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The Trouble with Being Born

A Novel

Jeffrey DeShell

Publication Year: 2008

Novel, memoir, and anti-memoir, The Trouble with Being Born depicts the lives of Frances and Joe, husband and wife. Told in their own alternating voices, they recall their lives, separately and together, and the divergent trajectories of their origins and aspirations.
 
Frances's story moves in reverse: beginning with her dementia in old age, her narrative moves backwards into lucidity, through a cruel and loveless marriage, the birth of her son Jeffrey, and into a childhood that she recalls fondly as a time of innocence and belonging.
  
Joe's memories begin in childhood, a bewildered boy struggling with poverty, racism, and isolation, and we watch him grow into a manhood fraught with wrong turns, rage, betrayals, and disappointment, caring in the end for the woman he has long mistreated.
 
The Trouble with Being Born is a stark meditation on memory and the struggle–both necessary and impossible–to remember.
 

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 7-10

I am extremely grateful to the following for their affection and intellectual, artistic and emotional support during the composition of this book: Robert Steiner, Lynne Tillman, Marco Breuer, Ted Pelton, Marcia Douglas, Sidney Goldfarb, Dana Hoey, Karen Jacobs, Sarah Gerstenzang, ...

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Mother

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pp. 11-14

Sunshine…everyone open your books…I did my best… hair…my hair…hands on my head washing…don’t yell…stop yelling…who is this Frances is this your son…ditto cabbage head ditto…mother…we’d better get back…stop it Joe…a pinwheel in the light…cotton candy…

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Father

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pp. 15-18

“Frankie. Frankie. Go down to Summit and get me three shorties from Giarantano’s, wouldja? Here’s a buck. Come back and I’ll give ya a quarter. You and your brother can go to the movies or something.” “Yes sir.” “That’s a good kid. You dress nice. You hurry, maybe I toss in an extree nickel. ...

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Mother

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pp. 19-22

Oh dear. It doesn’t smell very good here. The hospital smelled clean, like Mr. Clean, cotton and medicine, but it smells a little bit like Lakeview’s cafeteria here, and a little like Jeff ’s dirty baby diapers. It looks nice and pretty. I like that shade of lavender on the walls and the shiny linoleum floors. ...

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Father

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pp. 23-26

“Let me look at you.” He’s got a small scratch on his right cheek, but other than that, no black eye or nothing. His shorts have a grass stain near the belt on the right pocket. I brush some dry grass out of his hair. “You go home, wash up at the house before you go in. ...

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Mother

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pp. 27-30

They’ve taken me to a house exactly like our house. I don’t know why. I don’t know what they’re going to do. I’m frightened. This chair is like the chair in our house. The lamp, the carpet, the couch. I can see patterns in the couch. Boys’ faces. And trees. ...

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Father

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pp. 31-34

Damn it’s hot. I can taste the dust in my mouth. What else is new? Me and Babe are skipping school today to see President Roosevelt down at the depot. I’m glad it’s Thursday, so I can wear my ROTC uniform. Saves on clothes, saves on clothes. ...

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Mother

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pp. 35-38

“C’mon Frances, you’re going to be late.” I am not going to be late. I have almost an hour and a half. Joe gets so nervous; you’d think he was going to fly instead of me. I like to fly, although it scares me a little. I like the food. I’m flying to Pennsylvania to see my son Jeff and his wife Lisa. ...

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Father

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pp. 39-42

I’m going out with Donna D’Antonio this afternoon. A double feature at the Chief Theater: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in Party Girl and then Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar. I’ve already seen Little Caesar, but it’s a good picture. This is Rico speaking, Rico, R-I-C-O, Little Caesar, that’s who. ...

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Mother

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pp. 43-47

“I’m going sixty miles an hour and everyone’s passing us like we’re standing still. Go you bastards, go. I don’t know why they had to change the speed limit back to seventy-five. Where’s everyone going? Huh Frances? Where’s everyone got to go? Frances? Answer me!” ...

