The art of mending: a novel - By Elizabeth Berg

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing There is a field. I’ll meet you there.


Anyone’s childhood can be an act of disablement if rehearsed and replayed and squinted at in a certain light.


The foxes were having their pups. . . . If a stranger appeared near the pens, if anything too startling or disruptive occurred, they might decide to kill them. Nobody knew whether they did this out of blind irritation, or out of roused and terrified maternal feeling.



Kate Medina has believed in me unequivocally since she first read me, and she makes no secret of it. I make no secret of this: I love her, and my gratitude to her is boundless. And I think that this time, she just needs to have the whole page to herself.

It is a photograph of a staircase that I took with my Brownie camera over forty years ago. On the newel post hang three jackets. At the bottom is mine, a turquoise corduroy, with deep pockets in which I used to hide Kraft caramels—I ate them every morning on my walk to school. Over my jacket is my brother Steve’s: denim, with a fleece lining. And over that, my mother’s stylish brown tweed car coat, an apricot-colored scarf spilling out of the pocket. Late-afternoon sun is streaming in through the window beside the stairs, illuminating the coats as well as three paper bags of groceries resting on the floor. I remember we’d been to Red Owl with our mother, and Steve and I had been given our own carts to select items from our own lists. That’s why I took the picture: I was proud of the grown-up work we’d done. Nearly out of frame are the rounded tips of shoes. Someone sitting on the staircase, waiting for us to see her.



It was 1960, a Saturday morning when I was eleven years old, and I was the first one up. I had brought my mayonnaise jar stuffed with dollar bills and coins into the living room, spilled the money out onto the carpet, and then stepped over it to turn the television on to a low volume. I was going to watch The Three Stooges while I sorted my fortune.

I had just finished counting when my father came into the room. He was wearing a pair of trousers and a T-shirt and his battered old leather slippers speckled with paint the color of my bedroom walls. His blond crew cut was damp; you could see the glistening of water in it, making him look anointed, and he smelled of a citrusy aftershave. He was headed for the kitchen, where he would make coffee and bacon. This was his Saturday routine: He’d take a cup of coffee up to my mother in bed, prepared the way she liked it, with an eighth of a cup of cream and three level teaspoons of sugar. Then she would come down in one of her silk robes and make pancakes to go with the bacon.

I always hoped she would wear her peach-colored robe. It was my favorite, for its generous yardage and elaborate ruffled trim. Seeing what my mother wore was always interesting to me, whether it was the three-quarter-sleeve blouses she wore with the collars up, or the full skirts, tightly belted, or the pastel-colored cashmere sweater sets, or one of her many bathing suits, works of art designed to showcase her spectacular figure. Those suits came complete with cunning little skirts and jackets to wear over them, and broad-brimmed sun hats trimmed with fabric bands in coordinating colors. Before she was married, my mother worked for several years for an upscale department store, parading beautiful clothes before rich men’s wives. She inspired more sales than any other model before or after her; everyone wanted to look like her, though of course no one did. Think Grace Kelly with red hair and green eyes—that was my mother. But it wasn’t just her model’s training that made it so interesting to see what she wore, it was a quality inside herself. Charisma, my father said, but it seemed to me to be more than that. Other people had charisma. No one had what my mother did.

She had a large collection of jewelry, too; sometimes she allowed me to take one necklace at a time over to her bed, where I would lay it out and turn it this way