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Blue Diary

OneThe Hanged ManIt's
the last Monday of the month, a brutally gorgeous morning brimming
with blue air and the sweet scent of honeysuckle which grows wild
in the woods beyond Front Street, when Ethan Ford fails to show up
for work. On this glorious day, the brilliant sky is filled with
banks of motionless white clouds, fleecy as sheep, but so obedient
and lazy they haven't any need of a shepherd or a fence. June in
New England is a peerless month, with long days of glittering
sunlight and roses unfolding. This is the season when even the most
foolish of men will stop to appreciate all that is set out before
him: the creamy blossoms of hollyhocks and English daisies; the
heavenly swarms of bees humming like angels in the hedges, hovering
over green lawns trimmed so carefully it can seem as though the
hand of all that's divine has leaned down to construct a perfect
patchwork, green upon green, perfection upon perfection.
any other day, Ethan Ford would have already been hard at work, for
in the town of Monroe, Massachusetts there is not a more reliable
man to be found. On the chain that he carries, he has the keys to
many of the local houses, including the Howards' on Sherwood Street
and the Starks' over on Evergreen. For the better part of a month,
Ethan has been remodeling both homes, renovating a kitchen for the
Howards, installing a second bathroom for the Starks, a family
whose three daughters are known for their waist-length hair, which
takes half an hour to shampoo, so that there is always a line in
the hall as one or another of the Stark girls awaits her turn at
the shower.
Everyone knows that if Ethan promises a job will be done on
time, it will be, for he's a man of his word, as dependable as he
is kind, the sort of individual who never disappears with the last
ten percent of a project left undone, tiles left ungrouted, for
instance, or closet doors unhung. He's an excellent carpenter, an
excellent man all around; a valued member of the volunteer fire
department well known for his fearlessness, a respected coach who
offers more encouragement to some local children than their own
parents do. Most folks who know him would not have thought any less
of him had they been aware that on this day Ethan doesn't show up
for work because he's in bed with his wife, whom he loves
desperately, even after thirteen years of marriage, and whom he
still considers to be the most beautiful woman in the
Jorie had been standing at the sink, washing up the breakfast
dishes and staring out the window with a dreamy expression, when
Ethan came to get his keys. He took one look at her and decided not
to leave, no matter what a mess his schedule might become and how
late he'd have to work for the rest of the week. Even the most
dependable of men will stumble every now and then, after all. He'll
trip over his own shoes, waylaid by bumps in the road or
circumstances he never expected; he'll throw off the bonds of both
caution and common sense. Fortunately, Jorie and Ethan's son was on
his way to school on this Monday of the last week of sixth grade,
for there was nothing that could have kept Ethan away from Jorie on
this day, not when he felt the way he did. He came up behind her at
the sink, and as he'd circled his arms around her and whispered
what he planned to do once he took her back to bed, Jorie laughed,
the sort of sweet laughter that summoned the sparrows from the
trees, so that one after another perched on the windowsill, just to
listen, just to be near.
shouldn't be doing this, Jorie told him. She began to list
the reasons they had to abstain, the many responsibilities facing
them on this busy weekday, but even as she spoke, her tone betrayed
her. She was already being drawn into the bedroom, diverted by her
own desire, and she smiled when her husband locked the
People in town would not have been surprised to know that Ethan
bent to kiss his wife then, and that she in turn responded as
deeply as she had on the night when she met him, when she was
twenty-three and convinced she would never fall in love, not
really, not the way she was supposed to, head over heels, crazy and
rash, all or nothing at all. It was that way for them both even
now, though they had a house and a mortgage and a calendar inky
with family obligations, those pot-luck dinners and Little League
games, the intricacies of married life. Their union was a miracle
of sorts: they had fallen in love and stayed there. Thirteen years
after they'd met, it seemed as though only an hour or two had
passed since Jorie had spied Ethan at the bar of the Safehouse one
foggy November night, minutes after she and her best friend,
Charlotte Kite, had set up a wager of ten dollars, the prize to be
claimed by whoever found herself a sweetheart that
now, on this hot June morning, when the sky is so brilliant and
blue and the tree frogs in the gardens trill as though they were
calling birds, Jorie wants Ethan just as badly as she had on the
night she first saw him. She had left her friend Charlotte behind
without even the decency of a proper good-bye, which simply wasn't
like her. Jorie was as prudent as she was kind-hearted, so much so
that when her older sister, Anne, arrived at the Safehouse to see
her goody-two-shoes sibling leaving with a stranger, she ran after
the truck, signaling for them to slow down; not that they paid Anne
the slightest bit of attention or listened to her cries to be
careful on the icy roads.
