<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> SEPTEMBER 1959 <p> <p> <b>LEAVING BEULAH</b> <p> She sits up straight in bed. The seasons have changed overnight; she can feel it in her bones. Summer has passed and the heady weight of a northern Michigan autumn is upon her, as sure as the musty dust of oak leaves that will follow. <p> From where she sits, back hard against the massive oak headboard, Fada can see deep into the orchard to the east. How she will miss these orchards with their intoxicating sweet fragrance of fallen apples, plump with rot. And she will surely miss the glorious morning light as it shoots low through the rows of apple trees, especially when it hits hard upon her Golden Delicious. The light transforms those trees into galaxies of yellow, bobbing suns. Then there is Crystal Lake, a mere ten-minute drive away; how she will long for its cold, honest waters. <p> But no matter. Yesterday, at forty-six, she had felt like an old woman. Today, she does not. <p> Fada's fingers graze the old quilt her mother had fashioned as a young wife. It must come with her, of course. Something about the hand-stitching and the geometric perfection gives Fada a sense of hope and order in the world. It has always graced her bed, even in the summer months. She rises and begins to fold the quilt lovingly, but then stops. She laughs at her sentimental attachment to this thing, as though it had life, as though it could love her back. <i>Will it comfort her in this new life she's chosen?</i> <p> The farmhouse is chilly and she dresses quickly in the clothes she'd placed on the cedar chest the night before. Her husband had left an hour ago. A doctor's day begins early and ends late, he has told her too many times. Of course, that had made his distractions and his infidelities easier to secret away. He has been an adequate husband and a father to their two sons only in monetary terms, always being so remote and self-important in his busyness. The thankless, everyday chores and the emotional clutter of family life had been hers to handle. But no matter, she concludes. She does not hate him. What she feels for him now is too small to be formed into anything as grand as hatred. Both her sons are now in Detroit, at university there. Her servitude, though having been lovingly rendered, is to them complete as of today. <p> "I'm not old," she announces with great conviction, "only my life is." <p> She puts on the percolator, cuts the wheat bread for toast, and then walks out into the east orchard one last time. This land, she knows, how it looks, how it smells, how it creeps into your bones so that you cannot distinguish between the cold of the earth and the cold as dense as ice in your bone marrow ... <i>how can she live anywhere else after these twenty-five years here?</i> <p> She plucks a few perfect apples and stuffs them into the pockets of her overalls. He detests these overalls—they had been his—and prefers to see her in simple cotton dresses. Those dresses will all be staying. <p> What will become of the rest of these apples, she wonders. Who will arrange for the picking and the hauling, set the selling price? Who will determine the variety and portion to be set aside for the cider press? "No matter to me," Fada says out loud. "Breakfast is waiting and there is much to be done before the sun sets." <p> Soon, she is ladling skimmed cream into her coffee, spooning her own whole-berry strawberry jam onto the toast. She takes her well-measured time and relishes her lightheadedness. Everything feels as if she is doing it, tasting it, for both the first time and the very last. <p> Most of what she will need has been packed for weeks and stored in the root cellar, a place he never visits. Never would he have looked into her empty drawers or noticed the missing cookware, utensils, even the tools, which only she uses. Boxes of canned tomatoes, jams, and pickles are all neatly stacked with the potatoes and carrots. There are a dozen or so books boxed, including a book on modern painting that her hands have travelled over page by page many times. She favors nonfiction, and had added books on carpentry, gardening, and a single cookbook. A few family photographs, a sun bonnet, a radio, her address book, the leftover cash she has been squirreling away in a red, rusted-metal toolbox for years. <i>Years!</i> Only $357 are left, but it will buy the gas she needs to reach Fort Meyers and must hold her until she finds employment. Fada knows that she can live contentedly on very little. Farm life makes a person strong, efficient, frugal. <p> She begins to load the '51 Ford pick-up. This is her vehicle; he finds it too common, too coarse, and prefers his bloated Packard. She finishes the loading with room to spare. <p> Fada makes their bed, but takes her feather pillow. She pulls the two letters to her sons from her underwear drawer. In them, she details her plan, but not her destination, her love, but not her lifelong devotion. It will be awhile before they hear from her. They are not to worry—she is a capable woman. <p> Last week, she had purchased for the asking price, paying in cash, a 1954 Flying Cloud. It was a twenty-two-foot Airstream trailer, a thing of great beauty and practicality in her eyes. She had bought it from a man whose wife had recently died. The husband and wife had traveled to Nevada with the trailer twice, had even lived for a winter in it. He hadn't the heart to keep it after she'd died, and had placed an advertisement of sale in the paper. <p> Fada had a dear and widowed friend in Traverse City, Charlotte Hastings, who agreed to store the trailer