Commonwealth Avenue

Paperback | December 31, 2003

byLinda Nevins

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Zoe Hillyard is an underappreciated forty-year-old film production designer who returns to her native Boston to work on a film set. Zoe encounters old secrets, family rivalries, and the diary of her great grandmother from 1902, which was written when she turned forty herself.

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Zoe Hillyard is an underappreciated forty-year-old film production designer who returns to her native Boston to work on a film set. Zoe encounters old secrets, family rivalries, and the diary of her great grandmother from 1902, which was written when she turned forty herself.

Linda Nevins has taught English literature at the University of Michigan and worked in the film industry in New Mexico and Los Angeles. She now lives in Boston. She is the author of Commonwealth Avenue and Renaissance Moon.

other books by Linda Nevins

Renaissance Moon
Renaissance Moon

Kobo ebook|Mar 15 1997

$8.99

Format:PaperbackDimensions:436 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.97 inPublished:December 31, 2003Publisher:St. Martin's PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0312304749

ISBN - 13:9780312304744

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COMMONWEALTH AVENUEPart OneTHE GILDED AFFAIROld families last not three oaks. --SIR THOMAS BROWNE, Urn BurialPrologue(FROM THE DIARIES OF AUGUSTA HILLYARD)Friday, May 30, 1902It is quite scandalous how late I have lain abed this morning. Eugene was up and about his business at his usual early hour, but I was not equal to anything more than lying here in a beam of warm sunshine, snug under the coverlet, and indulging my remembrance of the events of last evening. A woman wonders whether she wishes the milestones of her life to be so publicly celebrated, although everyone did say that I looked quite beautiful (for forty!). But it is intriguing to me that we all engaged ourselves in such strenuous gaiety to celebrate Augusta Hillyard's entrance into middle age--if mere entrance it is. I sometimes feel that I am no stranger to the country of lost youth ... and yet my mirror tells me otherwise.The celebration was larger and more extravagant than the preparations had led me to expect. Although the party itself was not a surprise and all the family were eager to toast my special day, I was not aware until the last moment that Eugene had invited so many of our friends, and the house was quite choked with champagne, flowers, and a great number of self-styled Boston aristocrats.We have been receiving calls and felicitations since Monday afternoon. Anne, of course, has come with her darling little Celia nearly every day to help with the "preparations," though my Veronica is at herwit's end with all these invasions of her kitchen. After nearly four years without Edgar, arriving at an entertainment as "the Widow Lowell" is still difficult for Anne. (Naturally, no one so much as breathes it, but their thoughts are deafening.) Thus she retreats to the warm comfort of Veronica's kitchen, chatting on and on in her sweet, timid way, but making such a tumble of Veronica's arrangements!My dear brother Alex came to a small family supper Wednesday evening and brought with him Mother's pearls, left in trust for Alex's wife (should he ever throw caution to the winds and actually choose one!). Yet our Alex has attained the age of forty-four without a wife and so felt that it would be very much in the spirit of the occasion to bring the necklace here for me. These dear little beads were given to Mother by Papa as a betrothal gift almost fifty years ago, and therefore the sentimental value is greater than any other, but they are, all the same, pearls of great price.Just before the guests began to arrive, I made a furtive trip downstairs in my dressing gown, only to be shooed from my own pantry by Winifred and Veronica. Potter--who always says that one should not have champagne unless there is snow outside in which to chill it--was carrying in huge cases of the best, and I'm afraid I was quite in the way! The tradesmen had been running in and out all day with flowers and ices, and (although I know I was not supposed to see, and fortunately no one knows I did) I caught a glimpse of a beautiful white cake, festooned with real roses and some of our lovely clematis from Nahant. Oh! the excitement in the air!I quickly ran upstairs to finish my toilette, and my girls fussed over me unceasingly as I dressed. I planned to wear my new blue silk, but Annabelle, who at eleven is already developing a very piquante sense of fashion, thought I should not wear it because after all it was not as "fancy" as the pink, or even the black velvet. Of course, I pointed out to her that May is far too late for velvet and so was able to inject a note of motherly instruction into the gay and frivolous proceedings. My Hortense, however--already a young lady, though unfortunately a rather plain one at fifteen, a time when a bubble of coquetry should be just about to burst--chose to observe at a distance, though I saw her clasping her hands in delight at the party ahead. Even at this tender age, Hortense is a confirmed wallflower (one fears by choice), but a sweet one all the same.Then, just as the girls had fastened the last ribbon (having dismissed Winifred from her usual duties for the occasion), and had leapt into the air with joy and anticipation for what seemed the hundredth time, who should arrive but my darling Zachary--much out of breath, not entirely clean, and at new heights of untidiness--eager to catch me, before I descended to my guests, to give me the most charming gift, which I shall cherish forever: it is a shell from our seashore at Nahant which I know he prizes and which has been in his treasure box since he was a tiny boy. He told me, very sweetly, with his little