Jorie gave Ethan directions to her apartment over on High
Street, where she brought him into her bed before she knew his full
name. Certainly, she had never in her life been as reckless. She
was the girl who did everything right and, as Anne would readily
complain to anyone willing to listen, had always been their
mother's favorite daughter. Jorie was the last one anyone would
expect to act on impulse, and yet she was driven by what might have
appeared to be a fever. Perhaps this explained why she veered from
her normal, reliable behavior and unlocked her door for a stranger
on that cold November night. Ethan Ford was the handsomest man she
had ever seen, but that wasn't the reason she'd fallen so hard. It
was the way he stared at her, as if no one else in the world
existed, it was how sure he was they were meant to be together that
had won her over so completely and effortlessly. She still feels
his desire when he looks at her, and every time she does, she's the
same lovestruck girl she was when they met. She's no different than
she'd been on the night when he first kissed her, when he vowed
he'd always been searching for her.
Today, Jorie has once again left her poor friend Charlotte in
the lurch, with no explanations or apologies. Instead of meeting
Charlotte to discuss the final weeks of her marriage to Jay Smith,
blessedly over at last, Jorie is kissing her own husband. Instead
of offering comfort and advice, she is here with Ethan, pulling him
closer until all the world outside, all of Maple Street, all of
Massachusetts, might as well have disappeared, every street lamp
and apple tree evaporating into the hot and tranquil air. Some
people are fortunate, and Jorie has always been among them, with
her luminous smile and all that yellow hair that reminds people of
sunlight even on the coldest winters day when the wind outside is
howling and masses of snow are tumbling down from above.
Whenever Jorie and Ethan are hand in hand, people in town turn
and stare, that's how good they look when they're together, that's
how meant for each other they are. On evenings when Jorie comes to
the baseball field at dusk, bringing thermoses of lemonade and cool
water, Ethan always walks right up to her and kisses her, not
caring if all the world looks on. Along the sidelines, people stop
what they're doing --- the mothers gossiping by the bleachers, the
dads in the parking lot discussing what tactics might win them the
county championship --- they can't take their eyes off Jorie and
Ethan, who, unlike most couples who have entered into the harsh and
difficult realm of marriage, are still wrapped up in the vast
reaches of their own devotion, even now.
therefore no surprise to find them in each other's arms on this
June morning, in the season when the first orange lilies bloom
along roadsides and lanes. They make love slowly, without bothering
to pull down the shades. The sunlight coursing through the open
window is lemony and sweet; it leaves a luminous grid on the white
sheets and a crisscross of shadow upon their flesh. Next door,
Betty Gage, who is nearly eighty and so deaf she can no longer make
out the chattering of wrens nesting in her cherry tree or the
chirrup of the tree frogs, can all the same hear their lovers'
moans. She quickly retreats to her house, doing her best to walk
briskly in spite of her bad knees, leaving behind the phlox and
daisies she'd begun to gather in a ragged jumble of petals on the
lawn. Startled by the strains of so much ardor on an ordinary
morning, Mrs. Gage turns her radio to top volume, but even that
doesn't drown out those passionate cries, and before long Betty
finds herself thinking of her own dear husband, gone for nearly
forty years, but still a young man when she dreams of
Later, Jorie will wonder if she hadn't asked for sorrow on this
heavenly day. She should have been more cautious. She'd been
greedy, renouncing restraint, forsaking all others but the man she
loved. Who did she think she was to assume that the morning was
hers to keep, tender hours to spend however she pleased? She was
thoughtless, indeed, but the bees swarming in the garden seemed to
be serenading them, the sunlight was a pale and lasting gold. If
only such fleeting moments could continue indefinitely. If only
they were cunning enough to trap time and ensure that this day
would never alter, and that forevermore there'd be only the
constant sunlight pouring in and only the two of them, alone in the
Jorie is not ordinarily prideful, but how can she help but see
herself in her husband's eyes? She imagines ancient prehistoric
flowers as he moves his hand along her belly, her spine, her
shoulders. The flowers appear behind her eyelids, one by one: red
lily, wood lily, tawny lily, trout lily, each incomparable in its
beauty. She listens to the bees drifting through the hedges
outside. If any of the men in town who thought they knew her, the
ones she's been acquainted with since high school, for instance,
the ones she runs into every day at the bakery or the pharmacy or
the bank, were able to look through the window and spy upon her,
they would have seen a different woman than the one they chat with
on street corners or sit next to on the bleachers at Little League
games. They would have seen Jorie with the sunlight streaming over
her and heat rising up from her skin. They would have witnessed
what true love can do to a woman.
You are everything to me, Ethan tells her on this
morning, and maybe that sentiment was too arrogant and
self-absorbed. Assuredly, they were only thinking of themselves,
not of their son on his way to school, or the shades they hadn't
bothered to close, or the neighbor at her window, listening to the
sounds of their desire. They weren't the least bit concerned about
the friends they'd kept waiting, Charlotte Kite, who'd already left
the bakery for her doctor's appointment, or Mark Derry, the
plumber, one of Ethan's closest friends, stranded outside the
Starks' house without a key, unable to work without Ethan present
to let him in. The phone rings, long and loud, but Ethan tells
Jorie not to answer --- it's only Charlotte, and Jorie can talk to
her anytime. Or it's her sister, Anne, who Jorie is more than happy
to avoid.
How often do we get to do this? Ethan asks. He kisses
Jorie's throat and her shoulders, and she doesn't say no, even
though it's close to ten o'clock. How can she deny him, or herself
for that matter? Love like this isn't easy to find, after all, and
sometimes Jorie wonders why she was the one who'd been lucky enough
to meet him that night. November in Massachusetts is a despicable
and ruinous month, and Charlotte had needed to talk Jorie into
going out for a drink. You have your whole life to sit around by
yourself, if that's what you want to do,
Charlotte had assured
her, and so Jorie had grudgingly gone along. She hadn't even
bothered to comb her hair or put on lipstick. She'd been there at
the bar, already itching to leave, when she felt a wave of energy,
the way some people say the air turns crackly before the weather
takes a turn, or when a star is about to fall from the sky. She
gazed to her left and she happened to see him, and that was when
she knew it was destiny that had made her trail along after
Charlotte on that damp, foggy night. Fate had led her
closes her eyes on this, their stolen morning, and as she lets the
phone ring unanswered, she thinks again of lilies, shimmering on
their green stems. She thinks about the pledges they've made to
each other, and about devotion. What she feels for him is so deep,
she aches. She supposes this is what people refer to when they say
the pangs of love, as if your innermost joy cannot help but cause
you anguish as well. It is painful when he leaves her merely to go
into the kitchen, where he fixes them iced coffees and bowls of
strawberries from the garden. He loads their breakfast onto a
silver tray, a wedding present from Charlotte, and brings it back
to bed for them to enjoy. Jorie still has never seen a man as
handsome as Ethan. He has dark hair and even darker eyes. He isn't
a lawyer cooped up in an office like Barney Stark, whose wife
complains that he's grown fat, or a beer drinker like Mark Derry,
who spends most evenings sprawled out in an easy chair. Ethan uses
his body, and the results are evident. When he takes off his shirt
at the baseball field, the women stare at him, then look at each
other as if to say, That's what I wanted, but that's not what I
the same, Ethan is the sort of man who doesn't seem to be aware of
his own good looks. His visits to the gym aren't driven by vanity,
but are a necessity for the work he does as a member of the Monroe
Volunteer Fire Department. He needs strength and stamina, both
readily apparent last fall when he climbed onto the roof of the
McConnells' house, long before many of his fellow volunteers had
gotten out of their trucks. That particular fire had started in a
pan of bacon, but by the time the first volunteers arrived, it was
burning through the house, one of those sly, scarlet infernos that
moves with unexpected speed. There was so much smoke that day, the
white chrysanthemums outside Hannah's Coffee Shoppe turned gray and
remained that way for the rest of the season; frogs in the shallows
of the lake began to dig themselves into the dirt, ready to
hibernate, misreading the ashes falling from above for an early
dusting of snow.
