Tomorrow is publication day for Addison Jones with her latest novel, Wait For Me, Jack. It tells the story of a young couple named Jack and Milly who married in the 1950’s. Going back through time it charts the fortunes and failures of their marriage and provides an honest insight into the complexities of love and marriage over time.
As part of the blog tour, I have an extract from Wait For Me, Jack to share, and I will be posting my review soon!
Milly kept coming back to the image of those American mothers in that small settlement on the north coast of South America. Jonestown. Last week, those women gave toxic Kool-Aid to their children. Put it in their baby bottles and plastic cups, and then what…put them to bed? Read them stories, sang last lullabies? Then those mothers drank their own Kool-Aid and curled up with their children. She kept thinking of the people who entered Jonestown afterwards. They must have thought everyone was asleep at first. Almost a thousand people in a very still, deep sleep. And before she could get used to that idea, just yesterday, councillor Harvey Milk was gunned down in the middle of a normal working day in his office in San Francisco. The two disasters were connected in her mind.
Life seemed to knot into messy disasters, in between trundling through spells of routine bad news. 1968, for instance. She hadn’t thought about it at the time, but that had been a messy knot of a year too. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy – both killed. Then losing Louise and gaining her boys, with their good manners and wan faces. All within seven weeks. She looked back now, and saw that it took a decade to properly appreciate that size of that catastrophe. World leaders being gunned down; hard to get the right perspective on her sister’s departure.
And now, Harvey Milk and Jonestown. Mayor Moscone too, she reminded herself guiltily. It worried her that no one seemed to think his death was as tragic.
It all put her in a certain mood. Anything at all might happen now. She felt a little raw, a little ragged. Not quite herself. And it had to be said: she felt a little more alive than she had last week, when life had been less frightening.
She noticed things more. Different things.
For instance, she noticed Harold’s wheelchair. She made an effort to open the door for him when he came to class, and immediately felt less disabled and therefore less depressed. As if he was obese, and she’d been worrying about her little paunch. (Aha! Not so fat after all!) Her left leg visibly dragged all the time now – she was a lopsided ship, always trying to correct the list. There was no pain if she let her right leg take her weight when walking, but excruciating pain if she forgot. And twice now she had fallen. She’d been angry and not wanted any help getting up. Unsuspected depths of stubbornness had risen up, without her summoning them. She was surprised by her own determination. Apparently, Milly MacAlister would not be crippled. She would not.
The second thing Milly noticed was that Harold had an extremely large nose. A beak, leaning over his Roman mouth. Olive skin, high intelligent forehead, lazy-lidded dark eyes, and that nose – enormous. Fascinating. And strangely attractive, the more she looked at it. She was sitting to the left of him, one row back, so she could gaze at his profile anytime she liked. A curiously compulsive habit.
The teacher was talking about the symbolism in The Heart of Darkness, and possible influences on Conrad at the time, particularly related to the political upheaval in…Poland? Maybe Milly was not listening carefully enough. Her pen slid over the notebook, making doodles of daisies. Outside, blue jays were yammering away in the acacia trees, as if they knew the winter blossoms were weeks away. There was no heating and the room was chilly. Despite her new fisherman’s sweater, she was cold. Not being able to move quickly affected her circulation, and she often felt cold. The teacher had moved on to Conrad’s family history, and his publishers. The public’s reaction. Milly tried for a full ten minutes to focus, and made a page of neat notes. Rewarded herself with a glance at Harold’s nose. But he turned just then and their eyes snagged. She was too slow to look away, and blushed.
‘Did you manage to make notes?’ he asked when she opened the door for him later.
‘Oh! I tried, but I could hardly concentrate. Too cold. And I need this class to get my degree.’
‘Is it your last one? Me too.’
‘Really? That’s amazing!’ she gushed.
‘How long have you been going?’
‘Three years.’ He held up three fingers.
‘Three years for you, too?’
‘Yes! Well, ten, actually,’ she admitted. ‘One class a semester.’
‘Excuse me,’ said the teacher, trying to squeeze around them and leave the classroom. Then he turned and said: ‘Have you two entered the short-story competition? Deadline is tomorrow you know.’
‘Yeah,’ said Harold. Then in a low voice to Milly: ‘Got to admit, I think it has a chance. Best thing I’ve ever done.’
‘Me too,’ said Milly, and laughed. ‘Actually mine’s pretty awful, but who knows. Thought I’d give it a whirl.’
Then Harold and Milly found themselves in the hall. Light poured through the glass doors at the end, white and hard. Classroom doors opened and shut, and students chattered around them. About Jonestown, about Harvey Milk, about the Huichol Indian exhibit at the de Young museum, guitar practice times, dates for the movies, sales at the Gap, bands playing at the Fillmore this weekend. Two ponytailed boys shouted to each other down the hall:
‘Dude! Free concert tomorrow at Golden Gate Park, want a ride?’
‘Cool, man. I’ll bring my bong.’
This – just this – was why she was here. To be a college student! Well, not really one of them, but to be immersed in their world for a few hours a week. And to eventually join the elite tribe her husband belonged to: of college graduates. Milly stood straight, balancing on her right leg, left foot hardly touching the ground, her backpack nonchalantly over one shoulder like all the younger students. She noticed that her right hand had found its way to the back of Harold’s chair.
‘It’s electric,’ he said. ‘I don’t need pushing.’
‘Oh! Of course. I probably couldn’t really, anyway.’
‘Let’s have a coffee,’ he said abruptly. ‘Do you have time? Let’s go to Café Olé, my treat.’
His chair began to whir down the hall, towards the ramped doors, but then the doors flew open and a group of boys in identical athletic shirts rushed in. So many robust bodies! Harold looked up at her – he had to look up at her – and smiled.
‘You okay? They’ll be gone in a minute. Hold on to my chair if you like.’ He swivelled to provide a protective barrier.
She felt them rush past, all that youth and carelessness, and she shivered because she was about to sit in a cafe with a man not her husband. She looked round at the boys, and they were good looking, of course, but all their noses were small.
‘Right,’ said Harold. ‘You ready? Let’s go.’
‘Yeah, let’s go,’ she echoed.
And just like that, aged fifty, with her oestrogen ebbing daily and rogue hairs appearing on her chin, and her breasts finally grown large, Milly MacAlister was smitten. Like a sudden bee sting, or a clap of thunder. She felt nauseous and stunned. It turned out that loving Jack had not inoculated her from loving another man after all. It must be a different kind of virus, she found herself thinking, having spent years charting her children’s cold and flu bugs. She knew you didn’t catch the same virus twice, but the world was heaving with other viruses, and the same viruses mutating. It was inevitable to be infected again. Wasn’t it?
You can follow the rest of the Wait For Me, Jack blog tour on the dates and blogs below!