We’re pleased to present an excerpt from Abigail Stewart’s new novel Foundations, out now on Whisk(e)y Tit. Stewart’s book chronicles the lives of three different women with little in common except for the Dallas house where each of them live at various points in their lives. The result is a taut, empathic tale of restless lives and fraught dynamics.
Her blood ran red like any other warm-blooded American woman, but Bunny knew her insides were inky black, a mixture of oil and water from which she’d never be free. Oil tied her to Texas, to her oil baron family, to her husband, a barrel-chested man as big as the state itself. Water tied her to her mother. And the two co-existed inside her like a quiet disease.
Bunny and her husband had recently left their ranch in the country after finally striking oil on their familial land. The derricks ran all night now, Bunny couldn’t sleep and they’d had to trade it for the bright lights of Dallas and a new ranch style home straight out of Sunset magazine. Bunny had been given free reign over decorating and each corner of their new home was appointed according to her specific taste.
“Why don’t you hire an interior designer?” her sister, Rose, had asked after viewing wallpaper samples together, but Bunny refused.
The walls now displayed a series of labyrinthian illustrations of flowers, varying in each room by color and size of the bloom, until they convinced viewer’s eyes that the flowers had picked up an errant breeze, that they were swaying from side to side.
“Someone could get seasick in here,” Rose commented.
In response, Bunny just added more layers, a velvet chaise lounge in lavender, different colored glass ashtrays, usually smoldering, were arranged on a low wooden coffee table, a many-paneled sideboard filled with tchotchkes, like a ceramic dog smoking a cigarette while an adjacent ceramic milkmaid bent over to moon any passersby.
The carpet was aquamarine in one room, forest green in another, and a golden yellow brown in the bedroom where the warmer color scheme reminded Bunny of summer. She hung a huge sunburst mirror over their bed, just high enough so that she couldn’t see herself in it. The kitchen had a black and white chessboard pattern on the floor, dark wood cabinetry, and a brand new gas range that Bunny bent over to light her cigarettes from as she cooked eggs in the morning. She mixed thick glitter into the ceiling paint and created for herself an endless sky of faux stars.
Her husband traveled for oil industry business, most recently his excursions took him to California. He came home to kiss her on the cheek, switch his suit for a polo, his briefcase for golf clubs, and walk right back out the door.
“It’s your own fault for not giving him kids,” her sister mumbled over a breakfast of sugared grapefruit and black coffee. Bunny didn’t mention that her brother-in-law was also in New York on business, which was why they were eating breakfast together.
It was true though — Bunny was barren and the large house seemed filled with an unnecessary and false hope. Her solution was to get a bird, a parakeet in a cage that sat twittering in the window while she chain smoked on the chaise lounge and read Vogue in her floral day wrapper.
She went to the hairdresser her sister recommended on Monday mornings, carefully wrapping her coiffure like a Christmas ham under a silk bandana. She wore the silk bandana all week, unless her husband came home for dinner, on the following Monday she finally took it off and went back to the hairdresser.
Her husband bought her a robin’s egg blue Cadillac and she parked it in their circular driveway to make sure the neighbors saw, to make sure they’d envy her enough to leave her alone. She didn’t want any Jell-O fruit salad, no neighbors borrowing a cup of sugar, no having to watch the self-assured neighborhood women pushing strollers, holding their swollen bellies.
She installed mauve drapes in a gaudy Jacquard separating the dining room from the living room. A ruffled valance hung in the entryway; the curtains parted invitingly to a candlelit meal where she tried to entice her husband one evening.
“I made your favorite, pot roast,” she smiled at him.
“Oh, Bunny, sorry but I already ate.”
“Well, can I at least fix you a drink? A Tom Collins? I have all the right things.”
“Gee, I had a few with the boys after work.”
“It’s only six o’clock.”
“We knocked off around two.”
Bunny just nodded, wiped her small hands on her pristine apron. Her half-moon nails, painted a garish red, ran imaginary lines down her abdomen like a wound.
“I have a late meeting at the club with Henry, he said he had a client I just had to meet, you know how insistent he can be. So, really, I’m just here to change.”
He kissed her cheek on the way to their bedroom, then again on the way out the door, his hands busy knotting a paisley tie.
In the indigo gloaming, Bunny let the candles burn down to nubs and ate an entire pot roast directly from her Le Creuset pan, pausing only intermittently to drink directly from the bottle of Bordeaux she’d bought with her husband’s checkbook.
The next day she lay in bed with a cool washcloth on her head. She’d been sick in the night and the pot roast had made an encore performance. Without turning on the light, she cleaned the bathroom back to sparkling, her husband snoring away on his side of the bed smelling of cigarettes, cheap perfume, and whiskey.
