The mother-daughter relationship in What Comes After Crazy is hilarious and heartbreaking. Who's your favorite fictional mom? Tell us in the comments!
The fact is, I’m in the process of panicking in front of Dan Briggs. We’re sitting in my living room late on Sunday night, and although I met him only a month ago and nothing has been said outright, the air has a sudden crackle to it that even I know means it’s time we decided whether we’ll sleep together. We’ve kissed three times—although not yet tonight—and he’s called me on the phone five times, and we’ve gone for two walks that turned romantic. That adds up to one overdue sexual encounter by today’s rules, I believe.
Here’s the thing: theoretically I would love to sleep with him, but I can’t remember how you get started. It’s now been so long since I’ve been with a guy and had sex as a possibility—I am still technically married, after all—that I can’t for the life of me remember how it is that two people can go from having a conversation to passionately kissing. What is the signal that gets sent? And how in the world do the clothes come off? If only I could press the “pause” button on this relationship and call a few friends. What I need to know for starters is this: since it’s my house, do I have to make the first move? Or shouldn’t he, as the male of the species, simply ease me down onto the floor and start in with some heavy petting? And . . . well, is it possible to have sex without the other person seeing you naked?
Worse, we’ve somehow stumbled into an endless loop of a conversation about the benefits of whole wheat flour versus white flour, and I don’t see how we’ll ever get out of it. Dan, you see, is a naturopathic physician who’s just moved to town to open a practice, and I’m a baker in a health food store. Or more truthfully, I simply pass as one. I’m actually the last person you’d think would be concerned about all that tofu and granola stuff. Really, I just follow a bunch of somebody else’s recipes: carob brownies, nondairy tofu cupcakes, carrot-soy bread. I don’t even own any whole wheat flour.
But then, just as I’ve resigned myself to a whole evening’s two-person seminar on wheat bran, Dan suddenly shifts gears. He reaches over and takes my hand. “Tell me,” he says gently, “when you named your daughter Hope, what was it you were hoping for, do you think?” He says, “Do you remember exactly?”
I take a jagged breath, and that is when the phone chooses to ring.
It’s my mother.
“Baby!” she yells into the phone. “I’ve got the most amazin’ news!” Not: How are you? Not: What’s going on in your life? Not: Is this a good time to talk? She has never asked any of those questions, as far as I can remember. She is Madame Lucille, the fortune-teller, which gives her license to call people at the most annoying times possible.
“Actually, Lucille, I’m just the tiniest bit busy—” I begin. I look at Dan’s beige sweater with little nubbly things all over it, and he smiles at me and sprawls out on the rug next to me. He has this shaggy, pleasing brown hair that keeps falling into his brown eyes, and he’s long and lean and handsome in that vulnerable, nontraditional, nonmale model kind of way. Good lines to his face. Crinkly eyes. What I like best about him, though, is a contradiction I’ve noticed: even though he seems completely put together and way more sane than most people I know, his socks do not match. One is dark blue and one is brown. I love that.
“So,” I say to Lucille, looking yet again at the socks and taking a shaky breath. “Busy. Let’s talk tomorrow.”
“The answer is yes,” she says. “Sleep with him. Definitely.”
“What?” She is always doing stuff like this, showing off.
“You heard me. Do it. Whoever he is. Sleep with him.” She starts clicking her lighter and laughs her wild, cackly laugh. “Oh, never mind. You never take my advice anyway. Listen, darlin’, here’s why I called. You won’t believe this, but I’m bitin’ the bullet and gettin’ married again.”
“What?” I say.
“I’m gettin’ married!” she shouts. “Mar-ried! Me! Can you believe it?”
Actually, yes. I can. She gets married all the damn time. But you see, this is exactly what I do not want to get into with her. I put my head down. Dan Briggs is so nice and normal, and I’m practically certain he doesn’t know how screwed up lives can get. Do I really have to let him in on everything weird and dodgy about me all at once? It’s bad enough that I’ve already had to explain about Lenny, who left me to go to Santa Fe a year ago saying he was off to earn money for a few months but then never returned—and also about our two high-strung daughters who are barely coping with being left behind. Dan had been more than understanding of all this technically-married-and-have-kids stuff while I was explaining it to him, but—you know how it is. He had that kind of overly sympathetic, textbook way that some people have. Probably there was a chapter in his naturopathy school about the psychological ramifications of divorce on people’s immune systems or something.
But—God!—now to have to explain about my crazy mother and her fortune-telling and her life of serial marriages—it’s too much. I frown, turn my body slightly away from him, and cup my hand around the receiver, as if that would be enough barrier to keep her words from leaping out of the telephone and landing on him. I’m almost sure he’s heard her ordering me to sleep with him. Still, he politely takes the hint and gets up, unfolds himself, and heads to the bathroom. He touches my shoulder lightly as he passes—my nerve endings go zzzzzt—and I turn and smile at him. I mouth, “Mother” to him, and he pantomimes back, “What-are-you-gonna-do.”
God, he has no idea.
Excerpted from What Comes After Crazy by Sandi Kahn Shelton. Copyright © 2005 by Sandi Kahn Shelton. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Congrats to Rose P., Julie P., MaryBeth D., Jen R., Lisa P., and 20 other members of the Read It Forward community! Their entries were selected at random to win a paperback copy of What Comes After Crazy by Sandi Kahn Shelton.
Make sure you’re subscribed at the top of this page. You’ll get an exclusive email from us every week with info on how to enter our members-only Read It First giveaways.
About the Author
SANDI KAHN SHELTON is the author of the novels What Comes After Crazy and A Piece of Normal and three nonfiction books on parenting. A feature writer for the New Haven Register, she is also a frequent contributor to Working Mother, Family Circle, Woman’s Day, and Redbook. Visit her online on SandiShelton.com.