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Snapshots

by William Norris

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

    Paperback:
    Aug 2002, 304 pages

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The mother checks her watch, anxiously, waiting. Sean is roughly halfway across the ocean, Nora should be rolling towards the airport, Patty catching her train, Kate waiting for Brian, loading the car. Her brood, coming home. The tree is trimmed, the presents wrapped, the plum cake, from her mother’s recipe, found in the attic during the renovations, waits for its turn in the oven. It is a surprise just for Kate, a reminder of childhood. The mother remembers other Christmases when the children woke her and Pat too early. Just a few hours after all the wrapping and assembling were finished, four of them, jumping on the bed, calling, "Santa came! Get up!" And, in her memory, those days are pure. If she thinks hard, she can remember troubles; fretting over money back when they were just starting out, Sean and Nora always at each other's throats, but it was mild, they were her children, and she knew them. Knew their minds and the thin swaths of their bodies in the bath. Knew their pleasures and their fears. Could soothe or control them with a glance, a word, the right snack. Now, there is pride in what they have become, a sense of achievement, but she worries. Is Kate rigorous with her meds? Is Sean okay halfway around the world? She has the unyielding sense that Patty is never happy, not with her professional success, not with her life. The feeling that Patty is alone, that Patty is too much like her father, substituting the pages of books, hours at the office, an affinity for the bottle for people. And, her baby, her Nora. Seeing her with Eve, the mother, of a different generation and way of thinking, can not help but think on roads she left untraveled. Seeing them together, she grows contemplative, until Pat asks, "What’s wrong?" and she shakes off her distress because she loves him, them, and because, of course, she is the mother.

Clouds move into the New York Metropolitan area, the wind picks up, swirling gusts of road salt into tiny funnels. The mercury in thermometers around the tri-state area slowly begins to ease downward. Nora pulls her truck into the short-term parking lot, tucks the parking ticket into her sun visor, and clips the leash onto Hound. Getting out of the truck, she zips her jacket against the wind and flips her collar up. She is fond of the cold, the way it breathes new life into older horses who find themselves frisky, snorting and bucking like yearlings under shaggy winter coats. Walking towards the terminal, the dog presses against her legs. The commotion of a holiday airport, these smells of exhaust and jet fuel are threatening, and Hound nuzzles Nora’s hand for reassurance. Nora pats her and walks straight inside without hesitation. Her dog goes everywhere she does, and she has found if she moves with authority, people will rarely stop her. She makes her way to the waiting area just outside Customs, settles in an uncomfortable chair, the dog resting its head on her lap. Sitting there, the closest thing she has to a child nestled next to her, Nora thinks of her mother. Thinks how hard she’s tried to welcome Eve into the family, seeing how with effort she treats her with the same sort of love she treats Kate’s husband or Sean’s Molly. Knows how hard it must be, how a lifetime of Catholic dogma and years of expectations clash with what her mother sees when Nora and Eve visit. And she has seen a sadness overwhelm her mother. Caught her mother watching as she and Eve take their turn preparing dinner on summer weekends or cuddle on the porch swing after dark. In those moments, a small part of her still wishes she was somehow different, wishes she was able to come home with a man on her arm and a baby in tow instead of Hound. But then her mother comes out to the porch, kisses them both goodnight on the tops of their heads, makes Eve feel she too is her daughter, and Nora wonders about the source of her grief, something the mother keeps locked down tight, and she wishes that they could talk about whatever it is, but she doesn’t know how to ask. So she just hugs her for a moment longer than necessary, and the next morning, her mother is herself again, full of laughter and in charge, and they sit in the kitchen while whoever else is in the house snoozes, and they talk over coffee about nothing in particular.

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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