Excerpt from A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Certain Age

A Novel

by Beatriz Williams

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams X
A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2016, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2017, 384 pages

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"But, sis, that's why I came. Don't you remember?" "Remember what?"

He looks around for an ashtray, and his gaze finally alights on the little oblong tin on the floor. I watch him step confidently to the bed and bend over.

He's not quite the agile young sportsman he was in earlier days—everything takes its toll, and Ox has imbibed plenty of what constitutes everything—but he's still bendable enough, under that fat Chesterfield overcoat, and his glossy blond hair picks up flashes of light as he moves.

"Well, well." As if he's just discovered a second Sphinx hidden between the floorboards. "Hello, Sisser. Looks as if someone's been a little naughty."

I choke back a cough. "What's that?"

Ox straightens and holds out the sardine tin in my direction. "Eight smokes already? That's some hibernation."

"Give me that." I snatch the tin and set it on the dresser, under the shelter of the lamp. "Now, then. You were talking about asking your young filly to marry you."

Ox follows the ashtray and leans against the edge of the dresser, nice and close, so I can examine the dark smudges under his eyes and the chapped skin of his lips, which are bent into a familiar self-assured smile. Underneath the Chesterfield, he's wearing evening dress, which shouldn't really surprise me. Nor, for that matter, that he stinks of moonshine.

"I'm not the one who asks her," he says. "Don't you remember?" "I don't remember a thing. I hope you don't think I'm going to ask her for you. I wrote all your college papers; isn't that enough?"

"The ring, Sisser. Don't you remember?"

"What ring? I have no idea what—oh!"

I spit out the cigarette. "Mama's ring? The rose ring?"

Ox pats my hand on the dresser. "That's right. The old family tradition. I had it sent to the jeweler for a good polish, and now all that remains, all I need, which is why, of course, I came to you, Sisser—"

"Oh, for God's sake, Ox. You can't be serious."

"Why not?"

"Why not? Because it's a farce. A medieval farce. Who sends a proxy to propose for him these days? Chivalry went out with the Armistice, Ox, didn't you know? Chivalry went out when the Lewis gun and the chlorine gas and Picasso came in. This shiny modern world hasn't got any knights left in it."

"It's not a farce, sis. It's a beautiful family tradition. A cavalier presents the august family ring to the lady of one's choice, the lady who will one day become the next Mrs. Ochsner, ruler of all New York—"

"Darling, the Ochsners haven't ruled anything for years, not since Mamie Fish took over from Lina Astor. And now it's just anarchy. Actresses and artists and writers, God help us. The present Mrs. Ochsner commands a crumbling house on Thirty-Fourth Street and nothing else to speak of."

"Not true. Mama has pedigree, Theresa, she has history, which is more than you can say of some ink-stained penny novelist." He pauses grandly, flicks his ash into the tray. "Anyway, I need a cavalier. A ring bearer."

I laugh. "Oh, Ox. Only you."

"I'm serious, sis. How about one of your boys?"

"Absolutely not. They haven't got a knightly bone in their bodies. Unless it's a football you want delivered, they're not interested." I stub out the cigarette.

"One of their friends?"

"What about your friends?"

"My friends are all married. Or else lecherous old bachelors like me."

"You know what it is, Ox? You don't give a fig for family tradition. You just want someone to do your dirty work for you. You don't want to face the girl herself and ask her to marry you. After all, what if she does the sensible thing and says no?"

Excerpted from A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams. Copyright © 2016 by Beatriz Williams. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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