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All the Acorns on the Forest Floor

All the Acorns on the Forest Floor

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All the Acorns on the Forest Floor

Longitud:
254 página
6 horas
Publicado:
Sep 15, 2020
ISBN:
9781684425303
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Captivating Composite Novel: Structured in an engaging and impactful way, each chapter tells a different story that is interrelated with the previous– the stories add meaning and nuance to one another. This unique storytelling technique will make this book a standout in the literary fiction category.

Powerful Author Platform: Kim Hooper is the author of three fantastic novels and has a strong fanbase for her stories about the resilience of the human spirit. This book takes a deep dive into themes of parenting and motherhood, and features some of her strongest writing.

The Female Experience: This book speaks to women universally, with a variety of perspectives on motherhood, daughterhood, and marriage. It will appeal strongly to women across generations.

Publicado:
Sep 15, 2020
ISBN:
9781684425303
Formato:
Libro

Sobre el autor

Kim Hooper is the author of five novels. Her previous works include People Who Knew Me (2016), Cherry Blossoms (2018), Tiny (2019), and All the Acorns on the Forest Floor (2020). She is also co-author of All the Love: Healing Your Heart and Finding Meaning After Pregnancy Loss. Kim lives in Southern California with her husband, daughter, and a collection of pets

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All the Acorns on the Forest Floor - Kim Hooper

us

notes for a eulogy

I LIKE WATCHING Jake when he drives, when he’s focused on a specific task. It’s one of the few times I get to stare—just stare—at his profile, the sharp slant of his nose, the enviable length of his eyelashes. Once, buzzed on champagne at our friend’s wedding, I begged him to let me put mascara on them. He refused.

What’s he like? I ask.

We’re an hour into our two-hour drive, and we haven’t said much. In the beginning of us, this would have made me nervous, the silence. It doesn’t anymore. We’re good together. We’ve embraced that, taken solace in that. The rest of life seems to be a crapshoot, but we’re a sure thing. He’s not going anywhere and, more importantly, neither am I. My rolling stone of a heart has come to a rest. I’ve even let him see me pluck the hairs above my lip.

I don’t know. He’s a charming type, Jake says. He’s short like me.

When we first started dating, this was an unspoken fact—that Jake is shorter than me; he’s not short by average standards, but a few inches beneath my five feet, eleven inches. I used to slouch or stand next to him with one foot out far to the side, leaning down to his height. When he couldn’t reach something on the upper shelf of the pantry, I pretended I couldn’t either. We’re done with that now. I stand tall because I don’t want to be hunched over like my grandma when I’m old. And he asks me to get down the vases from the cabinet above the fridge when he brings home flowers.

Do you look like him? I ask.

He’s biting his nails. He does this when he’s nervous. He denies it though. Whenever I witness it and ask what’s bothering him, he says, Nothing. Why?

"I look just like him. Just like him."

He says this like it baffles him, though it shouldn’t. We’re talking about his father. He didn’t grow up calling him Dad, but he’s still his father.

The story isn’t original. His parents split up when he was young. I’ve asked how old he was, and he’s never clear—once he said, I don’t know, around ten; another time he said, I think I was twelve. He talks about it like it doesn’t matter, like the details are meaningless, though they seem like everything to me. My parents are celebrating their thirty-eighth wedding anniversary this year.

After the divorce, Jake didn’t see much of his father. Sometimes he’d swoop in on weekends to take Jake and his sister for ice cream. Then he married a woman named Linda, and Jake stopped hearing from him. Jake was twenty years old, in college, when his father called for the first time in a few years and said he was divorcing Linda. He needed somewhere to stay because she was taking all his money. Jake offered his couch, reluctantly. He thought his father would stay a couple nights, but he stayed a couple months. When he finally moved out, renting a room in a house shared by two college kids, he said he’d never get married again. But then he married Deb.

What’s Deb like? I ask.

Jake shrugs. She’s loud. Whatever you do, don’t try to help her in the kitchen.

Got it. So she’s the overbearing type?

That’s probably what makes her a good caretaker.