it became clear that the regulation ladder wouldn't reach the
McConnells' little girl's window, Ethan had taken matters into his
own hands. From his perch on the roof, he went on; he pulled
himself across the shingles and over the peak, then went in through
the window. Outside, the crowd watched as though bewitched. Not a
word was said after Ethan disappeared through the window,
especially not after the flames rose up, a burst of heat circling
into the clotted gray sky. Ethan found the child hiding in her
closet, and it was a lucky thing he'd been so nimble scaling the
roof, for the girl hadn't more than a few minutes left before she
would have begun to suffocate. By the time Ethan carried her out of
the house, half the town was gathered on the lawn below, holding
their breaths, inhaling smoke, blinking the soot from their
no wonder that people in Monroe adore Ethan Ford. Why, even Jorie's
sister, Anne, who on most occasions cannot find a nice word to say
about anyone, is surprisingly well-behaved in his presence. There's
rarely a time when Ethan walks down Front Street and some child he
once coached doesn't lean out a car window in order to shout his
name and wave. The parents are just as pleased to see him; they
honk their horns and switch their headlights on and off in a show
of appreciation. Warren Peck, the bartender at the Safehouse and a
courageous volunteer fireman himself, refuses to let Ethan pay for
his own drinks, and why shouldn't he be grateful? Ethan was the
first on the scene when Warren's nephew Kyle's Chrysler LeBaron
caught on fire in the parking lot of Lantern Lake, with
sweet-tempered Kyle sleeping it off in the front seat, sure to have
been burned alive if not for Ethan's intervention. The senior
center, where Ethan serves Thanksgiving dinner each year before
coming home to celebrate the holiday with his family, still has a
banner up in the rec room: Three Cheers for Ethan. Ethan
himself would have already torn down that banner if the very idea
didn't chill some of the seniors to their bones, for the residents
of the center sleep better with the knowledge that Ethan is
watching over them.
is truly an extraordinary person in many ways, even in the eyes of
his wife. Jorie Ford gazes at her husband the way another woman
might appraise the sunrise, with equal amounts of familiarity and
awe. She had wished their son would resemble Ethan, but Collie Ford
is pale and fine-featured, like his mother, with blond hair and
blue eyes and a sweet, cautious nature. Collie is cool where his
father is hot, easy-going and, at twelve, tall for his age. Still,
he's shy in spite of his parents' love and support; he's prone to
let other boys edge right past him, at school and on the playing
field, even though he has more brains and talent; it makes no
difference that he's bigger and stronger; he's content to remain on
the sidelines. He's an A student happy with Bs, an outfielder who
should be pitching, too good-natured, it sometimes seems, for the
deceptions and the difficulties of those who excel in the
You know what his problem is? Ethan says as they lie in
bed on this morning with the window shades drawn up and the bees in
the garden drifting over blooming roses and phlox. Jorie is eating
a strawberry and it has turned her mouth red. You baby
Oh, please. Jorie laughs. You're just jealous. You
want me to baby you.
