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The Marriage of Sticks

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The Marriage of Sticks

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Author: Jonathan Carroll
Publisher: Tor, 2000
Gollancz, 1999
Series: The Crane's View Trilogy: Book 2

1. Kissing the Beehive
2. The Marriage of Sticks
3. The Wooden Sea

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Miranda Romanac is a successful thirtysomething woman in today's modern world, yet she feels alone and adrift on the sea of her life. At her high school reunion she makes a shattering discovery that further undermines her already shaky sense of who she is and where she is going. When she meets the remarkable Hugh Oakley, her life takes a 180-degree turn for the better--but at what price?

When they move to a house in the country to start a new life together, the reality Miranda had once known begins to slip away. Miranda is haunted by alarming, impossible visions and strangers whom she feels certain she has known, although they are all from other times and places. As these phantom lives consume her own and begin to affect all that she knows and loves, Miranda must learn the truth to reclaim it. But sometimes the hardest truth to accept is the knowledge of who we really are.



In the end, each of us has only one story to tell. Yet despite having lived that story, most people have neither the courage nor any idea of how to tell it.

I did not live this long so that now, when I am finally able to talk about my life, I will lie about it. What's the point? There is no one left to impress. Those who once loved or hated me are gone or have barely enough energy left to breathe. Except for one.

There is little else to do now but remember. I am an old old woman with a head full of memories, fragile as eggs. Yet the memories remain loud and demanding. "Remember me!" they shout. Or "Remember the dog that spoke." I say, "Tell the truth! Are you sure? Or are you making up more convenient history just to make me feel better?"

It is too easy to turn your best profile to history's mirror. But history doesn't care. I have learned that.

Mirrors and treasure maps. X marks the spot not where a life begins, but where it begins to matter. Forget who your parents were, what you learned, what you did, gained, or lost. Where did the trip begin? When did you know you were walking through the departure gate?

My story, the X on my map, began in a Santa Monica hotel with the dog that made the bed.

* * *

We'd met right after college. For a while, for a year and a half, both of us truly believed this would be the great love of both our lives. We lived together, visited Europe for the first time together, talked shyly about marriage and what we would name our children. We bought things we knew would live in a great old house we'd have someday by an ocean. He was the best lover I ever had.

What ruined us was simple: at twenty-one you're too damned optimistic. Too sure life has so many wonderful things in store that you can afford to be careless. We treated our relationship like a dependable car that would always start and run, no matter how cold or bad the weather. We were wrong.

Things got bad very quickly. We were unprepared for failure and each other's dumb cruelty. When you're that young, it is easy to go from lovers to enemies in a couple of breaths. I began calling him Dog. He called me Bitch. We deserved the names.

So why, twelve years later, was that very same Dog sitting in an expensive hotel room when I came out of the shower, wet hair wrapped in a towel and pleased to see he'd made the bed? A bed we'd shared for the last ten hours with as great a relish as always between us? Because you take what you can get. Women love to talk. If you find a man who loves to listen and who happens to be a great lover, damn the rest. You're the one who has to live inside your skin and conscience. If you can visit an old lover and still revel in whatever things you once had between you, then they are still yours if you want them. Is it right to do? I only know that life is a series of diminishing returns, ending with too many days in a chair, staring. I always sensed it would be that way. I wanted to be an old woman remembering, not complaining or fretting until death rang the dinner bell.

Over the years Dog and I had met when it was convenient. Almost always it was a joyous, selfish few days together. Both of us left those meetings replenished. His word, and it fit.

He'd made the bed and straightened the room. But that was Doug Auerbach: an organized man and a successful one too, up to a point. I admired him but was glad we had never married.

The place looked exactly as it had the day before when we'd walked in. He was sitting with his hands in his lap, watching a game show on television. The oohs and aahs of the audience sounded sad in that cavernous lilac room. I stood looking at him, toweling my hair, wondering when we'd meet again.

Without taking his eyes from the set, he said he'd been thinking about me. I asked in what way. He said he'd been married and divorced, had only sort of succeeded at what he'd wanted to do with his life, and generally regretted more than he was proud of. He saw me as just the opposite. When I protested, he looked up and said, "Please don't!" As if I was about to do something terrible to him.

Then he turned off the television and asked if I would do him a big favor. Across the street from our hotel was a large drugstore. He wanted me to go there with him while he bought a razor and some shampoo. He knew I had lots to do before my plane left for New York that evening, but there was no leeway in his tone of voice.

