The First Chapter: Book Excerpt from "He Gets That From Me"
- Monday, 08 November 2021 12:49
- Last Updated: Monday, 08 November 2021 13:06
- Published: Monday, 08 November 2021 12:49
- Joanne Wallenstein
- Hits: 1064
Local author, Jacqueline Friedland, has just released her third novel, HE GETS THAT FROM ME to rave reviews. Trade giant, Kirkus Reviews, said,
"It is hard to imagine a better book for a book club discussion." -Starred review.
We're reprinting Chapter One of the novel below so you can get a taste of this riveting book for yourselves. After it draws you in, you can buy the book anywhere books are sold, but we recommend supporting our local indie bookstore, Bronx River Books here:
I’m just wrapping a towel around my wet body when I hear Wyatt calling for me on the baby monitor. I should have expected this, should have planned better or moved faster. Wyatt’s been waking earlier from his naps with each passing day. He clearly no longer needs the marathon midday snooze that was a staple of his first year of life. I’ll have to figure out how to keep him occupied for another few minutes if I want any chance of making it to work on time.
As I hurry to his room, I ignore the mess of mail that’s been sitting on the hallway table for the past three days. At the top of the stack is an unopened invitation from the one and only high school friend who still condescends to keep in touch with me.
Instead of thinking about a trip back to New York for a bridal shower that I don’t want to attend, and can’t afford to get to anyway, I focus on the large plastic jar of rubber fish resting near the laundry basket at my feet. I scoop up the jar, and one of Wyatt’s blankies from the pile of dirty laundry, and scurry down the hallway.
He’s standing at the edge of his crib, his brown curls pointing in every direction as he shakes at the bars like a jailbird.
“Here, sweetie.” I unscrew the large lid from the jar and pull out a squishy red fish. He reaches for it, looks at it curiously, and promptly brings it to his mouth. The fish is much too big to fit past his lips—a fact that will hopefully puzzle him long enough to allow me to finish dressing.
“Mommy has to get ready for work. I’ll be back in just a few minutes.” I place the jar in the corner of the crib so he can extract additional fish to manipulate as necessary, and then I dash back to my room.
I realize I’m still holding the blankie. It’s the one Nick’s aunt and uncle sent, a soft chenille square with Wyatt’s Hebrew name embroidered along one side. I know that the white threading spells out “Yehuda,” a name we chose in an effort to honor my deceased grandfather, but I never learned how to actually read the boxy Hebrew letters. I toss the blankie onto my dresser and quickly towel-dry my hair, hoping my own curls won’t resemble Wyatt’s ridiculous bedhead after this hasty personal grooming session. I have twenty-five minutes to get to Bed, Bath & Beyond on the other side of town, and if Nick doesn’t get home within the next five minutes, my manager is going to chew me out six ways to Sacramento.
I pull on a pair of black jeans, my last clean pair, and rummage in the next drawer to see if I can find a tunic long enough to cover the small hole at the top of one of the pant legs. I hear myself sigh as I run the numbers in my head again. At nine dollars an hour, it’s delusional to think about saving up money, to imagine returning to college. It’s a joke to have any dreams at all.
Wyatt suddenly lets out a frustrated wail.
“Mommy’s coming, Wyatt,” I shout into the air. “Just one more second!” I slip on my black sneakers and scurry back into the nursery.
Wyatt’s diaper is bulging against his tight little pajama pants. At the sound of keys jingling in the front door of the apartment, I scoop him out of the crib, grab my purse from where it’s sitting on our coffee table, and meet Nick as he walks in the door.
“Sorry for the stinky welcome,” I offer as I hold Wyatt out in his direction.
“Hey, kid.” Nick smiles and reaches for our son with one hand, a bag full of takeout containers hanging from the other. “Oh,” he adds, wrinkling his nose.
“Gotta go!” My keys are in my hand, and I’m placing a brisk kiss on Nick’s cheek. The scent of garlic and cilantro is strong as I push past him and out the front door. Then I’m flying down the concrete steps toward the parking lot below our building, heading toward my ’92 Honda, rushing against the clock, racing against luck.
When I come skidding through the doorway of BB&B at exactly 4:01 p.m., my co-workers, Kim and Dougie, are chatting across their registers, and they don’t even look up. The store is unusually empty for a Thursday afternoon. I set my tote bag beneath the register at my station and punch in a few numbers to awaken the machine. Cynthia, my manager, is nowhere to be seen.
