Authors: Jamie Langston Turner
PRAISE FOR THE WORKS OF JAMIE LANGSTON TURNER
Sometimes a Light Surprises
“Rich in detailsÂ .Â .Â . Christy Awardâwinning Turner's latest is a perfect book for those who enjoy faith-focused, emotion-packed reading.”
“A bittersweet, introspective tale of a widower's internal journey through grief.”
“Beautiful writing full of wisdom, literary allusions, and stylistic eleganceÂ .Â .Â . Its quiet but compelling plot, realistic characters, and sly humor made me wish it were twice as long. It reminds me of Marilynne Robinson's
“Turner brilliantly weaves together the threads of Shakespeare's plays, [television] sitcoms, birds and their habits, and the deaths of celebrities gleaned from
magazine's obituary section as she unfolds the storyÂ .Â .Â . Genuine humor and well-crafted characters make this a memorable and inspiring novel.”
“[Turner] writes with elegant precision, and the leisurely pacing of the book perfectly captures the lengthened days of the aging. Understated and unsentimental,
is a quietly memorable novel.”
Some Wildflower in My Heart
“Achieves a literary excellence seldom seen in any novel. Like a rich dessert, this is not a book to devour, but to take one chapter at a time, with ample time to reflect and digest.”
“Turner's skillful touch comes alive in the domestic details, recalling the work of Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg.”
The Greenville (SC) News
No Dark Valley
“The always-thoughtful Turner turns in another solid performance with
No Dark Valley
Â .Â .Â . [Turner is] a fine stylist, and the device of Celia's casting herself as the heroine of the novel she's living through is charming throughout.”
“Lovely writingÂ .Â .Â . Fans will recognize characters from [Turner's] previous novels, such as the Christy Awardâwinner
A Garden to Keep
“Turner writes splendid dialogueÂ .Â .Â . Her narrative is engrossing.”
RT Book Reviews
A Garden to Keep
“The characters are well-developed, and their struggles are real, not saccharine.”
“I couldn't put it down.”
RT Book Reviews
“Turner's development of Eldeen Rafferty is perfectÂ .Â .Â . Turner's strength as a writer is characterization.”
Hope Is the Word
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Copyright Â© 2014 by Jamie Langston Turner.
Readers Guide copyright Â© 2014 by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-15684-5
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Turner, Jamie L.
To see the moon again / Jamie Langston Turner.âFirst edition.
1. Single womenâFiction. 2. Women college teachersâFiction. 3. NiecesâFiction. 4. GuiltâFiction. 5. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
Berkley trade paperback edition / September 2014
Cover photograph of “chain of lights”Â© Plainpicture / Elektrons08.
Cover design by Sarah Oberrender.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Born September 30, 2009
Born July 12, 2013
Before your daddy was born, I observed babies from a safe distance, judging them to be cute miniature people with enviable privileges, such as the freedom to stare at others openly. Up close, however, I was intimidated by themâthey seemed so helpless yet were little tyrants when it came to taking over a grown person's entire life. I respected them for their importance to the future of society, of course, since babies always end up as adults if given enough time, and I was even quite fond of several of them, my nephews and nieces in particular, whose parents took them home after brief, enjoyable visits.
But when your daddy was born, I lost my heart to a baby, totally, permanently. Wonderful years followed as I reveled in every phase of motherhood. Now and then someone would say, “Just
till you have grandchildren.” I wasn't in any hurry for that, however, for I had observed grandparents, too, and had come to the conclusion that most of them had no sense of social awareness. What else would explain their endless monologues about their grandchildren's extraordinary charms, always accompanied by far too many photos?
And then your daddy grew up, married your beautiful mother, and the two of you were born, first Svana and, four years later, Kjell. I still remember the two moments in time, one in April and the other in December, when we learned you would be joining our family. I loved you both instantly, long before I knew your names. I knew your names before I saw you. I saw you before I held you. And when I held you, I didn't know what had hit me. I thought my life was rich and overflowing before you came, but I found that there was a whole enormous reservoir just waiting for you to fill it.
Thank you, my dear grandchildren, for the abundant joy you give without even trying. It will be a long time before you're old enough to read a book like this, but when you are, I want you to imagine your Ooma writing this page of dedication, stopping often to gaze at your photos and smile over the two of you and your extraordinary charms.
On the last class day of the spring term, Julia Rich was heading home in her big blue boat of a Buick along the familiar route she could have driven blindfolded. As she neared Ivy Dale Lane, where she lived, she once again reminded herself of two things. First, that many other professors worldwide not only had endured what she was facing but had actually enjoyed it and, second, that most of her current colleagues would gladly trade places with her right now. Neither of these reminders, however, helped to settle her mind.