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Father

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pp. 48-52

It’s always fucking freezing in this crate. I’m glad I’m wearing my monkey suit. It’s bulky but it’s warm. I always forget how cold it gets up here. I would not want to be in the nose or the stinger. Might as well paint a big bull’s-eye on your chest. ...

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Mother

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pp. 53-56

“Turn left, past those two trees. You can park there, over by that old truck.” “It looks pretty deserted, Mom.” “I know. It looked like this when I came out last time. You have to ring that buzzer over there by the gate, and if they’re home, or if they feel like it, they let you in. ...

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Father

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pp. 57-60

What do I say to you? My father. My old man. What do I say to you, lying there helpless, drugged with morphine and ninety pounds from the cancer, sheets yellow from sweat even though it’s December, hands clawing into the mattress? What do I say to you? “How you doing?” ...

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Mother

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pp. 61-65

“Did you hear about Esther Tolson? She died last month.” “No, I didn’t hear.” “She was my cousin, my mother’s brother’s daughter. I don’t know if that makes her a second cousin to you or not. She had cancer. A quick cancer, thankfully.” I don’t remember Esther Tolson. ...

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Father

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pp. 66-69

“Oh God. What time is it baby? Almost two thirty? I missed Contract Law again. Fuck.” This apartment is freezing. She should turn the heat up. I shouldn’t have to ask her, she should know better: a guy could freeze his balls off in here. I know fuel oil’s expensive, but you don’t entertain a man in a goddamn icebox. ...

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Mother

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pp. 70-74

“Corn, corn everywhere. Look at all the corn.” “That’s a lot of corn, Mom. So where are we going exactly? We’re going to see your friend, Nadine somebody, right? And then we’re going to your reunion. And then to your cousin Harry’s, and his wife’s, the one who’s sick. And that’s it, right?” ...

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Father

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pp. 75-79

I feel good tonight. Tommy’s joint’s hopping, look at all the cars. I can hear music from the edge of the parking lot. He must have a live band. Greeley’s from hunger, boring. I feel good in Pueblo, Pueblo’s my home. ...

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Mother

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pp. 80-83

I bought this yellow jacket and skirt outfit new. I hope I look nice. Jay and Ted say that I do. I think yellow is a pretty color for me. I like this jade necklace. Hmm hmm hmm. What is that song? Everybody loves somebody in the springtime? No, no. Hmm hmm hmm hmm. ...

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Father

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pp. 84-87

I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I’ve been married before, I’ve been married before, I don’t want to get married again. I’m going to get trapped, trapped. She’s going to tie me down that woman, she’s going to tie me down. She’s a nice person, she’s just not for me. ...

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Mother

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pp. 88-91

I like it when Jeff is home. I know he doesn’t like to come home for Christmas. Who would with his father acting the way he does? He’s usually quiet and doesn’t talk much when he’s here, but it’s still nice to have him around. I don’t have many people to talk to, and Joe is so crabby this time of year. ...

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Father

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pp. 92-95

Today’s the day, today’s the day. I’m going to be a father. I pray to God it’s a boy, I pray to God it’s a boy. I want to pass on my genes, my legacy, my name. Joe DeShell and son. George DeShell. I’ll change my name back to Fruscella like Babe did. George Fruscella. I’d like you to meet my son the lawyer, George Fruscella. ...

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Mother

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pp. 96-99

Jeff ’s coming home from college for Thanksgiving on Wednesday, so I’ll try to get some extra things to eat. And the turkey. I hope I can find one that’s not too expensive. I’ll make that Stove Top Stuffing. I’m sure I’ll have to spend more than the eighty dollars, and Joe will have a fit, but he’ll just have to have his fit. ...

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Father

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pp. 100-103

Joe DeShell, a.k.a. Frank Fruscella, a.k.a. George Melanchory, is fifty years old today. Fifty years old. Half a century. I’m going to spend a little money for a change, have a couple of drinks, live a little. I got that fifty Jay and Ted gave me, plus that twenty from Chuck. Tommy always has money. ...

