This week’s book excerpt comes from This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison. Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill this month, it outlines the latter years of a widow, its lively writing giving her some amount of wistfulness but always stanching the pathos with a wry sense of (finally) self-awareness. You can can buy the book here.
Here you come, better late than never: a face presentation. Not the boy your father so desperately wanted, but here you come, anyway, all six pounds, three ounces of you. Button nose, conical head, good color. A swirl of dark hair atop your little crown. And a healthy pair of lungs, too.
Listen to you wail, as the doctor slaps your fanny: your cries, phlegmy and protracted. Hear them? These are virtually the last sounds you will utter until well after your second birthday.
Yes, Harriet, you were an exceptionally quiet child. Too quiet.
Exhibit A: December 31, 1936. For the rest of their lives, your parents will regale you, and anyone who will listen, with a rollicking story about a certain New Years Eve party on the north end. The story involves a bassinet into which your father, in a moment of stoned clarity and admirable foresight, fastened you by your ankles and armpits for safety, using his own necktie, and a leather belt from the host’s closet. The party is a triumph, as the story goes, with Bacchus leading the charge. The music is brassy, the walls are thrumming. So frenzied the celebration, in fact, that amidst their merrymaking, revelers fail to notice the upended bassinet in the corner. That is, until whiz kid, Charlie Fitzsimmons, the firm’s youngest partner, lipstick on his collar, ladies underpants adorning the crown of his head, nearly trips on you on his way back from the spodee.
It will not be the last time Charlie Fitzsimmons takes notice of you. “Would you look at that glass of milk?” he shouts.
For an instant, the party is struck dumb, as everyone turns their attention to the corner. Look at Harriman Nathan’s girl!
“She’ll make a hell of a judge,” observes Charlie.
And of course, hilarity ensues. The story never fails, and you’re the punchline, Harriet.
There you are, for god only knows how long, upside down, your poker face turning from red to blue to purple, your little gray eyes gazing impassively at the world, as your parents ring in a prosperous 1937.
You never made a peep.
This is your life, Harriet. The beginning, anyway.
From This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison ©2015 by Jonathan Evison. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All rights reserved.