> Bless Their Hearts Mom: Book Excerpt: The Angry Suite by Lee Fullbright
Saturday, September 15, 2012

Book Excerpt: The Angry Suite by Lee Fullbright

Stay tuned later today for our review of The Angry Suite, 
and for a special giveaway from the author!
Enjoy this excerpt in the meantime!

the angry suite cover

The Angry Woman Suite:  An Excerpt (ELYSE)

It is said that love is comfort, and that comfort comes from recognition of the beloved. Papa was the first to tell me this, and if it’s even a little bit true, then I took my comfort for granted, not realizing that one can’t truly appreciate the beloved until one yearns for the comfort to be returned. Even now, when I can’t sleep at night, when I can’t slow the speeding of my heart, when I can’t stop the replaying of what-if’s in my head, I take myself back to that place where cabbage roses dance on walls and my beloved reigns supreme; where I am queen of his heart and he is my comfort, and then and only then do I feel safe.

You’d think it would be enough, being able to conjure up at least a measure of my old, first love. Yet for a long while it wasn’t. Because I was incapable of stanching the nagging questions about my second, almost greater love. Questioning why Francis hadn’t seen the truth of it like Papa had; that the streak I’d struggled with hadn’t been born of badness; that badness wasn’t an intrinsic part of me like my eyes being blue.

But Francis, unfortunately, hadn’t been able to see through things the way Papa had, and that was because Francis had rarely felt safe. You could see it in the way Francis’s eyes got doubtful taking in a room, and the way he was always biting down on his lower lip. The way it looked as if he was always trying to keep himself from crying.

My mother worked days at the PX at Mather, the Air Force base outside Sacramento, and my grandmother and Aunt Rose worked night shifts and slept during the day. That meant it was my grandfather—everybody called him Papa—many years older than my grandmother, and retired, who took care of me. And Bean, too. But my sister Bean, who’d been christened Beatrice Nadine, and called Bea for about two seconds after she was born and then Bean forever after, was still a baby back in the early 1950's, two years old to my five, and not of much use yet, so it was Papa who was everything: he was my first love. My comfort. He was my playmate and teacher, quick with stories about the little people, quicker to laugh, and even quicker at games, particularly chess and pinochle. He was logical and strategic, and played from the center, something he believed made all the difference in the world, and he was also extremely patient and good-natured. A gentle man, an industrious man, the hardest-working man I’d ever know, he was the one who kept our house going, doing all the cooking and cleaning, and lining every inch of dead space—walls, ceilings, cabinets, shelves, trash cans, lampshades, even jars—with pale green paper stamped with those lovely yellow cabbage roses.

Almost better than anything else, though, Papa had known what made people tick. Figuring people out, especially the “dense and complicated” ones was Papa’s favorite game, ranking even higher than chess and pinochle. And that was because Papa liked stretching a natural talent he had for seeing right through people’s skins, straight onto their pretensions and delusions. For instance, he’d always known me better than I’d known myself, and he’d always been able to see right through Francis. Papa had always known what made Francis tick.

I was proud of my grandfather—and not just because Papa had x-ray vision, looking through people right and left. But also because Papa didn’t look like the grandfathers in my picture books: he wasn’t short, fat, or bald. My grandfather was tall and slim, with muscular arms and shoulders, and lots of blond hair like mine. He told me it was because he’d grown up on a farm that he was so strong, and that after coming to America he’d been in the U. S. cavalry, which helped keep him strong; stationed in San Diego, where he’d hunted down a terribly wicked person called Pancho Villa, outside Arizona. This was during the time of the Great War, and Papa’s heavily accented voice always went solemn when talking about this war in Europe. That’s because it was a huge sorrow he hadn’t been able to go on account of having been born in Germany, where his better-marksmen cousins still lived. Meaning it would’ve been stupider than shit for him to go all the way back to Europe just to get his ass shot off by family, when, Papa said, “I’ve got Familie here willing to shoot my ass off.”

And that’s what I mean. Anyone with a half a brain could see the logic to Papa’s thinking.

