I wanted to share a second excerpt from NEXT BOOK, still tentatively titled A COINCIDENCE OF DOORS, because when I was doing my first revision pass this little segment of conversation absolutely floored me. I’d forgotten I’d written it; it had come out during one of those 1000 Words of Summer days when Jami Attenberg was urging us all to write down the truest and toughest stuff we knew.
Reading this won’t spoil the plot, if you’re curious. Nor does it really need any introduction. ❤️
“Is that what you want?” Grandma Trudy asked.
“Family isn’t about what you want,” Ellen said. It had been something her mother had said to her, during the years when Ellen had wanted to sit with her book or play on the computer or simply be left alone. “It’s about what’s best for the family. For everyone.”
Grandma Trudy looked unconvinced. “Anyway,” Ellen said, “I’ll still be able to read. It’s all I ever wanted to do, anyway.”
“December 2, 1984,” Grandma Trudy said. “You told me you wanted roller skates for Christmas because you wanted to feel like you were flying. You were wearing a blue sweatshirt with snowflakes on it, and jeans with a hole in the knee. From playing, not reading.”
“I never had any roller skates,” Ellen said.
“Well, your sister was a baby and your mother wanted you where you couldn’t move fast enough to get away,” Grandma Trudy said. “She called you Mommy’s Little Helper.”
“I sort of remember that,” Ellen said. “How old was I, three? How would I have known about roller skates?”
“You read a book about them,” Grandma Trudy said.
“I remember when I got invited to a roller rink birthday party,” Ellen said. “I went out onto the rink and it was like I really was flying. And then Mom told me I had to stay with Grace, who was still clinging to the wall.”
“Your mother did the best job she could,” Grandma Trudy said.
Ellen let out a single exhale; not quite laughter. “That’s what she always said about you.” Then she said “Grace doesn’t think love is a thing you can do. She said it was a result of something someone else did. So you can do what you think is a loving action towards someone, but they won’t receive it that way.”
“That makes sense,” Grandma Trudy said. “People need different things.” Her hands grabbed fistfuls of her blanket, then let them go. “It’s hard to understand what people need. I used to keep a tally, on a little pad of paper, of what made your mother happy and what didn’t. That was when she was young, when it was just the two of us. The marks never came out the same, two days in a row.”
“Well, she was a toddler, right?”
“But they’ve never come out the same, whether I’ve kept them on paper or in my head, for anybody. Even you. It used to be that you’d be happy if I gave you a book, and then one year you told me it was a book you’d already read, so I started asking your mother what books you were reading at school, and she said you read more books than she could keep track of, and suddenly trying to do the same thing that had worked before had made two people angry with me.”
“I don’t think I was angry.”
“Maybe not angry, then. Irritated. Frustrated. The grandmother that had gotten something wrong. The mother who was asking her grown daughter for one more thing when she already had too many things to do. The extra trip she had to take, so you could return the book and get one you hadn’t read before.”
“Dad took that trip,” Ellen said, remembering. “And after that I gave you a list.”
“It’s different for fathers,” Grandma Trudy said. “Especially when it’s not their mother that made the mistake.”