Excerpt from Afterlife by Julia Alvarez, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Julia Alvarez

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez X
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
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    Apr 2020, 272 pages

    Apr 2021, 288 pages


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Today, the magnet on her fridge proves prophetic: even creatures of habit can sometimes be forgetful.

You said it, Antonia agrees. She has just poured orange juice into the coffee in the mug she brought back from one of the fancier hotels. Must have been a special occasion for Sam to have chosen to stay there and for her to have allowed the expense.

You'd think you were born with money in your family, she liked to tease him.

I never had it to begin with, so I'm not afraid to spend it, Sam responded. He was always quick with a comeback. Used to get him in trouble with his dad growing up. Being fresh, it was called back then. Oh, the stories he told her.

Sam spoiled her, or tried to, and got scolded as his thanks—but it was the kind of scolding that must've made him suspect she liked being made something of.

There'll be no more of that now.

She is keeping to her routines, walking a narrow path through the loss—not allowing her thoughts to stray. Occasionally, she takes sips of sorrow, afraid the big wave might wash her away. Widows leaping into a husband's pyre, mothers jumping into a child's grave. She has taught those stories.

Today, like every other day, you wake up empty and frightened, she quotes to herself as she looks at her reflection in the mirror in the morning. Her beloved Rumi no longer able to plug the holes.

Late afternoons as the day wanes, in bed in the middle of the night, in spite of her efforts, she finds herself at the outer edge where, in the old maps, the world drops off, and beyond is terra incognita, sea serpents, the Leviathan—HERE THERE BE DRAGONS.

Countless times a day, and night, she pulls herself back from this edge. If not for herself, then for the others: her three sisters, a few old aunties, nieces and nephews less so. Her circle used to be wider. But she has had to pull in, contain the damage, keep breathing.

As she often tells her sister Izzy, always in crisis, arriving for visits with shopping bags full of gifts and a broken heart: the best thing you can give the people who love you is to take care of yourself so you don't become a burden on them. No wonder Izzy's ringtone for Antonia is church bells.

Actually, all the sisters have followed Izzy's lead and assigned that ringtone to Antonia. The secret got out. The secret always gets out in the sisterhood. Our Lady of Pronouncements, Mona said by way of explanation. Good old Mo-mo, no hairs on her tongue—one of their mother's Dominican sayings. Tilly was kinder. Sort of. It's because you started going to Sam's church. It's how Tilly used to describe their denomination, to avoid using the word Christian. Now she avoids Sam's name. Your church. As if Antonia would forget that Sam is gone unless someone reminds her.

They're just jealous, was Sam's theory about the ringtone profiling. All your years of teaching. You've picked up a lot of wisdom. A head full of chestnuts.

Full of B.S. That's what the sisterhood would say.

Who now to champion her way of being in the world?

She empties out the ruined coffee and starts over.

THE LITTLE PHONE SHE IS CARRYING in her pocket begins ringing. She hasn't set special ringtones for anyone, except Mona, who insisted on dogs barking. Not just any dogs, but Mona's five rescues, which she set up on Antonia's phone.

Today it's Tilly calling. A few days ago, Mona. Izzy weaves in and out. The sisterhood checking in on her. You take her this morning. I'll call her this weekend. The frequency has dropped off the last few months, but it has been sweet.

How are you? they ask. How are you doing?

Come visit, they all say. Knowing she won't take them up on it. She is the sister who hates traveling even during the best of times.

It's beautiful here, Tilly brags. Why do you think it's called the Heartland? They have an ongoing rivalry. Vermont or Illinois. Who gets spring first, who has the worst snowfalls?

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Excerpted from Afterlife by Julia Alvarez . Copyright © 2020 by Julia Alvarez . Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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