"Smart" - MINUS ME by Mameve Medwed - Excerpt
“A perfect read to escape the world.” —Miriam Parker, author of The Shortest Way Home
Her life turned upside down by a grim diagnosis, a small-town Maine woman sets about writing a "How To" life manual for her handsome yet hapless husband in a novel Elinor Lipman (Good Riddance, On Turpentine Lane) calls "smart, funny-quirky, and so very satisfying."
Annie and her devoted but comically incompetent childhood sweetheart Sam are the owners and operators of Annie's, a gourmet sandwich shop, home to the legendary Paul Bunyan Special Sandwich—their "nutritionally challenged continual source of income and marital harmony and local fame."
But into their mostly charmed marriage comes the scary medical diagnosis for Annie--and the overwhelming challenge of finding a way to help Sam go on without her. Annie decides to leave Sam step-by-step instructions for a future without her, and considers her own replacement in his heart and their bed. Her best-laid plans grind to a halt with the unexpected appearance of Ursula, Annie's Manhattan diva of a mother, who brings her own brand of chaos and disruption into their lives.
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Your mother’s birthday is June 28th; she wears a size ten. Your father’s is May 18 and a bottle of single malt always works.
Annie pulls up outside Michaud’s Quik-Basket. She’s too near the hydrant, but for once she doesn’t care. She turns off the engine and tries to slow her breathing. She pictures the all-too-cheerful and all-too-serene yoga instructor in the video Sam gave her at Christmas. “Made for Type A’s,” he explained. She watched only half. She’s lousy at relaxing. The harder she tries to breathe from the diaphragm, the faster and more shallow her breathing becomes. So what, she thinks, and opens the car door. Nothing matters now. She leaves the key in the ignition; she leaves the door unlocked; she climbs over the ice bank rather than mincing her way along the skimpily shoveled path. To hell with everything. Let her slip, splayed like a snow angel on the filthy sidewalk. Perfect simile.
Raoul, the father, and not the son, Ralphie, who sat behind her in high school social studies, is in front of the cash register—her first stroke of luck. Ralphie would want to yack about their classmates, analyze hockey scores, ask about her mother. Not that it matters either. But today, of all days, she does not want to talk about Ursula.
Mr. Michaud is watching the weather report. It’s February first. Will Punxsutawney Phil come out of his hole tomorrow, grins the lumber-jacketed, suspiciously orange-skinned weatherman. His teeth are five degrees whiter than fresh snow, shaming the dirty brown and yellow mounds polka-dotting her hometown. “Whatja think, Annie?” asks Raoul, his Canadian vowels harsh against the weatherman’s broadcasting-school diction.
“Don’t know,” she says. Don’t care either. Six more weeks of winter or an early spring mean nothing to her now. Annie points to the racks behind the dusty cash register, its fading photos of Ralphie and his sister Marie in their confirmation clothes, twenty years out of date, scotch-taped to it. “A pack of Marlboros, please.” She reconsiders. “Actually, a carton.”
If Mr. Michaud disapproves, she can’t tell. His face is turned to the TV. She pays. He counts out the change. “You want a bag with that?” he asks.
“Don’t bother,” she says. Let the whole town see evidence of her vice. Her public relapse.
But no witnesses are on the sidewalk when she exits. No one to ask how she’s doing, whether she’ll be at the city council meeting tomorrow night, if the new pickle suppliers for the Paul Bunyans are up to snuff, and what about that enchanting mother of hers. There’d be a pause, then a glance at the carton, followed by is everything okay? Lucky for her, not a single car passes along the street to see her leaning against the steering wheel as she lights up. Oh, happy day. Hunky-dory day!
Of course, the lighter is broken. Of course, she doesn’t have a match. With the car still running, she gets out and goes back inside. “Matches?” she asks.
He doesn’t look up. “Over there.” He points to a Whitman’s Sampler filled with matchboxes from Gus’s Gas across the road. “Have a good one,” he says.
She drives around the block to the high school. She turns into the last row of the parking lot, territory once claimed by the tough guys who used to smoke their unfiltered Camels and rolled their joints over by the pine trees. It’s the exact spot, too, where the fast girls unhooked their bras, where she and Sam used to make out—how quaint—in his father’s old Chevy when they were teenagers and the movie had ended. By nine, the whole town closed down. At that hour, when the glow from living room televisions dimmed one by one along Grove Street, you could almost hear the words, “Good-night, John Boy, Good night, Jim Bob,” from The Waltons reruns she used to watch as a kid.
Nobody’s around. Hardly surprising since teenagers have birth control and the comfort of their own beds for overnights. “Better at home than in the back of the car or some cheap motel, since they’re going to do it anyway,” explained her best friend, Rachel, whose daughter had a boyfriend with weekly sleepover privileges. Not that Annie has that problem.
But the problem she does have is a big one. The biggest. The central theme of literature and music and philosophy—not of cigarettes and teenage sex and municipal taxes. Or of narcissistic mothers or bland pickles. It’s the major enigma slash obsession of all time.
End of Excerpt
Excerpt © Mameve Medwed. Shared with permission.
Mameve Medwed is the author of six novels—Mail, Host Family, The End of an Error, How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life (2007 Massachusetts Book Award Honors in Fiction), Of Men and Their Mothers, and Minus Me (January 2021). Her short stories, essays, and book reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Gourmet, Yankee, Redbook, Playgirl, The Boston Globe, Ascent, The Missouri Review, Confrontation, The Readerville Journal, Newsday, and The Washington Post. She has taught fiction writing for many years at The Cambridge Center for Adult Education, has been a mentor in the writing program at Lesley University, read papers for the English Department at Simmons College, and has taken part in writing festivals across the country, serving on panels and teaching seminars.
Learn more at https://mamevemedwed.com.
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Content Note: No Sex; No Violence
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