Genealogy by Maud Casey

The following is an excerpt from Genealogy by Maud Casey, published by HarperPerennial.


Humble, Then, Your Wisdom

For forty-three years, the one-and-a-half centimeter berrylike sac has been nestled in Samantha Hennart's brain, like an exclamation point curled into a comma waiting for the end of the sentence.

Everyone is gone: her husband, her son, and since yesterday afternoon, without any warning, her daughter has disappeared too. As Sam waits for Marguerite to return—because she will return, because, really, there is no other option—her eyelid flutters. Flutter, flutter. It's been fluttering all morning. From nerves, she assumes. To calm herself, she looks out the window to what she calls the life-saving view, the stubbly Rhode Island fields and fields and fields that lead to the distant sliver that is the ocean. The farmer's son and another boy are out in one of the fields baling hay and they look up to where Sam leans out of the window. In adulthood, she has emerged from a mousy girl shell to be the kind of woman who stops the wandering gaze of men, and, with her hair pulled back, what her husband once called her revelatory forehead is revealed. A revelation of beauty, he said, placing his palm there, delicately, deliberately, as if her forehead was a holy relic and Bernard was divining something, but that was years and years ago.

Sam appreciates that the farmer's son, upon seeing her, raises a hand in hello as if she were a normal woman.


Sam's daughter, Marguerite Hennart, will not be back today. She is searching for her heart in Queens. She believes her eighteen-year-old heart, strong enough, tough enough, is in a jar somewhere—she can hear it thump-thumping—against thick jelly jar glass. Up and down, up and down the up and down hall she shuffles, searching for her thump-thump heart, pressing her ear into door after door though the mourning women have told her not to. The mourning women whom Marguerite first met in the morning but then there they were in the afternoon and the evening too and so she knew they were not women who came in the morning but mourning women.

The mourning women tell Marguerite not to lean her ear against the doors because there are germs. According to the shorter mourning woman, there are germs everywhere, which is kind of funny. Germs in a hospital.

"Germs on the doors, germs on the floor, germs on the walls," the shorter mourning woman says. "Germs everywhere."

"And in this kind of hospital," Marguerite's roommate, Regina, says, skating by on legs bruised from kicking herself, "there are germs on the mind."

But if finding her heart means getting ear germs, then Marguerite will get germs in her ears because above all, at the very top of the musty pile of musts, she must find her heart and have it ready for her brother when he comes to carry it to its final resting place. Suddenly, in the overhead sky of the indoor world: paging Dr. Goodman (florid mania, Dr. Goodman says, is like a flower bursting), paging Dr. Good Man, and Marguerite is hopeful. Up and down, up and down, an ear pressed to every door.


—from Genealogy by Maud Casey. Copyright © 2006 by Maud Casey. Reprinted with the permission of HarperPerennial.