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The Memory Keeper's Daughter


  PENGUIN BOOKS

  THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER

  ‘The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is an enthralling novel about the deepest secrets that can never stay hidden’ Easy Living

  ‘A strong and moving story. It’s easy to see how it gained its place on the US bestseller lists’ Daily Mail

  ‘Deeply moving. Kim Edwards’s intricate descriptions and beautiful use of language make this a mesmerising read’ Woman

  ‘An emotionally charged page-turner’ Good Housekeeping

  The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

  Kim Edwards

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  For Abigail and Naomi

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road,

  Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)

  Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London, WC2R 0RL, England

  www.penguin.com

  First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2005

  First published in Great Britain in Penguin Books 2007

  Copyright © Kim Edwards, 2005

  All rights reserved

  PUBLISHER’S NOTE

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The moral right of the author has been asserted

  Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

  ISBN: 978-0-14-197034-9

  Contents

  Acknowledgments

  1964

  March 1964

  1965

  February 1965

  March 1965

  May 1965

  1970

  May 1970

  June 1970

  1977

  July 1977

  August 1977

  September 1977

  1982

  April 1982

  1988

  July 1988

  November 1988

  1989

  July 1, 1989

  July 2–4, 1989

  September 1, 1989

  A Conversation with Kim Edwards about The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

  Acknowledgments

  I’d like to express my deep appreciation to the pastors of Hunter Presbyterian Church for years of wisdom on matters seen and unseen; thanks especially to Claire Vonk Brooks, who carried the seed of this story and entrusted it to me.

  Jean and Richard Covert generously shared their insights and also read an early draft of this manuscript. I am grateful to them, as well as to Meg Steinman, Caroline Baesler, Callie Baesler, Nancy Covert, Becky Lesch, and Malkanthi McCormick, for their candor and guidance. Bruce Burris invited me to teach a workshop at Minds Wide Open; my thanks to him, and to the participants that day, who wrote straight from their hearts.

  I am very grateful to the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation for exceptional support and encouragement. The Kentucky Council on the Arts and the Kentucky Foundation for Women also provided sustaining grants in support of this book, and I thank them.

  As always, enormous gratitude to my agent, Geri Thoma, for being so wise, warm, generous and steadfast. I’m very grateful also to all the people at Viking, especially my editor, Pamela Dorman, who brought such intelligence and engagement to editing this book, and whose insightful questions helped me walk more deeply into the narrative. Beena Kamlani’s deft, perceptive editorial touch was invaluable as well, and Lucia Watson, with good cheer and precision, kept a thousand things in motion.

  To writers Jane McCafferty, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, and Leatha Kendrik, who read this manuscript with tough and loving eyes, heartfelt thanks. Special thanks also to my parents, John and Shirley Edwards. To James Alan McPherson, whose teaching still informs my own, abiding gratitude. To Katherine Soulard Turner and her father, the late William G. Turner, for rich friendship, book talk, and Pittsburgh expertise, joyous thanks as well.

  Love and thanks to all my family, near and far, especially to Tom.

  1964

  March 1964

  I

  THE SNOW STARTED TO FALL SEVERAL HOURS BEFORE HER labor began. A few flakes first, in the dull gray late-afternoon sky, and then wind-driven swirls and eddies around the edges of their wide front porch. He stood by her side at the window, watching sharp gusts of snow billow, then swirl and drift to the ground. All around the neighborhood, lights came on, and the naked branches of the trees turned white.

  After dinner he built a fire, venturing out into the weather for wood he had piled against the garage the previous autumn. The air was bright and cold against his face, and the snow in the driveway was already halfway to his knees. He gathered logs, shaking off their soft white caps and carrying them inside. The kindling in the iron grate caught fire immediately, and he sat for a time on the hearth, cross-legged, adding logs and watching the flames leap, blue-edged and hypnotic. Outside, snow continued to fall quietly through the darkness, as bright and thick as static in the cones of light cast by the streetlights. By the time he rose and looked out the window, their car had become a soft white hill on the edge of the street. Already his footprints in the driveway had filled and disappeared.

  He brushed ashes from his hands and sat on the sofa beside his wife, her feet propped on pillows, her swollen ankles crossed, a copy of Dr. Spock balanced on her belly. Absorbed, she licked her index finger absently each time she turned a page. Her hands were slender, her fingers short and sturdy, and she bit her bottom lip lightly, intently, as she read. Watching her, he felt a surge of love and wonder: that she was his wife, that their baby, due in just three weeks, would soon be born. Their first child, this would be. They had been married just a year.

  She looked up, smiling, when he tucked the blanket around her legs.

