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Where polite society weighs heavily against extramarital dalliances, why do some people insist on acting against their own best interests? Ah, the complexity of the human heart! Virginia Sorensen seems to be saying in this dark novel about a 1940s Utah housewife, Kate, and a young violin maker, Peter, a man who elicits from her the first shock of overpowering attractions. Considering the circumstances of Kate’s rural life, her marriage to an older man, and the trouble she has raising two stepchildren, readers may forgive her errant desires. Yet her husband has been good to her, and the new object of her eye has a devoted wife and a handicapped son. So, why should these two decent, if all-too-human, people be struck by this other side of human passion? Ultimately, Kate decides to abandon her Utah home and her adopted family rather than risk disruption to Peter’s household. However, decades later she realizes her error and embarks on a pilgrimage back home to see her Peter once more, to determine finally what meaning this romantic interlude held for her.Virginia Sorensen was born in Provo, Utah, and lived much of her adult life in Morocco and Florida with her husband, British novelist Alec Waugh. She is the distinguished author of eight novels (see, for instance, A Little Lower than the Angels), a collection of short stories (Where Nothing Is Long Ago: Memories of a Mormon Childhood), and as many children’s books; and winner of the Newberry Medal, an O. Henry award, and two Guggenheim fellowships. She spent a lifetime telling stories, many of which she offered to her Mormon community as their own. Literary critics have hailed her as “Utah’s First Lady of Letters.” She died in 1991.
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Linda Sillitoe is a graduate of the University of Utah. As a Deseret News staff reporter, news features editor for Utah Holiday magazine, and a New York Times correspondent, she garnered awards from the Utah chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and Associated Press. Her non-fiction includes Banking on the Hemingways: Three Generations of Banking in Utah and Idaho, Friendly Fire: The ACLU in Utah, and Welcoming the World: A History of Salt Lake County. She is also the author of a collection of poetry, a collection of short stories, and a novel and has contributed to several anthologies of poetry and short stories. She has taught journalism on several college campuses. She co-produced the PBS-affiliated documentary, “Navajo and American.” She lives in Mesa, Arizona.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE FIRST DAY
THEY SAT ON THE BACK PORCH STEPS AS EVENING began to come, the grandmother whose name was Kathleen but who was known as Kate, and her grandchild, Jean. Supper was just behind them, and Dessie, daughter of Kate and mother of Jean, was making the final sounds of her day in the house, washing the dishes. “No help!” she had said to them. “I want you two to go out on the porch and get acquainted. Mother, you need cooling off after the train; nothing’s as hot as a train on a hot day.”
In the front of the house, Lou, the bigger girl, was practicing her piano lesson, one, two, three, four, mechanically, with conscious virtue, counting time until the dishes should be finished.
Jean and Kate panted together with July. But the sun was setting and among the mountains this meant immediate coolness. A small wind was already stirring, coming from the west. Dumped confidingly at their feet, the dog moved only his eyes, hot and waiting in his hair. Cherries hung, sour and firm, in the trees of the yard, and a blurred fragrance of ripe raspberries behind the house woke in Kate a memory she shook back into herself deliberately. But Jean had no memories, only a great appetite, for the moment quieted by supper, and a great curiosity never yet satisfied by anything.
“But it’s funny to call you Kate instead of Grandma,” Jean said with ten-year-old conservative wisdom.
“My name was Kate,” the grandmother said, turning her mouth without smiling, “a long time before it was Grandma.” She was thinking: “I had almost forgotten how barns are clustered at the hearts of the blocks and how the houses face the streets in front of their barnyards. I can hear the animals. Chickens flutter in the coops the way they always did, and I can remember how it used to be just like this when I finished the dishes and came out on the porch of an evening.”
“Mamma said she called you Kate until she got big enough to know she ought to call you Mother,” Jean said positively. “She wants me to call her Mamma like everybody calls their mammas.”
Absurd, Kate thought, how this granddaughter possessed so young the concern of the others. She had inherited wild red hair and busy eyes; who had planted behind these the preposterous notion of whatever-is-is-right? Probably, given a child so quick, there would be enough inconvenient racket later on, however; Kate looked down into the life of the small face. “Call me whatever you want to,” she said. “It doesn’t make any difference any more.”
And it did not. Not now. Names and numbers had a way of sinking out of mind. The smell of raspberries came again, almost imaginary, so quickly gone like the smell of pine in mountains in early morning, and the hairs in her nose stiffened as they might with frost. “Oh, my darling,” she thought, and beyond the child, before her time began, it was all there. One day in July they were by a window and Peter said: “Kate, I can tell by the smell the berries are dead ripe,” and she said: “Yes, the children are out picking them.” And he said: “Will they be busy out there long enough?” and she was frightened and said: “No!” But they were.
She felt the motion of her mouth doing something odd and altered this into a smile and returned to Jean. “I keep smelling raspberries,” she said. “They must be ripe.”
“I’ll get you some,” Jean said, and ran toward the patch but returned at once to say: “It’s still light enough to see the really red ones,” and was gone and returned to say: “They ll be buggy; I’ll wash ‘em under the hose,” and was gone again.