in her barn. The previous owner had delivered the Airstream there for her, and Fada had arranged for a hitch to be put on her truck. She then kept the truck backed up to the chicken coop and hoped her husband would not grow suspicious. If he had noticed, he had never questioned her. It all seemed too easy, but then, of course, a husband's indifference can sometimes be an asset. <p> By late afternoon on that perfect September day, with an apple clutched between her teeth, Fada feels a pleasant dizziness as she drives southeast along State Road 115, away from Beulah and every habit that had defined her life thus far. <p> She will spend the rest of her days in Florida in the company of likeminded friends. Near her life's conclusion, she will bequeath all her belongings to a granddaughter she has never met; but based on her son's descriptions in his infrequent letters, she reminds her very much of herself. Stoic, intensely private, a bit odd. <p> <p> MAY 2001 <p> THE LIGHT, THE ELEMENTS, THE MOVEMENT ... THEY ARE THE MESSAGE. I AM MERELY THE MESSENGER. <p> <p> <p> <b>LIES ABOUT THE BEAUTY OF SUFFERING</b> <p> It had taken the Long Island Railroad thirty-nine minutes to deliver Paul Lang from Greenport, the railroad's easternmost terminal on the North Fork, to Riverhead, where Flanders Bay meets the Peconic River. <p> There Paul meets with a lawyer, a woman who seems to him barely old enough to have finished high school. Paul tells her that he needs a will—not a complicated matter, what remains of his life after death will go to his wife. Then he explains that his real problem is his life insurance and the ramifications of a less-than-accidental death. He has the policy with him. Paul is very straightforward. The lawyer is very uncomfortable. <p> She advises that, if allowed to, he should cash in his policy, and make some investments for his wife. She is not a financial adviser, she admits, but can recommend one. She reminds him before he leaves her shabby little office that what he plans to do is illegal and, consequently, she will be destroying her notes from this meeting. She refuses his check and wishes him well. <p> Paul finds a luncheonette on Main Street and Roanoke Avenue, eats some soup, and then hurries with his hand inside his belt to the bathroom behind the kitchen. Then he sits for a bit at the counter, sipping weak tea, killing some time until the 4:23. Later, as he walks along the Peconic River, he is assaulted by the dense, oily aroma from a McDonald's on the other side and vomits into his <i>Suffolk Times</i>. <p> Without consulting his watch even once, he arrives at the station just as the train approaches. Paul sits on the upper tier of the double-decker diesel, already bone cold. Why, he wonders, do they crank up the air-conditioning so. He brings his legs up to his torso, pressing his toes into the molded plastic of the seat in front of him. <p> Once heading east, the train makes an unannounced stop at the edge of town and sits there. The pain in Paul's abdomen is radiating in circular lurches to his back. He turns and stares out the window. A dilapidated concrete building sits in an empty corner lot. Weeds poke through the cracked parking lot, and sickly cedars and dead deciduous trees guard the property lines. The windows of the one-story structure—<i>had it been an auto repair shop?</i>—are all boarded up with irregular pieces of plywood and the wounded roof sags. Broken glass and trash litter the slab of pavement. Shreds of plastic bags impaled in the trees flap like flags of surrender. Nothing is alive or of any use. <p> "Could this day be even one shade bleaker?" Paul says to the empty seat beside him. <p> He thinks about the long months it took for his own father to die. He closes his eyes and sees that room, ironically the living room, in his grandmother's house. There his father is enthroned upon his hospital bed, bitter and resplendent in his foolish bravery. Yes, he is the king of death, removing his oxygen mask to say, "I will beat this thing. You watch me." And they all do watch—they see the stained sheets and his bloody spit in a metal pan, and the way his brown skin creases like eroding bluffs around his lips. And they witness the closing in of the flocked wallpaper and his pathetic smoking until he can no longer breathe on his own. <p> Paul had been only eight. He had hated his father for his dying and had hated himself for feeling that way. <p> The train begins to crawl forward and once they have just passed the hideous building he looks back to see a vine vigorously invading the eastern side and back of the structure. It is a wisteria, heavy with lavender blooms, growing outside, inside, and out the top of the roof, and even falling to cover the pavement beneath it. The vine seems to Paul to spread its arms in all directions, caressing the decrepit structure as a child might lovingly trace the wrinkles in his grandfather's face. <p> The scent of blooms comes to Paul ... not from outside but from his memory, from that house where his father had died, from where that vine had grown unattended over the garage just outside the living room window, in Hamtrammack, in another lifetime. <p> Sometimes, he thinks, there is great pain in witnessing beauty, and perhaps great beauty in pain. "I don't know," he says out loud, and then hands his ticket to the bewildered conductor who appears before him. <p> "I'm sorry about the delay," the man says. "Nothing we could do anything about, you know, debris on the tracks." <p> Paul smiles. "And a lot of it." <p> And he decides right then that he will cash in the insurance policy and pay off the beach house. Sloan will have that, at least, and the restaurant to keep her occupied. And the box of poems. <p> Once the train is again swaying side to side heading eastward, Paul's thoughts are still focused on his wife; this keeps his mind diverted from the persistent pain in his gut. <i>Can she survive his death?