EVERY PAST THING
In 1899, the streets of New York were as unsettled as the heart and mind of Mary Jane Elmer. The ideas of the transcendentalists were still in the air, and thoughts of a second revolution were rising. Emma Goldman spoke to ever-growing numbers of the disenfranchised in Union Square and scandalized the city fathers. Police used horses, clubs and bullets to disperse the crowds. Women were redefining their roles for the coming century. And, near the middle of life, solitary in her marriage to an intractable and distant artist, and still grieving the death of their daughter ten years earlier, Mary struggles to shape a future she can endure.
Derived from the lives of real people, this beautiful novel is a whirlwind of history, art, familial tremors, and personal desire. But beyond its elegance, beyond its historical authenticity, Every Past Thing is an intimate and moving family portrait—and its every brushstroke is marked with longing.
$24.95 | Fiction Clothbound | 6x9 | 336 pages
ISBN: 978-1-932961-39-3 | Carton Quantity: 24
She heads for a back table, a bit away from the crowd, near a man hidden behind a newspaper. She finds herself expecting Edwin (though he must be at the Academy by now). Here in a place where she very well could find Jimmy Roberts, she can no longer imagine him. He is no longer a boy. Perhaps she would not know him.
The giant red-haired man behind the counter raises his brow. When he sees that she won’t call her order out to him, he comes over to ask what she would like.
She has money. “Get something for yourself, Mary,” Samuel had told her. He probably meant something like one of Alice’s dresses.
“Something warm,” she answers the man, as though his question were a matter too trivial for her, as though she entered such establishments every day.
She withdraws the green notebook from her carpet-bag and carefully folds back the first page, pressing it down to reveal the little nubs of Samuel’s red silk that bind the pages, the same color thread as the whip-snaps she’s braided all week. After all these years, the same dye lot. She frowns, surveying the writing inside—entries of years, ending with Effie’s birth—and flips the book over and opens it from the other side. Slowly, deliberately, she writes:
Every Past Thing Becomes Strange.
She has been thinking that ever since the journey from Shelburne to New York, on that enormous train. It was not the first time she had seen one. She’d gone to the station with Edwin and Effie and Maud to pick up or drop off Samuel several times a month. So it wasn’t the only time she’d felt the anticipation, and the rush of air and noise so powerful it obliterated all the nervousness of waiting and replaced it with a pounding audible more in her heart than her ears. A thudding straight through her. But this time it was she and Edwin who stepped aboard. An act tantamount to saying, Yes, I bind myself to this engine and all of its terrible, puffing speed. Yes, I pledge myself to the new century and all strangeness to come.
She had said these things to herself. I am committed to living—she said this, afraid she was courting death. To step on a train! She hadn’t any right to expect to survive that first jolt of speed. We are not particularly designed for velocity. Our pace is that of our own two feet. Even a horse’s trot could make Mary feel she was fooling time, pulling a sly trick on Mother Nature who, though generally tolerant of deviance, was nevertheless known to assert her will. Mary might be caught out and punished, like the time her sister Lucy dared her and she jumped on Master, no saddle, holding the stallion’s mane and gripping its belly with her knees like a wild boy. This train put even that galloping to shame. The only one of her family who’d ever gone this far south was her father, and he had not come back.
As the train pulled out, a wrenching deep in her belly. Edwin. Husband. He reached out to hold her hand, and she understood then their leaving. Felt the weight that had been pushed aside packing and ordering and planning.
She studied his hand closely as the train pulled forward out of the station, as if, before turning her face to the window, she had to take the measure of this ground—the long, bony fingers of his capable hands, his eye’s instruments, usually in thrall to his concentrated gaze, but still now, gripping hers.