Domestic moments married to a pervasive sense of threat: That’s not us, it’s the Washington Post in describing Goodnight, Beautiful Women by Anna Noyes. The interconnected stories in this debut collection, published last month by Grove Press, are set mostly in coastal Maine and illuminate the inner lives of New England women and girls. Noyes will be reading and signing books at 6pm tomorrow evening, Saturday, July 30, at Politics and Prose. You can purchase the book at P&P or here or here.
I MOVED BACK to my hometown with my husband, which was my first mistake. Actually at that point he wasn’t my husband, though we’re married now. I wanted to be claimed as a wife for the sake of my own tenuous survival. In those early days in Maine, I often envisioned walking into the bay, but that sounds more poetic and energetic than what I really felt. Mostly I wanted to slip down the shower drain or hibernate for the next five years until I was prepared to be a wife and mother, and was used to the fact that all my friends lived elsewhere and it was just me and Bruce making meal after meal and eating them on the couch for the rest of our lives.
Right after the move I started to wash my face with oil, thinking that since I was back in rural Maine I should milk goats and throw away my harsh facial soap. The oil cleansing covered my face with tiny bumps that I spent hours researching online. My research suggested that the phase I was in was generally considered a purging phase so I kept washing with the oil through fall, until the texture of my skin was completely altered. In my phone’s photo album, hundreds of pictures of my own face, taken to document the purge, replaced pictures of friends and beaches and Bruce and me on mountain summits.
These were the pastimes of that fall—the oil, and watching a show about brides-to-be trying on wedding dresses while Bruce worked at a wine shop where they’d get him drunk sampling wines and then he’d drive the hour back to my town weaving. The couple of times I got up the courage to confront him about being drunk he hadn’t actually been drinking. I wasn’t any good at telling the difference between Bruce sober and not, and he’d seemed drunk to me.
For exercise and sunlight I dressed each afternoon in a pair of men’s jeans that I imagined a Maine farming woman might wear, slathered my erupting skin with makeup, and braided my hair so I could walk to the end of the driveway and collect the Rite Aid flyers from our mailbox.
When I envisioned my wedding I saw my bare feet, walking up a petal-strewn path. I would carry a bouquet of bluebells. The weekend after we arrived in Maine Bruce planned a surprise for my birthday, a surprise he told my family about and described to me as “an elephant,” and I felt sure and sharp in my chest that the surprise was a proposal. We drove four hours, my mouth dry imagining how the proposal might play out, and then he untied my blindfold in the parking lot of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, where an upright bassist was to perform all six of the Bach cello suites.
I had mentioned to Bruce that I liked the cello suites, which I did, but I’d only heard them once and basically I just liked the cello more than other instruments, like trumpets or flutes, which I didn’t like at all. The second surprise was that the bassist, who was playing by memory, forgot his place and had to search his mind for the next notes in front of the few of us gathered in the tiny auditorium, which during the day was a science classroom, as evidenced by the periodic table of elements above the stage. The bassist sent the professor who introduced him running backstage while he stood clutching his bass, and once the music stand was set up and the book of sheet music propped open precariously before him he closed his eyes and resumed playing for one lovely, sonorous second before the score flipped of its own accord to the wrong page. The audience knew this had happened but the bassist did not. When he opened his eyes there was nothing for him to do but stop playing to hunt for the correct, lost page, while we sat watching. It went on like this all the way through 136 minutes of cello suites, and afterward he struggled the bass offstage. Bruce and I went out to Applebee’s, where I ordered a burger even though I’d been a vegetarian for years and we talked about the lesser mistakes the bassist had made, which even I, without knowing the Bach cello suites or classical music, found obvious—whole swaths of music were missing, or improperly timed.
Excerpted from “Homecoming” from Goodnight, Beautiful Women copyright © 2016 by Anna Noyes; used with permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc.