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About the author:
Ethan Bailey is from Alabama. Tomorrow is his first and only novel.
What inspired you to write your book?
I was sitting beside a pool near my home in Alabama and was writing in a notebook and these characters became suddenly very clear to me. I fell in love with them and decided to follow them around their lives together and recording it. Then I left the book alone for a few years, tried to publish it but it’s small and quiet and it seemed most publishers I talked to wanted explosions and vampires. Finally I’ve gotten out.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Jazz met them at the door, Miles Davis, in the cotton soft conversations of the newly arrived. Martin placed his chin on Sarah’s shoulder and watched the imperturbable bartender fix cocktails. The guests were scattered among the house as though large hands had shaken it like a box of matches. Laughter soared across the living room from the corner past the fireplace where two women stood with one man, all with drinks and backward head rolls to each response. Two men were comfortable with one another at the island in the kitchen, looming over trays of chocolates and lightly brushing together their elbows. Evelyn was nowhere to be seen and Kurt Armantrout had resigned to standing like a statue and nodding at the women as they passed to and from the kitchen. His child’s eyes were illuminated and reaching. Sarah whispered to Martin that the attorney made curiosity seem like delight, and delight almost devilish.
They tried a small plate of chicken cordon bleu, and there were lamb chops sliced neatly from racks, some unidentifiable spiced meat that tasted like veal but didn’t look it, and a bit of dill green bean salad and they both ended up moving to wine by the time the eating and the testing and the conversations with the caterers had diminished to full stomachs and another drink, this time handed to them with more enthusiasm once Martin noticed the slender tip vase and added a folded bill. The less sweltering night had begun to seep inside the house, with just one terrace door still open. Evelyn reappeared as Sarah and Martin made their way with feigned reluctance to the chocolates where, as it turned, the two men from earlier still stood, but alternately nearer the champagne offerings at the farther end of the island. Martin recognized one of them.
“I was hoping to see you here, Martin.”
“Hi, Jacob. I wasn’t sure that was you when we first came in.”
“I’ve been half-hiding with little shame behind the desserts. My dining habits have somehow turned retrograde. Hello, Sarah.” He kissed and then shook her hand with both of his. His cheeks were a healthful ruddy from what seemed an earned daze.
“You remember Peter, don’t you?” Martin asked her.
“Of course, from the conference last year.”
Evelyn and a trailing woman pardoned themselves between the conversing couples and passed along to the dining room where the follower audibly admired the ceiling and the lights as Ms. Carradine’s arm flittered in the air as though she were tracing a rainbow.
“We’ve found the highest traffic,” Jacob joked, displaying the champagne counter with a khaki suit sleeve and a hand with a champagne flute.
“We’ll eventually claim the room.” Sarah winked. Peter touched her elbow and seemed full as well.
“Martin,” Jacob interjected. “I had a student ask if I knew where you live, just last week.”
“Is that right?” Martin smiled, brushing his stomach with his fingers. Sarah locked hers over his and sipped.
“He was hoping for a letter of recommendation for Brown. Outside the academy, at least. One with heft. Had an entire portfolio to bring you that he showed me in class. Even a rehearsed speech about the MFA. He was completely sincere, which is refreshing.”
“Will he bribe?” Martin winked and the gentlemen laughed.
“You’ve met him, I think. I know you’ve seen him. He was also at the conference,” Peter joined. “The dark-haired boy that read before Michelle Carr.”
“Oh, yes! Bright kid. You remember him, Sarah.”
“Of course I do. He was adorable. Scared out of his mind.”
“Jacob, you have my information?”
“I still do.”
Sarah saw through her glass that they were holding hands. She smiled and studied their reddened champagne cheeks.
“Take his things and mail them to me. Or we can meet you over the bay some time in the next few days. I’m sure we’ll come to Mobile for something. Either way, I’ll give his work a careful look.”
“You’re a saint, Martin. He’ll be thrilled.”
“I remember he’s talented. A good kid, too. He was right to be a little terrified.”
“Have you tried the chocolates?” Peter leaned in, determinedly saying his question. His glasses slipped down his nose as he sipped champagne.
“I haven’t. But Sarah says we can’t leave until we’ve eaten our weight.” Martin angled toward her with a sly grin and she pretended to punish him with apathy before accepting the chocolate he’d bitten in half. Peter laughed a bit excitedly and snorted, and then they all laughed and toasted. The jazz was turned up to a distinct Charlie Parker. Evelyn had managed to lose her companion and joined them until her wine glass had run dry.
“Boys, I’m taking these innocents to the bar for further corruption. And remember the champagne won’t drink itself.”
She took them by both elbows, imagined the wild bear-sized glow of the fireplace in winter, smiled toward the group in the corner and ran her fingers horizontally across the upper back of Dr. Hemmel as he stooped near them to adjust his black slip-on.
“Aren’t they adorable? They said it’s fourteen years, this November. Hello, Marcus. Everything all right?”
The bartender smiled and smiled affirmatively and poured them fresh glasses after struggling with the cork of a new bottle. Evelyn thanked him with a nod and a close of her lips as though the gratitude had lost its momentum once at the back of her throat. She offered a toast to the Hamiltons, one of confusion between playing host or human.
“They’re sadly both dances. But, have you seen Hemmel’s wife? I know it may seem boorish and inappropriate but…Ok, there we are, Sarah. What do you think of boorish?”
Evelyn tilted her head back to study Sarah.
“Boorish is good.”
Evelyn winked at Martin and he grinned.
“It may seem inappropriate to speak poorly of someone at one’s own party, who knows? Or maybe it’s the only right time, but if she hasn’t simply ballooned…Oh, Hell does exist. Armantrout is letting in the neighborhood dogs.”
They laughed and Sarah snuck a glance at Dr. Hemmel’s wife. She was no closer to overweight as Evelyn Carradine was to living on the skids. The Hamiltons stood at the foot of the stairs for a short while before noticing they were in fact at the foot. Looking around briefly, they decided on a climb to roam the higher halls.
The majority of the bedrooms were upstairs along the house’s edge which stretched east to west, and most of the rooms overlooked the pool, the terrace, the eighth and ninth holes of the golf course. The Hamiltons stood at a wide window near the edge of a bed Evelyn had purchased years before, the only other one like it in the world having been donated to The Met. She never slept in it but spoke often of it and its craftsmanship. Outside were several new couples on the terrace, speaking with their hands. Ms. Carradine’s bedroom door was closed and older pictures of Robert still hung on the long hallway walls. A portrait of her leaned against a wall in the upstairs library at the end of the hall, waiting to be dusted or set on a nail or, who could know with her, thrown into fire.
Martin kissed the back of Sarah’s neck. Sarah reached an arm behind her to his cheek and stared out over the downward slope of the golf course, finding easily the city lights above the fogless bay. She turned to smile at him and she felt a quiet, familiar youthfulness. The sound of an explosion rose from downstairs. They went to the stairs, nodded to another couple that had made their way to the second floor to study the paintings in the art room across from a thin door that led to a tremendous, unused bathroom. The noise had been a champagne bottle bursting with its typical fervor and the Hamiltons laughed at themselves and joined the party.
The small happy trio in the corner still stood with their backs to the fireplace. It was discernible that the man was with the dry-haired blonde, older than he, other than the woman who stood tight and boisterous in front of them in a loose assumption of stage presence. Theirs was an uninteresting laughter, not by content of the joke which was inaudible, but by sound. The lone woman was in center of the pandemonium, a short and frightened-looking woman with dyed jet-black hair in a maroon, glossy, thick-shouldered dress. She smiled with unconvincingly original teeth and sipped her drink with wide, peering eyes. Martin joined them as Sarah pulled away from him in silent protest against his decision to mingle and retrieved fresh drinks for them both. It was somehow warmer near the unlit fire.
“Martin, you surely won’t remember me, but…”
“It’s nice to see you again,” Martin said ironically, remembering one of the previous year’s Christmas parties held at the country club at which the Hamiltons were guests but not members, how Nell had overindulged with rum drinks so that her driver had unfrozen himself from a friendly posture in the background and suggested the bartender stop serving her. Her laughter explained her haplessness.
“You look so handsome. And I don’t remember your being this tall.” She stroked the sleeve of his jacket. Sarah returned with the drinks. Nell smiled with defeated eyes that still watched in curiosity over the rim of her rocks glass. “Have you met the Kelseys?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“Hi,” the man said, extending a hand and introducing himself as Brian. The Hamiltons introduced themselves to Brian and his wife, Hayden, who introduced herself. The jazz came from a player behind them and it was soft beneath their conversation, but less clear over the frenetic rejoinders, cackles, interruptions from Nell Moore.
“We’re nouveaux riche,” the couple explained with mutual nods.
“That’s certainly interesting,” Martin replied. Sarah’s hand tightly saddled to the back strap of his belt. She pressed a knuckle into his lower back.
“Chandeliers,” Nell added.
“You sell chandeliers?” Sarah asked them, turning both her and her husband to face the Kelseys, the player and a large mural painting behind them.
“We have a warehouse that manufactures them. Made with jewels. They’re nice. Real, real nice. But they’re expensive.”
“See? They don’t care if you call them newly rich,” Nell supplied.
“We don’t.” They nodded again.
“You don’t,” Martin said, and Sarah exhaled a laugh with her amused smile, no one catching on but Martin who remained solid and unfazed by himself.
“We have an amazing catalog Brian can show you if he’d go to the car,” Hayden offered.
“Maybe later,” Brian said, shaking the ice around his glass, straining to see down to the bottom as though something existed beneath the cubes. He closed one eye, opened it, repeated with the other eye and then surrendered.
“Maybe later,” Sarah said.
“Huh?” Brian asked.
“Ooh, my poor cocktail. I’ll be right back.” Nell lingered a bit to study the faces of the young couple to her right, latched to each other in an unmistakably purposive union and then she looked at her friends, her nouveaux friends of hanging light. She shook her glass and head simultaneously as though she had told them something they, as a whole, had refused to believe, and then she walked toward the bar.
“And what do you two do?” Hayden asked, looking over Sarah’s shoulder with a hint of aggression. Her face, then, took on quite clearly the age difference between herself and Brian.
“I write books.”
“Really?” Brian looked at Martin, beginning at his face and then tracing down to his shoes and back. “Anything we might have heard of?”
“There are only three.”
“He’s working on a new novel,” Sarah explained.
“What are they called?” Brian asked.
“Titled,” Hayden whispered to him, her eyes observing Martin.
“The first published is An Afternoon of Architects, and…”
“I haven’t heard of that one.”
“Brian doesn’t read much.”
“Maybe later, then,” Martin said.
“Maybe later,” Sarah nodded and took a deep sip, her cheeks puffing from the size of it. Martin smiled. A hand, not Sarah’s, ran across his back.
“Hayden, did I tell you two that Martin is a writer?”
“He just did. Isn’t that the neatest thing?”
“I just told them.”
“Don’t you think it’s amazing?” Nell had returned with a saunter, a light dance in her step as she circled toward the Kelseys.
“We just told him we thought so.”
“They said so,” Martin confirmed. Sarah was smiling and out of wine. She took Martin’s half-full glass away with her.
“She’s adorable, Martin,” Nell whispered. “And she loves you. You can tell. Can’t you both tell?” Nell asked. The Kelseys nodded and smiled.
Nell Moore, of Nell Moore and Associates, was a well-known real estate agent in Mobile, also a client of Kurt Armantrout’s, and she was the recipient of a large quantity of money received from her divorce with her first and only husband, Lloyd Anderson. She changed back to her maiden name almost as the papers were signed. Nell was an intimidating woman by design. Her body seemed to loom taller than the stocky short frame she possessed, she swaggered and mocked with body language, and she often followed up her own comments with eye contact that forced unassuming, weak-willed people into worlds of admission they thought they’d tucked away and hidden from themselves. It was an ignorance of herself that bore her effectiveness and so she became rich. And a continued drunk. Martin hadn’t developed an opinion of her beyond that of a solid character for his future writing, someone he’d name something modern with connotations of “obese” and “unreasonable,” but simple, too, and substandard and hopefully a name fit for someone just as positively grand. Sarah almost feared her presence, the way her eyebrows broke over her eyes, studious eyes one would think could look through a person if one didn’t know already that Nell was, in fact, equally as preyed upon by the people she considered her inferiors. She talked through her rum about things she’d not accomplished, things she used to be, and in her eyes had long settled the pangs of guilt from inadequacy clouded over by the drinks and an endless, well-rehearsed history of forgetting. If she were intelligent enough, she’d have simply become a fully actualized melancholic and moved on.
“How is work, Nell?”
“I was just telling Brian and Hayden that we’ve finally moved everyone over to the Dauphin Street office.”
“Sure that’s a relief,” Martin genuinely responded. Brian smiled at him. Sarah returned, handed Martin a drink and took cash from his pants pocket for the bartender and made her way back through the guests who had assumed positions in the living room on the large, beautiful, uncomfortable furniture.
“It is.” Nell nodded at the floor and then shrugged. “A lot more space and a lot less fuss. I don’t know how I do it.”
“We’ve been busy, too.” Hayden leaned across Brian, led by her drink. “Just look at these shoes.” No one looked down. She focused on Martin. “Ok, so how does being busy work for a writer?”
“It’s variable. Some days I’m at the desk just staring on and nothing’s done. I’m busiest once I’m away from it for a while. But I try to sit every day.”
“That’s a lot like us,” Hayden said, pointing to herself and then Brian. “The more time away we give ourselves, the more money we seem to make.”
“Not remotely similar, I wouldn’t guess, but…”
“Sounds like I’d go crazy,” Nell inserted. “Sorry, but I can’t imagine just sitting around all day trying to think.”
Sarah had returned in time to smile at Hayden but say nothing, holding her glass to her nose and studying instead the imported wooden cabinet behind Nell. Brian looked past Martin toward the kitchen. Martin checked his bare wrist for the time. Nell sipped through a tiny straw she sought with her mouth as she scanned the room. Evelyn’s voice sailed from behind them and they turned.
The small crowd lifted their drinks. The music had changed on the player to a collection of early Coltrane. Sarah grinned at Martin and his eyebrows rose.
“What? Yes, Mrs. Kelsey. I was asking you all. Now, I’m going to try to steal these two again.”
Evelyn pulled at the Hamiltons’ shoulders. They saluted the threesome with a nod toward the small corner near the fireplace, where the temperature since had grown considerably mild.
“Wretched people,” Evelyn whispered. “I am so sorry, darlings.”
They followed her toward the sitting room past the kitchen after pausing with her at the bar, her glass long dry.
“I felt inclined to rescue you,” Evelyn began, once in the quiet of the sitting room. “And preemptively, I hope, from that repugnant woman, Gloria Vale? Have you been victimized yet? Do you remember her? Earlier she was gossiping about Harriet Marsh, how her husband died last month, its ostensible cause, and then on and on, it’s all bound to happen to us, sooner or later, woe be we the doomed, etc. She at some point must have caught an evil eye because she turned awkward and quiet rather quickly. Apologetic even.”
“Harriet’s husband died?” Sarah asked.
“Last month some time. It was a very private arrangement, and I don’t care to think what had to have been so private. They were lovely together. That should matter enough.”
“It was unfortunate. But what is terrible…” Evelyn continued. “…is that Vale was trying to uncover if not create outright some hidden truth. As though she can’t live without scandal. Some sort of pain. A crime scene at very least. What a useless, uninventive woman she’s proven to be.”
“How so?” Sarah asked.
Evelyn studied her a moment. “You may know this already about stupid people, but for others it takes a lifetime if they even learn it at all. It’s quite simple—the fool cannot imagine nothing extraordinary has happened.”
“Did she seem apologetic because of Robert?” Martin asked, sitting beside his wife, who had followed the hostess’s lead and sat on half a set of antique couches across from them. Conversations in the kitchen swelled and dissipated.
“What? Yes, she was worried it would upset me.”
“By reminding you of it?”
“Exactly that, but it isn’t that I’m bothered by a reminder. Nothing like that at all. I simply prefer to avoid being around those who are so worried about not reminding me that they grow nervous to where I notice their expression and feel as though I need to be on guard against remembering, since it might make the person more nervous than before, and then we’ll have an awkward moment that I won’t feel the need to apologize my way out of. Am I making sense? Because truthfully, I’d rather someone bluntly say ‘Evelyn, a shame your husband died’, or not even that it was a shame, if they detested the fussy old bastard. How about ‘Evelyn, so Bob’s in the dirt’ rather than see them cower into their glasses whenever the mention of death occurs? Or husband. Or both. See? I’ve been reminded and I’m perfectly fine. Cocktail?”
“I’m in the fog. Sarah’s kept these drinks full since I dragged her into the conversation out there.” Sarah slapped his knee. Evelyn rolled her eyes.
“Of course. Nell Moore. Such a landfill. You’ve heard how she got her money.”
“From her husband? She left Mobile young to live with him in Montgomery. He owned a handful of bars and one restaurant, which was incredibly busy. Location, I think. But then he got into cocaine. Yes, Sarah. And there is nothing sadder than someone with an expensive addiction in a boring city.”
An older man stuck his head into the room, looked both ways, waved at them and closed the doors behind him. Evelyn craned her neck with importance, tried looking concerned for a brief moment before giving up.
“So she divorced him and took most of his money and moved home. Their son put in just a year of college and I think he works for her now. Obese, socially inept and spoiled boy. But I suppose it’s a woman’s right to ruin her offspring if she can afford the best doctors.”
“She seemed fairly confident,” Martin said.
“You’re being kind.” Evelyn winked. They all touched glasses and she exhaled. “Oh, I don’t know why I keep doing this. This. I used to think it was a great comfort to be in the presence of such terrific liars. And by the way, don’t dare be fooled by the Kelsey couple. As vile as Nell Moore herself. That young man is a pervert and the cradle-robber is an absolute voyeur.”
“Honestly, Evelyn.” Sarah sat forward.
“Quite serious, darling. The only way she can fulfill her desires is to give in to his. I’m saying that if she wants to watch anything, she has to submit to his bringing home another man.”
“Odd coupling, then, choosing marriage, one would think,” Martin said. “Or maybe that’s how they’re a right fit. It’s possible.”
“I guess it is,” Sarah said, smiling with a shake of her head.
“Nouveaux riche. What horses’ asses,” Evelyn said, shifting in her chair. “I’m so glad at least you both came. Some lovelier souls to help keep the paint from peeling. Or the haunted walls from falling.”
“Why wouldn’t we come?”
“I know how much Martin works. And you’re just days back in town.” She pointed at Sarah as though she would reach for her nose had the distance been conveniently more passable. “Oh, look at your pathetic glasses. Unattended and drained. Let’s correct that. Besides, someone’s tampering with the player.” Evelyn clutched Sarah’s hand and the couple stood. “It’s likely Kurt. He doesn’t drink nearly enough for me to consider him a real lawyer.” She winked at them, sighed and opened the doors that led back through the kitchen.
As they filled new glasses at the champagne counter, Evelyn nodded an insult in the direction of Dr. Hemmel’s wife and raised her eyebrows at Sarah before disappearing once again into louder rooms.