Jake says his father married Deb because he doesn’t want to die alone. He was diagnosed with ALS a year ago, right around the time Jake first kissed me.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—I’ve learned to rattle off the full medical name easily. Most people call it Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous baseball player who died from it. I’d heard of it before meeting Jake, mostly because I know all things baseball. My dad pitched for the Twins in the seventies before he hurt his shoulder, quit, and then met my mom. He coached my softball teams until I stopped playing sometime before high school.

I’d asked Jake, cautiously, what ALS is, what it does, afraid to make him emotional. He wasn’t though. He simply said, It makes the muscles really weak. It started in my father’s legs. He says his legs are, like, dead, paralyzed. And now his arms are going. I tried not to look horror-struck but failed when Jake said, Eventually, you can’t swallow or breathe. You suffocate, in the end.

And when’s the end? I’d asked.

Probably two years, tops.

It’s not fair, really. His mom is ill too, four stages into pancreatic cancer. They’re both in their fifties, his parents—not old enough to die. When he first told me about these cards dealt to him, he’d said, What are the chances?

Jake’s father invited both Jake and his sister to the cabin, but his sister declined. I don’t want to be that far from mom, she’d told Jake. I was surprised when Jake said he would go—not that he wanted to go, but that he would, as a duty. He and his sister agreed not to tell their mom. It would upset her, her son making an effort to visit his father who was never there and his father’s third wife.

Have you told them much about me? I ask.

I doubt he has. He hardly ever talks to his father. When he does, he uses the same tone he uses on work calls: blunt, direct, authoritative. Jake does something with investment banking that I don’t even pretend to find interesting. He’s all business on those work calls. Sometimes I wonder what his colleagues and clients would think if they heard how he talks to me, saw how he gives me baby kisses on my cheeks and combs stray hairs out of my eyes.

He looks at me, takes his eyes off the road for a moment.

I’ve told them you’re my match, he says.

I suppose I don’t need them to know anything else. He reaches over, puts his hand on my leg. He turns his eyes back to the road and says, This probably isn’t a good time to tell them we’re pregnant, right?

I used to hate when men said We’re pregnant, as if they were too. But there’s something about the way Jake says it, the way he takes ownership of this human growing inside me, that makes me smile. One life going, another on its way—the math of it all could be a comfort. But maybe there is no sufficient comfort at this time, this time that isn’t a good time.

We’re only a few weeks into it. It’s bad luck to say anything this early, I say.

I put my hand to my stomach. It doesn’t seem real yet, the pregnancy. The only thing keeping me from complete disbelief is the nausea, the saltines on the nightstand.

When we tell people, I think they’ll assume it wasn’t planned. We’re not married, not even engaged. We will be. It just isn’t a good time to be planning a wedding, the biggest party of our lives. That can wait. Some things can’t. We’re halfway through our thirties. Jake told me, when I moved in four months ago, that he wanted a family. Life is too short, he’d said. And I’d said, Let’s have a family.

They’re going to put us to work, just to warn you, Jake says.

Their cabin is near Lake Arrowhead, a weekend getaway from Los Angeles. His father told him he wants his ashes scattered at the cabin, in the backyard under the pine trees. He’s leaving the cabin to Deb when he’s gone. Jake’s worried she’ll sell it and when we take our future child to see Grandpa’s resting place, Jake will have to knock on the door of strangers and explain: My father used to own this place. Mind if we walk around back?

We’ll have to chop some logs, clean up the yard. My father can’t do any of that anymore. Obviously. I don’t know why they don’t hire a gardener.

That would be admitting defeat, I say.

We hear Jake’s mom say this often: I know I can’t drive, but selling the Camry is admitting defeat and Buying those damn nutrition shakes is admitting defeat. I can eat real food. Though she can’t. She’s ninety pounds.

I was thinking the other day about how I don’t know a single thing to say for his eulogy, Jake says.

It’s like him—to plan ahead like this, to already be thinking about his speech at the funeral. Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been calendar obsessed, scheduling weekend camping trips and day hikes months in advance, like he’s desperate for something to look forward to.

You have time. You’ll think of something, I say. Maybe this trip will help.

