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Loom

A Novel

Therese Chehade

Publication Year: 2010

As a blizzard blankets the northeast United States, burying residents and shutting down airports, the Zaydan family eagerly awaits the arrival of Eva, a cousin visiting from Lebanon after a long separation from the family. Over the course of several days, while Eva is stranded in New York City, Chehade’s nuanced story unfolds in the reminiscences and anxieties of each family member.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-

My deepest thanks go to my UMass “babes” group and longtime friends: Justine Dymond, Tamara Grogan, Nicole Nemec, Elizabeth Porto, Kamila Shamsie, and Pamela Thompson. It has been my great fortune to know you. Thank you to Mara Bright, Valerie Brinkmann, Pam Richardson, and Cynthia Waring of the Bear Mountain Writers group for listening to ...

Arabic Terms

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pp. ix-

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1

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pp. 1-2

Eva is coming. Her laughter rings in Emilie’s memory. She remembers the girl’s thick hair falling to her shoulders (although no longer a girl; Eva has been a woman for a long time now), a red headband keeping it away from her face. Her plaid blue and gray school uniform is mostly what she remembers her in, and those droopy navy blue knee socks slipping down ...

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2

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pp. 3-9

Josephine presses her shoulder against the wall, tapping an unlit cigarette against the heel of her hand. Her mother’s words reach her through the haze of the sleepless night she has spent, finally dozing off for what seemed like seconds before being wakened by the ring. Josephine feels the last wisps of sleep dissolve, replaced by a new resolve, something ...

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3

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pp. 10-11

He pushes the shovel down with one foot on the back of the blade and looks at the sky. Snowflakes swirling like moths to the light. Plenty of material for what he has in mind, a mountain of snow lifting from the front side of the driveway it will take him the better part of the day to build. He looks down and grips the handle of the shovel with his right hand and the ...

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4

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pp. 12-16

It must be ninety degrees in here. Mother, no doubt. As if by cranking up the heat she is expelling the cold and something worse besides. I kick away the sheets. Stupidly, I forgot to bum a few extra cigarettes from my aunt before I left her in her room to her daily ritual of Loom gazing. Everyone’s been acting strange—OK, stranger than usual—since my ...

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5

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pp. 17-20

Eva fights with her hand luggage. She looks in the dresser for a pair of scissors to cut through the zipper, and returns to the bed empty-handed. Stupid bag. She should have bought a new one before leaving Beirut. The zipper has been jamming since she purchased it from a store in Jounieh seven years earlier to go on a trip to Italy with a man she ...

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6

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pp. 21-25

I hold in my hand the dried fig my grandmother gave me when I became interested in gardening. “You can try planting the seeds,” she said, “but they only grow in warm weather.” At the time, I was convinced she was silently encouraging me to leave. I wrapped the fig in tissue and put it in a drawer under a heap of socks. Now, I wonder if she wasn’t ...

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7

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pp. 26-30

It is already ten. The mound is about equal to his height. When he climbs up the side to tamp down the uneven spots, he leaves deep footprints he fills in with new snow. In the futility of this task lies his penance, yet he doesn’t work any less diligently than he would if he expected Brendan to give him a sign. There ...

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8

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pp. 31-42

In Emilie’s days, young women cared about their appearance, the preening and primping as much a sign of thoughtfulness as of vanity. Taking the trouble is what it amounted to. Not loafing around in your grunge all day, as if you didn’t owe the world something a little pleasanter to contemplate. The two other figures in the kitchen assail her vision. Her daughter ...

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9

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pp. 43-49

George opens the window to let out the steam, and shuts it quickly when the cold wind storms in through the screen with a volley of sharp ice pellets he receives smack in the chest. He returns to the mirror and wipes the fog off with a towel. Squirting a knoll of shaving foam into the palm of his hand, he spreads it over his lower face and neck. Then he rinses his ...

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10

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pp. 50-54

No sooner am I sitting at the table between my mother and my aunt, the one stringing beans and giving me angry looks and the other sipping her coffee and slouching in her chair, that I regret my decision to come down to the kitchen and get my mother off my back. ”Look who’s finally decided to do us the honor,” my mother said ...

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11

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pp. 55-56

The ring jolts her back to the present. Standing up from a sitting position is an effort now, both hands propping her up, her knees straightening slowly as she pauses, not quite upright, to get her bearings. Josephine beats her to the phone before she’s halfway across the room. Emilie can tell her daughter is straining to sound cheerful. Easy, child, ...

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12

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pp. 57-63

Looking for privacy, Josephine went to the living room to answer the phone, but she had forgotten about her mother who was still sitting on the couch. With her mother there, Josephine spoke quickly, feeling that she was being kept from saying something important. She talked about the weather, which Eva declared simply lovely, her tone anything ...