I hurriedly dressed while he sat and watched me hustle around the room. What could be so important about a trip to the drugstore? I was annoyed, but also felt there was something both pathetic and urgent about his request.

The store was one of those large discount places that sold thirty kinds of toothpaste, and all the customers seemed to be moving down the aisles in a stupor.

Like the others, we grazed the razor and shampoo shelves. It was clear he was in no hurry to find what he wanted.

"What's going on, Doug?"

He turned to me and slowly smiled. "Hmm?"

"Why do you need me around to buy soap?"

He didn't say anything for a moment, only looked at me and seemed to consider the question. "I've been wanting to do this ever since I heard we were going to meet. More than the talk, the sex, more than anything. I just wanted to go into a store with you and walk around, making believe we were husband and wife. Just out for a few minutes to buy some aspirin and a TV Guide, maybe a couple of ice-cream cones. It would've been better really late, but I didn't want to say anything last night.

"I've always been jealous when I go into an all-night drugstore or market and see couples shopping together. I look in their baskets to see what they're buying."

"Didn't you ever do that with your wife?" I wanted to touch his arm but held back.

"Sure, but I didn't know I was doing it then. Now I do. Know what I mean? Then it was just a drag, something necessary. With you, I knew it would be a little adventure and we'd know we were having fun while we did it. Even if we didn't buy anything, it'd be..."

He looked at me but didn't say anything more. The worst part was, I knew exactly what he was saying, and was sorry. Yet there were other things to do and they were more important to me than this. I wanted to comfort him but wanted to leave just as much. It meant so much more to him than to me.

We bought his stuff, went back to the hotel, and checked out. Waiting for my cab out on the street, we hugged. I told him we'd see each other in New York at the end of the summer.

When the cab arrived he said, "You know there's a famous rap singer now named Dog. Snoop Doggy Dogg."

"Doesn't matter. You're the only Dog Man I'll ever love."

He nodded. "Thanks for the drugstore."

* * *

That should have been reason enough to tell me that there was more in the air then than oxygen. Why does it take a lifetime to realize that premonitions are as numerous as birds in a cherry tree? During the cab ride to the airport I saw something else that, in retrospect, certainly should have told me to think hard about what was going on rather than just look at my watch and hope I didn't miss the plane.

The driver was a big old man who wore a San Diego Padres baseball cap and didn't utter a sound other than a resentful grunt when he banged my suitcase into the trunk of his car. That was fine because I sat in the back with a cell phone and returned calls to people I'd avoided while in L.A. I had the practice down to an art--call someone and tell her you're on your way to the airport but just had to touch base with her before you left. Then she told you everything in a five-minute chat she would have taken two hours to tell over an expensive dinner. Who said patience came as you grew older? I had less and less and was proud of it. Whatever success I had was due to keeping things short and sweet, and expecting the same of others.

In the middle of my last call I had my eyes closed and didn't register what the driver said until a moment later. When I opened them we were passing an astonishing sight: there by the side of the freeway was a woman in a wheelchair.

It must have been eight at night and there were no streetlamps, only the stab and drift of headlights across the Los Angeles darkness. Only a moment to glimpse her and then we were gone. But for that moment there she was, illuminated by the car in front and then us: a woman sitting in a wheelchair on the shoulder of a superhighway out in the middle of nowhere.

"Nuts. L.A. is full of nuts!"

I looked in the rearview mirror. The driver was staring at me, waiting for me to agree.

"Maybe she's not nuts. Maybe she's stuck there, or something has happened to her."

He shook his head slowly. "No way. Driving a cab, you see things like that four times a day. You want to see how crazy the world is, drive a cab."

But that didn't satisfy me and I called 911 to report it. I had to ask the driver exactly where we'd been on the road. He answered in a curt voice. The operator asked if there were any more details. I could only say no, there's a woman in a wheelchair on the side of the road and something's wrong with that, you know?

The whole flight to New York I kept thinking about that half hour in the drugstore and then the woman in the wheelchair. Both made me uneasy. But then we landed and there were so many things to do that week before I met up with Zoe.

Even the idea of seeing my old best friend and doing what we'd planned made some part of my heart nervous. We were going to our high school class's fifteen-year reunion.

Copyright © 1999 by Jonathan Carroll


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