My mother and Aunt Rose had many friends, and on the nights that Aunt Rose didn’t have to work, and she and my mother didn’t go out nightclubbing, our little house was filled with strangers and cigarette smoke and jokes I didn’t get, and although I liked it best when it was just family home together, I took Mother and Aunt Rose’s guests in grudging stride, tagging them as dense and complicated subjects for Papa to practice looking straight through. For example, Mother’s friend Ron Leroy was full of shit, talking like he had the world on a string, when anyone with the smarts of a hat rack could see he didn’t know his butt hole from a gopher hole. I giggled nervously when Papa whispered that one in my ear, afraid Mother might overhear. Mother didn’t like nasty talk, and saying “shit,” not to mention “butt hole,” was nasty talk in her book. That nervous laughter, Papa said, smiling. Always watch for that nervous laughter and shifty eyes, checking to see if anyone else is believing their shit. Shifty eyes are a sure, dead giveaway, check.

Betty Harris, Papa whispered next, was dating a wino, and even though she tried kidding herself, she knew, deep down, he was a drunk, but she certainly didn’t want anyone else knowing what she knew. What she wanted was everyone to see her date as a good-time Charlie, meaning no harm. Besides, everyone knew nothing disgusted Betty more than an insensitive scene-stealer. She said so often enough. And Betty was a good judge of character. She said that almost as often as she said Charlie was a man from the right side of the tracks.

Never believe anything anyone says about him or herself was what Papa had to say about Betty Harris. Because when people are talking about themselves they’re generally telling you who and what they wish they were, or what they think you want to hear, not diddly about themselves at all. And, really, they can’t tell you diddly, Papa said, because most people really do not know squat about themselves. People like Betty were ostriches, in for a lifetime of hiding things from themselves, check.

Merv Allen, though, was a prince of a fellow, a real listener, a good game player. He didn’t tell you diddly, which was just fine, because Merv Allen knew diddly squat didn’t count much for winning at games. Merv Allen wanted to beat the game and he would, Papa predicted, because Merv knew that defining the adversary, keeping things to yourself, and letting go of pre-conceived ideas always revealed the weak link, the upper hand, the checkmate.

“Tell everyone you can see right through them,” I’d beg Papa. “It’ll be such a hoot!”
“Ah, Elyse, mein Liebling,” my grandfather would always answer the same way, “you are again not paying attention. I will tell you one more time: I am right only with myself. You must understand I win only in my own mind. Siehst du? When you are right with yourself, it is not necessary to tell the whole world what you think you know.”

Which was the hardest part of playing games, the part I didn’t particularly cotton to, this having to keep one’s brilliance all to one’s self. Not that I would’ve wanted in a million years to be like Betty Harris, yakking people up and boring them silly, and being so dense as to not even know I was doing it. No, what I really wanted was to beat everybody at their own games, but I wanted to do it nicely, like Papa always did. And then I wanted to tell my opponents I’d been on to them since their opening moves. Not to be snotty.
Just because I could.

My mother’s most prized possession was an upright piano she’d bought secondhand. She played beautifully, self-taught, and on those real hot Sacramento nights when we threw the whole house open and let in the smell of jasmine, I sat on Papa’s lap, on our old mohair couch, head against his chest, watching my pretty mother smile and laugh; listening to her music, to Aunt Rose leading our company in singing off-key,  and to my grandfather’s heartbeat, taking in deep gulps of his smell, content as if I had  good sense.

Looking back, I can’t help wondering if any part of me had sensed that  contentment is fickle, coming and going at whim.

I don’t remember the exact night my second daddy joined in on the music, blowing his trumpet, accompanying Mother on piano. I called him Uncle Francis back then. I called all Mother and Aunt Rose’s friends Uncle or Aunt Something-or-other. I still have snapshots from that time, the kind that look as if they’ve been edged with pinking shears, and there’s one of me with Francis, taken after he stopped being my uncle and became my daddy. I know it was taken before Francis became my daddy, because we’re both smiling.
Which meant Francis’s nerves were not yet shot.

About the Author:  
Lee Fullbright is a fourth-generation Californian, raised and educated in San Diego. She is a medical practice consultant and lives on San Diego’s beautiful peninsula with her twelve-year-old Australian cattle dog, Baby Rae. The Angry Woman Suite, a Kirkus Critics’ Pick and Discovery Award winner, is her debut novel. Connect with Lee on her websiteFacebookTwitter, or GoodReads.

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