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13

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pp. 64-65

He smoothes the sides one more time. When he is finished building the igloo, he will carve out an entrance and then start painting it. And the design. He wants something dazzling but has no clear ideas yet. He isn’t worried. Something will come to him. He’s learned this from Myra, the way she threw herself into a project, trusting knife and chisel to bring ...

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14

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pp. 66-74

Eva is full of hope when she hangs up. They might be able to start again where they left off that scorching August day, saying goodbye in the lobby of Beirut International Airport. There were tears and promises to write and visit they would not always keep. Yet despite her sadness, she was relieved to see the last of her family leave. (Her father had died in ...

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15

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pp. 75-77

If he had his way, he’d have a mountain smooth as glass. Emilie sees him from where she is sitting facing the sliding door, nothing but the gray sky and snow dunes around him, so faint now he seems like a dream she has made up. Smooth slippery glass to keep out the intruders. Of course, you don’t know that for sure, she hears Shirin saying. The ...

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16

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pp. 78-80

Sprawled on the ground and making snow angels, I close my eyes against the blowing snow. Above me, a blanket of swirling white. A hulking figure I must seem, seen from up high, stuffed in winter clothing. I lick the snow off my lips. Sandwiched between a good layer of it and, deep beneath me, the damp sleeping earth, whose sluggish pulse I can almost

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17

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pp. 81-83

He circles what he has, taking stock. He lifts his eyes to the top of the mound, and it is like offering his face to sharp needles. The snow is falling aslant now. He drives the blade deep into the heap lying at his feet. What he scoops up to hurl at the mound is wet and heavy, clinging where it falls. ...

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18

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pp. 84-94

It isn’t as if she hasn’t pondered this before and turned it over in her brain so often and so carefully, it has taken shape and emerged before her like a frieze she unfurls and pauses to point at this or that scene. This is where it all started, she would say. And this, right here, is where I wouldn’t allow it to go on. ...

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19

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pp. 95-107

The television beams images from Baghdad. Lying down on the couch, Salma tries to ignore them but can’t, and finally sits up to watch. The camera pans the desert dotted with charred tanks and plumes of black smoke rising in the hazy sky, then jump cuts to a young correspondent who speaks breathlessly while pointing at the rubble behind him. ...

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20

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pp. 108-110

Sometimes he feels heavy as a corpse. Puttering about all day, and at nightfall collapsing like a dead weight who would as soon not wake up the next day to go through it all over again. Calamitous, the way he drifts into sleep. And yet isn’t this what he prepares for all day, flooding himself with activity so he can go out like a light in an exhausted fit ...

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21

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pp. 111-114

Josephine is angrier than she should be. She wishes she were still in the kitchen, stringing beans or slapping seasoning onto the leg of lamb and irritating Salma. Anything to avoid calling as she promised she would. Yet here she is, rehearsing the words she will soon speak, and here is her hand reaching eagerly for the phone. ...

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22

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pp. 115-

The trouble with the war, she thinks, drowning the parsley in a bowl of water, was she couldn’t see her flowers behind the sandbags. Farid was the one who planted the gardenia and the jasmine. After he’d finished patting the earth, he looked up at her. “Think where they’ll be in ten years,” he said, shading his face from the sun. Ten years sure seemed ...

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23

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pp. 116-118

All summer at that beach she had read, and once in a while she had caught Uncle Farid looking at her. And because of his eyes on her, trying to break into, she thought, her secret self, she imagined herself full of wonderful possibilities. She was the Chosen One, the wondrous child who would blossom into her destiny. She wouldn’t have done it if he ...

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24

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pp. 119-123

The bag where she has packed the kafta tugs at Emilie’s wrist. She keeps her head bowed against the wind and looks up once in a while to spot the mound. She took off without a plan. There he was, atop his wall, and because she could see him from her window, the journey, all of it—the wind, the blinding whiteness, the possibility of rejection—had ...

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25

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pp. 124-128

It was mean, downright cruel of her, but Salma couldn’t help it. She had been doing pretty well up until then, keeping her mouth shut and going about her business despite the two blights that, today of all days, stranded as she was in the house, deeply affronted her sense of harmony and purpose: her daughter’s sloth and her mother-in-law’s sloppiness in the ...

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26

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pp. 129-130

Josephine staggers behind George. The gusting wind blinds her and she keeps her eyes on her brother’s red scarf. She grabbed Marie’s ski goggles before leaving the house, but she forgot to bring a scarf and her cheeks sting with the cold. A glance at her watch tells her they have been out a short while and must still be in their front yard, yet she feels as ...