She slowed her Buick as she turned onto Ivy Dale, a narrow, tree-lined street less than a mile from the campus of Millard-Temple University, where she taught. At one time numbers of faculty members had lived here, but now only Julia and one other remainedâa French teacher named Dr. Boyer. He was an odd, nervous sort of man, a Charlie Chaplin look-alike, who never said “hello” to her, only a prim, tight-lipped “
,” though more recently he had not spoken to her at all. She suspected that he resented her being granted a sabbatical ahead of him. Or maybe he avoided her because he felt sorry for her, as others now did.
As soon as her house came into view, she slowed even more. It was an old habitâthe initial sighting, then the intentional deferral of her arrival as she took it all in. It was a small stone house with the charm of a storybook cottage. She and Matthew had driven past it one day before they were married. “Stop,” she had said. “There, look at that one. I want to live there someday.”
When it came up for sale a few years later, Matthew had arranged to buy it as a surprise for her. Those were the days when he was doing anything he could to make her happy, an enterprise he persisted in long after every effort had proved futile. Once they moved in and discovered the extent of the work it needed, it had lost some of its storybook charm, at least for Matthew, who did most of the labor himself. But Julia had loved it straight through the years of repairs and renovations. Even now there were times when she would be away from home and would suddenly think of the stone house on Ivy Dale and be flooded with something close to gladness. In many ways her house had taken the place of children in her life, the way some people's pets did.
She parked in the circular drive in front and took a few moments to let her eyes sweep the yard from one end to the other. Spring had come to South Carolina early this year, wet and mild. Daffodils, hyacinth, dogwoods, azaleasâall had bloomed in a spectacle of color. And now the irises were opening, soon to be followed by peonies, lilies, roses.
She walked around to the back door to let herself in, then locked it behind her. The answering machine in the kitchen was blinking, so she stepped out of her shoes at the door, laid her briefcase on the table, and walked to the phone. She knew who it was, of course. Since last August, her sister, Pamela, had worried incessantly about Julia's living alone and had called daily to check up on her. Because she didn't work, Pamela had time on her hands, and because her children were both grown, she needed someone else to mother. It didn't matter that she was younger than Julia by five years. She had always had the manner of an overseer, even as a child.
If Julia wasn't home when she called, Pamela left a message, usually constructed around a warning of some kind:
Always check the backseat of your car before getting in, don't order with a credit card over the phone, wear flat shoes in case you need to run.
She often included reports of tragic outcomes for people she had heard about who failed to follow these rules.
Julia almost pressed the button to listen, but she stopped. She was bone-tired and mentally spent. She wasn't in the mood to hear her sister's voice reminding her that evil prowled the earth. She turned and went to her bedroom instead. She took off her skirt, removed her jewelry, pulled her sweater over her head, and took her time putting everything away in its place. From the hook on the back of the bathroom door, she took her housecoat, slipped it on, and snapped it up.
Even as she did these things, she was thinking of the hours ahead. Since it was the last Friday night of the school year, she had no papers to grade. The evening gaped before her, with no plans to fill it, which was part of the reason for her present unrest. By putting on her housecoat, she realized she had already decided not to take a walk, which was one way to spend an hour or so now that Daylight Saving Time was in effect.
But for now she had supper to think about. On her teaching days she often ate a substantial lunch in the faculty cafeteria on campus and only snacked in the evening. Today, however, she hadn't felt like walking over to the cafeteria, choosing her food, sitting at the same corner table with Marcy Kingsley, her only real friend among her colleagues. Today had been a day of reflection. She had stayed in her office between her morning and afternoon classes. When Marcy had stopped by to get her, she had begged off, claiming a headache.
She had bought a bag of pretzels from the vending machine and busied herself going through the bottom drawer of her desk, discarding entire folders of old papers and ditto masters. Ditto mastersâdozens and dozens of them, some handwritten. It was hard to believe she had hung on to such antiquities so long. Afterward she had run new copies of an exam, cleaned out the top desk drawer, dusted her bookshelves.
And then, because she still had a half hour left before her three o'clock class, she had sat at her desk with her door cracked, listening to the graduate teaching assistants socializing in the hallway. They were as eager for summer as the undergrads. Not one of them had yet wished her well during the coming year. By now they had probably forgotten all about the announcement in the February faculty meeting, after which there had been a pattering of polite applause for the two professors chosen for sabbaticalsâJulia and Harry Tobias, who taught psychology.
Julia didn't fully understand the selection process, but she knew it was a committee decision and that the words “having distinguished yourself by the length and quality of your service” had been used by Dean Moorehead when he first informed her of the award privately. Though he didn't add the words “and because of your recent personal difficulties,” he might as well have, for Julia was certain a measure of pity had also figured into the committee's choice.
Though she had pretended to be pleased and honored, it was mostly shock she had felt. That, and the beginnings of worry as she tried to take in what it would mean to the comforting structure of her life to have a year off. Long ago she had resigned herself to the mischief of time, for though a year could pass swiftly, the days within that year could seem endless. And each day included a night.
Stepping into her bedroom slippers, she thought of all the nights like this she would have to fill in the coming year. She was struck with the urgent need to write up a list of projects she wanted to complete and places she wanted to visit. That would be one thing to do tonight.
