The Village by the Sea

BOOK: The Village by the Sea
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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF PAULA FOX

Winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award

Winner of the
Paris Review's
Hadada Award

“The greatest writer of her generation.” —Jonathan Franzen

“One of America's most talented writers.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Consistently excellent.”
—The New York Times

“Fox has always been adept at writing apparently simple stories which on closer examination prove to explore the essential meaning of relationships … and to illuminate our understanding of the human condition.”
—School Library Journal

“Paula Fox is so good a novelist that one wants to go out in the street to hustle up a big audience for her.… Fox's brilliance has a masochistic aspect: I will do this so well, she seems to say, that you will hardly be able to read it. And so she does, and so do I.” —Peter S. Prescott,
Newsweek

“Fox is one of the most attractive writers to come our way in a long, long time.” —
The New Yorker

“As a writer, Fox is all sensitive, staring eyeball. Her images break the flesh. They scratch the retina … Fox's prose hurts.” —Walter Kirn,
New York
magazine

“Fox's achievement is to write with magnificent restraint and precision about the interplay of personal and historical, inner growth and outer framework, the process of learning to think about oneself and the world.” —Margaret and Michael Rustin

“Fox has little of Roth's self-consciousness, less of Bellow's self-importance, and none of Updike's self-pity. Unlike all three men, Fox does not jealously save the best lines for a favoured alter ego, and her protagonists do not have a monopoly on nuance. Instead, she distributes her formidable acumen unselfishly, so that even the most minor characters can suddenly offer crucial insight, and unsympathetic characters are often the most fascinating: brilliant, unfathomable and raging.” —Sarah Churchwell

“There are no careless moves in the fiction of Paula Fox.… [Her] work has a purity of vision, and a technique undiminished by
homage
or self-indulgence.” —Randal Churb,
The Boston Review

“Paula Fox is as good as her revived reputation suggests.” —Fiona Maazel,
BOMB

The Village by the Sea

Winner of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award

“Quiet but intensely affecting … [Fox's] portrayal compels readers … to share in the subtle but redemptive compassion that is among the novel's finest achievements.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Another thoughtful, beautifully realized story from a much-honored author.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“This is not a book one crawls into to be hidden and protected. But it gives solace in its intelligence and honesty, and for many a child those qualities can be more reassuring.”
—The New York Times Book Review

The Village by the Sea

Paula Fox

For Mary Fox

and again,

for Richard Jackson

Contents

1. A Question

2. Uncle Crispin

3. Aunt Bea

4. Night Voices

5. The Lonely Beach

6. Bertie

7. The Village by the Sea

8. A Dog, a Deer

9. Vandal

10. Home

About the Author

1

A Question

All that afternoon and through supper, a question Emma wanted to ask her father stuck in her throat like a piece of apple skin. When it was time for her to go to bed, she felt it was her last chance. He would be leaving for the hospital early the next morning after Uncle Crispin came to take her to Long Island, to Peconic Bay, where she was to stay with him and his wife, her Aunt Bea, for two weeks.

Her father was resting in an armchair, a blanket across his knees and an old wool scarf of her mother's around his shoulders, even though it was the middle of June and so warm that Emma herself was wearing a thin cotton T-shirt.

She stood close but not so close she was crowding him. He couldn't bear that now, she knew, someone leaning over him or pressing against a chair he was sitting in, even if it was her mother.

“Are you afraid?” she asked.

He touched her wrist briefly, then his hand fell back to his lap.

“I imagine there's a timid animal inside me,” he said. “When it's afraid, I feel it tremble. It can't hear. It only knows the fear it feels. It doesn't have memory or an idea of the future. It lives in the present—the right now—and I try to remember it is only a part of myself, a small frightened thing I can pity. When I'm able to do that, something happens. The animal grows less afraid.”

His face was nearly as white as the daisies on the table next to where Emma's mother was standing, listening. For a moment, he rested his head against the back of the chair and closed his eyes. Then he opened them and smiled at Emma.