That's true. Ethan slides his hand between her legs and
she feels those pangs begin. Baby me, he tells her, so near
that every word burns. Give me what I want.
Jorie thinks of lily of the valley, hyacinths,
star-of-Bethlehem. She thinks of the night they had made Collie, a
starry August evening at Charlotte's family's vacation house at
Squam Lake. Jorie is sure her son was conceived there because a big
white moon rose into the sky, a lantern in all that darkness, and
she had cried when they made love. Afterward, she had stood out on
the porch while Ethan slept and as she searched out the first
summer star, she'd made a wish that things would never change
between them.
have to get going
, Jorie says now, pushing him away. She feels
absolutely derelict to still be in bed at this hour. I'm so
late, Charlotte will kill me
Jorie rises and stands squarely in the sunlight, her long hair
turning from gold to platinum. She has never lived anywhere but
Monroe, nor would she want to, even though this is a town in which
there are more apple trees than there are houses. She had once
believed she could predict exactly how her life would turn out, but
then she met Ethan. There were several local boys who'd been after
her, and she'd imagined that someday she'd give in and marry one of
them. She still feels sheepish when she runs into Rick Moore, who
she dated all through college. But bygones are bygones, and Rick
himself is married now, with two boys of his own, and he teaches
over at the middle school, science and health. Why, Collie will
probably be in his class next year. There are no hard feelings, and
when they meet accidentally, on Front Street or at the annual
Little League barbecue at the end of the season, Rick and Jorie are
always polite; they hug each other and pretend that neither one
remembers the way Rick cried when Jorie broke up with
has drifted by lazily, and Jorie is amazed to see just how late it
is. There won't be much headway on the Starks' construction today;
no plumbing will be installed and no measurements for the new tub
will be taken. By now Mark Derry has grown tired of waiting and has
decided to leave a note for Ethan on the back door. Hey, asshole
--- where the hell were you?
is the message Sophie Stark, aged
twelve, will find tacked up when she gets home from
point of fact, Ethan is getting dressed at the very moment Mark
Derry is pounding his missive into place, using a nail he'd found
in the dirt, used to add iron to the soil and encourage the
hydrangeas to turn a deep indigo. Ethan Ford has never been one to
rush, not even when he's late. He takes his time and knows what he
wants. He believes it's his duty to live his life in the right way,
and he never grouses when emergency calls come in on cold, icy
nights. If he's old-fashioned, so be it. He figures he owes
something to his neighbors. He has never once turned down a friend
when asked for a loan; Mark Derry and Warren Peck both know from
personal experience that when Ethan writes a check he doesn't even
ask what the advance is for. Trying to thank him for all the good
he's done is another matter entirely. He flatly refused a public
ceremony after he'd rescued the McConnell girl, which would have
greatly pleased the mayor, Ed Hill, who's always looking for a
chance to promote his own favorite cause: a third term in office.
Ethan is known for the sort of conviction only a man who's been
blessed can possess. What can he want, when there's nothing he's
lacking? Why should he rush through this life, when he's lucky
enough to have everything that he needs? He runs one hand through
his dark hair now as he gets ready, without bothering to look in
the mirror. He knows who he is, after all. Lucky as a man can be,
that's Ethan. Lucky, through and through.
Outside the window, the last milky petals from Mrs. Gage's
cherry tree are aloft in the air, weaving through the blue light,
settling on rooftops and lawns. Jorie has gone into the kitchen to
fill a thermos with lemonade to ensure that Ethan will have a cool
drink to enjoy later in the day, when the sun is high and the heat
is all but unbearable as he carts old cabinets out of the Howards'
kitchen. Jorie smiles at what is already becoming a memory of how
impulsive they've been today. She is the sort of woman who doesn't
need to tell her most private business, not even to her best
friend. She has never been tempted to admit to Charlotte that she
always thinks of lilies when she and Ethan are in bed. Sometimes,
at the height of their passion, she opens her eyes and is amazed to
find white sheets and walls rather than the vivid fields she's
imagined, brilliant with orange and yellow, as if sunlight itself
had been caught behind her eyes.