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Mother

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pp. 104-107

“Hey Frank, just in time for the chow, huh?” “I’ve been busy, Longie, I’ve been busy.” I turn my head to see my husband. He looks good, in his maroon sport coat, gray slacks, white shirt and blue striped tie. He’s wearing sunglasses and his straw hat, and he’s smiling. ...

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Father

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pp. 108-111

He was driving too fast, too fast. He was a good boy, a good-looking kid, and polite, but they were driving too fast. Showing off for a girl. Damn kids. Ted and Jay shouldn’t have bought him that car, that sports car. Fiberglass. Who makes a car out of fiberglass? ...

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Mother

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pp. 112-115

I like coming to these dinners. Everything’s so colorful, the food is so good, and I enjoy visiting with the old Box Elder ladies. Sometimes I wish Joe would come with us and not drive separately, but it’s probably better this way. He can leave early if he wants to. ...

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Father

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pp. 116-119

“Goddamn kids! Get off my fucking grass!” Day after day they have to play on my lawn. “I should have never moved here Frances, I should have never moved here.” I can’t get any rest. “I never should have married you, Frances, never should have married you. I don’t care; I don’t care who can hear me. ...

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Mother

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pp. 120-123

I’m glad fifth period is over. Fractions are always hard for the kids to understand at first. And little Marty Ruiz, I thought I was going to have to send him to Mr. Potestio’s office, he was being so naughty. His parents are nice people, I think he’s a dentist and she works as a receptionist in his office, but their son sure is wild. ...

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Father

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pp. 124-127

“MERBISC—Most Extraordinary Recreation Bargain in Southern Colorado. We’ve got tennis courts, an Olympic size pool, a spa, a clubhouse, and a golf course—eighteen holes. All brand new. We’ve got two restaurants right now, with more coming in. All twenty miles south of Pueblo on the way to Walsenburg. ...

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Mother

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pp. 128-131

Oh dear. It’s six-thirty already. It seems like I only went to sleep an hour ago. Joe’s pacing kept waking me up. He paces all night sometimes. He’s so nervous, he makes me nervous. I’m sleepy. ...

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Father

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pp. 132-135

“Look at this room. Look at this room. God, how can you live like this? You live like a pig.” “I came from a motherless home, a motherless home, and I picked up after myself. We all did. We never lived like this.” “That’s right, that’s right. We all picked up after ourselves. ...

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Mother

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pp. 136-140

Joe’s already left. He doesn’t like fireworks because they remind him of the war. That’s what he said. Babe was in the war and he loves fireworks. Joe just doesn’t like children. Or maybe he has somewhere else to go. I don’t mind. He can go you-know-where for all I care. ...

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Father

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pp. 141-144

I don’t want to go to the office today and see that bastard Giadone Jr. give me the eye. When are you going to close a deal Frank? Look at the board. He won’t say nothing to my face, but I can tell what’s he thinking, that spineless bastard. ...

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Mother

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pp. 145-147

I feel his heartbeat next to me and I feel so important. So unimportant too. Look at his little eyes, his tiny little mouth. And his hands, those darling little fingers. Now I know what Ma went through. I wish she could be here to see this. He’s nuzzling me, looking for my breast. ...

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Father

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pp. 148-151

I’m sitting at this bar. It looks like Gus’ or Veteran’s Tavern, but classy. I’m having a beer, and this nice-looking lady walks up to me and asks if I have a cigarette. She’s beautiful, with long blond hair and big dark eyes, a real figa. I feel hard immediately. ...

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Mother

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pp. 152-155

I hope this is the right thing to do. It feels like the right thing. I’m not getting any younger, and Joe makes me laugh. I guess I love him. I like his tanned skin and dark curly hair, and the way he holds me and kisses me. I wonder where he is now. He said he was going to a movie, but I haven’t heard him come back yet. ...

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Father

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pp. 156-159

There they are, there they are. Look at them, all dressed up in their Indian costumes and Mexican hats. Show-offs. Beat that drum, beat that drum you sons of bitches. We’ve got our own orchestra, a small marching band. Columbus was a Killer. We Won’t Celebrate Genocide. ...