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27

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pp. 131-

In her hotel room in new york, Eva knows something is wrong when no one answers her calls. She has lost count of how many times she’s already phoned her aunt and cousin in the few hours since her landing. She could be using her time better, getting a little sleep to shake off jet lag or whiling away the time at the hotel’s magazine stand and a perfume ...

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28

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pp. 132-134

David recognized her right away. Clad in dark but barely visible, engulfed by whiteness. When she started to walk in circles, he yelled at her to stand still and ran out. In the living room, he helped her take off her coat and put on his bathrobe. He brought warm water in a basin and proceeded to take off her ...

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29

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pp. 135-141

Strange to be here, in Loom’s living room. For what remains after their initial frenzied arrival at his door, their storming in and relief at finding their mother sleeping on the couch, their thorough but quiet (she looked so restful in her sleep) inspection of her body, their effusive expressions of gratitude to Loom for taking her in (at which he looked slightly ...

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30

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pp. 142-144

Emilie knew they would follow her and can’t decide if she’s relieved or irritated. When she had gone off in Beirut, roaming the streets, looking for she didn’t know what, sometimes she had found small pieces of it, things she called Solitude, Peace, Rejuvenation, or simply Exercise, her body then more obliging, her joints well lubricated. She would walk ...

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31

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pp. 145-152

Salma isn’t sure what they are doing in the house of this stranger. There’s the hint of a smell she doesn’t like. Yet it doesn’t look that bad, she thinks, taking a look around, except for the dust on the bookshelves. Not many books on those shelves. In fact there’s very little to get in the way of a good cleaning: a red couch in the middle where Emilie and Marie are now ...

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32

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pp. 153-155

Shame makes George garrulous. A voice in his head tells him their host must think them people of low breeding, incapable of keeping their house in order. And so the words pour out to divert his thoughts. None of the others seem affected by these scruples. His wife looks quite the social butterfly, entertaining their host with a tale whose content he (his ...

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33

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pp. 156-158

Her brother is worried about the bad impression they must be making. People of tact and good upbringing they are, who would never dream of invading a man’s privacy. “It’s totally out of character for her to take off like that,” George underlines within earshot of their neighbor. How astonishing, she thinks, their mother taking off in the middle of a blizzard ...

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34

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pp. 159-160

... she has staked her claim, Emilie is not apologetic. She has gone out of her way to find him. Snuck out like a teenager to bring him food. Trampled a lettuce patch once. And today she has gone in the teeth of the storm and found him. He does not remind her of anyone she knows, with his blue eyes and day-old beard, his half-hearted concessions to ...

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35

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pp. 161-162

Pretty soon the rest of the crowd, with the exception of the young girl, has joined them in the kitchen. What of that! David tells Myra silently. Can’t stretch my hospitality much beyond this point, I’m afraid, my dear. The man, George, is telling him again about his store downtown, and yes, David says wearily, he’s sure he’s been there a couple of times. ...

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36

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pp. 163-166

In the kitchen, Josephine hears the familiar noises of cooking, although the makeup of the cooking team is startling. Her mother and Salma, sleeves pulled, come to an agreement about the fate of the canned vegetables, which would benefit, it is decided, from a thorough sautéing in olive oil and the addition of extra flavorings. Salma shakes the pan and ...

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37

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pp. 167-169

She must tell him. Before they leave and maybe never see each other again, for being neighbors is no guarantee that they will. How kind his gifts. How she could tell the figurines apart with her eyes closed, her finger her guide. How she saw him in her mind’s eye, brows knotted, bent over, his eyes intently watching the shape as it sprung to life between his ...

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38

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pp. 170-176

The sun slanting from the window falls on the counter scrubbed clean. The dishes have been put away, the sheets laundered, and the beds made before their departure. Earlier, he had heard them busying themselves and had stayed in bed, enjoying the noises of a house being put in order. ...

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39

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pp. 177-179

The plane trip from New York to Boston is short enough for Eva to feel as though she has barely left land. She tosses a bag of peanuts in the air and catches it, which seems to annoy the passenger on her left, a middle- aged woman with bleached hair who keeps shifting in her seat and sighing in exasperation. The plane is full of crabby people who, like her, ...

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40

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pp. 180-182

The sky has lifted and the ground sparkles with frost. A few last clouds scurry off. It is a short walk to the house now, with the sun shining and all apprehension dissolved, although it is taking them longer than it should, for they must still lumber through deep snow, and their mother walks slowly, stubbornly refusing to be carried. Behind them ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780815650676
E-ISBN-10: 0815650671
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815609827
Print-ISBN-10: 0815609825

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Mothers and daughters -- Fiction.
  • Immigrants -- United States -- Fiction.
  • Neighbors -- Fiction.
  • Lebanese American women -- Fiction.
  • Lebanese Americans -- Fiction.
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