Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult




  Jodi Picoult

  Keeping Faith

  FOR LAURA GROSS--

  Ten years ago you believed in me so strongly that you managed to convince the publishing world I was worth the risk, too. Here's to another forty or fifty years of business, and friendship. Now do you see why I couldn't dedicate this to Padre Pio?

  Contents

  Prologue

  Under normal circumstances, Faith and I should not be home...

  Book I

  The Old Testament

  One

  There are certain things I do not talk about.

  Two

  Ian Fletcher is standing in the middle of hell. He...

  Three

  At Greenhaven there was a woman who believed that the...

  Four

  When Allen McManus is assigned to cover symposiums, he looks...

  Five

  For many hours after my mother comes back to life...

  Six

  Ian's grandmother had been a dyed-in-the-wool Southern belle who wore...

  Seven

  Two days later Faith is still in the hospital. As...

  Eight

  For the record," Millie says, "I'm against this."

  Nine

  The first time Colin kissed me, I was a college...

  Book II

  The New Testament

  Ten

  Mariah stands beside Joan in the middle of the judge's...

  Eleven

  When I was Faith's age, I learned that I was...

  Twelve

  Jessica White adjusts a pale-green glass vase an inch to...

  Thirteen

  The man," Joan announces, slinging her briefcase onto our kitchen...

  Fourteen

  There had been times, when Faith was an infant and...

  Fifteen

  It takes several long seconds before Joan's words sink in...

  Sixteen

  Because it is bitterly cold, the snow does not stick...

  Seventeen

  That," I sing, "was incredible!" Inside me, it feels as...

  Eighteen

  Who the hell am I," says Ian, "to tell you...

  Acknowledgments

  Praise

  Other Books by Jodi Picoult

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  PROLOGUE

  August 10, 1999

  Under normal circumstances, Faith and I should not be home when my mother calls and invites us to come see her brand-new coffin.

  "Mariah," my mother says, clearly surprised when I pick up the phone. "What are you doing there?"

  "The grocery store was closed." I sigh. "The sprinklers in the produce section had a flood. And the dry cleaner had a death in the family."

  I do not like surprises. I live by lists. In fact, I often imagine my life like a September loose-leaf binder--neatly slotted and tabbed, with everything still in place. All this I attribute to a degree in architecture and my fervent intent to not turn into my mother as I grow older. To this end, every day of the week has a routine. Mondays I work on the frames of the tiny dollhouses I build. Tuesdays I build the furnishings. Wednesdays are for errands, Thursdays for house-cleaning, and Fridays for tending to emergencies that crop up during the week. Today, a Wednesday, I usually pick up Colin's shirts, go to the bank, and do the food shopping. It leaves just enough time to drive home, unload the groceries, and get to Faith's one o'clock ballet class. But today, due to circumstances beyond my control, I have entirely too much time on my hands.

  "Well," my mother says, in that way of hers. "It seems you're fated to come for a visit."

  Faith suddenly bounces in front of me. "Is it Grandma? Did she get it?"

  "Get what?" It is ten o'clock, and already I have a headache.

  "Tell her yes," my mother says on the other end of the phone line.

  I glance around the house. The carpet needs to be vacuumed, but then what will I do on Thursday? A heavy August rain throbs against the windows. Faith spreads her soft, warm hand over my knee. "Okay," I tell my mother. "We'll be right over."

  My mother lives two and a half miles away, in an old stone house that everyone in New Canaan calls the Gingerbread Cape. Faith sees her nearly every day; stays with her after school on days I am working. We could walk, if not for the weather. As it is, Faith and I have just gotten into the car when I remember my purse, sitting on the kitchen counter.

  "Hang on," I tell her, getting out and cringing between raindrops, as if I might melt.

  The phone is ringing by the time I get inside. I grab the receiver. "Hello?"

  "Oh, you're home," Colin says. At the sound of my husband's voice, my heart jumps. Colin is the sales manager for a small company that manufactures LED exit signs, and he's been in Washington, D.C., for two days, training a new rep. He is calling me because it is like that with us--tied as tight as the lacing on a high-top boot, we cannot stand being apart.

  "Are you at the airport?"

  "Yeah. Stuck at Dulles." I curl the telephone cord around my arm, reading between the round vowels of his words for all the other things he is too embarrassed to say in a public venue: I love you. I miss you. You're mine. In the background a disembodied voice announces the arrival of a United flight. "Hasn't Faith got swimming today?"

  "Ballet at one o'clock." I wait a moment, then add softly, "When will you be home?"

  "As soon as I can." I close my eyes, thinking that there is nothing like an embrace after an absence, nothing like fitting my face into the curve of his shoulder and filling my lungs with the scent of him.

  He hangs up without saying good-bye, which makes me smile. That's Colin, in a nutshell: already rushing to come back home to me.

  It stops raining on the way to my mother's. As we pass the long soccer field that edges the town, vehicles begin pulling onto the road's narrow shoulder. A perfect, arched rainbow graces the lush grass of the playing field. I keep driving. "You'd think they'd never seen one before," I say, accelerating.

  Faith rolls down her window and stretches out her hand. Then she waggles her fingers in front of me. "Mommy!" she yells. "I touched it!"