Someone once told Jorie that plants you least expected were
members of the lily family, asparagus, for instance, and onions,
both of which she plans to add to her garden, a large patch of
earth in the backyard. Jorie doesn't like to boast, but her garden
is perhaps the best in town, yielding bushels of beans every year,
and fire-red tomatoes, and such generous amounts of blueberries
that Jorie often grants her neighbors free rein to pick as much as
they'd like for jams and jellies and pies.
Jorie is thinking about her garden, how pretty asparagus plants
will be against the fence, how faithful onions are once they take
hold, when she hears someone at the front door. Right away she
thinks something's odd. It must be a stranger come to call, because
everyone knows the Fords always use the kitchen door, which opens
to the driveway and the garden. The postman, Bill Shannon, brings
their mail around the back, and even Kat Willams, Collie's friend
from down the block, knows not use the front entrance.
I'll get it, baby, Ethan says. He's come into the
kitchen, to grab his key ring, stopping only to reach into the
cookie jar for some petty cash he'll use to buy lunch at Hannah's
later in the day. He looks happy as he heads for the hall. Jorie
hears him open the door, and then she hears nothing. The silence is
unnatural. It's as if Jorie has been thrown headfirst into the cold
embrace of the sea and water fills her ears. Rattled, she drops the
coffee cup she was about to refill, but she doesn't hear it break
on the hardwood floor. She just leaves it there, in pieces, and
hurries down the hall. She's moving through water, drowning in
green waves. There are some people who insist that every time one
door closes, another door opens, but this isn't always the case.
There are doors that are meant to stay closed, ones that lead to
rooms filled with serpents, rooms of regret, rooms that will blind
you if you dare to raise your eye to the keyhole in all innocence,
simply to see what's inside.
Jorie takes note of the way he's standing at their own front
door, her husband, Ethan, whom she loves more than anything in this
world. He's so rigid, anyone would think he's been shot. She
glimpses the other men who have gathered on the porch, and as she
recognizes them, local men one and all, she wants time to stop,
then and there. She is reminded of another summer's day, when she
wasn't more than eight years old; it was a hazy afternoon, and
she'd climbed one of the apple trees in the orchard that was then
behind her mother's house, acres of Baldwins and McIntoshes and
delectable Empires, known for their delicate pink blossoms. She
looked up at the sky, mesmerized by the thick, lazy white clouds,
and for a minute she truly believed she could reach up and take all
that she saw into her arms. She had wanted heaven for herself; she
was greedy and hopeful in equal measure, convinced she could have
anything her heart desired, if only she'd grab for it.
she fell, she was reaching out for those clouds, but there was
nothing between herself and the earth save the pale and heedless
air. She broke her leg in two places, and she still remembers the
pure shock of falling to earth, the foul taste of her own blood in
her mouth as she bit through her lip. It was the season when the
orange lilies appear in Monroe, wildly, randomly, in every ditch
and thoroughfare, as it is again now. All these years later, Jorie
still tastes blood when the day lilies bloom, and here, in the
doorway to her own living room, on this fair and glorious day, she
knows why she's never chosen to grow any of those lilies beside her
own door, no matter how beautiful they might be. They only last for
a single day, and then, no matter what a person might do to save
them, they are fated, by God, or circumstance, or nature, to fade
Excerpted from BLUE DIARY © Copyright 2001 by Alice
Hoffman. Reprinted with permission by Berkley Pub Group, an imprint
of Penguin Putnam. All rights reserved.

Blue Diary
by by Alice Hoffman

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade
  • ISBN-10: 0425184943
  • ISBN-13: 9780425184943