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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Print Excerpt

Patty’s train rolls along the coast, coming close to the town where she’ll switch to the local train that will carry her to the station a short walk from the beach house. Her book, more than halfway finished, is facedown on her legs; she’s caught now in the view. There is the occasional flash of the water between buildings as the train slugs southward, and she realizes she’s excited. Excited to see her family, excited for this holiday to come. For tonight with just the six of them, with few surprises between them, with years of routine to fall back on. We’ll have dinner, she thinks, and at some point, after the catching-up, the coming-home awkwardness gone, we’ll start to remember things--good, funny things. When the four children have gathered in one place, under the right circumstances, the stories flow, they all remember the same things. Even though they can never know one another the way they did as children, she thinks, despite the ways we’ve drifted and collided over the years, we are still linked. When we were little, when we were all under the same roof, she thinks, when we were kids, we were mostly happy.

The father loads the CD changer in the living room, filling the first seven slots with his favorite jazz discs, Dave Brubeck, Miles, Coltrane, Billie, Ella, Sarah, Lester Young, then three Christmas records in deference to the season. He goes to the cellar, thinks with pride, I have a wine cellar, my own wine cellar, then mulls his choices for a while. Selects a nice Sauvignon Blanc from Washington State and a crisp Pinot Grigio for Nora, Patty and his wife who favor whites. For the rest of the family, he picks a light, dry Pinot Noir, a very old, woody Bordeaux he’d been saving for something special, and a peppery Zinfandel he is eager to try. Upstairs, he puts the whites in the refrigerator to chill, and opens the reds, giving them air before the time comes to pour. He turns the volume up on the stereo, comes into the kitchen and takes his wife, flour coating her hands, into his arms and for a moment they dance to some jazzy swing, dipping and twirling. For a moment, he feels young again, feels his first flush of love from all those years ago and he marvels at his luck. He could not have predicted his life. Could not have said thirty years ago, coming from his home, "I will be married, a retired lawyer, have four kids who turned out well enough, enough money." He could not have said, "In thirty years, I’ll consider myself lucky."

The sky is nearing black as the day gets later and storm clouds gather, obscuring the high, flat sun and any early rising stars. The wind bowing the arms of trees with steady gusts is cold, bone-cold from the north. Way up, in the highest reaches of the sky, snow crystals form, making their way down, for now, as flurries. The song on the CD player ends, the mother leans on the father for the briefest of moments, comfortable the way she always is with him. But, she shoos him out of the kitchen, "I’m getting flour all over you." When he is gone, she washes her hands, goes to the old rotary phone on the kitchen wall, fits her fingers into the sockets on the dial, and turns them quickly in a number that flows from her fingertips. Her best friend, from childhood through today, is out. The machine plays its greeting, and after the beep, she says, "Anna, it’s Liz. Calling to wish you and Jack a Merry Christmas. Love you." Placing the phone back in the cradle, she stands for a moment, before shaking her head briskly. Turning back to the food on the counter, she thinks, now where was I?

Kate’s watch beep-beeps, a reminder to pop a pill, just as Brian puts the finishes parallel parking in front of the beach house. She silences the watch without looking, doesn’t reach for her purse. Brian glances at her. "After we get inside," she says, "After we get inside." They gather their things from the trunk, bound up the porch, arm in arm, and crash open the door. "Merry Christmas!" Kate calls, "Are we first?" The father comes from the living room, shakes Brian’s hand, hugs his eldest. "Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas." The mother is there. When the father releases his hug, she pulls Kate to her, hugs her with a mother’s fierce hug, then pushes back, still gripping Kate’s arms, searching her face. "How's everything?" the mother asks, looking in Kate’s eyes, wanting them to be bright, fearing they are bright. "Fine. I'm behaving myself," Kate answers. For a moment they are still, until Kate catches a hint of the smell wafting in from the kitchen. Struggling, she tries to place it, then realizes. "Nana’s plum cake! You found the recipe?" A med goes untaken.

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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