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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

A Novel

Cherise Wolas

Flatiron Books


From The Resurrection of Joan Ashby:

A fair came to Rhome the first weekend of August, setting up in a huge field where the hay had been sickle-mowed, leaving behind a flat, golden carpet. The field was ten miles past the Mannings’ neighborhood, now called Peachtree by almost everyone. It was hot and sunny, the cloudless sky a rich blue. All of Rhome seemed to have turned out, as well as a good part of the populations of the towns on either side of it, for the fair was bustling when Joan and Martin and the boys arrived. White and beige tents dotted the landscape and booths had been set up and were doing a brisk business selling local produce, home-made jams and preserves, cheeses made from cows and goats and sheep from the nearby farms, wine bottled from Rappahannock County and Shenandoah Valley grapes. For the kids, there were Italian ices and sno-cones to lick, cotton candy to pull apart, and rides—a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, a small roller coaster, a riding ring where old horses were taking the youngest for slow rides, round and round. The aroma of barbecue was in the air.

Joan assessed the crowd, lighting upon the most interesting: young men turning white T-shirts into art, pinching the material tight and rubber-banding each section until they looked like porcupines being dipped into huge steaming vats of colored dyes; the young woman with a bird’s nest of purple hair sitting at a potter’s wheel, slamming down hunks of clay, her hands moving nearly as fast as the wheel, cups, vases, plates, bowls, trays, appearing like magic; the elderly man in a worn blue linen suit, a jaunty straw boater on his head, a smeared palette tight in his hand, painting a mammoth canvas of people on a beach staring out at an ocean where a sailboat bobbed in the distance, though he himself was standing in a mowed field; the handsome young man at an old-fashioned school desk, a manual typewriter in front of him, a stack of paper to the side. He had long pony-tailed hair and round wire glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, and his sign read: $5 GET YOUR OWN PERSONAL SHORT STORY. Joan absorbed these people and something clicked inside of her.

Daniel brought her back, tugging at her hand, saying, “I want to go exploring. I’ll take Eric with me, but I’ve got so much to see and you and Daddy are walking too slow.” He was a serious, responsible boy.

“He’ll pull you every which way,” Joan warned Daniel, wanting him to take Eric, thinking a good mother would let her older son run free, not obligate him to watch over his younger brother.

Martin touched her shoulder. “Let them go,” he said, and she wondered why he would think she wouldn’t.

Martin handed Daniel ten single dollar bills. “For whatever you guys want,” he said. “Meet us at five at the entrance, okay? There’s a lot of people here and it would be tough to have to search for you.”

Daniel held up his wrist, showed his father his watch, the birthday present he had chosen for himself last year. He was obsessed with time lately: how much time had elapsed between one event and another, how much time had gone by since the beginning of the world, since he had written his last Henry story, since he had given Joan a story to read, since he began reading the latest big book he was reading, how little time was left before he was late to a friend’s house, before he started fifth grade, before his tenth birthday in late December, before he was all grown up.

On the way home, the boys bounced off the backseat, chattering about the rides they had ridden, everything they had eaten, the new tie-dye T-shirts they were wearing, the clay vase painted yellow and white that Joan was holding in her lap, bought from the girl with the bird’s-nest hair. Bounding into the house, the boys said they were full, they did not want dinner, and did not argue when Joan said, “Baths! Alone or together, whatever you want, but you both need to wash your hair.” Wonderfully worn out, they were asleep long before their usual, well-guarded bedtimes.

Joan fixed salads with tomatoes and cucumbers from their own garden. She held up a bottle of wine, and Martin shook his head, “Work,” he said. She opened the bottle anyway, poured herself a glass, and they ate at the kitchen table, the windows all thrown open. The sun was just setting, it was nearing eight, and Martin was on his way back to the hospital. “I may sleep there tonight,” he said, which he sometimes did when he was worried about a patient who was not doing well. He kept a clean suit, shirt, and tie in his office. He never told her the names of his patients, gave her only brief précis of who they were. This one that he was worried about was Japanese, a grandfather, father, husband, a lover of the tea ceremony, and Joan had named him Mr. Kobayashi.

Martin grabbed a couple of apples from the bowl on the counter, kissed the top of Joan’s head, and shut the back door quietly. She heard his new car rev up, a Mercedes, all black. Years of driving secondhand Toyotas, he adored his car like a mistress, teaching the boys how to wash and wax on a couple of weekends. He had gotten the top-of-the-line sound system installed. Once he was beyond Rhome, he had twenty miles of pure highway, always racing beyond the speed limit, blasting the music, the windows down, screaming the lyrics.

The kitchen was clean and Joan was back at the table, her typewriter, silently retrieved from Eric’s closet just minutes earlier, plugged in for the first time in five years. She had dusted it off, checked that the cartridge still had ink, which it did. She had found reams of paper in that closet too, had taken one. Ripping off the wrapping around five hundred sheets of virgin paper had felt like love to her, overwhelming, never-going-to-happen-again love. She was thrilled Martin had gone back to the hospital to watch over Mr. Kobayashi. The idea had come to her in one fell swoop during the afternoon, because of the fair, and she had to start to get it down.

There was a potential novel there, she knew. She felt its commanding logic, both internal and external, powerful enough to keep her tethered to home, to silence the fears that she would never write again, eliminate the horrid daydream in which she sometimes indulged, about simply walking away from this alternative life she was living, filled with its soft poetry and hard tediousness, its spectacular, love-ridden times measured against meaningless hours and days and weeks and months, a life where her past accomplishments were long forgotten, where she was called, most often, Joan Manning, leaving her tongue-tied and wishing she could say, “I’m not Joan Manning, I’m Joan Ashby, the writer.” That indulgent daydream about leaving all this behind. Leaving the children, Martin, the house that was too small, the great stretch of land that was, like the house, in her name alone, where she used to think she would set up a writers’ colony. Leaving it all behind and never returning, stepping back into her original skin, where she was only, foremost, supremely, the writer Joan Ashby, no longer tied to the person she still mostly loved, the children they had made together that she loved with unequal force.

She thought about the boys in their beds, before their existences entirely fell away, their breathing no longer her concern. There was only the hum of the overhead light and the refrigerator, and then only the words in her head rushing onto the page.

We were young, and some of us were beautiful, and others of us were brilliant, and a few of us were both. Citizenship demanded only an ability to create, to use our minds and hands and bodies in unforeseen ways. We believed we knew more than those who had tried before us. Their experiment had failed, but their hard lessons would serve as our guide. Passionate, arrogant,certain we would not falter,or deceive, or betray ourselves, that we would not blacken our lives with whitewashed expectations, our presence here, in this arcadia, proved we had slipped the ropes and chains of expected, normal life. We considered everything. Except everything. By its very nature, everything resists corralling; it is far too expansive. You think you’ve avoided every last trap, but what you hadn’t considered, what you never could plan for, it is that which trips you up.

Copyright © 2017 by Cherise Wolas