â¢Â Â Â â¢Â Â Â â¢
in the kitchen, she opened the freezer. Earlier in the week she had put up a dish of leftovers, which she pulled out now and put in the microwave to defrost.
She looked again at the blinking light of the telephone, but walked past it into the living roomâa comfortable room, well decorated with an eclectic mix of fine old furniture and modern accessories. Above the stone hearth hung a large, colorful framed collage made of scraps of old road maps, travel brochures, and envelopes with canceled postage stamps. It was one of the few things Matthew had bought for the house that she liked. She made herself stop and look at it now, as she often did, to prove that she held no grudge against him, that her world was still intact.
She turned on the television and listened to the news for a minute, then lowered the volume and turned on the CD player. The sounds of DvorÃ¡k filled the room.
She walked back to the bathroom to wash off her makeup. Glancing into the mirror above the sink, she saw a long purple smear on her chin. She rubbed at it with her index finger and got some of it off.
She suddenly remembered the folder of old ditto masters she had leafed through in her office that afternoon. The mark on her chin must have come from those. Purple ditto inkâamazing that it could still be picked up and transferred after all those years of sitting in a folder.
As she stared at her face, it came to her that she must have had the purple streak on her chin when she met her afternoon class. Her ten students in Writing Fiction must have seen it. When she stepped off the dais to deliver her farewell remarks, they must have been reminded of all the old people they knew who went around with spots on their clothing and tufts of hair sticking out at funny angles.
At one point in her little speech, Julia had paused and looked toward the transom window above the door. Such an occasion called for a little drama, as it was no ordinary final day of class, at least not for her. “Remember this,” she had said when she resumed. “Writers must be close observers of people.” They must have wanted to laugh at that. “And of places,” she had added after another dramatic pause. “Particularly your own native soil, into which you must keep digging deeper.” She knew they would recognize the last part as a quotation from Flannery O'Connor, the woman Julia considered the best Southern writer of all time.
Looking at her watch, she saw that the bell would ring in two minutes. Time now for the real news. Stepping a little closer to the students, she said, “Some of you may have heard a rumor that I won't be teaching at Millard-Temple next year.”
No dropped jaws, but she could see a sudden return of interest. All eyes were on Julia.
“It's true,” she said. “I have been granted a sabbatical, which simply means I will get paid to read, to write, to travel, to do whatever I choose for a year.” She glanced up at the transom window again and nodded slowly. “It's an opportunity not everyone gets.”
“You going on a cruise?” Aaron Clements asked. This drew laughter.
“Maybe,” Julia said. “Or maybe I'll travel in the States. Visit some of the big cities I've never seen.” It was impossible to think she had lived fifty-four years and never been to Chicago or New York City, had never really wanted to. “Or maybe I'll just stay home and be lazy,” she said. “Watch old movies and read and clean out a cupboard every now and then.”
They smiled, though she could tell their thoughts were already drifting elsewhere. She hurried on. “Others will cover my courses next year, and I'll return a year from this fall.”
“Who'll teach Southern Writers?” someone said.
“An adjunct from Clemson,” Julia said. “You'll like him. He's a Faulkner man.”
The bell rang. The students looked uncertain, as if wondering whether it would be rude to gather their things and bolt for the door.
“All right, off with you,” Julia said. “I'll see you here again on Monday for your exam.” She had already announced the essay topic. What she hadn't told them, of course, was that she wouldn't read the essays, wouldn't even skim the first pages, but would take them all home and gently place them in the trash can.
And the whole time they must have been sitting there thinking,
that on her face?
Maybe they thought it was a bruise. That would be better than if they thought it was a smudge she had failed to notice.
And the student who had come to see her in her office less than an hour agoâshe must have seen the purple mark, too.
Julia had been sitting at her desk after class, thinking about how much she would miss coming here for the next year. She loved her officeâher massive oak desk, the wooden file cabinet, the high ceiling, the window that faced the fountains. It pleased her to know it wouldn't be assigned to anyone else during her sabbatical. Everything could be kept in place. She imagined herself sneaking over at nighttime to sit here in the dark.
Turning to the window, she watched the students crossing the footbridge between Simmons Hall and the Snack Shop. Everyone walked differently on the last day of class. Every step said,
Let me out of here, I'm dying for summer
. On the sidewalk outside her window, two girls stopped to talk, and one of them gave a whoop of laughter as they bent their heads over a cell phone.
And then there had been a light tap at her door. She turned and saw a form silhouetted through the large pane of frosted glass. “Come in,” she called.
The door opened partway, and she saw a face. “Dr. Rich?”
Julia recognized her at once. “Come in, Kelly,” she said, standing.
The girl opened the door farther and stepped inside. Kelly Kovatch was one of the few bright lights in Julia's morning class of Creative Writing sophomores this semester. A tall, pretty girl, quiet and demure the way girls used to be.