Excerpt of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
(Page 1 of 2)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
Chapter 1: A Woman on the Street
I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I
looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after
dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and
people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in
traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.
Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep
out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her dog, a
black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet. Mom's gestures were all
familiar -- the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when
studying items of potential value that she'd hoisted out of the Dumpster, the
way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked. Her
long hair was streaked with gray, tangled and matted, and her eyes had sunk deep
into their sockets, but still she reminded me of the mom she'd been when I was a
kid, swan-diving off cliffs and painting in the desert and reading Shakespeare
aloud. Her cheekbones were still high and strong, but the skin was parched and
ruddy from all those winters and summers exposed to the elements. To the people
walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in
New York City.
It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I was
overcome with panic that she'd see me and call out my name, and that someone on
the way to the same party would spot us together and Mom would introduce herself
and my secret would be out.
I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home
to Park Avenue.
The taxi pulled up in front of my building, the doorman held the door for me,
and the elevator man took me up to my floor. My husband was working late, as he
did most nights, and the apartment was silent except for the click of my heels
on the polished wood floor. I was still rattled from seeing Mom, the
unexpectedness of coming across her, the sight of her rooting happily through
the Dumpster. I put some Vivaldi on, hoping the music would settle me down.
I looked around the room. There were the turn-of-the-century
bronze-and-silver vases and the old books with worn leather spines that I'd
collected at flea markets. There were the Georgian maps I'd had framed, the
Persian rugs, and the overstuffed leather armchair I liked to sink into at the
end of the day. I'd tried to make a home for myself here, tried to turn the
apartment into the sort of place where the person I wanted to be would live. But
I could never enjoy the room without worrying about Mom and Dad huddled on a
sidewalk grate somewhere. I fretted about them, but I was embarrassed by them,
too, and ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my
parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.
What could I do? I'd tried to help them countless times, but Dad would insist
they didn't need anything, and Mom would ask for something silly, like a perfume
atomizer or a membership in a health club. They said that they were living the
way they wanted to.
After ducking down in the taxi so Mom wouldn't see me, I hated myself --
hated my antiques, my clothes, and my apartment. I had to do something, so I
called a friend of Mom's and left a message. It was our system of staying in
touch. It always took Mom a few days to get back to me, but when I heard from
her, she sounded, as always, cheerful and casual, as though we'd had lunch the
day before. I told her I wanted to see her and suggested she drop by the
apartment, but she wanted to go to a restaurant. She loved eating out, so we
agreed to meet for lunch at her favorite Chinese restaurant.
From chapter 1 of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, pages
3-5. Copyright © 2005 by Jeannette Walls. All rights reserved.
No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the