about a day when you have your husband arrested."
Turning his head, Bob saw through the grated windows his brother walking up the sidewalk, and a small rush of anxiety came to him at the sight of this: his older brother's quick gait, his long coat, the thick leather briefcase. There was the sound of the key in the door.
"Hi, sweetheart," said Helen. "Your brother's here."
"I see that." Jim shrugged off his coat and hung it in the hall closet. Bob had never learned to hang up his coat. What is it with you?, his wife, Pam, used to ask, What is it, what is it, what is it? And what was it? He could not say. But whenever he walked through a door, unless someone took his coat for him, the act of hanging it up seemed needless and . . . well, too difficult.
"I'll go." Bob said. "I have a brief to work on." Bob worked in the appellate division of Legal Aid, reading case records at the trial level. There was always an appeal that required a brief, always a brief to be worked on.
"Don't be silly," said Helen. "I said we'd go across the street for supper."
"Out of my chair, knucklehead." Jim waved a hand in Bob's direction. "Glad to see you. It's been what, four days?"
Excerpted from The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. Copyright © 2013 by Elizabeth Strout. 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 publisher.