Excerpt from The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Dive From Clausen's Pier

by Ann Packer

The Dive From Clausen's Pier
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2002, 384 pages
    Apr 2003, 384 pages

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I lay on my side. The bedsheets were gritty and soft with use; I hadn't changed them since the accident. I reached for my quilt, lying in a tangle down past my feet. I'd made it myself one summer during high school, a patchwork of four-inch squares in no particular order, though I'd limited myself to blues and purples and the overall effect was nice. I'd read somewhere that quiltmakers "signed" their work with a little deviation, so in one corner I'd used a square cut from an old shirt of Mike's, white with a black windowpane check. I found that square now and arranged the quilt so it was near my face.

He had to wake up. He had to. I couldn't stand to think of what a bitch I'd been at Clausen's Reservoir--what a bitch all spring. It was like a horrible equation: my bitchiness plus his fear of losing me equaled Mike in a coma. I knew as clearly as I knew anything that I'd driven him to dive, to impress me. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to remember when everything between us had been fine. February? January? Christmas? Maybe not even Christmas: he'd given me plain pearl earrings that were very pretty and exactly what I would have wanted just a year earlier, but I found them stodgy and obvious, and I felt dead inside--not because of the earrings but because of my disappointment in them. "Do you like them?" he said uneasily. "I love them," I lied.

It was June now. I had the day off work, and at last I got up and made coffee, then started laying out the pattern for an off-white linen jacket I'd been planning to make, first ironing the crumpled tissue and then moving the pieces around on the length of fabric until I was satisfied. I pinned them and cut them out with my Fiskars, then went back and did the notches, snip by snip. I chalked the pattern marks onto the fabric, and by late morning I was sitting at my Bernina winding a bobbin, entranced by the fast whir of it, by the knowledge that for hours now I'd be at the machine, my foot on the pedal.

I'd been sewing for eleven years, since my first home ec class in junior high, when I'd made an A-line skirt and fallen in love. It was the inexorability of it that appealed to me, how a length of fabric became a group of cut-out pieces that gradually took on the shape of a garment. I loved everything about it, even the little snipped threads to be gathered and thrown away, the smell of an overheated iron, the scatter of pins at the end of the day. I loved how I got better and better, closer and closer with each thing I made to achieving just what I'd hoped.

When the phone rang at eight-thirty that evening I'd taken a few breaks for iced cranberry juice, but mostly I'd sat there sewing, and the sound woke me from the work. Surprised by how dark it had gotten, I pushed away from the table and turned on a light, blinking at the jacket parts that lay everywhere, the slips of pattern and the pinked-off edges of seams. I was starving, my back and shoulders knotted and aching.

It was Mrs. Mayer. She asked how I was, told me she'd heard it might rain, and then cleared her throat and said she'd appreciate it if I'd stop by the next day.

The morning sun slanted down the sidewalk, aiming my shadow in the direction of Lake Mendota. My car was already hot to the touch, and I unlocked it and rolled down the windows, then strolled to the end of the block and stood looking across Gorham Street at the water, still almost colorless under the early sky. Mike loved Lake Mendota, the way the city hugged its curves. He liked to pull people into debating the relative merits of it and Lake Monona, Madison's other big lake: he'd reel off a list of ways that Mendota was superior, as if it were a team he supported.

Mendota and Monona. "Sounds like bad names for twins," a girl from New York had said to me once, and I'd never been able to forget it. I laughed, but I was a little offended: she spoke so smugly, flipping her brown hair over her shoulder and raising her chin. I hardly knew her--she was in my freshman American history class at the U--but thinking about her five years later, I remembered this: that she'd owned a jacket I'd coveted, pearl-snapped and collarless like something made of cotton fleece, but fashioned from smooth black napa leather, soft as skin.

Excerpted from The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer Copyright 2002 by Ann Packer. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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