Summer Island Page 26

The heavyset woman flushed. She looked ready to cry. "I didn't think she was like those other ones. .

Sarah took the microphone back. “That brings up a good point, Dr. Harrison,” she said, speaking to the gentleman sitting on the stage. “People are angry at Nora Bridge because she lied to them, but is it really a lie? Do you have to tell people everything about your life, just because you're in the public eye?”

The doctor smiled coolly for the camera. “Certainly a public figure has a right to his or her secrets ... unless and until those secrets become germane. In this case, Nora had no right to hold herself out as an expert on love and family and commitments. But of course, it's ludicrous for people to trust her anyway ... an uneducated woman whose only claim to fame is a daily newspaper column. Trust should be reserved for professionals who are trained to help people.”

Sarah stopped. “Now, wait a minute, Doctor. I don't think education-”

“Nora Bridge pretended to have answers, but no one bothered to wonder where those answers came from. Hopefully, Americans have learned that it takes more than an open microphone to solve people's problems. It takes education, and empathy, and integrity areas in which Ms. Bridge is sorely lacking.”

“And she's a coward,” someone said from the crowd. "I mean ... where is she? She owes us –

Nora snapped off the television. She couldn't seem to move, not even to wheel her self out of the room. A tremor was spreading through her, chilling her from the inside out, and her throat was so tight it was hard to breathe.


She froze, her heart pounding. She hadn't even heard footsteps on the stairs.

God, she didn't want her daughter to see her like this ...

Ruby came into the room, walked slowly around the wheelchair; then sat down on the leather chair across from Nora. “Did you sleep well?”

Nora stared down at her own hands, and thought, Oh, please, just go away ... don't talk to me now ... . “Yes,” she managed, "thank you.

I read your columns," Ruby said when the silence had gone on too long.

“Really?” It was a tiny word, barely spoken.

“You're good at it.”

Nora's relief was so profound, she gasped. Only I you could have meant more to her in that moment. And yet even as the relief buoyed her, it dragged her down again, too, reminded her of all that she'd lost this week.

“Thank you,” she said softly. Finally, she looked up, and found Ruby watching her through narrowed eyes.

“I take it you read a few of your new letters,” Ruby said, leaning forward, resting her elbows on her knees. She seemed to see it all-the shaking hands, the television remote that had been thrown onto the floor.

Nora wanted to say something casual and flip, to show how meaningless a few ugly letters were, but she couldn't. “They hate me now.”

“They're strangers. They don't even know you They can't love you or hate you, not really.” Ruby flashed a smile. “Leave the big, ugly emotions to your family.”

Who also hated her.

That only made it worse. “What family?” Nora moaned quietly. “Really, Ruby ... what family have I left myself?” Ruby looked at her for a long minute, then said, “After I read your columns, you know what I remembered?”

Nora wiped her eyes. “What?”

"When I was twelve years old-seventh grade-and my class elected me to run the first tolo.

Remember? It was a big deal on Lopez, a dance where the girls asked the boys. Mr. Lundberg, down at the hardware store, said it meant that the world was going to hell in a leaky towboat."

Nora sniffled again. “Yeah ... I remember that.”

“I wanted the local newspaper to cover the event. You were the only one who didn't laugh at me.” Ruby smiled. “I watched you charm that fat old editor from the Island Times. I remember being surprised by how easily you got him to agree to what you wanted... what I wanted.”

Nora remembered that day for the first time in years. “The minute I walked into that cheesy, airless office, I loved it. The smell of the paper; the clacking of typewriters. I envied the reporters, with their ink-stained fingers and for the first time in my life, I felt as if I belonged somewhere. I'd always known I had words banging around in my chest, but I'd never known what to do with them.” She looked up.

Ruby's gaze was solemn. “I realized ... Later ... that I'd shown you the way out of our lives.”

Nora took a deep breath. “I didn't leave my family for a career; Ruby. That had nothing to do with my decision. Less than nothing.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Ah, Ruby,” she said, "you want answers, but you don't even know what the questions are. You have to look at the beginning of a thing, not the end. For me, leaving your dad started before I met him

“ I don't understand.”

Nora wanted to ask her daughter if all this talking would actually lead them anywhere, or if it was just a way to pass the hours before they each moved on. A part of her-the cowardly part-wanted to change the subject, maybe talk about Dean or Eric, but she wouldn't let herself take the easy way. She and Ruby were finally approaching something that mattered.

She stared out the window. Night was falling, drizzling dark syrup down the evergreen trees. “My dad was an alcoholic. When he was sober; he was almost human, but when he was drunk-which was most of the time-he was pit-bull mean. It was a secret I learned to keep from everyone. It's what children of alcoholics do. They keep secrets. Hell, it took me fifteen years of therapy to even say the word alcoholic.”

