"Look at my hair," Eric laughs. "I look like Dorothy Hamill."
"No, I look like Dorothy Hamill. You look like a portobello mushroom."
In the next two albums I pick up, I am older. There are fewer pictures of us as a trio, and more of Eric and me, with Fitz sprinkled in. Our senior prom picture: Eric and I, and then Fitz in his own snapshot with a girl whose name I can't recall.
One night when we were fifteen we told our parents we were going on a school-sponsored overnight and instead climbed to the top of Dartmouth's Baker Library bell tower to watch a meteor shower. We drank peach schnapps stolen from Eric's parents' liquor cabinet and watched the stars play tag with the moon. Fitz fell asleep holding the bottle and Eric and I waited for the cursive of comets. Did you see that one? Eric asked. When I couldn't find the falling star, he took my hand and guided my finger. And then he just kept holding on.
By the time we climbed down at 4:30 a.m., I had had my first kiss, and it wasn't the three of us anymore. .
Just then my father comes into the room. "I'm headed upstairs to watch Leno," he says. "Lock up, okay?"
I glance up. "Where are my baby pictures?"
"In the albums."
"No . . . these only go back to when I'm four or five." I sit up. "It would be nice to have your wedding picture, too, for the video."
I have the only photo of my mother that is on display in this house. She is on the cusp of smiling, and you cannot look at it without wondering who made her happy just then, and how.
My father looks down at the ground, and shakes his head a little. "Well, I knew it was going to happen sometime. Come on, then."
Eric and I follow him to his bedroom and sit down on the double bed, on the side where he doesn't sleep. From the closet, my father takes down a tin with a Pepsi-Cola logo stamped onto the front. He dumps the contents onto the covers between Eric and medozens of photographs of my mother, draped in peasant skirts and gauze blouses, her black hair hanging down her back like a river. A wedding portrait: my mother in a belled white dress; my father trussed in his tuxedo, looking like he might bolt at any second. Photos of me, wrapped tight as a croissant, awkwardly balanced in my mother's arms. And one of my mother and father on an ugly green couch with me between them, a bridge made of dimpled flesh, of blended blood.
It is like visiting another planet when you only have one roll of film to record it, like coming to a banquet after a hunger strikethere is so much here that I have to consciously keep myself from racing through, before it all disappears. My face gets hot, as if I've been slapped. "Why were you hiding these?"
He takes one photograph out of my hand and stares at it long enough for me to believe he has completely forgotten that Eric and I are in the room. "I tried keeping a few of the pictures out," my father explains, "but you kept asking when she was coming home. And I'd pass them, and stop, and lose ten minutes or a half hour or a half day. I didn't hide them because I didn't want to look at them, Delia. I hid them because that was all I wanted to do." He puts the wedding picture back in the tin and scatters the rest on top. "You can have them," my father tells me. "You can have them all."
Copyright © 2005 by Jodi Picoult. Printed by permission. Excerpted from the book Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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