“Why is it so quiet?” I call across to Kim, whose register is three stations over from my own. The ones between us are always empty at this time of day.
“Post-holiday lull,” Dougie answers from the register beyond Kim’s. Dougie is in his early thirties and is the most senior employee among us, having worked here for three years, ever since he moved to Arizona from Tulsa.
An elderly woman walks into the store with a list in her hand. We stop our chatting and watch silently as she makes her way toward the first aisle, where a wealth of toasters and smaller kitchen gadgets await. We’re still quiet when Cynthia appears from behind the displays of holiday-themed wrapping paper and gift bags, now all on sale, and begins making her way toward me.
“So dead today,” she says by way of greeting, and she glances around the store for emphasis.
I stand a little taller as she approaches me, noting that her bleached hair looks freshly blown. If I’m lucky, that means she has somewhere else to be and won’t spend the whole night breathing down my neck.
“What’s dinner?” She tips her chin toward my stowed tote.
“Pulled beef burritos and Mexican street corn,” I answer, remembering what Nick told me last night as he was cramming the takeout containers from the restaurant into the fridge.
Cynthia has so many self-imposed dietary restrictions that she won’t touch anything unless she can read all the ingredients before digging in, but she likes hearing about the dishes Nick creates at work. She nods pensively in response and then continues down the row of registers toward Dougie. They quickly get involved in a detailed discussion about the placement of makeup mirrors in the stock room.
Standing here without customers to ring up is about as interesting as watching a cactus grow, and I miss the busier days of the holiday season. I resist the temptation to pick at my cuticles, if just for something to do, and instead, I study the displays of impulse-buy items placed throughout the front portion of the store. There are economy-size jars full of candies and colorful popcorn, kitschy potholders, hair accessories and curling irons, all piled in precarious pyramids meant to entice the customers.
My gaze travels to the back portion of my station, where there’s a dog-eared copy of Arizona Parenting Magazine resting on top of the stack of store bags. It’s an outdated issue that I assume was left behind by a customer. I reach for the magazine and start flipping through the pages, trying to entertain myself by reading the Thanksgiving recipes.
A customer finally appears, pushing a shopping cart full of turquoise-colored bath towels, but she walks towards Kim’s register, so I turn my attention back to the magazine. After the recipes, there is a final section full of advertisements and coupons, and I’m annoyed that this diversion has lasted only a few minutes. There are still more than three hours left of my shift, and after a long morning trying to entertain Wyatt at home, I’m already dragging. I wonder if I should walk over to Kim’s station and let her fill me in on the latest drama she’s having with her mother-in-law, or if I could possibly close my eyes and steal a little cat nap while I’m standing up.
I’m just closing the magazine when I notice an ad that says, “Compensation of $35,000+.” I stop the page from turning and pull it closer to read the ad in its entirety.
Can you help create a family? Become a Surrogate Mother! Satisfaction Beyond Words! Generous Compensation! You can make a beautiful dream come true!!
My excitement dissipates as quickly as it had arrived. I wonder if these ads actually work, if there are really women out there who read these quarter-page displays and then raise their hands, screaming, “Pick me, pick me!” I suspect that most of these advertisements are the basis of one nefarious scheme or another, a way to get people to release personal information about themselves so that some lowlife can steal their identities. I can’t imagine that fertility clinics would truly find their baby carriers this way. I snort to myself as I notice that the requirements for carrying someone else’s baby seem to be even less rigorous than the prerequisites for my cashier job. They want a US citizen between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-eight who has previously birthed at least one child. That’s it.
Since I’m so clearly qualified, based on these conditions, I actually consider it for a few seconds, fantasizing about handing over a baby to a formerly childless mother and then skipping off to an education course at a local university. A nagging thought about my parents creeps up on me then—the idea that I could reach out and ask them for tuition money—but I tamp it down like always, unable to stomach the notion. I am not going back to good old Gail and Leon with my tail between my legs and proving that they were right all along.
I close the magazine and push it back to the corner where I found it, shaking my head at myself for daydreaming, for imaging that my prior fuckups might ever stop standing in my way.
Read more! Get your copy of "He Gets That From Me" at Bronx River Books.