“I feel a little under the weather,” she croaked as he got ready for his day.
“Poor Bunny,” her husband kissed her forehead. “Take it easy today. Let the housekeeper earn her wages.”
He didn’t remember the housekeeper came on Wednesdays, it was Thursday. She smiled weakly at him, the Bordeaux still pounding in her ears.
When she heard his car pull out of the driveway, she ventured downstairs in her nightdress and made herself a Bloody Mary with an Aspirin chaser to cut through her hangover. The well-stocked bar should be appreciated by someone, after all. All morning, she played record after record on the new stereo her husband had bought her, until the sun sank low and she went back to bed, alone.
“Why don’t you ever drive the Caddy?” he asked some days later.
“I drive it to the grocery store.”
“Only twice a week,” he huffed.
In addition to the grocery store, Bunny began driving her Cadillac to the library once a week. She read Catcher in the Rye at the back of the building where she had a view of the pecan tree grove outside. She snuck a peak at Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Howl, they both left her indifferent. Sometimes a group of young boys would barrel through the bucolic scene, collecting pecans and cracking them open with a youthful violence. It was the same day with a slightly different view.
She wandered through the stacks, picking up books at random. The librarian never offered to help her and Bunny didn’t mind.
Her solitary meanderings often took her to the nonfiction section where she read about the development of the windmill, Impressionist painters, and how to make any manner of aspics. One day she picked up a book on palmistry, The Hidden Art of Interpreting the Hand. Bunny read about the head, heart, and life lines.
The life line starts at the base of your palm and arcs upward. Contrary to its name, your life line does not determine how long you will live, but instead tells about your passions, your general well-being, and indicates any major changes you might face.
Bunny looked down at her hand. Her life line did indeed curl deeply across her palm, confidently arcing toward the intersection of her thumb and forefinger. The line itself was cut in half at its center like a river and its tributary. This probably doesn’t bode well, Bunny thought.
If you have a long and unbroken life line it means you are a steady, strong, and dependable person. A broken life line means you will certainly experience some sort of upheaval in your life. If the line is a clean break, this change is unplanned. If the line runs parallel with another, it is a planned change.
Bunny looked at her hand again but couldn’t decide if her impending upheaval would be planned or unplanned no matter how long she studied the book’s illustration.
She left the library that day with the palmistry book tucked under her arm.
Bunny’s sister came over the next morning for their shared grapefruit, cut in half and sugared. They ate together at the kitchen table rather than the formal dining room. It always felt a little safer to talk there.
“Let me see your hand,” Bunny commanded.
Her sister gave her a funny look, “Why?”
“I want to read your palm.”
“I’ve been reading about it, let me see.”
Rose tentatively offered her pale pink palm to her sister. Framed by the two grapefruit halves and offset by Bunny’s ostentatious floral tablecloth, Rose’s hand looked small and childlike. Bunny took her sister’s hand gingerly, like when they were girls.
“You have a long, unbroken lifeline.”
“Does that mean I will live a long time?”
“Not necessarily, it means you’re a steady person, dependable.”
Rose crinkled her nose.
“You still might outlive me though,” Bunny joked.
Rose pulled her hand back. “This is silly.”
Bunny shrugged and they didn’t mention it again. Together they reverted back to staring into the empty space and alternating between coffee, grapefruit, and their cigarettes.
That night, her husband made a rare appearance at home, expecting dinner. Bunny hadn’t gone shopping, so she cooked a large sirloin steak that she’d stashed in the freezer and two baked potatoes with sour cream.
“Don’t you want a steak?”
“Oh, no. I’m not hungry.”
Her husband nodded in an approving manner, he liked that his wife kept trim. Bunny watched her husband eat bite after bite of the medium rare meat until he placed his hands on his stomach and leaned back, his baser urges satisfied.
She poured them both another glass of wine. He smiled at her almost beatifically, like she embodied every angel in the heavens.
“May I see your palm?”
He held out his large hand unquestionably, taking a gulp of wine as he did so.
His palm held none of the delicate whorls Rose’s possessed. It was thick and meaty, deeply lined like the dog-eared corner of a book. Her eyes went directly to his sun line, a broad crease that indicated burnout, a failure perhaps in his career. She looked away. Upon seeing his lifeline, which was so broken it resembled Morse code, Bunny panicked and instead brought his hand to her cheek, then her breast. Her heart thudded against the cage of her chest not from desire, but from knowing too much.
He mistook her trembling limbs for a demure ardor and led her to the bedroom where Bunny fell into the bed like a stone and he sweated over her, smelling of meat. He almost overslept the next morning and chided her gently on his way out the door.
Bunny resolved to return her palmistry book to the library that morning.