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Authors: Nancy Thayer

Stepping

BOOK: Stepping
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Stepping
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

2014 Ballantine Books eBook Edition

Copyright © 1979, 1980 by Nancy Thayer

Excerpt from
Nantucket Sisters
copyright © 2014 by Nancy Thayer

Author photograph: copyright © Jessica Hills Photography

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

BALLANTINE and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Doubleday, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC in 1980. A portion of this work appeared in the September 1979 issue of
Redbook
.

eBook ISBN 978-0-553-39099-5

Cover design: Eileen Carey

Cover Image: © Shawna Lemay/Flickr Open/Getty Images

This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
Nantucket Sisters
by Nancy Thayer. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.

www.ballantinebooks.com

v3.1

Contents

Cover
Title Page
Copyright
An Introduction from the Author
Epigraph
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Dedication
Other Books by This Author
About the Author
Excerpt from
Nantucket Sisters

An Introduction from the Author

My first novel,
Stepping
, is about being a new mother and stepmother, as I was when I wrote the book. It captures the love, confusion, pain, and gradual understanding of the family life I experienced as a young woman. Published in 1980, this novel met with a warm and generous reception from readers going through the same sorts of trials and errors, misery and bliss. Before I wrote
Stepping
, several short stories of mine were published in various literary journals, but with
Stepping
I realized I had found my true voice and subject. Family life, in all its complicated varieties, has always fascinated me, and each book I write is meaningful and personal.

I’m delighted that my early novels are now being made available to readers as eBooks. As the world has grown faster, my style has changed slightly, but familial relationships remain as mysterious and intriguing to me as they were in these early books. On the whole, the challenges we face stay the same: falling in love, raising children, friendships, betrayals, and forgiveness.

Looking back at all my books, I note another commonality: most are set near water. From an island in Finland to Vancouver, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Milwaukee on Lake Michigan, and finally to my beloved Nantucket, I’ve found the immense blue inspirational. And of course the storms and sunny beachside days provide gorgeous settings and dramatic metaphors in my storytelling.

I hope you enjoy my early novels and discover some new friends there.

Nancy Thayer

step
n. 1.a. The single complete movement of raising one foot and putting it down in another spot in the act of walking, running, or dancing … c. The rhythm or pace of another or others, as in a march or dance:
keep step
.
2.a. The distance traversed by moving one foot ahead of the other … 4.a. One of a series of actions or measures taken toward some end. b. A stage in a process. —v.
stepped, stepping, steps
. 5. To move into a new situation by or as if by taking a single step.
step—
. Indicates relationship through the previous marriage of a spouse or through the remarriage of a parent, rather than by blood …
American Heritage Dictionary
, 1971

One

I am sitting in an apartment in Kulosaari, a suburb of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. “Kulosaari” means burned island; long ago they burned the trees here to fertilize the land. Now there is no evidence of that burning; the land is lush and green. But it is in fact an island, connected to Helsinki proper by low bridges which look out over an ocean harbor filled with private sailboats and enormous yellow and black Finnish icebreakers. It is an attractive suburb, Kulosaari, gently and compactly lined with fairly new, very clean apartment houses, rows of elegant row houses, small shopping centers, schools, and libraries. Winding around and between the cement structures that house people and their necessities are strips of natural green land: stony moss-covered knolls, sternly jutting gray rocks, birch and spruce and pine trees, berry bushes. Tidy dirt paths for bicyclers, joggers, walkers, wend up and down, through forests, past glades, playgrounds, slopes of hill. Occasionally through the white trunks of the birches the bright blue of the ocean flicks into view. Farther in are the large private estates belonging to various international embassies: it is possible to walk past the Chinese embassy, to stop and study the large permanent glass-covered board they have set on the street with photographs of Mao’s living room, dining room, and sleeping quarters. Mao has a long, narrow table covered with papers next to his chaste narrow bed. Sometimes it is possible to see the Chinese ambassadors leave their mansion; sometimes they even take Bus 16 into Helsinki, as the rest of us commoners do.

I have been in several quite beautiful homes here in Kulosaari, homes of glass and metal, of crisp bright colors and warm wooden floors. I know they exist. My home for the next few months is not, however, beautiful. It is on the fourth floor of the oldest cement block building here, and there is no elevator, and not many of the other electrical luxuries I am so used to. The apartment has four rooms, small rooms, with cold gray linoleum floors and old greasy strips of carpet adhering here and there. In the living room there are two elaborate crystal chandeliers; they are the high point of the place. The walls of the apartment are dirty gray. The furniture is shabby and assorted: a purple sofa and chair
worn to an itchy shininess; two green armchairs; a blue rug about two feet square; dusty frilly white curtains ornamented by slick side curtains in a brown and black rectangular design; a sheenless coffee table; a chipped veneer dining table; assorted chairs. In the two bedrooms are two twin beds each, and small chests, all not old enough to be antique but still old enough to be suspiciously sticky. The kitchen, where I sit now, is narrow, with a rickety table covered by an orange-and-white checked plastic tablecloth. We sit at this table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; it is next to the kitchen window, which gives us views of the apartment house across from us, and its various electrical power units, and of the autoroute and the cars and trucks and buses speeding on it to and from Helsinki. What am I doing here? I ask myself that question almost constantly.

