Cranberry Queen
By Kathleen DeMarco
Published by Talk Miramax Books 
May 2002 (in trade paperback); 0786890371; 264 pages

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The Cranberry Queen by Kathleen DemarcoOne

Today

He -- the Monster -- is now dating someone whose name begins with "L." I think her name is Lola or maybe, possibly Lolita. (Tiptoeing off the tongue. How lovely. Lovely Lola Lolita.) The Monster, everyone says, is much better now. He doesn't drink (I'm not around) and he doesn't smoke (I'm not around) and he doesn't stay out all night and ring "L's" doorbell at four thirty in the morning (drunk and smoky). He's older, wiser, and unwilling to go backward into that great abyss that reads me.

But I'm better now too. (It's taken three years, three months, and five days to recover from "I didn't sleep here last night," which really meant "I didn't sleep at my apartment last night because I picked someone up from a Knicks game with my friend Freddy since, frankly, I didn't want to be with you anymore and couldn't figure out a way to tell you.") But I am a much improved, much more emotionally mature, much more serene person now. (This according to Mom, Dad, therapist Barbara, friends Wiley and Betsy, brother-who's-bored-with-this Ben, boss Darius, and colleagues Peter and Serena.)

I work for (drumroll) that Internet company. I can't tell you much more than this because it would go against Darius's strict confidentiality policies. I could be killed or, worse, sent to obedience school for intransigent dot-com employees who don't understand how everyone in the world is waiting to destroy us.

(Okay. I just checked the manual. I am allowed to say I work in marketing and that I work with very bright and very able young men and women. Our job is to convince the rest of the world that we are, and our company is, the brightest and ablest. Because we are one of the few companies to actually earn a profit, people believe us, making my division seem very effective.)

 

It is a very good company. I have the kind of stock options people dream about, and my 401(k) is bursting with money (or so they tell me). My parents are healthy, my brother is getting married, and my best friend, Wiley, is getting engaged. The astrological planets are all in alignment, courtesy of my Aunt Margaret, who, besides being an astrologer, is a psychic, a chef, and one of those people who can predict any future occurrence in your life, even, say, the day you'll cross a crooked bridge or the night you'll meet the man of your dreams, and you will believe her wholeheartedly, because that's how much you trust her.

According to Aunt Margaret, I'm set to have the best three years of my life.

This is especially fortuitous, because I have the biggest day of my life tomorrow. Tomorrow, I go to a wedding where the Monster will be. With L. And I have summoned up all of my astrological and emotional and physical strength to attend this wedding of my incourteous friends, Maria and Michael, who have invited the Monster, feeling it better to propel me headfirst into Engaging in Life, Part Two, by Getting Rid of the Past. (People do this because they think it is helpful. It's not about you, they say. And it never was, they continue. Frankly, they say, this behavior of yours is not becoming. It is in utter contrast to you, the Cybermarketer of the Tri-State Region. You are a beautiful and smart and successful woman, and you must must must get over this addiction. "It's like heroin!" shrieks Maria. "Lick your wounds and move on!" admonishes Michael.)

Tomorrow, I will embody what it means to be aging gracefully. I will be the Perfect Single Guest. I will be the Katharine Hepburn (at thirty-three, not eighty) of the wedding. I am going alone. And I am not allowing myself one second of self-deprecation. Not one second. Affirmations and visuals. I am Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. I am Bette Davis in All About Eve. I am anyone, anyone at all, but me, Diana Moore, brown of hair, nine of shoe, and wide of thigh.

Tomorrow

I am home. Home home, in Princeton, New Jersey, not New York, New York.

There's been an accident. A truck, a big huge Mack truck the size of a Trump building (but gray, not gold), hiding cases and cases of brown-bottled beer, has made a wrong move on a small road in the southern part of New Jersey, Route 206. Route 206 has only two lanes, which makes no sense in this overpopulated state, but presumably someone in power believes that restricting the road to only two lanes forestalls the advent of a further population explosion.