Ruby's mouth fell open a little. “Huh? You never told us that.”

“On a farm like ours, the neighbors couldn't hear a woman's scream. Or a young girl's. And you learn fast that it doesn't help to cry out ... to reach out. Instead, you try to get smaller and smaller; hoping that if you can become tiny enough, and still enough, he'll pass You by.”

“He abused you?”

Such a thin word, abuse. “He didn't do the worst thing a father can do to his daughter; but he ... molded me. I grew up trying to be invisible, flinching all the time. I don't think I stood up straight until I left your father.” She leaned forward, making direct eye contact with her daughter. “For years, I thought that if I didn't talk about my dad, he'd float out of my life ... out of my nightmares. I thought I could forget him.”

Ruby drew in a sharp breath. “Did it work?”

Nora knew her daughter was making the connection:I'd forgotten you. “No. All it did was give him more power ... and turn me into a woman who couldn't imagine being loved.”

“Because your own father didn't love you.”

“Not unlike how a girl would feel if her own mother abandoned her.” Nora wouldn't let herself look away. “Did you ever fall in love ... after Dean?”

“I lived with a guy-Max Bloom-for almost five years.”

“Did you love him?”

“I ... wanted to.”

“Did he love you?”

Ruby got to her feet and went to the bookcase, where she started thumbing through their old record collection. “I think he did. In the beginning.”

How did it end between you?"

Ruby shrugged. “I came home from work one day and he'd moved out. He took everything from the kitchen except our coffeemaker. In the bathroom, he left a razor full of his hair and an almost empty bottle of Prell, but no towels.”

Nora longed to empathize with her daughter; tell her how much she understood that kind of pain, but that was the easy way--understanding. What mattered now, in this moment when they were actually talking, was not Nora's understanding. It was Ruby herself. Like Nora, Ruby liked to run away from her problems, and sometimes she ran so far and so fast that she never bothered to really look at why she'd left. “Did you ever tell him you loved him?”

Almost. Practically."


Ruby frowned at her. "What does that mean-‘ah’?”

“Did he say he loved you?”

“Yeah, but Max was like that. He told the checker at Safeway he loved her.”

Nora could see that she'd have to be more direct. “Let me ask you this, Ruby. How long do you think it takes to fall in love?”

Ruby sighed raggedly. “So your point is this: I never really loved Max, so why did I cry when he left me?”

“No. You lived and slept with a man for almost five years and never told him you loved him, even after he'd said those precious words to you. The question isn't why he left. It's why he stayed so long.,”

Ruby's mouth dropped open. “Oh, my God. I never thought about it like that.” She looked helplessly at Nora.

“I told your father I loved him the first time we made love. I'd never said the words before, not to anyone. It wasn't the sort of thing my family did. I'd been hoarding I love you's all my life. And do you know when Rand told me he loved me?”


“Never. I waited for it like a child waits for Christmas morning. Every time I said it, I waited, and every second of his silence was a little death.”

Ruby closed her eyes and shook her head. “No more. Please ... ”

“I wanted to raise you to be strong and sure of yourself, and instead I turned you into me. I made you afraid to love and certain you'd be left behind. I was a bad mother and you paid the price. I'm so, so sorry for that.”

“You weren't a bad mother,” Ruby said quietly, “until you left.”

Nora was pathetically grateful for that. “Thank you.”

She knew she was following a dangerous path, sitting here, falling in love with her daughter all over again. . . but she couldn't help herself. “I still remember the little girl who cried every time a baby bird fell out of its nest.”

“That girl has been gone a long time.”

“You'll find her again,” Nora said softly, “probably about the same time you fall in love. And when it's real, Ruby, you'll know it ... and you'll stop being afraid.”

After dinner; Ruby stayed in the bathtub until the water turned cold.

The world-her world-had changed, but she couldn't put her finger on precisely how. It was like walking into a perfectly decorated room and knowing instinctively that somewhere a picture was crooked. She climbed out of the clawfoot tub and stood on the fuzzy pink bath mat, dripping. By the time she dried off and slipped into a pair of sweats and an oversized UCLA Bruins sweatshirt, she could smell dinner cooking.

She finger-combed her hair and lay down on the bed with her yellow pad open in front of her.

Today I talked to my mother. This is a remarkably ordinary sentence for a truly revolutionary act.

I talked to her. She talked to me. By the end of it, we had both wept, although not, I'm sure, for the same reasons.

What I don't know is where we go from here. How can I walk downstairs and pretend that nothing has changed? And yet, it was simply a conversation, words passed back and forth between women who are strangers to each other even though they share a past. I want to believe I'm wrong in feeling that things are different now.

Why then did I cry? Why did I look at her and feel like a child again and think-even for a moment “What if?”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next