Authors: Jean Thompson
ALSO BY JEAN THOMPSON
Wide Blue Yonder
The Woman Driver
Do Not Deny Me
Throw Like a Girl
Who Do You Love
Little Face and Other Stories
The Gasoline Wars
Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Jean Thompson
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition May 2011
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Designed by Kyoko Watanabe
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The year we left home / Jean Thompson.
1. Families—United States—Fiction. 2. Brothers and sisters—Fiction.
3. United States—Social life and customs—20th century—Fiction.
4. United States—Social conditions—20th century—Fiction.
5. National characteristics, American—Fiction. I. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4391-7591-0 (ebook)
To everybody who left home
and groom had two wedding receptions: the first was in the basement of the Lutheran church right after the ceremony, with punch and cake and coffee and pastel mints. This was for those of the bride’s relatives who were stern about alcohol. The basement was low-ceilinged and smelled of metallic furnace heat. Old ladies wearing corsages sat on folding chairs, while other guests stood and managed their cake plates and plastic forks as best they could. The pastor smiled with professional benevolence. The bride and groom posed for pictures, buoyed by adrenaline and relief. There had been so much promised and prepared, and now everything had finally come to pass.
By five o’clock the last of the crowd had retrieved their winter coats and boots from the cloakroom and headed out. It was January, with two weeks of hard-packed snow underfoot and more on the way, and most of them had long drives from Grenada, over country roads to get back home. The second reception was just beginning at the American Legion hall, where there would be a buffet supper, a bar, and a dance band.
The bride’s younger brother had been sent to open the Legion building so that the food could be brought in ahead of time. He drove his pickup truck the mile from the church, playing the radio loud to shake off the strangeness of the day. He’d been an usher at the wedding
and he still wore his dark suit and blue-tinted carnation boutonniere, clothes that made him feel stiff and false. The whole import of the wedding embarrassed him powerfully, though he could not have said why. Many things had been disquieting: his sister in her overdone bridal makeup, his mother’s weeping, the particular oppressiveness of anything that took place in church, the archness of the female relatives who told him how tall and handsome he looked. “Pretty soon we’ll get to dance at your wedding, hey?” He’d shrugged and said, Well, they could at least dance, which had made his girlfriend mad.
She was still back at the church and still mad, which was why he’d managed to get away by himself, if only for a few minutes. As he was leaving, she’d whispered that he should see what they had in the liquor cabinet over there. He guessed that that was what it was going to take to get her back in any kind of a good mood. A bottle they could show off as a trophy, then drink some night while they were out driving around.
The radio was playing “Horse with No Name.” He turned it up and sang along:
I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
He wished he was out there right now, in some desert, instead of smack in the middle of his family, who, because they knew his origins and his history, thought they knew everything about him. He couldn’t account for this feeling when a wedding, after all, was supposed to be this big happy thing. He guessed he must be some kind of freak.
The gray afternoon was already shutting down when he pulled into the Legion parking lot, got out, and fumbled with the stiff lock. It gave way and he stepped inside.
The hall was a big bare space with a much-buffed tile floor. Gloomy light reflected from it in pools. To one side was a kitchen with a large stainless steel double sink, two restaurant-style wall ovens, and a pass-through to the main part of the room. Long tables covered with white paper tablecloths were set up to receive food, and stools
and hightops were stacked in the foyer. He tried the bar closet but as expected it locked with a separate key. Then he heard another car pull up. He turned on the overhead lights and went back out into the cold.
His Uncle Norm and Aunt Martha were unloading their station wagon. “Ryan,” his uncle said by way of a greeting, and handed him a foil-covered metal pan. “Careful, this one’s heavy.”
His aunt said it had been a beautiful wedding, hadn’t it, and Ryan said it had. That was the extent of the small talk since there was all the food to manage, work to be done, and with Norm and Martha, work came before everything else. There were a dozen or more big pans to carry inside, and two coolers, and a cardboard box full of paper towels and pot holders and other useful items. “Just set everything out on the table,” Martha directed, hanging up her coat and putting on the apron she’d brought from home. Ryan, peeking under the foil, found sliced ham with raisin sauce, a macaroni-and-tomato casserole, a green salad, potatoes topped with shredded orange cheese, beef in gravy, chicken and biscuits, corn pudding. There were sheet cakes too, and bags of dinner rolls.