Excerpt from Snapshots by William Norris, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by William Norris

Snapshots by William Norris X
Snapshots by William Norris
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2001, 256 pages

    Aug 2002, 304 pages


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Nora, her gloved hand rubbing Hound’s ear, looks over at Kate leaning back into Brian’s chest, occasionally raising the cigarette to her lips, and thinks of heading back to the house and phoning Eve before bed.

Patty watches them all, wanting a drink and thrilled she’s not taken one.

Sean, looking at the sea crashing around the rocks, the red and green lights blinking through the snow out on the channel marker buoy thinks, Of all the places I’ve been, this spot right here is my favorite. When Mol gets here, I’m going to ask mom for Nanna’s old engagement ring, and we’ll walk out here together, and I’ll ask.

Kate, aware of the bulk of Brian behind her, the reassuring heft of him, but drawn also to the deep shades of gray and green all around her, feels torn. Feels she would like to capture this scene somehow with paint and small horsehair brushes. Feels anxious about the missed meds. She knows that even though tonight the flushing of drugs from her system feels like a promise, that if she keeps not taking them, it becomes a curse. And though something in them keeps her from being able to translate what she sees to something on canvas for others to see, and though that knowledge breaks part of her spirit, the feel of those strong arms around her waist is triumphing again, and she knows she’ll take a pill just before she goes to bed.

It is too cold to stay out for long and they decide, flipping their butts into the swells, that they should get back. In the house, the whole family sits together again in the living room, lights off, a fire burning, the tree glowing under its curtain of white bulbs. Through the windows, they can see the snow drifting down, the layers forming on the window ledges. Nora and Sean chat quietly together. Patty curls on the floor at her father’s feet, speaking to him of books, her work. Kate and Brian lean on one another, Kate’s gaze misty under the influence of too much wine, two missed meds. Sean catches her eye, sees the fire, usually suppressed, starting to kindle and raises his glass to her. The mother, sleepy with a crystal tumbler of Bailey’s, waits for midnight, hums the carols playing on the stereo. The clock lurches towards Christmas Day. Two blocks away, the bell in St. Elizabeth’s steeple tower begins the twelve chimes for midnight. They all look up at each other expectantly. There is one last ritual before they go to bed, one last thing before sleep, before Nora wakes them too early on Christmas morning as she has done for years, for decades, before the gluttonous morning of frenzied opening, the drive further down the coast to gather with Uncles and Cousins, before this day is over. One gift each, opened before bed on Christmas Eve. One gift and they know what is inside. It is a thing they know and cherish; a tradition that when the time comes, the children will pass to their children. The mother leaves for a moment, and comes back with an armful of boxes, "Christmas PJs!" The father, hoping he has guessed right with a long flannel shift, pulls a box from under the tree, hands it to the mother, says, "Christmas PJs." When the opening is done, when the boxes are shoved aside and the wrapping stuffed into the trash, when Christmas Eve feels over for the mother, she and the father turn in. The mother wishes for a moment she was not so old, wishes she could stay awake with her children for the few hours they will all stay awake, refilling their glasses until the Bailey’s is gone, smoking the cigarettes they all claim not to smoke anymore. But she heads to bed, kissing them each in turn, wishing them pleasant dreams. As she takes the father's hand to head upstairs, she thinks with surprise, Even with everything that’s happened, the mistakes we’ve made, even with any regrets, we're going to be okay. Brian turns in soon after, leaving the four Mahoney children alone in a dark room with three glasses of Irish cream and one club soda. In the flickering light of an aging fire, with faces occasionally lit as they drag furtively on smokes, hoping the cracked window is sucking the smell out into the snowy night, here, in this room, old wounds are scarred over, slights have been forgotten, the distances between them crossed as best they can. On this Christmas Eve, as adults, the four Mahoney children are together without doubts or misgivings. Together the way it was when they were children, together the way they were before anything had ever happened that made them know they were separate.

Reprinted from Snapshots by William Norris permission of Riverhead. Copyright © 2001 by William Norris. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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