Familiarly evening plunged down from the peaks. Coming back here was coming back to many things good to remember but, of course, best to forget. Kate did not love this place now. Its past was intimate, troubles she had worried over were as inseparable as its air, hatred darkened the whole air as certainly, as awfully, as the evening. And now no more was to be expected, here or anywhere. Yet one expected—even hoped—as long as breath went in and out and strength remained to go one place from another. If she had denied hope even while the miles were lessening, those hours on the train, she was recognizing it now.
Nothing was between her and Peter now, not even the wall he had built for his wife, Helga, around their house. It came to Kate how once, at the height of love and despair, she had said to Peter: “There might be a time when our lives are our own and nobody left to be hurt. Then we will make everything right.” Afterward it had occurred to her that if such a time should come, she might well be past strength and power for building new, and realized she had spoken foolishly. Yet she had spoken in the midst of a love with so much creation in it, so much future, that for a while she had seemed immortal, had truly believed she might be young and strong forever.
Her thoughts were young enough tonight, for she was actually thinking in terms of what ought to be rather than what was. There ought to be a time of peace to live what has been learned. Something is stored up for the end. Thinking of this and seeing Jean’s shadow almost lost among the tall bushes, she thought how Jean was storing up, and how she would not put all her strength into fruit which would break from the stem of her existence to be itself and not of her any longer. She was a whole one already, sure enough, not her grandparents or her parents or any who had been before any of these. Yet her hair was the color of iron and copper in the mountains, Peter’s hair, carried again like a banner.
Kate wondered suddenly if Peter had seen Jean. This had not mattered before she came back; now thoughts of the two of them came together. But not as he had seen his own child, not like that. Jean was returning with the berries cool in the cup of her hands.
“This is the best fruit in the world,” Kate said, and wondered what Jean would have thought if she added that it tasted of peace, peace being a ripe fullness after all. Cunning composite fruit lay in cunning composite fingers from which she took the berries one by one.
A bee went angling into the sunset. Jean said with cruel importance: “I know how to catch bees, all I want to catch.”
“Why should you want to catch bees?”
“Oh, it’s fun. You do it in a hollyhock. When the bee gets busy, you take hold outside and twist. If you want you can tie it with a string. You should hear the buzz, then.”
“I see.” But the bee squirmed in Kate. She felt it, the flower being twisted and the embarrassment of being caught at honey-sucking so that suddenly, when it was a prison of sucking honey, the bee did not want to do it any longer and began to make a huge humming of objection.
She made no moral, however. Morals were never to be made except within, for one’s self, where they were accurate enough to be useful. And especially never for children. At her own age it seemed that morals were in everything; every word and every sound and evening and summer itself and the taste of berries in her mouth were all exhorting about what should be done and thought, and what should never be done or thought.
“May I eat some of that pomegranate now?” Jean asked.
“Of course. Whenever you want. Who told you you had to wait?” Kate had brought the pomegranates from California herself, without any rules about when or how they should be eaten.
“Mamma said to be careful. Sometimes new things give me hives. Strawberries do all the time, and new things.”
“Pomegranates won’t,” Kate said. “You get such a little fruit, actually. It s mostly idea with a pomegranate—sweet, of course, but mostly color.” And when Jean came to her again with the fruit, she asked curiously: “Do you really like it? I didn’t for a long time because all I knew about was apples and cherries and raspberries, things like that. It’s hard to like new things. Persimmons and mangoes are puckery, for instance, and it’s hard to like puckering things.”
“I do like it,” Jean said, and smacked, proving. She was young enough to like new things.
“I guess I stayed one place too long,” Kate said.
The presence of mountains over the town made her mind feel shadowed and heavy; she wondered why she did not find quiet in their presence as she once had. Their protection had been illusory, of course, and now she knew it.
“Somebody’s coming,” Jean said. They could hear gravel scrunching around the curve of rosebushes that led to the front door.
“Oh, dear, the Teachers!” Lou spoke from the doorway in a hushed voice. “Jean, Mamma says for you to bring ‘em around to the porch. If they come in—”
Dessie said suddenly behind her: “Lou, I said for you to do it. Imagine, you two arguing now,” and gave Lou an impatient push. “It’s just the coffee, Mother; I made it on account of you liking it with your shortcake. Who’d think they’d come tonight?”
Kate had to laugh. “Oh, dear, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’d forgotten. Maybe when people go away they forget those little things and only remember the mountains.” But something, the true agitation of Dessie’s face and hands, arrested her laughter. She turned her toes together nervously on the step. Now Dessie was going around the house also, after Lou, and Kate could hear her company voice, very bright. She noticed how dark things were now, how dark lay under each step, around her shoes, in branches, along the barn and granary out back so their bulk increased and rivaled the mountains beyond them. A robin foolishly betrayed himself among the cherries and Jean cried out and ran and shook the boughs to dislodge him.