  Out of habit I look down. Her fingers are spread and streaked with red and blue and lime green. For a moment, my breath catches. And then I remember her sitting on the floor of the living room just an hour before, her fists full of Magic Markers.

  My mother's living room is dominated by an unappealing Naugahyde sectional couch the color of skin. I tried to talk her into leather, a nice wing chair or two, but she laughed. "Leather," she said, "is for goyim with Mayflower names." After that, I gave up. In the first place, I have a leather couch myself. In the second, I married a goy with a Mayflower name. At least she hasn't coated the Naugahyde with a protective plastic wrap, the way my grandmother Fanny did when I was little.

  But today, walking into the living room, I do not even notice the couch. "Wow, Grandma," whispers Faith, clearly awed. "Is someone in it?" She falls to her knees, knocking at the highly polished mahogany rectangle.

  If things had gone according to plan, I'd probably be choosing cantaloupes at that moment, holding them to my nose for softness and sweetness, or paying Mr. Li thirteen dollars and forty cents, and receiving in return seven Brooks Brothers shirts, so starched that they lay like the torsos of fallen men in the back of the station wagon. "Mother," I say, "why do you have a casket in your living room?"

  "It's not a casket, Mariah. See the glass on the top? It's a coffin table."

  "A coffin table."

  My mother sets her coffee mug on the clear plate of glass to prove her point. "See?"

  "You have a coffin in your living room." I am unable to get past that one sticking point.

  She sits on the couch and props her san
daled feet on the glass top. "Well, I know that, honey. I picked it out."

  I cradle my head in my hands. "You just went to Dr. Feldman for your checkup. You know what he said: If you take your blood pressure medication religiously, there's no reason to believe you won't outlive us all."

  She shrugs. "This is one less thing for you to do, when the time comes."

  "Oh, for God's sake. Is this about the new assisted-living community Colin mentioned? Because I swear, he only thought you'd--"

  "Sweetie, calm down. I don't plan to kick the bucket anytime soon; I just needed a table in here. I liked the color of the wood. And I saw a piece on Twenty/Twenty about a man in Kentucky who was making these."

  Faith stretches out on her back beside the coffin. "You could sleep in it, Grandma," she suggests. "You could be like Dracula."

  "You've got to admit, the craftsmanship is to die for," my mother says.

  In more ways than one. The mahogany is exquisite, a smooth, glossy sea. The joints and bevels are neat and defined, the hinges bright as a beacon.

  "It was a real bargain," my mother adds.

  "Please don't tell me you got a used one."

  My mother sniffs and looks at Faith. "Your mommy needs to loosen up." For years now, my mother has been telling this in one form or another. But I cannot forget that the last time I loosened up, I nearly came apart.

  My mother gets down on the floor with Faith, and together they yank at the brass pallbearer's handles. Their blond heads--Mom's dyed, my daughter's fairy-white--are bent so close I can't tell where one ends and the other begins. Their horseplay manages to jerk the coffin a few inches toward them. I stare at the flattened hollow left in its wake in the carpet, then try as best I can to fix it with the edge of my shoe.

  Colin and I are luckier than most. We married young, but we've stayed married--in spite of some fairly intense bumps in the road.

  But there's a chemistry involved, too. When Colin is looking at me, I know he's not seeing me with ten pounds left behind from pregnancy or the fine strands of gray in my hair. He pictures my skin creamy and tight, my hair hanging down my back, my body a college student's. He remembers me at my best, because--as he says every now and then--I'm the best thing he can remember.

  When we go out to dinner occasionally with his colleagues--the ones who have collected trophy wives--I realize how fortunate I am to have someone like Colin. He puts his hand on the small of my back, which is not as tanned or slender as those on some of the younger models. He proudly introduces me. "This is my wife," he says, and I smile. It is all I've ever wanted to be.

  "Mommy."

  It has started to rain again; the road is swimming in front of me, and I've never been a very confident driver. "Ssh. I have to concentrate."

  "But, Mommy," she presses. "This is really, really important."

  "What is really, really important is getting to your ballet lesson without getting us killed."

  For one blessed moment it is quiet. Then Faith begins kicking the back of my seat. "But I don't have my leotard," she whines.

  I swerve onto the side of the road and turn to look at her. "You don't?"

  "No. I didn't know we were going there straight from Grandma's."

  I feel my neck redden. We are all of two miles from the dance studio. "For God's sake, Faith. Why didn't you say something before?"

  Her eyes fill with tears. "I didn't know we were on our way to ballet until now."

  I slam my hand against the steering wheel. I don't know if I am angry at Faith, at the weather, at my mother, or at the damned sprinklers in the grocery store, all of which have managed to screw up my day. "We go to ballet every single Tuesday after lunch!"

  I pull onto the road and make a U-turn, ignoring the prick of guilt that tells me I'm being too hard on her, that she's only seven. Faith begins to shriek through her tears. "I don't want to go home! I want to go to ballet!"