  “You know, I’ve been wondering what it’s like,” she said. “Before we’re born, I mean. It’s too bad we can’t remember.” She opened her robe and pulled up the sweater she wore underneath, revealing a belly as round and hard as a melon. She ran her hand across its smooth surface, firelight playing across her skin, casting reddish gold onto her hair. “Do you suppose it’s like being inside a great lantern? The book says light permeates my skin, that the baby can already see.”

  “I don’t know,” he said.

  She laughed. “Why not?” she asked. “You’re the doctor.”

  “I’m just an orthopedic surgeon,” he reminded her. “I could tell you the ossification pattern for fetal bones, but that’s a
bout it.” He lifted her foot, both delicate and swollen inside the light blue sock, and began to massage it gently: the powerful tarsal bone of her heel, the metatarsals and the phalanges, hidden beneath skin and densely layered muscles like a fan about to open. Her breathing filled the quiet room, her foot warmed his hands, and he imagined the perfect, secret, symmetry of bones. In pregnancy she seemed to him beautiful but fragile, fine blue veins faintly visible through her pale white skin.

  It had been an excellent pregnancy, without medical restrictions. Even so, he had not been able to make love to her for several months. He found himself wanting to protect her instead, to carry her up flights of stairs, to wrap her in blankets, to bring her cups of custard. “I’m not an invalid,” she protested each time, laughing. “I’m not some fledgling you discovered on the lawn.” Still, she was pleased by his attentions. Sometimes he woke and watched her as she slept: the flutter of her eyelids, the slow even movement of her chest, her outflung hand, small enough that he could enclose it completely with his own.

  She was eleven years younger than he was. He had first seen her not much more than a year ago, as she rode up an escalator in a department store downtown, one gray November Saturday while he was buying ties. He was thirty-three years old and new to Lexington, Kentucky, and she had risen out of the crowd like some kind of vision, her blond hair swept back in an elegant chignon, pearls glimmering at her throat and on her ears. She was wearing a coat of dark green wool, and her skin was clear and pale. He stepped onto the escalator, pushing his way upward through the crowd, struggling to keep her in sight. She went to the fourth floor, lingerie and hosiery. When he tried to follow her through aisles dense with racks of slips and brassieres and panties, all glimmering softly, a salesclerk in a navy blue dress with a white collar stopped him, smiling, to ask if she could help. A robe, he said, scanning the aisles until he caught sight of her hair, a dark green shoulder, her bent head revealing the elegant pale curve of her neck. A robe for my sister who lives in New Orleans. He had no sister, of course, or any living family that he acknowledged.

  The clerk disappeared and came back a moment later with three robes in sturdy terry cloth. He chose blindly, hardly glancing down, taking the one on top. Three sizes, the clerk was saying, and a better selection of colors next month, but he was already in the aisle, a coral-colored robe draped over his arm, his shoes squeaking on the tiles as he moved impatiently between the other shoppers to where she stood.

  She was shuffling through the stacks of expensive stockings, sheer colors shining through slick cellophane windows: taupe, navy, a maroon as dark as pig’s blood. The sleeve of her green coat brushed his and he smelled her perfume, something delicate and yet pervasive, something like the dense pale petals of lilacs outside the window of the student rooms he’d once occupied in Pittsburgh. The squat windows of his basement apartment were always grimy, opaque with steel-factory soot and ash, but in the spring there were lilacs blooming, sprays of white and lavender pressing against the glass, their scent drifting in like light.

  He cleared his throat—he could hardly breathe—and held up the terry cloth robe, but the clerk behind the counter was laughing, telling a joke, and she did not notice him. When he cleared his throat again she glanced at him, annoyed, then nodded at her customer, now holding three thin packages of stockings like giant playing cards in her hand.

  “I’m afraid Miss Asher was here first,” the clerk said, cool and haughty.

  Their eyes met then, and he was startled to see they were the same dark green as her coat. She was taking him in—the solid tweed overcoat, his face clean-shaven and flushed with cold, his trim fingernails. She smiled, amused and faintly dismissive, gesturing to the robe on his arm.

  “For your wife?” she asked. She spoke with what he recognized as a genteel Kentucky accent, in this city of old money where such distinctions mattered. After just six months in town, he already knew this. “It’s all right, Jean,” she went on, turning back to the clerk. “Go on and take him first. This poor man must feel lost and awkward, in here with all the lace.”

  “It’s for my sister,” he told her, desperate to reverse the bad impression he was making. It had happened to him often here; he was too forward or direct and gave offense. The robe slipped to the floor and he bent to pick it up, his face flushing as he rose. Her gloves were lying on the glass, her bare hands folded lightly next to them. His discomfort seemed to soften her, for when he met her eyes again, they were kind.

  He tried again. “I’m sorry. I don’t seem to know what I’m doing. And I’m in a hurry. I’m a doctor. I’m late to the hospital.”

  Her smiled changed then, grew serious.

  “I see,” she said, turning back to the clerk. “Really, Jean, do take him first.”

  She agreed to see him again, writing her name and phone number in the perfect script she’d been taught in third grade, her teacher an ex-nun who had engraved the rules of penmanship in her small charges. Each letter has a shape, she told them, one shape in the world and no other, and it is your responsibility to make it perfect. Eight years old, pale and skinny, the woman in the green coat who would become his wife had clenched her small fingers around the pen and practiced cursive writing alone in her room, hour after hour, until she wrote with the exquisite fluidity of running water. Later, listening to that story, he would imagine her head bent beneath the lamplight, her fingers in a painful cluster around the pen, and he would wonder at her tenacity, her belief in beauty and in the authoritative voice of the ex-nun. But on that day he did not know any of this. On that day he carried the slip of paper in the pocket of his white coat through one sickroom after another, remembering her letters flowing one into another to form the perfect shape of her name. He phoned her that same evening and took her to dinner the next night, and three months later they were married.

  Now, in these last months of her pregnancy, the soft coral robe fit her perfectly. She had found it packed away and had held it up to show him. But your sister died so long ago, she exclaimed, suddenly puzzled, and for an instant he had frozen, smiling, the lie from a year before darting like a dark bird through the room. Then he shrugged, sheepish. I had to say something, he told her. I had to find a way to get your name. She smiled then, and crossed the room and embraced him.

  The snow fell. For the next few hours, they read and talked. Sometimes she caught his hand and put it on her belly to feel the baby move. From time to time he got up to feed the fire, glancing out the window to see three inches on the ground, then five or six. The streets were softened and quiet, and there were few cars.

  At eleven she rose and went to bed. He stayed downstairs, reading the latest issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. He was known to be a very good doctor, with a talent for diagnosis and a reputation for skillful work. He had graduated first in his class. Still, he was young enough and—though he hid it very carefully—unsure enough about his skills that he studied in every spare moment, collecting each success he accomplished as one more piece of evidence in his own favor. He felt himself to be an aberration, born with a love for learning in a family absorbed in simply scrambling to get by, day to day. They had seen education as an unnecessary luxury, a means to no certain end. Poor, when they went to the doctor at all it was to the clinic in Morgantown, fifty miles away. His memories of those rare trips were vivid, bouncing in the back of the borrowed pickup truck, dust flying in their wake. The dancing road, his sister had called it, from her place in the cab with their parents. In Morgantown the rooms were dim, the murky green or turquoise of pond water, and the doctors had been hurried, brisk with them, distracted.

  All these years later, he still had moments when he sensed the gaze of those doctors and felt himself to be an imposter, about to be unmasked by a single mistake. He knew his choice of specialties reflected this. Not for him the random excitement of general medicine or the delicate risky plumbing of the heart. He dealt mostly with broken limbs, sculpting casts and viewing X-rays, watching break
s slowly yet miraculously knit themselves back together. He liked that bones were solid things, surviving even the white heat of cremation. Bones would last; it was easy for him to put his faith in something so solid and predictable.

  He read well past midnight, until the words shimmered senselessly on the bright white pages, and then he tossed the journal on the coffee table and got up to tend to the fire. He tamped the charred fire-laced logs into embers, opened the damper fully, and closed the brass fireplace screen. When he turned off the lights, shards of fire glowed softly through layers of ash as delicate and white as the snow piled so high now on the porch railings and the rhododendron bushes.

  The stairs creaked with his weight. He paused by the nursery door, studying the shadowy shapes of the crib and the changing table, the stuffed animals arranged on shelves. The walls were painted a pale sea green. His wife had made the Mother Goose quilt that hung on the far wall, sewing with tiny stitches, tearing out entire panels if she noted the slightest imperfection. A border of bears was stenciled just below the ceiling; she had done that too.

  On an impulse he went into the room and stood before the window, pushing aside the sheer curtain to watch the snow, now nearly eight inches high on the lampposts and the fences and the roofs. It was the sort of storm that rarely happened in Lexington, and the steady white flakes, the silence, filled him with a sense of excitement and peace. It was a moment when all the disparate shards of his life seemed to knit themselves together, every past sadness and disappointment, every anxious secret and uncertainty hidden now beneath the soft white layers. Tomorrow would be quiet, the world subdued and fragile, until the neighborhood children came out to break the stillness with their tracks and shouts and joy. He remembered such days from his own childhood in the mountains, rare moments of escape when he went into the woods, his breathing amplified and his voice somehow muffled by the heavy snow that bent branches low, drifted over paths. The world, for a few short hours, transformed.

 
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