“You’ll remember my mother,” Dessie was saying, and Kate rose in her place. “Mrs. Alexander. Sister Karl Alexander. She’s just come from California for a visit. Mother, this is Brother Shumaker and Brother Atchisen.”
“Yes. I’m sure I remember them both,” Kate said.
Sister Alexander. Of course, yes, yes, the Teachers were saying. They were genial, harmless, elderly, homely men. Kate knew them in the dusk as she would have in the light. She knew the awkward joviality of their voices. “Karl Alexander s widow—Karlie’s stepmother—yes, of course,” Brother Shumaker said. He was piecing things together, making a place in his mind to put her. “We’ll be going on to Karlie’s tonight. He’ll be proud, showing you his family. Eight now he’s got, ain’t it?” He appealed to Brother Atchisen and to Kate, and Kate said, feeling something familiar and old rising in her throat: “I’m sure I don’t know.” She could have added that she had heard nothing from Karlie since he took everything his father had left, fifteen years ago. But Dessie was speaking quickly.
“Do sit down. It’s so much cooler on the porch than inside tonight.” And to Lou in a most motherly, I’m-doing-my-full-duty tone: “Lou, go back and practice for a few more minutes. You’ve done no more than half an hour all day, and with a holiday coming this week—” She smiled at the Teachers. “Keeping them at it is a big job,” she said.
“But well worth it in the end,” said Brother Shumaker, nodding happily at having contributed a precept so soon after his arrival.
Back in the tree again, the robin fluttered, scolded, choked off-key as if surprised by a stone. It might seem, Kate thought, but for the stars, that mountains to east and barn to west had met at the peak in darkness. In a proper voice Dessie said, “It’s been a hot day,” and fondled Jean’s hair against her knee.
They always came, Kate thought, staring at the sky, the good Brethren to teach in the evening once a month, the good Sisters by day as often. She remembered how her hands had been folded politely in her lap as Jean’s were now; she had learned to fold her hands for the whole length of the visits by the time she was able to sit alone. She remembered they had come most often to her mother, Martha’s, room because she was usually sickabed, and the other three wives would sit in this room also, each with an eye to the propriety of her particular brood. It had seemed natural then, as much a part of the monthly routine as the moon, for the Teachers came on duty bound and in the name of Authority to greet each brother, each sister, each little child. It was many years before she had become outraged that they informed a brother how to vote as often and as naturally as they advised him in his prayers; and even now she knew they were innocent tools, as the Sisters were. Brother Shumaker was saying, “So you live in California now. Well, that’s nice. Of course it’s not like it is here, whatever those people say.” He laughed to show her that he knew what the joke was about Californians. “I notice the Saints always come back home.” He was obviously the spokesman of these two; Brother Atchisen only nodded and nodded.
“I like California very much,” Kate said. “Much better than here, I think, as a place to live.” She folded coldness with truth into a small envelope of voice, and thought how foolish this was and yet could not help it.
Dessie cried in quick embarrassment, “Mother always would be honest.” Then she stopped short in a most curious way, having said that honesty interferes with ease and manners and kindness, not having meant to say it.
Brother Atchisen cleared his throat, but Brother Shumaker thought sooner of something to say. “When you left here, you lived in Thistle awhile, if I remember? My brother-in-law was an engineer on the Rio Grande, used to tell us he ate at your boardinghouse once in a while. Taylor his name was. Bud Taylor.”
Kate saw that Dessie was belittled by the boardinghouse, and she felt her own cheeks coloring. “Your sister was Amie, the tall, thin one?”
“No, Beulah was Bud’s wife, but she’s tall and thin too. Our whole family was tall and thin.” He paused and rocked briskly in his chair. “Then, if I recall, you lived in Tintic awhile—your boys were mining? Wasn’t it one of your boys that—”
“Was hurt in a mine—yes. So we left Tintic.” Perhaps he would be cut off by the pain in her voice, before he should really use his memory and say: Wasn’t something said of you when you left here? Didn’t you leave here suddenly after your husband died?
“Then you went to California? I never did hear where you went after Tintic,” he said, keeping the talk going very well.
“Farther and farther away,” Kate said.
A crowd of children was clamoring at the front of the house. Lou came to the door; Jean was standing up. A small, pretty girl came rushing around the path and said, panting, “The Gang’s playing with us tonight. Most of ‘em—”
Jean said, “Mamma, can we?” with a curious and sudden passion.
“On our street?” Dessie asked. Then, reassured: “Well, all right, then, if you stay on our block. And put sweaters on, you two!”
Brother Atchisen said, thrusting his voice out in a determined way, “California is where my sister went on her mission. In San Francisco. There’s a fine big branch of the Church in San Francisco.”
Almost at once, Kate thought, she could follow the children’s game by its sounds and silences. Hiding ones soon began to slide across the yard under trees, vanishing; seeking ones moved silently. Presently a can, kicked under the street lamp on the corner of the block, brought laughter and shouting.
“My sister said one time the whole Churc...
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Book Description Signature Books, 1999. Paperback. Condition: New. 1. Seller Inventory # DADAX1560851244
Book Description Signature Books, 1999. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1560851244