Presumably these same people have not realized that a two-lane system clogs cars, frustrates drivers, and imperils a family of three (Mom, Dad, Ben) driving to a dinner deep in Southern New Jersey. These same people have not seen any logic to expanding a roadway so that a bleary, sweaty, fleshy man, vodka steaming from his pores, angry at the Range Rover sputtering in front of him, angry that the man with the ponytail driving the Range Rover has a Range Rover, angry at himself for not picking up Willy, his eleven-year-old son, from his mother's today because he went to the bar Fredo's instead, angry angry angry -- so fuck it, fuck it all, he thought, I'm going to fucking pass this fucking asswipe Range Rover asshole, I don't care who's coming down the other side, I don't care if the President and his fucking Secret Service guys are barreling down this shitty road, fuck it all, I have the bigger car, I don't need a Range Rover, I have this, my TRUCK, my beautiful big motherfucking TRUCK, and goddamn it, what was up with the blonde at the bar?

My mother. My father. My brother. The truck driver is fine, scarred on his forehead, repentant (of course), his anger supplanted by dread and nerves. He wishes (while in his sister's Plymouth Horizon, as they drive from the police station later that night) that he were the dead one, because he's sure that the survivors of the family whom he hit are going to sue him for millions, sue the beer distributor for millions, and he might as well shoot himself in the head; fuck it, he wishes he were the one who got hit by someone drunk. He turns to the backseat and sees an empty beer bottle. He sees himself cracking it against his head, the bottle breaking in his hand, brown glass mixing with flesh and dark blood. Later, after he's in his bed, he remembers this straggling beer bottle and wonders why he didn't do just that.

And now I'm at home. Aunt Margaret and a cousin we call Uncle John are there, as are family friends and priests and doctors and people I don't know, bustling around in the kitchen. They leave me alone, which is good, I think, because I don't know what I'm supposed to do. But maybe it is bad. Maybe it is all going to fall apart. I think about yesterday, when I said that today, which was then tomorrow, would be the biggest day of my life. The wedding of Michael and Maria must be occurring right this second. Or maybe seconds ago. They stood and got married. Monster and L were there. Other friends. Parents. Dancing, drinking, and filet and cake and bright flowers against white tablecloths. Mom had called me today before I left, and had said, "You're you. You're a wonderful person, a good person. Come off it, Diana. You're still pretty. You're so pretty. Have patience, Diana. I know it's hard." My eyes had grown wet, and I had looked up toward a light while I replied (embarrassed at my need for self-validation), "I'll be okay."

"Love you, Diana."

"Love you, Mom." Click.

That was going to be the biggest day of my life.

"Diana, sweetheart, the doctor's here. He thinks you should maybe take something, a pill or something; it'll help you sleep."

I stand, smile, no tears yet for me, the heretofore ceaseless crying machine. I take the pills from Doctor Metrovich, our family's doctor since I was a child.

"This'll help, eh, child, this'll help. Here's a couple." He hands over the tablets. I swallow them, no water. He looks at me, a ruddy face, deep wrinkles etched in red skin, black hair slicked back, thick aviator glasses with a brown tint, and kind, very kind dark eyes, all composed in an expression of selfless sympathy.

"You -- you'll . . ." He stops, words failing him, and instead grabs me by the arm with very strong fingers and pulls me close. A hug that I feel, I feel completely. I concentrate on the strength of his fingers, the deep pull of the flesh from his wrist to his elbow, his shirt sleeve, his smell, everything. This is living, I think. This is the touch of the living. Everything I know is now changed. The people are here, they are moving, the air is the same, it is exactly the same, but everything has changed; everything from this moment on has changed irrevocably, and I know that my "recovery" -- if any, and right now that is very doubtful -- my recovery will take mountains of days and months and years; it will take so long that already I feel hopelessness deadening my senses, as if a lumbering giant moving under the earth has shot his massive arm through the ground and has hurled me up up up in the air, me as weightless and flimsy as a piece of silver tinsel, and I am lost forever, and I don't even care.

Copyright 2001 Kathleen DeMarco
Reprinted with permission.

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Synopsis

Diana Moore, a thirty-something professional in New York City, is brooding over her irritating job and rumors about her ex-boyfriend's beautiful new girlfriend when the unimaginable happens and an accident turns her life upside down. Seeking refuge from her well-meaning friends. Diana heads out of the city and ends up in the Pine Barrens, a rural corner of New Jersey. There, far from the city, Diana is suddenly free -- free to take a hard look at her life and to begin to explore avenues of change and renewal in a place where nobody knows her. Cranberry Queen is a bittersweet, moving, and witty novel about healing, about the danger of secrets, and about the perils and wonders of friendship.

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Author

Katleen DeMarcoKathleen DeMarco is a film producer who lives in New York City. She grew up in Southern New Jersey.

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