</i> <p> This thought leads him, while passing through Aquebogue, to the brutal tale of her brother's death. He had not witnessed it, but Sloan had blurted it out years after they were married, in a drunken barrage of disjointed nouns and verbs. <p> And then until the train clears Jamesport, Paul travels back to 1974 and to Prudenville, in northern Michigan. Sloan is only six and Richard—brash, tall, lean Richard with his long hair bleached nearly white by late summer—is a mighty fourteen. Being beautiful yet introverted, Sloan finds in her brother her link to life itself, or at least this is how Paul imagines she feels. <p> As a boy, Paul had once been to Prudenville for a weeklong vacation with a white friend's family. His dark skin was an oddity; he had seen not one other like him the entire week. He had loved Houghton Lake. Poised at the lip of the village, it was a large and embracive body of water, shallow and safe for such a long distance from shore. He had learned to swim there and fished, even on rainy days. <p> The family had rented one of the many cottages that lined the narrow streets of Prudenville. He recalls easily the linoleum floors, the stained feather pillows, and mismatched plates and silverware. There had been a hot water heater proudly visible in the bathroom and bunk beds with lumpy mattresses. All a magical change from the harsh realities of Hamtrammack. And he remembers, as well, the strange children who lived year round in this fantasy world. He thinks of those blonde children with faces tanned nearly as dark as his, children like Sloan who every year endured the unyielding winter winds off the lake and the long wait for summer. <p> The train has nearly made Southold station when Paul gets to the meat of his memory. He embellishes it with the adjectives, adverbs, metaphors, and all the prosodic mush the poet utilizes to transform pain into beauty, or chaos into meaning. He visualizes things he has never seen about the town and its people, things like swims after dark without suits, and town drunks to be avoided, and musty movie houses where a city boy might take advantage of a local girl. But then Paul returns to the little he does know. <p> On one particular late-August afternoon, perhaps an hour before suppertime, Richard and two of his friends venture out in an aluminum rowboat with a small girl, sweet Sloan, wearing a dirty, orange life jacket riding up under her chin. Her brother rows on and on out into the lake, drunk on the pull of the oars, a little further than they should be. <p> It is exactly like this, Paul thinks, or else something very similar. And now as the train reaches the point where Mill Creek meets the southern edge of Hashamomuck Pond, he squints to see instead the silken surface of Houghton Lake. <p> Something like this does happen. They stop and anchor the boat, and the boys throw their bodies over the sides. Sloan watches from the boat and, at first, their antics frighten her, but then she relaxes and smiles. It is only Rescue, a game they often play. One boy jumps overboard and feigns drowning using melodramatic, desperate gesturing, pretending to be the pale-skinned cottage renter. The other two will be the heroic local boys, fearlessly to the rescue. <p> When it is Richard's turn, his silliness makes Sloan feel like the more grown-up of the two. As his pleas become more exaggerated, more agitated and anxious, the others laugh all the harder, safe in the boat some thirty feet away. He is always the best, they all agree, the most convincing. His two best friends clutch the sides of the boat as their rubbery legs dangle uselessly in the water; they are laughing that hard. Then Richard disappears once again beneath the surface, and doesn't reappear—for too long a time. Next comes a horrible silence. They all stare at the spot in the water where he surely must reappear. Anything beyond that thought is unimaginable. <p> Then Sloan shrieks out her brother's name. The bodies of the two boys jerk into sudden action and they jump clumsily into the water. They swim to where Richard had been. Sloan throws herself into the water, and one boy swims back over to her, and the other dives down again and again in search of Richard. Soon both boys and the girl are crying and screaming until a large woman in a flannel shirt finally arrives in a powerboat. She pulls the limp, now silent girl into her boat, then dives into the water fully dressed. <p> With the eyes of the poet that he is, Paul visualizes this one final image. With the ephemeral beauty and speed of a bass leaping above the water's surface, a flash in foreign air, Richard's perfect life is both brief and over. <p> The train now is dissecting the neighborhoods of Greenport and approaching the final stop with noisy, diesel fanfare. Paul finds a <i>New York Times</i> on the seat in front of his. He then goes to his car and sits and reads the editorials, just to free his overindulgent imagination from Prudenville and Riverhead, and all those adjectives and images and lies about the beauty of suffering. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>FALL ASLEEP FORGETTING</b> by <b>GEORGEANN PACKARD</b> Copyright © 2010 by GEORGEANN PACKARD. Excerpted by permission of THE PERMANENT PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.