One thing I've learned is that strange things do happen. They happen all the time. Today, for instance, my best friend Jill's cat spoke. We were making brownies in the kitchen when we heard it say, Let me out. Well, we rushed to the back door and did exactly that. We experienced a miracle and now we're looking for more, although Franconia, the town we live in, is not known for such things. Jill and I have known each other our whole lives. One house separates our houses but we act as if it doesn't exist. We met before we were born and we'll probably still know each other after we die. At least, that's the way we're planning it.
My mother and I left for Atlantic City so quickly I didn't have time to call Jill. We told people we were on our way to visit an old aunt, but really our departure had something to do with love, or the lack of it, and the aunt doesn't even exist. I know other people whose mothers suddenly pack up when their fathers drink or scream, but for us this is more serious. My mother doesn't do things like go to Atlantic City. She doesn't order room service and cry. She once told me that anyone who gets married had better like herself, because there's nobody else in this world that she'll ever really know, not truly.
We stayed in our room in Atlantic City for three days, and didn't go outside once, thanks to room service. We ate like pigs and didn't even bother to brush our teeth until my mother's cousin Margot, who got a divorce last summer and changed the color of her hair to give herself an emotional lift, came to get us. She drove to New Jersey in the Ford Mustang convertible that she refused to let her ex have, since he'd taken her very soul and raked it over red-hot coals.
"Get dressed right now," she told us.
We were wearing our bathrobes and watching an old cowboy movie, which, for some reason, made my mother cry. Maybe it was all those men on horseback who were so steadfast and loyal. Their own men had disappointed them, but somehow Margot and my mother both had hope for improvement. Frankly, I had more faith in the horses.
"I mean now, Frances," Margot said, and because she meant business, my mother actually dressed and put on some lipstick and we went to a Chinese restaurant where the drinks came with little paper umbrellas, which I kept as a souvenir.
Listen to me, Gretel, Margot told me when we'd gone back to the room to pack and my mother was finally out of earshot. When a marriage breaks up, it's the children who suffer, so baby, hold on tight. That's why Margot was relieved that she and Tony had never had children, although she became teary whenever she saw a baby.
"Margot is my best friend, but she's completely full of baloney," my mother whispered as we were throwing our suitcases into the trunk. "Take it all with a grain of salt. Maybe even a whole shaker."
Say what you want about the Mustang, it may be gorgeous, but it has very little trunk space. I had to sit in the back seat with the hair dryer and the makeup case on my lap all the way to Franconia, but that didn't stop me from keeping my fingers crossed and wishing we'd wind up someplace other than home.
We're in Florida for one week, the week when the turtles die on the beach and there are jellyfish in the ocean. As soon as we checked into the hotel, my brother, Jason, who likes to pretend he's not part of our family, went out to study tide pools and no one has seen him since. My parents are here to try to revitalize their marriage, which seems a pretty impossible feat to all outside observers. Gretel honey, don't get high hopes, Margot had already warned me when she took me shopping for a bathing suit, a mission which can give anyone with a less than perfect body a complete nervous breakdown. When it's over, it's over, Margot told me, and I had the distinct feeling that she was right.
Reprinted from Local Girls by Alice Hoffman by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 1999 by Alice Hoffman.
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