Excerpt from After the Parade by Lori Ostlund, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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After the Parade

by Lori Ostlund

After the Parade by Lori Ostlund
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2016, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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Chapter 1

Aaron had gotten a late start—some mix-up at the U-Haul office that nobody seemed qualified to fix—so it was early afternoon when he finally began loading the truck, nearly eight when he finished. He wanted to drive away right then but could not imagine setting out so late. It was enough that the truck sat in the driveway packed, declaring his intention. Instead, he took a walk around the neighborhood, as was his nightly habit, had been his nightly habit since he and Walter moved here nine years earlier. He always followed the same route, designed with the neighborhood cats in mind. He knew where they all lived, had made up names for each of them—Falstaff and Serial Mom, Puffin and Owen Meany—and when he called to them using these names, they stood up from wherever they were hiding and ran down to the sidewalk to greet him.

He passed the house of the old woman who, on many nights, though not this one, watched for him from her kitchen window and then hurried out with a jar that she could not open. She called him by his first name and he called her Mrs. Trujillo, since she was surely twice his age, and as he twisted the lid off a jar of honey or instant coffee, they engaged in pleasantries, establishing that they were both fine, that they had enjoyed peaceful, ordinary days, saying the sorts of things that Aaron had grown up in his mother's café hearing people say to one another. As a boy, he had dreaded such talk, for he had been shy and no good at it, but as he grew older, he had come to appreciate these small nods at civility.

Of course, Mrs. Trujillo was not always fine. Sometimes, her back was acting up or her hands were numb. She would hold them out toward him, as though the numbness were something that could be seen, and when he put the jar back into them, he said, "Be careful now, Mrs. Trujillo. Think what a mess you'd have with broken glass and honey." Maybe he made a joke that wasn't really funny, something about all those ants with bleeding tongues, and she would laugh the way that people who are very lonely laugh, paying you the only way they know how. She always seemed sheepish about mentioning her ailments, sheepish again when he inquired the next time whether she was feeling better, yet for years they had engaged in this ritual, and as he passed her house that last night, he felt relief at her absence. Still, when he let his mind stray to the future, to the next night and the one after, the thought of Mrs. Trujillo looking out the window with a stubborn jar of spaghetti sauce in her hands made his heart ache.

Aaron picked up his pace, almost ran to Falstaff 's house, where he crouched on the sidewalk and called softly to the portly fellow, waiting for him to waddle off the porch that was his stage. At nine, he returned from his walk and circled the truck, double-checking the padlock because he knew there would come a moment during the night when he would lie there thinking about it, and this way he would have an image that he could pull up in his mind: the padlock, secured.

A week earlier, Aaron had gone into Walter's study with a list of the household items that he planned to take with him. He found Walter at his desk, a large teak desk that Walter's father had purchased in Denmark in the 1950s and shipped home. He had used the desk throughout his academic career, writing articles that added up to books about minor Polish poets, most of them long dead, and then it had become Walter's. Aaron loved the desk, which represented everything for which he had been longing all those years ago when Walter took him in and they began their life together: a profession that required a sturdy, beautiful desk; a father who cared enough about aesthetics to ship a desk across an ocean; a life, in every way, different from his own.

Though it was just four in the afternoon, Walter was drinking cognac—Spanish cognac, which he preferred to French—and later Aaron would realize that Walter had already known that something was wrong. Aaron stood in the office doorway, reading the list aloud—a set of bed linens, a towel, a cooking pot, a plate, a knife, cutlery. "Is there anything on the list that you prefer I not take?" he asked.

Excerpted from After the Parade by Lori Ostlund. Copyright © 2015 by Lori Ostlund. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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