“You know how you feel when Dr. Forde has to give you a shot?”

She nodded. But she felt that her whole self was afraid when Dr. Forde leaned toward her with the hypodermic syringe in his hand. She had never imagined a scared little animal inside her that she might comfort by saying: This will be over soon. It was always her mother or her father who said that to her.

“Daddy will get better,” her mother said. “The operation he's going to have has become an everyday sort of thing. Thousands of people have had heart bypass surgery.”

She wanted to say: But this is my father, not thousands of people—and how can any operation be an everyday thing?

Her father was speaking in such a low voice, Emma had to lean forward to catch his words.

“I believe I will get well,” he said. “One thing about being sick is that I want to tell the truth all the time. That is the truth.”

He bent his head toward her as though he were about to tell her a secret. “You know that we hardly ever see Aunt Bea. We talk on the telephone at Christmas, a few holiday words. I used to call her on her birthday. It only seemed to make her angry, and she'd rake up old family troubles.” He looked puzzled for a moment, then went on. “She can be a terror, but I don't think Uncle Crispin will let her make your life a misery.” He laughed suddenly. “He runs her like a small-time circus. And fortunately for him, my sister is the most indolent creature in the world.”

“What's indolent?” Emma asked.

“Lazy,” said her mother. “She's only your half-sister, Philip,” she corrected him, with a briskness in her voice that had all but disappeared these last months.

“I remember her,” Emma said.

“You only saw her once,” her mother noted. “And that must be at least three years ago.”

“She's hard to forget,” her father said faintly.

“She asked me why I was so bow-legged—”

“You're not bow-legged,” her mother broke in. “That's typical of Bea.”

“She had a present for me,” Emma went on, recalling her aunt vividly, sitting in the very chair where her father was sitting now, how she seemed to be wearing twice as many clothes as most people wore, and how her huge gray eyes had so much white around the irises, they resembled the eyes of a big doll.

“She kept asking me why I didn't do exercises to correct my legs. I was wondering about the present she was holding. I thought she'd never give it up. I said I wasn't bow-legged, Mom, and she sort of pushed the present at me. It was a box of water-colors.”

“I don't recall any present,” her mother said, looking at her father, whose head had fallen back against the chair. She went to him and put her hand very gently on his neck.

“She asked me if I knew how to mix colors to make other colors,” Emma said. “When I said I didn't, she said, ‘ridiculous!'”

Her parents weren't listening to her. She saw how slowly her father reached up to touch her mother's hand.

Emma thought: We are all scared.

“Her laziness is a help,” her father said. “She used to make fun of me when I was a kid, but she'd suddenly get bored and go off somewhere to daydream. Just stay out of her way as much as you can.”

“It isn't such a long time,” her mother said. “And I'll have to be away so much. You'd be stuck with babysitters.”

“I'm ten,” Emma said, with a touch of indignation. “I could stay alone. I have stayed alone.”

“Out there on Long Island, you'll have the beach and the bay,” her mother said. “Emma, I'd be worried—you here all day. And I'll be worried enough.”

Emma knew there would be times when her mother might have to spend the whole day at the hospital.

Her father said, “There isn't anyone else, Emma.”

He was asking her to do something for him. He was telling her how sick he was, that he didn't want her to spend one day with his sister who was nearly twenty years older than he was, and what he'd called a terror. Life was going to be hard for a while, for all of them.

She understood what he was asking of her. But she wanted to cry, to let him see tears run down her cheeks, to go to her room and slam the door, or, at least, to look gloomy and let her shoulders droop.

She saw her suitcase near the front door, and next to it, a shopping bag full of puzzles and books and a diary she hardly ever wrote in.

“What I'd like,” her father began, “would be if you'd write down in your diary everything that happens—at least what is interesting or important to you. Next month, when I'm on my feet again, I'll be able to read what it was like for you out there with those two, if you'll let me. I know a diary is supposed to be private. But this time, maybe you'll keep one for both of us.”

BOOK: The Village by the Sea
6.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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