My husband is a professor, a historian, and he has been awarded a Fulbright professorship here; that’s what we’re doing here. Or rather that’s what he’s doing here. I am here because he is here, and our two small children are here for the same reason. Right now Adam, our four-year-old son, is at a sort of preschool at the Finnish-American Society
lastentarha
. Our two-year-old daughter, Lucy, is asleep on the other side of the wall, in the children’s bedroom. And our other children—my husband’s two daughters by a former marriage—are here only as ghosts, as memories. The last time we lived in Europe, Caroline and Cathy were with us, and Adam and Lucy were not yet born, although I was pregnant with Adam then. Now Caroline and Cathy are twenty-two and nineteen, grown-up, one working as a biologist and the other still in college, both living lives of their own. In our case the two sets of children have only slightly touched (in our case
bumped
is perhaps the more accurate word) and passed by on separate journeys, instead of meshing into a fat new nuclear family the way others do. But I think of Charlie’s daughters, my stepdaughters, often here in Finland, and I wish they were here. I am lonely in this country of multisyllabic words, isolated in this apartment, on this island. The toy kitchen, the strange road signs, the trams and ships, all make me remember Amsterdam, where Caroline and Cathy were with me, when living in a strange country was fun.

Living here is not fun, or only rarely fun; usually it is dreary hard work. We have no car, and the refrigerator is a joke, so tiny and without a freezer, so my life revolves around the simple necessity of getting food for us each day. I do this in the morning
because then I can leave my children in the large fence-bound sandy yard across from the set of shops. The “Park Auntie,” a severely pleasant woman dressed in warm brown winter clothes, quietly supervises perhaps twenty-five children as they toddle about the yard, fat in thick snowsuits, playing with buckets and shovels and trucks. My children are not especially happy here—no one speaks to them, no one plays with them, they feel odd, like the foreigners that they are—but I cannot afford to care. They need to be outside in the fresh air; I need these few minutes of peace. And it costs only about twenty dollars a month—for me it is the biggest bargain in Finland. I hurry to the grocery store and search for inexpensive cuts of meat, and point and nod frantically at the butcher (one pound of hamburger: twelve Finnmarks; three American dollars). The worst part of the grocery shopping is trying to find a fresh green vegetable or a good crisp apple, these are hard to come by in Finland in the winter. The best part comes when I stand at the bakery counter trying to decide which warm and hearty loaf of
limpa
—bread—I should buy. I also choose some yogurt, a tiny carton of milk, and two bottles of Jaffa, the Finnish orange soft drink which I treat my children with during bad spots in the day. Each day I shop with extreme diligence and concern, both because of the expense and because I have to carry all I buy six long blocks home and up four flights of stairs in a red net bag that tugs at my wrists. Once in the apartment, I unpack the groceries and do the laundry, which must be done daily because although we are very lucky to have a washing machine in the bathroom, it is a very small machine, and then sometimes I have some lovely free time in which to read the mail or drink a blissfully solitary cup of tea before going back down the stairs and out into the cold to fetch my children from the Park Auntie’s. I bring them home and prepare lunch for all of us, and Adam goes off to his preschool, and Charlie goes off to lecture, and Lucy sometimes takes a nap, and if she does, and if I don’t have to walk ten blocks to pick up the cleaning or go into Helsinki on some household errand (vacuum cleaner bags, lightbulbs, rain boots for the children), I sit at this wobbly kitchen table, staring out at the autoroute and trying to think things through. At four or five everyone is up and back and home, and I take the children out for a walk, and return to fix dinner, and do the dishes, and then spend the evening playing horsie or witch or hide-and-seek. The Finns are very shy, extraordinarily shy, and there are no children at all in this forty-eight-apartment complex. The women I pass at the Park Auntie’s never speak
to me; they avoid me as if I were a leper. The Finns I know tell me that I should make the first advance, invite someone over to tea, but I doubt that I will ever manage that since I cannot get anyone to even look me in the eye. So except for official Fulbright functions I am alone, and my children have only me for a friend. It is hard being both a mother and a playmate. I brought few toys, thinking I would buy some here rather than haul them across the ocean, but it turns out that toys are too expensive, two or three times as expensive as they are in the States, and the Fulbright salary is meant only for the lowest level of survival. So it is necessary to stick to imaginative games. I bark and crawl and hide and creep with Adam and Lucy, but my heart isn’t in it. They need friends who like to play these games, and I need friends, too. I am lonely here.

BOOK: Stepping
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