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Mother

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pp. 160-163

“Well come on in, come on in. You must be Frances.” “And you must be John.” “That’s right. You can call me Babe. This is my wife, Virginia. Let me take your coat, Frances. How you doing, Frank?” “Call me Joe, call me Joe.” Babe’s handsome like Joe, only taller. His forehead is a little broader. ...

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Father

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pp. 164-167

“C’mon Frances, get ready. Do you know where I’m taking you? I don’t know if they’ll let me come in the booth with you, but I’ll be right there. C’mon.” I wish there was something someone could do to stop this. She’s really going downhill, she’s going downhill fast. “We got to get your coat on.” ...

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Mother

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pp. 168-171

It’s a couple of school days before Spring vacation. My cousin Florence will arrive on Saturday, and we’re going to take the train to San Francisco on Monday. This will probably be our last trip together, as she’s getting married in June. I suppose I should be more excited about our trip. ...

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Father

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pp. 172-176

Dear Frances, I hope you have a nice birthday. I think of you and remember the good times we had teaching at…what was the name of that school? It wasn’t Beulah Heights, Christ, that was her last school, I used to pick her up every day there, Lakeview, that’s it, at Lakeview. Love, no, not love. ...

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Mother

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pp. 177-180

It’s quiet here now but the students were really wild today. Donald Johnson called Vernon Sample a nasty name during reading, and then Rosa Martinez said Lillian McPherson spilled finger-paint on her new dress on purpose, and then Lillian McPherson called Rosa Martinez a dirty lying Mexican. ...

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Father

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pp. 181-184

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas. Jeff should have stayed longer. With his wife and those goddamn dogs. They can’t wait to go back to Boulder. Ah hell. This is a nice bottle of whisky. Jim Beam, that’s a good brand. I wonder how much he paid for it. He’s always splashing his money around. ...

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Mother

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pp. 185-188

I’m pleased my trunk came today. I was getting tired of wearing the same things: my yellow blouse and skirt, my light blue dress, my nice lilac pattern dress, my orange and crème colored blouse, not to mention having to rely either on my brown-toed pumps or my new white half-heels with those straps that cut into my feet. ...

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Father

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pp. 189-192

Where am I? Where am I? I’m still in Saint Mary Corwin. Oh Mary mother of God. I don’t feel well. My head’s killing me, and my back, oh my back. How stupid that was. How stupid. Let me sit up. Oh God. I got this needle in my arm. What’s that for? ...

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Mother

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pp. 193-196

“Look Frances, look at all the cars and trucks. Looks like the entire county’s here. There’s Albert and Ruby’s old Ford Model A, and Uncle Chauncy’s flatbed. There’s Josiah’s new yellow Nash.” “That’s a Standard Six. Not a bad car.” “I wonder where he got the money for it.” ...

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Father

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pp. 197-201

“C’mon Lowell, we’re going to see the kittens. Hurry up. You’re slower than molasses in January.” “You just say that cause Ma says it.” “Hurry up.” “Do you think Ma will let us get one?” “Not if they’re all gone by the time we get there.” “I want a white one, or a gray one with a white tail.” ...

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Mother

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pp. 202-205

“C’mon Lowell, we’re going to see the kittens. Hurry up. You’re slower than molasses in January.” “You just say that cause Ma says it.” “Hurry up.” “Do you think Ma will let us get one?” “Not if they’re all gone by the time we get there.” “I want a white one, or a gray one with a white tail.” ...

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Father

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pp. 206-209

God I’m tired. I need some sleep. I’ll turn the air conditioner down and brush my teeth. Three thousand dollars on that air conditioner. Works good. I spent close to fifteen thousand on the house, fixing it up. New carpet, new furniture, new windows, new furnace. Why not? ...


E-ISBN-13: 9781573668101
E-ISBN-10: 1573668109
Print-ISBN-13: 9781573661416
Print-ISBN-10: 1573661414

Page Count: 209
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Marriage -- Fiction.
  • Domestic fiction.
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