The cabin is at the end of a road so narrow that we have to reverse into a shallow ditch to allow a pickup truck to pass. Ever since we turned off the freeway, Jake’s needed GPS to find his way. I wonder how strange it would be to need GPS to find my dad.

This is it, Jake says, making a quick right up a steep driveway.

The cabin is grander than I expected. I thought it would be a tiny, run-down A-frame. But no. It’s a large log-sided house with expansive windows and two stone pillars framing a front door so tall a ten-foot man could walk right through.

It’s huge, I say.

Deb has money, Jake says, clarifying what he’s told me before—that his father never has.

We park at the end of the driveway, triggering the motion sensor lights. A dog barks—first far away, then closer, before appearing at my door. He’s a giant black Labrador. I get out, and he sniffs and circles me, tail wagging.

Hi, puppy, I say, though this dog is old. The hair around his snout is graying. His eyes are foggy. I’m grateful for the presence of an animal—a distraction, an icebreaker, an excuse to go outside for a short walk.

That’s Bruno, someone shouts.

I look up to see a woman who must be Deb. She’s walking from the front door toward us. She has hips people call childbearing, though Jake’s said she never had kids. Her hair is cut to her shoulders. It’s dark—almost black—with strands of gray that seem to be left there for artistic reasons. She has a long nose and small brown eyes.

And I’m Deb, she says to me. I expect a handshake, but she gives me a hug.

Deb, this is Alexis, Jake says. He always introduces me to people with my full name, though everyone calls me Alex.

She’s gorgeous, Deb says, hugging Jake. Even after she releases, she leaves her hand on his lower back, like they are close, like they’ve shared many meals and memories. Jake crosses his arms over his chest and gives me his tight-lipped smile, the one he forces when he’s uncomfortable.

Come, let’s go inside, Deb says. We follow her. Jake takes my hand, holds it tight, as if he’s scared or presumes I am.

The moment we cross the threshold, a surge of warmth hits us. A fire burns in a stove in the living room, next to huge windows overlooking the forest behind the house. He—Jake’s father—is in his wheelchair a few feet from the fire. It’s one of those high-powered wheelchairs with the fancy controls. He pushes a button and rolls to us. There’s a Ferrari sticker on his headrest.

Jake, he says, I’m so happy you guys are here.

We’re glad we could make it, Jake says, as if all the years they didn’t see each other were due to logistical problems, snafus, busy schedules.

You must be Alex, his father says to me, voice booming. I’m Marco. It’s so good to meet you.

You too, I say.

I come closer, unsure how to approach someone in a wheelchair. He reaches his arms out with the intention of a hug, and I lean down to him, letting him pat my back.

Sit, sit, Deb says, motioning toward the couch. We obey. Let me get you two some wine. I have the best pinot noir.

None for Alex, thanks, Jake says. He does this often—speaks for me, protects me from having to decline. He knows I hate to seem rude.

So, Alex, what do you do? Deb asks when she returns with the wine and a bottle of water for me.

I work at a library, I say.

Well, doesn’t that sound fun, she says, as if I’ve just told her I make balloon animals.

While Deb and I discuss our favorite books (we have none in common), Jake talks to his father about football standings, the stock market, the carpenter bees making a home in the awning outside—things men discuss to simulate a bond. Jake doesn’t look just like him. He, the giver of Jake’s last name—Mancini—is Italian, through and through: dark hair, dark-brown eyes, olive-toned skin. Jake’s sister looks more like him than Jake does. Jake has the dark hair and olive-toned skin, but his mom’s Western European ancestry fought for prominence in his eyes. Her blue is mixed in there, giving Jake the emerald green. He has cat eyes, my sister said once.

I hear you’re a vegetarian, Deb says to me. I made chicken cacciatore, but I have some pasta with meatless sauce. Is that okay?

That’s fine. You really don’t have to go to any trouble.

She waves me off. Don’t be silly. It’s the Jew in me. A laugh comes from deep in her chest—loud and generous. She’s one of those people comedians love to have at shows.

Can I help you with anything? I ask, out of polite obligation.

No, no. Sit. Rest. You’ve had a long drive.

Bruno jumps up on the couch next to me. I pet him, focus intently on that, because I’m not sure what else to do.