  "We're not going home," I say through clenched teeth. "We're just going to pick up your leotard, and then we'll go to ballet." We'll be twenty minutes late. I envision the eyes of the other mothers, watching me hustle Faith through the doors in the middle of a class that has already started. Mothers who've managed to get their children to class on time in the middle of this flash flood, mothers who do not have to work hard to make it look so easy.

  We live in a century-old farmhouse, which is bordered on one side by a forest and on the other side by a meticulous stone wall. Our seven acres are mostly woods, tucked behind the house; we're close enough to the road that at night the headlights of passing cars sweep over the beds like lighthouse beacons. The farmhouse itself is full of opposites that still attract: a sagging porch backed by brand-new Pella windows, a claw-foot tub with a Shower Massage, Colin and me. The driveway dips, rising at the end near the road and again near the house. As we turn down it, Faith gasps in delight. "Daddy's home! I want to see him."

  So do I, but then I always do. No doubt he's taken an earlier flight and come home for lunch before returning to the office. I think about the other mothers already in the parking lot of the ballet studio, and then of seeing Colin, and suddenly being twenty minutes late seems entirely worthwhile. "We'll say hi to Daddy. Then you get your leotard, and we've got to go."

  Faith bursts through the door like a marathon runner at the ribbon finish. "Daddy!" she calls, but there is no one in the kitchen or the family room, nothing but Colin's briefcase neatly centered on the table to prove that he is here. I can hear water running through the old pipes. "He's taking a shower," I say, and Faith immediately heads upstairs.

  "Hang on!" I shout after her, certain that the last thing Colin wants is to be surprised by Faith if he's strolling around the bedroom naked. I rush behind her, managing to get to the closed door of the master bedroom before Faith can turn the knob. "Let me go in first."

  Colin stands beside the bed, wrapping a towel around his hips. When he sees me in the doorway, he freezes. "Hi." I smile, going into his arms. "Isn't this a nice surprise?"

  With my head tucked up beneath his chin and his hands loosely clasped around my waist, I nod to Faith. "Come on in. Daddy's dressed."

  "Daddy!" she cries, barreling straight for Colin at groin level, something that we've laughed about often and that has him moving into a protective crouch, even as he holds me.

  "Hi, cupcake," he says, but he keeps looking over Faith's head, as if expecting to find another child waiting in the wings. Steam rolls from the seam of the closed bathroom door.

  "We could put on a video for her," I whisper, leaning close to Colin. "That is, assuming you're looking for someone to wash your back."

  But instead of answering, Colin awkwardly untangles Faith's arms from his waist. "Honey, maybe you should--"

  "Should what?"

  We all turn toward the voice coming from the bathroom. The door swings open to reveal a damp, dripping woman, half wrapped in a towel, a woman who assumed that Colin's words were meant for her. "Oh, my God," she says, reddening, retreating and slamming the door.

  I am aware of Faith running from the bedroom, of Colin going after her, of the water in the shower being turned off. My knees give out, and suddenly I am sitting on the bed, on the wedding-ring quilt Colin bought me in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, after the Mennonite woman who crafted it told him that the symbol of a perfect marriage was an endless circle.

  I bury my face in my hands and think, Oh, God. It is happening again.

  BOOK I

  THE OLD TESTAMENT

  ONE

  Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep.

  --John Milton,

  Paradise Lost

  There are certain things I do not talk about.

  Like when I was thirteen, and I had to take my dog and have her put to sleep. Or the time in high school that I got all dressed up for the prom and sat by the window, waiting for a boy who never came. Or the way I felt when I first met Colin.

  Well, I talk a little
about that, but I don't admit that from the beginning I knew we were not meant to be together. Colin was a college football star; I'd been hired by his coach to tutor him to pass French. He kissed me--shy, plain, scholarly--on a dare from his teammates, and even muddled by embarrassment, it left me feeling gilded.

  It is perfectly clear to me why I fell in love with Colin. But I have never understood what made him fall for me.

  He told me that when he was with me, he became someone different--a person he liked better than the easygoing jock, the good ol' fraternity boy. He told me that I made him feel admired for what he was instead of what he'd done. I argued that I wasn't a match for him, not tall or stunning or sophisticated enough. And when he disagreed, I made myself believe him.

  I don't talk about what happened five years later, when I was proved right.

  I don't talk about the way he could not look me in the eye while he was arranging to have me locked away.

  Opening my eyes is a Herculean effort. Swollen and grainy, they seem resolved to stay sealed shut, preferring not to risk the sight of something else that might turn the world on end. But there is a hand on my arm, and for all I know it might be Colin, so I manage to slit them enough that the light, sharp as a splinter, comes into view. "Mariah," my mother soothes, smoothing my hair back from my forehead. "You feeling better?"

  "No." I am not feeling anything. Whatever Dr. Johansen prescribed over the phone makes it seem as if there's a foam cushion three inches thick around me, a barrier that moves with me and flexes and manages to keep the worst away.

  "Well, it's time to get moving," my mother says, matter-of-fact. She leans forward and tries to haul me from the bed.

  "I don't want to take a shower." I try to curl into a ball.

  "Neither do I." My mother grunts. The last time she'd come into the room, it was to drag me into the bathroom and under a cold spray of water. "You're going to sit up, damn it, if it sends me to an early grave."

 
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