Excerpt from The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Story of Arthur Truluv

A Novel

by Elizabeth Berg

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg X
The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg
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    Nov 2017, 240 pages

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The Story of Arthur Truluv

In the six months since the November day that his wife, Nola, was buried, Arthur Moses has been having lunch with her every day. He rides the bus to the cemetery and when he gets there, he takes his sweet time walking over to her plot: she will be there no matter when he arrives. She will be there and be there and be there.

Today he lingers near the headstone of Adelaide Marsh, two rows over from Nola, ten markers down. Adelaide was born April 3, 1897, died November 18, 1929. Arthur does the math, slowly. Thirty- two. Then he calculates again, because he thinks it would be wrong to stand near someone's grave thinking about how old they were the day they died and be off by a year. Or more. Math has always been difficult for Arthur, even on paper; he describes himself as numerically illiterate. Nola did the checkbook, but now he does. He tries, anyway; he gets out his giant- size calculator and pays a great deal of attention to what he's doing, he doesn't even keep the radio on, but more often than not he ends up with astronomically improbable sums. Sometimes he goes to the bank and they help him, but it's an embarrassment and an inconvenience. "We all have our gifts," Nola used to say, and she was right. Arthur's gift is working the land; he was a groundskeeper for the parks before he retired many years ago. He still keeps a nice rose garden in the front of his house; the vegetable garden in the back he has let go.

But yes, thirty- two is how old Adelaide Marsh was when she died. Not as heartbreakingly young as the children buried here, but certainly not yet old. In the middle, that's what she was. In the middle of raising her family (Beloved Mother on her tombstone) and then what? Death, of course, but how? Was it childbirth? He thinks that she was doing something in the service of her family, that she was healthy until the moment she died, and then succumbed to an accident or a sudden insult to the body. He also thinks she had bright red hair that she wore up, and tiny tendrils escaped to frame her face, which pleased both her and her husband. He feels he knows this.

It is happening more and more often, this kind of thing. It is happening more and more that when he stands beside a grave, his hat in his hand, part of a person's life story reaches him like the yeasty scent from the bakery he passes every day on his way to the bus stop. He stares at the slightly depressed earth over Adelaide's grave and here comes the pretty white lace dress she loved best, the inequality in the size of her eyes so light brown they were almost yellow. Tea-colored. It comes that her voice was high and clear, that she was shy to sing for her husband, but did so anyway. She did it at night, after they'd gone to bed; the night before she died, she lay in the darkness beside him and sang "Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time."

And now this: she had a small diamond ring that was her mother's engagement ring, and Adelaide wore it on a thin gold chain around her neck. It was too small for her finger, and besides, she wanted to keep it close to her heart. Her knuckles were reddened from bleach, her back bothered her from bending over the washtub to scrub her children clean, but she would let no one else do it; she loved the sight of them wet, their curly hair now plastered straight against their skulls, their cheeks pinkened by the warmth of the water; she loved the way she could hold them close for a long time, like babies, when they stepped out of the water and into her arms, into the blue towel she opened to them like a great bird spreading its wings. No. The towel was not blue. What color was it?

What color was it?

Nothing. That's it for today. Arthur puts his hat back on his head, tips it toward Adelaide Marsh's headstone, and moves along. Horace Newton. Estelle McNeil. Irene Sutter. Amos Hammer.

Excerpted from The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg. Copyright © 2017 by Elizabeth Berg. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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