Watch this, Jake’s father says. He takes a tennis ball from the cup holder of his wheelchair and tosses it down the hallway. His arms are thin, weak; he’s not able to throw it that far. Bruno humors him anyway, jumping up excitedly to retrieve it. He brings it back, dropping it at his owner’s feet.

Oh, Bruno! You know that’s not right, Jake’s father says, noticeably agitated. He can’t reach the ball from his seat. Remember how I taught you to bring it to my hand? The dog just looks on, sad and confused, because he’s just a dog.

Jake, bring me the ball, he says. Jake obliges. His father throws the ball again, and Bruno runs down the hallway. When he comes back, Jake’s father puts out his hand, desperate, grasping. Bruno drops the ball into his palm.

Good boy, good boy, Jake’s father says. I wonder if this is what consumes his days. I wonder how often he cries.

So, what have you two been up to? he asks us. I don’t know if he means in the last several years or the last week or two. Jake looks at me and I look at him, our eyes wide and unsure.

We’ve been hiking quite a bit. We did Mount Baldy a couple months ago. Mount Whitney before that. And Half Dome, out in Yosemite.

At first, I think Jake’s trying to hurt him, this man who can’t even walk from his bed to the bathroom in the middle of the night. But that’s not his style. That’s my style—subtle insults, comments with layers of meaning. Jake’s a much better person than I am, truly. He’s not reminding his father of his illness; he’s telling him that he’s doing enough with his strong legs for the both of them.

That’s great, Jake. Really great, his father says. When he smiles, the creases around his eyes deepen and the folds of skin below his lower eyelids arc upward. It looks like his eyes are smiling too. Jake got this from him.

Jake has taken me on so many adventures, I say. I complain endlessly on those hikes, but he never does.

Jake puts his arm around me, pulls me into his side. His father looks on at us with pride. When Jake brought up the idea of coming up here, I thought it was for this reason—to give his father some happiness. But Jake had said as we packed the car in the morning, I don’t really want to go. I just want to be able to live with myself after he dies. Is that bad? I’d said, No, because I want him to be able to sleep at night. I want him to feel like he did enough, tried enough, so he doesn’t get choked up with guilt when our child asks him about the father he hardly knew.

How’s your mother doing? his father asks. To this question, coming from friends and family, Jake used to say She’s fine or As good as can be expected. Now he’s tired of that, tired of anything less than the complete truth.

She’s not great.

I rub Jake’s back with my hand.

You’re just getting it from all sides, his father says, shaking his head.

Deb brings a bread basket to the dining room table and says, Food’s on. She is one of those people who considers entertaining a hobby. She has special dinnerware and takes time to fold cloth napkins and arrange forks and knives just so.

Jake’s father zooms over to the table, to the spot that doesn’t have a chair. Deb sits next to him, and we sit across from the two of them. Bruno lies at Jake’s father’s feet. He must slip him food regularly.

So, how did you guys meet? Deb asks, dishing out chicken and pasta onto Marco’s plate.

Last year, we both went out to Joshua Tree for this rock climbing course. Alone, Jake says.

I can’t even tell you what compelled me to try rock climbing. I was just looking for something new, I guess, I say. We love this story—remembering it, telling it.

On the first day of the course, I saw her and thought she was beautiful. She partnered up with a woman in the class, and I didn’t get the nerve to even talk to her until the end of the day.

He overheard me saying I lived in Manhattan Beach and said he lived there too, so we should join the climbing gym. I mean, you need a partner for rock climbing, so it made sense.

I met up with her at the climbing gym, and we started going twice a week, just getting to know each other.

It’s true—we were just getting to know each other. I hadn’t even thought of Jake that way at first, because of the height issue. I’d always said I wanted someone taller than me, someone to make me feel small. Then one day, at the gym, I got teary-eyed about my grandma passing away and Jake hugged me. I’d never felt so small, so contained, before.

I would have thought he’d move faster to snag you. His dad sure did back in 1987, Deb says, with her laugh.

I watch Jake do the calculation in his head—1987. Jake was eight. His parents were still married. Perhaps his father’s final

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