face buried in my stomach (his twin sister is so much taller than he, and Annabelle is really remarkably cruel to him on this point), that he knew this was a very special day and he wanted to give me something very "meaningful" and after devoting considerable thought to the problem, he realized that this wonderful pink shell would be the perfect choice. He knew he was late (and dirty and not yet dressed!), but he told me it had been so encrusted with barnacles and who knows what detritus, as he said, "of the briny deep, Mama," that he'd been down cellar with Potter all this week, polishing it up. This morning it glows, nearly humming with the roar of the tides, on my bedside table. I fancy I can hear the ocean at a distance. I think I love that boy more than my own life, but however wicked it is to be so blessed with four strong children and to love the last the most ... Ah! that I should dote so on this boy invites God's punishment ... .But then, hearing laughter and the hum of happy voices swirling up the stairs to my door, I looked out the window amazed to see the number of carriages falling into line up and down Commonwealth Avenue. From my vantage point, I could see nearly down to the corner as the Pickmans, the Snells, the Binneys came along the sunlit walk, all bearing gaily wrapped packages. I had no idea that Eugene, whose affection for me is so well controlled and so ambiguously expressed, had gone to such lengths to create this great fete in my honor. (That Eugene may also achieve social, political, and financial advantage thereby is not important this morning. I will not be suspicious and small-minded at such a festive time.)I shooed the children from the room, fluffed the curls over my ears one last time, pinched my cheeks, straightened the pearls, and, feeling at last prepared to go downstairs (to "make my entrance"!), I turned to see my husband in the doorway, smiling in a way one seldom sees. Eugene took me in his arms and kissed my neck and gently pulled my pearldrops from my ears with his teeth. As I stood speechless and smiling, he handed me a small blue velvet box, which I recognized at once as from Tiffany's in New York, where Eugene had gone last month, as he said, "on business."Well! The earrings within were sparkling with a life of their own: diamond earbobs set in platinum. The stones are the size of almonds, fastened with clasps of smaller pave diamonds encasing a black pearl. I held them in my hands, feeling the weight of them, and stared wordless and open-mouthed at Eugene, who looked down at me with his wry sardonic smile as he fastened them to my ears. He kissed me on the cheek and took my arm to escort me to my party. Not one word passed between us.As I lie in bed this morning, writing these words, I have (with a great frivolity none would believe of me) fastened on my diamond earrings once again, and they send the sun's fire to the farthest corners of the room ... . I observed to myself last night that we are so rarely all together, and indeed, in some ways, we were not together even then. I had a moment of solitude moments before Eugene came in, just to hold my shell and clasp my pearls, and realize that this fine party is the more notable for those who are not here to share it with us. My dear parents were not there, Papa but three years in his grave (whom I miss most of all!), and sweet John Arthur, my "big brother" ... I was a child when he died and I can still taste the salt in my mother's tears as I tried (most ineffectually, as I remember) to comfort her. When John Arthur died, she sat holding Sarah, rocking her for hours, though Sarah was by then a hefty girl and far too big to rock ... . Yes, and what of Sarah, who did not send a letter as I thought she might? Is our estrangement yet so fresh for her that she forgets me on this shining day? But I cannot think about that now! I must stop this! ... It was a day for counting blessings and letting losses take the hindmost. I have more blessings than there are pearls in my mother's necklace.Yet if there is a flaw in this immoderate joy, if there is one thing which perhaps saves me from excesses of complacency, it is that Anthony (who did not put in his appearance until very late last night--toward midnight!), showing even now clear signs of the cruel and handsome man he will become, performs his role as eldest child and heir with asourness that is very hard to trace in any branches of our family. My faerie child? My changeling? Is it from the Hillyards that Anthony derives this streak that borders on the vicious? (I cannot believe that it is his Lattimore blood that puts that conniving glint in his black eyes.)This is in many ways a failure that mitigates all my joys. The lack I feel of a deep love for this child tarnishes my devotion to the others. Seventeen years ago when Anthony was born and I was a young and hopeful wife, smiling with joy as he gurgled at my breast, could I have foreseen that he would develop a voluptuary's glower while still a boy? That there would be a depth in him that I, his mother, could not plumb? His devotion to his father, which borders on worship, forces me to throw my trust to Eugene, which, diamond earrings notwithstanding, I am loath to do.And yet, on this glorious spring day, sun and diamonds competing, as it were, for the greater glory, it seems impossible to acknowledge sadness, pain, or doubt, or to weep for my lost sister Sarah, far away in Europe, angry and alone. And how could I, on such a day, bear to look into Anthony's black eyes, knowing I will not find the kindness and the love a mother seeks in her firstborn's face? I can perhaps, however, hope that these stains on the escutcheon of my happiness today will keep me honest.COMMONWEALTH AVENUE. Copyright © 1996 by Linda M. Nevins. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address A Wyatt Book for St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.