Excerpt from Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Clara Callan

A Novel

by Richard B. Wright

Clara Callan
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2002, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2003, 432 pages

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Chapter One

Saturday, November 3 (8:10 p.m.)

Nora left for New York City today. I think she is taking a terrible chance going all the way down there but, of course, she wouldn't listen. You can't tell Nora anything. You never could. Then came the last-minute jitters. Tears in that huge station among strangers and loudspeaker announcements.

"I'm going to miss you, Clara."

"Yes. Well, and I'll miss you too, Nora. Do be careful down there!"

"You think I'm making a mistake, don't you? I can see it in your face."

"We've talked about this many times, Nora. You know how I feel about all this."

"You must promise to write."

"Well, of course, I'll write."

The handkerchief, smelling faintly of violets, pressed to an eye. Father used to say that Nora's entire life was a performance. Perhaps she will make something of herself down there in the radio business, but it's just as likely she'll return after Christmas. And then what will she do? I'm sure they won't take her back at the store. It's a foolish time to be taking chances like this. A final wave and a gallant little smile. But she did look pretty and someone on the train will listen. Someone is probably listening at this very moment.

Prayed for solitude on my train home but it was not to be. Through the window I could see the trainman helping Mrs. Webb and Marion up the steps. Then came the sidelong glances of the whole and hale as Marion came down the aisle, holding on to the backs of the seats, swinging her bad foot outward and forward and then, by endeavor and the habit of years, dropping the heavy black boot to the floor. Settled finally into the seat opposite, followed by Mother Webb and her parcels. Routine prying from Mrs. W.

"Well now, Clara, and what brings you to the city? Aren't the stores crowded and Christmas still weeks off? I like to get my buying out of the way. Have you started the practices for the concert? Ida Atkins and I were talking about you the other day. Wouldn't it be nice, we said, if Clara Callan came out to our meetings. You should think about it, Clara. Get you out of the house for an evening. Marion enjoys it, don't you, dear?"

Plenty more of this all the way to Uxbridge station when she finally dozed off, the large head drooping beneath the hat, the arms folded across the enormous chest. Marion said hello, but stayed behind her magazine (movie starlet on the cover). We quarreled over something a week ago. I can't exactly remember what, but Marion has since refused to speak to me at any length and that is just as well.

On the train my gaze drifting across the bare gray fields in the rain. Thinking of Nora peering out another train window. And then I found myself looking down at Marion's orthopedic boot, remembering how I once stared at a miniature version of it in the schoolyard. Twenty-one Septembers ago! I was ten years old and going into Junior Third. Marion had been away all summer in Toronto and returned with the cumbersome shoe. In Mrs. Webb's imagination, Marion and I are conjoined by birth dates and therefore mystically united on this earth. We were born on the same day in the same year, only hours apart. Mrs. W. has never tired of telling how Dr. Grant hurried from our house in the early-morning hours to assist her delivery with the news that Mrs. Callan had just given birth to a fine daughter. And then came Marion, but her tiny foot "was not as God intended." And on that long-ago September morning in the schoolyard, Mrs. Webb brought Marion over to me and said, "Clara will look after you, dear. She will be your best friend. Why you were born on the same day!"

Marion looked bewildered. I remember that. And how she clung to my side! I could have screamed and, in fact, may have done. At the end of the day we fought over something and she had a crying spell under a tree on our front lawn. How she wailed and stamped that boot, which drew my eye as surely as the bulging goiter in old Miss Fowley's throat. Father saw some of this and afterward scolded me. I think I went to bed without supper and I probably sulked for days. What an awful child I was! Yet Marion forgave me; she always forgives me. From time to time, this afternoon, I noticed her smiling at me over her magazine. Mr. Webb was at the station with his car, but I told him I preferred to walk. It had stopped raining by then. No offense was taken.

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The foregoing is excerpted from Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

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