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

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by William Norris

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  • First Published:
    Aug 2001, 256 pages
    Aug 2002, 304 pages

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The mother, always an early riser, finds it difficult to sleep much past six as she grows older. This day, Christmas Eve morning, she is up once again with the seabirds; their songs melding with the creaks and moans of this old beach house, winterized, finally, for these retirement years. Careful not to wake her still slumbering husband, she stretches her limbs, eases to a sitting position, slowly gets to her feet. This effort, she thinks, is what it is to be old.

Half a world away, Sean, the only son, hails a black cab in a London already empty for Christmas. "Heathrow Terminal Four," he tells the driver. He settles back to watch the city shrink down into suburbs as the cab shoots out the M1. Molly, the woman he loves, the woman who he still cannot believe loves him, left earlier, bound for her own family in Ireland. She’ll join him in a few days, her seventh or eighth trip over now, and he knows he’ll find himself marveling at how much he feels like a tourist when he is in New Jersey with her. Because this city is home now, except at Christmas and those days of July and August when the heat creeps to eighty, the BBC weathermen complain of "scorchers," and he longs for the humid Jersey Shore summers leavened by that breeze off the water.

Nora, the baby, the only sibling with her mother’s fondness for the morning, wakes alone in her small country house. She reaches across the bed for Eve, then remembers Eve has left to visit her parents for the holiday, parents who won't let Nora into their home. Nora climbs from bed, lets Hound out back, her tail whipping fiercely as she darts towards the woods. She perks coffee, pours a cup, dons thick corduroys, a sweater, a vest. Heads out onto her deck, surveys the small, quietly eroding mountains heading out into Pennsylvania. Her breath circles the steam pouring from her mug, and though she wishes Eve had not flown back to Indiana at this, her favorite time of year, she thinks to herself, this life, my life, is good. Fingers to her lips, she blows a shrill whistle for the dog, then turns towards the house and a shower. Soon she will drive out to Newark Airport and collect Sean before turning south towards the beach for this holiday she loves.

It’s 8:30 a.m. when Kate, the eldest, is startled into consciousness by the buzzer on her clock radio. Around the edges of the minor hangover left by her teachers’ pre-Christmas break cocktail party, she recalls her dream and lingers for a moment in that color-and-light filled memory. She was a girl again, in a scene lifted from the canvases of one of the impressionists she used to love. The mirage of one too many Tanqueray martinis lingers on the back of her tongue. The shower in the master bath is running, her husband Brian has a half day in the office today. Kate stands with her mother’s effort, believes she is too young to feel so old, walks into the steamy bathroom. Last night’s med sits on the counter like an accusation. She picks it up, holds it closely in front of her face as if she’s trying to search the future out in a saucer full of tea leaves, then wells some spit in her mouth and coats her throat with its chalk.

The father wakes. Checks the digital clock, squints, can’t make out the big, red numbers. "Goddamn it," he mumbles as he scratches around the books stacked on the night stand for his glasses. Slipping them on, he sees the steady clear numbers: 8:47. He tries to edge back into unconsciousness, but finds it impossible. In the old days, he would have rolled over, found sleep again, and snored until noon or later. But today, he gives up the struggle. For a moment, he lays still in the bed, hoping against reason for sleep to return. Gradually, he becomes aware of the catalog of his body’s complaints. His left elbow burning tautly with tendinitis, a stiff ache in his lower back as he heaves himself into a sitting position, his knees, both surgically reconstructed long ago, throbbing with arthritis, a reliable predictor of a storm on the way. It is only really now, at moments like this one, that he confronts the specter of his aging. What has happened, he thinks, to my body? How have I gotten this brittle, this old?

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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