Nora began by saying that shed originally conceived of her speech as a celebration of the single best day of her life. The day in question had occurred just a couple of months before October 14th, during a vacation her family had taken at the Jersey Shore. Nothing special had happened, nor had she fully grasped the extent of her happiness at the time. That realization didnt strike until later, after her husband and children were gone and shed had more than enough sleepless nights in which to take the measure of all that shed lost.
It was, she said, a lovely late-summer day, warm and breezy, but not so bright that you had to think constantly about sunscreen. Sometime in the morning, her kidsJeremy was six, Erin four; it was as old as theyd ever getstarted making a sand castle, and they went about their labor with the solemn enthusiasm that children sometimes bring to the most inconsequential tasks. Nora and her husband, Doug, sat on a blanket nearby, holding hands, watching these serious little workers run to the waters edge, fill their plastic buckets with wet sand, and then come trudging back, their toothpick arms straining against the heavy loads. The kids werent smiling, but their faces glowed with joyful purpose. The fortress they built was surprisingly large and elaborate; it kept them occupied for hours.
We had our video camera, she said. But for some reason we didnt think to turn it on. Im glad in a way. Because if we had a video of that day, Id just watch it all the time. Id waste away in front of the television, rewinding it over and over.
Somehow, though, thinking about that day made her remember another day, a terrible Saturday the previous March when the entire family was laid low by a stomach bug. It seemed like every time you turned around, someone else was throwing up, and not always in a toilet. The house stunk, the kids were wailing, and the dog kept whimpering to be let outside. Nora couldnt get out of bedshe was feverish, drifting in and out of deliriumand Doug was no better. There was a brief period in the afternoon when she thought she might be dying. When she shared this fear with her husband, he simply nodded and said, Okay. They were so sick they didnt even have the sense to pick up the phone and call for help. At one point in the evening, when Erin was lying between them, her hair crusty with dried vomit, Jeremy wandered in and pointed tearfully at his foot. Woody pooped in the kitchen, he said. Woody pooped and I stepped in it.
It was hell, Nora said. That was what we kept telling each other. This is truly hell.
They got through it, of course. A few days later, everyone was healthy again, and the house was more or less in order. But from then on, they referred to the Family Puke-A-Thon as the low point in their lives, the debacle that put everything else in perspective. If the basement flooded, or Nora got a parking ticket, or Doug lost a client, they were always able to remind themselves that things could have been worse.
Well, wed say, at least its not as bad as that time we all got so sick.
It was around this point in Noras speech that the Guilty Remnant finally made their appearance, emerging en masse from the small patch of woods flanking the west side of the park. There were maybe twenty of them, dressed in white, moving slowly in the direction of the gathering. At first they seemed like a disorganized mob, but as they walked they began to form a horizontal line, a configuration that reminded Kevin of a search party. Each person was carrying a piece of posterboard emblazoned with a single black letter, and when they got to within shouting distance of the stage, they stopped and raised their squares overhead. Together, the jagged row of letters spelled the words STOP WASTING YOUR BREATH.
Excerpted from The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta. Copyright © 2011 by Tom Perrotta. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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