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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 father holes himself up in the bedroom, banishing the mother. He puts some Art Tatum on the small boombox CD player he keeps in there and goes into his closet, pulling out the gifts he’s bought for the mother. He wraps them with no small measure of anxiety--he frequently gets things wrong with gifts. He tries, hard, phoning Nora or Patty to ask their opinions, but for every success, for every gift the mother opens and turns to him with pure gratitude and love on her face, there are two or three failures. The gifts his children see and raise their eyes at each other from across the room. Warming to his task as he wraps, he grows confident. These are all perfect, he thinks, just right this year, just right.

Kate greets Brian at their front door with bags packed and gifts ready for the trip. She’s always surprised by how happy he is to see her, how his face softens from whatever crisis work has leveled on his mind, how he takes her into his arms, strongly, confidently. How safe he makes her feel. He deserves better, she thinks, I do not deserve this love. But, she has it, and at these moments, she counts her blessings, and is thankful for the pills and what they have given her. In other moments though, solitary moments when she’s forgotten or neglected her meds, when the sharp green of a single blade of grass recalls something in her head the way a snatch of forgotten music or the smell of particular foods can conjure ghosts, she remembers how it used to be. How she used to crave jug wine and smoke, dusky saxophones, and falling naked onto drop sheets until she and her man were sweaty and coated with paint like warriors. At those moments, she thinks of calling Sean and telling him, "I’m back." Thinks of running off someplace again, of doing anything to escape. But as she rushes to the bathroom, resolved to empty the pill bottles, watch the meds swirl in a spiral down the drain, she realizes exactly what it is she would lose. Remembers the bad times, thinks of the scars marring her legs, thinks of how Brian loves her so much, how he’s done everything right those few times she has gone off, how he’s rescued her from herself, and how he’s earned her love. She unscrews the lids, pours herself a glass of water from the tap, and takes her pills. She and Brian load the trunk, settle into the soft leather seats. As they head for the Parkway, the radio weatherman relays a winter storm warning for that night, and the news anchor muses on the possibility of a white Christmas before spinning that holiday classic. Kate covers Brian’s hand on the gear shift, and raises her voice with Bing’s.

Patty boards her New Jersey Transit train, finds an empty bench seat and spreads her bags beside her. She pulls a new novel from her tote bag, feels its heft in her hands for a moment, the hefty pleasure only hardbacks bring, before cracking it open and delving into the world it promises. The train lurches from the station, underground until they hit Newark, and when the conductor comes by, she barely notices. She just hands him her ticket, her eyes still on the page. Her father suggested this book, and she hopes to be well into it before she gets home. Hopes to sit with him the way she alone can and speak of what she’s found in its syntax and language. Pausing in her reading, she wonders if maybe things can be different now. If she can find a way to bring Sean and Kate and Nora back into her life. Daydreaming, she remembers Nora coming to New York for some veterinary seminar a few years ago. Sitting in Patty’s living room, sharing a bottle of wine, Nora told her a story about one of her early memories, a day out on their grandfather’s sailboat. Nora was maybe five years old and Patty lifted her up as the boat tacked into a gale out on the bay. "I was petrified at first," Nora said, "but I closed my eyes and leaned into the wind, and learned something about trust." That night, sitting there in the apartment, they were quiet for a while, then Nora said, "But you know, it’s getting hard to trust a shadow." Her legs cramping on the commuter train, her mind spinning over the years, remembering slights both real and imagined. Thinking, I had reasons, reasons for everything, Patty stands and considers walking through the train, searching out the bar car. Thinks with sharp longing of the tart brine of gin. But she sits again, because as comforting as gin sounds now, even though she still remembers how beautiful the dew forming on the sides of a cocktail glass can be, as dull and flat as she sometimes feels without the company of booze, she doesn’t really want to go to any of the places all those drinks took her. Not again. Picking her book back-up, she reads.

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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