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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Patty lingers in bed, surprised to be alone for a moment, reaching across the duvet to find just space, then recalls leaving that East Village bar early, before closing. She remembers draining her club soda just as the sea glass blue bottle of Bombay Sapphire began to whisper, "Just one won't hurt." Remembers waving good-bye to the old friends from medical school who’d be staying in the City for the holiday, remembers almost turning around and going back in for a quick one. But also the clearheaded walk home, New York sparkling with Christmas lights, the air brittle, her own breath sharp. During that walk, hands jammed into the pocket of her coat, she remembered other walks home from that same bar, stopping in doorways to fumble with whoever she’d picked up that night. Remembers stopping and thinking Christ, I'm too old for that shit. She gets up, still amazed to find morning bearable when it isn’t marred by a thumping head or queasy belly, and grinds the beans for her coffee. Sitting in her sun-drenched eat-in-kitchen, just for a moment, she dreads going home. Dreads it because of the years she has lost with them, the years where they saw her as she wanted them to see her. Dreads it because now, when she turns down a gin and tonic or glass of wine, when she sticks to fruit juice or club soda, they will ask her, "Why?" And with that question hanging in the air, she’ll be forced to admit, to them, to that family who has seen her only in the flattering light she herself has cast, that she, Patricia Elizabeth Mahoney, has flaws. That she has made mistakes, caused damage to herself and to them and that, now, she may have need, for the first time in a long time, of their help and support. Now, she may need their forgiveness.

The father putters, flicks on The Weather Channel to ease his quiet fear of storms over the Atlantic downing his son’s plane. There has been talk of a bit of snow, his knees ache, and his thoughts are on Nor’easter gales and wings icing, but the smooth anchor eases his worry, predicts the storm will hold off until that night when his son is safely arrived. This son he loves but does not understand. His son who has chosen a life of spices and food, who never excelled at the sports that came so naturally to him, but who will sit with him now over a glass of fine Bordeaux and talk of Billie versus Ella or how to grow different herbs in the garden the father has kept since giving up work. My children, he thinks, are people I don’t really know. He is surprised by this, this drifting, because he is not sure when it happened. One day they were there and he was sure of them. Then suddenly they were grown, different, their own persons. Of course, there was Kate and her trouble, and that perhaps is the marker. The thing that energized Patty, his favorite, into the path of her success, that pushed Sean to grow up, into their clashing for a time, and Nora? Nora, his baby girl who he might pass on the street because she’s frozen in his mind at six. A tomboy climbing trees and riding horses. This woman comes to visit now, calls herself Nora, and he can see that girl in there, faintly, but when did she grow so poised? How is it she looks at that Eve so softly. But mostly, he wonders about his son. How he wanted a son. Wanted father-son games of catch and day games at Yankee Stadium, the chance to repair some of the wreckage strewn about by his own father. When his Liz swelled with their second child, he dreamt of drowsy August afternoons with Pat, Jr. casting for snapper blues, of coaching Little League or Pop Warner. The signs were good. That second baby was riding low, his kind mother-in-law whispered to him in the eighth month, "Low means a boy." And didn't he already have a daughter? So when the doctor slapped his back, told him, "A healthy baby girl," he cut his losses, had her christened Patricia Elizabeth after him and the mother, and put his dreams into her, made her his favorite. When Sean appeared four years later, he tried, but the boy wasn’t the son he had dreamt about. He realizes now, he gave up. Later, he tried to make up for it, tried to build a relationship when his son was grown into a man. But as he waits for all his children to come home, he remembers the bitter stain of his own father’s violence, and thinks, I tried to do everything right, to be a real father to my son. I see him twice a year, we speak on the phone, but if I answer when he calls, the phone always goes quickly to Liz, his letters are addressed to her. I don't know my boy, he thinks, and I don’t even know if he likes me.

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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