Excerpt of Vinegar Hill by A Manette Ansay
(Page 3 of 7)
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"Lights?" Fritz said to James, when Ellen mentioned it at the
table one evening. "Is this where your money goes, Jimmy? Lights!
"It's my money too," Ellen said. "I work too," but
Fritz ignored her.
"Gals, they are quick with our wallets, " he said, and he
thumped the table next to James, laughing. Ellen looked at her plate
because she was afraid that, if she looked up, she would see James
laughing too. Then she got up and began to clear the table, lifting the
fried potatoes away just as Fritz reached out to take some more. He stared
at her. His eyes were bright and small. Pigs' eyes. You expect me to be
afraid of you? she thought. The potato dish burned in her Palms.
When she'd first seen the scars on James's back, she hadn't known what
they were. She traced one with her finger as he sat on the bed. It was
several days after their wedding, and the first time she had seen his
upper body in the light. She took her finger away when she realized he
could not feel it.
"Pa was good with his belt," James said, and it was several
years before Ellen saw him without his T?shirt again.
Now she stood in front of Fritz, hating him as James would not. Weak
old man, she thought, dizzy with contempt.
James wiped his mouth on his napkin. "Pa's not finished, he said
"We're on a budget, remember?" Ellen said, and she put the
potatoes on the counter.
You know I'm right. Fight him. Don't fight me.
But James got up and brought the potatoes back to the table, back to
his father. Then he sat down and all of them, even the children, continued
the meal without her.
Later, as they got into bed, James said, "We never had Christmas
"What do you mean?" Ellen said. "We had lights last
year, and the year before that, in the crab apple tree outside the
Then she realized the we was them.
"I am your family" she said.
She could feel the weight of his body in the bed, and she wanted to
stretch out her leg, kick that weight far away. "I am your
family," she said again, so angry she did not know what else to say
She snapped off the lights and rolled to the far edge of the bed,
imagining long dialogues that left James overwhelmed by her devastating
arguments, her cool distance, her glib responses to his apologies. She
woke to the alarm in the morning feeling as though she hadn't slept.
Still, she knew that she had; James was pressed against her, an arm flung
over her stomach. She tried to get up but the arm tightened, and they
cuddled up then the way they had on weekend mornings in Illinois dozing
and waking, discussing the week's small misunderstandings, laughing over
meaningless things If we just had some time to ourselves, she thinks, we
could talk to each other the way we used to. Maybe about nothing in
particular at first, but even that would be a start.
Turning on to Main Street, she wants so much to have a good Christmas,
a Christmas that will be the way they remember themselves, she and James,
when they look back and remember the children as children, and themselves
as young; when they sit in a lighted window at night with only the backs
of their gray heads showing while strangers pass by and wonder who they
are and who they were. So far, there have been few memories they can
actually share. When Amy was born, James was in Ann Arbor. When Bert was
born, he was north of La Crosse. Christmases and Easters, birthdays and
anniversaries, James is usually on the road. Ellen never used to mind.
He'd call from motel rooms, from gas stations and restaurants. What's new?
he would say, and she'd bring him up to date. But lately she's realized
that he doesn't listen, or if he does, he quickly forgets. It is a lonely
thing, remembering for someone else, and she's grown to envy her sisters,
whose husbands come home every night for supper and sit down in the same
places, their own places, at their tables to eat.
Copyright 1998 by A. Manette Ansay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Avon Books.